Tuesday 5 January 2010

Never too late

This is Toby, who should be an inspiration to us all, especially at this time of year. He's an old man now, pushing 16 and thin and not so well any more, and he probably won't see another Christmas - but even so, he's decided it's not too late for a change of direction. After about 12 years of lurking in the bedrooms where the dog's not allowed, he's finally decided that enough is enough and he'd like some comfort and company too; so he's been venturing into the living room. At first he sneaked in slo-mo around the walls, walking like an Egyptian with a fat tail - but now he's bold enough to walk almost normally across the room even when the dog is lying in the middle. It's heart-warming to see and I'm so glad he's found the courage to change and is reaping the rewards.

He's a smoochy cat and crawls into bed with me in the morning, sleeping with his head on the pillow while I cuddle him like a teddy bear. It's what I dreamed of when I was a child, cold in bed in chilly Christchurch, wrapped for warmth around my toy possum-skin koala, wishing it was alive. And here's the corollary: sometimes, what you wish for really isn't what you want.

Because I've met koalas since, and they're actually not that nice. Oh sure, they have the fur - but also long sharp claws, dirty bottoms, a bad-tempered expression and a spaced-out attitude. Not that that keeps them from getting down to business:

>>> “Would you like to sit up front?” asks the driver. “You can watch all the wallabies bouncing off the bumper.” You never can tell with Australians so I decide I had better take him up on his offer. I already know that Kangaroo Island, half an hour by plane from Adelaide, is teeming with all sorts of wildlife, so it’s possible that we really will be arriving at my accommodation in a vehicle plastered with dead marsupials – although I hope not, and not just because we’re going to an eco-lodge.

In fact Peter takes enormous care not to squash any of the kangaroos and wallabies that bound through the headlights and even swerves to avoid possums, which seems to me to be taking things too far. “Better not hit him – a mate of mine got a puncture,” he says as we slow for a spiny echidna bumbling across the road. When we arrive at the Wilderness Retreat our tally is zero, which makes it all the more ironic that after walking across the dark garden with wallabies and possums scattering before me, my dinner is a delicious barbecued kangaroo fillet in a creamy pepper sauce.

In the next two days I see more than enough kangaroos to ease my conscience and plenty of other animals too, even the hard-to-spot koala. On KI, as the locals call it, there are actually so many of these that control is necessary, involving the labour-intensive process of climbing up to each koala, putting a hood over its head and guiding it down to the ground, where it is taken away to a vet for sterilisation. Expensive? Certainly, but when you’re dealing with a national icon, there’s no other acceptable option...

[Pub. New Idea 18/10/08]

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