Never underestimate a hellterror in pursuit of FOOOOOOOOOD
Note that writing, or writing at, a blog post over the course of several days plays to my weaknesses, which is to say I keep adding just another little sentence. Just a little sentence. Or footnote. Cough cough. And I am NOT at this point going to try to untangle this unwieldy sucker into two blog posts* or it’ll be another week before I post it, by which time it will be THREE posts long.** –ed.
Pav can count to four.
The hardliners among you, tut-tutting at this shameless anthropomorphising, are welcome to think of another explanation for what I’m about to describe. But as it happens I’ve also been reading Franz de Waal’s ARE WE SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW HOW SMART ANIMALS ARE* and shouting YES! about three times a page so what a good thing I don’t read on public transport.** One of his big points being that we should consider the possibility that we aren’t anthropomorphising, we are acknowledging that animals are clever and adaptable and share more intellect and intellectual skills for problem-solving with us than we’ve previously tended to want to acknowledge, us humans being unchallenged rulers of the known universe and all, and we’re the only animals who feel empathy and use tools and so on, RIGHT? Anyone who agrees with that last can stand in the Naughty Corner with a pointy hat on.***
So I’m going to say that Pav can count to four, and if you don’t like it, it’s a free virtual country, and you can go away and read up on late-breaking news about Avogadro’s number or something equally worthy.† But this tale of canine computational capacity goes like this. . . .
I am turning into such a softie in my old age partly I think just because age tends to motivate you in one direction or another—change, change, change! All change!††—and partly because the current generation of four-foots and I have been increasingly our own little unit as Peter got frailer and frailer and now of course They’re All I Have.††† Also I feel a bit guilty about Pav whose position at the bottom of the hierarchy must be enforced one way or another because as a hellterror she’d run all of us if she could, and the hellhounds wouldn’t put up much of a struggle‡, and the fact that she’s mostly really good about this makes me feel more guilty because . . . because I’m like that. No previous furry generation has ever been allowed to GET UNDER MY FEET when I’m cooking, but when I was first grappling with the hellhounds’ food issues I was so frantic for ANY sign of interest in food that I let them mill around underfoot when I was stripping chicken carcases etc. The hellterror of course took to this activity immediately and has tended to generalise in a way that wouldn’t occur to the hellhounds, and because therefore this also gives her and me a chance of Additional Interaction that doesn’t involve hierarchical issues‡‡, I’ve paid more attention to the dropping-bits-of-food scenario with her.
Mostly what I drop is bits of veg or apple. And because canine guts are shorter than ours because said guts are built in expectation of meat not fibrous stuff that takes more transit time to do the critter any good, I chop these bits up tiny. And to keep it interesting I sprinkle them around the floor rather than just plopping them as a wodge where I’m standing.‡‡‡ And the hellterror races around gobbling them up BECAUSE THEY MIGHT GET AWAY IF SHE DOESN’T EAT THEM FAST ENOUGH.
I started dropping four snippets a while ago for no particular reason except that it was easy and meant I could keep doing what I was doing without thinking about it.§ And it slowly dawned on me that she had learnt to look for four, count ’em, four, snippets. So I started experimenting. I dropped three in a group and the fourth one at a distance. She found all four. I spread all four out§§ and she found all of them. I put the fourth one down silently while she was otherwise occupied. She still found it, because she was looking for it. But if I put a fifth snippet down silently when she’s engaged elsewhere, she does not find it. Because she’s not looking for it.§§§
God help me if I only put or drop three. First she hunts around in increasing disbelief and outrage and then she stalks over to me and plants one heavy forepaw on my foot.@ I have mentioned before how leaden a mere one-quarter of the footage of a thirty-pound dog can be. Intentionality is all. At this point I need to drop that fourth snippet immediately or she will hold out for a brand-new batch of four.
Your beloved and absent-mindedly patronised domestic critters are bright little munchkins. Be careful what you start with them . . .
* * *
* Especially after I already had to print this one out to have half a chance of matching text to footnotes. I do not guarantee that I was successful. Moan.
** Actually this one is already up to three-post length. If you’re counting. But why would you be counting?
* Thank you, Gryphyn, for telling me about it. I’m a huge long-time fan of de Waal^ but I don’t keep up with new releases so it might otherwise have been a while before I discovered it.
^ Peter got me started on him.+ Any of you who have read one or more of Peter’s chimpanzee books++ will understand why Peter found his work fascinating.
++ POISON ORACLE is probably one of my top half dozen Dickinson favourites. I say ‘probably’ because as soon as I started to list them there’d be more.
** I knit. Of course. You knew that. I can’t read, I’d be motion-sick in no time. Especially since I like sitting on the top of double-decker buses, which sway. Another great reason to learn to knit. Something to do when the view from the top of your bus is cement factories and car graveyards. There aren’t a lot of these in Hampshire but there are definitely stretches where you would rather be looking at your hands and that really pretty yarn you feel quite smug about buying on sale.^ Especially now that I’m old, and if I ever frelling got around to it, could get a free Old Person’s bus pass, and then think of all the extra knitting I would get done.^^ I might have a nervous breakdown about the way the official bus schedule has nothing to do with when buses actually arrive or leave but I could probably learn to swing with this.^^^ Possibly in time with the swaying of the bus.
^ THAT’S NOT A DROPPED STITCH. IT’S NOT. TELL ME IT’S NOT A DROPPED STITCH. I TOLD YOU NOT TO TELL ME THAT.+
+ No. I don’t pick up dropped stitches well. I don’t understand why naturally lumpy yarn like Rowan’s Thick ‘n’ Thin isn’t enormously popular. It hides errors so much better than the all-one-size stuff.
^^ When I’m not peering over fences at people’s laundry, dogs, half-finished patios and lumpy tarpaulins over the half-taken-apart motorcycle they’re going to restore this year, this year, really they are, busted basketball hoops and bent jungle gyms. Occasionally there’s a flawless hidden gem of a garden but mostly people’s lives behind impenetrable fences look . . . like mine. Although I know better than to think I’m ever going to learn to do anything constructive with a motorcycle, so minus the motorcycle, although I can do the lumpy tarpaulin, and for the half-finished patio read the still unrehabilitated courtyard after my poor plumbers dug up most of it looking for that leak.+ I don’t do basketball hoops and jungle gyms but I can find substitutes.++ Dogs and laundry, definitely.
+ Did I post a photo of the busted pipe fitting?# Maybe it only looks spectacular to me. It’s just a short bulge of pipe with a tap coming out of the middle. And a large cracked hole through the threads at one end.##
# Yes I could check. I’m not going to. I have no desire to glance back at anything to do with this horrible year.
## I don’t think I told you that my apple tree produced spectacularly this year? I was worried because it’s had Niagara running through its roots for the last thirty years~ and fruit trees are thirsty beggars. We had decent rainfall this year—and I remembered to throw some water on it now and then when the rain stopped—but it won’t have had anything like as much water as it’s had in years past. And not only did it do very well but the apples were larger than usual. Maybe the absence of Niagara made the June drop more effective? I have no idea. Now I’ll worry that the real effects won’t show up till next year. Like I’ve been waiting for the real effects of having the wall fall down and some blasted human mucking about below ground level to lay a new wall right where its roots are, for the last several years. Granted it falling over last autumn counts as an effect but the point is IT’S STILL PRODUCING MAGNIFICENT APPLES. It is a gallant object. And I hope it doesn’t mind that Niagara has moved to North America.
~No I have no idea how old it is, but I believe it was put in early in the previous owner’s tenancy, which would mean getting on thirty years. And while it’s small as trees go it is admirably gnarly, the way aged apple trees should be.
++ A few years ago garden centres started selling these fabulous big plastic buckets in GREAT COLOURS. Turns out the narrow (plastic) handles rot off after about one winter outdoors. I have kind of a lot of these because you can’t frelling move them around without handles but the bucket part is still perfectly good so I can’t possibly throw them out.
^^^ I’m learning perforce at the minute because I keep having reasons I need to go in to Mauncester or Zigguraton AND IT’S CHRISTMAS. IT’S THE FRELLING FRELLING FRELLING CHRISTMAS SEASON WHEN EVERYONE ON THE PLANET PLUS ROCKETLOADS OF TOURISTS FROM THE OUTER REACHES OF THE GALAXY ARE OUT SHOPPING AND STICKING UP THE ROADS AND PAVEMENTS FOR THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE. I keep wondering if the rest of southern England, Great Britain, the world, the solar system, blah blah blah is EMPTY because EVERYONE WANTS TO COME HERE? It must be the Borg again. But why they have it in for a little wodge of Hampshire I have no idea. I have to keep telling Wolfgang it’s not that I don’t love him any more+ it’s that unless he wants to add perching on flagpoles to his list of accomplishments, finding a parking space is more than our lives are worth, and throw in the lives of two hellhounds and a hellterror to the balance, since they wouldn’t want to be left behind if we soar unexpectedly heavenward.++ I had a Samaritan seminar Saturday AFTERNOON. Can you conceive of anything more horrible than a Saturday afternoon in December in the ultimate Christmas shopping hub? AAAAAAAAAUGH. No. Trust me. You can’t. PTSD. I may have to go back into therapy to recover.+++ And the bus station is at one end of town and the Sam seminar was being held at the other end of town. Uphill. Just by the way. And even with my two-ton knapsack as battering ram++++ I had trouble crashing through the frelling ambling crowds.
+ Do I or do I not take him to the monks’ at least twice a week? YES. I DO.
++ I keep telling you Wolfgang is a member of the family. And furthermore he’ll be clean in heaven. Although I’ll probably ask to keep the herb Robert tucked under the edge of the bonnet as a special favour.
+++ Have I mentioned that I’m kind of claustrophobic? You’d never know it, looking at this house, which gives normal people claustrophobia,# but LARGE GROUPS OF PEOPLE? SWEATY BREATHLESS TERROR. Confirmation Sunday recently at St Margaret’s and the bishop came. I’m used to small groups at the evening service and the church was COMPLETELY PACKED OUT. I nearly ran away. I would have run away, except I was singing with the band. I was singing with the band because if I don’t sing with the band I cry. If I hadn’t been singing with the band I could have run away. If I’d started crying I would have run away. How many ways can you mess yourself over and ruin a perfectly good evening.
# I’ve got some bloke, recommended by my accountant, coming on Monday to explain to me slowly and in words of one syllable what I have to do about the mortgage for Third House, which I need to take out to pay back Peter’s estate for the price of the Lodge, which wasn’t supposed to come up because Third House was supposed to sell. Anyway. The bloke has an office in Mauncester but he lives in New Arcadia so he suggested kindly that he could visit the feeble ME-riddled spastic-brained widow at home. There was a long pause on my end of the phone and I could hear him wondering what he’d said wrong. Um, I said finally. I don’t do housework at the best of times, these are not the best of times, and I can just about fit through the door despite press of all the stuff from Third House cluttering up the place. And I’m thin. Also there are three dogs. Three lively enthusiastic dogs. With a sales pitch like that how could he resist. So he’s still coming here. You might want to pray for him.
++++ You wouldn’t think knitting would weigh that much. Even plus an iPad and a book. YES. A BOOK. HARD COPY. I used just to travel everywhere with a book. Now I travel everywhere with an iPad and a book. Of course. Certainly. With a rich and varied choice on my Kindle app. But I’d still rather read a book. And I’m not the only one who does this, am I?
*** But do read the book. Indeed read anything by de Waal. I wish he’d been around when I was a kid and was labelled ‘fanciful’ for thinking that critters were more than furbots with hard-wired instincts instead of motherboards.^ I read Konrad Lorenz, of course, who was a lot better than nothing but . . . well, there are a lot of ‘buts’ around Lorenz but I didn’t know about any of them when I was first reading him. I was just thrilled by someone who took animals seriously without dissecting them first.
^ Not that motherboards were around when I was a kid either.
† I was very cast down when Alex Bello’s new book is fiendishly difficult mathematical puzzles. I might as well be trying to read Sanskrit. Or Japanese, which I would like to be able to read. I blogged about ALEX IN WONDERLAND, didn’t I? Which I loved.^ I’ve got his second one on the bedside table cough cough cough cough^^ but I keep flinching away from it because I mostly still drag and shove myself through the Difficult Bits by a combination of listening and reading text, and Audible, drat them, haven’t recorded ALEX THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS.
^ After a slightly rough beginning. I find, with my old English major’s bias, that popular science style has to be learnt and fitted into for a Tolerable Reading Experience very much like the style of bulging Victorian quadruple-deckers, Dickens and Eliot et all, has to be learnt. I started reading the bulgy Victorians pretty early—they told stories after all and I’m into stories—so I wasn’t so aware of learning to roll with Dickens’ off the wall approach or Eliot’s super-frelling-thoughtful approach+ until I was in school with people who couldn’t stand any of it no way no how. But I grew up knowing that I was hopeless at maths and so discovering popular maths and hard science has come late and . . . alarmingly. The bit that I understood, ie use of the English language, seemed to me either patronising or over-subjective (you’re the AUTHOR. Get OUT OF THE WAY of the STORY you’re telling), and it took me a while to climb over this obstacle. I think in hindsight Bello’s first book is what finally did it for me. You can’t stop me now on pop sci books . . . but for pity’s sake don’t ask me to EXPLAIN any of them or their contents.++
+ Mind you, MIDDLEMARCH is on my top ten list of best books of all time. You still have to settle in for the ride.
++ And I still frelling hate the standard practise of describing what every interviewee is wearing and what the colour of their hair is and whether they have a nice smile. I DON’T CARE. SHOW DON’T TELL. ANYTHING IMPORTANT WILL COME OUT IN THE TELLING. ARRRRRRRRGH.
^^ The ‘bedside table’ being a pile of books which happens to climb up to high-mattress-level on the bed, which is unfortunate during bedsheets-changing attempts since it’s way too high and tottery to stand up without leaning. Against the, you know, bed.
†† And no whining
††† And a little patch of ground in a local churchyard, marked by a rose in a plastic vase.
‡ What? they’d say, opening one eye. Oh, they’d answer themselves, closing the eye again.
‡‡ Although Chaos does come and check suspiciously that I’m not dropping anything interesting, if Pav and I seem to be having too good a time.
‡‡‡ Yes. This means that food prep takes forever and that my endless complaints about needing to wash my frelling kitchen floor every frelling day^ are partly my own fault.^^
^ Which I don’t do, of course. Nobody has died yet.
^^ I mean, having three dogs is my own fault but I could contain their food in bowls.+
+ Sort of. Since the hellhounds tend to flip these over with their noses when they wish to indicate that this is not their day for eating. There is LANGUAGE when they do this.
§ This includes PLOTTING which tends to make me pretty stupid in the real world.^ It’s when the plotting is going badly that we practise lying down, rolling over and offering our paw. She does not seem to want to learn to sit back on her haunches with her forepaws in the air no matter how many times I demonstrate.^^ Hellterrors are such square-ended little buggers this ought to be easier for her than me but hey.
^ I have the scars to prove it.
^^ This is a JOKE, okay? Trust me, she learnt to roll over without my demonstrating. There isn’t room in this kitchen for me to demonstrate rolling over. Especially now with an extra table and a wormery taking up floor space.
§§ MORE frelling floor to wash
§§§ I wonder sometimes about her nose. But then I don’t suppose raw veg and apple smell like much to an apparatus evolved to locate meat.
@ And yet, speaking of comprehension, she knows she only gets two bits if they’re dried liver crumbs^ or Fish4Dogs stars^^ or—her new passion—the rinds off my goats’ and sheep’s cheese
^ http://www.zooplus.co.uk/shop/dogs/dog_treats_chews/soft_treats/thrive/277272 I split one in half. Look at that price.
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