Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Mass Culture and Minority Civilization

I have to admit that this whole Joint Second Best Academic ranking is pretty useless to me as I struggle to write my final assignment of my first year, an assignment that I originally thought would be a snip. The gist of the thing is a critical appraisal of the innocent enough remark by FR Leavis that in any culture, there are only a few of us who are clever enough to understand the really important stuff. Therefore, QED, et al, we shoud proceed by having universities stuffed to the gills with bright sparks and the masses can just all get lost, and wallow around in their own ignorance.

"Easy" thought I, a few quick searches on Wikipedia for factual background, a bit of a quick Google so I can copy some original thought into my essay and the thing is done. Except that was nearly four hours ago, and I still have'nt finished the damn thing. The history of the essay started off easily enough - a quick skim of the title and it was clear that Leavis was an elitist. Next a check on Google to see if being an elitist is a good thing or a bad thing these days, as you never can tell. I would always advise academics who are lower down the pecking order than me, to check the Internet before expressing an original opinion. If, on doing so, you find that your passionately held belief is not actually fashionable in the better colleges, then you should immediately change your beliefs to better increase your chances of getting published. In Science, this method of modifying theories as new facts become known is called experimentation, but I am a firm believer that by keeping up with the latest trends, the amount of experimentation you might have to do will be kept to the minimum. You can then get on with your real job as an academic which, of course consists of writing ground breaking new research papers, or "paraphrasing" as I call it.

The trouble with this essay is that the picture is not straightforward. At first, it was clear that Leavis was an elistist of the worst kind, (which is apparently a bad thing) mostly because he kept repeating his opinion that most of the public were too dumn to understand literature. One spin put by others on Leavis' views is that as the plebs were too stupid to read DH Lawrence's books properly the country should immediately become a totalitarian Fascist state. This was, in fact, nothing like anything that Leavis actually said, and in some ways proved some of the points he was making about the dumbing down of mass media, but it has been a long time since anything anyone ever said has been reported accurately by anyone else, because as humans, we all have agendas that mean we interpret everything. Nevertheless, the characterisation of Leavis as a proto fascist accompanied by a big gang of black shirted thugs gave me a nice dramatic edge to my essay.

On the good side, I had a Brazilian Marxist Theorist called Paulo Freire, who was obsessed with geography, it seems, as he kept going on about where the learner was situated. Freire, was my obvious good guy, and I had my essay plan all nice and neat. I had to make up a few details, such as how Friere had gone back in time to save the planet and had ended up in Cambridge (Leavis' 'hood) in the 1930's and had then kicked Leavis' butt using the Brazilian Martial Art of Capoiera. As with all First Class Honours Essays, the thing was a guaranteed First.

Then, unfortunately, I started reading a bit more. Seems the picture isnt quite as black and white as I'd first imagined - for a start, Leavis was a concientious objector, and therefore a good guy. Or a coward. ANd an ace critic to boot - everyone agrees. Secondly some of Freire's work bears a spooky resemblance to some Hungarian guy who's name temporarily escapes me.. Now, while I see no problem with paraphrasing the odd idea here and there when writing original stuff, I do draw the line at outright copying of Hungarians. That's how wars get started. And then there's the post-structuralist revisionist view of Leavis attempted by ol Gazzer Day. This thing is getting complicated.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

A Walk Through Hull

My neighbour, a person whom at one time I would have called "elderly" and now claim as a near contemporary, is amazed by my "generosity" and the work ethic we (RHB and self) apparently both display. The focus of his amazement today is that I am off to the store to buy a loaf of bread for some other mutual neighbours. I explain:

"Well, its nothing, really. I was going the store anyway, and they had a baby last night, so I just asked if they need anything."

Keith's reply, if factual, is telling "That's how it used to be. Neighbours help eachother out. Not anymore."

I hurry along on my mission, concious that back home there are hungry mouths to feed. In truth, if the cats had not needed cat food, the celebrated loaf would have remained on the shelf. On delivery of the loaf to my neighbours, the subject of community again arises, again contrasted with how things "used to be". I have only lived in three countries, England, Liverpool and Canada, so my experience is limited, but based on that experience, the only place I have experienced where "things" have ever been as they "used to be" is Canada.

One of our first Canadian experiences occured when we bought a bed in Halifax. Standing near the till after paying, we were debating how to get the thing back to our apartment. Quite aside from the fact that our horse (ie a suitable mode of transportation) was behind our cart (ie our bed and mattress), we were enjoying the "abroad" experience of spending money that did not actually feel, or look, like money, and had neglected the detail of transport. A person in the queue for the check out overheard our debates about towing the thing through three feet of snow,, and simply offered his truck. He drove us five miles to our apartment, which was located in the opposite side of the city to his house. We did not meet the guy ever again, and he refused even a cup of coffe, just gave a cheery wave and disappeared into the blizzard.

One of my last experiences in Canada was a car dealer who took our car in for sale on the day we were moving. I had totally screwed up the sale of the aforementioned vehicle, left it too late and had ruined the upholstery by transporting saws, wood and cigarette smoking friends round in it. Loans were still outstanding on the vehicle and the salesman had to trust that we would continue to honour our loan payments until the car was sold, otherwise he would have to assume responsibility for them, as we had necessarily signed over the ownership papers. On the shake of a hand he took the car and sold it, a process which took him three months. He paid the balance of our loan off, which involved a trip to Toyota head Office in Toronto, and sent us a good luck card.

Inbetween these two events, seperated by ten years, there were many similar random acts of kindness, and regardless of how Canadians percieve themselves, they provide, for my at least, a degree of evidence that England and Canada are, culturally at least, very different places. It takes my long term companion though, the Red Haired Boffin, to make me realize the truth of the anthropological paradigm that says culture is something we choose.

A Walk Through Hull

It is Sunday, relatively warm, measured by the standards of Hul(tee-shirt, fleece, overcoat), and red has been back two days. We decide to attend an Art Show by my neighbour's brother, an artist who has not shown for some years. We walk to the show through Hull's brilliantly decaying streets, photographing and gossiping on the way. The show is fun, modern, chaotic and complicated, full of swirling colours but we do'nt stay long as we cannot afford to buy, and dont know anyone anyway, so set off back home, this time deciding on a short cut through the back streets.

Within five minutes we are lost in a sprawling council estate, half-derelict, chaotic and complicated. It's a bit like the show we've just been to. RHB sees an old building that is more derelict than most and we try to get closer, taking an alleyway strewn with needles, condoms, broken bottles and discarded purses. Turn left out of the alleyway into a cul-de-sac and in front of us, in the middle of the road, a full-blown party is in progress, a party originating in two or three of the only semi-occupiable terraced houses in a row of about fifty. Five or six bare-chested males with full beer-bellies are strewn across the road, shaven heads, tattoos, sitting on old car seats, bottles of cider. A small fire is burning in the middle of the street, and Shakira is blaring out of what used to be called a "beat-box". Hundreds, it seems, of children are riding bikes round the road, while the older women are all huddled round one doorstep, smoking, be-decked in pink and shiny and gold and shiny and tightness, every breast showing a proprietal tattoo. As we emerge, every head turns. RHB is the first to react:

"Hi Guys! Nice bike! What a great day!"

If this were bravado, I would be applauding the Boffin's gumption, but it is not, it is all natural, and she smiles beautifully at the crowd, like the Queen on official duties. Concious that the Queen on official duties has at least twenty five SAS bodyguards, I mumble through the side of my mouth

"Ust eep ahkin"

RHB loudly asks what I am saying, so staring straight ahead in order to avoid eye contact with someone who's name is, I think "Bif", I elaborate, with an elaborate casualness, and much too loudly "Let's just go down here", indicating the end of the road where I can see other houses, "the others will probably meet us down there." RHB looks puzzled, but am banking on fooling the crew into thinking that there's a big crowd somewhere and we have only been temporarily separated from it.

RHB has other ideas "Oh Look, there is a hole in the fence. We can go in!!!" She omits only a "Yippee George! A Secret Garden. How Scrumptious!" We enter the otherwise entirely fenced grounds of the derelict, hidden from everyone's view apart from Bif's family. Inside, the building is magical and spooky. Our photos do not really do it justice, we would have to go back at night, but my photojournalistic bravery does not stretch that far, which probably explains why I am not a photojournalist. We do not, as I had feared, get mugged, and our corpses do not get added to Bif's smouldering campfire and we walk home safely, stopping only at Aldi.

On the way home, past the Polish shops, past the abandoned pubs, over the old railway line and through the park past the Queens where I watch so many Liverpool victories, and RHB lightheartedly accuses me of paranoia, a charge I fully admit. But just as her beautifully open reaction that "Here's some guys having fun" is not entirely all her, my paranoia does have a cultural element. Admittedly, a good many Canadians would turn and run from Bif's street, but while a charity in Canada like Big Brothers, Big Sisters, is a massive success, the story is different in the UK. The mentoring website offered the following:

According to David Hall, Britain offers a particular challenge. 'It's the class thing,' he says. 'Nowhere in the world is it an issue like over here. If you get a working class kid from an estate, he won't want to spend time with a 'posh' bloke who likes hunting and fishing.
In the same way race can be a problem. We can't and won't tell a parent or child who rejects a mentor outside their culture that they 'must' accept them. And a black inner city kid or one in Newcastle will want a mentor they can recognise and relate to.'

Where does this leave buying a loaf of bread for my neighbours? One piece of, rather sniffily delivered, advice I recieved from a close relative suggested that if I like Canada that much, I should go back there. They missed the point entirely. Like so many Brits, praise of somewhere else was taken as criticism of here, but everywhere has it's good and bad points, even Canada. RHB has sauntered through this world as a Canadian, and does so wherever she lives, and it has served her well. She has left more of Bif's parties unscathed than anyone I know. I see no reason why I, if I want things here to be "as they used to be" there, cannot do the same. Tomorrow, I'm going to buy someone a great big cake.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

In Frago Delicante

A reader of these missive may watch laugh-a-minute soap-operas, the formulaic drama type where normal domestic situations are comedized via a series of improbable happenstance, so that, to the viewer, humourous impossible situations result in utter chaos, usually for the hapless hero, or heroine. I have also enjoyed the odd piece of slapstick, until, that is, I am landed in one.

The drame starts with an innocuous phone call from Red Haired Boffin:

"Hi, I'm coming home. "

I reply, expressing the full expectation that this is, as always, a given. RHB pauses before explaining:

"No. I'm coming home tonight. About 11.00pm, so it will be late, but I cant wait."

"Great", I reply.

"Is that OK? You dont sound very pleased."

"No. Brilliant. That's great. Fine. Wonderful. Can't wait." I sound as if I have just been fired.

"Well, see you later."

"Yeah. Great.Gotta feed the cats. see ya. " I hang up.

The old heart is pounding thunderously in the old chest cavity as if it wants to break free. What I have omitted from our conversation is that in addition to the cats needing sustenance, there is a largish list of jobs to do. Jobs that I had counted on surprising RHB (for the second time in a week) with some pleasurable "fait accomplis" when she returned, on schedule, tomorrow afternoon. Not tonight. And in pursuit of accomplishing said goal, I have rendered the place uninhabitable. THe list of things to do, achievable in twenty hours, looms ominously given that I now have three hours to complete.

Jobs like rehanging all the doors in the place, tidying up the kitchen, finishing the garden, putting all my "stuff" in the loft, completing a wardrobe and installing some shelves. If I had not started and half-finished all these jobs, there would be no problem, but foolishly, I have half started everything. That means I have removed all the internal doors and chopped them up, emptied all the previously unpacked boxes in our upstairs room, scattered the contents to be sorted 'later'. and thrown the boxes out, half cleared out a room ready for shelves so that all the previous contents of the room are now scattered on the landing, disassembled the bedroom completely in preparation for the installation of a wardrobe (I had intended to sleep on the couch downstairs tonight) and half-finished a desk for my future office. Large Mansions is, frankly, a mess, and we face an 11.00pm dealine that looks impossible. As it stands, RHB will come home to a place with nowhere to sleep and no food, nowhere to hang her clothes and nothing to sit on. If she can find the television, she may want to watch a comedy programme.

I say "we" because the cats are thoroughly implicated in this situation. I consulted Tosh and Calli extensively on my plans and they thought them sound. Accordingly, they are put on high alert. Callia is already mad, as previously discussed, and needs no encouragement to run round frantically as I create a blizzard of clothes-hanging, shelf installing, floor clearing, hiding pizza boxes and trying to find duvets. Tosh's attitude is more typically catlike - "Screw her" is the attitude he appears to take.

I had intended to have Nel arrive home to a situation where there were three complete wardrobes and one cabinet for clothes storage, a radical departure from our living arrangements of the past three months which has consited of a bed, one suitcase and a pile of clothes on the floor. The goal was laudable, but as one famous Ploppyshanker said "You cant make an omeltte without making a massive big mess", and I have been planning a huge omelette. Panicking, I start frantically hanging clothes in the first place that comes to hand, especially the incomplete wardrobes. Clothes hanging mutates from a carefully planned operation to a desperate fight against time - party dresses get hung next to cycling gear, hiking gear nestles cheek-by-brow with casual apparel and the remnants of our Goth past, now exclsuively reserved for Halloween means that rubber dresses mix uncomfortably with chic daywear. It is a couturiere's nightmare, but it will have to do.

Next up is the problem of doors. Lack of doors in the Mansion is an issue because cats have a habit of lying just outside of them. The (current) lack of doors does not deter them from this arrangement, it just means they adopt the stealth mode, becoming almost invisible. Navigating the property then becomes akin to navigating a minefield of cats, which insist on being fallen over. The result is usually a broken neck or twisted ankle. Doors mitigate the problem somewhat as the act of opening same cause the cat to run away - therefore no broken neck. It is impossible to hang six doors in the time allowed, so I opt for the timeless student option, borne in Goa, of stapling furniture throws to the doorframes. The result is ugly, and Tosh immediately tests it's worth by lying right outside the bedroom door, causing me to fall over and twist my damaged knee pretty badly. He slinks off, satisfied, looking for another door.

I will have to pass on reporting further progress, as the train is now approaching. The photographs below show the state of play prior to Operation Tidy- Up. All I can say at this stage is "God BLess All who Sail in Her" and if I survive the night, I will report poste-haste on what transpired.

Below is the upper Bedroom, pre tidy up. Three hours till zero hour and counting:
Below is the bedroom. Two hours to zero hour and counting:

Below is my office, featuring newly half-finished desk and some diving/camping equipment ready to be unpacked/stored. The plan was that this would be finished. One hour to Zero Hour and counting.

Below is Nel's office complete with semi-built wardrobe frame. Everything that was neatly stacked in this office is now completely blocking the landing outside. 30 minutes to zero hour and counting faster, it seems.

Below is Calli, earlier this day, supervising Darren the Brickie. Another surprise for Nel was to be a finished front garden. Darren built the wall today and will return tomorrow to do the path, but this was also scheduled to be finished on the return of RHB. Nel's appearance will be a surprise to both of them.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

selling out in style

Still think google ads are random?  This was my latest suggestion:  :)
Understanding Your Cat
Become An Expert At Reading Your Cat's Moods, Learn How Online Today

knicker blocker

You may want to post some guidelines for your non-British guests this summer.  We haven't heard any details on the new knicker import ban...

Sunday, 12 April 2009

When Intelligent Design Goes Wrong

"Put detergent in drawer number one and run the machine through a full cycle" . I repeat, the instructions, given in respect of "Your new Bosch High Efficiency Washing Machine" quite clearly said "Put detergent in drawer number one and run the machine through a full cycle". So I did. Then I read the rest of the instructions, and the helpful "Trouble shooting" guide, which effectively said "If you are one of those morons who by the term 'Detergent' understands this to mean 'Washing up liquid' , you will find your new Bosch High Efficiency Washing Machine to be frothing some what. Add fabric softener, stupid, and start again".

Frankly, I have come to expect more from our German cousins (makers of Bosch) than the sort of terminological inexactitude which necessitates an addendum to their original instructions, although I am grateful to them for supplying same, albeit 23 pages after the fact. Satisfied that I have not ruined our new washing machine, my day continues, plastering, screwing and refusing to clean up my mess completely until the imminent return of RHB from her Italian sojourn. She will return to a few surprises, including fully trained cats. Trained, that is. to wake her at four am demanding to be allowed out to play. She will also be pleasured no doubt by my plastering, an new window seat and a fridge completely devoid of food, althouh the garbage will bear testimony to my earnest recycling, despite a degree of uncertainty whether pizza boxes are recyclable or not.

The biggest surprise, though, and one which she is living la viva loca entirely unaware of, will be the front garden, which has been transformed from a garbage dump into a cat/bee/bird friendly haven. Working closely with my great friend JJ, who's new business venture is landscape gardening, we have slaved long and hard to design a front garden that adds kerb appeal to Large Mansions. The idea sprung forth fully realised in a flash of inspiration, similar to those what were responsible for most of my brilliant theories. Even sober, the next day, the nub of the idea was re-examined, and discovered to still be sound, although plans for the solar powerd waterfall, frog-pond, trellised archway and Japanese Zen area were scaled back due to both practicality and stupidity (in that order).

Next day, I questioned JJ closely, as the details of his horticultural knowledge, the foundations on which the plan was originally based, had become hazy over the course of the previous evening. Despite discovering that he was not, in fact, responsible for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, nor, after all, did he achieve a Gold Medal at Chelsea Flower Show in 2005, but was in fact Irish, (and therefore capable of making anything sound plausible, and easily within his powers) we decided to soldier on in complete ignorance. We have, after all both occasionally listened to Gardener's Question Time on BBC Radio Four.

After a solid hour of hard graft, inspiration struck, so we had a cup of tea.

After another hour, tea-break was over, so we soldiered on, and despite clay soil and absolutely no idea what we were doing, a garden has been created. It may well not be that all we have created is a massive cat toilet, and at the moment, it is a little short on plants, but they will grow. RHB is sure to be surprised. Especially when she thought all I was doing this vacation was getting plastered.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

International Peacekeeping

As we all know, Canada is famed for its unique international peacekeeping skills. This video is a touching reflection on that long held tradition:

Friday, 10 April 2009

Panic Yee Not !!!

For those Canadians who are fleeing the Cylon tyranny (AKA Steven Harper) this summer, I am sure that as you quit your beloved homeland, strong and free, you might well be mulling over the eternal questions that only those fleeing to an uncertain future might be mulling. Questions such as "Do they speak English in Hull?", or "Will I be able to secure a supply of poutine in Hull?" or "Will my guest bedroom in Large Mansions be infested with cats, and largely unfinished to boot?". The answers, my friends, blows not in the wind but largely in your sense of perspective and they are, in order:

Question One: No, not as you would recognise it.
Question Two: No.
Question Three Part One: Maybe, but they are well trained.
Question Three Part Two: No, but it will, as the Duke said, Be a damn Close run thing.

In other words, the cats are inevitable, a Canadian -English Phrasebook is useless here, and as for the house, progress continues, slow and steady. A future hallway will greet you. It features re-made stairs, and a special little cupboard for cats to discretely bathroom. Remaking he stairs has been a serious endeavour as they were slightly squiffy. We pulled the floorboards up, rebuilt supports under the ground and rebuilt the understairs to incorporate some cute little cupboards. The sequence is represented in the following few photos:

Below is before we bought the house:

Below is a cute cupboard we built under the stairs:

Below is the front doorway, plaster has been stripped off, a wooden frame built, insulation installed, drywalled and replastered.

THe Front room has also finally been progressing: Below is a sequence showing the progress:

Front room before reno. Nice mouldings but very damaged by an unfixed leak that allowed water to enter so causing damp:

Front room used as store during earlierphase in our renos:

Below is plaster stripped off ready for frame to be built. If you study closely you will see bits of wood screwd to the wall. This is the beginnings of a frame between which insulation sits. On top of that we then install a vapour barrier, then drywall then plaster, then insulating paint (which is amazing). Then we start to decorate. Nel strips all the old trim down, by hand and I cut it to refit, re-install it and fiannly paint it and the walls. We (I, actaully) seriously underestimated how long this would take. Most people, who are sane, simple redecorate. This involves lightly filling the existing plaster and then painting it. I sometimes wonder, given that our ambition was to make a 110 year-old urban house as eco-friendly as possible, whether we have achieved anything, given the energy consumption that has been involved in comparison to either just building new, or decorating and living "cold". It is possible to calculate the impact of all our work, and I will do just that when we have finished.

Below is the beginnings of the end of the same view, frame installed, insulation installed, window frames rebuilt, walls plastered by my own fair hands. This was done this week.

Below is a mantlepiece I built this week, in the front room. Still to be finished but replaces the ugly hole that was there previously.

In summary, we are actually now on the bottom floor of the place. I'm immensely proud of the work we have done, and it is a great space. I keep promising Englsih friends a housewarming "At the end of the month" but in truth, an Englsih summer barbeque is most likely as a housewarmong event. Bring your overcoats.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

While Boffin's Away The Cats get less Play

No sooner than RHB trundled her suitcase down towards Newland Avenue, ultimate destination Italy for a week's R&R with Culham et al, I sneaked upstairs to my stash. I got the stuff, and mixed it. Real good. Although I admit to a flicker of guilt at breaking a promise, old addictions die hard, and I seem to have particularly addictive personality. Every relapse is the same - at first, there's a rush, adrenalin surging, and you cant wait for the next time so you just do it again. And again. The problem is, the more you do it, the worse it gets. THe worse it gets, the more you need to do more. It is, as classically described, a downwards spiral. The worst thing is, you know, you just know, that no matter how hard you try to hide what you've been doing, you will be found out, because the effects just cannot be hidden.

As you will have probably guessed from the aforementioned paragraph, I have, I confess, been at it again. Plastering that is. This time I plastered my front room and hallway. This time, the results of the plastering are not as bad as they were previously, in that a hallway is, generally speaking a room you pass through quickly, on the way elsewhere. Besides, there will be coats hung everywhere.

My solution to the front room is that we will treat it like an old fashioned English "parlour" . Effectively this means we will never go in to that room, as in days of Yore, even the smallest of English houses had parlours. Children and animals, husbands and close relatives, all were forbidden from ever entering the parlour. The reason is that it was always the 'best' room in the house, kept immaculately spotless, often with an unplayed piano and fancy Chinaware on display. Unerringly, the "display only" feature of the Chinaware was a good thing, as most of the stuff was unusable - plates with stupid ripples in, cup handles that a cat could not get it's paw through, bowls whose lower curves were specifically designed to bear no relationship at all to average spoon shape meaning that even if you were lucky enough (possibly Holy Communion) to grab a bowl of trifle, you could never eat it all due to spoon related inaccesibility. Licking the bowl, at least in the parlour, was forbidden. With the kind of logic that makes you wonder if our ancestors actually did any reflection, the parlour, best room in the house, was usually used to entertain people whom you did not like very much, like the Priest, snobby relatives, the Insurance man, and sadly, corpses during wakes.

I have to admit, I struggled with the correct word in the last sentence of the preceding paragraph when describing the corpse's prescence at a wake. It can hardly be claimed that they attend wakes, and in sounds as if they are a theatrical turn. At has the same problem as attend and for implies some activity on the corpses part. So I apologize retrospectively, during will have to do.

The sudden appearance of a parlour will hopefully be a welcome thing when the RHB gets home. We have been camping in our house since January, effectively living in the bedroom and I think we're getting used to it. Pavlovian animals that we both are, I think we would not know what to do with more useable space anyway, so the parlour, to me is an ideal solution.

A final note on this is that the plastering is not just self indulgence. I tried (OH how I tried) to get people in to do it, but there was no interest. Apparently, even in Credit Crunch Britain, the are some jobs that are just "too small". The appearance of plaster on our walls downstairs though, is no small thing for us. Completion of these rooms will be massive, and will allow us to getthe floor down finally. Once that is done, you are all invited to a Great Big Housewarming Party.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Anthromorphising Cats

The mighty Warrior was, in every sense alive; a brutal killing machine, dark nemesis of anything he met, deadly, silent, fearsome. He glided invisibly to the crack in the rocks at the end of the valley and searched, with a hunter's tuned senses, the terrain ahead - the unknown, and unknowable, savage country that screamed danger. But this was no time, or place for the fainthearted, the Warrior was committed, so with a mightly roar and a huge leap he sprung out of the crevass, landing on the valley floor. He was quite literally in a land no-one had ever seen.

I watch as Toshack, his little pink nose constantly sniffing, cautiously pushes the back door open with his paw, and after what seems like an age of hesitation,tail twitching, and with a kitten-like mewl little miaow, falls off the step and out of the back door. Like most animal owners, I suppose, I often wonder "What, anything, is the cat thinking?".

Suddenly the Warrior froze. A dark inimicable shape thrust out of the foliage that scattered untidly across the distant foothills. Knowing (with an instinct borne of a heritage of genetic research spawned in the Badlands of Ontario)that the deadly creature had seen him, the Warrior gave a mighty roar of defiance and screamed his challenge:

"I am Tiddly Om-Pom-Pom, otherwise known as Toshack the Pink! What manner of creature are you and what do you want? Know this well, Black Beast from Hell, I will sell my life dearly, as I have claimed this territory for the Red Haired God who gives me KittyBits. Salmon flavoured."

The creature paused in its headlong rush:

"I'm a cat, you idiot. Just like you. My name's Max, and I want to know what you think you were doing yesterday playing on my slide. And the day before that you were messing about in my paddling pool. "

I see Tosh and Max meet, and start hissing and yowling at eachother. For the last few weeks, as Tosh has gradually become bolder he's expanded his territory. Or at least tried to, because most of it is occupied by Max, a lovable little moggie owned by our excellent neighbours, John and Leila. In a very English conversation, we've discussed the specific Turf War between Max and Tosh('over the garden fence' as they say in the UK) by never actually referring to it:

"Hi Leyla! Beautiful day ! How's it going?"

"Oh, fine. Thought it might rain later, so just putting the washing out"

I glance upwards, and regret doing so as I am blinded immediately by a brilliant sun.

"Yeah. It could rain. I'm just letting the cats out now, in case it does".

"I've noticed their getting out more. How they doing?"

"Fine. Calli's a little nervous, but Tosh is beginning to throw his weight around."

"Well, when we moved in Max used to get beaten up all the time by next door's cat, then it stopped after a few weeks. After that, they got along fine. Anyway, must dash, see you later. Say 'hi' to Nel. "

Each culture has it's own way of communicating, but the English, like the Innuit, specialize in never saying anything directly, but communicating an awful lot while appearing to say absolutely nothing. Leyla and I come away from the conversation knowing that we've just reached agreement that any damage either cat causes the other will not be reflected by a deterioration between us as neighbours, and furthermore, we've agreed that neighbours who have "their noses put out of joint" by silly little things are a bit pathetic, and that if any issue does arise between us in future, we'll talk about it sensibly, and also we've agreed that we'll watch eachother's houses when one or the other is absent and that we're both a bit too busy to talk right now, but we'll have a word with our respective partners and get together for that cup of tea we've been saying we'll have. Furthermore, as advanced English speakers, we've agreed that the Obama Presidency might actually represent a ray of hope for humanity, Post-Modern Marxist analyses notwithstanding. It would be impolite at this stage in our neighbourly relationship to actually say any of this directly.

Meanwhile, Tosh and Max keep ratcheting up the tension. Max climbs onto our extension and sits, provocatively on Tosh's favourite window-sill. Tosh sneaks into Max's and eats all his food. There is, unfortunately, no meeting of minds to be found here. Some would say, that as these creatures are cats, there are no minds at all at work here, but I feel that is a trifle harsh. I do accept that humans are vastly superior and that one would have to trawl long and hard through the pages of history to find a dispute over territory between two human neighbours (or groups of people for that matter) that resulted in behaviour as shockingly violent as hissing loudly at one another.

The smaller of our two cats Callisandra is, unlike Toshack, completely unpredictable. This is possibly because she is as mad as a hatter. Incidentally, hatters were called "mad" because of the chemicals involved in the making of hats - things like mercury, lead and bromine, which eventually led to madness. Calli, unfortunately has no occupational related excuse - she is just plain crazy. She is by far the smallest cat in the neighbourhood, but this does not stop displays of aggression that are fearsome to behold. In the photos that follow, she spots two cats in the neighbour's garden who are cautiously encountering eachother, engaging in the ritualistic dominance/submissive behaviours that allow a balance of power to proceed, uninterrupted by psychopaths. Calli spots the peace process unfolding, gets curious, and then from 6 feet away starts hissing, spitting and growling with all the venom of a 5lb cat in full attack mode.

RHB is slightly critical of my anthromorphising the cats, perhaps a bit worried that I am spending too much time alone, but I've tried anthromorphising humans and it is just so much more believable with cats. At present, due to being on easter vacations, I spend about 16 hours a day oin the cats company, not counting sleeping. I wish I could reprot that they are endlessly fascinating, complex creatures, but alas, like the humans with whom they co-habit they just want a nice place in the sun to sleep, some food and a relatively easy life. Complications arise mainly through their own stupidity - as I mentioned earlier, anthromorphising cats is very beleivable.