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In Good Company: The Animal House

...I was on the phone the other day when something whizzed past my ear and thudded at my feet. Cat had either decided to end it all, or accidentally fallen from upstairs banister...

Enid Blackburn tells of a summer entertaining animal guests.

In spite of the ghastly weather, home-grown garden produce is miraculously flourishing. We are enjoying a glut of vegetables - or another way of looking at it, while other spud-bashers progress to the quick peel method we gardener’s wives can look forward to another rigorous month or two of prolonged spud scraping.

Cooked gently and over-dressed in delicious parsley butter, freshly dug potatoes are a feast for kings.

I am still searching for the herbs I so lovingly boasted about planting earlier – only the parsley arrived. Yet in the next plot where our junior carelessly threw a packet of mixed flower seeds, behold a magic garden!

Of course, this is a busy time in the gardener’s world. What with all the harvest gathering and basket filling, the beetroot boiling and shallot pickling. Unfortunately, school holidays are also in full blight. The shouting that exudes from our household, my frequent journeys to dustbin, with the pickle tears wet on my cheeks and fingers dripping with beetroot blood, must be quite frightening to our neighbour.

It’s all the little extras that make term time seem so far away. The additional boyfriends and girlfriends, an intrinsic fact of family life motherhood bibles neglects to mention.

We also have a nervous cat and gerbil holidaying with us. Every morning cat flees to the darkest, quietest spot, under one daughter’s bed. Every three hours I prise it out, trap it against my chest and carry it to be fed and watered in the kitchen. This journey includes a trip past our dog basket where deadly enemy number one is waiting with tail a-wag, setting pussy’s claws on edge, or more precisely into my neck.

I was on the phone the other day when something whizzed past my ear and thudded at my feet. Cat had either decided to end it all, or accidentally fallen from upstairs banister. Meanwhile, in the back porch a bedraggled little gerbil is wading through an inch of water, struggling to rescue its woolly bed from the deluge. My fault, when the phone rang I had just filled his water bottle and, unable to fathom where it should hang, had placed it on the cage floor, where it had steadily emptied itself.

Then there are the ubiquitous bantam eggs christened ‘too pretty to eat.’ Every ornament has one. This is the harvest of daughter’s school livestock duties. Each morning when I am about to enjoy that particularly relaxing extra half hour in bed, a mighty banging on the back door heralds the arrival of the livestock gang.

‘We’ve come for Amanda’ they chorus when I blearily open the door. With rain bouncing of their waterproofs and wellies they looked more like a lifeboat crew.

On the way to our vegetable plot we pass what must be the finest allotment in the north of England which does diminish the quality of one’s own harvest somewhat.

The other day I caught a lad pinching gooseberries there. ‘Hey! What are you doing?’ I shouted. Whereupon he jumped quickly off the wall and ran to join his mates. I gave them my dignified self-righteous stare as I passed – until that nasty terrier sprang from nowhere and egged on by their gleeful shouts of ‘Kill!’ chased me up the street.

Last night a frightened stray hound left all alone in the empty police station yard kept my husband and I awake – in spite of stuffing our ears with cotton wool and burrowing under our pillows.


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