Bella has moved right up in the world, and well she deserves it. When she got what I’m calling her sunlounger, she surely thought that’s as good as it could possibly get.
I was certainly not prepared for how fast her offspring would grow, and soon it became clear that it was getting a bit crowded in Sophia’s kennel, big though it is.
Several years ago we turned the large space under the front steps into a dog house for Sophia to use during the day if we were away; Costa would put her into the house at night. We had the cement floor tiled, installed a heater for winter, and ordered a dog door over the internet. It certainly is very comfortable, but Sophia preferred to use the kennel on the porch if she wasn’t inside the house with us.
Over the last few years we put a large pallet inside the understairs space and placed several olive crates with blankets on it. In there the many and varied cats who seek refuge here, and which we provide food for, could get shelter from the miserable winter weather. (We have seven much-loved pet cats who sleep inside the main house).
Last week we took all the cat beds out – the hanger-on cats are not sleeping there now as it’s warm – and arranged bedding for Bella, who was not made aware of the new accommodations. We went to Volos for the day, intending to introduce her to the new home when we returned. The kennel was empty when we got back and I panicked for a moment, but would you believe – Bella and family were stretched out in there! How she got them in I have no idea. They are far too big for her to pick up, so we can only assume she pushed them out of the kennel, and then rolled them into the new apartment. She loves it in there. That dog is not stupid, that’s for sure.
Ron was anxious about not having a kennel for the ‘wild’ cats to use if they wanted to, so while we were in Volos, he bought another kennel of the same brand, but smaller. These are made of cedar wood, stand on legs and are wind and water tight; very nicely constructed.
Well, no sooner had he assembled it and placed it on the porch than Bella took her ease in it.
Got to hand it to that dog – she knows a good thing when she sees it. When she’s not feeding her pups she has a choice of three spots to relax in, and she all but grins.
The pups are walking about in their house-under-the stairs – not that they’re awake very much – and it can only be a day or two before they’ll get out into the yard. We’re having to give some thought to containing them. It’s certainly going to get very lively around here, and I will literally have to watch my step.
First we had Theseus, that rainstorm which was determined to wash us away. He was accompanied by powerful gales which hung about for several days after the rain had moved on. We have Aeolus, god of the winds and his undisciplined kids to thank for their destructive tantrums. Were they jealous of the power of the rain? They stormed and sulked and each made sure he took his turn. Zephyrus, god of the West Wind, got in first, driving the storm Theseus across the Adriatic to us. Notus put in a weak attempt from the south, with a bit of help from Eurus from the east, but only briefly before big brother Boreas took umbrage and overpowered them both from the north. Boreas was not happy. Not happy at all. He was absolutely livid and made certain all knew it.
I’m not sure about Aeolus and his parenting abilities – his kids are often quite out of control. Zeus is the father of all the gods, and that presumably makes him grandpappy of the wayward winds. Perhaps they’ve developed airs above their station? Whatever, their behaviour left a lot to be desired last week, and they left a lot we did not desire in their wake.
Freddie told us that the waterfront way on this side of Kalamos was blocked by a large tree which the gales had seen fit to rid us of. Pity. It is, or should that be was, an impressive eucalyptus which had provided welcome shade to the little beach there. I urged Ron to make haste across the headlands from our side of Kalamos to investigate and take photos for me before something was done about removing it.
He was gone longer than I expected, but when he returned he had a tale of two cats to tell.
A black cat had taken up position on the tree. Cats are wonderful creatures, adapting themselves to all manner of situations, and this black beauty perched itself comfortably on a fallen tree of a type also well accustomed to adaptation. Almost all Eucalyptus trees are native to Australia, but these trees are so accommodating and fit in so well that they’re found all over the world. Here in Greece which can have harsh winters they thrive at the coast where frosts are most unlikely to occur.
But what I didn’t know when Ron set off was that Anise, one of the Cappuccino Twins and who absolutely adores Ron, was following him. That’s not only a long trek across the headlands for a cat, but can be a dangerous one as an unfriendly dog might be encountered along the way.
Anise caused Ron some anxiety when he became aware of her for she wouldn’t allow him to carry her, nor would she turn back, but she did at least remain in the undergrowth once he climbed down the cliff to reach the waterfront.
Whoever said cats are aloof creatures had obviously never been made a pet of one.
With all the attention recently seeming to focus on the latest furry additions to the household, some of you have been asking if the other cats have been sidelined.
Hardly! Retsina and Ouzo are now almost twelve, and still as standoffish to the other cats as ever – they spend most of their time on various beds and armchairs these days. Mythos is ten, doing perfectly fine considering the poor prognosis he was given as a desperately ill kitten and Raki is nine.
While ‘Sina, Ooze and Mythos are beginning to show age, with Ouzo in particular being quite arthritic, the little white horror is just as lively and demanding as always. He misses nothing, is involved in everything, expresses his opinion loudly and frequently and is absolutely adored by us both. One tries not to have favorites, but….
To this day he seems unaware that he’s a cat and we believe he imprinted on us. He behaves very differently to the others, disdaining all contact with them. He cannot bear to be parted from human company and is extremely inquisitive, always needing to be involved in whatever’s going on. He has an opinion on everything and all but speaks.
Yes, I know we’re besotted, but he’s unique among the scores of cats I’ve ever been owned by.
Many of you know that Raki is a much adored, much indulged cat who genuinely doesn’t appear to know he is a cat. We fancy that he believes himself to be one of us. Like us. He certainly has no idea how to interact with the other cats of the household, and holds himself aloof from them. Perhaps this is because he was hand-reared, but it also has to do with his personality.
Cats have been part of my life, all my life. There’s a photo of me sitting up in my pram in Scotland – one of those gorgeous large carriages, all wood trim and huge wheels – with a tabby cat asleep at the foot of it. I adore cats, I like to think I understand cats, my childhood home was filled with cats. I was enthralled by the stories my Mother told me of cats she had owned, of cats she had known of, of cats which had featured in tales she in turn had been told in lands far away and foreign to me at the time.
Raki is unique. Not because we are besotted with him, not because we are slowly going dotty, but because of his behaviour which enchants all who see him, even those who are not typically lovers of cats. It’s often said that cats are standoffish, that they aren’t faithful and companionable like dogs, but that can never be said of Raki. He’s deeply affectionate, has the most delightful quirks, and is devoted to us, particularly to Ron. He’s always very close to us, following us everywhere; we never have to search for him.
A few weeks ago, Costa’s daughter came down from Albania to visit her husband who is working here on the Pelion Peninsula, and accompanied him daily to assist with his work in the fields. Marieklena speaks little Greek, but she speaks the language of yarn. Fluently. Her workworn hands were busy every spare moment in the evenings; crochet is her thing, and she’s an expert.
Marieklena was charmed by Raki, and told us of other Van cats like him in Albania, for of course these cats came to Albania from Turkey as they did to Greece. She returned to Albania with hubby Freddie last week – a few days break for him to see his children. Freddie came back last night, bringing gifts from the family – Costa’s extended, generous and gracious family – but the most important gift is for Raki. Mariklena made it, and sent it with explicit instructions that it is only for him so that he might sleep on bedding fit for a sultan, which is what we occasionally refer to him as.
Freddie explained that Mariklena made the pompons* so that he’d have something to play with. I admit I was overcome, and clearly so was Raki for he wasted not a minute climbing on it when I spread it out, and fell instantly asleep.
* Apparently the pompons are created on a wooden device, hand carved for the purpose, which is traditional in Albania. Mariklena uses a very old one made by an ancestor of Costa’s family. Such an item is new to me and I can’t wait to examine it.
I’ve mentioned PAWS before; this tiny little charity does good work here on the Pelion finding homes for the innumerable homeless cats and dogs, in addition to conducting sterilisation programmes as often as funds and volunteers allow. In the words of the song: “Money! Money! Money!” and PAWS does all it can to raise some.
In April last year PAWS took a table at a bazaar being held in Lafkos in order to sell donated goods such as books, plants, cakes.
My husband and I had been in Texas for several months; I flew back alone ahead of him and made the journey up to Volos from Athens by bus. Friends very kindly picked me up and filled me in about the goings-on during our absence. We discussed the fundraiser being held in less than two weeks, and the need for items. “I’ll make a doll to raffle,” my tired, jetlagged self announced.
Ah, what Dolly folly.
I started that very night, for my sleep patterns had of course taken a direction of their own. I managed to dig out a doll pattern from my collection, noticing dimly that the pattern pieces seemed rather large. A suitable piece of muslin for the body came to hand, and I began cutting out legs, arms, a gusseted body, as well as some involved shapes for the face and head.
Hmm, it did seem a little more sophisticated than the stick figure ragdolls I’d sewn up for bazaars and fairs in the past. The animals had missed us, so much help was forthcoming from various cats who found the rustling tissue paper pattern irresistible. Such fun!
Finally the cutting was done and so was I, heading off to bed with the rising sun.
By mid-morning a few doubts set in. What on earth had I taken on? I briefly debated making a much smaller doll, tossed out that idea and set to work at the sewing machine. Fortunately interruptions were few and I could make my own hours, but Dolly was a most demanding piece of work. She was unwieldy to sew; her head and face were well designed, but finicky, and her body seemed alarmingly huge.
Parts of her had to be stuffed before being joined to other segments and it soon became clear that I had nowhere near enough fiberfill to complete the task. Not only was I in no position to zap to Volos, I seriously doubt that I could have found what I needed there anyway. That problem was solved by gutting the pillows of the guest beds, but the question of her outfit began to raise its head.
My fabric and yarn stashes are well stocked, so materials wouldn’t be a problem, but time would. I pressed on.
Her face was done fairly quickly – I opted for a very basic look. Ah, my button jars, how do I love thee, but hair! And no, not the musical. How was I going to do hair? That turned out to be the most difficult part of getting Dolly together.
I should, in retrospect, have dealt with her hair before attaching the head to the body as Dolly became very unwieldy and every attempt to get her well coiffed only succeeded in a look that would have fitted in well for Halloween.
I resorted to three different knitting yarns, but the end result, after a ridiculous amount of work, can only be described as a great disappointment, and that’s putting it kindly.
A skirt was easily made; her sweater took more time. The Saturday morning market in the village provided knickers – a child’s age four – for Dolly is slim of hip, and cheerful socks in a woman’s size.
I finished her that afternoon, ready to send her out into the world with a few necessities in a cute little reticule (a repurposed confetti sachet) and a touch of adornment in the form of a bead bracelet.
Early the next day, good friends came to fetch us, Dolly and me, and we drove up to Lafkos. Dolly sure did attract attention for she had not been seen in public before then, but she was quietly gracious, allowing herself to be photographed with admirers, smiling all the while, performing her duties without complaint, while we sold raffle tickets on her behalf.
By late afternoon the bazaar was coming to an end and we got ready to draw the winning ticket. The box was shaken, we stirred the slips of paper around, and then, to great excitement, a ticket was pulled out. The number was read, the lists consulted, and we had a winner!
Hooray! We were thrilled to discover that our lucky ticket holder was the most enchanting little girl; a local child, she’s fluent in English and Greek and has the sweetest disposition. The family had already left, but we called and before long she arrived with her father to claim Dolly.
I think our winner was almost in shock, but she thanked us beautifully – her manners are impeccable – and stood patiently while we oohed and aahed and took pictures. As you can see, she and Dolly are about the same size. Dolly lucked out too, for she’s much loved; I was delighted.
The day had been a great success, raising some much needed funds for PAWS, but as with all charities, there’s never enough money and we continue our efforts. This year we held a barbecue at which we sold tickets for various raffles, and guessed the weight of a cake. I donated a doll, but one which I picked out at a store.
This striking plant, called hen-and-chickens in South Africa where it is indigenous, has long been known to the native populations, some of which still use it in various forms of herbal medicine. It was first identified in 1794, and given the name Chlorophytum Comosum. Since then it has been cultivated into many varieties all over the world, gaining itself common names such as spider plant, airplane plant; the botanical name of this particular one is vittatum. You can tell that it’s a very obliging plant, easy to grow, by the fact that it thrives in my garden even though I’m not possessed of green fingers. It’s certainly what you might call an enthusiastic plant, throwing its offspring out into the world to seek their fortune, rather like the mythical Jason did.
Now that you’ve had a botany lesson, let me tell you how Jason’s latest hat came about.
The chickens/spiders/airplanes that this plant has produced continuously since summer have been catching my eye daily. I needed to do something with yarn! Mythos Minor was particularly enthusiastic as he’s under the impression that the wild antics of knitting yarn and fingers are solely for his amusement, but Jason maintained his thoughtful composure.
How and when did these sturdy plants come to the Pelion Peninsula? Greece has been a seafaring nation since antiquity which makes me wonder if some plant-loving adventurer collected the first specimens in the forests of unknown Africa?
This is Mythos, who was named after the award winning Greek beer, Mythos. A very popular brew, Mythos has a good head of foam topping its rich golden colour, so it’s easy to see how Mythos cat got his name, but feline Mythos also has a good head on his shoulders for he was sharp-witted enough to make his home here.
Mythos has a long sad story of his own, which I will tell you in some future post, but today I’ll introduce what is likely to become the latest addition to the furry and hairy household.
For want of a better name at present, I give you Mythos Minor.
This feisty little chap showed up here just over a week ago, in the rain, out of the forest. Skin and bone, skin and bone but with the typical hugely swollen bellyfull of worms.
When Costa saw him a couple of days later he assured me that the intrepid infant had made his way to us from the furthest end of the village, a distance of at least a mile, across rocky headlands and through dense undergrowth. If Costa says so, then it is so.
Costa is familiar with all that happens here, and it would seem that Mythos Minor was one of several cats and kittens that scrounged around at a particular taverna, now closed since September. This is an annual saga.
Well-meaning holiday makers feed many of these feral cats, but when they leave the cats (and dogs) have to fend for themselves. Anyway, Costa is quite convinced of Minor’s origins. How on earth did this spunky soul make it to us, and how long did it take him? Fortunately, unlike Raki, he’s fully weaned.
What to do? Like all kittens, he’s very cute and curious.
We’d love to keep him, even though he’s already caused much upset among the other cats, all of whom are rescues. We’ve brought him to the attention of Sharon at PAWS and our fingers are tightly crossed that he might be adopted, but…..
Right now Junior has a warm bed in the shed with a heat lamp and all comforts.
He’s taken out several times a day to play about, climb trees and be socialised. He’s very friendly and affectionate and absolutely hates being put back into the shed after we’ve tired him out.
He’s a spunky soul, and does his best to stand his ground, but two of our big toms are determined to hurt him. Funny how they’ve forgotten the dreadful circumstances each was in when they were rescued!
He deems everything worthy of his attention, and zooms about as long as I am there to protect him.
Mythos Major was advancing on Minor earlier this morning.
Anxious to avoid an upset, I tried to distract him with a cat treat which he is very partial to. Minor had no intention of being left out though, figuring that anything Major got he should get too.
Minor’s more than just courageous though; he’s one smart kitty and pretty soon decided not to push his luck,
… contenting himself with the leftovers.
Mt Pelion, home to many of the Greek myths, stares down upon me as I write as though it knows that Mythos Minor is unlikely to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Two of our cats are sisters. The tortoiseshell is Retsina, the marmalade one is Ouzo; they are named for traditional Greek drinks.
We took them into Volos to be neutered when they were little, confidently telling the vet that Retsina was a girl, and Ouzo a boy. He elected to operate on the girl first as the surgery is more involved. When he came to Ouzo, he called us: “You said this cat is male. Well, Ouzo is a girl, and should be called Ouzaki.” We were stunned.
I know that tortoiseshell cats are almost exclusively female, and that a male tortie is so rare as to be considered a freak, but I also believed that an all-ginger cat (no white at all) is exclusively male. Well, all-ginger females do occur. I must say, in a lifetime of being owned by cats, Ouzo is my first ever female ginger.
By the way, Retsina is a feminine noun, Ouzo a masculine, so yes, Ouzo should be Ouzaki, but her name has stuck and Ouzo she is. The vet still teases us about our knowledge of feline anatomy!
Both cats are highly nervous, highly strung, very timid, which I attribute to their early days as kittens born to a semi-feral cat. In fact, many of our friends have never even seen them as they tend to hide away during the day. It gets quite hectic around here a great deal of the time as both are frightened of the other cats, and it’s often a case of “Shut the bedroom door! Ouzo’s on the bed!” or “Don’t let Raki into my study! Retsina’s in my chair!”
Sometimes they disappear all day, particularly in the summer, and only creep in through the cat flap at night to sleep inside, where they evidently feel safe. There are plenty of foxes about, feral cats, feral dogs, and even European Wildcats which can present a threat to them. But mostly they are intimidated by Raki. That little demon, much adored as he is, torments the poor girls at every opportunity, and their lives have never been the same since he arrived.
Ouzo left the house early on Wednesday night – unusual that she didn’t sleep inside – and no sign of her all day yesterday. I called and called through the early evening, with the wind roaring and the waves crashing. Nothing. She did not put in an appearance. Not a trace of her this morning. She hadn’t come in during the night, and heavy rain had set in. I was extremely uneasy, to say the least. I’ve mentioned that few people remain in the village now, and that many houses are boarded up for the winter.
A ghastly thought began to run through my head. Surely not? I couldn’t put the notion that she was somehow locked in somewhere out of my mind, so I set off in the pelting rain, calling. I walked and called. Called and walked. Suddenly, a faint sound. Could it be? Was it a cat’s cry? I called again. A louder cry seemed to answer me. I stumbled on, confident that I was hearing Ouzo. Yes! Her crying was coming from a storage basement in a closed up holiday property nearby. I couldn’t see her at all, but she was clearly down there, and the owners are down in Athens.
So I did the only thing I could and activated the bush telegraph, which has been greatly improved since the advent of the mobile phone. I called Costa, our marvelous Albanian who is the general factotum of most of the village. He called Elias, our equally wonderful Albanian stonemason, who called I know-not-who, who located Niko, the caretaker, who has a key. He lives on the other side of the Pelion Peninsula, quite a long way to come on his old motorbike and in the rain. Bless the man, he said he’d come.
Meanwhile, my husband walked over to see what he could do. Ouzo beat him back to the house! We found out later that Niko had been at the property on Tuesday, securing it for the winter, and hadn’t noticed that the door to the little-used storeroom wasn’t properly locked. Ouzo must have sneaked inside and the wind blew the door shut. Hence her absence.
Ouzo’s asleep now in my study, well fed and warm, but Niko would not have been back for months. I think I need a drop of ouzo ….
I have mentioned before that various Greek gods of mythology were said to be responsible for bad weather, and last night they outdid themselves. An almighty storm blew up out of nowhere as we were reading ourselves to sleep. It raced across the Pagasitic from Volos where torrential rain caused such flooding that news reports likened the streets of Volos to the canals of Venice, and had us scrambling out of bed, scattering indignant cats in our wake, as we rushed to secure the shutters. And did it rain! The water slammed against the shutters and the windows and thundered down on the roof, battering the garden as though driven by some fury of envy at the early autumn loveliness. The gods were certainly enraged. All of them were in on the act, but whose tantrum started it? Zeus flung his thunderbolts about in a frenzy, fuming at Aeolus to release the storm winds. Poseidon, not one to be outdone, shot up from the depths to make his menacing entrance. Talk about a tempest!
The rampage was shortlived, no damage, but a quick inspection this morning revealed that the Sternbergia had suffered. The delicate yellow flowers which are such a delight as winter approaches, were no match for the arrogant actors in this latest drama.