What’s up duck


On Noah’s Ark the ducks had started a jazz band and it was almost unbearable, though perhaps marginally easier to deal with at close quarters than the African Large Mammals’ Morris-Dancing Collective (to whom, after initial resistance, Noah had yielded the use of the foredeck every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. The rhinos were persuasive negotiators). Mr Duck had recently taken up the saxophone, while Mrs Duck fancied herself as a sultry crooner. They had recruited the moorhens, the geese, the female flamingo and a coot to be the rest of the band, with, on drums, a platypus from whom they would soon part owing to irreconcilable creative differences. They practised assiduously and promised to put on a concert as soon as they were ready.


“Is there any sign of land yet?” Noah asked Mrs Noah, as they huddled in their cabin, doing their best to relax with the Epic of Gilgamesh.

“My budgie had a look around earlier,” said Mrs Noah, “and she says there’s still twenty feet of water over the highest mountain top and aggressive mer-people have colonised the city of Uruk.”

“You shouldn’t believe everything you learn from tweets,” said Noah. “But the dove said the same yesterday about the twenty feet of water. I wish I could get off this boat. The noise is appalling.”

“The hedgerow birds’ choral singing is quite good,” said Mrs Noah, who believed in positive thinking and was also slightly deaf.

“If only they didn’t do it at dawn,” groaned Noah. “Whose stupid idea was this ark nonsense, anyway?”

“It was God’s,” said Mrs Noah.

Continue reading “What’s up duck”


The Saved


“I want to do burlesque,” said the hen. “A striptease. I’ll take my feathers off, one by one. Would you like me, like that? Would you think I looked tasty?”

The cat said nothing. Why did she have to say these things? It was the sacred rule of the Ark, the foundation on which everything rested – you didn’t eat your fellow passengers. Look, there was the lion, lying down with the lamb, not even drooling.

“Or a magic trick. Saw the head off the lady. I’ll keep on dancing. Oh, how beautifully I would dance, if I couldn’t think.”

“It’ll be over soon,” he said, without looking at her. “The waters are already receding. You can lay your eggs and raise your chicks and be happy.”

“Oh yes, of course. Repopulating the earth. The brood-mother of nations. What an honour.” She laughed bitterly.

“Look, we didn’t ask for this,” said the cat quietly. “We aren’t to blame for our luck or for what happened to the others. What kind of a world is it going to be if all we do in it is mourn?”

“I don’t want to mourn. I want to dance. I want to die of music.”


There were songbirds on the gunwales, blackbirds, starlings, swallows, finches, rising and calling and fluttering over each other with a constant rippling motion; below them, the sunlight dazzled on the water. There was no sail, because there was nowhere to go. Noah and his family were busy with the work of the ship, sluicing and scrubbing and tending their stores.


“I was a temple cat,” said the cat, “in the city of Uruk, at the temple of Ishtar. The front of the temple was faced with coloured tiles of white and blue and the white steps to the gate were washed each day. The statues were gilded and the temple women wore circlets of gold wire and gold rings in their ears. Men came to couple with the women, in honour of the goddess, and to make sacrifices. They killed doves and lambs. Then the bones and scraps were thrown on the refuse heaps at the back of the temple, which grew bigger every year and stank, swarming with rats and buzzing with flies. The dark ooze seeped from the rubbish and ran down to the river. There was always sickness in the city, but the people went on worshipping Ishtar, who brought them prosperity and made things grow.”

“It sounds horrible,” said the hen.

“It was a good life for a cat,” said the cat. “There was plenty to eat and the women were kind to me. There was one I remember. She would stroke me and share fish with me when she had some. She was trying to save the trinkets the men gave her so she could buy an inn when she was too old to work in the temple – she’d put them in an old oil jar she kept in the corner – but she never managed to save very much; she kept shaking the trinkets out again and exchanging them for new sandals or wine.”

“Was there music in the temple?”

“Oh yes, lots. Voices, flutes, drums, harps. Formal music for the goddess, worksongs for cooking and washing, lullabies for the babies, story-songs for the fireside. But mostly love-songs, because Ishtar is the goddess of love.”

“Will you sing me one of the songs?”

“My singing was never encouraged. But my point is, it was always going to end. They knew it. The woman I told you about knew she couldn’t live that life forever, that her youth was passing; and everyone knew that the stink and the filth were getting worse and worse. They talked about cleaning it up, they had a lot of quarrels and arguments, but they never changed anything. So, in the end, the change simply happened. And I suppose we have to make the best of it.”

“All my life I’ve loved music. I used to like to sit at roost and hear the people singing in the evenings. Entertainers would come to the village and I’d dream of all the places they’d been to that they were carrying in their music. I’m really not suited to be the mother of all hen-kind, you know. I’m dreamy and impractical, I was always quite low down the pecking order…”

“You’ll be fine,” said the cat.

“I wonder what we’ll find to eat, when we get off the boat? I just used to follow the flock, before. I guess there’ll be loads of, what do you call it, alluvial mud, and that makes things grow, doesn’t it? And bugs coming up, like after the rains? Well, it is after the rains.”

“I’m planning to stick close to the humans. There’s always something to scavenge where the humans are.”

“Yes, all the mice and little birds and things will stay around the humans. Have you ever had a bird as big as me?”

“To be honest I was more of a mouse man. And just stealing things and getting treats from the women.”

“Don’t you want me?”

“You’re a very fine hen.”

There was a silence and then the hen began to speak once more.

“It’s going to be hard, starting again. I’m frightened but I’ll simply have to try, because there isn’t any other way. There won’t be much time to think, I suppose – the humans will be building and sowing and chopping and making, and I’ll be fussing over my chicks and learning to forage for whatever there is to eat, wherever we end up living. But I want you to promise that one day you’ll come to me, when the sun is setting, and you’ll sing me the songs of Ishtar. I’ll dance for you, and then I’ll lie down, I won’t struggle at all, and you’ll eat me all up.”

“I promise. I’ll savour every bit.”

“I’m glad we’ve had this time together.”


Noah’s family had finished their chores and the sons sat down to rest on the deck while the women went below to cook the evening meal. Noah had gone into his cabin. Now he came out with a dove on his hand. He whispered in its ear. Then he raised his hand and sent it forth, and it went out to search the face of the waters, looking for the first rebirth of land.

Hugh’s second ascent

Dot writes: we’ve had a lovely day today. We needed it. Here’s a splurge of negative stuff from our week, but I promise if you wade through it you’ll get to some blue skies and cheering healthy exercise, not to mention good behaviour and delicious Avoca salad. You don’t get to eat the salad, but I can assure you I did a very good job of eating it on your behalf.

It has been an anxious week. Tib has not returned. Ken and the boys have leafleted everyone in our road and everyone in the road that backs on to ours and whose gardens Tibby may have run into. I have put up adverts on lostandfoundpets.ie and pets.ie and contacted the DSPCA and some local vets. But there has been no news and no sightings. I keep expecting him to turn up at the back door, but the days go by and he just doesn’t.

At the same time we have been dealing with another rather stressful situation. A bit over a week ago, Ken was offered a job – which is good – but in Bristol, which is rather less good, since it means him being away during the week; but it’s a great chance to get experience, and pleasing confirmation of the fact that he is a Good Thing, and we agreed he should take it. They seemed to want him to start very soon, and I signed up to AuPairWorld and began dealing with the flood of applications from eager young Spaniards (there are a LOT of Spanish girls who want to be au pairs). But despite the initial message of hurry hurry, Ken’s new employers don’t seem to be getting their act together. The guy who recruited him wanted him to come over to the UK for training and told him to arrange dates with the current brewer, but the current brewer told him to arrange dates with the other guy and seemed rather hostile if anything; neither of them has been back in touch, and now we are beginning to wonder whether this job will actually happen after all. I narrowed my au pair search down to three girls and then had to tell all of them that I’m no longer sure we’ll need them.

Also, Ken ran the marathon on Monday and has been a bit sore in the knees, and I’ve had a rotten cold. (The marathon deserves a post to itself. The cold doesn’t, but it was very snotty and repulsive.)

All those things on the minus side. But on the plus side, this:






Last time we climbed Great Sugarloaf Hugh was a little baby carried on Ken’s chest. This time both boys did it on their own legs with remarkable vigour and enthusiasm; it seems the secret of a walk without whinging is to make it as steep, rocky and pointy as possible. The wind was brisk but the sky clear, and from the top we could see all the way to the Mournes. Then we came down and had lunch at the Avoca outlet in Kilmacanogue (so that’s the tasty salad part I mentioned – for me and Ken only; the boys were being good, but not salad good – their lunch was rather less vitamin-rich); and then we went and visited our former neighbour, who has poor health and always likes to be visited. It was nice to catch up with her but also felt like something of a good deed. Since we last saw her she has had thyroid cancer (we didn’t know about this or we’d have visited more often) and, post-treatment, ironically feels better than she has done for years.

And so home, feeling pleased with ourselves and our day.

P.S. Here are the boys in their Halloween costumes. A nasty mother would say these costumes reveal rather than disguising, but I am not a nasty mother. And really the boys have been very good today.

Sorry, blog…

Dot writes: I was getting quite a good blogging rhythm together, but then two-and-a-half weeks went by while I wasn’t looking. What happened? The start of the university teaching term happened, of course. Fun but busy. Anyway, here are some other things that have been squeezed in around meeting new students, sorting out the legacy of crisis from the supplemental exam session, and mugging up desperately for my brand new course on History of the English Language while also mugging up desperately for my fairly well-established course on Arthurian Literature, for which, even though I’ve taught it before, I always feel I need to do lots more work.

1. Frank’s birthday party, on Sunday 22nd. The weather suddenly became beautifully warm and sunny and a good time was (I think – I hope) had by all. I stayed up an hour past my usual bedtime on Saturday decorating the cake and it still looked a bit rubbish, but it tasted fantastic:

This is Frank on the evening after his party, dressed as Robin in a new costume we bought him.
The costume was ordered over the internet and turned out to be rather small, but Frank is very keen on it for about ten minutes at a time, after which he asks to have it taken off as it’s pinching him.

2. Tib’s little operation. I was eager to schedule this, as I was feeling somewhat harrassed, but when the time came I did feel rather bad about it. I know it means fewer fights, and fewer unwanted kittens to home, but it still involved cutting a bit of him off… He was very quiet and shy that evening. Here he is wanting to go out and not being allowed to.
Happily he has since bounced back and resumed his habits of running right up to the top of the neighbour’s tree, dashing down the garden with fluffed up tail, and hiding under the bed in order to pounce on our feet (and he even actually had a quick go at my leg again, though without the nipping. I think he just likes climbing things). I feel I don’t get to pay him as much attention as I would like, and I’ve noticed that since Ken has been at home more, having finished his summer job, Tib is beginning to sleep on his side of the bed. Some of the time, anyway. I am still the preferred human for stroking and affection at 6am.

3. The end of Ken’s time at Guinness. Good in some ways – no more dashing home at lunchtime to take Hugh, protesting all the way, from school to creche – less good in others – no more second income for a bit, and back to unemployment and concomitant despondency. However, Ken has been occupying himself with useful and creative tasks such as making tomato chutney (from his own crop, grown in the greenhouse) and elderberry syrup (elderberries from our friends Niall and Meredith). (Actually the syrup is more of a jelly.) He has also been vigorously pursuing possible leads on jobs. And getting Hugh to do his homework when he comes in from school instead of at 6pm when he’s tired and cross.

4. Frank had a little trip to A & E, because we realised we hadn’t been to the hospital for a couple of months and they might be forgetting us. He was riding on the back of Ken’s bike and got his foot caught in the wheel. I wasn’t there, but I gather it was pretty horrible. Anyway, x-rays were taken, but it seemed to be just a sprain with bruising and grazing. Frank refused to walk on it at all for about 24 hours and then went back to running around at top speed.

5. I have started taking Frank to a music class on Saturdays. It’s called Tiny Tempos and involves a lot of singing, marching, banging things, and jiggling small children rhythmically on one’s lap. Frank is very enthusiastic though not always doing what he is supposed to be doing. I love the chance to spend time with him and be allowed to give him lots of cuddles.

6. Hugh has started an afterschool class called Junior Tunes (which costs about half as much as Tiny Tempos for the same number of weeks), as we were too late, by two or three minutes and two places in the queue, to sign him up for the much-sought-after Fitkids class. I was afraid he would sulk and refuse to do it, but to my surprise he seems to be enjoying it very much. I gather it involves a lot of banging things.

So, that’s some of our news, squashed down into a list. Today Ken was out at a Whisky festival and I took the children to the park and to visit a friend. The weather was gorgeous but I managed to scrape the side of the car on the friend’s gatepost. Also the friend’s three-year-old daughter scratched Hugh on the chest and made him bleed, an event which he greeted with the utter lack of stoicism that we know and love in him. On the other hand, the friend’s son gave Frank his old Spiderman costume and Frank was extremely delighted. So we have lost a bit of skin and a bit of paint but gained a superhero.

Until the next time…

Be careful of your metaphors

…for they may go all literal on you, writes Dot. At least, some aspects of having a new kitten are more like having a new child than I was reckoning on. Such as the sleep-deprivation (for Tiberius wakes even earlier than the boys and likes to take his morning exercise on my tummy); and the terror (love of balancing on high points + propensity to slip = nervous new cat-mum); and the lack of privacy in the bathroom (during my shower he walked up and down the edge of the enamel bath, which is slippery, and fell off into the bath. Twice. See previous point. He hated getting wet but he still did it again).

Another parallel to early motherhood is the feeling of anxious puzzlement when there is something they clearly want but they don’t have the linguistic ability to tell you what it is. He’s had several fits of seeming agitated and urgently miaowing at me. Yesterday it was fairly clear that the problem was a need to use the litter tray for – ahem – serious purposes for the first time. We eventually managed that, though his initial preference was for a large plant pot and I had to haul him out of it repeatedly and put him in the tray, whereupon he would leap out and make for the plant. Today – well, I don’t know what it was. He’s seemed quite hungry. There has been food down the whole time, but he seems unwilling to eat to the bottom of the bowl and I suspect that, as the biggest of the litter, he was used to only eating the top of the food and leaving his sisters to clear up what was left. He has also wanted to play, and we have duly played with him. But there may be something else. Feeling unsettled, missing his family, needing a tummy rub, smelling something interesting – I just don’t know. If only he could talk. But Hugh and Frank learnt to talk, and look where that got us.

Tib balances on something narrow and slippery (fortunately this particular perch is not very high)
Tib balances on something narrow and slippery (fortunately this particular perch is not very high)

First trip into the outside world. A bit earlier than planned, but I was getting a bit desperate in the battle of the pot plant.
First trip into the outside world. A bit earlier than planned, but I was getting a bit desperate in the battle of the pot plant.

New arrival

Dot writes: from time to time Ken and I have talked of having a third child. I’ve sometimes daydreamed wistfully about having a little girl, for whom I could buy nice dresses. (Yes, I am a shallow consumer and in thrall to oppressive gender stereotypes, what of it?) After Frank was born I was quite convinced we would have another boy and call him William. At one point, though it seems odd to think it now, Ken was keener on the idea of another child than I was. But now, well – both of us are building our careers, and both of us like it. There are no nappies in our house and no night feeds and the idea of returning to either is not especially inviting. And two is a good convenient number.

However, there are other ways to expand our family. Meet Tiberius.



We collected him from his previous home yesterday evening; the mother of one of my students had adopted a cat with three kittens, and Tiberius, being braver than his sisters, is the one the family could just about bear to part with, on condition that the student will come to cat-sit for us when we go away and thus be reunited with him. (Yes, he comes with a pre-arranged cat-sitter.) He is three months old and an extremely confident and curious little cat. I had set everything up ready for him in the spare room to give him a bolt-hole, but he immediately began to explore the house so I decided I might as well move the food and litter tray downstairs. Just now he was terrifying me by balancing along the rail on the landing, and he has demonstrated, in a feat of impressive agility, that he can climb the ladder up to Hugh’s bunk. He enlivened the small hours last night by weaving delicately between the pot-plants on our bedroom window-sill. (We’d decided we wouldn’t allow him to sleep in our room, but this policy lasted about a minute in the face of pathetic little mewing noises at our door. He likes company.)

Ken doesn’t much care for the name Tiberius (Tiberius Claudius Niger, in the full form his previous family bestowed on him), but someone on facebook pointed out it could be abbreviated as Beery, so he’s beginning to become reconciled to it. Hugh wanted to call him Ginger but has given up that idea. I like the name Tiberius, but I also find myself addressing him as Little Boy. I can be Jo March in a wilderness of boys even if one of them is feline.