Life and Death in the Shower

There’s nothing I like more than being visited in the shower. Tonight, after a long telephone conversation with a friend in WA, I limped down to the ablution block for a midnight shower. I like late night showers. I have the place to my self and there’s always the chance of some interesting times watching the geckos hunting moths around the fluorescent lights.

I was really lucky . Not only did I see my favourite geckos doing their famous ceiling leaps, but I shared my shower stall with another gecko and the tiniest green tree frog I have yet met.

At first, I was not sure if they were hunting each other, in which case “aaaw, ain’t that cute”. Or had teamed up to get a moth, I watched as I soaped up and rinsed off under a cold shower. (Hot water is available, I just prefer cold).

The frog could have sat on my thumbnail. The gecko was five times bigger. They circled each other like Sumo wrestlers on the shower stall wall. It become quite apparent each thought the other was prey. It was also quite apparent the brave little frog was going to try and bite off more than he could chew.

When it comes to life and death in the jungle, I know that I should allow nature to take its course. But here were two little creatures I really like in a mismatched duel to the death. I had no illusions about who would lose. Had he been bigger I’d probably have watched the frog swallow that gecko just as I watched my frogs in my pond in Katanning eat their own relatives. Or vice versa, even. Fair is fair.

But this little blighter was totally outgunned, though he was not going to admit it. I am a sucker for supporting the underfrog. So I snatched him from the ravenous jaws of death and put him in my toilet bag. There were plenty of moths left for the gecko, as I most reasonably pointed out to him. He didn’t seem to mind, anyway.

After my shower I towelled off and put on my shorts. I carried my new charge with me when I headed home. On the way back to my caravan I explained the facts of life to my little green ward. I told him he needed to bulk up a bit before he took on something that size again. In the meantime he should practice on moths and flies, and perhaps, as a favour to me, he could do something about the ants that are constantly scurrying around my caravan.

I dropped him off in my herb garden. Tomorrow, when the ants come out, I’ll know whether the little bugger is grateful to me for saving his tiny green life.

The photos below are not the protagonists of this little story, just some previous encounters.


My friend the goanna visited me again the other day to finish off a few scraps I put out and to pose for a portrait. He or she is a handsome fellow.

Thesis Proposal

They are strange creatures. I have studied them for some time, and still find their behaviour inexplicable. Despite almost constantly killing each other in various Skirmishes, battles and wars, anywhere, and at any time, around their planet, they rarely eat each other, even after mating. They don’t even eat their own young, although they can catch them easily.

Their genetic code differs greatly from ours. I have been unable to learn anything from those I have eaten. Thus I must learn from studying their behaviour, a task that seems dauntingly difficult.

They have no claws or ovipositors, but have developed an astonishing array of synthetic weapons with which to attack each other.   So far I have not determined the criteria on which they base their decision to attack, nor on their choice of weapon, which ranges from sharpened objects of various types and hand held projectile throwers, to extremely large mobile devices, having cooperative crews of many individuals and capable of throwing  projectiles and explosive devices over a great distance.

This interesting social construct of cooperative communities is a most alien concept, difficult to grasp. It consists of numbers of individuals, from small groups to large area-wide populations, and of any gender working together to construct habitats and also to craft these various devices with which to attack each other. In some areas, these attacks are ritual in nature, and death rarely results. In other areas whole communities attack and slaughter other communities, with devices designed to make holes in vital organs, or to disintegrate them entirely.

How they learn the skills required without eating each other I have yet to discover.

How individuals decide to cooperate with some, yet attack and destroy other groups, I have been unable to determine. It may involve territoriality. There appears to be some form of genetically coded ritual involved. They may not be able to consciously choose, despite the appearance of rational behaviour on occasion.

A difficult ritual to understand, from my perspective, takes place on designated pathways where individuals or small cooperative groups enter various forms of mobile device and ritually pass each other at high speed, apparently seeking suitable prey. These pathways cover most of the land mass where terrain permits and cross territorial boundaries.

At seemingly random intervals, somewhere along these paths one device will crash into another, or into some feature of the environment. This may result in injury or death of some or all participants. For some reason, survivors rarely attempt to finish off and eat any others still alive. In fact they cooperate to ensure any injured or damaged individuals are taken away to places where they can be repaired.

It is this custom of repairing themselves that I find the most inexplicable of all. After doing their best to kill and maim each other, they then go to great lengths to to repair damaged individual survivors, rather than eat them. Without that, how do they learn from each other?

How the individuals who carry out the repairs are able to restrain themselves from eating those damaged ones needs to be studied further. Perhaps they use some form of inhibitor to suppress the natural cannibal instinct. They may be a separate sub-species genetically primed to repair rather than attack. If their genes have somehow combined with those of the general population, it may explain the strange dichotomy of behaviour planetwide. How it helps with the continuation of the species will take considerable further study. I may be witnessing some new evolution of the Survival Directive.

I shall not return to mate and be eaten until I have incorporated a satisfactory explanation of the above phenomena into my matrix.

Varanus Returns.

I made the last few hundred grams of roast rolled boneleless turkey thighs into a curry. With potato and peas. Something went wrong. It was a disaster. I can put up with most of my culinary mistakes, but this was inedible. it wasnt too much chilli. It was just gritty and bitter. I dont know what I put in too much of to make it so. I salvaged a few of the larger pieces of meat, rinsed them under the tap, and ate them. The rest of the curry I carefully deposited outside where the camp manager won’t see it. but someone special might.

Today I heard a familiar rustling sound. From the door of my caravan I peeked, careful not to disturb him. Or her.

And here (s)he is.

Varanus likes my crappy curry.

Tiddles, The Remarkable Cat

I got him when he was a tiny black kitten with faint watermarks in his fur, a white patch on his chest, and white paws. I was living in a bach at Whangaparaoa with my friend David. I don’t recall where Tiddles came from. As he grew, he turned into a Tabby. I didn’t really notice the change it was so gradual. Until one day I realised he wasn’t black any more. He was Tiddles the Tabby.

He was the latest in a long succession of Tiddleses stretching back to when I was eight, living in Bunnythorpe. I had tried to name that first one Ned Kelly, but my grandmother gave him the appellation Tiddles. There was nothing I could do about it. It was the name he answered to. The name stuck for all my cats in the following years; cat after cat.

None of my previous cats were as memorable as this Tiddles was. They were a succession of furry companions indistinguishable from each other except by colour. Tiddles was different.

From the start, he slept with me in my bed. As a tiny kitten he would curl up in the small of my back, or under my chin. Anywhere awkward. He never once, to my recollection, needed any toilet training.

I had a succession of jobs after I left university. My speech impediment prevented me being accepted into the careers I thought I wanted. I lacked confidence, direction and motivation for a time. In 1972 I switched from hospital orderly to dairy farmhand, and moved, with Tiddles, to a farm in Matamata.

Young McDonald, my employer, 1971 Young Farmer of the Year, and Total Dick, allowed me to bring my cat with me, but would not let him inside the house. Cats belonged outside, catching mice. I just opened my bedroom window for Tiddles. He joined me when I went to bed, which was early, and left in the morning at four, when I got up for breakfast before milking.

I loved the farming life, and worked at it hard and diligently, but did not get on well with my employer, who had no social skills at all. But that’s another story.

I returned home to my parents’ after I failed as a farmer, and lived in a room in the back of the garage for a time, with a large saltwater aquarium, and with Tiddles.

Tiddles was a hunter, and always shared his kills with me. Always the back half, neatly beheaded and gutted. A mouse, a rat. Whatever. Left neatly at the foot of my bed ready to eat. Then, for a few weeks one year, the haunches of a guinea pig would appear periodically. I have no idea where he obtained them. I didn’t ask. One day, a very different looking haunch was proudly left for my delectation. I puzzled over it for a time until I realised it was the back end of a chihuahua. My cat had killed, and half eaten, a dog.

I guiltily buried my share in the garden, with the guinea pigs and rats. I thought no more about it until about a week later a woman and her young daughter came knocking door to door with a picture of a chihuahua pup, asking if anyone had seen it. They had only just got it to replace some guinea pigs that had escaped, and now it had run away too. It had cost them three hundred dollars. A lot of money back then.

I was not aware of my legal liability as the owner of the canicidal cat, so of course I did not enlighten them as to the end of their lost pup.

Shortly after that I moved into a rented house down by the railway lines. At the rear were acres of vineyard, and next door was a poultry processing plant. Chickens that escaped often came to my place. Most never left. Now I could share in his kills.

Tiddles used to ride with me in my car. He happily sat on the back of the seat with his paws on my shoulder. I could take him for a walk and he’d follow like a dog. He would stalk me, and ambush me. He was always head-bumpingly friendly.

Until the first time he found me sharing my bed with someone else. Then he was out of sorts for a week. But he settled into married life, too.

When I brought home Mach the Dog Tiddles was out of sorts even longer, but the two of them finally settled into mutual acceptance. Tiddles would stalk and ambush Mach, who would run away. He could have killed Tiddles easily. I saw him snap the neck of a possum once. The possum is the most viciously frightening creature in New Zealand apart from the wild boar. Any dog that can deal with one of those could easily despatch a cat. Mach knew his place.

Many years and three houses later they were still chasing each other around. One day I was dropped off at home in Ranui after work by a friend because my car was in for servicing. The pets had not recognised the sound of the car, so were not aware I had arrived home. I looked over the front gate to see them both curled up together on the lawn, grooming each other with their tongues. As friendly as can be. An unusual and touching sight. The moment they saw me, Tiddles jumped away from Mach and started his harassment routine again. They really were playing.

They died about a year apart, Tiddles at about eighteen years of age and Mach at eleven. I’ve never had any other pets like them.

A Visit from Varanus

Mehdi doubled the strength of my pain meds. I’m so grateful..

I’m having some of the more pleasant side effects I had when I first started taking Pregabalin though not nearly as strong. Strong enough however to think I should not be driving for a day or two.

That’s fine. There’s nowhere I need to go that I can’t go by bike. First thing this morning: to the pool! I’m permitted to swim again.

I’m probably being ultra-conservative about not driving. I was perfectly steady and in control on the bike. But as if to pat me on the back, Karma had me come upon a pair of cops on First Avenue stopping cars and checking out the drivers.

After my swim, off to Aldi for fresh salad vegetables. Then home for a brunch of salad made from lettuce, baby spinach, julienned carrot, cucumber, capsicum, tomato, and a chilli all coated in a generous dollop of my home-made aioli.

I took my salad outside to eat. I drank icy cold sparkling mineral water from the Engel. As I sat, I heard a rustling in the dead leaves behind me. At first I thought it was the bush turkey, come for the carrot and cucumber peel I’d put out. But no.

‘It was a huge goanna, a lace monitor lizard, Varanus varius. These are in my opinion the most attractive of the goannas. Their beautiful colours and patterns are perfect for blending in with the bush.

He, or she, was almost two metres long. It strolled past me and lay down to bask in a patch of sunlight behind my Toyota. Long tongue flickering in and out all the while. I got a crick in my neck watching it, but I knew that if I moved my chair it would be off. No chance to fetch the camera even though I’d charged the battery and left it handily by the door ready for just such an occasion. Never mind. I just enjoy watching,

Behind me – more rustling. I said “if that’s you turkey, be advised there is a goanna here. Come back later for the carrot”. But no. Again.

It was another goanna. On the other side of the fence. Same species. Smaller in size. I have two goanna neighbours! It was maybe two thirds the size of. Number one. Again, I have no way of knowing it’s gender. It wandered nonchalantly past without stopping, its tongue constantly tasting the air. It did not seem interested or concerned about us on this side of the fence.

Goanna number one, however, was very interested. It didn’t make any angry hissing sounds or seem agitated, it just got up and started along the hurricane mesh fence looking for a way through. As it moved along the fence it tested the gaps but could not find one large enough for it to push through. I lost sight of it behind the neighbour’s caravan. By the time I’d got up, fetched my camera and followed it, it was gone. There’s a hole under the fence behind Gaz’ place.

I wonder if those two are a pair?

Here is someone else’s picture of Varanus varius

Alamy Stock Photo.