Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Guest Blog: The Country Way of All Flesh

Commentary and Photography by Country Bumpkin
It’s been a week to forget. This is another of those strange ways people use the English language, because they actually mean it’s been a week they will always remember.

Saddest of all, our cats Tiger (right in photo) and Lily have been put to sleep, and taken for burial in a pet cemetery. It began when Tiger, who had been losing condition for a while, became obviously unwell. On Friday we took him to the vet who ordered a round of tests, believing that perhaps his thyroid gland was running slow. The results on Saturday showed this was not the problem, and the vet began to speculate that perhaps he was suffering from organo-phosphate poisoning. Ye gods! We’ve never used these chemicals here, and we’re pretty sure neither cat has visited any of our neighbours who might have been killing insects, but this did nothing to diminish our feelings of guilt, of that I can assure you. And his condition continued to decline, until on Tuesday morning the vet said she had no choice but to recommend giving him an overdose of anaesthetic. We went to say goodbye to him, and it tore our hearts out. He was so pleased to see us, and we him, but it was perfectly obvious that the end of his life had been reached.

Meanwhile, we had watched for some weeks while Lily had been growing a stomach. An unspayed cat might have been pregnant, but not she. While she seemed otherwise well, we assumed it was the result of all the tidbits that my wife kept feeding her and her brother, but it reached the point on Saturday when this explanation would no longer suffice. We rushed her to the vet who diagnosed that Lily’s abdominal cavity was filling with fluid, and by Sunday morning the diagnosis was that she too might be suffering the effects of poison! She was put to sleep on Monday, a day before Tiger.

They lived with us for 10 years. We had got them from the Wellington Cats’ Protection League, who rescued them from a cruel start to their lives. They were darlings, though it took them years to accept us fully, but their existence in our country home was sublime even when they were pooping during the misery of winter in the gravel in the carport. There was nothing quite like coming home after a day away to be greeted by lifted tails and shouted greetings from the pair of them, quickly silenced when we refilled their food bowl.

We miss them and will for quite a while, and I daresay the savings we make in the cat food no longer needed from the supermarket will soon pay the $500 veterinary bills.

Less sad, but pretty traumatic also, last evening brought another drama. I was about to wash a few potatoes for dinner, and when I turned on the faucet there was a sudden rush of water down the wall above the kitchen bench. This was around 5 o’clock, but a few well-sequenced phone calls produced a couple of helpful insurance companies and an after-hours plumber, who had a new pipe into the wall in all of 20 minutes. This, you understand, was after I turned off the water main, and my wife started mopping.

We seem to have suffered no serious damage, except perhaps to the remote control for the heat pump which hangs on the wall just below the waterfall, so the insurance companies will probably report a profit again this year. The problem was the same one we had several times suffered in our city home, with piping made of neoprene fitted some time in the 80s, which has been failing in houses all around New Zealand from about 1995 onwards, continuing to this day. It is forbidden now to use it in new installations. The plumber told me that as far as he could tell, much of the piping in this house has already been renewed. We’ll no doubt find out if he’s right.

I reported last time that the installation of a new heating system had had a magical effect on the weather. The sun came out and temperatures rose, and I can now tell you that we saw our first blowfly of the season on 29 August. They’re a severe and irritating problem in the early summer, and come from miles around when they smell dinner on the stove. Presumably their eggs or larvae winter in the cowpats which litter the ground only a couple of blocks from here, and then burst into life along with nature’s more desirable manifestations like blossoms and baby lambs. But the monster flies disappear quite quickly, only to be replaced by small creatures who have a habit of landing on you and returning repetitively to the same spot when you shoo them away. They’re right little pains in the neck, but at least they don’t land on the food. Much.

The return of the sun brought our first colds of the season, perversely. There are stories that the population is suffering an epidemic of “90-day cough” but I’m able to report to you that our affliction was short-lived and disappeared completely. Those autumn flu shots really work, but in case the bird flu pandemic does eventuate we have our little stock of Tamilflu at the ready, and it’s good for 10 years before we have to buy more. Yet, the pandemic story seems to have died in the pages of the media, so maybe like other recent scares like SARS it will fizzle out to be replaced by something even more interesting.

We’ve been listening to live music again. Last week it was the Nairobi Trio, a New Zealand group who have been around for maybe 25 years, none of whose four players (don’t ask!) come from Nairobi, as far as I know. They play clever arrangements of jazz standards and their own pieces, using a violin and soprano saxophone to carry the tunes, and they’re quite wonderful. They played at the Martinborough Wine Centre against a background of not-so-whispered chatter and the clinking of bottles against glasses, but it all seemed fitting somehow.

The week before that it was the Kazakh violinist Marat Bisengaliev. This astonishing man is small, of Asiatic appearance, and plays like an angel. How a Kazakh performer found his way to Greytown is one of life’s little mysteries, but he’s been here several times and is coming to our little community again in two or three weeks. His music stand looks like an oversize Palm Pilot, and he changes the page by pressing a pedal on the floor. When you realize the music stand could probably be used to play the music itself it makes you glad the middle man hasn’t been cut out.

One last drama to keep you on the edge of your seats.

I’m always banging on, as you know, about the way people use language sloppily, imprecisely and tortuously. This week my wife had a letter from our medical practice asking her to make an appointment to see the doctor about the results of her blood tests. She is tested regularly to monitor the effects of the immunosuppression medication she takes to prevent rejection of tissue in her corneal grafts.

Panic stations! Previously, these tests have always come back OK. The doctor was able to see her promptly, and recognizing the level of unease in the two of us announced that the practice nurse who had written the letter had been given clear instructions to include the information that the test results had come back normal.

Good grief!

Country Bumpkin is a bibliophile and man of the world who lives in New Zealand. His recent guest blogs include Country Images, Country Winter and Country Ice.

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