Sunday, 26 September 2010

How to Kill a Cat - A Plan in Nine Parts

Plan 1: Flat Cat -  Trap a mouse by its tail under the tyre of a car. When Percy pounces on the mouse, reverse the car over him; 

Plan 2: the Cat who Swallowed the Canary - Poison a canary with chocolate, antifreeze and Regaine hair restorer (all toxic to cats) and get Percy to eat him. Requires a suicidal canary;

Plan 3: Fat Cat - Overfeed him until his heart can't cope with the extra weight;

Plan 4: Scaredy Cat - find a ghost to haunt him until he dies of fright;

Plan 5: Cool cat - lock him in a freezer;

Plan 6: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - also known as the 'cat burger without the trimmings' plan;

Plan 7: Death by Cat Flap - replace the flap with a guillotine.

Plan 8: Let the Cat out of the Bag - only don't.

Plan 9: Hire Curiosity.  

At last! Percy would go the way of the pigeon and I would be safe. What could go wrong?

The Dogs of War

If I was going to survive the machinations of the C.I.A. (Cat Intelligence Agency): black cat ops division, I needed my closest friends around to defend and protect me at all costs. I called a meeting at the hill of the Brandy Burn Walk for Sunday afternoon. From this vantage point no one would be able to sneak up on us without being seen. However, only two turned up: Rizza and Guido.

We waited a while, hoping others would show. Rizza told me to never trust a beggar. He'd been stiffed on his commission by Lainie, when she paid it to his owner instead, who then spent it at the off sales. Guido didn't say much at all at first. He was still panting, recovering from the climb up the hill. Undeterred I called the meeting to session and asked for suggestions about who else to ask to join the pack.

Guido: "Could we get that woman who dropped the cat in a wheelie bin? She's got previous in this department."

Me: "I think she's on probation at the moment, but we could pencil her in for later. Anyone else?"

Guido: "How about the dog that ripped the sheep apart at Barshaw? You used to hang about with him didn't you?"

Me: "Harvie? Yeah but we lost touch after the trial. He's probably still mad at me for not giving him that alibi he asked for. Better we don't get back in contact, if you know what I mean."

Rizza: "figbane?"

Me: "Yes?"

Rizza: "Do you really want to die a virgin?"

Me: "Rizza this is the inaugural meeting of the Dogs of War pack. We're not discussing 'doggy' just now."

Rizza: "You see that's a problem. I'm more of a lover than a fighter."

Me: "But I need you beside me, not behind me. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder."

Guido: "Doesn't our height difference cause a problem with that? And with my hips I'm not going to be much use in a scrap. I could carry the bandages though. Wrapped around me like toilet tissue. I'm good at that."

Me: "This is serious. I need to kill that cat. I need a plan."

Guido: "Actually, you need nine plans. A cat has nine lives."

Me: "What? Are you sure?"

Rizza: "I'd heard that too."

Me: "We'd better get our thinking caps on then, hadn't we? And I don't mean that literally, before either of you says anything. How difficult can it be? After all, there's more than one way to skin a cat..."

And with that we started to plan Percy's demise.

Pack Attack

Is it too early to post a Christmas wish list? Cos after tonight there's a whole bunch of things I want from Santa.

Firstly, I want leg extensions to make me taller. Secondly, I want bigger teeth to make me look meaner. And, not lastly, I want to bulk up so I don't pass for a play thing to be teased and toyed before being worn down and ripped apart. That's not the end of my list but I think I'd better explain what happened.

I got pack-attacked.

I was at Barshaw Park minding my own business, sniffing around, when three dogs erupted from the back of a 4x4 in the car park and set off at a sprint across the grass, chasing each other in a noisy game of tag. I love tag so rushed over to join in but wasn't allowed to play as they snarled at me whenever I got close. They were quite rude about it. When they forced me away I showed off my pace and ripped a big circle around them. I could tell they were impressed because the biggest one called me over and introduced himself as 'Tyson'. He was  a black Alsatian/collie cross and the oldest of the three. His adopted cousins were Bodie and Storm, both mongrels. The younger pair continued their game, pouncing and wrestling with each other, attempting to lock upon each other's neck, while Tyson insisted on receiving my introduction. I slumped down to protect my identity. All three dogs were lean and muscular and had four to six inches in height over me. Their roughness was slightly unnerving.

Three adults got out of the car, an older woman with a walking stick and a couple in their twenties. All of them were smoking. They called the trio back, using language I cannot repeat here. They sounded like they were from a bad part of town. I have no idea what my master thought he was doing going over to say hello. 

Tyson knew he was top dog. He stood tall, chest out, tail erect. The other two showed deference to him. He led, they followed. He was also a total ned. I don't mind when Rizza jokes about indulging in some 'doggy' with me because I know I have the final word on the matter, always "No".  When Tyson made rude comments about sex acts that I'd enjoy he made me very uncomfortable. I wanted to get away but was scared of showing weakness. But still our respective owners walked on together. What was he doing? He doesn't even like smokers.

When we got to the pond, Tyson made a show of scaring the swans. With front paws dewclaw deep in the water he barked vociferously at the birds, who hissed and rose up, wings flapping. I joined in too, slightly further back, and that was when things turned nasty. Tyson turned on me, raising accusations, like a mad dog gone wild. "What was I doing? Who did I think I was? Did I want a piece of him?"

I bared my teeth back at him, readying for the tussle. He wasn't the only one who could flip the 'mental' switch. If he wanted a fight he could have one, despite his size. I backed off onto the grass, matching his growls. I was totally unprepared for what happened next. Suddenly from out of nowhere, Bodie rushed at my flank. I spun round and deflected the blow, just as Storm weighed in too from the other side. They were making runs at me from all directions. My angry protests faltered, replaced by yelps of panic. I was trapped, the predators strafing me repeatedly from all sides. I couldn't turn fast enough. No matter which way I faced, the third dog always had a clear run at me. I couldn't stop them. I couldn't get away. It was hopeless. I was helpless.

The younger owners and my master pitched in to separate us but with four dogs, one was always free to attack. Finally the girl grabbed me and lifted me onto her shoulders before passing me back over to my master. I shrieked and wailed and wriggled to see what was below, terrified I'd get a chunk ripped from my rump. I couldn't help but cry aloud as my heart raced in my mouth. When it was safe, he lowered me to the ground, gripping my collar while he clipped my lead back on and I whimpered pathetically, shaking. The other three were being scolded by the woman with the stick, swinging it threateningly enough to make them wince. Their stares still lingered on me, looking for an opportunity for round two. My master checked me over for bite marks and offered me a gravy bone, which I snaffled up between whimpers. We headed for the car. 

The girl apologised from a distance, declaring they'd never done anything like that before, but I knew she was lying, not that the apology was addressed to me. As I scurried away, Tyson howled a final comment, words that chilled me to the core.

"Be careful!"

The same phrase and tone that Percy had used a week ago. It didn't sound like coincidence. Who was this cat and how did he get friends like these?

So continuing my Santa list...

I want my own pack - the 'Dogs of War'.
I want 24hr protection.
And I want Percy out of my life one way or another.

If you can deliver all that, I promise I'll be a good dog till Christmas.

figbane xxx

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Rizza's got a brand new bag lady

I was still confused about my new neighbour's confession. To hear he was 'Cat Intelligence Agency', not a cat burglar, explained his comings and goings at all hours of the day. Cats can hear frequencies that even dogs can't so maybe when he gets the call he has to go, like an old man with a dodgy prostrate. But then he could have been lying to throw me off the murder scent. I still wasn't sure what had happened to the pigeon.

Luckily, my owner decided to take me on a long street walk into town. I saw plenty of pigeons, who verified there was a war and one day they would have total urban domination. They cooed with puffed up confidence that victory would be swift now they had an alliance with the sea gulls. I wondered whose side I should be on in this war. Traditionally dogs hate cats, but pigeons eat scraps and they account for ten percent of my snacks. It was a dilemma. Perhaps I would stay neutral, then resume hostilities with whoever won.  

When we reached Paisley Cross my nose twitched with the smell of a familiar friend, Rizza, my schemie Staffordshire bull terrier pal. I dragged my owner closer so we could chat. He wasn't happy but went along anyway as my tail was wagging furiously. He didn't recognize Rizza owing to the fact he was tied by a rope to a homeless woman, not his regular owner. I was confused too but Rizza didn't seem too bothered and bounced to his feet when he saw me.

"How's it goin', Figgers? Fancy a bit of doggy?"

I hate that nickname. And no way was he getting any. For one thing the smell was awful coming from his handler. I ignored his request.

"What's going on with the beggar?"

"She's paying me. I'm on ten percent of her takings. She gets more sympathy if passers-by think she has two mouths to feed."

"But you hardly looked starved."

"Which just shows what a good owner she is. Besides I get the odd scrap thrown to me from the occasional animal lover."

My ears pricked up. "You get food from strangers, just for lying there?"

"Yup. One woman yesterday left a tin of Pedigree Chum. You interested in taking on a franchise? I could hook you up with dirty Boris, the Big Issue seller."

I considered it momentarily but decided against it. What if it rained or Boris tried to sell me? I didn't want to take the risk, even if scraps were at stake. I moved the conversation on.

"How long have you been doing this?"

"A couple of days. Lainie here lives up next to us and begs til her next money comes in from the social. Her kids are at school so she we have this agreement for weekdays."

"So she's not really homeless?" 

"None of them are. Dirty Boris lives in Glenburn. The beggar over at the entrance to the Paisley Centre is from Renfrew. And the Polish bint outside the bank has a mid terrace villa in Ferguslie."

"How much have you raised towards the Grand Plan*?"

"Not sure yet. She's going to settle up at the end of the week? Anyway better get back to business. Is your bloke going to donate or what?

We both stared up at him as he pretended to be checking his pockets, Lainie lifting her polystyrene foam cup at him.

"No change, miss, sorry," he lied, before dragging me away from my friend.

Rizza barked at him, then winked at me. "See you up the Braes on Saturday. Unless I'm at the Lap Dog Club, getting busy with the ladies."

"Sure. Good luck."

And with that we headed back home.

* see July: "Rizza's Hair of the Dog"

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Pigeon est mortuus

On my walk on Thursday night I noticed an unusually large number of pedestrians carrying fold down chairs. They were returning from the Pope's visit to Bellahouston Park. I wondered why they needed chairs. Had they been expecting bad news? Had the Pope's sermon started with "You may want to be sitting down for this" before going on to describe the atrocities committed by the priesthood, like some open air confession. I doubted it very much. Then I heard what he had to say in London and began to wonder.

I got a shock myself on Friday morning. In the garden, during my morning constitutional, I found pigeon feathers strewn across the grass and could smell blood around the site. Immediately my hackles were raised. We had a pigeon assassin operating in my garden. And it wasn't me. 

There was no sign of the body. This would normally indicate a fox but my garden is totally fox proof (and dog-escape proof too unfortunately). Surely a cat couldn't have killed a pigeon and carried it over a six foot fence?

I patrolled the borders, sniffing delicately. My worst fears proved founded: cat scent. But which of the clutter of cats in the street had committed this offence, in my garden?

All my instincts suggested Percy, the cat from next door. He was new to the area, disrespectful towards my superior dog status and had the fearless audacity of a sociopath. He also still had to learn that this garden was my territory and not to be trespassed. Later that day we had words.

To the untrained ear, the exchange would have sounded like a barrage of barking. I'll admit I did raise my voice. It was understandable. I was angry, made all the more so by Percy's smug grin and responses.

"Why do you think it was me?" he smirked.

"It's got your claw marks all over it."

"Ridiculous! Where's your proof? You've got no body, no witnesses and the pigeon ain't talking."

"I can smell your presence. I may not be a bloodhound but I've a bloody good nose for these things."

"Could be a copycat. Another cat impersonating my smell."

That threw me. I'd heard the term before but never in a literal sense. Was it possible? Could one cat mimic another?

"You're bluffing, I've never heard of such a thing."

With a gentle shrug of his shoulders, Percy unexpectedly relaxed. He leaned closer to the fence and whispered, "Look it was nothing personal. It's what I do. It's my job. You've heard the human phrase, 'putting a cat among the pigeons', well I'm that cat. You may not be aware of this but there's a war going on out there. Pigeons are planning to take over the world. They are mass producing themselves at such a rate that soon they'll not only control every city centre but every town, village and hamlet across the UK." 

"I've never heard this. You're making it up."

"I've got better hearing than you," Percy smiled. "And better connections. C.I.A. - Cat Intelligence Agency. We hear things. Be careful." And with that he leapt over to his kitchen door and disappeared through the cat flap.

Be careful? What did that mean? Was it a threat or a warning? Was he really in the C.I.A.? Did it really exist or was he lying? Oh, too many questions and not enough answers. And I never did find out what he did with the body. I just wanted a nibble.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Paisley - No Parking Allowed

Why, my incredibly sensitive ears hear you cry, am I bothered about car parking? It's not as if I drive. Indeed I'm more used to being chauffeured around. Well the reason is this: there's a big hooha near my home in Paisley about the change to the parking arrangements at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde have introduced a managed car park system at the RAH where parking is free for up to four hours, thereafter a fine of £40 will be charged (reduced to £20 if paid within two weeks). Only 460 parking permits were issued to staff out of a workforce of 3000. Hospitals workers are outraged at not being able to park for free while they work and have taken to parking in the local area instead.  The locals have reacted furiously to this with angry windscreen notes and car vandalism. One sixty nine year old man is currently "helping the police with their enquiries". How stupid is he? If any of the staff caught him, they'd thump him. And where would he end up? In the RAH, being 'looked after' by the people who put him there. Is he hoping he's assaulted so badly he qualifies for a disabled parking bay outside his house? Then he could sit in his wheelchair at his front window and laugh at all the nurses spotting his space then moving on, disappointed. Silly parker!

This parking problem is nothing new but it is growing. The Council have recently extended the parking tariff zones in town, meaning free parking can only be found further away from the town centre in residential areas. Residents of these previously quiet streets are upset at workers leaving their cars all day outside their homes. They complain to the council who in response extend the tariff zone even further. If it continues the whole of Paisley will end up entirely tariffed. There will be a sign at the Paisley boundary that will read "Paisley welcomes careful drivers - unless they want to stop!" The Robertson Car Park will be designated a Park and Ride site and extended to cover the entire Gleniffer Braes. And then where am I going to be taken for my long walks? Ayrshire?

The Council has a clear remit to make sure the roads of Paisley are safe. They seem to have a strange but audacious plan for achieving this:

1. Constantly amend the one-way system so strangers and locals alike end up leaving, having been unable to work out what lane they should have been in to reach their destination;
2. Pedestrianise the town centre and extend a tariffed parking zone around it. This drives shoppers elsewhere, e.g. Johnstone and Braehead where they have free parking, so less people come to Paisley;
3. Allow more businesses to collapse and fail to attract new business to the area. Even less people come to Paisley. Less demand for parking, so less complaints about it;
4. Roads are used less so need less repair. Deserted streets need less cleaning. Council saves money. Which is good because there's less revenue coming in from business and car parks to pay for these services;
5. Cut other services like education and health. Anyone not on benefits moves elsewhere;
6. Make driving a car so expensive that anyone on benefits cannot afford it.

Plan succeeds. Empty roads means safe roads. And they say my ideas are crazy.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Barking Up the Wrong Tree - Part Two

Photo Copyright Jason Alexander's pet Collie, Jessica

I was at Barshaw Park sniffing around the trees, as I do, when I was hit by a falling chestnut shell. Immediately I was alerted to the presence of a squirrel. I studied the branches of the leafy canopy above, listening intently for movement. Those critters are like irresponsible daredevils leaping from tree to tree without a safety net but occasionally they slip up and plummet to the ground. That is the best time to catch them, while they're still dazed, but you have to be ready because they recover fast. 

I have a love/hate relationship with squirrels - I love to chase them, hate not being able to catch them. We once had a regular squirrel visitor to our garden. He always escaped unscathed if perhaps a little frightened. From the bird feeder he would scarper towards the house along the top of the fence, moving like a furry wave. From the fence he would jump to the drain pipe then climb up to the temporary safety of the first floor. Here he would pause and assess his escape route. It was an amazing spectacle watching him crawl a horizontal path along the brick work, gripping the thin edge where the bricks were separated by mortar. When he lost a paw hold, I was sure he would fall. I even barked reassurance that I would catch him - catch him in my waiting jaws, that is. He just ignored me, concentrating on hanging on, until he reached the corner of the wall and then leapt across to the wall of the house next door and away, his cheeks full of nuts from the mistress' bird feeder. She removed the bird feeder shortly afterwards.

Anyway, something odd happened at the Park. The squirrel had been deliberately attracting my attention. He wanted to talk. He climbed down the tree trunk within squeaking distance and, when I had finished my barking, explained his proposal. The park had too many squirrels and not enough nuts to go round. He wanted my help to thin out the population. He wasn't the biggest grey squirrel I'd seen so I could understand his predicament - he couldn't take on the big boys and would go hungry and die in the winter. His plan was to lure the competition to ground level where I could pounce, ripping them apart. It sounded like a great plan.

I was to stay at the foot of the trunk out of sight and wait. He bounced away in search of our first victim. I looked around and noted he had offered the same deal to a number of dogs who were all standing alert at the foot of their trees, front leg crooked, poised for attack. Minutes went by, Everything was silent. Anticipation grew. Drool descended from the jaw of one salivating Boxer. Everyone simultaneously shushed a passing Afghan who, having pooped, scraped the leaves behind him. The tension was massive.This was going to be a massacre.

Suddenly a breathless Labrador pounded down the path by the Nursery Corner. He was exasperated. "Come on lads, quick! There's a million squirrels sweeping up all the fallen nuts over the hill." By the time we rushed over, the ground was bare and all we could hear was squeaky giggling coming from unseen full mouths in the trees above. We'd been conned. 

I post this as a warning to fellow dogs everywhere. Never trust a squirrel, especially when it comes to nuts.

Barking up the Wrong Tree - Part One

Olusegun Aganga
I have been known to get things wrong, occasionally picking up the wrong end of the stick. I always apologise, especially if it is an actual stick and I've accidentally bitten my master's fingers. So when I read today on the BBC news that Olusegun Aganga, Nigeria's finance minister, has predicted their country's economy will grow by 10% this year, I thought to myself what an audacious scam. Normally I just get an email from a Nigerian official asking me to send my bank details to him so he can wire me an inheritance of millions of dollars. Now they're on the national news, appearing all legitimate, saying, "Come invest in my country, we're doing really well." But is it true?

My first thought was perhaps the Nigerian scammers have stepped up their game. If they had the finance minister in their pocket, they could reach governments and large financial institutions to achieve a huge payout. Then I thought, if the scammers have been so successful, then maybe the Nigerian economy is booming as they spend their ill gotten gains. Maybe we 'should' invest heavily in that country. Who cares if it's an economy based on fraud and deceit? Think of the profit.

Which is what they want you to think: the hook that it might be true. Luckily, I'm a dog and have no bank account. Until they start sending me emails promising me pounds of Bonios I'll continue to delete them. But is there a lesson to be learned?

If more British people sent out scam emails about lottery wins and inheritances to suckers in other countries then that would bring more money into the country to boost our economy. The other countries wouldn't be expecting it. Maybe Cameron and Clegg should persuade Vince Cable to launch a scam initiative to get more foreigners investing in Britain. He could go on Nigerian news saying Britain's economy is going to grow by 12% this year and they should invest all their money in us. Might work. What's he got to lose?