A tribute to Sir Springer the cat

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Get a pet, lose your heart”…perhaps that might replace the “a pet is not just for Christmas” slogan. We happily accept the exchange where we look after our pets’ needs and in return are given un-judgmental acceptance and affection. Cats are of course a different matter –if you’ve ever loved a cat you’ll know that there’s a fair bit of truth in the statement that cats have staff. Cat lovers wouldn’t have it any other way.

Helping Mum with Congress 2006 work.

Helping Mum with Congress 2006 work.

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All this work is just too tiring.

It wasn’t always an amiable relationship on his part, as Springer thought he belonged in the house and should take priority over mere small humans. It wasn’t uncommon to find him stubbornly sitting in the midst of the toys plainly making his residential status clear.

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They only think it’s their play tent…it’s mine as well.

As the other grandchildren have come along he’s often looked askance at them and retreated to a safe position away from them. On one or two occasions he’s given them a nip of warning to their dismay but despite that they too have been enamoured of him and have learned to watch his tail for impatient swishing. When they turn up on an unexpected day, and he seemed to have a good sense of when it was grandchild-day, he was known to give a very disapproving look at their temerity for disturbing his peace. At the end of each visit he would follow us all out to the gate, then roll on the driveway looking smug with a distinct attitude of “na, na, na..I live here, you don’t!”

Sometimes you just have to chill out!

Sometimes you just have to chill out!

As you can see, a cat of definite opinions! He’s never been a cuddle cat, tolerating only small doses of cuddles, but he always loved to be near us wherever we were. He was oh, so predictable in his habits: when breakfast was due (as soon as someone woke up), when it was time for an afternoon snack (between 4 and 5); when it was time to reluctantly come in at night (about 10pm) and when to annoy Mr Cassmob to let him out (the earlier the better from his point of view). When he wanted to come back in he would yodel loudly to get my attention and then need to be dried off if he’d been caught in a storm.

This is what we called his "mad eyes" look when he was fired up for mischief, including his tendency to kick himself in the ear...silly boy!

This is what we called his “mad eyes” look when he was fired up for mischief, including his tendency to kick himself in the ear…silly boy!

In short, his staff were perfectly trained, and in return he mostly did what we wanted. He accepted that when we went on long holidays he would have an excursion to his fancy cat resort complete with an enclosed aerial walkway where he could sun himself, a hammock to snooze on and his mummy rug brought from home. On the way there and back he would talk loudly and put his paw through his travelling cage, to be reassured. He knew full well the difference between the route to the resort and that to the vet, which generated a much louder conversation.

I wonder where they'll go on holidays next?

I wonder where they’ll go on holidays next? Among Mum’s family history papers in the study.

Within our complex he seemed to be popular especially with those who love animals but can’t have one for various reasons. He would trot around, fluffy Persian-like tail held high, looking like lord of all he surveyed. This earned him our aka of Mr Trotsky. His daily name, Springer, came from his youthful mischievous habit of leaping out and kung-fu-ing you at hip height as you walked by.

The most recent photo of him we have - in Pavlovian mode.

The most recent photo of him we have – in Pavlovian mode. Where are the mussels Dad?

Pavlov would have been impressed with him when he flew down the stairs at the smell of Thai food preparations, because after all, those activities and smells went with Thai Mussel fritters, and he liked nothing better. In fact on a recent occasion, when Thai was being prepared but not mussel fritters, we offered him freshly cooked prawns. From his response you’d have thought we offered him cat food, and the cheapest version at that! Our previous cats looooved prawns and for them we made a dish of prawns their last supper.

What are THEY doing here again? On an unexpected grandchildren visit.

What are THEY doing here again? On an unexpected grandchildren visit.

Ever neurotic, he was utterly terrified of strangers and was a better stranger-early-warning system than a watch dog. If you saw him fly up the stairs, belly to the ground, tail down, you could guarantee there was someone walking through the complex, and far too close to our unit. We ultimately concluded that he had perhaps come from a cat farm (something we hadn’t known about previously), as we could never quite get him past his fear of anyone other than family.

Now which one should come off next?

Now which one should come off next?

It was only last Christmas that his increasing maturity became evident and he resisted the temptation to climb the Xmas tree, and carefully (or madly!) remove the baubles as he’d done every other year. From time to time he’d indulge in fits of craziness flying up the stairs like a bat out of hell, doing wheelies with his legs spinning out from under him. Hilarious to watch.

Nearly two weeks ago Mr Springer disappeared from home and hasn’t been seen since. We’ve tried everything under the sun to find him but reluctantly we’re very slowly accepting we’re likely not to see him again.

We can’t (won’t?) accept that someone might have catnapped him for nefarious purposes because he was just too speedy to be caught. He doesn’t appear to have been hit by a car as no body has been found. We hope that if he has gone to cat heaven that it wasn’t too terrifying a trip for our little nervous Nellie, and think that being bitten by a snake or poisoned by cane toad, rather than attacked by the dingoes or wild dogs that are in the reserve across the road, are the likeliest possibilities.

Chilling out on his chair and his mummy rug (sarong)

Chilling out on his chair and his mummy rug (sarong)

They say it takes two weeks to create or break a habit, in which case we may soon stop looking for him everywhere and come to terms with his empty Ikea chair without his furry little face looking at us. We’ve found it surprisingly difficult to come to terms with his absence –there’s something much “cleaner” about eventually having to have a very ill cat put to sleep, than the everlasting wondering about what happened.

Through it all we’ve been so grateful for the kindness of friends, family and strangers who’ve responded to our distress. The take-home message from this experience is very much about the goodness and kindness of most people, and how much most people love their pets. We’ve also been so impressed by the people at the Top End Lost and Found who coordinate information on lost and found pets.

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Milne Bay: Our Heritage Places Tour

One of our priority activities in Alotau was to hire a taxi driver to take us around the town to see our old familiar places. Eddie was educated as a health worker with a degree from the Divine Word University and his English was excellent (as well as probably being his third language) so we had a good chat along the way.

Before we start I should explain that in those pre-Independence days of the Australian administration of TPNG, the government issued specific houses to its employees, based partly on status, and partly on need. They also had full authority to move employees to wherever they were required –not unlike being in the military I suppose – so you could find yourself relocated with minimal notice….or rumours spread that you were leaving when you weren’t, come to that.

 FAMILIAR PLACES & MEMORIES

 Up Red Hill

 The main street up to Top Town, as it’s now known, is now called Tawara Hill Rd. Once upon a time it was unsealed, red clay through which your car or motor bike slipped and slid during the wet season. It was a killer-hill, very steep, so no surprise we didn’t walk it even though we had no car in those days.

 House #1: Top Town, Dalai Heights Rd, western end

The old Cass home in Top Town.

We were invited into the garden of my parents-in-law’s former house where they lived when Alotau first became the district headquarters in 1968. The story goes that my father-in-law, as District Superintendent for Education, stood on the deck of the Education Department trawler (the Kamonai) as it stood offshore, and selected their house block for its scenic outlook. Its proximity to the primary school at Red Hill where my mother-in-law taught was no coincidence either. Colonial days!

You can glimpse the mountains at the rear of the house. Sadly the hibiscus plants are no more.

The house is no longer the last in the street, but it was a thrill to see it once again. I remembered the covert disputes I used to have with Kaye’s haus boi, Jimmy, who insisted the heating pad for the slow combustion stove should be put up on the hooks while I’d been taught by my aunt that it needed to be down on the hot plates. A more experienced sinebada would have known better than get into a silly argument like that with long-term house staff. Every day Jimmy would bring one of Kaye’s beautiful hibiscus (some imported from Hawaii) into the house where they were placed in an upside-down fish pond thingy. They only lasted the day but were quite spectacular.

Thank you Vincent for your kindness and openness in letting two complete strangers come into your yard. He probably thought we were quite mad when Mr Cassmob mused on how his father had the driveway built at a particular angle, or the drainage he’d also had constructed. I, on the other hand, visualised the photo of my future-husband sitting in the open area beneath the house getting ready for his day’s work at Gili Gili Plantation.

 House #2, Top Town (Dalai Heights Rd, eastern end)

Not much to show of Cass house #2. In fact it looks like the remains of an Irish wall.

This one nearly stumped us as we hadn’t lived in it for more than a couple of months. Unfortunately it was largely obscured by the curved driveway lined with plants. We remember it for those mornings when we’d wake up to butterfly devastation by our cat Tabitha who was a balletic leap-er, who would then shred her catch, and the in-laws’ dachshund, Tinka, who loved nothing better than shredding a box of tissues. You can imagine the chaos on the floor.

Not to mention chopping wood for the slow combustion stove, and hence hot water for washing etc, while violently morning sick and observed worriedly by both cat and dog!

This house is also famous for the kerosene lamp which exploded early on New Year’s Eve morning, when I was many months pregnant. Mr Cassmob woke to a sea of glass and flames across the lounge room floor and eventually found me in the kitchen starkers as my nylon nightie had partially caught fire. One local responses: from the Agriculture man “Someone’s shot his wife”; another “why is Pauleen running down the street?” Short answer – to the health worker!

Masurina Lodge, Middle Town

Masurina Lodge, now owned by the Abel family but formerly a guest house started by Glyn Wort.

Once I’d seen the map of Alotau and its Middle Town area, I suspected that Masurina Lodge was formerly the Glyn Wort guesthouse where I’d worked briefly. Sure enough when we rocked up to reception and enquired, one of the staff was able to confirm my guess. Now much bigger and flasher it was weird to remember how each morning the cook would bring us fresh cake for our tea-break. Just as well that job came to an end quite quickly or I’d have quickly lost my then-thin appearance.

 House #3, Middle Town, Bagita St

The view over Sandersons Bay from opposite Cass house #3.

This was the house to which we were moved with a small baby, our final house in Alotau. We were a little miffed because it had limited under-house space where I could hang the baby’s nappies…rather important in the wet season when there was no such thing as dryers.  On the flip side it had a fantastic view over Sandersons Bay and Milne Bay in general, so swings and roundabouts.

We were living here when the government told us we were to move to Goroka. In the family folk lore this came about because the District Superintendent for Education in Goroka wanted a new district clerk (Mr Cassmob) while the DS in Lae decided he wanted a new executive chair more! On such whims are our lives changed <smile>.

Sandersons Bay in the early 1970s.

When we pulled up outside this house, with its little sales stall of drinks and betel nut/buai, we were amazed to be welcomed by the whole family who lived there. Astonishingly they had taken over the house only a couple of months after we left for Goroka (from whence they had come). The house had been their home ever since. When we left the house in a mad rush, having had only a week to get packing crates made and our belongings packed up and ourselves out of there, we’d made arrangements for our cat to be adopted by friends at the high school and her kittens to be also shared out. For 40 years I’ve worried whether that happened and whether the high school kids contracted to clean the house had done so.  Unless the family was sparing our feelings it seems my fears have been unfounded so it’s a concern I can now lay to rest.

We were all quite blown away by this coincidence and had a long chat with the extended family. One brother had also met Mr Cassmob’s brother briefly from when he’d visited while working on a short-term consultancy with the Eastern Star newspaper.  I have a great photo of us with the family but I won’t publish it here as I don’t have their permission. Thanks Jessie and family for greeting us so warmly!

 Cameron Club

The Cameron Club promoting everyone’s favourite tipple.

It was hot and we were tired so we only had a quick visit into the Cameron Club. Situated right on the Bay it was the setting for some fierce squash matches as well as our Friday night movie venue. With only 18 hour power we would finish the movies, jump into someone’s ute, race up Red Hill and switch on the kettle for coffee and light the kerosene lamp before the power went off at midnight.

 The Movie Theatre, the Government Offices and the Shops

Alotau’s main shopping street only held 4 trade stores in the old days: Chan’s, Cheong’s, Denis Young’s and ??

We suspect there’s an arsonist at work in Alotau as several large and important buildings have burnt down.  The Government Offices, opened in late 1970, burnt down a few years ago so there’s now a vacant block where they once stood.

Similarly the “new” movie theatre built by a man called Geoff Masters also burnt down…something of a mystery since we remember it as being besser block. It was built during 1970 and we remembered going to a “Ball” there as well as Mass every Sunday, the latter being interesting as the floor would be covered in buai spit from the movies the night before. Betel nut or buai is a popular habit, sort of like tobacco chewing,generally not appealing to Western eyes. When spat out it looks like blood on the ground. The movie theatre was eventually replaced by the new Catholic church, with the stained glass windows I posted about the other day. It wasn’t completed until either late 1971 or early 1972 after we’d left, but we reckon we might own one of the bricks <grin>.

The shopping precinct in those early days of Alotau comprised four trade stores – sort of like an old-time general store. It’s bigger these days but still restrictive in what’s available.

An early 1970s aerial view of Alotau with the approximate location of our houses marked.