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Chris Dolley's Journal

About An English author living in exile

Tribble Update and a Procession Oct. 13th, 2006 @ 10:40 am
Fingers crossed it looks like we've found homes for two of the orange tribbles. And neither are my shoulder.

Naturally after two weeks of desperately trying to find them a home the prospect of losing two arms of our orange starfish is now kindling pangs of regret. Until it's time to clean out the litter tray, or sweep back the orange tide that covers my keyboard or blocks the monitor, or pick them off the curtains or my legs, my neck, my ow!

Mixed feelings. Seven demanding kittens is a number well beyond the internationally agreed limit for Health and Sanity (EC KIT/15726a/2004/aaaarrrrrggghh)

But they're cute and fluffy!

And follow you everywhere. Yesterday evening I took them for a walk. Hmmm, maybe walk is too mild a word for it. A swarm? An incursion? Whatever the word, we did it and the garden trembled. I wasn't sure if they'd follow at first. Previous outings hadn't seen them move more than a few yards away from the house. But this time they swarmed across the lawn after me. And Kai and Xena joined in too. I took them all for a tour of our enormous vegetable garden, through the twenty-kitten high jungle of sweet corn, the not quite so tall but exotically feathery colonnade of asparagus, the leeks, the runner beans, the kiwis and the currants.

The chickens were amazed. They lined up along the orchard fence and stared. What were those strange orangey things and why were there so many?

And then, the tour complete, our procession turned for home.

The Trouble with Tribbles Oct. 11th, 2006 @ 11:41 am
With Kai and Xena convalescing after their trip to the vet it's an orange Kitten Picture Wednesday.

But first a word on Kai and Xena. Kai has recovered well but vanity, and a letter from his agent, prevent me from showing any post-op pictures. The Photogenic One is currently wearing dark sunglasses, sitting on his chair regaling the male orange kittens with dark tales of what awaits them when they reach six months.

Xena, having had the more intrusive operation, is quieter. Though there was one scene when she shouted down the phone to her agent, "You never told me I'd have to have a histerical-ectomy!"

And she seems to have grown remarkably attached to wicker. I think it must be some kind of Stockholm Syndrome as we took her to the vets in a wicker cat basket. Since her return she's taken to sitting on the basket. And last night she eschewed the warm comfy bed to climb into the wicker clothes basket. Very strange.

And now the pictures. For those who read my Wheely Bin post you can see the urgent need for tribble countermeasures. Human climbing frame brought to her knees by invading tribble horde. Luckily they didn't bring the Sherpas.

More climbing, this time a solo leg traverse with lots of kitten claw pitons.

Ow! Not a caption for a picture but a scream from the typist as two cats claw my neck and a third climbs my leg. Back to the pictures (with difficulty: I have a kitten balancing on my right forearm) and next up we have a very brave young tribble who has yet to learn that long-lived tribbles do not drink water while standing in the dog's food bowl. The dog, a deerhound crocodile cross, is not sure if she's been insulted or offered an early Christmas present. Mmmm, tribble pie:)

Next we have a new creature, an orange starfish, which magically appears on our floor around meal times.

And, finally, three tribbles blink into the Indian summer that we've been experiencing these last few days.

Now where's my Wheely Bin...

The Vet, the Wheely Bin and the Polish Tribble Oct. 10th, 2006 @ 03:03 pm
Early start and no breakfast today as we had to take Kai and Xena to the vets for (looks both ways then whispers) 'cosmetic surgery.' Well, that's what we told Kai, explaining how all the top kitten supermodels had to have it done. The word 'neuter' never passed our lips.

Meanwhile back in the house the Orange Five have decided that climbing humans is what they were put on Earth to do. And that the shoulder is THE place to be. Although a one-paw swing across the back has its merits. And biting zips and toggles is pretty fun too.

I type this with the assistance of two kittens on my shoulder and oneszgryzky on my keyboard. I think he's Polish.

In the kitchen, washing up has become increasingly difficult. The sight of a human standing reasonably still with an inviting expanse of back and two legs within jumping distance, is something a kitten can't pass up. Within seconds we're covered with orange tribbles, clawing and purring their way to our shoulders. And then down our arms if we're drying anything interesting.

Countermeasures may be called for and I think I have just the idea - the greased wheely bin. It may sound a tad drastic but tether's nethers are in sight. So, here's my plan. The human stands inside the bin and is then wheeled into position - in front of the sink, the cooker, the tv, the computer terminal - anywhere they intend to remain for a while. The kittens then throw themselves against the steep, greased sides of the wheely bin and slide down. Humans 1, Tribbles 0.

I think it's a winner.

Perpetual Motion, Nous Sommes Anglais and a Virtual Book Tour Oct. 9th, 2006 @ 01:28 pm
Another busy weekend in which we came close to witnessing perpetual motion. Unfortunately the motion in question was bodily and emanated from five orange kittens. As Winston Churchill once said when inspecting RAF Kitten Command, "never has so much come from so few."

I've never seen anything like it. You bend down to clean out one litter tray and two kittens decide that that's exactly the moment they desperately need to use the facilities. Not the spare litter tray but the one you're trying to empty. Another two kittens jump on your back and a third sinks its claws into your leg and starts climbing.

And as soon as one litter tray is clean the two on your back leap down to christen it. It never ends! Several times I had to rescue Shelagh who, bent double underneath a backful of kittens, resembled an orange hunchback.

Of course Gypsy's no help. She has a dog's highly developed sense of what is and what isn't proper behaviour. Doing what she wants and paying her a lot of attention is proper behaviour - everything else deserves a woofing. And brightly coloured kittens swarming over her humans deserves extra woofing.

But, in between kitten duty, I did manage to get some work done over the weekend. First, I've updated the website, adding the Animals Behaving Typically chapter. I now have seven chapters of Nous Sommes Anglais posted there. For those not in the know, NSA is my 98% true, 2% borrowed from a more entertaining parallel universe, account of our first eight months in France. It is the ultimate expat horror story - with animals. I often describe it as 'A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.' Not only does everything that can go wrong do so but it does so in a such a spectacular and bizarre way that at times I thought I was living in a Whitehall Farce.

It started the day we began our move from SW England to SW France, taking with us thee cats, two horses and a large constipated puppy. It was a thousand mile journey due south. Thirty-two hours into the move we'd covered 250 miles - all of them due east. We'd been diverted, had a storm rip the the roof off of our horse transport and been abandoned on a French cliff.

And then it got worse.

Culminating in my identity being stolen, our life savings seized and a Spanish bank account being opened in my name. Can it get worse than that? Yes, it can. The police forces of four countries then argue over whose jurisdiction the crime took place in. The French say it's Irish - as that's where the money was held. The Irish shake their heads - definitely a French crime as that's where the letters originated from. The English refuse to get involved even though false UK Passports had been used. And the Spanish... Well, they're far too busy to even think about this foreign crime for at least four weeks. So I had to solve the case myself. But unlike fictional detectives I had an 80 year-old mother-in-law and an excitable puppy who insisted they had to come along if I was going anywhere interesting - like a stakeout.

It was the most bizarre investigation ever. But, in between looking for toilets, I caught the perp and brought him to justice.

This week I'm going to start posting chapter eight on the blog. Thee Fetes and a Football Match takes us back to summer 1995 - a brief interlude between disasters - in which I drink too much and accidentally sign professional forms to play football for Racing Club; and discover the last vestiges of Al Jolson worship on continental Europe.

And, finally, also to come this month, Mindy Klasky, author of the award-winning, best-selling fantasy The Glasswrights' Apprentice will be dropping by the blog on her virtual book tour to answer a few questions about her lastest book The Girl's Guide to Witchcraft.

Five Go-old Kittens Oct. 4th, 2006 @ 11:43 am
No partridges, no pear trees but plenty of kittens for this week's Kitten Picture Wednesday. But first a progress report: The Ginger Five are getting bigger and stronger and ... almost housetrained. Well, they passed a night without passing anything else on the floor. Thank God for dual litter trays!

But - there's always a but - they are now becoming far bolder and more inquisitive. First contact with our other two kittens has been a mixed affair. Kai, the male, is curious about them but apprehensive. And prefers to run away if they get too close. Xena, the female, is out most of the time doing important things like negotiating border disputes with sheep and chasing grasshoppers, but when she does see them there is a modicum of hissing and spitting. A large modicum.

Gypsy, our half deerhound, half crocodile giant lurcher doesn't like them at all. But then she doesn't like cats. They bring out the police dog in her. Don't run around, keep away from my bowl, sit over there and BE quiet! And if that doesn't work she looks hurt and howls.

Now the piccies.

First up, we have 'adopt me, I'm a little lost kitten'

Next we have a natural-born Thumper impersonator trying to get those front legs to work on tiles.

Then we have a kittenwalk model in the making showing how this year's look is spiky hair.

Next, aspiring kitten models are told that all supermodels have to be wormed. It's why they're cranky. And before they can be wormed they have to be weighed.

One prospective kitten model disputes the scales. I can't weigh that much!

Meanwhile Kai and Xena decide that, with the floor awash with gingers, the only safe place for a discerning teen kitten is the ceiling.

Un****Believable Oct. 3rd, 2006 @ 03:57 pm

In our drive to re-home the Ginger Five (see previous post) we found a thriving Anglo-Norman forum and posted a plea for help ... only to have the post deleted five minutes later as we'd broken French Law.

French Law? And I quote: All advertisements must include the tattoo or microchip numbers of dogs or cats being offered or, if they are too young, the number of their mother.

Which rules out every abandoned cat or dog you find on the street! What are you supposed to do? Check for a tattoo and then walk on by? People who dump their pets on the roadside don't usually stop to tattoo them first.

And we were giving the kittens away not selling them!

Pause rant for breath. No good deed goes unpunished. Sigh. So that rules out adverts in the local press.

And Still We Were Five Oct. 3rd, 2006 @ 10:53 am
Well, we all survived the night. The smallest of the kittens still looks a bit slow but he is eating now and the kitten with REALLY bad diarrhoea now has ordinary, put away the protective suits and the steam cleaning hose, diarrhoea.

But ... no one will take them! We tried the neighbours - they're already above complement. We've alerted the schools - still to hear back. We tried the nearest cat sanctuary - they're full up. We tried the nearest three SPAs (Society for the Protection of Animals) they're all full and suggested we tried the Mairie. The Mairie said - it's not us, try the police. The police said - we only deal with dogs. The dogs said...

And so we still have them. We're going to try the markets next. Shelagh's going to sit next to the chicken and rabbit sellers with her box full of free kittens. I'd do it but, with my scruffy gene, people would forget about the kittens and just throw me their loose change:)

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Just when we thought it was safe... Oct. 2nd, 2006 @ 12:41 pm

I still can't believe it. We took Gypsy out for a walk yesterday afternoon and found an abandoned ginger kitten on the roadside. Six months earlier we'd found another kitten in the exact spot, a month before that we'd seen another. If ever there was a location for an invisible kitten gooseberry bush this has to be that spot.

So we picked up the kitten and thought - well, we might be able to fit a third kitten into our household. If the other two didn't object.

Then, a hundred yards further on, we found another three. We couldn't walk by. They were very young, very weak ... and they were kittens.

But we couldn't adopt another four. Or five. Just as Shelagh had mastered the four kitten arm juggle, we found a fifth in a log pile fifty yards further on. Gypsy was beside herself. Life with two kittens was bad enough but seven!

And trying to juggle five kittens in your arms and walk half a mile home was ... interesting.

Now we're desperately trying to find homes for them. I knew I shouldn't have started Kitten Picture Wednesday:)

Xena Quarrier Princess Sep. 27th, 2006 @ 10:45 am
Kitten Picture Wednesday's roving explorer, Xena, makes her first visit to our medieval quarry. Granite from the quarry is said to be have been used in local cathedrals - and probably our farmhouse as well. Now it's a woody hill - somewhat lower than it would have been a thousand years ago and strewn with massive boulders and rocky outcrops.

Xena poses in the dappled shade and works out where to go next.

An old apple tree looks like a good place to explore.

Though she wasn't too sure about how to get down. Surely one of these branches has got to reach the ground?

A strange alien creature looks on, impressed. The alien is a Counou (a French naked necked chicken)

Meanwhile back at home, Kai insists he's not going outside without protective clothing.

The Creature From A Very Small Box. Sep. 20th, 2006 @ 04:00 pm
It's Kitten Picture Wednesday with the emphasis on - The Pictures. With Xena off planet conducting delicate First Contact negotiations with the woolly aliens, Kai decides he wants to be a movie star. First up we have stills from his screen test for the new Hollywood Horror blockbuster: The Creature From A Very Small Box.

Not sure if he was frightening enough in the first take, Kai decides to play the scene upside down.

Then looms towards the camera for the close up.

Next, we have Kai's audition for the new Disney live action version of The Lion King - provisionally entitled The Lion Kitten.

Next, Kai tries his paw at action thrillers playing the escaped puma in - It Came From Just Underneath The Ceiling.

A seething Kai tries out for the new reality show - France's Next Top Kitten Model. Perhaps he shouldn't have eaten just before the take.

"I am a size 6!"

And finally, a long day over, Kai relaxes in his fleecy bed

First Contact Negotiations Go Horribly Wrong! Sep. 13th, 2006 @ 11:31 am
Kai the drenched kitten looks up in horror as the alien death ray device (aka the hair drier) looms in from above. Xena can't look - she has to hide her head in her paws.

Naturally there is a story behind this picture and naturally, it being Kitten Picture Wednesday, that story will be told. It all started last week when Xena commenced First Contact talks with large woolly aliens she later learned were called sheep. At first the talks went well - as can be seen below. Xena listens intently to the woolly delegate.

The talks go so well that, back on planet Kitten, there is dancing in the streets. Mouse tariffs will be lowered and kibbles will be free!

Then an over exuberant gang of young woolly aliens (aka a lamb gang) bursts upon the meeting, leaping over and off boulders and sending the Kitten delegation racing for the nearest tree. It's a large tree. Kai is the black shape in the lower circle and Xena is the camouflaged kitten in the trees troposphere. A large woolly alien looks on from below.

And, finally, an explanation about the first picture. Coming back from the negotiations Kai decided to celebrate his tree-climbing prowess by tucking into the specially prepared meal he found on top of the fridge. Unfortunately the sustenance found was neither specially prepared nor a meal. It was chicken fat cooling off in a foil container before being thrown out. Kai, a kitten of the messy eater persuasion, managed to coat his chest, stomach and front legs in gooey fat. First contact with the shower spray swiftly ensued - in which there was much struggling, much clawing, some spilt blood (all ours) and much water. Ten minutes with the hair drier restored Kai and his fur to his previous lustrous - and very dry - state.

Kitten Dressage, and a Kitten Close Encounter With A Curious Ewe. Sep. 6th, 2006 @ 10:15 am
Yes, it's Kitten Picture Wednesday and first up we have Kai executing a perfect half-pass (the Dressage sideways walk thingy) across the top of a very large boulder.

And to prove just how large that boulder was (and that no safety nets were used) we let the camera pan back.

It's that boulder again. This time Xena is showing how useful boulders are when conducting First Contact negotiations with strange woolly aliens. Kai watches from a safer distance.

For the curious, the house in the background is our Little Sheep House on the Prairie (or house number three of our village) Originally - 16C - it was thatched. By the time we bought it in 1997 it was abandoned and roofed in rusty corrugated iron - we even found WWII British army ration packs in the attic. Then, in 1999, the Boxing Day Hurricane decided the corrugated iron and all the roof timbers looked much better on the ground. So we had to rebuild and re-roof it ourselves. To the right of the house and just above the sheep's ears is the ruin - house number four and the first house built on the site. It's incredibly small and built on top of small rocky tor - using the bedrock in the walls. The sheep now use it as a shelter. Out of sight and behind the house is our fontaine - pure spring water fed from the surrounding granite hills.

And this is Xena deciding that, with no boulders to hide behind, discretion and a swift retreat is the better part of valour when it comes to a curious juvenile woolly aliens.

Finally, we have Kai in his tree, as opposed to his normal state - out of it.

Kitten Video Wednesday Aug. 30th, 2006 @ 11:39 am
Yes, for the first time on Kitten Picture Wednesday we have video. It's only a small one - a few seconds of the kittens playing - and it's not a big file (a 530kb QuickTime movie with 320x240 frame size) but it's a movie and it's got kittens in it.

The plot: Xena has to make a run for the house while Kai lies in wait across her path. Will Kai's leap from the rock stop Xena? Where's Gabrielle? And will there be a sequel?

For those interested in the setting. The two buildings in the background are both a couple of hundred years old. The stone cottage (or house number two of our village) we now use as a stable.

The movie can be seen here:

Now the pictures. First up we have those bowls again - it's the best way to keep the kittens still.

And talking of stills, here's one from yet another attempt by Kai to snag Xena as she runs past. Either that or he's practising his swimming stroke for next year's Kitten Olympics:

Kitten Proofing Aug. 26th, 2006 @ 03:29 pm
It's trying times at the fermette at the moment as Kai, our male kitten, has learned how to open cupboard doors. This is something that none of our previous pets mastered and is causing great consternation. Every morning we come down to find cupboard doors open and a cat upside down in a large bag of dog biscuits - with only his tail protruding. Gypsy is beside herself.

We tried placing a heavy weight in front of the doors. That worked for two days. Then Xena, his female accomplice kitten, found a way of prying and squeezing until she edged the weight aside. In went Kai with his extra-sensitive lock-picking kitten claws and the door flew open. Result: both kittens now have free access to our range of cupboards.

Until today. Because out came the tool belt, in went the drill, several screws and a stout latch. It's not something I wanted to do as the range of cupboards is also home to our stash of chocolate and, I don't know about you, but I like a fast route between me and my chocolate. You never know when you need that extra square. And a stout latch is a speed bump on my road to happiness.

Reigning Cats and Dogs Aug. 23rd, 2006 @ 11:13 am
Yes, it's Kitten Picture Wednesday and first up we have Xena showing off her gardening skills. She's weeding four holly seedlings she prepared earlier.

Next up we have Kai starting to look like a grown up cat. Note the sleek coat and bushy tail.

Next we have a still from this year's Kitten Judo Trials. Xena has Kai on the mat and there might be an element of illegal cheek biting. But Kai is about to turn Ga'ould (the eyes are a dead giveaway, not to mention the husky voice and the predilection for world domination)

Finally we have the largest kitten of them all - Gypsy - showing how a deerhound cross crocodile lurcher can easily fill the largest chair.

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