Just so that we’re clear, I came equipped with the usual set of pre-programmed physiological responses and they’re all here and accounted for; I assure you that I am just as fazed by the sudden sight of anything potentially dangerous as the next person. My fight, flight or freeze reaction is alive and well and easily triggered by creepy crawlies, the fact I am willing to extend my hospitality to an occasional charismatic arthropod notwithstanding. It’s just that I don’t continue panicking after having judged a stimulus mostly harmless and as far as I know, all central-European arachnids including my flatmate Brunhilda the diadem spider are harmless to the point of being helpless against humans, save for their potential to send us running by the sheer power of their presence. I am not fearful of Brunchy but if she catches me by surprise… Well here’s a video of what transpired when her delicate claw-foot made contact with my fingertip as I was attaching a snack to her web:
As demonstrated here, the FFF response of this particular human is accompanied by an alarm call. The volume of the distress signal may range from a loud gasp if the room acoustics are deemed adequate to a blood-curdling screech reserved for open spaces, but invariably there is some degree of vocalisation. (Yes I’m a shrieker and unabashedly proud of it. As luck would have it, one of my neighbours wails like a banshee when startled and hilarity ensues each time we unexpectedly bump into each other in the basement. Since the birth of humanity, it was people like us who had kept their fellow humans safe by instantly alerting them to threats real and imagined. These same individuals also excelled at obliterating the element of surprise from hunting expeditions whenever a scary bug moved into sight, which just might have been the driving force behind humans largely giving up on hunting for their meals and settling down to take up agriculture instead. So yeah, we shriekers have shaped history in ways you can’t begin to imagine.)Continue reading Brunhilda and the hand that feeds her→
I love it when Mother Nature steps forward to solve my problems. Until quite recently, a prominent grievance of mine were germ-taxies (houseflies). I’m locally famous for my knack at capturing them, which I suppose is fine. The thing is I’m keen on recycling and I felt bad for having little choice other than flush perfectly edible insects down the drain as I had no pet I could feed my prey to. That was, until Brunhilda came to my rescue.
The first time I saw her was when my darling lured me over to the bedroom by announcing he had something to show me and directed my gaze to the window above my side of the headboard. I was thrilled to see that while I was out, a newly-arrived friend had fitted it with a pure-silk, certified-organic flytrap that cut right through the airspace so cherished by insects. Brunhilda was sitting at the centre of her creation, looking a bit tense. I stood up on the headboard, inspected her up close, looked at my man and said, “Her butt looks flat, we need to fatten her up.” From then on, each captured fly has been presented to our new pal and she seemed to approve of this arrangement because Brunhilda, also known as Brunchy amongst her flatmates, is a diadem spider. And fatten her up we sure did.
It’s official, animals have lost their last remnant of respect for us. We people have changed and shed some of our feistier habits that used to keep them in check. In the old days, people went vegetarian only after they’ve run out of animals to hunt and any beast foolhardy enough to wander into a human settlement was facing two possible outcomes. In the highly improbable case it was judged too ugly to eat, the creature was greeted with a hailstorm of sticks and stones and sent from whence it came, its self-esteem curbed somewhat. Given that people weren’t such fussy eaters in days of yore, it was massively more likely the intruder was interpreted as a surprise food delivery and treated accordingly. After the humans were done picking its bones clean and rhythmically banging them together thanking the God of Foolishness for the feast, they tanned its hide and made it into warm slippers and a new handbag for the village First Lady, and if the creature had antlers or fangs of any consequence, they were repurposed as spear tips to welcome the next rambler of its kind with added efficiency.
My grandfather always knew right from wrong. It seemed that his inborn sense of justice was so strong it rubbed off on even the most hardened crooks and made them realise the error of their ways. What was especially amazing about it was that this effect wasn’t limited to people; well at least we, his family, are at a loss of how else to explain how gramps succeeded in making a deer repay what it had stolen, and quite dramatically at that. There’s a well-travelled saying of ‘Treat others like you want to be treated’, also known as the Golden Rule (which happens to be the reason I’m hoping that the few masochists I’m bound to run into sooner or later are as little ethically-enlightened as possible). There’s a substantial volume of theoretical substantiation of why the reciprocal approach works but I’m probably not the only one who’s felt that it would be nice to have some actual proof too from time to time. And sure enough, my grandfather stepped up and provided the factual corroboration I had hoped for.
Inside, grandpa was a gentle soul but it didn’t stop him from being as tough as a coffin nail. Born a son of humble charcoal makers, his childhood was rife with hardship and he used to say that his family was so poor they couldn’t afford to feel sorry for themselves. He grew up to become a steel worker long before occupational safety was a thing but not before he was taken prisoner during WW2 and made it back on foot, so suffice it to say his adult life wasn’t much gentler to him than his youth. Not that it held him back much; against all odds and despite all the rust he had eaten at the steel plant and the frostbite he had to remind him of the horrors endured in the POW camp, he lived to a ripe old age – way too old for his liking – and he regularly complained about having to wait so long to join my grandmother. Reckoning you can’t know for sure if there’s an afterlife until you’ve found out by yourself, he worried that there was one and, knowing his wife, he feared she was up to who knows what.
Okay, so maybe I’ve been guilty of not taking people too seriously when I heard them talking about how their cat was the coolest one ever. We might as well set this straight once and for all: your cat may be cute, adorably silly, feisty or whatever but, with all due respect, it is NOT the coolest cat ever. This distinction is reserved for Bon, a majestic tom that had once reigned over our neighbourhood. He was the rudest, toughest, meanest and the most inconsiderate cat imaginable with a commanding presence and some serious swag to boot. He didn’t take crap from anyone, didn’t care what anybody thought and never ran from an adversary. Well actually he never ran at all but merely accelerated to a leisurely trot if he deemed it appropriate, and if that’s not a super cool cat then show me one that is.
We came under Bon’s rule when my father, oblivious to what he was getting us all into, accepted a weighty pet carrier from a frail old recluse who claimed she was getting too old to continue taking care of her cat for much longer. In retrospect, she most likely feared for her dear life and thought it would be best to unload her rowdy beast on a family of able-bodied individuals. My mother and I had no knowledge of dad’s noble dealings and we arrived home to find a puzzling note on the boiler room door, a blood-stained piece of paper with the words “DON’T OPEN SIAMESE INSIDE!’ scribbled on it. Intrigued, we pried the door open and were promptly greeted by, well, not so much a growl than a proper roar. Clueless as to what but a royally-indignant lion could produce a sound like that, we deemed a hasty retreat a fitting response. An emergency congregation later we embarked upon investigating the source of the petrifying noise and cautiously peeked under the central heating unit to be met by an icy glare from a pair of piercingly-blue eyes. Incensed at our failure to keep a respectful distance, the owner of the frosty peepers hissed and spat at us, which prompted my mum and me to decide that her sillier half should be committed to a special institution for whatever it was that he had brought to our house this time.
It’s a tough contest but if I had to say which animal made me laugh the hardest, the honour would go to a dog I had when I was little, Fia the Doberman pinscher. It used to be quite common in Slovenia for parents to let their small children keep big animals. I suppose they hoped such a responsibility would instil some wisdom in either the kids or the pets, not to mention the added benefit of having would-be child molesters reconsider their life choices after losing a limb to a protective pet.
(Admittedly, keeping a dog wasn’t always the complicated affair it’s cranked up to be nowadays, as pooches used to have a set of clearly-defined duties – to chaperone the children, to protect the house, to abstain from mauling people without due cause and to refrain from passing gas indoors – which gave them a sense of purpose, and effectively prevented the likes of Cesar Milan from making a career trying to talk some sense into people who don’t know what a dog is for and what to do with it.)
In the rural areas where parents continue to expect their children to be smart enough to make it in the world without grown-ups constantly shielding them from all potential sources of harm, you can still see tots leading huge dogs, horses, cattle and whatnot, and when they’re not doing that they’re likely driving a tractor. From what I gather from my recent explorations of the Slovenian countryside, the age of eight is still considered ideal for country children to start operating heavy machinery. Anyway, my Fia was super clever about many things, a keen student of human nature and an astute exploiter of its soft spots, but like so many animals she tended to come up short when met with certain pitfalls of physics. Continue reading The breakdancing dog→
It’s not just people who get blindsided by their lack of common sense on an entertainingly regular basis. Animals, especially pets, seem to exhibit the same trait to the extent it makes me worry they might have caught it from us. I can’t help but think that one of the reasons that humanity developed such a penchant for scoffing at the consequences of one’s foolhardiness was the instant smartening-up effect that open ridicule seems to have on imprudent creatures, be they human or not. Have you ever laughed hard at your pet after it’s done something dim-witted, just to be dumbfounded by the animal proceeding to deliver its best impression of indignation and resentment as if it knew it was being mocked? Well if you haven’t, you’ve either never had a pet or you’ve fallen behind in your ability to recognise a valid cue for laughter, which may be something you should be looking into if you wish to make the best of the time you were given.
A funny thing you can’t help but notice if you happen to wander into the country called Slovenia is that it’s almost impossible to leave. It’s not like anyone is manning the borders; the country is in the Schengen Area which basically means everyone and their sister is roaming around freely. The traffic connections are superb and, with Slovenia being so tiny, you can step on it and find yourself somewhere else in a matter of minutes. Our neighbours the Croatians – who lay claim to a somewhat larger country which is as pretty as they come but shaped like a pair of spaying tongs – will gladly tell you that Planica (where our rather famous ski flying hill is) will never get a permit for a higher hill as then the skiers would be landing on Croatian porches, wreaking all kinds of havoc in the process.
The machine converts various plant materials into semi-dry pellets. It’s self-propelled, runs on eco fuel exclusively and it is easy to activate by placing raw material anywhere within its reach and wait for the impressive array of sensors to point it the right way. The input material is taken up at the front end, broken down into smaller bits and finely ground. The machine then proceeds to process the resulting pulp by extracting fluids and compressing the remaining material into pellets which are ejected from its rear end.
The pellets are of two types: the hard pellet that is considered the final product and as such ignored by the machine, and the soft pellet that is picked up by the machine almost instantly and dutifully recycled. The previously-extracted fluid is excreted at the rear too, usually at the lowest point of the plane accessible to the machine, and if it happens to be a soft surface you’re either standing or sitting upon, the fluid will be deposited right where your foot or your butt, respectively, is parked. Continue reading Guess the Machine→