According to my exercise journal, I’ve huffed and puffed more often in the past month than in any other one month period over the last two decades.
Government mandated self-isolation will do that, I suppose.
I’m exercising locally. The weather has been pretty good for autumn-heading-into-winter — little rain, mostly mild temperatures — meaning fresh air has been plentiful as I wheeze about the property. The dogs, like their predecessor, enjoy every moment we’re out and about at pace.
I’ve had to extend the running route to local roads (sans hounds) where there is little to no shoulder. It’s do-able so long as I keep a weather eye on traffic and wear bright colours I haven’t worn since the 1990s.
I’m not writing as much as I’ve been sweating. But in these uncertain times, I think achieving one thing at a time is pretty good.
It’s that time of year when baby birds drop out of nests — or nests themselves drop out of trees — and whomever chances across such sights must decide between nurture or nature. Much as I front as a man of the land, when I come across such a sight, the choice is obvious.
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So, yeah: The Lovely Wifeand I have been fostering some wayward chicks. It’s been a slide down memory lane: a small living being reliant on you for their ongoing survival, eating and shitting and eating and shitting every hour of the day as you continually make sure otherfamilymembers keep their distance.
It’s not that different to shepherding a script or project along, one where you’re the passenger rather than driver, but it’s still something you believe in and hope to help along. It’s tiring and sometimes exasperating, and there might be a few moments where you might wonder to yourself how much easier it might have been to have let nature take its course.
But with each passing day, as you feed it carefully chosen words of encouragement, weathering the noise and smell and energy of it becoming, you notice small things. Things like feathers and claws and a preference for Chefs over Whiskas.
There’s a lot of ground to cover in this part, so let’s leave the pictures to do the talking.
In March, The Boy was in a frightful car accident and was hospitalised for a month.
After three months at home and regular physiotherapy, he returned to full-time work in July. He’s a little over people telling him how lucky he was. But oi was he lucky.
My father died in May.
He was 92 and he’d had an excellent innings (he loved his cricket). His natural athleticism may have skipped me entirely and gone straight to his grandson, but I’m grateful to have his patience, perseverance, and tact.
My father had some unfinished business and I volunteered to sort it out. In June, The Lovely Wife accompanied me to Samoa.
The wife loved the heat and humidity — apparently we’ll be visiting each year henceforth — and the pace of life there is glacial. Nice if you live there, a little frustrating when you’ve only a few days to get stuff done. It was a welcome interlude, considering.
Half-way through the year, my dreams began to have a recurring theme involving some massive weight slowly crushing me.
‘Twas only The Kitten missing me.
Still Life With Chickens is in its second year of touring. This year it did a couple of stops in the North Island, did a circuit of the South Island — and in August, it had its Australian premiere.
The Lovely Wife and I attended the premiere where we had a grand yarn with Martin Edmond and Mayu Kanamori, and we explored the Emerald City by tram, bus and ferry. Still Life is off to Shanghai later this month for its Chinese premiere.
Somehow, amidst all of the above, I persisted with my masters course.
* This teddy bear joined the Mamea Aiga in Christmas 2002 when The Boy, then aged six, announced his arrival: I got a teddy bear and his name’s Phil! The Lovely Wife and I exchanged looks and asked where the name Phil came from. It says so right here, The Boy said, turning over the sewn tag: “Polyester Fill”.
I have a number of reputations to uphold, among them a prodigious appetite for saturated fats. Cheesecake and doughnuts have been a staple for a large part of my life, and I can only presume that obesity and diabetes have been kept at bay only by the love of a good woman and semi-regular exercise.
A recent research trip presented my hungry eye with ‘cream choc donut[s]’, a big-city steal at $2.50 per. Seeing my longing look at it, The Lovely Wife suggested I stop being dramatic and just buy it. The thing was, I knew that just two mouthfuls of one of those triple-threats would be enough — but since a partly-eaten doughnut is anathema to any self-respecting Samoan, I would have to eat the rest of it.
I looked at her and sadly told her that those days were over lied that I was not in the mood for doughnuts. She still saw my final melancholic look at those doughnuts, but being the lovely wife that she is, she said nothing.
The last few years, the consumption of such delicacies has resulted in less of the comforting ‘good sick‘, and more of the just plain sick feeling. I suppose it was the tail end of a longer transition period* where, once-upon-a-takeaways, I could eat whatever I wanted, and nowadays I mostly/sometimes/less-often-than-I-really-should watch what I eat.
I’ve passed a gastronomical milestone in this life. It’s just a sign of age. A constant of life is change, and change is inevitable.
Time, perhaps, for a new food-oriented reputation.
* The first sign would’ve been when The Boy, then eight years old, began to out-eat me at most meals.
Fortress Mamea has around three acres of paddocks. Three acres is a lot of ground area. Despite the best efforts of the cavalry element and a small flock of sheep*, the paddocks were getting overgrown with grass and weeds.
The current lot of four-legs needed help and it was decided that kunekune pigs, with their ability to live on little more than grass, fit the bill. The pigs would be a twofer solution: get the greenery under control; then time for the freezer.
I was good with this plan. I like bacon. I like the smell of it cooking. I like its texture, the taste of the pork fat that it cooked in, and its saltiness.
The porkers arrived and they were babies and they were so cute but I was strong and I wasn’t going to get attached to them because I like bacon and pork sausages and —
Then someone went and named the new arrivals Fig and Prunella.
Nell & Fig. (Photo courtesy Deborah K.)
We have pet kunekune pigs now.
* I haven’t mentioned the sheep because they’re boring. And some of them are destined for the freezer.
In the first eighteen months of the new Fortress Mamea, our chicken flock increased a number of times. (We can’t remember how many times; we’re softies with fuzzy memories.)
How could we say no to the girls when they got broody? They were merely heeding the call of nature. And when the fertilised eggs hatched and there were soon cheeping puffballs of fluff underfoot — how could we say no to life itself?
When some of the puffballs grew into ambitious young roosters and started beating up on Ghost Dog, ending the aspirants’ lives was an easy choice. After a couple of culls, I called a moratorium on our chickens having babies. It’s all well and good when everyone’s getting along, I could imagine my mother lecturing me, until it’s time for someone to end up in the pot.
The flock has remained at a steady twenty or so the past eighteen months. It’s required vigilance: collecting eggs every single day, turfing wannabe broodies out of the laying boxes so they don’t get ideas.
Throughout the month of December, I noticed one of our chickens behaving suspiciously. What with the festive season and everything else, her movements were noted but not closely observed.
There’s been a lot of broken sleep at Fortress Mamea the past month or so. Broken sleep means there have been some arguments heated discussions over the most trivial things. Broken sleep means conversations suddenly halted as one or the other speaker racks their brain for words like ‘soup’ and ‘confectionery’. Broken sleep means a puppy undergoing toilet training.
Meet The Tyke, aged four months.
After The Dog’s passing, we thought that a reasonable and respectful length of time should elapse before looking for a second dog. We hadn’t counted on The Puppy, though: she took The Dog’s absence very hard, having long sleep-ins, being rather lethargic, and — most worrying — losing her appetite.
We visited the local SPCA a few times. Contenders were shortlisted. Candidates were interviewed via play, cuddling, and licking (by the interviewees, not the interviewers). We put our name down for a couple of finalists, playing the odds. We thought we’d have a month or so as we were on a waiting list, and we needed to show the SPCA inspector that we were of good character and that the property was suitable. After just one week, we got a call to say we had a new hound to collect.
The Puppy doesn’t have a chance to sleep in now. (Nor does anyone else.) Once she’s been licked and pawed and nibbled awake by The Tyke, they play together, their yipping and (play-)growling a welcome sound to the household. And The Puppy’s appetite has definitely recovered as she soon found that the new arrival was more than happy to finish her food if she didn’t want it.
At times it’s exhausting and frustrating as we get up for the billionth time that day to shape her eventual good behaviour, and the moment she sees us and she wags her tail, whatever reprimand that was on the tip of our tongue instantly transmutes into an If you weren’t so goddamned cute… remonstration.
She has taken up the figurative and symbolic bone left by Ella. And we welcome her.