Pet Shop Noise

Lenny, the nearest we got to having a pet alpaca

I can’t remember how I ever came to think that keeping alpacas was a good idea. We imported a small herd of them into Ireland in 2003, convinced they would make us a fortune and they’d become pets, alongside the laying hens and lying cats.

Trust me, alpacas don’t make friends with humans.  They like other alpacas, of course. But they only ever tolerate humans, no matter how nice you are to them. Ours had a very cushy billet in the west of Ireland, and thankfully, they rarely spat at us.  The spitting thing is a way of keeping order amongst themselves and it’s nasty if you get in the way – half-digested grass which is green, slimy and very smelly. And if it gets on your clothes, it is practically impossible to remove the stain.

We brought our alpacas over from Worcestershire via Scotland and Northern Ireland on a night when the skies were lit up with the Aurora Borealis.  A memorable evening, which of course, I turned into a poem.

I have read the poem at a few functions recently, recalling that amazing evening when the sky was green and red and we thought that was the norm (we got that wrong as well, never seen the Northern Lights since).

We eventually found the alpacas new homes, but not before we’d collected a goodly amount of fleece from them over several years. I learnt to spin and discovered alpaca makes a lovely soft, hard-wearing yarn for knitting and crochet.

And to think, I used to be frightened of dogs…

I’ve been thinking a lot about pets, and how humans enjoy keeping companion animals. And I was considering what some people think of as pets, exotic creatures such as monkeys, or snakes, or iguanas.  Even alpacas.

My mate, Tully

My first choice of pet will always be a tabby cat (like my third birthday present), but any cat will do really (rescued, not bred to be sold), plus now my dog, who is a surprising friend to me, given that I spent many years being terrified of her kind.

And if nothing else, pets can serve as inspiration for poems.  Just for the craic, here’s a ditty I wrote ages ago about our white hamster, sadly a pet I never photographed.

Snowball, a Hamster
The cat has a mouse again
and it makes me consider
how many more fortunate,
furry creatures we have kept,
pets to nurture and cherish.
There have been many:
cats, rabbits, a dog,
more cats,
and Snowball, a white hamster
carefully named by a six-year-old
who instantly lost interest.
He used to live in my study
(the hamster, not the child),
well away from feline temptation.
I’d let him skip along my desk
as I tried to write my memoirs
(the child, as well as the hamster).
When the time came
and poor Snowball ailed,
we took him in a shoe box
to the vet’s evening surgery,
humane dispatch for a fiver,
ahead of a State funeral,
with flowers and speeches,
even a few tears.
The shovel, or a brick,
would have been cheaper
to put him out of his misery,
but none of us could do it
(even the six-year-old,
who was really seven by now).
I remember how in his prime
Snowball would run across
my keyboard leaving a trail,
black pellets of rodent incontinence,
which I would eventually scoop up
and turn into a poem.

 

 

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Fur Coat and No Knickers?

One of the best things that ever happened to me was becoming a mother.

I can’t imagine what I would have found to do with my time without children to fill my every waking minute.  They still try do it, and they’re (allegedly) adults now. Although, these days I do sometimes manage to snatch a few hours free from them demanding what’s for dinner, or where are their socks/phone chargers/car keys (delete as appropriate).

It sounds like there are dozens of them. It only feels like that sometimes – they are just two, one of each, as they say. A son and a daughter, neither of whom has properly left home yet.

My own mother, pictured here with me many years ago (before my sister arrived on the scene), is now 93 years old.  She lives in a care home and is quite frail and  forgetful, which is sad because she used to be a very busy, capable, fit woman, who taught me loads.

She wrestled with barrage balloons at the tail end of the Second World War (as a member of the WRAF), succeeding as a feisty female in a male-dominated workplace. I have her to thank for my  brand of feminism, which has never let me accept failure just because I’m a woman.  At an early age I realised there were different rules for boys and girls, which just served to make me more determined to succeed. Women have to work harder in their careers to prove themselves – I was no exception, and was often bitter about such inequality. I like to think things won’t be so hard for the next generation.

My mother also taught me how to strive to become a domestic goddess, and I can still rustle up a Victoria Sponge, or sew a fine seam when the occasion arises.

These days, I have my mother to thank as a source of some of my more popular poetry.  She’s at the heart of my attempts to blend pathos with humour.

Here you go: Fur Coat and No Knickers (just in case it’s slipped past your attention so far).

Read All About It

Way too tidy  (and small) to be my book collection…

My kitchen floor’s a mess again.

What with books to read, poems to write, creative writing groups to facilitate and sick cats to pet, I shouldn’t be surprised that there’s no time to mop the floor. Or clean the windows (you have to do that more than once a year? Really?).

That’s the trouble with household chores like cleaning. You get it  all done, and then in an instant,  it needs doing again. And time can be so much better spent reading.

I mean, good books don’t read themselves, do they?

It was probably a bit of a coincidence, but the day I heard that Helen Dunmore had died, her novel ‘Burning Bright’ fell of the shelf in front of me. I took it as a sign to re-read it, which I did (lovely lyrical writing). It happened to be among a pile of books that all needed revisiting. I had a go at Leon Garfield’s children’s novel ’Smith’ about a Victorian street urchin with a conscience (my copy bears a bookplate showing that I gave it originally to my sister for Christmas in 1973). Then I read PG Wodehouse’s ‘Heavy Weather’, which was everything a ridiculous farce about uppercrust Brits in yesteryear should be.

After that, Emma Donoghue’s short stories ‘Touchy Subjects’ kept me quiet for a while, then I read ‘The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine’, an enjoyable No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency story from Alexander McCall Smith, followed by a re-read of Anne Enright’s dark look at Irish family life, ‘The Gathering’ (which won the Man Booker in 2007).

I’ve managed to fit in a few more-recently published books, ‘One Bad Turn’, a well-written, fast-paced thriller by Sinead Crawley; ‘Lie With Me’ by Sabine Durrant, a page turner with an unexpected twist at the end; and Anthony Horowitz’s ‘Magpie Murders’. This last one was a Book Club choice and I’ll hear how other members found it later this week.

For me, it felt like I was in the middle of a Cluedo game, with a whodunit within a whodunit which was surprisingly compulsive.  Even after I cheated and read the ending when I was only about a quarter way through (I’m often guilty of this), I had to go back and read the whole thing properly so as not to miss any of the clever twists and turns. It was all rather Midsomer Murders, but then, why wouldn’t it be? – the same prolific author created both. And the book is full of unashamed name-dropping and amusing digs at the publishing industry.

I’ve missed a few Book Club meetings recently, but I try to keep up with the titles under scrutiny, which is how I came to read the beautifully written but incredibly sad semi-auto biographical story about life with a profoundly disabled child, ‘The Mouse-proof Kitchen’ by Saira Shah. One of the things I like about being in a Book Club is reading and discussing titles I wouldn’t have otherwise chosen to read.

You’d wonder with all this reading how I ever manage to have any kind of a life?

Well, I don’t.

Leastways, not one that includes mopping kitchen floors.