Archive for the ‘animal behaviour’ Category

a poem from 2016

January 2, 2017

In the wall

The quiet house has its small sounds –
the dog rolls over, sighs, softly
rests a paw on the skirting board;
light rain echo-tap taps on the conservatory roof;
my typing, tapping on the computer.
But mostly it’s silence.
Something scuffles in the wall.

– What was that again?
The dog’s tail shuffles in the hall.
– Oh. I see.
Yet – something scuffles in the wall.

Footsteps, stairsteps muffle-clump next door;
Tamil voices outside – the child laughs briefly.
Ducking under clouds, the autumn sun,
westering, strikes sideways through my room –
and something scuffles in the wall.

Inside the chimney breast, long bricked up
something is constricted. Some creature
is turning, scrabbling.
Pay attention.
It stops. Quiet as the grave.
Escaped? – – – – – the smallest of shuffles. – Rat! Rat!

A scary creature is trapped in my wall:
something that will flap, scuttle, rush in my face.

A quiet day passes – gone. Found its way out.

Evening sun rests light on my cream room
And something scuffles in the wall.
Something horrible that can’t get out
is stuck, dying and alone in the dark.

Mike comes over to unscrew the brass air vent,
opens an exit.
The creature is lying doggo.

Another day passes. Mice can live in walls
scuttle in skirting boards. Still the gentle
shuffling, on and off, fluttering, rolling.

We go by the book – chip off plaster
neatly knock out a brick or two, leave a torch
shining, go to the pub to give it some peace –
and return to see soot on the carpet.
Not a sound. Success!

And yet, come the sideways light of afternoon,
So close, next to my work table,
My creature scuffles in the wall.
Four days now, or five. How long does it take to die?
Does a pigeon die faster than a blackbird?

Take the big crowbar to it myself, and the
terrifying lump hammer.
In quiet she may find the courage to leave.
Repeat the torch, pub routine.
Return tipsy to more soot. Proper success.

Morning sun shines in the front window.
Further up and over to the side –
My creature shuffles in the wall. Poor choice!
Silly simple bird!
Crowbar. Hammer. Don’t crush her.
More debris, and now a breeze block to come out,
widen the way into that shallow concrete coffin.
Internet advice says: leave the room.
I only have one room. The phone rings.

And while I’m loudly on the phone, a soft flop –
Pigeon is sitting ruffled on the rubble, hops
up onto a chair.
Perches – long seconds. Launches a brief
battering flight around the conservatory.
Pauses again. She crouches, reassessing –

Then out, out, up, up
into the neighbour’s laburnum and then on –
in her shallow arc of rising flight, up and out,
my beautiful pigeon
skims the roof tiles, bending southwards and away.

make a bigger hole

make a bigger hole


brutal lump hammer and crowbar

brutal lump hammer and crowbar


consider the light

consider the light


dark cream walls and morning light

dark cream walls and morning light


assess the situation

assess the situation


conservatory door

conservatory door


a favourite Les Murray Poem

March 9, 2015

The Day I Slept Like a Dolphin

The day I slept like a dolphin
I’d flown the Atlantic twice over
and come down in snow-rimmed Denver.
There I filled in both entry papers
and got called back: Hey! You, Buddy!
You didn’t fill these out right!
It was true.  Only the right hand
side of the Immigration form
and of the Customs form had writing.
I could explain that to you, I marvelled,
as he impatiently did not,
he of La Migra.  But I’d bore you,
I added, and filled in the left questions.
Under an Atlantic of fatigue
one half of my brain had been sleeping
as the other kept watch and rose to breathe.
Next time, I’ll peep, and get
a second, waking view of my dreams.

from Conscious and Verbal (1999)

some more emails with my brother

March 2, 2015

On 3 Feb 2015 04:27, “NEWMAN, Ross” wrote:

I just felt like a bombastic opening. Once again I have finished my jobs for the week and it is only Tuesday. I have grown weary of my self-inflicted stop-gap jobs, and have begun counting the days until we jet off for New Zealand, there to re-enact the famous Etna Creek Prison Classification Committee Meeting of 1981. Period costume will be the go, simply because that’s what we are still wearing. We (that is, the Classification Committee) remain victorious; the star turn of that distant day, whose name I cannot mention, has enjoyed an almost unbroken stay in prison to this day.

I wonder did any news of our State election reach you? I had vowed that if Labor was voted in I would migrate to NZ. Well, as it happens, neither party is able to form government, so I may have to compromise and live on Stradbroke Is. They, the pollies, have got what they deserve. Prior to the election they were muttering darkly about raising the GST, selling ‘assets’, and restricting retirees’ access to superannuation, while in the same breath voting themselves a huge pay rise.  Spain (or is it Greece?) appears to have been forced down a similar path with the election of that vicar-like smiling guy, who
claims to have somehow found a way of avoiding austerity.

We exhausted ‘House’, and moved on to ‘Outlander’. Suddenly it was pulled half-way through season 1 – how dare they? – so we have switched allegiance to ‘The Tunnel’, which is an English production about a murder in the Chunnel Tannel (oops, but I think I will let it stay). Most of the fun is in the mis-communication between the English and the French policepersons. The crime part is a bit too much torture-porn for my liking. I like a good swift killing, if kill we must. The only actors I can understand are the French, but that’s only because they get English subtitles.

I swam 26.53 for 1500m.!  I stoppeth one in three.

Much love to all and the dogs,

Greybeard, the Loon


On 3 Feb 2015 10:08, “Jill Barker” <> wrote:
Now there’s a coincidence.  I emailed you yesterday. No doubt you’ll find it when you open your home email.
I even asked about the election!
Wherefore stopp’st thou me? I was on my way out – not to a wedding but to walk dogs and then to gaze upon my ship, idle in its icy surround. Was planning to boat today, but not sensible in ice. So I’ll just light the fire and run the engine and read the paper that I haven’t used to light the fire and have a bacon sandwich.  How I suffer! And (it goes without saying), a bucket of coffee.
Beginning to like this idea.


On 3 Feb 2015 10:10, “Jill Barker” <> wrote:
btw I think anyone can mention the name of someone found guilty – it’s in the public domain.  Or is that only UK?

Sent: Tuesday, 3 February 2015 8:16 PM
To: NEWMAN, Ross 
Subject: Re: Greybeard

This is amazing. I still haven’t got my boots on and have to stop and listen to someone singing ‘linden lea’. Really touching.  And thus I connect with both brothers within five minutes.
(Singer was roderick williams if u want to chase it up). (Or rhodri? Maybe)
On Wed, Feb 4, 2015 at 4:12 AM, NEWMAN, Ross wrote:
Good point, but we go to extraordinary lengths to protect the identity of those in our charge. I’ve always taken it for granted. Perhaps the difference is that they ARE in our charge?! Must look in the legislation.

On another note, I’m out of whiskey. May try one of the Irish this time – Jamieson’s has something of a rep, I believe.  Can’t get that Spotted Grouse here, or whatever it is that Andrew drinks. ‘Famous Goose’, perhaps?

As to boating in winter, I can’t think of anything more satisfying than sitting in a tethered canal boat toasting gently in front of a fire and letting the world shiver past. Surely the miracle of buoyancy is appreciated by some part of us?


On Wed, Feb 4, 2015 at 10:01 AM, Jill Barker <> wrote:
I know what you mean about whisky.  Can’t remember any of the names (except Teachers, for obvious reasons – I always knew it was meant for me.  Well not quite always – but ‘always’ since I resigned myself to the teaching profession – incarcerated, you might say, but without the benefits of anonymity).  I needed to close that parenthesis.  In Austrlia all those years ago I recall drinking Jonny Walker – or rather I recall other people drinking my Jonny Walker.  Bear a grudge?  Never!

I like the cheap blends  too, but one can go too far.  In France we found one called Sir [something ridiculous – not Eglamore] that was barely drinkable.  But I have been much enjoying the Aberlour that some kind soul gave me for Xmas – may even have to buy a top-up bottle soon.  But whiskey????  Give me strength!  It’s too sweet-ish and heavy flavoured for my taste.  Speaking of which I had a cocktail at Will’s bar the other day (actually called the Duke of Cambridge – a good name for a French whisky) .

That singer’s name is Roderick Williams – he has the voice that we all thought we had when we sang in the car – not unlike singing in the shower, I guess, for reverb. qualities.  I cam e across a security question today – the make of your first car.  Didn’t choose to use it as I couldn’t reliably predict what I would answer under stress in five years’ time.  (Holden? Beetle? all those family cars???)

Must stop – the dog walk bus leaves at ten –

I blog at:
From: Jill Barker [] 
Sent: Wednesday, 4 February 2015 8:03 PM
To: NEWMAN, Ross
Subject: Re: Greybeard

the bar is the Duke of Cambridge.  The drink was actually a ‘Mitch’.  ref. obsc.

I blog at:
On 4 Feb 2015 22:47, “NEWMAN, Ross”  wrote:
Wasn’t aware there was a distinction between whiskey and whisky, unless playing scrabble. Struggled to choose from the bewildering array in the grog-shop and eventually fled with a Haig on the probably spurious basis of family ties, in spite of alarm bells ringing (in my head, I had paid for the thing). And I was right, Haig is a bit of a harsh brew. May have to mix it with Fruity Elixir from a box. I had just finished a delicious 18 year old scotch (or scotche), but I couldn’t remember exactly what (which shows it is working). Something obvious, anyway, without being Johnnie Walker.
The Water Police breathalyse boaties in Moreton Bay – does that happen on the canals too? There’s a 22’ sailing-boat called ‘Bluebird’ that was designed in Australia in 1947, and went on to become hugely popular. I’ve been browsing the web and checking 2nd hand prices. I could be on a slippery slope … You can google it if interested, but don’t be duped by the Edwardian super-yacht of the same name. (Imagine the barnacles.)

Our government is in care-taker mode, which means I have no work. Aaaahg!





From: Jill Barker [] 
Sent: Thursday, 5 February 2015 7:57 PM
To: NEWMAN, Ross
Subject: RE: Greybeard
I think there is no canal breathalysing. Rules but no enforcement.  Drunks walking on the canal path sometimes fall in and drown – not realising that you only have to put your feet down.  So that’s self-policing in a way.
Caretaker government eh? So the floors will be clean and the doors securely locked.
Re whiskies, I understand the extra e to indicate American whisky (poss. aka bourbon?) While the short version is the scotch. But what of the Irish? I hear you cry. What, indeed. Research needed.
Im on my phone – morning- and wearing out my thumb. Dogs and teeth – avanti.
No work- I sympathise. Sooo boring.
Just make sure you don’t buy the racing car. How rusty would that be?  A fixer-upper, as the trolls in Frozen would call it.
To me 6th Feb



more about the dogs

July 29, 2013

Thank you everyone for your kind advice and thoughts about Shadow’s ‘bowl rage’, especially to Rosey of Rosmarinus, over in Norfolk, the ever-helpful owner of Shadow’s sire.  Rosey uses a diet for her dogs involving bones and raw meat, which I find a little difficult to manage, even though I agree with her about its advantages.  But I had indeed been falling behind on getting bones in for my dogs.

Yum yum - raw meaty bones.  Shall I give them to the dogs or make a delicious soup stock for myself?

Yum yum – raw meaty bones. Shall I give them to the dogs or make a delicious soup stock for myself?


The issue of dominance or hierarchy still seemed relevant, as well.  There is one truly useful website (amongst quite a lot of dross) –  which talks about dominance amongst dogs and how we humans interact with it.  We often inadvertently send our dogs mixed messages about their status, and as a dog ages her status may change – but not necessarily.


Like all of us, Bella was young once.

Like all of us, Bella was young once.


Based on both of these bits of advice, we have started to boost Shadow’s nutrition and we have also decided to pay a little more attention to Bella, to enhance her status in the pack.  We thought we might take care to feed the dogs with our laid-back lad, Bandit, in between the two females, as a kind of buffer zone.

Even as a puppy he was a mild little chap.

Even as a puppy he was a mild little chap.


Lo and behold, on that very first morning, even before we had put any of this into practice, the dogs seemed strikingly happier and calmer.  And that has continued today, as we have put these changes in place.


Bandit consistently places himself between the two females, but slightly separate from them.  Does Shadow look like a viable challenger for dominance?

Bandit consistently places himself between the two females, but slightly separate from them. Does Shadow look like a viable challenger for dominance?


Now, I don’t believe in canine mind-reading or anything like that, but I can’t help wondering what made the difference to them.

Jill thinks she knows who is in charge.

Jill thinks she knows who is in charge.

Here I am in a quandary – it only looks like a stream.  The dogs understand what is going on, while I am just grinning at the camera.  Heigh ho!


Trouble amongst the dogs

July 27, 2013

It is just after ten o’clock at night and there is still some light in the sky.  Behind the roiling mixed greys of the storm clouds some pink lingers from the sunset, and a few patches of sky show pale blue.  Down here on the earth there is still enough light to see by, but it is fading quickly to black.  None of this delicacy could possibly be caught by a camera – and even words are barely adequate.

The dogs are out with me – calm and friendly as usual – with no sign of the row they had earlier this evening.

I am worrying about my dogs – the young female has taken to being aggressive with the older female, who just happens to be her mother.  That relationship means nothing to them of course, though it’s very tempting to try to anthropomorphise it.  The growling and general dissent is mainly focused on food, so we have decided to feed them separately, hoping that that will sort things out.  But I think that the food-attacks are just a symptom of some wider competition.  They don’t always live together – but it’s often enough that they need to get on with each other.

very fine dogs - June

The original hierarchy: Bella front right; our calmly submissive boy, Bandit in the middle; Shadow at the back, ears pricked, getting ready to make a bid for power (?)

I’ve been reading around online.  The problem could be that Shadow is growing up (now 18 months old) and is trying to re-structure the hierarchy, especially as Bella is getting a bit more elderly.  Maybe the fact that Bella has been spayed about a year ago, while Shadow is intact, could be giving Shadow the edge.  Anyhow, all is fine except when they are fed their dinner – and Shadow rushes fiercely at Bella, behaving as if she thinks Bella needs to be driven off.  All the advice says that we should let them sort it out – and perhaps Shadow will end up as the dominant dog.  Bella is very tough, though, and I suspect she will put up a battle. This might not be pretty – or fun for anyone.

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