Ock. Ock. Ock-ock-ock-ock

Holy Sweet Mother of Mercy who Wept at the Cross. By the Awesome Saints of Ages Gone, their Blessed Bones and Relics, and their Miserable Martyrdom: what is this horror I just witnessed? How is it possible my eyes have not shrivelled in their sockets and rolled to the ground like raisins discarded by a petulant child? How could my poor, ragged heart endure such an appalling act? How can I be expected to bear the beastly torment of what I just saw?

I must pen the details of this abhorrence at once! My soul will evaporate in an explosive puff of mortification if I contain myself one instant longer! The indescribable must be described, or I shall expire in this very chair!

Breathe. Just breathe. Right, so:

Our beautiful, heart-achingly perfect Bengal cat Ada is renowned for her gentle demeanour, her sweet disposition, her infinite capacity to amaze and delight us with her elegance and chirrupy chatter. Verily, she is the veritable paragon of felines.

How could it be otherwise? She is our Ada. She came with papers.

Because — not ten minutes ago — she caught a huge, mangy, goddamn motherfucking rat. And then she swallowed the filthy bastard whole, from crooked whisker to quivering tail.

I cannot…

I am…!

No, I must restrain myself. I must begin at the beginning — the moment when this act spawned itself upon my distressed nerves and proceeded to pollute my brains with unrelenting abandon.

First, a confession: I shall confess my initial mirth upon discovering that Ada had captured the vermin. She was a good girl! Brave Ada! You conquered the pest! Now be a good kitty and neatly deposit the corpse upon the compost heap, as per the Lessons Learned in our Responsible Prey Disposal workshop last month.

Well now! I cannot help but observe how you toss the fresh carcass about, hither and thither with gay abandon, whereupon you swat it back to earth with your perfectly groomed paws. Distressing — but adorable!

…Ah! You wish to casually gnaw upon its dislocated head? Hm. I confess I am disappointed by such unorthodoxy. I thought we had discussed — and quickly dismissed — such a scenario in Slide 18 of the RPD. But you are, after all, a cat — and your rakishly spotted coat whispers a heritage of the Wild, does it not? I concede your point. Very well then, you may temporarily indulge in the habits of your rascally ancestors.

But not too much, m’kay?

And then it happened. It

Ada----post-massacre

Ada, shortly after the gruesome event.

My hands are shaking. How can it be true? Am I dreaming? How could sweet Ada be capable of such an act of pure, unrefined gluttony? I never imagined that this heavenly, elevated creature of unquestioned pedigree would be capable of such… well, evil.

Look here, I take care of my cats. I train them well. Birds may be captured and killed, but their remains are not tolerated indoors. Lizard and gecko prey is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, depending on the circumstances and the level of adorableness that ensues as they parade about the house with their prize.

But eating a sick, hideous, disgusting rat? My darling, are you fucking serious? Is it not enough that I groom you, feed you? Does it not suffice that I instantly call out your name upon returning home from work, my back bent under the weight of two laptops (Dell and Mac)? Are you not satisfied by my offerings of cheese spread that you lick from my fingertips?

Is my love not enough? Will you not learn from it? From me?

It occurs to me that some readers may find my vexation excessive, that I should not be surprised at the behaviour of an animal not so far removed from a documentary set in Africa, along with all the vivid brutality of stretched sinew, bloodied muzzles and similar scenes we commonly associate with a predator capturing and devouring its prey.

You are wrong of course, because there was a second witness — and he is at least as appalled as I am.

Wah-Wah is our other cat, a blue miscreant of a Burmese, and a professional scamp. There’s nothing he won’t try, no mischief he won’t attempt, believe me. He’s the cowboy of the household.

And yet, even Wah-Wah seemed petrified as he watched, mesmerized with horror as Ada wolfed down the mashed up rodent, centimeter by mutilated centimeter. At no interval in history was there a more appalled audience. A young, quivering Vestal virgin observing a Roman gladiatorial contest for the first time could not have been more distressed than Wah-Wah and I.

Whereas I had retreated to some distance from the scene of hateful gore, I am fairly certain I saw Wah-Wah tremble. A good thing too I was sitting down at the time.

wah-wah

Wah-Wah, who still can’t believe what he saw.

I wish I could find some kind of solace in our shared ordeal. But the magnitude of the catastrophe far outweighs any comfort offered by our shared consternation…

And as if Ada’s act of swallowing this disgusting creature was not bad enough, another thought forced its way into my fore brain. What if this unplanned dinner disagrees with her delicate constitution? I feed her only the finest prepared cutlets, carefully warmed and placed within a circle of carefully arranged Royal Canine cat pellet garnish (Active Cat mix). And… my God! Ada sleeps on our bed every night. What are the chances I wake up in the middle of the night to find my face adorned with the half-dissolved remains of dead rat, its clotted fur marinaded in cat stomach acid?

As a precaution, it may be prudent to skip the kitty dinner tonight, in the event that the half-digested rat bladder paste, kidneys and intestines disagree with the cat food I normally feed her…

Wait a second.

What is that!

Oh God in Heaven — what is that sound! It’s like the victory croak of a cacodemon, the mating call of the damned. My numbed fingers can barely depress the ivory-clad keys on my typing machine as I attempt to reproduce the terrifying utterances clattering through the sliding doors that leads into my writing salon:

Ock. Ock. Ock-ock-ock-ock. Ockkkk…uerrggrrp! Plop.

For the briefest moment I entertain the notion that a trespassing Scot had concealed himself in the hedge and choked on a piece of shortbread. But that’s just ridiculous.

The truth must be confronted. Truth is noble. Truth is pure. Well — not in this case, but you know what I mean. And I know what I heard: the signal of an unannounced regurgitation. I’d better go and…

I’m back at my mahogany desk, having dashed outside to discover the cause of the commotion — and just as Ada trotted by from the other direction, seemingly unconcerned at my distress. While she observed me from the pool edge with a certain expression of perplexity, I prowled about the garden. With every step and furtive glance I expected to come upon a scene of unparalleled hideousness: a mangled rodent corpse ejected from a rebellious stomach, a tangle of soggy remains, a tumescent lump slick with a film of rancid stomach mucus.

scene

The scene of the event. Note the absence of rodent remains.

The strange thing is: I was ready to see it.

Instead, something worse happened: I found nothing. No signs of expelled mutilation, no evidence of partial decomposition. Not even a puddle, not the faintest trail of dribbled stomach juices. Not a goddamn thing.

What the hell am I supposed to do now? I dare not stick my finger down Ada’s throat in an attempt to extract her wholesale meal. My medical scheme won’t cover the consequences. Should I lock her outside for a night or two? Impossible! I am not that heartless. Besides, the little bitch will find a way inside.

Hmm…

I’ll go away. On a holiday. I’ll call my ‘mother-in-la’. She can look after Ada for a few weeks until I find a way to… well, digest the carnage I had just witnessed.

What else am I supposed to do?

Ada: I wish I’d never seen it. I’m not saying I wish it had never happened. I know you’re a cat, and apparently a very hungry one. I just didn’t want to see that. I thought we understood each other, that we had explored the interface of what is kind and good and decent, against the lurking Unterwelt of the Beast, and beastly behaviour — the creature that cannot be killed, but can be tamed.

I’m not angry, just disappointed.

Ada, I love you. I adore you. But you’ll never lick the tip of my nose again.

Building a home-made, sawdust-fired pottery kiln

I decided to try build a home-made pottery kiln in my backyard. Keep in mind that the method outlined below is not a suitable substitute for an electric kiln, since you will never reach the high temperatures required for a proper firing. Any pottery you make with this method will still be fragile and susceptible to moisture, so keep any finished pieces indoors, or get them fired properly.

Be sure to check out this video by Simon Winder, which contains lots of useful information.

Materials: 

  • Clay bricks: any old bricks will do, but clay bricks would be ideal as they provide better insulation.
  • Pick and shovel: for digging a deep hole. Enlist the help of a spouse / SO as necessary.
  • A large flagstone or roof tiles, for covering up the kiln once it starts burning.
  • Lots of sawdust. Wood chips and small kindling will come in handy too.

Note: I recommend avoiding pine sawdust, which leaves behind a residue. 

For starters, I created a few simple test pieces. If anything were to go wrong, I wouldn’t be devastated by the loss:

A simple mask made with paper clay. Height: 30cm. No underglaze. This piece was left to dry for around 24 hours prior to being placed in the kiln.

A simple mask made with paper clay. Height: 30cm. No under glaze. This piece was left to dry for around 24 hours prior to firing.

More test pieces: Two thin 'shards' of paper clay with a blue underglaze, decorated with petroglyphs. The rectangular piece on the right is made of ordinary clay with the same blue underglaze, depicting a hoplite. All these pieces have dried out over a period of several weeks.

More test pieces: Two small, thin ‘shards’ of paper clay with a blue underglaze, decorated with petroglyphs. The rectangular piece on the right is made of ordinary clay with the same blue under glaze, depicting a hoplite. All these pieces have dried out over a period of several weeks.

A tablet made of paper clay, around 25cm in height and less than 1cm in thickness. Blue under glaze, decorated with scratched out petroglyphs.

A tablet made of paper clay, around 25cm in height and less than 1cm in thickness. Blue under glaze, decorated with scratched out petroglyphs.

Once the hole was ready I lined the sides with bricks. The kiln should be large enough for one or two pieces per layer, up to three or four layers deep. The cat is there for scale and decoration, and should not be left inside the kiln upon beginning the firing process.

Once the hole was ready I lined the sides with bricks. The kiln should be large enough for one or two pieces per layer, up to three or four layers deep. The cat is there for scale and decoration, and should not be left inside the kiln upon commencing with the firing process.

Piling on the bricks, while making sure the structure is stable.

Piling on the bricks, while making sure the structure is stable.

The kiln is more or less ready. I placed a few bricks at the bottom for better heat insulation before filling any remaining gaps with soil as best I could. The flagstone on the right serves as the cover.

The kiln is more or less ready. I placed a few bricks at the bottom for better heat insulation before filling any remaining gaps with soil as best I could. The flagstone on the right serves as the cover.

I then started filling the kiln with sawdust -- and lots of it! You can also use wood chips or kindling. Upon creating a base base layer of sawdust, I began placing my pottery pieces inside, leaving a large space around my pieces, so that they are properly fired from all sides. Each piece was cover with more sawdust before adding more pottery pieces. Keep in mind that that whole structure will collapse as the sawdust burns up.

I then started filling the kiln with sawdust — and lots of it! You can also use wood chips or kindling. Upon creating a base base layer of sawdust, I began placing my pottery pieces inside, leaving a large space around my pieces, so that they are properly fired from all sides. Each piece was cover with more sawdust before adding more pottery pieces. Keep in mind that that whole structure will collapse as the sawdust burns up.

Just about done. I used nearly a whole refuse bag of sawdust.

Just about done. I used nearly a whole refuse bag of sawdust to fill the kiln.

Build a small fire on your kiln. Use kindling if you have it, though firelighters and charcoal seem to work just fine. Let it burn for a while.

Next I built a small fire. Use kindling if you have it, though firelighters and charcoal seemed to work just fine.

Once your fire and sawdust are ignited, cover your kiln, leaving just a few small gaps.

Once the fire and sawdust were ignited, I covered the kiln, leaving just a few small gaps. Whoops — waaaaay too much smoke!

Lining the sides with more bricks helped lessen the smoke. I may be wrong, but reducing the oxygen input may also help achieve a slow burn, which is what we want. Ideally, only a little smoke should come out of the kiln.

Lining the sides with more bricks helped reduce smoke output. I may be wrong, but lowering oxygen intake may also help achieve a slower burn, which is what we want. Ideally, only a little smoke should come out of the kiln.

Amazingly, the kiln ended up burning for over 24 hours! When I finally opened it up I was pleased to find that most of the sawdust had burned, leaving behind ashes and my pottery pieces. I nevertheless still managed to burn my fingers -- so be sure to use an old dishcloth or sturdy gloves when extracting your pieces.

Amazingly, the kiln ended up burning for over 24 hours! When I finally opened it up I was pleased to find that most of the sawdust had burned up, leaving behind ashes and my pottery pieces. The pine sawdust had left behind lots of resin on the bricks and flagstone, so I recommend a different type of wood if possible.

Pottery test pieces, shortly after being removed from the kiln. The thin paper clay mask had a developed a crack, but the other pieces showed no damage. The pieces will still hot to the touch, so use a dishcloth or gloves when removing them.

Pottery test pieces, shortly after being removed from the kiln. The thin paper clay mask had a developed a crack, but the other pieces showed no structural damage. The large tablet (left) shows some discolouration, which I think was caused by pine resin. All pieces were still very hot to the touch, so use a dishcloth or gloves when removing them. While certainly drier and harder, the pieces are still brittle. Keep them indoors and out of harm’s way. Better still — have them fired properly in an electric kiln.

Two more pieces I made shortly afterwards. Note the weird discolouration caused by the resin which -- in this case at least -- created a pleasing effect.

Two more pieces I made shortly afterwards. Note the weird discolouration caused by the resin which — in this case at least — created a pleasing effect.

 

 

Emulating Ye Olde Folke

I created a few new tablets, shamelessly emulating our forebears.

Elaborate stag, based on an artefact by the Pazyryk culture. See: http://aleyma.tumblr.com/post/3698232986/pazyryk-culture-terminal-stag-on-a-ball-5th

Elaborate stag, based on an artefact by the Pazyryk culture. See: http://aleyma.tumblr.com/post/3698232986/pazyryk-culture-terminal-stag-on-a-ball-5th

Portrait of Venus of Brassempouy

Portrait of Venus of Brassempouy

A reproduction of the Venus of Willendorf.

A reproduction of the Venus of Willendorf.

Beware: Bad pottery batch…

A new batch of pottery is complete, including five masks and a tablet. None of them came out particularly well…

Three-faced mask. Looks a little better than it does in this photo.

Three-faced mask. Looks a little better than it does in this photo.

If Skeletor and a gimp had a lovechild...

If Skeletor and a gimp had a lovechild…

Some kind of tree monster, I think.

Some kind of vegetable monster, I think. I would have thrown it away, had I not already decided to hide it in a tree. 

A hunting scene. The stag came out OK, but the colours are too strong.

A hunting scene. The stag came out OK, but the colours are too strong.

A mask that could have come out well, were it not for the spotty colouring.

A mask that would have been good, were it not for the spotty colouring. Stupid underglaze! Funnily enough, the eyes are quite striking if you look at them for long enough. 

Nightmare Before Christmas, ethnically re-imagined?

Nightmare Before Christmas, ethnically re-imagined?

Fresh pottery haul

A few new items:

  • A mask. Height around 25cm
  • Two petroglyphic tablets, each around 15cm in height
  • A third tablet depicting a girl, about 20cm in height
  • A wall lamp, about 30cm in height
Petroglyphic tablet 1

Petroglyphic tablet 1 — includes wolf-like chap, a fellow who doesn’t look too pleased and a fish.

Petroglyphic tablet 2

Petroglyphic tablet 2. Includes a chap with splayed legs, a turtle and a boat full of more chaps carrying what may be weapons. The line going from the middle left to lower right shows the solar system’s planets, starting with Mercury and ending in Uranus. Earth is marked with a dot and cross directly beneath it.

Primitive mask

Primitive mask. Nobody likes the eyes, except me.

Wall lamp

Wall lamp. The general idea was to create a map, or star chart — not easily seen here.

Primitive girl

Primitive girl. Perhaps she’s floating in water. I don’t know.