Wednesday 8 October 2008

On fur and feathers

Having just read Mountainear's latest about the loss of one of her chooks to the fox, I had a little reminisce about townies, urban prey and the predators I have known and loved. As city dwellers, we hold a rather different position on foxes from country folk: the sight of fox pawprints across a vegetable patch can be welcome, as our precious allotments can be overrun suddenly with rabbits. And not just the allotments - the Civic Centre, surrounded by congested roads and heavy pedestrian traffic too, is awash with rabbits, sitting calmly, and, it must be said, very cutely, amidst all the noise and bustle. And we don't keep chickens, because their predator is most likely to be the vandal.

I have had some mighty hunters in the team over the years. There was Attie, mouse hunter and, perhaps, burglar, who once left me half a white rat, possibly someone's pet, and Jack, who started off as a wild
little churchyard kitten (very wild - bit me fiercely on the nose after I plucked him out of two lanes of thundering traffic and kept him for evermore), who never quite shook off the call of the Dene, and would disappear for days, sometimes weeks. Eventually I put a name tag on his collar which asked anyone who found him wandering to return him to me, and I was amazed by how often he would be picked up miles from home, deep in the park, fat and cheerful. He often bit the would-be rescuer, too, to show his unreadiness to come home, but people seemed to rise to the challenge regardless.

Jack was a formidable hunter, not the easiest pet for a city family, but at least he ate what he caught. He regularly brought home a rabbit, which he liked to eat under the kitchen table, skulking outside with it till we had gone to bed before dragging it through the cat flap. Souvenirs and leftovers were few; an ear or two, a tail, a bit of gall bladder, usually something cold and unpleasant to step in with bare feet in the morning. A young man delivering something at my door once turned green as we spotted Jack struggling up the road with an enormous rabbit in his jaws; it must have matched Jack in size, but he ate it all, and slept for three days, with a huge round tummy like a cartoon cat. He brought live mice home and would call for the kittens, who were clearly missing the hunting gene, and who would gaze at the gift in awe till we rescued and released it. I have a wonderful memory of two small wide-eyed kittens, one on each side of a mouse which was sitting busily washing its face and whiskers, Jack having lost interest, perhaps disappointed by the lacklustre performance of his proteges, who grew up to bring home the occasional moth or earthworm - hardly Masai Mara stuff - and who might only exert themselves to watch birds on tv.

Life is slower and quieter now, with only one very aged cat left from the Magnificent Seven, but it's safe to walk in bare feet in the mornings, and a loud cat yowl only means "Where you?" and not "Mouse!" I think I prefer it that way.

1 comment:

mountainear said...

That brought back many memories of hunting cats - mostly from my Warwickshire childhood. Those of later years in the soppy suburbs were weedy things in comparison.

Marmite in particular would lug home and devour huge rabbits and then lie, replete and stinking, until the urge to hunt took hold again. He brought home pheasants too - somehow managing to leap through the kitchen window with his prey - only to be relieved of them by my mother who would then prepare it for us to eat. We're none the worse for it.

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