Princess Charlotte and The Runaway Hen

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It was one of those rarest things, a pleasantly warm and sunny afternoon. I could hear little birds singing happily, a bee buzzing in the roses, and Charlie was sitting under the fuchsia, eyes and ears alert to the comings and goings in our garden. I was sitting outside, enjoying a cigarette, and watching a hen, walking around the pond, stopping every so often to examine something in the grass and peck at it, clucking contentedly to itself.

What was wrong with this scenario? For one thing, we don’t have any hens…They are a creature that has never appealed to me as a pet, their eyes are shiny, hard carnelian discs and I am always somewhat afraid of the curved horny beaks and long muscular legs ending in scaly strong feet armed with claws to grip and tear. So…why was there a hen in the garden?

I leaned over and carefully put my cigarette out, not wanting any sudden movement to warn this avian intruder of my presence. Slowly I stood up. Charlie’s ears at once swivelled in my direction, swiftly followed by her emerald eyes. She rose delicately to her paws, obviously wanting to see for herself what had attracted my attention.

Meanwhile, the hen had finished surveying the area around the pond and began walking up the garden path towards us, stopping every so often to examine me, its head cocked to one side, rather like an imperious Edwardian lady sneering through her lorgnette. It was quite a large hen. It was completely alien, not something you expect to see in a suburban back garden, a dinosaur relative of the farmyard picking its way amongst the lobelia and lambs ears… It shook its feathers out contemptuously, and I was momentarily distracted by the healthy gleam of its attire, black and vibrant with a sheen of green where the afternoon sun hit it.

Charlie was, by now, very aware of our unexpected visitor and dropped into her hunting crouch. This was no ordinary sparrow, no mere mouse, and, by God, she was going to bring this creature down and boast about it at the girls’ club.

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“Call that a sparrow? Now this, THIS is a sparrow!”

She inched carefully towards the hen, who was engaged in picking its toes, tail fluffed out like tabby tinsel, intent and purpose written clearly in every line of her tense little body.

“Oh no, darling, you don’t want that, come back! It might bite you!

Ignoring my panicked protestations, Charlie’s hunting creep went from stealthy stalk to all out capture mode, as her little paws carried her carefully towards the unwary hen. It looked up, and a flash of alarm crossed its hitherto imperturbable feathered face as it gathered its plumage around itself and turned away, scaly legs moving slightly quicker as it realised something very bad could be about to happen…

Into this farcical scene, a head. Popped over from the hedge at the back of our garden and a rather indignant tone of voice:

“’Scuse me love. Do you think I could ‘ave me chicken back?”

Cheek! Like I had purposely enticed the creature into my garden!

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However, the strident voice shattered the moment. Charlie charged at the hen as I made a somewhat tentative attempt to approach the hen in a semi-purposeful way, arms outstretched to try and clasp the feathery fugitive to my breast but Charlie chose that moment to charge at the hen, jaws open and paws outstretched to seize the mega prey item. The hen spread its wings and…and…it flew off! Obviously I was aware that as it had wings it had a high probability of being able to fly, but it was somewhat like watching a steak and kidney pie grow legs and run away from your knife and fork.

It was most ungainly in flight, rather like a roll of binbags escaping from a shopping trolley, but flew it did. Over our fence and in the direction of the road. The owner of the hen gave a despairing shout and his head disappeared from the top of our hedge.

Charlie and I looked at each other, and the expression on her face must have mirrored mine exactly…shock, surprise and a degree of annoyance that a seemingly easy prize had behaved so unexpectedly-by escaping!

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Princess Charlotte and the very small mouse

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Perhaps it’s because we had Charlie from such a young age, she missed essential lessons from her cat mother in feline etiquette. Namely, how to kill. Although she is a fierce little cat, defending our garden from trespassers, she has never actually killed anything larger than a moth.

Charlie has a collection of toy mousies, little soft creatures made from fake fur in a variety of girly colours, such as pink and purple, that are hers and hers alone. No other cat can touch her mousies, or they will get a slap.

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Lily is an accomplished hunter and has brought numerous offerings to the house on many occasions, for example, two different species of mouse, assorted small birds, large moths and so on. If uninjured, they are caught (not always as swiftly as I would like) and returned to the great outdoors; if hurt, they are shoeboxed and left to take their final journey in peace and darkness. I don’t know why Lily keeps bringing her prey back to the house. Does she think the other cats are useless providers and is trying to show them what to do?

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One evening, we were watching television and Charlie came sauntering nonchalantly in, something clutched in her mouth and a look of supreme unconcern on her furry face…

“Charlie, what have you got? Is it.. is it.. a mouse?”

Upon realising she had been busted, she swiftly darted back into the kitchen and re-appeared, seconds later, suspiciously mouse-free, an air of complete innocence and abused trust hanging about her whiskers.

“What? WHAT? I haven’t got anything at all! You never EVER believe me!”

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Not persuaded by her teenage ‘the whole world is against me’ attitude, I went into the kitchen and had a look behind the bin, as the nearest, most logical hiding place in a hurry. There, to my amusement, looking back at me, from the safety of a spare rubbish bag where it had been carefully tucked, was a mouse. The smallest mouse I have ever seen. Literally. It was perhaps about the size of a bumble bee and so sweet it would make your teeth ache… Dressed in pale brown fur with tiny pink hands and feet, it made no attempt to evade capture and sat quite happily in my hands, cleaning its delicate, hair-like whiskers; a creature of such unbearable cuteness Walt Disney would have been proud to claim it as one of his creations. It was completely unhurt, not even damp from Charlie’s mouth where she had held it to carry it in.

“Ohhh, you mean that mouse! I actually thought that it was one of my toy mousies, that had somehow got out and was wandering around and I didn’t want anyone else to touch it because it was my mouse and it might have got lost…”

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You could practically hear the guilty explanations.

The very, very small mouse was carefully returned to the bottom of the garden and told to make a quick getaway. Charlie was a picture of injured innocence. I found myself apologising to her.

“I’m sorry darling, but you know you couldn’t keep that little mouse, it would miss its mummy and daddy, and it was a real little mousie and you know we can’t have those in the house. Tomorrow, when Mummy goes to the shop, she’ll buy you a nice new mousie. What colour would you like? Shall I get you pink, for a little girl?”

Honestly.

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Princess Charlotte and the Half-Chewed Dragon…

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As every cat owner knows, and doubtless has experienced, catching and killing various small prey items is an inherent part of feline nature. It doesn’t mean they’re evil murderers – it’s just what they do.

Sharing my life with four cats, I have had a lot of things gifted to me, courtesy of my girls. Beetles, slugs, dead leaves, twigs and the usual assortment of mice and birds. Ting went through a phase, like some teenagers do, I suppose, of stealing from the neighbours. Highly embarrassing.

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Coat hangers, cables, pieces of wire, pegs and once, a rather good quality paintbrush, of the decorating sort that my partner still uses, actually. Ting’s downfall came when she stole half a cooked chicken and ate it… it didn’t agree with her and so it was off to the vet…

Lily, our smallest cat, is definitely the most lethal. She is a tiny killer who has brought me two different species of mouse and a variety of birds – not always dead. I’m quite glad, really, that we don’t live anywhere where there is anything larger… like deer… or bison…

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Found this. Thought you might like it. It’s made a bit of a mess in the house and it was a struggle to get it through the cat flap but still…”

However, my little cat, Charlie… I don’t know if it’s because we had her before her feline mother had chance to show her how to kill, or whether she is just naturally a pacifist, but I can confidently say she’s never killed anything in her life.

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There was one afternoon, last year, when we were all outside enjoying the summer sunshine… my partner is a keen fish enthusiast and has always built his own pond where ever we have lived. Our current pond is a little wildlife preserve, and in addition to our fish – some of whom are older than our relationship – we also have frogs, newts and toads.

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In the summer, it also attracts dragonflies, not just the little stripey hawkers, but full-on magnificent representatives of the order Odontera, bejewelled in iridescent armour and splendidly purposeful in flight. They lay their eggs and leave their larvae in our pond, aquatic demons ironically called nymphs, that can and will quite easily catch and eat a baby fish…

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I love to watch their buzzing flight across the pond as they settle on the water lilies and skim lightly across the surface of the water, like miniature helicopters. They are notoriously difficult to photograph or capture; however on this particular afternoon, one of these sky knights must have hesitated, dangerously, for a fraction of a second before charging back into the sky. He’d been caught.

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I don’t know by whom, but he’d been chewed and crumpled like a shiny piece of tin plate. In a way, he was fortunate that Charlie found him. Obviously, his “I’m dead and no longer worthy of your attention” act had convinced the author of his downfall to abandon him and move on… like most little girls, Charlie is attracted to shiny pretty things, and it just so happened that she found this fallen knight…

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The resulting scene really should have been videoed for posterity, as Charlie, in all seriousness, came running towards me with this crumpled creature in her little mouth. The dragonfly was flailing his arms and legs in indignation:

Madam! I say! This is most unmannerly of you! Unhand me at once!”

I’m afraid to say I fell about laughing… Charlie looked like she was wearing one of those comedy moustaches that spin round and round and the dragonfly’s impotent rage was palpable to see… I congratulated Charlie on her way of making new friends, but suggested the dragonfly might have other things to be getting on with, and wouldn’t she rather come and have a look at a new catnip mousie…

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My son placed the somewhat battered dragonfly on a branch of the apple tree, and we watched in wonder as he regained his strength…

Thank you, squire! Now, I believe I’ll be leaving…”

And with that he spun into the sky.

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Princess Charlotte and the Very Rude Squirrel

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As a corner house in the close, we are lucky to have quite large gardens, the front garden where the (sort-of) rockery is, the side garden where my partner’s pond roses and apple trees are, and the back garden where the shed, garden furniture and herbs live. This part also backs on to a little park, where people walk their dogs, a play area for children and some cherry trees. And a squirrel.

A large, fat, extremely healthy looking squirrel is resident somewhere in this park and he is the absolute bane of my little Princess’ existence.

The first time we saw him, we were out in the garden together, having a gentle stroll around the property, making sure nobody had been digging where they weren’t supposed to. I was just inspecting my white rose bush that was looking distinctly chewed, mainly due to the activities of a colony of leaf cutter bees, I later discovered, fascinated by the way the furry insects scissored away postage stamp sized pieces of leaf – my leaves, actually – and carried them away.

img_9127-2The squirrel in question is actually a grey squirrel, but he declined to be photographed for the purpose of this post, hence the use of my red Poole pottery squirrel ornament as a fill-in…

Meh – meh – meh!”

I turned from my artfully tattered rose bush to see what had aroused Charlie’s anger.

Meh MEH meh!” she called more insistently.

I walked round the corner of the shed and saw Charlie in full Tiger Princess mode, a miniature hunting machine, poised and powerful. Her tail was tinsel – fluffed and every line of her tense little body was aimed towards her target prey … the squirrel.

He was sitting on his haunches, safely on the other side of the fence, cheerfully twirling his whiskers and eyeing Charlie as if to say:

Well, you’re a big girl, aren’t you? Not really my type, but hey … “

And with that he shot up the tree.

Charlie leapt after him, a cinnamon blur, darting through the gap in the fence – we have hedgehogs – and arriving at the base of the squirrel’s tree. It’s an ash tree, so its trunk is smooth with barely any toe or claw holds for anything larger than a squirrel. Yet my little cat is nothing if not brave …

Mmf!”

A strangled, wordless protest fell from my lips as Charlie with all the grace and elegance of a high – wire artiste flew up the vertical tree trunk for a height of about ten feet.

The squirrel, meanwhile, was perched on the first horizontal branch, hurling what can only be described as vulgar insults at my cat:

Yahhh! Fatty! Watch out, big girl, this is only a little tree!”

Charlie decided that it really was most unladylike to stoop to the level of a mere rodent. (“Ha ha! Stoop? You can’t even REACH me!”) She stopped, a look of absolute rage on her face, and carefully backed down the tree into my waiting arms, muttering threats about vulgar peasant squirrels…

Oi! Mind you don’t break a nail, love!”

A couple of days later, Charlie saw the beastly squirrel again, sauntering along as if he owned our garden, not a care in the world. She was sitting on my son’s bedroom windowsill and spotted the furry monster, tail flourishing as he inspected her garden. She actually clattered her teeth with rage, and I’m ashamed to say … I laughed.

_mg_8759“He’s there! I know he is!”

A face – off was inevitable. And it happened … Our garden is quite long, and it just so chanced that the two combatants were in the garden at the right moment for me to see and be rendered utterly incapable. If only I’d had a video camera.

The squirrel had just shinned down his tree and popped through the hole in the fence to have a quick poke round in the flower beds, perhaps for any stray bulbs. He was happily rummaging amongst the clods of soil, back turned towards the other end of the garden, where I was quietly sitting, contemplating the meaning of Life.

_mg_9226-2Random pumpkin… although I suppose it’s month-appropriate!

Now, Charlie isn’t much of an adventuress, unlike Lily. She’s far more a stay-at-home warrior kind of girl, and is consequently quite happy just to have a little walk round the garden, usually with me, do her business and return indoors. This particular day, she had been having a mini-power-catnap, sitting on the bench next to me.

She awoke. Instantly. And spotted the furry grey interloper. Off the bench and on her paws with the grace and skill of the Ninja princess she is and she began to walk, pretty quickly, towards the squirrel.

He stopped rummaging and looked up. Then started walking very carefully and deliberately, towards my cat. She walked a little quicker. So did he. Charlie broke into a run. So did he. These two mighty opponents, cat and squirrel, hurtled towards each other along the garden path.

Spellbound, I held my breath … what would happen? Would they whip lances out of their pockets and unhorse each other? Had the insults and abuse been all for show, would they perhaps fall into each others’ arms and kiss passionately… ?

Neither. They passed so close to each other, their whiskers must surely have brushed, but then at the last minute, they swerved to avoid each other … the squirrel continued barrelling towards me while Charlie carried on the opposite way towards the pond. Then they stopped.

Honour had been served. They had taken part in the age – old battle of feline against rodent, but when it came down to it, didn’t really want to kill each other. A bit like these historical re-enactment societies you see, who re-play all the great battles of this country with smoke bombs and rubber swords.

I’m not entirely convinced that Charlie knows what this squirrel actually is… a large mouse… or a small cat. They still see each other, after this epic confrontation:

All right then, Chubby?”

Why do you always have to be so rude…”

But the close-quarter conflict has never been repeated… Secretly, I think the squirrel rather fancies my little cat.

_mg_8873“These little things – SQUIRRELS – are sent to try us”