Tag Archives: philosophy

On the Internet, Everybody Knows You’re a Dog

16 Jun

With my first-year exams over, I am on holiday for the next three months. I’ve decided to use this time to find out if some of my Virtual Friends really exist. One of them is a dog called Shadow. (Another is a spider called Dicey, but he lives in Australia, which is a bit of a hike.)


Shadow lives in England, and I follow him on a site called Plurk. The wide-ranging topics of his one-liners has earned him the nickname “the philosidoggy”. His wisdom brings us gems such as: “It’s been a funny old day in a funny old life in a funny old world. What a lark, eh?” – Or else:  “I just went wild & threw myself at the window”.

He likes to perforate mail and bound around the garden and steal tomatoes and sniff other dogs’ bums. I felt as though I’d got to know him pretty well online, but obviously, being a dog, he couldn’t possibly have known anything about me. Still, he’s a charmer and I wanted to meet him in person. So, on Tuesday, I did.

He greeted me at the door with a polite bounce, as though he had seen me just yesterday. He gave me a moment to introduce myself to his human Raj, then led me through to meet his other human Andavane. His human family were very obliging – they too are Virtual Friends of mine, and it turns out they are perfectly real as well. My hand didn’t go through them when I touched them, or anything.

Once the introductions were out of the way, Shadow presented me with a blue teddy. He tugged at the other end for several minutes, growling in an obliging tone of voice.


The family had already eaten, but Raj fed me a delicious pilaf anyway, and Shadow lay near me, like a true host, until I had finished. Then he led me through to the bedroom and scrambled onto Andavane’s bed. I followed suit, and we spent the afternoon lolling around until it was time for me to go.


The Doorstep Angel

1 May

You know those stories where a couple lets a wayfarer stay the night and they kill their only goat to feed them, and then the wayfarer turns out to be a wish-granting angel? That happened to us. Only, we didn’t have a goat and anyway, she’s vegetarian and any goat living here would be part of the family. Bunty killed and stuffed a marrow instead.

We had been feeling fraught. I was behind with my studies, Bunty with his work. The house was a tip. The guinea pigs were still living indoors because we hadn’t had time to fix up their summer housing. Everything was getting on top of us and I had a deadline coming up for an assignment which required a familiarity with Excel – a programme I have never used. Then there was a knock on the door.

A smiling girl stood on our doorstep with a rucksack on her back. She asked if she might stay the night. Readers will know that our door is open to every creature needing a bed for the night, so, of course, we said yes. The girl’s name was Seraph. A Christian friend has remarked that you can’t get a bigger clue-by-four than that.

Over the marrow, it transpired that Seraph was familiar with Excel, and so after enthusiastically cleaning out the guinea pigs’ tower for us, she spent the evening walking me through the steps needed to produce graphs from tables. It was a huge relief. The cats showed their approval by standing on her.

A week later, she is still here. She has fixed up the animal housing,

Bathed the guinea pigs and released them into their new homes in the garden,

Dismantled and spray-cleaned the guinea pig tower,

Cleaned the house, told us stories, cheered us up, and gave us enough free time and energy to get out of the house and go sightseeing.

It’s mighty generous of this God fellow to bless us godless atheists like this. Our Doorstep Angel is looking for a job, and when she finds one, she will move on and leave us. We wish her well… and we are thinking of starting an angel sanctuary.

Looking for Something to Kill

2 Feb

“There’s a murder in the back field,” said Bunty. I knew what he was referring to, and grabbed my camera on the way to view the spectacle. We get a lot of murders around here. When the visibility is good, and there has been rain the day before, we’ll see one out there: a murder of crows, gathered in the field and on the trees and the garden wall, and all over the roof of the cottage. They are looking for worms, but it’s a very Hitchcockian sight. However, they have a sixth sense about cameras: all I have to do to make the whole kaboodle take to the air is contemplate taking a picture. I snapped this one by hiding behind the garden wall and then popping up and clicking with blind hope.

At our local shopping centre, there lives a rook with a broken wing. I call him Hopalong. He can’t fly but he can jump quite high, and he lives by scavenging bins around the car parks. I don’t know where he goes at night, but the place is surrounded by trees and thick shrubbery, and the shops have awnings that keep the weather off. When the snows came, and everything froze iron-hard, Bunty and I went looking for him a few times. We didn’t find him, and thought he had perished. But one afternoon, there he was again, hopping between thawing snow-patches, looking sprightly as ever. I love the adaptability of crows.

It’s odd that the collective noun for them is a “murder”, considering that they feed on Chinese takeaways and small invertebrates. I suppose their black feathers and wicked-looking beaks do little for their image. Perhaps this is the real reason behind the proposed nationwide crow cull discussed on Ninjameys’ zoology blog. They are being blamed for a drop in songbird population, because crows apparently feed on other birds’ eggs. The songbirds around our cottage nest in dense hedgerows or hollows that crows are too big to reach into, wheareas invertebrates are abundant and easy to catch; but crows are opportunists, and I am sure they would eat eggs, given the right circumstances.

I think about our rooks in the spring, playing chasing games across the lawn among the bluetits and finches and robins; scavenging for muesli scattered by the guinea pigs, and splashing each other with puddle-water. These are playful, sapient birds. They belong to the same family as jays and bee eaters, whose appearance fills people with joy. Nobody views jays with the suspicion allotted to their black-clad cousins, and I am sure that, though they are also crows, they will not be included in the cull.

Scotland and my mountainous Welsh homeland are both full of hunters. Sometimes they do it to put food on their tables; but sometimes, it feels as though people are just looking for something to kill.