Saturday, May 21, 2016

Other beasts at Kerbiriou

This shrew showed itself the first day we arrived, running across the path. Later I saw it trotting sedately down the outside steps towards the door to our room.

 It climbed up the wall and pottered along the windowsill, then investigated the groove in the frame where the outside shutter ran,

and began to climb up it - apologies for the out of focus picture, but it was the only one I was able to take before it slipped down again, not being able to get much purchase on the pvc of the frame.

I thought it must be ill to be so slow moving and careless, but I mentioned it to Paul, our host, and he was quite familiar with it, and we saw it several times more, it seemed quite healthy, just tame. Elfie was curious but not especially obsessive or predatory about it. One afternoon, we were sitting with the room door open, and it came wandering down the steps and ran along the terrace. 'Don't go in the bedroom' I said to it, and it went into the bedroom.

Tom followed it in, and I heard various noises and things being moved. I continued to drink my wine, deciding this was a moment when I would abnegate responsibility for a mildly tricky situation, even though I didn't particularly want to find it on my pillow later or have to take its corpse out of Elfie's mouth in the middle of the night. After a few minutes Tom came out with his hand clenched as though holding something. 

'Have you got it?'
'I don't know yet.'

In fact he was holding his sleeve end close to his wrist; he carefully peeled off his jacket and turned the sleeve inside out, and the shrew tumbled harmlessly out and pottered off into the grass. It had made the tour of the room then gone into the bathroom, he had tried to catch it in a carrier bag but it had run up his sleeve instead.

When we were kids, we used to take our two cats on family caravan holidays. When we arrived they tended to disappear for a day and then find their way back, even on quite crowded sites, then keep to a very regular schedule of exploring and hunting all day and coming back at night. Once we had to move the 'van because there had been a flood in the site which was some kind of old quarry. Ginger came back at his allotted supper time and sat in the middle of a large puddle mewling pitifully, we were only a few dozen yards away and kept calling him, but he had programmed it into his brain that that was the spot to meet us, and we had to go over and fetch him so he could readjust his settings. They weren't great huntng cats normally, but in holiday mode they would bring back all kinds of small furred game for our inspection; once a vole caught in Herefordshire travelled many miles in the caravan unbeknownst to us and was released in mid-Wales, we wondered if it would encounter linguistic difficulties. Shrews were a favourite to be brought home to us, trembling and traumatised but still alive, since, it seems, they don't taste nice. Which may account for this one being unmolested by Kerbiriou's resident cat.

He's lived there all the time we've been going, six years now. I've photographed him before. Some kind of Russian blue type, friendly enough but always on his terms of course, and very confident and assertive. One night quite late, Elfie was having her last perambulation of the day and we encountered him sauntering very nonchalantly down the middle of the road. Before anyone knew what was happening they were nose to nose, and the cat was totally non-fazed, spending several moments eyeballing her coolly before going on his way without batting an eyelid. Elfie seemed simply astonished and non-plussed, though she did just mutter quick snap-snap with her jaws as he left. Cats are a problem area with her, she tends to freeze and stalk when she sees one, which is the worst reaction a dog can have to a cat, they say. More exposure to the Kerbiriou cat might sort her out a bit. Here he is as Lord of All He Surveys on the barn roof,

which is really very high:

Lastly, another formidable boss creature. The last house in the lane has this fellow as a lawn mower:

He's a Ouessant ram. Ouessant is Ushant in English, as in 'from Ushant to Scillies is thirty-five leagues'. For sheep enthusiasts, this is a most interesting breed, considered probably one of the most direct descendants of the earliest domesticated sheep breeds, kept pure and unmodified over millennia in such a westerly outpost. There are enthusiasts for keeping them and spinning their wool, but those who do so admit their fleeces to be often short, rough and brittle. I seem to remember hearing that some shipwrecked Spanish sheep introduced a better strain for wool, and that one of the clothes labels who make all the cliché stripey Breton sweaters and such like that Parisians and other tourists take home from their holidays had bought up all the viable wool from the island's flock, but I'm not sure if either of these things is true.

When I asked about this one, Paul answered ruefully that he was a very bad character indeed, and we should look out for him. But he was rather handsome, I thought.


the polish chick said...

as i'm currently in the market for a new lawnmower (our previous abode having only a balcony, there was no need of one), and i think i shall look into a handsome fellow like this! perhaps the neighbours will object, but as the neighbourhood kids laughed at mr. monkey's beloved volvo the other day, calling it a hearse, it shouldn't be too much of a problem - clearly we're already the oddballs here!

Zhoen said...

All animals are well established as part of the hosting staff.

Sorry about Tom's sleeve mole. (slight shudder)

Roderick Robinson said...

Once when Ysabelle was still in single figures she and I saw what I now take to be a shrew making hard work of the deep snow at the top of a ski-lift. Y watched with sustained fascination and I - with all the bogus confidence of a townie out of his element - identified it as a vole. Back at the apartment I asked Y whether she'd passed on the experience to her mother, Occasional Speeder. Excited, Y said; "Mum, Mum, Big Grandad and I saw a vowel."

OS and I exchanged what can only be described as "a suppressed look". It was vital we did not laugh. One of those moments when a word (in this case a word meaning) passes into the family vocabulary and remains there for ever and a day.

Yet another story subscribing to the belief that cats can see off dogs. Sometimes, perhaps. My mother had a black-and-white cat notorious for its aggression. It was in the backyard when my great pal turned up with his family pet, a copper coloured old English (Englysshe?) sheepdog - not a beast one associates with unbelievable acceleration. The sight of the cat was enough and this hairy projectile - feet not touching the floor - hurled itself forward while the cat, sneers disdained, turned on a sixpence, and flew... but where? The yard was confined, yet sufficient to demonstrate this was a race to the death. Had the dog caught the cat the two animals might have fused, such was the combined energy involved. Clearly my eyes were not up to following these events. Suddenly all was quiet and the cat was nowhere; it was difficult to rid my mind of the conviction that the cat had run into the coal-cellar wall and the dog, mouth open, had absorbed its remains.

These days I have a different theory. Travelling close to the speed of light the cat unwittingly went just a little faster, offended Einsteinian physics and simply disappeared. Exhilarating while it lasted, say, 0.75 second.

Handsome? The ram, I mean. Fiction allows me to imagine the ram (Oh come on, he's dead ugly.) turning the speeding duo above into a speeding trio. And my mother facing a bill for wall repairs.

That head looks indestructible. Doubt that he's the sort of creatue prepared to discuss knitting.

Avus said...

Enjoyable post, Lucy. Our Roxy would be after anything small and furry at just below the speed of light (keeping just this side of invisibility, as RR mentions). She is a sight hound, will freeze onto something and then fly for it.
I remember one of our GSDs who went for a cat, which held its ground. The dog adjusted its charge round the cat and went onwards as if to say, "I was going elsewhere anyway". The cat remained sitting. I guess if it had run the dog would have chased it.

Nimble said...

I love the cat on roof picture: the different textures of the tiles and then the centered silhouette is very satisfying.

Catalyst said...

When we lived in Mexico our cat Chulapay used to climb the wrought iron window frames to the roof. She disappeared once for several days and about the time we decided she was gone for good she just showed up. We think she got into a closet or something and was shut in. She never told us.

That ram is quite a creature but he looks a bit horny. ;^/

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Lucy, I would read every book you write about animals, supposing you did write such books. And why not?

Jeff said...

Oh my gosh, what a handsome, striking ram.

I just looked him up in a book of heritage livestock; apparently he and his fellow hail from an island off Finistère. I've been taking an interest in heritage livestock lately, so I'm delighted to see that you've actually met one of these wonderfully uncommercial breeds...

HKatz said...

I like the life and character that comes across in your photos. Especially the dramatic photos of the cat, and the second one of the shrew investigating.