This photo of Dora appeared in this morning’s Press. I entered it in the Stuff cutest pets competition a few days ago. Dora is the most photogenic of the chooks and, as she has stopped laying, really is a pet.
Inspired, I sent in some more pics. Jock stays with us when my brother is on holiday. Finnick, Koda and Domino are my sister’s family pets.
Other photos I considered include these very relaxed poses:
Our numbers are overwhelming the planet, even here with our population of 5 million. We need, it seems, tiny living spaces to accommodate us all and to prevent urban spread onto productive land and wildlife habitat.
A friend and I went to an open home in a new complex of high-density townhouses on Sunday. The house we went into was suitable for paper-thin people with foldaway furniture; elbows clenched to sides at all times and breathing restricted to shallow breaths. There was a tiny square of artificial grass with room for only a vertical garden built on the fence. Overlooked in all directions. No room for parking. And the houses are not cheap. No trees, no birds. The open space opposite with views to the river will soon be crammed with similar housing.
They have all been sold. Many to investors, I would think, who will use them as rental properties or airbnb. There was something disturbing about the hype of the open day: the slick real-estate people with fake tans, the shiny brochures, the gourmet food truck. The developer’s website shows two possible floor plans: square or rectangular, take your pick.
I am a ‘homebody’ and I was torn between feeling out of place in the house we visited and imagining ways to make it homely. But it was not a space I could be comfortable in. You would need to be mainly away from home – at work, or elsewhere, using the house for sleeping, showering, eating – although there’s little room for cooking.
My house is a simple wooden one built in 1930; about 100 square metres on a 455 square metre section. Compared to the new townhouses it seems to have room for all aspects of living and is warm in spirit. It’s the only house I’ve owned and the only one I can imagine living in. I’ve gradually improved it, painting inside and out, removing layers of paint on wooden doorways, panelling and window frames, rewiring and insulating it and, of course, gardening, over the 35 years I’ve lived here. Having a flatmate in the early days helped pay the mortgage.
Design programmes on television show people building spacious houses with landscaping and views, and the on-trend infinity pool. How alien this must seem to many people. Too much of it and it becomes distasteful.
Preferable are the houses which people build themselves or which are restored or which are centred on shared spaces and gardens.
But so many people have few choices. A woman in a programme about Cornwall said a house should not be seen as a financial asset but as an essential of life. In that part of the world, locals cannot compete with the prices people from outside will pay to have a holiday house there which sits unoccupied for much of the year. Instead, young people get work where they can, living a kind of nomadic life in caravans and sheds.
While the purpose of pandemics is to decrease the population when numbers threaten to overwhelm resources – a harsh solution often seen in the natural world – I like the idea of re-thinking our perception of what housing should be: Essential.
Poetry has a way of getting to the core of being human. Joe Bennett’s column in today’s newspaper is centred on the poem Naming of Partsby Henry Reed, first published in 1942, which makes a sad, ironic comment on human behaviour by contrasting the beauty of spring with the hard metal of weaponry.
And so I think of the pleasure of wandering in my garden in the morning as I go to collect the paper from the gate. It is like swimming in new growth which is now waist- and shoulder-high in places, while the golden kowhai reaches overhead.
Then, I sit down to read the paper and re-discover all the complications of human life. Housing shortage, global pandemic, racism, war, disputes, cruelty, and the current new series of articles entitled “This is how it ends” (alluding to Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men) about the sixth mass extinction and climate change.
On the lawn outside my window the hens peck. Sparrows, blackbirds and starlings come down to see what’s on offer. The foxglove flowers are beginning to open. Their lives are as simple and as complicated as the circle of life.
And we humans are superior beings because we have a brain. Find the evidence in poetry.
A number of “calling cards” around one of the chickens’ automatic feeders indicated that a hedgehog had been helping itself to the chooks’ food.
I solved the problem by putting pieces of wood under the treadle so the weight of the hedgehog would not depress it and open the feeder.
However, I was late home one night last week and found not one but two hedgehogs at the feeder, an adult and a little one.
In the photo you can see the pieces of wood which I put under the treadle, but the hedgehogs are waiting for me to go away before they depart. Perhaps the little one is too curious to roll up in a ball as the adult has done.
Four days on, and the hedgehogs are still befouling the feeder area. While the chooks are eating they often spill food and I guess the hedgehogs are attracted by that – as are sparrows. So a barricade is required at night time. A rubber doormat may do the trick, unless the hedgehogs can climb… Their feet are like hands and there are lots of hand holds here.
I was mystified by splatters on the deck this morning. My first thought was that a flock of birds had flown over and all let go at once. When I realised that the splatters were also on the roof and the solar panels, I wondered if an aeroplane, flying high above, had emptied its bilge tank. The splatters seemed to be like those you might find on your car after driving past an agricultural muck-spreader with a following wind. But, as I hosed and brushed the surfaces clean, it seemed that I was dealing with mud rather than bird – or other – droppings.
A quick check on the internet led me to discover the phenomenon of mud rain, where dust is swept into the air and brought down by rain, leaving muddy splatters as the water evaporates. This could be a result of our recent storm. It’s strange, though, that the affected area was just one end of the deck and one end and one side of the roof. Perhaps there was just one little dusty cloud up there.
Strong winds woke me in the night. I could hear the trees being battered and wondered what the wind sounds like for people living in houses with no trees.
I thought of the tender new buds and new growth and the apple blossom. The main victim, however, was a large artichoke plant.
Luckily, the crushed dome and silver beet sprang back when I moved the fallen plant. I probably won’t be able to save the artichoke, but a smaller plant beside it is still standing – and producing buds. I planted both at the same time and wonder why one grew so much bigger. Perhaps it was the chicken manure under the rhubarb beside it, or just a genetic quirk. I, for example, am of modest height while my siblings are tall.
The chooks, sensibly, are huddled under the outdoor table as the wind and rain continue. Little flocks of sparrows join them from time to time.
A lot of rain has fallen, making puddles on the lawn. I hope the grass, only ever mowed by the chooks, will be encouraged to new growth, particularly where it has gone to mud and required paving stones to protect it.
Each new flower is like a discovery, yet my photos of a year ago, four years ago, six years ago show that the same sudden appearances have surprised me each spring. Today, it was the first rose.
The kowhai trees are flowering enthusiastically – better than before, surely?
The apple tree seems to have been encouraged by pruning.
Each new blooming is superseded by another: Camellias then lilacs, magnolia stellata then forsythia, violets then forget-me-nots, aquilegias and Solomon’s seal, bluebells then hebe, lavender and bay, rosemary then banksia, and the beginnings of fox gloves, cabbage tree flowers, and karo.
The blueberry is flowering profusely and the first flowers are appearing on the strawberry plants in a hanging basket, with promise of summer fruit.
And, on the beach on Sunday, eight inflatable rescue boats on exercises meant the surf patrollers (my nephew included) are gearing up for the summer season.