Category Archives: Animals

How Do You Feel About Tattoos?

Elephant tattoo

That’s a picture of my daughter’s back, she had the tattoo done a few days ago. Even though it’s pretty big, she’s had it done in a sensible place, half way down her back so it will really only show if she’s in swimwear. Not that I feel people should have to hide tattoos if they don’t want to, but unfortunately there are still some career choices where it can be a hindrance to have them visible – she is considering going into law, so that would be one such example.

The reason she had this tattoo done was in memory of her Dad. She loves elephants, she loves Disney, and one of her Dad’s all-time favourite films was The Jungle Book; with this being an image of an adult and child elephant from the film, it ticks all the boxes. It’s quite large as you can see; she initially wanted smaller but because of the detail on it, it needed to be a certain size.

In view of her reason for wanting it done, I chose not to say anything negative about the idea when she first mentioned it. What I did do though is make sure she took a long time to think about it before going ahead to be absolutely sure. She first came up with the idea around the end of October, soon after he died, and right away thought of The Jungle Book elephants. She then turned 18 in December, so could go ahead and have it done whether I agreed or not. And it’s now April. So she gave it over five months without changing her mind.


This is the elephant tattoo in mid-process

I don’t have any tattoos myself, but I don’t have anything against them. I’ve seen many that I find beautiful; high quality works of art by any standard, and others not so much – as I’m sure you all have. But it’s personal choice if people want to permanently ink their bodies; unless they’ve chosen a highly offensive image, then it’s really not anyone else’s business. Often people have very touching stories about why they’ve chosen to have certain tattoos. It doesn’t worry me in the least if someone I’m dealing with has tattoos, even in a professional context.

The only reason I wanted to make sure my daughter took a long time to decide is because the reality is that many people do regret tattoos. We all know people who regret tattoos. So even if my daughter does come to regret it years down the line, at least she won’t need to be cross with herself for rushing into it. This is part of her healing process from her Dad’s death – she thought of the tattoo, she chose the particular image, she paid for it with her own money – she owns it in every way. And if it helps her then I’m very pleased.

And do I like the tattoo itself? Yes I do, I think it’s rather lovely.

What do you think about tattoos? Do you have any?

Photo credits:
Image of elephant tattoo taken by The Belly Bar, where she had it done
Image of the tattoo in mid-process taken by me


A Writing Contest and a Chance to Save the Wolves!

Wolves in a snowy landscape

Writer and wolf-lover extraordinaire, Kate Johnston, aka 4am Writer, is running a fun writing contest over on her blog. Help Kate save El Lobo, the Mexican gray wolf, and write a 250 word story which features a wolf in some way. But I’ll let Kate tell you the rest, so hop on over there, and hurry, the deadline is 31 March – Contest link.

When No One Is Looking…

Black cat on fence

A few days ago I was eating some chicken wings at home. Before I could say “I love this hot Nando’s sauce”, one of my cats (the one in the picture above – you can see the sneaky look on her face), leaped up from nowhere, seized one of the wings in her mouth and attempted to run off with it. I managed to grab her and extract the wing from her mouth, phew.

I then looked down at my plate of wings, realised that I had put the wing back on the pile, and had no idea which was the one that had been in the cat’s mouth. So what did I do? Well nobody was around to see, so I just shrugged and carried on eating. Had anyone else been around, I may well have made a big dramatic gesture of throwing them all away in disgust, saying “Ugh! Well I can’t eat ANY of them now!”

Truth is I’ve been sharing food with cats ever since that first grubby little fistful of cat food I shoved into my mouth from the cat bowl as a toddler. I’ve never worried too much about that sort of thing. It builds immunity right? Right?! Remember I spent a year living self-sufficiently up a mountain as a child, with no plumbing or electricity, drinking raw milk straight out of goats, and eating goodness-knows-what straight out of the ground. I figure I have a pretty strong stomach. I feel the need to clarify here though, I’m actually very meticulous with food hygiene in my kitchen, so you don’t need to worry if you ever come to eat at my house. I guess I’m careful for other people, but if it’s just something for me (and nobody’s watching), I’m a lot more relaxed.

Are you horrified by my chicken wing story? Or are you thinking – yeah, I’d probably do the same too if nobody was looking…or maybe even if people were looking? What things have you done alone lately that you might not have done if someone was looking?


And then there was the time an octopus asked for my help

Two smoking octopuses

I’m sure you’ve all been asked for help by a sea creature at some time or other; who hasn’t right? I’m not sure how you handled it when it happened to you, but I’m not pleased about how I handled it when it happened to me. It went like this…

Several years ago I was visiting a sea life centre. As I rounded a corner, I saw a tank shaped like a cylinder on its end. To give you an idea of size, roughly, if I hugged my arms around it, my hands would be about one foot shy of meeting. Standing around the tank were a few kids, laughing and knocking on the glass.

As they moved away, I approached. Slumped in the bottom, looking lifeless, was a large octopus. Do you know much about octopuses? They are considered to be the most intelligent invertebrate out there (interesting octopus fact no.1). I knelt down and looked into his eyes. Take it from me these were very sad eyes. A huge rush of sympathy surged through me; this poor creature was in a tank that wasn’t even big enough for it to extend its arms properly. The largest octopuses have a maximum arm span of 9m, and weigh up to 270kg (interesting octopus fact no.2), and furthermore there was nowhere for him to hide from the hoards of prying eyes, no plants, nothing. Octopuses have the ability to change their colour, pattern, and texture to match their surroundings in order to hide from predators (interesting octopus fact no.3), but even that skill wasn’t going to help him here. This is how they do it in the wild, please watch, it’s very cool:

The octopus felt my sympathy, I’m telling you he felt it. Octopuses have three hearts, did you know that? (interesting octopus fact no.4). He came to life, rose up from the bottom, locked eyes with me and waved his arms as best he could in that limited space. And we connected, I’ve never felt such a strong connection with an animal before. It was hypnotic, I felt overwhelmed by emotion. It was like I could feel his pain, and he was saying “Yes, yes, you understand my plight, please help me.” I moved around the tank a couple of times, and he moved with me, keeping his eyes locked with mine.

I wanted to help him, but what could I do? There was only one choice. Carefully, I lifted the top off the tank, reached in, and using all my strength I hoisted him out of the water. That was one heavy octopus I can tell you, and I ran, I ran out of the sea life centre and across the road to the sea and threw him in. Ok, no, I didn’t do that, but I played that scenario in my head as a possibility and clearly had to discount it. Although if I had done it, he might have been able to help me because octopuses are able to solve problems, such as opening jars to reach prey (interesting octopus fact no.5). Instead I grabbed a chain and padlock and chained myself to the tank and then shouted over and over that I would not be moved until this octopus was saved! Again, no, I didn’t do that either. Actually what I did was walk away.

I told myself I would do something about it. Coincidentally, as we left the sea life centre, there was a group of people outside with placards protesting about the conditions that some of the sea creatures were being kept in. Apparently they had been there when we went in, only I hadn’t noticed them then. I recounted my observations to them and signed their petition, and told myself that I had indeed done something about helping my octopus friend. But deep down I knew it was a cop-out. I’d signed my name on a piece of paper. Big deal. Basically I didn’t do anything. And I still feel bad about it.

Octopuses live for one to two years in the wild (interesting octopus fact no.6), so I’m guessing it’s too late for me to help that guy. I’m very sorry I didn’t do more to help you little fella. And while we’re at it, I’m sorry if I’ve ever eaten any of your relatives in a paella.

I can’t help him, but maybe I can do something to help octopuses in general. I could adopt an octopus or I maybe I could help save the Pacific Northwest tree octopus. But I think the most important thing I can do is learn from it, and the transferable lesson I take forward is….

Signing your name on a bit of paper doesn’t cut it, when an octopus asks for your help.


photo credit: Atomic Mutant Flea Circus via photopin cc

The time I secretly shared a box of chocolates with a mouse

Elephant and mouse sharing

I feel the need for a little true confession today. It all started with a box of chocolates that I had brought in to work. It was one of those tall pass-it-around-and-share-it boxes of individually wrapped assorted chocolates. I passed it around. We shared. After four or five chocolates had been taken, someone reached in and pulled out an empty wrapper. Strange. I peered into the box, and there was another empty wrapper. Not nice flat wrappers, but crumpled up ones, still twisted at one end. I delved in further, then horror of horrors, I found a half unwrapped chocolate with what looked like little tiny nibble marks in it. And then another partly nibbled one…and another!

“A mouse must have got into the box!” Someone cried.

“Impossible!” I shouted. “I’ve only just opened the box now from new and there are no holes in it or anything!”

“Well a mouse must have got to them in the factory then,” somebody else suggested.

“You must complain Vanessa, you must write to the company and complain!” They told me. I knew they were right, but first I asked the question that was on everyone’s lips, or so I thought, but it turned out it was only on my lips…

“Should we eat the other chocolates anyway first? You know, the perfectly good ones that still have the wrapping intact?”

Everyone was aghast. “Noooo!!!!” They cried. “Noooo!!!”

“But they are perfectly good!” I protested.

“They’re not perfectly good Vanessa, they are contaminated! The whole box is contaminated!”

I reluctantly conceded that they were right, I must eat no more, I must instead complain. I shoved the box into my bottom desk drawer, fully intending to write a complaint letter later. But instead I forgot all about them. Until a few weeks later when I was searching for something, and opened the bottom drawer. My eyes lit up, for a second…

Chocolates!…Oh…they’re the mouse chocolates…I was supposed to complain about them. I expect it’s too late now. I should probably just throw them away…only…there’s some perfectly good chocolates still in there, and none of us got ill from the ones we ate before…plus, there’s no actual evidence that it’s mice, it could just be mechanical damage…yes, that’s it, mechanical damage, so…

I looked up and glanced around. Everyone was busy, nobody was looking my way. I reached into the box, and pulled one out, I held it under my desk and looked at it. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s perfectly good. I slowly and quietly unwrapped it and popped it into my mouth. And so it went on. Over the next two or three weeks, when nobody was looking, whenever I got a hankering for chocolate, I would slowly and quietly reach into my box of mouse chocolates, pull one of the fully wrapped ones out and eat it. Until they were all gone. And nobody knew.

And not once when I had run out of the fully wrapped ones, and had a desperate craving for chocolate, did I take out one of the half nibbled ones, and have my own little nibble from the other, perfectly good, end. Not once, because that would be a step too far…right?

photo credit: via photopin cc

Flies eaten: 1

When you’re a parent, you regularly come across surprising, sometimes alarming things. A couple of weeks ago I was looking through a cupboard, and I came across a notebook. I opened it and saw this:

Paper that says 'Flies eaten: 1'

After I had recovered from the initial shock, I felt a certain sense of relief that it was only one. I knew my daughter had been the last to use this notebook and so I asked her about it. She casually brushed aside my concern and said in a matter-of-fact way “Oh yes, that was when we were doing the Duke of Edinburgh award.” A number of questions came to my mind – Was this one of the requirements in order to pass the award? Does the Duke know? If she’d tried a bit harder, could she have managed more than one? I kept my questions to myself though because if I ask her more than one question at a time these days, I am accused of ALWAYS questioning her about EVERYTHING. That is our job though right?

Of course I have almost eaten a fly myself too; but then who hasn’t? I say ‘almost’ because I had only got as far as chewing it, I hadn’t swallowed it yet. I was about five, out on a picnic. I saw something black on the edge of my sandwich, just inside. I thought it was Marmite. It wasn’t Marmite. Marmite isn’t chewy and gritty like that. Next thing I was spitting out little black bits and pieces of wing. That was a substantial sized beast of a fly I can tell you, and when bits of fly get stuck in your teeth, they don’t come out so easily. Oh I’m sorry, am I going into too much detail now? Let’s move on…


…to another bug-in-food story. A while ago, eight of us from work had lunch out. There was a salad bar and we helped ourselves from it. Within a couple of minutes of each other, three of us found little caterpillars in our salad, one of my little fellas was actually making his way around the edge of the plate, with that ‘hump and straighten’ action which is kind of cute if it’s anywhere other than on your plate. We called the waitress over, and being British, we were all very apologetic about having found caterpillars in our food. She took our plates away, and we refused the kind offer she made to “Get the chef to wash the lettuce again for us”, instead opting to move on to dessert. At the end of the meal, she came and asked us, “Was everything alright?” We all laughed, assuming she was joking, but she remained straight-faced and asked again, more forcefully, “Was it? Was everything alright?” We realised that she seriously wanted an answer and so again, being British, we nodded and mumbled that it had all been very nice thank you.

So, do you have any ‘bugs in food’ stories to share?
caterpillar photo credit: AMagill via photopin cc

I Don’t Got Cooties!

Biohazard warning sign

Whenever I watched American films or TV as a child, I would observe with some confusion the tendency for kids to accuse each other of having cooties. The standard response to this accusation was invariably “I don’t got cooties!” This was all quite a mystery to us British kids. We had no idea what cooties were, nor could we fathom the rather strange sentence construction with the “don’t got” bit. In the end, I decided that cooties must be head lice because I compared it to British kids accusing each other of having nits. My understanding now is that ‘cooties’ is actually similar to the British ‘lurgy’, i.e. some generic non-specific nasty germy infestation type thing. I’m not sure if head lice could even be included with the other nasties under the general heading of ‘cooties’, perhaps my American followers could clarify? But either way, I didn’t want to include the words ‘head lice’ in my post title because I didn’t want to put anyone off reading it, so I went for the altogether cuddlier sounding cooties, even if they are something completely different.

Anyway, those of you who read my last post will now realise where we’re going with this. That’s right, the head lice won the poll, and so I must now speak of their virtues. Mike Allegra (heylookawriterfellow) will support what I say, and will defend the lice if anyone speaks out against them  (remember Mike, it was your idea). Believe it or not, I have managed to find four, yes FOUR good things to say about the very misunderstood head lice. Four might not be a huge number, but I bet it’s four more good things than you ever thought there were to say about them, right? Keep reading, I think you’ll be impressed…

1. Head lice have earned their right to be here. They have been around for millions of years, and evidence of them has been found on the hair of Egyptian mummies. They are part of history.

2. Mating attachment between adult lice lasts for more than an hour. Stamina like that deserves some respect.

3. When the female lays eggs, she secretes a glue-like substance to stick them to the hair. Recent studies have shown that this glue is made of proteins that are very similar to keratin. Keratin is a vital component in hair which provides its strength and resilience. Keratin is now a popular ingredient in hair conditioning treatments. That’s right, those lice are conditioning your hair.

And finally, the best one…

4. Head lice may be irritating but they generally cause no real harm, and they do not spread any disease. There is evidence to suggest that head lice infestations are in fact beneficial, and act as a natural vaccine to help you develop immunity to infestation by the far more dangerous body lice, which can transmit serious diseases (body lice can be cooties right?).

Come on now, if nothing else, you’ve got to be impressed by the fourth one yes? And let’s not forget the unique parent/child bonding experience of spending an hour, night after night, in the bathroom, painstakingly going through every section of hair with the nit comb, to the sounds of “Noooo!!! Stop!!! It hurts!!!”

Mike, it’s over to you.

Cat Hierarchy

Like most people, we have a puzzling cat hierarchy situation in our house (you do have a puzzling cat hierarchy situation in your house right?). It goes like this…

This is Dory, we have had Dory for about five years:
Dory the cat

This is Misty, we have had Misty for about three years:
Misty the cat
Unfortunately, Dory and Misty do not get on. Dory is bigger, older, and was there first, so unsurprisingly she is the boss. Anybody observing them for a while would have no doubts that Dory is the boss; she prowls around proudly like a dominant lion, while Misty mostly tries to keep out of her way. Whenever Misty does cross her path, Dory will chase her and attack her, not in a way to cause injury, but very much in a way of asserting her authority, and Misty will scuttle away and hide, looking every bit like the reprimanded child.

Yep, Dory is very much the boss…except that is when it comes to food. When it comes to food there is an instant and very definite switch of power where Misty suddenly becomes the boss, and Dory turns into a big wuss. They have dry food out all the time that they can graze from, but every morning we give them each a pouch of wet food. If Misty gets there first, she will eat the first pouch while Dory sits nearby watching. If Dory gets there first and starts eating, Misty will boldly go up to her, in a way that she never does at any other time, and give her a gentle nudge or tap with her paw. Dory responds by giving a small growl of displeasure, but then backs off and sits nearby watching Misty eat. Dory makes no attempt to stand her ground or fight to eat first. Once Misty has finished, we have to put her outside, otherwise she eats the second pouch we put down for Dory too.

A few times we have tried feeding them at the same time, on different sides of the room, but what happens then is that Dory starts eating slowly, repeatedly glancing nervously over her shoulder, while Misty scoffs her one down quickly and then goes over and nudges Dory out of the way and finishes that one too.

As soon as the eating is over, Dory resumes her position as boss. You can quite literally see her shift back from the weak second-place eater into the strong dominant leader cat. Her stance and everything changes as she switches from one to the other.

It is very strange and fascinates us every day. I would have imagined that food would be an area that very much demonstrates who the boss is, so why does Dory back down and relinquish her position as boss, while Misty steps up and takes over, just for that period of eating time every morning?

They are both female, and neither have had kittens (they’ve both had the op), so there are no gender or mothering type issues going on. Any thoughts?

The Thoughtful Seagull

A thoughtful seagull at the beach

I’ve always liked seagulls, partly because I associate them with the beach, but mostly because they’re very entertaining. They have a bad reputation as aggressive scavengers, and I know they can be pests, but hey, they have to do what they can to survive, the same as any other species. They have lived alongside humans for thousands of years and they’re really quite fascinating birds.

We live close to the coast, and I will always return from trips to the beach with a few snapshots of the gull fellas. The one at the top of this post was taken on a recent trip to Broadstairs beach – I wonder what he is thinking so deeply about? Look at him again, look closely at his expression and his stance, and tell me this isn’t a seagull with a lot on his mind?

Here’s are five things you might not know about seagulls:

1) They are highly intelligent creatures, and learn behaviours to adapt to their environment. In groups they will stamp their feet on the ground to sound like rainfall which tricks earthworms into coming to the surface. They will also drop molluscs down on to rocks to crack them open and eat their contents.

2) Seagulls mate for life, and have a modern approach to parenting. Not only do they take it in turns to incubate the eggs, but they also take it in turns to feed and protect the chicks after they are born, while the other one goes off to hunt and scavenge.

3) They are one of very few animals that can drink both fresh and salt water. How handy is that?

4) Seagulls are much adored in Utah where they are the state bird since they successfully helped Mormon settlers deal with a plague of crickets.

5) In the wild, they typically live for around 10 years, but can live several times as long in captivity. I’m pretty certain they would choose a shorter life in the wild than a much longer one in captivity.

I think we can learn a lot from observing these beautiful, intelligent, and resourceful creatures.

What do you think? Seagulls – pest or pal?