21 December 2010

Street Cat Diaries

hello blog! sorry I haven't spoken with you in ages (and that I keep drafting posts and then leaving them unpublished because I am Filled with Doubt).

tonight as I drove home along the City West link I was amazed and delighted to see what looked like a huge rising crescent moon, but was actually the full moon in almost total eclipse, golden against the lilac sky, and perfectly poised, from my perspective, centred above the arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

it was a gorgeous sight, but no less thrilling to me than seeing the street cats in Marlowe Street a little earlier this evening.

'Street Cat Diaries' was the name suggested by Facebook friend Tim Roberts for a blog about Sandy and the other street cats of Marlowe Street Campsie, who I got to know in September 2009. I didn't actually blog about the kittehs, only posted about them on Facebook a lot, which I now regret, cos it'll be hard to retrieve all the status updates and comments to put the story back together.

wow, it's just struck me that Sandy befriended me more than 15 months ago now. and I first glimpsed her and her five sisters in February/March 2009, when they were probably two or three months old.

in the interim, I began feeding them occasionally; gradually got to know them; gave them names (who knows what their real names are? but I named them for my convenience, and so my friends would know who I meant more easily than if I said "the other short-haired blonde one, not the really friendly one"); bought more and more cat food so I could feed the six sisters and various toms every night; was banned from feeding them on the property (I was renting a flat in a small block where the 90-year-old woman who'd had the flats built 40 years ago still resided, and the property manager, her daughter, visited once or twice a week); realised the catlings were going to be reproducing soon; started to trap, desex & release them; and became firmly attached to one of the second generation kittens, who befriended me despite his mother being so frightened of and hostile towards humans that the neighbours across the road called her Hissy, and I called her Dragon.

friendly, brave Treasure and his at-first frightened sister Rosy now live with me, in a pet-friendly flat that I moved to after the younger landlady gave me notice, as does their cousin, Sandy's daughter Fern.

... (intervening chapters to be compiled/written later) ...

anyway, today was an amazing, intense day in many ways. I hadn't seen Tabby or her daughter Shadow for ages, and was really worried that something bad had happened to Shadow (e.g. dog attack or hit by a car), because she'd seemed in good health, and usually came running to greet me and ask for food whenever I visited Marlowe Street. So when I pulled up by the park in Marlowe Street and saw first Sandy, then Tabby, then Shadow, I was thrilled!

the three cats gulped down a 400g tin of Whiskas between them, and had some dry food too. Sandy was happy to play & smooch with me, Shadow let me stroke her (as long as I stroked her when she had her back to me - seeing a hand come towards her scares her too much), and Tabby even let me stroke her once (but I desisted after that, cos it obviously upset her).

while I was feeding those three, a woman stopped to admire the cats, and asked me about them. I told her that the cats had been born in 'that backyard over there', and the people living there had sort of fed them, but then left them behind when they moved out. the woman was impressed that I had fed them every night for six months or so while living nearby, and that I came to Campsie every week or two to feed them since I'd moved away (personally I feel privileged to know the kittehs, and I miss Sandy a lot).

we had a great discussion about how animals have feelings too, cats being related to lions and leopards (who can run very fast) and that cats aren't obedient like dogs, but they can still be very loving. the kittehs meanwhile were eating, washing, looking at me for more food, playing (in Sandy's case), and taking cover in the nearby 'jungle garden' when other people walked by, specially if there were several people at once, or a dog being walked.

Shadow eating - pic taken in early November, when she still had her winter coat, so wasn't quite so obviously thin.

the woman was so moved by seeing the skinny, scared cats eating and letting me stroke them, that she gave me a packet of frozen coconut juice, which she explained to me was frozen fresh in Thailand, shipped to Australia, and only available in Chinese food stores. I was very touched, and thanked her - not sure if coconut would agree with me (does anyone know what the salicylate level of coconut is?) but can give it to someone - and it was handy to use as a cold pack, given that I was about to go shopping for things including perishables. we bowed to each other, and she continued on, while I stayed and played with Sandy some more, then went looking for Smoky, who had had the flu the last couple of times I saw her.

there's now only one house out of the three that the cats used to live around that still welcomes them (and me when I come to feed them), so I went to their backyard and called Smoky. Sandy of course came too, so when Smoky appeared, I gave her as much of the sachet of wet food as I could, while giving Sandy little bits, and stroking her to distract her. I know Sandy could've done with more too, but Smoky hadn't had any, and my darling Sandy is a bit of a mean girl even when she's not starving, and all her sisters are wary of her smacking them, even Smoky, who is the next toughest of the litter. one of the guys came out of the house just as Smoky was finishing the last remnants of fishyness, and she and Sandy both bolted - I guess not all the current human residents are on good terms with the kittehs.

After that I went to the post office and picked up lots of lovely goodies from my PO box:
a CD of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy from a friend (thank you, Andrew!); two books from Twelfth Planet Press that I'd bought online in their 12 Days of Christmas Sale - two novellas in one volume, Siren Beat by Tansy Rayner Robers and Roadkill by Robert Shearman, and a collection of short stories by Deborah Biancotti, A Book of Endings; a tiny wee teddy bear figurine that my sister bought for my aunt & had posted to Campsie to make sure she could get it before Xmas; sundry newsletters, catalogues & appeals from charities; and a Christmas card from a friend in Wales.

my favourite chicken shop is in Campsie too, Lefkas Chicken on Beamish Street, where I bought the last half chicken (phew! my kittehs at home would not have been pleased if I'd come home from Campsie without chicken!), and the lovely proprietor Joanne wished me a merry Christmas "and your mum and your sister too", and said if we wanted a chook for Xmas, we'd need to order it (note to self: check with Becca; probably order chicken).

Rebecca has planned a yummy menu of things that will be pretty and easy for our mum to eat (Mama only likes soft food now), so I went to World of Fruit in search of white sweet potato, then wandered around Woollies for ages getting lots of groceries, and finding other ingredients for a red, white & green salad for Xmas lunch - Becca is very creative with food. actually, Becca is very creative generally. have a look at her dolls' house blog http://rebeccascollections.blogspot.com/

I'd already spent much longer in Campsie than I'd planned, but Shadow, Smoky and Tabby were waiting by my car when I got back from shopping, so I gave them some more dry food, and one of the wet food sachets I'd just bought on special at Woollies, and spoke with a teenage boy who was fascinated by the cats. I wondered if perhaps he was autistic, as he was mostly not speaking or making eye contact, and focussed a lot on picking up twigs from the ground and breaking them into same-sized pieces. He watched the cats, and listened when I told him how the cats were related, and agreed when I said that they were very hungry, and quite scared of people, but that one (Shadow) might let him stroke her while she was eating. he stroked her very gently, and let Smoky and Tabby eat in peace. he was still crouching by the cats and breaking twigs when I drove off.

when I got home I thought about going out again to watch the full moon and the eclipse some more, but was tired and wanted to get the cats indoors, feed them, feed me, ring Mum & Rebecca, and ring my potential flatmate about the house we've applied to rent. Treasure and Fern were very happy to come inside (Trezh especially once he smelled the chicken) but Rosy was flitting about in the garden and had no intention of being shut indoors. so Trezh and Fern and I had chicken, I rang Mum and Becca, then my friend who I've been flat-hunting with rang me.

She is feeling very unsure about the place that we've been offered. I am still half-disbelieving that I've finally found somewhere to move to when my lease is up in a few weeks. after two months of looking, hundreds of listings viewed online, scores of details read and photos examined (did you know that 'neat and tidy' means small, and 'original condition' means needing repairs?), about a dozen properties visited, and four applied for, I'm in! except that my friend is blind, and therefore moving is a Very Big Deal for her; anywhere she lives has to be close to public transport; and she doesn't have to move right now, as I do, just wants to be closer to lively cafes and interesting shops than where she is now. As the cute, semi-detached house we've applied for is not particularly close to the station or the local shops and cafes (of which there are a good number), she's not sure if she wants to move at all. But she kindly agreed to co-sign the lease this week, without which I'd have no hope of getting the place, and continue to think about the move over the next week or so. if she decides to move, great; if not, she'll let me know so I can start looking for another flatmate, and hopefully not have to pay the whole rent for too long.

After that, I just wanted to go to bed, but went outside to look for Rosy, who was still having fun romping around in the garden. at least this time she rolled on the ground to invite a tummy rub, rather than running of somewhere I couldn't catch her. I obliged with a tummy rub (she has gorgeous soft fur), and just as I picked her up to bring her in, my landlord let his collie out for her night-time wee, and she rushed barking at me and Rosy. Rosy struggled to get free and run, I hung on and ran for the door to my flat, Rosy scratched me but I managed to get her inside and slam the door shut, and turn to say "no!" firmly to Nessie the lovely collie. Nessie was very disappointed not be able to play with (read: chase and possibly bite) Rosy, but happy to have a scratch around the ears from me. Rosy was relieved to get away from the Big Barking Dog, resigned to being inside, and very happy to have some chicken.

if you're still reading this, well done! you have great stamina :-)
I enjoy blogging, but am not much given to short, frequent posts (as you can probably tell) - despite being tired and planning to go to bed early, I'm still up at one in the morning. That's the trouble with blogging - it's writing, which I love, and which has a similar effect on me to reading a good book - everything else recedes into the distance, bodily sensations such as hunger or fatigue become unimportant, and the words and the world they conjure are everything.

12 July 2010

Polish your first page till it sparkles!

I find it interesting, that in writing courses you're always told that the first page and the first chapter of your book have to be absolutely captivating if you want to get it published. "You must have a hook!" "It must be easy to read." "Publishers will stop reading if they're not won over by the first page." "Readers will give up, and give bad word-of-mouth, if the first chapter doesn't grab them."

And yet everyone I know who's read the Stieg Larsson Millenium trilogy says the first couple of chapters of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are slow, difficult, boring, annoying - but once you get past them, the rest of the trilogy is fab.

So are Swedish publishers different? Do readers feel a sense of pride in slogging through difficult text? Or is Larsson the exception that proves the rule?

25 June 2010

Resolutions and Flexibility

I recently resolved to cut back on buying books (and dvds and t-shirts) because I am currently unemployed. To help myself remember this resolution, I wrote a list:
Don't buy anything more from amazon.co.uk, even though they have the best tv on dvd, at great prices, or from amazon.com, even tho it's great for US tv on dvd, and US books that aren't available in Aus;
Don't buy anything more from fishpond.com.au, boomerangbooks.com.au or booktopia.com.au, even though they're good, and Australian/New Zealand owned;
Don't buy anything more from threadless.com, even though they have fab designs, not even if they have a $10 all t-shirts sale.

and I knew without needing to list it that I should stay away from actual bookshops as well as online ones - frustrating given that I've just moved to a suburb that puts me conveniently close to Shearer's on Norton (where I bought some nice books in their sale the other day), and Gleebooks (always a delight to visit any of their stores - new, secondhand, children's, etc), and not that far from Better Read Than Dead.

so today I was in the city, having gone to a meeting at the Centre for Volunteering, and saw that Dymocks was having a sale. I don't often get to the big Dymocks in the city, and even tho the company supported the lifting of Parallel Importation Restrictions (which I was against) and used their Booklover email list to try and persuade customers that ending PIR would be a good thing (which I disapproved of, and emailed them about), they do have a great range of fiction & non-fiction, and are at least an Australian-owned chain bookstore, even if no longer the independent bookshop that Dymocks once was.
(I was pleased to see that they had several copies of F2M by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy - it's by local Aus/NZ authors, it's YA, and it's about gender identity and transitioning - a first for local YA - and it's a good read. hopefully they'll sell the copies!)

I decided to check the sale out - not committing to buying anything (I have on occasion actually made it out of a book sale without buying anything - not often, but it has happened), just having a look. the stickered sale prices were good - lots of recent fiction at $5, some at $10, and $20 for big hardcovers - so I picked up a few titles - a script book of Little Britain reduced from $39.99 to $5!, John Barrowman's autobiography in hc for $7.50 - and passed over others that were more than $10 and/or not something I'd be sure to re-read.

then a staff member made a charming announcement over the PA "shoppers, if you are in the store right now, consider yourself lucky, we are making you an offer you can't refused. all books and other items on sale tables are now reduced by 50% from the sticker price, so pick up a basket and go crazy, treat yourself, buy gifts for loved ones without costing a fortune. we want to sell all the stock so we don't have to pack it up!"

I did indeed pick up a basket and go crazy, as did many other shoppers. the nice announcer repeated his spiel a few times, changing "so we don't have to pack it up" to "we're doing this as a thank you to everyone who's shopped with us during the year" and adding "consider yourself lucky, it's like a Lotto win!".

so, I decided to be flexible and accommodate this amazing lucky opportunity to help the staff avoid packing up all the stock again, and suspend my "no buy" resolution for an hour or so. and just look at what I got!:

(I'm using pb to mean paperback, not picture book; hc is hard cover; tpb is trade paperback; gn is graphic novel)

Laurell K Hamilton - Blood Noir (hc) $3.75
John Barrowman - Anything Goes (hc) $3.75
Archimede Fusillo - Last of the Braves (pb) $5
Matt Lucas & David Walliams - Little Britain: Scripts and Stuff from Season 3 (hc) $2.50
Justina Robson - Going Under (trade pb) $3.75 (book 3 of Quantum Gravity; I have book 1, now looking for book 2)
Pamela Freeman - Full Circle (tpb) $2 (it's book 3 of the Castings Trilogy, so I'll want to buy or borrow the first two before I read it)
Elizabeth Honey & Heike Brandt - To the Boy in Berlin (pb) $3.75
ed.s James Gunn, Marleen S Barr, Matthew Candelaria - Reading Science Fiction (pb) $10
Kathy Reichs - Devil Bones (pb) $2.50
Brian Caswell - Cruisin' (pb) $2.50
Amanda Lohrey - Vertigo (pb) $1
Gabrielle Bell - Cecil and Jordan in New York stories (hc graphic novel) $7.50
Cristy C Road - Bad Habits (pb gn) $2
Dark Horse ed - My Space: Dark Horse Presents (pb gn) $2
Rehannon Pompey - Smashing Aunty Kathy's Car (pb) $1
Nicki Bloom - Tender (pb playtext) $1
Debra Adelaide - The Household Guide to Dying (pb) $2.50
Hunters & Collectors - Great Australian Albums 2: Human Frailty (dvd) $5
Powderfinger - Great Australian Albums 2: Odyssey Number Five (dvd) $5
Zach Braff - Garden State (dvd) $7.50
Alyssa Brugman - Girl Next Door (pb) $5
ed. Sherman Alexie - Tell the World (pb) $3.75
ed. Amy Goldwasser - Red (pb) $3.75
John Marsden - So Much To Tell You (pb playtext) $2.50
Simmone Howell - Everything Beautiful (pb) $3.75
David Walliams, read with Matt Lucas - The Boy in the Dress (audio cd) $7.50
James Manos, Jr/Jeff Lindsay - Dexter Season 2 (dvd) $10
Melissa Rosenberg/Stephenie Meyer - Twilight (dvd) $5 (now I can make my own Buffy/Edward mash-up!)
Sean Williams - The Dust Devils (pb) $3.75
Jane Godwin - Falling From Grace (pb) $3.75
Cathy Park Hong - Dance Dance Revolution (pb) $2.50
A. Koford - The Laugh-Out-Loud Cats Sell Out (hb gn) $2.50
Quentin Blake - You're Only Young Twice! (hb) $2.50

so I got 34 titles - books of poetry, prose fiction, criticism and plays, dvds of movies, tv series and docos, graphic novels and picture books, and an audio CD - all for $134.25!

and I'm obviously having a lucky book day, cos I just received an email from Text Publishing to say that I'm one of several new subscribers to their e-newsletter who has won a copy of a book published by them! yay!

I wish all who read this may have a lucky book day - lots of lucky book days - whether you're a writer, editor, publisher, bookseller or reader, may you find, buy, win, read, sell to a publisher or to a customer, contract, edit, or write - lots of wonderful books!!!

21 March 2010

A profusion of purring furry persons

My dear Readers, I apologise for my long absence from these pages. A whirlwind of Events overtook me, in the form of a gradual return to employment (which culminated in being made redundant) and many, many Kittehs.

So many times I've thought of blogging about something I've read or seen, but instead have let the idea disappear into the flow of thoughts, events and actions that burbles along from day to day.

And if I did write about a piece of fiction, or an Exciting Event in real life, it would most likely be a status update on Facebook, where friends would often respond with comments and stories of their own - a gratifying, interesting and enjoyable interaction that so far isn't happening on this blog.

So, since November I have kitnapped first one kitten, then a second (both of whom are still with me - we are now family); unsuccessfully attempted to kitnap another sibling of those two; successfully taken in, succoured, and then rehomed another; then taken four at once, who are currently with me but whom I hope to find good homes for soon.

In between those kitnappings (very gentle, loving kitnaps, I assure you, resulting in the kittens receiving good food, shelter, necessary medicines, and lots of cuddles) I also trapped (less gently, but still humanely) a number of cats aged between one year and (I estimate) approximately five years old - plus a four-month-old who managed to trap herself when I was trying to capture a pregnant one-year-old.

The four-month-old and all but one of the adult cats have been desexed and returned to their home territory; the exception was a heavily pregnant female who was very distressed by being trapped (she managed to get out of the trap while I was trying to put newspaper in to make it more comfortable, and bit & scratched me ferociously, poor girl) - she I took to the pound, where the vet nurse reassured me that many of the strays they received are rehomed rather than being put down.

Most days (usually at night) I've been feeding the street cats and getting to know them quite well. They certainly recognise me, expect me to produce food whenever they see me, and wait outside my flat at night for me to come and feed them (despite my having trapped, desexed & released about half of them). So that's the story so far (leaving out the various cat-loving, cat-hating, and cat-ignorant neighbours I've met, the issues with my landlady, and the War on Fleas).

The major recurring characters are:

Sandy (loving, friendly, slightly crazy young street cat who has adopted me as her human), a light-brown and white short-haired female with cream swirls in the shape of tie-died circles or parentheses;

Fern, Charlie, Lotty
and Blanche, Sandy's kittens;

Shelly (wary of humans, the weakest & least confident of her litter, but very protective of Dragon's kittens), a light-brown and white short-haired female with faint striping, and Sandy's sister;

Dragon (hostile to humans, willing to accept food but will hiss at every interaction), a long-haired strawberry blonde with very faint stripes - another of Sandy's sisters;

Treasure and Rosy, my adopted kittens, offspring of Dragon;
Leo and Rufus, Dragon's kittens, missing presumed dead;

Cheyenne (wary of humans, but not hostile), a pale apricot long-haired cat, another of Sandy's litter-mates;

Wee Rufus and Mini-Leo, killed by cars, offspring of Cheyenne;
Joey, kitnapped & rehomed, and Petal, yet to be caught, both offspring of Cheyenne;

Tabitha (known as Tabby, semi-friendly but somewhat averse to being stroked), a medium-haired black & grey tabby/swirly cat, with clear circles/parentheses - also one of Sandy's sisters;

Tiger, Shadow, Tabitha, offspring of Tabby/Tabitha Sr;

Smoky (quite friendly but averse to being stroked), a long-haired grey & cream tabby/swirly cat with faint circles/parentheses - another of Sandy's sisters;

Spark, Ember, (maybe also Mischka), offspring of Smoky;

(very friendly, high-ranking tom, loves being stroked, but a bit tetchy since being desexed), a big handsome dark orange & cream swirly/tabby cat with clear circles/parentheses, and mini angel wings on his shoulder blades - probably father of Dragon's first litter of four, Cheyenne's first litter of four, and Sandy's son Charlie;

Lenny (sweet-natured, wary of humans, woebegone-looking, low-ranking tom), short-legged stocky build, very wide face, black & grey tabby/swirls with white chest and paws - probable father of Smoky's kitten Spark, and of New Cat Selene's son New Kitten Sylvester.

Thomas (uninterested in humans), black & grey tabby/swirly tom with clear circle/parentheses - very probably father of Tabby's kittens, possible sibling of Lenny

Guy (extremely wary of humans and impossible to trap) ginger-tabby and white, tall elegant tom - father of Lotty and Blanche

New Cat Selene (very friendly to me) tall, elegant, narrow-faced grey-tabby & white female - clean & healthy, possibly a dumped pet

New Kitten Sylvester (very friendly & trusting with me, not keen on other kittens, quite trusting of adult cats, most of whom are likely to hiss at or hit him), silver-grey/black & white tabby/swirly baby tom - clean & healthy, possibly a dumped pet, son of Selene

Mischka (very poorly when found, malnourished & not eating, happy to be held) black/grey swirly cat, may be one of Smoky's kittens, or Selene's