The Mystery Cat


The first time I met him, he was sitting by my windowsill, staring out into my garden.  He seemed quite confident for one who had not been invited in. It’s in my nature to think the best of everyone, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt, and thought he must have just lost his way – ending up in my house.  With no great ceremony, I picked him up and took him back to the garden.

Then I looked at our two cats.  Why had they not noticed this intruder?

They were both about 18 years old.  One of them blind and deaf, the other still able to work out when it was tea time, but neither had felt up to challenging this enormous grey cat.

We did  not see him again for ages.  Not until the aged pair were in their last weeks.  Then suddenly he turned up regularly, snatching their uneaten food and departing at leisure unless he was spotted.

When my two tabbies had given their all, and passed on, I was momentarily uncertain what to do with their remaining catfood.  That’s  how it all started, I guess.

Soon we found him sitting by our pond, watching the fish, on a regular basis.  Like a fool, he seemed the perfect solution to the leftover food.  He never stayed for long, rarely wanted to come in, now the old cats had gone, but always brought with him a few twigs or leaves woven into his coat.

I took to brushing him and he soon became glossy but the matted quality of his fur, meant several arguments between the two of us as to how long he was prepared to put up with a grooming session.  At times he would lie on his back and kick hard with his back feet:  then you had to beware, or carry his badge of a long scratch along an arm!

Sometimes he wanted to sit on an armchair, but only if we left the door to the garden open.  As soon as it closed he stood up and demanded an exit.  For weeks on end he failed to turn up at all.  I missed my old cats; the house seemed empty without them, but this massive grey cat neither belonged nor settled with us.

“It’s no good,” I said, “I want more cats.”  I phoned round and found two kittens, brought them home straight away, even though we had builders in and it was hardly the best time for little kittens.

Just as soon as the kittens came home, the big grey turned up again. More determined this time, confident to prowl through the house, stay for longer.  The cat with no name was so dignified, so aloof that we began to call him ‘Mr’: short, of course, for Mr Cat. “This is crazy,” I moaned to John, “I didn’t want three cats.  He must belong to someone…”

So we made notices, asked around.  Everyone seemed to know who I was talking about.  He’d been seen in lots of people’s gardens, but no one knew where he came from.  An idea struck:  maybe he had a mircochip. Just over the road is a vet who could check.

Sure enough, the chip revealed he lived just around the corner from us.  We knocked; no answer.  We tried the next day and the next, until after a week, I despaired.

“One last try, Mr.” Bingo!

His name was Simba, he lived with three other cats and a baby of about 2 years (and a couple with an 11 year old)  He did not like the baby, who rode him like a horse.  He did not like the third cat who had joined the family in the past year.  I could have him if I liked.

Outraged, I came home.  I could have him if I liked?  Didn’t they care? That’s how Mr joined our family.  Clearly he felt at home when other cats were around.  I wish you could have seen him when he first realised we had the kittens.  One was asleep in John’s lap and Mr came in, barging in to sit in prime position, he simply didn’t notice the little ball of fur, until he sniffed and sniffed and nosed the kitten into movement.  The ensuing hiss was incredibly alarming, although no fur was ruffled, our nerves were!

Mr made friends with the builders, all of whom greeted him each morning.  After the hissing incident, and knowing his sudden rage, if we so much as stroked him the wrong way, we decided to separate him from the kittens initially.  Mr still disappeared for a day at a time, but now always turned up for tea!

So that was it!  Three cats!

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Perfect day – Tuesday 3rd April 2012


All morning we relax in our YHA, just the two of us, no hurry! Watching birds, reading, drinking coffee. Once a couple of guys come up looking for a wildlife reserve and we search the maps provided by the YHA and help them find their way, and decide it sounds like a good idea.

The Cleland Wildlife Reserve is about 2 km from us. A perfect blend of natural forest and simple enclosures. A range of native animals are gathered here and they sell kangaroo food for $3 per bag!

The walk to the reserve is undulating and pleasant. When we arrive we become concerned that this may be more commercial than we had thought. You can hold a koala and pay for the photo and, of course, pay for the entrance fee, but that is where ‘commercial’ feeling ends.

We meet all kinds of creatures roaming round the park. Most kinds of kangaroo, in separate fields, and many small potoroos! Never heard of them? No well, they lookalike fat rats, but don’t tell them! A marsupial, naturally and very fond of kangaroo food.

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There was a shy bandicoot in with the echina.

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Tasmanian Devils lived up to their name by screaming devilish threats at each other during feeding time, and then devouring whole chicks, feather and bone. Apparently they behave like this during mating too and one female had a 10 inch gash across her back from when she was dragged by her partner to his den. It was treated and healing.

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Note: their ears go pink through aggression and return to greyish when calm.

Dingo feeding by contrast, was more like well trained dogs, except they too eat feather, bone and flesh of their prey.

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Several hand reared koala take it in turns to perch on a tree stump, being given a succession of eucalyptus leaves while the keeper talks to 2-4 people at a time about their lives and let us stroke them. Their fur is wonderfully soft and deep.

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Kangaroo abound here, separated only by their species. All tame enough to feed.

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Three wombat live here. Two were asleep behind glass sided dens, but the third was out and about, looking for all the world like a furry hippo.

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In one field emu joined kangaroo. They seemed more threatening, emitting a low rumble echoing in their chest at various speed or looking you accusingly in the eye. I think they wanted kangaroo food, but they went about it all wrong! Approaching with menace!
A second group of emu came helta-skelta towards us, possibly fleeing from some unknown terror. We took their minds off this as they developed an urge to demand a peck at our camera. John was not too impressed by this behaviour either.

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Melbourne Zoo – Tuesday 13th March 2012


“We all going to the zoo today,” I sing as I get out of bed this morning.

I am usually ambivalent about zoos. The pros and cons of keeping wild animals: I am easily persuaded it is a bad thing to keep animals if the housing is poor etc, but Melbourne zoo is exceptional. Well laid out, mostly excellent animal enclosures with lots of animal space and naturalistic surroundings. My Melbourne friend’s son clearly knows it well and runs on, fast as his legs will carry him, pointing the way to his favourite animals. Even when he falls and grazes his knee he doesn’t seem it off but develops a rather comic hobble.

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In the butterfly house he has extreme patience, holding out his hand until a butterfly lands on him. I am amazed by his stillness.

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There are lots of people looking at the elephants. I find myself next to him and can see he is finding it hard to see.
“May I pick you up so you can see better?”. I ask. “Yes”

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We have a great time at the zoo and I am amazed how much energy he has!
How interesting how different children build trust. Back in Blenheim, my ex colleagues two year old ran up and down the room in a frenzy of testing us out. Finally she thought we were ok and asked for a story on my lap. I get a great kick out of earning this trust. Maybe it reminds me of teaching. You need to gain respect of the class. It does not just come! Even when you are a headteacher!

So in the evening we play at pouring and making boats and luckily daddy does not get upset by the amount of water we both use and spill on his son!

Yea, I had a great day!

Rock Wallabies near Geoffrey Bay Wednesday 16th November 2011


The only stress to be found when traveling, is where to sleep and arranging how to get there. Things like finding food, cooking, periodic clothes washing are a long way down the list after this. Sometimes it goes like clockwork, couple of hours on the Internet: sorted!

But yesterday the Whitsundays showed as completely booked. Big hotels, apartments, b and b, cabins, trying different locations, eventually we found something, booked it but this morning, they phone to say it is taken, sorry!

Just as a sense of despair has taken over, we find a perfect place for 3 nights near Arlie Beach. Woohoo!

This leaves us free to look for wallabies. If you get the bus to Geoffrey Bay, where it turns back on itself, and take the path to the left along the waters edge, you come to the blocks which line the cliff edge and a shelter which used to house a ferry. Under the shelter is a bench.

When we first arrived we walked along the blocks and noticed one tiny wallaby.

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When a car pulled up, the fun began. These little creatures are clearly fed by humans. These days they bring approved food, but years back the wallabies were prepared to try most things apparently, including beer and burgers.

They still have the Pavlovian response to a car pulling up and creep out from the cracks between the boulders to see what has turned up. At this times year many had babies in their pouches.

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Frankly some often are a bit mangy but it is amazing to watch them negotiate the boulders, as they areas sure footed.

Also worth some time are Alma Bay, which is patrolled by surf guards, and Peter Lawson’s art gallery down the far end of Arcadia Bay. Peter paints on location around Australia and is very friendly when you visit.

Once back at Horseshoe Bay, we set off walking from the bay itself up a path to Balding Bay. It was incredibly lovely, both the walk and the bay itself. Small, sandy, surrounded by huge boulders, the azure blue sea laps its shores gently. Because it is hard to reach, over quite steep paths, it is usually deserted.

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Wild koalas and a venomous adder – Tuesday 15th November 2011


I find it really exciting planning to wake very early. We want to set off at 6am to benefit from the cool air. Just down the road from Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island we were amazed to see a dead wallaby, stiff but not obviously a road kill. It looks so complete, just lying on its side, although rather gross as it is already puffing up. What had happened?

Not more than two meters away was a tightly coiled pink and grey striped adder, curled in a pinwheel. My first thought was to push it with my foot to see if it was really dead. Was this road kill too? Impossible, look at the shape!

We walked on talking about what might have happened. John rightly telling me that it was NEVER wise to kick a snake, alive or dead, and me laughing.

We were heading for Forts Walk, a recognized bus stop, but easy enough to walk from Horseshoe. I knew we stood a very good chance of seeing a wild koala there. On arrival we read the usual notices, a history of the place and it’s use in World War Two, ‘keep on the path’ and DON’T touch the pink and grey short, big headed adder, which is highly venomous.

Could it be that the poor wallaby had ‘nosed’ the sleeping adder, who was trying to warm up on the tarmac road ready for the day? Did the adder nip him and kill him? Well of course I will never know but it seemed likely and I was very glad I had NOT nudged the snake!

So we tread carefully on our walk and it is very pleasant with not a soul about yet. When my daughter had taken me on this walk 13 years ago, we had been lucky to see one koala.

The hillsides are covered with eucalyptus, it must be koala paradise! They certainly don’t move much and I’ve never heard any kind of noise from one. They can be so frequent in the same place, so that sometimes people out twigs in the shape of an arrow to indicate which tree might house a koala!

Other signs to find your Koala: look down for droppings, when you find them look up- you may well see a koala. They seem quite happy near the path and are not over anxious by quiet talking. We go very slowly, regularly checking the trees. For what seems like hours, nothing at all, but trees! We get distracted by sea views and begin to quicken our pace.

“Right, just one more try!” I announce looking straight up into a ball of grey fluff that soon evolves into a koala wedged into the fork of the tree, head down, eyes closed, long claws lazily attached to the bark. We watch in awe!

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The fort itself affords fantastic panoramas over the sea. Just below us is Horseshoe Bay, Arthur Bay and Florence Bay.

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Gradually a few more people appear on a koala hunt of their own. A Cardiff couple have seen one in a different place, so we go to explore. To our delight we see a total of 5 adults and three of these have babies!

It’s not always easy to see the babies as they hide well in the arms of the curled mother. Watch out for extra legs sticking out and take your time.

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Good luck in your own hunt!