Friday was my second volunteering day for the Ferne Animal Sanctuary. We were to take some animals to a Care Home for elderly people with dementia, which I was looking forward to, even though it was way out of my comfort zone.
I turned up at Ferne, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, only to be told, as I walked through the door, that the lady I was supposed to be assisting was ill (yes, just what happened last time) and, instead, I would be going with Des, another volunteer, and could I just wing it? Bright eyes dimming, bushy tail frizzing, I gulped; ‘Ok. Do I have to do a speech?’ The lovely Louise laughed, ‘No, shouldn’t think so. You’ll be fine. No worries. You’ll need to collect a couple of rabbits, a couple of guinea pigs, and Max the dog before you go.’ Right, then.
New readers, please visit the last blog to discover how simple I find rabbit-wrangling and guinea pig grasping. Luckily, this time there was Des, an old hand. It still took twenty minutes… Collecting Max, the Border Collie, was a different matter. He came out of the office (he belongs to a member of staff), lay on my foot, and turned huge, ‘just tickle behind my ears- yes right there’, eyes at me and I was smitten.
The sitting room in the Home was large and rectangular. To my initial dismay, there were chairs arranged all around the edge, just like on the telly, and sixteen pairs of eyes staring at us in silent expectation. Well, some had actually nodded off, (even before they met me) and a couple snored all the way through, but most were up for a cuddle. I smiled and said hello, wondering if I should say something about the history of Ferne, or about the work they do, but never fear; a smiley nurse asked who wanted to pet an animal - and we were off. No speeches, hurray!
Communicating with people who have dementia is interesting. I told one lady the name of the two rabbits and when they were born three times. They are called Mistletoe and Ivy. The fourth time, she said, ‘Were they born at Christmas, dear?’ It took a little time, but we got there.
Max was popular with everybody- a perfectly behaved pooch. I did worry when a man patted his lap and Max jumped up, lying sprawled across him until Matron had a picture and I made him get down. One lady had never seen or held a guinea pig; she was enthralled, and Poppy was calm and happy to be cuddled, although we should have called her Poopy because she did, often, everywhere. Betty, the long-haired one, was frisky, and was almost scalped when she tried to make her escape and one lady grabbed a handful of her hair to stop her making a run for it. Yes, she did indeed nip me when I captured her and put her back into the box (the guinea pig, not the lady).
I was particularly moved when I gave Poppy to one lady who is deaf and almost blind. The nurse said she rarely communicates anymore, and she had ignored our presence until that moment. She stroked Poppy for almost half an hour, and when the Matron suggested getting a couple for the Home, she joined in the conversation and said that was a good idea. It was her first positive statement in months. Animal magic, indeed.
‘No pussies?’ ‘No, we’ve got loads of cat socialisers. (I know- but it is a real job! -- Now look here Felix, you can’t just scarf down all the biscuits. Share with Delilah. No Felix, don’t bite her on the leg. Bad boy. Now kiss it better… Joyce Grenfell lives)
I had one hour of ‘small animal training’ with Kathryn, which involved catching a rabbit and showing I could hold it correctly. No problem. The one I aimed for was huge and weighed over two stone- he couldn’t get away fast enough to avoid my groping hands if he’d wanted to. Lovely warm coat he’d make he had.
Then it was onto Guinea Pig wrangling. At the lift of the latch into their cosy shed they disappeared under several upturned baskets. ‘This should be easy,’ I muttered, turning over a basket to reveal at least eight Guineas with their heads tucked underneath their arms pretending I couldn’t see them. But as soon as I put a hand down they scattered like the last Rice Krispies in a bowl of chocolate milk. So I scrabbled about a bit. Practised lunging (good for the thighs) ‘Got one!’
‘Oh. That one’s not good to demonstrate with - it’s blind,’ said Kathryn. No wonder I could catch it. I caught another two blind ones. Didn’t get within a Guinea Pig’s wotsit of a young ‘un. Ah well.
Onto the ferrets. The ferrets were fast asleep wrapped in blankets. Easy. Kathryn tipped out the albino one (that doesn’t bite) and I grabbed his silky, half-asleep, shivery little body and held him close. What a delight. Battered ego raised its head just a little. Maybe I was getting the hang of this animal lark. Ferret fettler first class… (I know, step away from the alliteration box).
We looked at cows, (Chilli, the biggest bovine in the world, lived at Ferne- 6'6" at the shoulder) at chickens, at ducks, at goats, at pigs, at horses, at birds, at dogs…but no pussies. They were torturing me for my insolence in expecting to see them straight away. I sighed.
Then, far too swiftly, induction was over. I signed to say I had received training, did Fire and safety stuff, and said goodbye to the staff. I took the tour notes and map home to swot. Lots of swotting.
Today was Tour Day 1. 100 ten year olds in groups of 25, for a 45 minute tour each. Had I lost my touch? Was I past it? (Jury’s still out on that one) Would it be terrible? Nah, it was great! Freezing cold, yes, bitter wind, yes, animals hiding in their sheds, yes. But I’d forgotten how enthusiastic the average ten-year old is- they ran around like monkeys, asked questions, laughed at my jokes (hey- I can re-use them!) Even the teachers smiled. Occasionally.
I really enjoyed my first day. It just goes to show that doing something for nothing is worthwhile. And I’m really looking forward to the next one in April.
Oh, and I did get to see the pussies. I’m in love with a stunning blue-eyed Bengal called Lucky. Reckon we could squeeze a little one in at home…
The sun has shone for most of September and October and I can’t remember a drop of rain for weeks. The ground is as dry as porridge oats and as friable. The plants are wilting, drooping and dying. When I turn the hose on, the water plummets through to the centre of the earth, leaving everything gasping.
I fill water bowls at every level for the birds and animals; deep ones on the ground for the larger creatures, shallow-lipped ones for scurrying things, others on tops of things for the smaller birds to drink safely – and refill them every day. It evaporates, it’s drunk, it’s spilled, gobbled up by that thirsty sun and by dehydrated wildlife.
When I see who flocks to a newly filled bowl – blue tits and pigeons, foxes and cats – I think back to the day when I learned what it was like to have no water on tap.
It was January a few years ago. Cold, dark and wet in England when I shut the doors, drew the curtains and stayed home. Then I was invited to Kenya by an African girl who had been on the same course as me – to visit her family. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance?
So clad in woollies and thick socks, I packed my flip-flops and headed for Mombasa. I even took a coat, unable to conceive of warmth in my chilly winter world.
The heat hit me like a wall as I stepped off the plane. My body had acclimatised slowly to English winter and with no warning, found itself jettisoned into the most humid, airless, equatorial summer it had ever experienced.
I felt the heat, glowed mightily, I perspired, dare I admit I sweated like paedophile on Death Row? I drank gallons.
My skimpy summer dresses stuck to my body and my hair clumped to my forehead. I could wring out my bed sheets (embarrassing as the guest of honour) and sat at dinner, making polite conversation with her husband, sweat pouring into my eyes.
‘Are you hot?’ enquired her cousin at table, giggling behind a polite hand.
They were a well-to-do family in a good area with a large house and servants. I felt like poor white trash as I slimed about the place, showing them up.
My temperate body was unused to storing water and the liquid passages moved clearly; I drank loads and wee-ed little, the water evaporating off me as it entered. After a day, I abandoned make-up – my mascara was running down my cheeks by ten in the morning. My pores were wide open like craters, to cool me down.
So I was hot. Unrelentingly hot. Got the picture? OK.
A few days in, I was showering gratefully in the morning after another sultry, sleepless night with the industrial fan whirring uselessly. I was covered in soap when the shower stopped. I twiddled the dial. Nothing. What to do? I was naked and covered in soap. Did I mention the soap? I stepped to the hand basin and turned the taps. Nothing.
I’d lived in Africa before. Perhaps someone needed to turn on the pump for the ground water? It was a house full of people: parents, cousins, children, servants. Someone would notice and switch it on. I waited.
I scraped the soap off as best I could and wrapped a towel around my sticky body. I opened my bedroom door and looked out. My friend was passing.
‘There’s no water?’ I said.
‘No,’ replied my friend, matter-of-fact. ‘Charles has to go and buy some.’
It transpired that they had a water tank under their house – and it was empty. When this happened, the husband would jump in his Mercedes, drive 30km to the dam, hire a tanker, fill it with water, find a tank driver, direct it back to the house, attach the pipes and pump it into their holding tank. The whole process would take many hours, assuming he could find a tanker for hire and a driver who fancied a bit of work. No sweat. That’s what they thought.
So there was no water in the house. None at all. That was it, until sometime that afternoon if we were lucky.
My lily body needed water, inside and out. I was still covered in greasy soap and I was perpetually thirsty. There was a third of a glass on my bedside table and a little left in the plastic bottle I’d used yesterday. There was the water in the toilet. I sipped the bedside glass and put it down again because I didn’t know when there’d ever be any more. I became frightened of lacking something so simple, something I’d always taken for granted: water.
I went to the loo and flushed without thinking. As the cistern emptied, I almost stuffed in my hands to stop it – how could I be stupid, so wasteful?
The plans for that day went by the wayside. As I sat with the others, awaiting the tanker, eyeing possible water sources, I realised for the first time, how imperative it was. The heat of the day increased, the people wilted. The children became fretful, the dogs whined; the hours passed and we were all thirsty.
There was a little in a shaded drain and another toilet with a full cistern. There was a half-made stew on the stove and a carton of juice in the fridge. And nine people. I eyed the saucers of pot plants in case they harboured a residue. The thermometer raged. Me, of all of us, struggled with panic. My tongue stuck in my mouth, it was hard to speak. I longed for the glass I'd tipped away yesterday because it was a bit dusty. How could there be no water, nothing to drink anywhere, intense heat and parched mouth, with nothing to quench it?
The tanker finally arrived followed by Charles in his Mercedes; the returning hero – the relief of a breaking storm.
Filling the tank under the house took another hour or two and it was evening before I could finish my shower. I was very quick. I didn't leave the tap running as I cleaned my teeth. I drank like a giraffe at a water hole, filling the chapped recesses of my body. I realised how valuable water was, and without it, nothing else matters.
Water is precious and you don’t know how much, until there isn’t any. None at all.
I know what it’s like to visit place after place and find them dry; the panic, the fear. That’s why I fill the bowls in the garden with water and keep them filled, for anyone of any species, who may be thirsty.
Collective terms for groups of animals include many that are amusing or plain ridiculous. I have cherry-picked some of my favourites, most of which originate from 15th century lists of ‘proper terms’, notably that in the Book of St Albans attributed to Dame Juliana Barnes (1486). Many of these are fanciful or humorous terms which probably never had any real currency, but have been taken up by Joseph Strutt in Sports and Pastimes of England (1801) and by other antiquarian writers.
a shrewdness of apes
a congress or flange of baboons
a sloth or sleuth of bears
a bike of bees
a glaring of cats
a destruction of wild cats
a peep of chickens (that one’s for Whisks)
a clattering of choughs
a covert of coots
a murder of crows
a cowardice of curs
a piteousness of doves
a peddling of ducks
a business of ferrets
a skulk of foxes
a wedge of geese
a trip of goats
a whoop of gorillas
a siege of herons
a kindle of kittens
a desert of lapwing
an exaltation of larks
a leap of leopards
a tiding of magpies
a richesse of martens
a labour of moles
a barren of mules
an unkindness of ravens
a bevy of roe deer
a parliament of rooks
a murmuration of starlings
a knob of waterfowl
a grind of bottle-nosed whales
There are also a few terms for groups of humans:
a blush of boys
a bevy of ladies
a flourish of strumpets
a gaggle of women
Here’s an ancient joke on the subject: Four scholars at Oxford were making their way down the street, and happened to see a group of ladies of the evening. “What’s this?” said the first. “A jam of tarts?” “Nay,” said the second, “an essay of Trollope’s.” “Rather, a flourish of strumpets,” advanced the third. “No, gentlemen,” concluded the last. “Here we have an anthology of pros.”
But my absolute favourites relate to professions:
a drunkship of cobblers
an expense of consultants
a hastiness of cooks
a stalk of foresters
a tedium of golfers
an observance of hermits
an eloquence of lawyers
an addition of mathematicians
a clutch of car mechanics
a faith of merchants
a superfluity of nuns
a malapertness (= impertinence) of pedlars
an intrigue of politicians
a pity of prisoners
a glozing (= fawning) of taverners
Intrinsically notable in its absence is a collective term for writers. I know of no better forum than this to lay down the challenge to come up with an appropriate term. Or, for that matter, an inappropriate one. The only requirement for any of the collective terms becoming officially recognised by the OED is that they are widely acknowledged and used.
I also welcome and encourage below any previously recognised collective terms that amuse you and any new ones that you would like to offer.
Some of the most loved stories that children read and forever remember involve a talking animal.
- Little Red Riding Hood
- The Three Little Pigs
- The Tortoise and the Hare
- Puss in Boots
- …and many more
- First draft of the novel was 148k — Yikes!
- Current draft is 68k … perfect for the newbie in a Young Adult market.
- But… if I tailored it for a MG… I might have to reduce the word count to between 35-50k.
- Watership Down: A Novel by Richard Adams
- Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams
- The Wild Road by Gabriel King
- Piper at the Gate by Mary Stanton
- Silverhair (Mammoth Trilogy) by Stephen Baxter
- Fire Bringer by David Clement-Davies
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh/Newbery Summer by Robert C. O’Brien
- The Plague Dogs: A Novel by Richard Adams
- Ratha’s Creature (The Named) by Clare Bell
- Duncton Wood by William Horwood
- The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix
If you visit the following website you'll be able to see how Hatpin stays cheerful inspite of making almost no progress at all with his family tree.
Mike in the West would welcome ideas on how to convert this web-based story to a conventional paper-based format without too much hassle.
You were on a South Belfast street, dignified and handsome,
You paid me no attention and I smiled.
I chatted to your humans and agreed to take you home,
Wrapped up in a towel, 'cause you're so wild.
You had a good explore and I knew that we'd be friends,
I could see it in your wary, wide-eyed stare.
Sure enough, my lie-ins very quickly disappeared
As I woke at dawn to find you standing there,
On my chest,
I'd had enough rest, now it's time for breakfast once again.
Then outside to see the birds and enjoy the morning air,
I had your towel waiting if I thought that it might rain.
We had three years of snuggles, of purrs and kneads and mews,
Some yowls and growls and scratches, a little bite or two,
But every time I saw you, a smile brightened up my brain
And I never could wait to get back home to you again.
Now you're no longer here, though you're always in my heart,
If you're always in my thoughts, we'll never truly be apart.
I hope we'll be reunited, one day, when I'm gone
Until then I love and miss you, my little furry one.
This is rather crude and long, however, it was occassioned by a
huge promotion by a well known national restaurant chain (US),
known as the "never ending pasta bowl". We applied the same
concept on another website in order to craft "the never-ending
poem". If it should prove to be too offensive or crass, I
will gladly delete it. It is strictly for fun!
Never Ending Pasta
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, taking her seat,
Devouring all that's been left to eat;
But Boobilah, Boobilah, at the very least
Desiring more than just merely a feast!
Boobilah, oh Boobilah! On the park bench,
Drives Studly crazy with her fluent French!
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, who leaves him for dead,
As she smacks him upside his nappy head!
Boobilah, oh Boobilah; will you sell your soul,
To indulge at the never-ending pasta bowl?
Boobilah, oh Boobilah; there's still more to eat;
Just enough room for a decadent sweet!
Grandpa, oh Grandpa, you've sweetened the deal,
By laying out all for a wonderful meal;
Grandpa, oh Grandpa, have mercy please,
For I'm gassy and old and "cutting the cheese!"
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, do not be deterred,
By my maloderous flatulance however absurd!
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, please give me more rope,
To improve my aroma with perfume and soap!
Grandpa, oh Grandpa, as I continue to fart,
You've stolen my Boobilah and a piece of my heart!
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, I'm anxious to know,
Can I recapture your heart with some tempting gateau?
Grandpa, oh Grandpa, allow me to state,
That linguini, lasagna and ziti can wait;
Till I recapture my Boobilah to fill my heart's hole,
Still I prefer self-indulgence at the huge pasta bowl!
Grampa oh Grampa, who's left us in haste,
To add girth to his ample, ever bulging waist;
Grampa oh Grampa, so footloose and free,
Through constant embibbing and we don't mean with tea!
Boobilah, my Boobilah! My fickle coquette,
My flatulence is raging, and hasn't stopped yet;
I've tried to control it, but find that I can't,
Since my Boobilah forsook me for that renegade Gogant!
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, the bubbly has popped,
The foam overflows and my flatulence is stopped;
Renegade oh Renegade, you've made me a wreck,
The least you can do is to pick up the check!
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, it's par for the course,
I was never aware that you eat like a horse!
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, I've the inestimable thrill,
To watch your dear Renegade pay the whole bill!
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, you haven't stopped yet?
The tab's now the size of the National Debt!
Renegade, oh Renegade, with penniless hands,
To pay for your Boobilah, you'll wash pots and pans!
Oh Renegade, for the bill that you could not afford,
You'll do dishes forever as Studly's reward;
As payback for the coveted heart that you stole,
With the enticement of never-ending pasta bowl!
Don't start gnawing on furniture, oh my dear Pape,
Go to back of the queue and grab yourself a big plate;
So fill up on spaghetti that stretches a mile,
Until you waddle like "Daffy" right on down the aisle!
You'll not out eat Boobilah though the bill's not been
But that's OK, you'll do dishes with poor Renegade;
For you penniless gluttons, that's a very good start,
You'll eat all of the pasta, but Studly will fart!
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, I scarcely can tell,
Whether my dubious hygiene makes my poems to smell!
I'll borrow more Yiddish as befitting a schmuck,
At least now I know that my poems don't SUCK!
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, so cute and so thin,
Wearing the clothes that she's always fit in;
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, we can't eat like that,
Out eating an army but still Studly gets fat!
Pape, my dear Pape, it's a wonderful start,
Reconciling with Boobilah will gladden my heart;
I'll emit noxious odors as we toast our good luck,
Then we'll fill paper cups with some luke-warm "Cold Duck"!
However, I'd be remiss if I neglected to say,
"Welcome, dear Bandit, to our noxious buffet!"
Join Boobilah and Grampa, for there's nothing we lack,
As Gogant, Pape and Studly wash dishes out back!
Throw out your corkscrew, get rid of your fork,
You know that there's trouble when the wine has no cork!
"Ripple" and "Swizzle" and wines of that ilk,
You're better off drinking 12 year old milk!
Be ever vigilant, oh my dear Pape,
For all so-called "wine" that has never seen grape;
Such lethal concoctions that would "de-dent" a shark,
Keep drinking that swill and you'll glow-in-the-dark!
Boobilah, oh Boobilah; Your secret is out,
How you procure your pasta with considerable clout!
A mover and shaker we cannot deny,
But why then, oh Boobilah, is the bill so damn high?
Well then, oh Boobilah, it's hard to conceive,
For some scamp has been taking the change that I leave;
Unjustly collecting for our free pasta bowls,
I suspect "Reaganomics" since my pockets have holes!
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, now please hear me out,
You make Bernie Madoff seem like a boy scout!
And even though penniless with compromised heart,
I'm consoled with bowel movement and maloderous fart.
I'm Studly the Portly-a corpulent mass,
I lay waste whole cities with foul-smelling gas!
Courtship with Boobilah's an impossible task,
Since she always requires the use of a mask!
For my mobility's sake, I'll forego the hat,
I won't fit through the door, because I'm so fat;
Just where I am scratching, I cannot disclose,
For the mystery location is well under my clothes!
Boobilah, oh Boobilah sips the finest of wines,
But if she only could read between proverbial lines;
I prefer a good "flushing" since my bowels are so tight,
With feared "apparatus" inserted just right!!!
Oh enema, oh enema, so undeniably true,
That a day without sunshine is a night without you!
To defeat constipation is my preferable end;
As the great "apparatus" will be my only friend!
Boobilah, do you know what those Italian words mean?
Because I notice that your dainties have a slight tinge of green;
It must be the landfill on this very street,
Do you know what's Italian for "radio-active sweet"?
The dessert looks quite tempting, such a decadent treat,
But it's "sinful" because it's begun to sprout feet!
It moves resolutely on out through the door,
Please don't pursue it, or we'll see you no more!
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, bittersweet to the taste,
Is the vast sumptuous banquet of nuclear waste;
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, how fickle you are,
With your cappocuoco supremo, vuole fare a pombare!
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, were you made aware,
Of Health Department warnings of the dubious fare?
They've tried their very best to remain so discreet,
Despite questionable origin of mystery meat.
You may go to the queue if you've garnered the nerve,
As Cat Parmesan is the first item they'll serve;
Vermin Vermicelli with so much on display,
With Gerbil Lasagna in this unique buffet!
Pit Bull Minestrone ranks high on the list,
Rissotto of Rat is not to be missed!
An interesting arrangement that's all for the best,
For il cappocuoco will give Boobilah the rest!
A dessert of the like that I've never seen
With muscular arms turning flourescent green;
My dessert then attacks me, knocking me to the floor,
Administers a choke-hold until I can't take anymore.
Boobilah, oh Boobilah, is it really my fault,
That my dessert's now been charged with atrocious assault?
Being mugged by mutant pastry, to me makes no sense,
Which does not even exist in the Table of Elements.
I’m fairy nature,
Come to collect fall’s leaf wares
to help make a coat.
A coat of sunsets,
A last breath of summer’s glow
To wrap up autumn.
I disguise myself
Living amongst the woodlands,
squirrels, bugs, birds, bees.
Slowly with magic
I single handedly turn
The season’s over;
Sweeping winds and driving rains,
Giving nature rest till spring.
I nourish the land.
Autumn’s blanket becomes crisp,
Stark, white, purity,
I contrast, redecorate
New, sleek, sexy, wavy tones.
To aid learning.
For those wishing to know the form of this poem, the first three veres are written in Haiku 5-7-5 form and the latter two verses in Tanka 5-7-5-7-7 form.