The Last Furlong

Comments on the race of life.


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Hedgehogs, human and animal

It seems to me that social media is infested with hedgehogs. These creatures appear attactive but hiss and attack, violently hunting any prey that might feed their ‘right’ to take offence if they wish.

Years ago, when I was teaching computers, I remember standing outside with other smokers, discussing how dangerous passing a law was that made taking offence legal. If you FELT offended you could legally challenge the person who had been offensive, whether other people thought whatever it was was offensive or not. The then government had just done that. It was a grave error I think. It has led to the infestation of aggressive human hedgehogs in our world. Anyone now, has the right to feel offended. Except certain groups, like white folks, women, men, and all manner of other creatures. They are the fodder of offended human hedgehogs.

I’ve just done a good deal of research into the wild European hedgehog. I was astonished to discover that far from being the cute Betrix Potter ‘Mis Tiggywinkle’, they are quite a nasty bunch of creatures. They are unfriendly nomads that roam around under cover of night, eating anything edible from corpses to other living things. They have few enemies, except large birds. Most large birds are not active at night, except owls,

They are agressive towards each other, fighting, biting, butting, shaking and charging. They do it loudly, hissing, growling, shrieking, clicking. They bite. Once they were considered vermin, especially because of their egg eating habits. They were a food source for the poor, delicious when packed in clay and roasted over a fire.

Now, they are a protected species, except in New Zealand where they are a pest.

They are not super intelligent.

Human hedgehogs are also a protected species. And they ARE a pest. They too roll into a ball of political correctness if any other person ‘offends’ them. They are confident in their protected status and we can watch them everyday in the media hissing, growling, butting, shrieking, clicking. And biting.

Hedgehogs are voracious animals. Really. Yet us himans feel blessed to find one in our garden.

We have found ourselves blessed!

Here is our hedgehog, seen twice, recently. Isn’t it cute?

The Furlong Hedgehog


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Rising sun, August moon

I’m not sure how on earth the two bird feeders in our garden got their names. It was possibly because they look slightly oriental. Like little Pagodas.

Mr Furlong made them.

We call them ‘the Teahouses’ of the Rising Sun and the August Moon. We can notify each other by yelling “Look in the August Moon!” or ” There’s a mouse in the Rising Sun!”. They are very specially designed by a genius.

Mr Furlong is the genius. They have roofs we can open to fill the food trays on the floor within. The roofs are supported by a collonade of dowels spaced apart in the exact dimensions for tiny birds to get through, and keep large birds out. The Rising Sun is attached under the normal bird feeder, whilst the August Moon has three legs and stands amongst our plants.

I watch The Teahouses from my bedroom window and Mr Furlong can see them from the kitchen where he potters about. Mr Furlong is a kitchen creature. He has one of his computers in there and produces the food we eat here in this ‘house’. The birds are most active in the mornings. And the Woodmice come to feed too.

Having the Teahouses has stopped the Wood Pigeons chowing all the small bird’s food, and the rooves on them protect them from the view of overflying seagulls and raptors. And protect the food and the birds from the rain. Blackbirds often feed underneath them, picking up the bits. Blackbirds are a little too large to get in. And there is no ledge provided for the bigger birds to stand on if they attempt to stick their heads through the collonades which they do.

After the baby robins left the nest, they were in and out of the Teahouses all day. We haven’t seen them there for a while. Maybe they have found a better chef! But, Rising Sun and August Moon are the most popular eating establishments in our garden.


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My first outing

When I was teaching in a primary school, a popular topic for writing letters was “Write to your aunt/grandma/uncle/grandpa telling them about…….”

“Dear Aunt Emily RIP,

My first outing after lockdown was pretty disappointing. I lost it.

In public.

And I was very rude to a stranger, which I regret.

What happened was this.

Mr Furlong drove me and the dog, (sorry, the dog and I) up to Asda so that I could choose a few plants for our garden which is now mostly weeds. (or should which be that?)

The dog was on a retractible lead.

I chose a trolley which (or possibly that) I spritzed well with my isopropyl alcohol 70% spray, and started off to the outdoor plant section. Somewhere deep inside the Trolley Bank, the dog found a large dried out (or dried-out) chop bone with spiky points that people call T bones. The dog was delighted, but I was horrified. It’s exactly the very bone we would never ever feed him. (Or should I have written, the very bone, rather than exactly the very bone?)

I yelled “NO”.

He dropped the bone. I kicked it out of the way. He ran after it. And I ran after it too for I’m not a good kicker at 75 (or should that be seventy five) and don’t kick that far. So I kicked the bone around for awhile, yelling all the time. Eventually the dog won the match and chomped the bone up while (or maybe whilst) I stood over him beating him over the head and yelling some more.

During this dignified performance, a man took advantage of my mental health problem, by snitching my meticulously cleaned trolley.

I’m afraid, Aunt Emily, I did not behave well.

I do not wish to tell you about it. But the man looked surprised.

Anyway, I did actually walk the dog home, and fortunately, half way home, it absolutely bucketed down with rain. (Not sure if bucketed is a word). It was fortunate, because it took my mind off things as (or should that be because) I had no raincoat or brolly with me. ( or should that be nor?)

That is all I have to say Aunt Emily RIP,

Hope to see you soon,

Your niece,

Susan

XXXX

(Or perhaps the XXXX is wrong)

With love might be better?

Hope to see you soon,

With love,

Susan.”


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Dog humour

I don’t know if dogs have a sense of humour. Do they?

Something happened the other day, that made me think they do.

In fact two things happened.

Maybe, the habit of dogs arranging their toys might be just that too. It’s dogs communicating something. Bass no longer arranges his toys. Well, maybe he does, but I’ve stopped noticing.

The first thing that made me decide Bass was actually playing a joke on me, was when I lost him on a walk. He often disappears into the wood and then suddenly pops out. But that day, he wasn’t popping out. I called him. No popping. I called him again. Still no popping. I called louder. And turned. There he was right behind me in ‘play’ mode, with his front down, bum in the air, tail wagging, inviting me to play! Laughing at me in fact. Well that’s the impression I got.

Mr Furlong had an extra fatball when he was feeding the birds the other day. So he tossed it whole on the bird feeder table. A fatball is quite heavy for a bird to carry away. So when the fatball disappeared completely a few hours later, Mr Furlong asked me if I’d taken it and put it somewhere else. But, of course, I hadn’t. The mystery continued the whole day, but was solved as I pulled my pillows over to get ready for bed. There, neatly tucked under my pillow was the missing fatball. Mr Furlong didn’t do it. Mrs Furlong didn’t do it. There is only one Furlong that could have done it. And that was you-know-who.

Oh, and then there’s the plastic garden frog, I forgot about…..but that’s a story for another time.


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Robins – eggs to flying.

About a month ago,  our dog found three eggs in a nest in an old pot plant  lying on its side in a secluded corner of our garden. We immediately closed off that section, so they wouldn’t become dog omelettes.

The next day, there were four eggs.

And the day after, five. With a robin sitting on them. I saw two different robins sitting on the eggs during that time.

After about two weeks, we found tiny  naked pink babies lying inert in the nest. They were no bigger than a thumbnail. Sometimes they were there cold and alone for quite a while wating to be fed. They  transformed from inert pink thumbnails  to squirming  pink hideous things straining tiny heads upwards, like mini monsters.

We bought mini mealworms for mini babies. I laid the worms out on a plastic gardening stool I’d put in front of the nest the day the dog discovered the eggs to stop it getting close. So in the late afternoons, to help with supplies, I offered the worms to the parents. “Kip, kip, kip. Kip, kip, kip”.

As the babies grew in their hideousness, so did their dinners. And the parents became tamer. Eventually, the Dad would pick up exactly four worms alight on the nest and stuff a worm down the gaping mouths of his monsters. Four of them.

Growing babies is hard work. We put fatballs up for the parents, not the babies. Rather like a gin and tonic at five. A treat. Something to keep the spirits up.

Believe me, there’s nothing uglier than a baby Robin. All mouth, no eyes, weedy body. But they transform!

They develop fluff, mini wings, black eyes that wink at you, and small round bodies. The nest gets really full, crushed actually, with each fat baby adjusting itself for comfort sending a ripple of adjustments through its sleeping siblings. They do sleep a lot.  And in filming them, I found them hard to wake for a good shot,

Yesterday, they left the nest. When we went to feed the worms,  the nest was empty  and  the four babies, safely reared, were in the bushes, fluffy, speckled cute things, testing their erratic flight skills.

One accidently flew into me. And clung on the gate by my feet. We were both surprised, shocked even. A frozen moment. And I was delighted. Here, right HERE, was proof of the most amazing miracle that we’d  been privaledged to watch.

So from sitting to hatching takes two weeks.

In our case the father Robin also sat.

From hatching to leaving the nest takes a further two weeks.

In our case, in the beginning, the mother fed too.

So it’s  done in a month.

Clever birds. Well done. You are welcome to do it again in the nesting places I  have prepared for you with hope that you will. Bye bye babies, stay safe. Its a big bad world out there.

So my best advice is to stay at home, here, in OUR garden, please. Hope to see you at our bird table. We’ve got some left over worms that need eating….


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Meet the Dad(s) – Robin expert required here please.

Our Robin nest story is now complex.

The thlot plickens!

In the beginning there was a dark Robin and a light Robin and small light Robin hanging about. I thought it might be a young Robin hanging about from a previous nesting.

BOTH the dark Robin and the larger light Robin sat on the eggs. I saw it with my own eyes. I looked it up on the Internet where I found that male Robins “have occasionally been seen to sit on the eggs”. Then the eggs hatched.

I thought the dark Robin had disappeared. She is darker, charcoal even, and has the orange mask around her eyes and a dark widows’peak, whereas the male does not (see pics)

Once a day, I put live worms in the now Blackbirdproof feeder that we invented.

But now something odd is happening. Daddy is feeding his babies. It looks as if he is sitting on them too sometimes. Is that possible?

But, the smaller light coloured Robin, that I thought was a hanger-on, is picking up mouthfuls of worms and flying off into the bushes as if HE is feeding babies too. Is that possible? Two nests in the same garden?

And, as I said I thought the dark Robin had disappeared. Mr Furlong suggested she was out “pulling”…..? But I don’t know. The large photo below is the Robin sitting on the babies today. Is that Dad? No, I think that’s Mom!

Light Dad, Dark Mom, Hatched babies, Hungry baby!


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The new tenants in the bumblebee house

Mr Furlong and I got into the garden at last. We opened up the section behind our shed, where old pots are stashed.

It’s been fenced off from the dog because it’s not escape proof, and also it’s where our woodmice live.

It’s where, two years ago, I built a bumble bee nest. That has appeared vacant. No bumble bee has even looked at it, I’m sure.

The place behind the shed is where the footballs from next door collect. Where stuff gets dumped. Where there is a bag of tar mix for the pothole that is our responsibility on the private road we call the ‘back passage’. Where there are things that should be dumped stay. It’s the ‘to do place’.

So in the tidying it up, I discovered the upturned pot with its underground tunnel where I’d imagined the bumblebees. On the top was a glass plate to keep it dry, that allowed air in underneath but kept the rain out.

I thought to dismantle it. So I removed the plate. As I bent over to take hold of the pot, I smelled a familiar smell that stopped me in my tracks. I remember that smell. That smell always had me yelling at the kids.

“Go and clean that damn hamster cage!”

But for the first time, I was utterly delighted. It means my bumblebee house is being used.

By the woodmice.


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Shedding

This time of year, two things in my life drive me nuts.

The Holly tree sheds thousands of leaves that blow around the garden and that savagely pounce on your hands and feet at unexpected moments. The only solution is to constantly sweep them up every day from under the tree where they fall. It drives me nuts. The tree belongs to us, but the chap in the flat upstairs has begged us not to cut it down because it shields his balcony from prying eyes.

And then there’s the dog. We have now had him long enough to know that he sheds. He SHEDS.

He sheds in the Autumn and then in the Spring. The Spring shed is the worst.

The best way to keep on top of it is to brush him every day. Otherwise he drops clumps of fur in unexpected places like the bathroom floor where you suddenly discover them lurking like black spiders at you feet in the dim light of a night visit. The scare stops you sleeping for the rest of it.

So we need to be grateful at this time of Covid19 lockdown. At least we have something to DO!


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Bravecto for dogs

Many years ago, in Africa, a fabulous “new” product arrived at our vet. It was a little vial of some kind of flea and tick repellent that you punctured and applied at the back of the neck, skin deep, on the dog. It protected them for three months, more or less. It was called Spot On, or Guard or something similar.

At the time, we had five children all rough and tumbling with our dogs and I disliked the idea of them hugging the dogs around the neck and poisoning themselves. I knew it was horrible stuff because, every time we applied it to our dogs, large and small, they became obviously off colour for several days.

In Africa, ticks are a serious danger to dogs and humans. So our dogs suffered every three months to save their lives and our lives.

Now we come to the Bravecto problem. Science has evolved. Now, with one pill, we can poison the whole dog and make it a walking insecticide filled animal for three months. Our dog Bass, had one Bravecto treatment in the spring of 2019 and a second at the end of summer. He was very unwell. Very. Now he is due another, the vet says.

The vet has nothing else to offer except the Spot On kind of poison. And his Bravecto is fabulously pricy!

I’m not bloody doing it.

I am going to use nematodes in my garden, Borax on our carpets and furniture and vinegar spotted onto ticks if I see one. And an old fashioned flea comb if I suspect Bass has picked up a flea. I have never seen either on him.

But Bravecto? Bravecto poisons the whole dog in anticipation. No! Not on my watch.

My way prepares the whole garden and house in anticipation for something I have not seen, but believe exists.

There has to be a humane way of dealing with fleas and ticks without abusing the dog, making it sick for our benefit? Ideas are welcome here. Your experiences with Bravecto are welcome too, in the comments.They are hair raising on the Internet! Bravecto is a horrible thing.

What do you think?


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Spring springing

Everywhere I go, I see Spring.

It’s been unseasonably warm here the last several weeks. Dull, rainy and iceless. The emphasis being on ‘rainy’.

Our home has become a dark cave in which two troglodytes live. Oh no. Make that three troglodytes, if I count the dog.

There has been very little sun.

So our side lamps are on all day to cheer the gloom. And vitamin D is an essential in daily doses, got from pills, not the rays of the sun.

But outside, the Spring bulbs are up everywhere. Tiny optimistic shoots have broken through the soil surface. It’s going to be a stunning show.

Unless we have an arctic blast. And we probably will.