Island Life by David Slack


A Rat At My Table

The screams that suddenly rent the air upstairs yesterday afternoon were not the kind that suggest calamity, but clearly something was not right. I met Karren on her way down, coming to direct me to the scene. "I'll stay down here," she said, "I'm not bloody going back there. Go and look at what one of the cats put under the table."

Let me say at this point that we keep a very clean house. I have lived in flats that would have been fine havens for rats, but ours is much better maintained.

Karren was having a coffee and reading the paper when it happened. She heard the cat come padding across the floor and under the table to nestle at her feet, as both our cats like to do. The nestling continued for a few minutes. Then out of the corner of her eye she noticed that the cat was now some steps away from her feet, and yet the nestling sensation had not ended.

That would be the point at which the screams came.

It was large. It was grey. If I live to see a million of them I will never look at a rat's tail without slightly grimacing at the ugliness of the thing.

It was, helpfully, dead.

We have two cats, 18-month-old tabbies, named Sugar and Spice. Spice looks very much like Colin. It's easy enough to tell them apart, but in the excitement of leaving the scene, Karren didn't reliably register which was responsible. It was probably Spice; Sugar is a little weak at the moment, recovering from a fight.

This is a discouraging development. For a while they were content to bring in lizards and - once they grew larger and overcame the hunting impediment of bells on their collars - birds.

But what do you say to a cat that is clearly unable to say it with flowers but wants to lay a token of appreciation at your feet as you take your lunch?

I wonder if Helen Clark harbours similar feelings of mixed emotion towards Sue Bradford and her little gift of socially progressive legislation. Just when you think you've calmed down an electorate spooked by perceptions of social engineering, the cat brings in this little bundle and deposits it at your feet.

Never mind that the police are too busy to come if you've been burgled, suddenly the nation is fretting about cops on the doorstep asking about your parenting practices.

Ask any politician who has been both in government and opposition, and they will tell you that it's infinitely better to be in office, and yet when I watch this hog-tied administration making such heavy weather of minority government, I wonder how much fun they're having.

I think back to the night of the last election, and the look on Helen Clark's face. It was not the expression of a victor. It was the expression of an experienced politician who knows how to count the votes in the house.

Sugar, the cat with the fight injuries, is on a course of antibiotics. Yesterday, I finally nailed the technique of getting a pill down her throat. You take hold of the scruff of the neck to immobilise her, then prise open the jaws, drop the pill to the back of the throat, and massage it down her neck. I was acting on the vet's advice, in case you're picking up the phone for the SPCA, and I must say it worked a treat. But you should have seen Sugar's expression. It took me back to the night of the last election, and the look on Helen Clark's face.

Elsewhere in New Zealand, I would have quite liked to have seen the expression on the face of Mr Stephen Cook of Her Majesty's loyal New Zealand press corps when his journalistic technique was dragged naked from the changing rooms for us all to see last weekend. Bomber has the whole appalling story here

My own encounter with him a few years ago was one of the less encouraging examples I have seen of journalism at work. He came to interview me about Bullshit Backlash and Bleeding Hearts, and began by explaining that "some of us were sitting around in the newsroom asking who is this guy who's telling us what to think about the Treaty?" I thought that seemed an odd perspective on democracy, but I kept my counsel, and patiently answered his questions.

Had he read the book? No, he said, but he'd read the press release. And so I was pressed on the publisher's press release. When I explained that a particular phrase he cited sounded like your standard marketing puffery (and, in any case, not mine) he said "No, no, you've put it out. You have to stand by it." I was hardly surprised when a somewhat sneering piece appeared in the next day's paper describing a man who had been "making his living peddling 20 dollar speeches to Americans" who now had "all the answers" to the Treaty argument.

You know you've been on the end of some poor journalism when senior staff from the Herald ring you later in the week to apologise. I wonder if Mark Burton or Sharon Shipton or Debbie Gerbich will be getting a call?

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