Thursday, July 28, 2011

Learning At The Paws Of The Master

 "The Kittens" Guinevere & Lancelot with Tristan thrown in because he was in this photo.  Tristan never met Mum Puss he arrived about a year after Mum Puss went to that big mouse hunting field in the sky.

This story is from the archives.  The mouse plague here is almost over thank goodness and I was thinking that if Mum Puss had been alive it would have been over a lot sooner.  


Mum-Puss doesn’t care that I’ve done my time at University, gained a First Class Honours Degree and gone on to a successful teaching career, even earning the promotion of Assistant Principal before I was injured and medically retired. She considers all those achievements as useless, cerebral stuff not worth the lifting of a furry eyebrow. Nor has she shown respect for my years as a mother, raising three children who have all gone on to lead responsible, independent and happy lives. Mum-Puss argues that I’ve failed miserably in my parenting duties in one crucial area and she’s going to address this gap in my education if it kills one of us!

For the past couple of months Mum-Puss, our one-eyed mother cat we acquired with the farm (or as Mum-Puss prefers to see it – bought her for a record price paid for a cat and got the farm thrown in), has been gallantly fighting a losing battle to teach the dullest student she’s ever encountered to provide for herself and her family. Who is this dullard? A new intellectually challenged kitten? Her seven year old, thick as a brick son, Lancelot? No, the dumbest student Mum-Puss has ever encountered is me!

Mum-Puss is getting on in years now and realises if her new family of humans is to survive after she’s gone there’s only one thing she can do to ensure our survival – teach the matriarch of the humans, that dolt Rosemary, to hunt and catch her own food. Oh yes, Mum-Puss has heard rumours of my being a vegetarian, but she doesn’t believe that anything that’s grown as large as I have could possibly turn her nose up at a good, fresh mouse.

Mum-Puss began her lessons like all good teachers. She arrived at the back door, meowing that special meow that cats use when boasting about a particularly good catch. I went to the back door dreading what I’d find. Mum-Puss sat at the bottom of the steps with her catch lying dead at her feet, looked steadily at me with her one bright eye and suggested that I come and have a taste. I, not unreasonably to my way of thinking, declined her generous offer, scooped the corpse up with a garden trowel and deposited it in a shallow, anonymous grave in the herb garden. Behind me Mum-Puss gazed at my small, but respectful funeral service in disbelief, meowed once more, this time a “washing my hands of this imbecile” meow and stalked off with her tail in the air - the picture of an insulted benefactor.

All was quiet on the mouse front for a week or so. Then, one afternoon while I was sewing away without a care in the world, I heard That Meow again, not the “washing my hands” one - the “come out and share this wonderful treat I’ve caught just for you” one. I trudged to the back door and, sure enough, there sat my feline survival coach with another mouse at her feet and a look in her eye that dared me to even think about interring this fine specimen in my ever growing mouse mortuary. One look in that determined eye and I quailed. I didn’t want a fight on my hands or to permanently loose Mum-Puss’ respect, so I took the coward’s way out. “Puss, puss, puss!” I called, aimed not at Mum-Puss but at Lancelot and Guinevere, her two kittens who have overstayed their welcome by more than seven years now (Mum Puss's opinion not mine - I love them). Lancelot, who believes the only good mouse is a mouse inside his tummy, came hurtling down the yard, skidded around Mum-Puss, dodging a swat of her paw as he went, scooped up the defunct mouse and disappeared the way he came all in the blink of an eye.

Mum-Puss just sat there looking at me with a sad, almost hopeless look on her face. Here she just may have met her match, she was thinking. Never in all her years of training kittens to be self sufficient had she come across one so thick! True, she thought that Lancelot had been a challenge to teach the fine art of mousing; Lancelot isn’t the sharpest pencil in the box (Hell! let’s call a spade a spade – he’s the dumbest cat I’ve ever met). He believes he can force his way though glass by continually throwing his body at it, to hunt birds and is surprised every time his head makes contact with a solid object. You can’t get much dumber than that now, can you? I could see Mum-Puss’s little brain working overtime. She reviewed her teaching methods and decided that “hands on” was the next method to try. She wasted no time in putting her new system into practice, returning the very next afternoon with a mouse still alive, but with all the fight taken out of it. Mum-Puss sat in her usual teaching position, using the bottom step as her lectern, and gently batted the poor little furry offering in my direction.

My first reaction just caused Mum-Puss more anguish. I screamed at the top of my lungs. I don’t suppose I need to tell you that I’m not frightened of mice, rats or anything with less than eight legs, but the poor little mouse, still being alive startled me. I took emotional refuge in yesterday’s successful manoeuvre and once again called the “kittens”. Lancelot once again turned on his “now you see me now you don’t and you don’t see the mouse anymore either” act of yesterday and peace was restored to my world. I couldn’t look Mum-Puss in the eye. She left me in no doubt that I was the slowest, most troublesome student it had ever been her lot to educate, before once again stalking off, mumbling about the need for more funding for remedial classes for the hopelessly slow mouser students.

I returned to my sewing room with relief, hoping against hope that Mum-Puss would abandon all ideas of instructing me in the fine art of mouse catching. As it turned out it was a futile hope. Mum-Puss is clearly a never-say-die cat. She’d taught litter after litter and even Lancelot, how to catch their daily meal just in case the humans forgot to feed them one day (as if they’d allow that to happen!) and if she could teach Lancelot to become a more than competent mouser, surely this poor excuse for a human huntress could be whipped into shape eventually.

With these admirable sentiments in mind Mum-Puss began an intensive teaching program by bringing a mouse to her brick lectern each day and calling me to class. All these mice were alive to some extent or another. I attended class each day dreading what I might find. I couldn’t ignore her call for two reasons, one the mouse might be suffering and need Lancelot’s immediate attention, and two I still had to live with Mum-Puss in her non-teaching hours and I didn’t want to get well and truly on her wrong side. It was bad enough that she thought me mentally deficient – I didn’t want her to think me insolent as well. She just might remember that this is her house after all and kick me out.

I adopted two different tactics to deal with the mouse situation. If it was relatively unhurt I gently picked it up, examined it for wounds and let it go out in the paddock. If it was too far-gone I called Lancelot. You may have noticed that while I answered Mum-Puss’ call neither of her kittens came when they heard it. This is because they knew that if they sabotaged Mum-Puss’ lesson by stealing her teaching aids she’d exact quick and painful revenge, but all bets were off once I’d invited them to class. The first time I picked up the mouse Mum-Puss gave a little cheer of a meow, “Now we’re getting somewhere!” she thought. “This is more like it. I knew no-one could be that dumb and still walking around.” When I set it free on the other side of the fence, Mum-Puss gasped with disbelief. Who had ever heard of letting a nice juicy mouse being set free?! Mum-Puss considered the appalling action she’d just witnessed and came to the conclusion that I hadn’t really meant to let it go. Obviously I had taken it away from her to try my clumsy hand at catching it for myself and had stupidly put it over the fence with me on the wrong side. Mum-Puss gave me points for trying and stepped up her teaching program. She refused to give in. She’d teach me to catch mice or die in the attempt.

Just when she was beginning to wonder if the second of these options was the likely outcome of her quest to turn me into an efficient family provider, Billy the St. Bernard came to live with us. Mum-Puss’ bottom step lectern became a favourite haunt of this oversized dog and it was absolutely useless for her to try to teach from there anymore. Sitting outside and calling me to class wasn’t going to work either, because Billy was only too happy to join the class and change the syllabus to teaching me how to catch cats instead.

Mum-Puss has now retired from the education profession. She’s biding her time. One day I’ll come to my senses and beg her to teach me to catch mice. On that day she’ll generously agree on the condition that Billy goes – she doesn’t care where, just so long as he’s gone. Then maybe, I’ll pay more attention to her instructions, do my homework and pass all my exams. Until that time, Mum-Puss is in retirement and can be found lying in front of the heater or in a warm sunny spot in the sewing room consoling herself that she’s only had one abject failure in her whole teaching career. And when you think about it that’s a pretty good achievement.


marianne r said...

I love this, I have a Miss Puss it should be Mrs Puss,during the mouse plague here she taught her kitten to catch and bring them in and play. She didn't touch them after the first 6 or 7 when he got the idea, just retired to the heater and let him get on with it.
we have had a break from mice for about 2 months but they are back!!

sandra said...

That is hilarious!! and very well written. You should write a book. Seriously. We have a cat like Lancelot. his name is Leroy but he gets called Tiny because he is a very large cat with a very tiny brain. he is very affectionate.