Monday, July 31, 2006


I was in the park, crouching down next to a park bench to photograph a flower, when I heard a voice behind me:

"Look! Look!"

I turned around.

"WHOAH!" I said, and reared back.

"It's a cicada!" said a very small boy. "I have more! Look!"

He showed me.

"Take a picture!" he ordered.

I took a picture.

"And see this?" he said turning one over. "They're different colours underneath! Take another picture!"

The cicadas waved their legs feebly.

I took another picture.

"And they're black on top," he said, putting the cicadas on the ground.

"Amazing," I said.

I don't know why the cicadas didn't fly away when he put them down. It's possible they were feeling a little overwhelmed.

I know I was.

Sunday, July 30, 2006


Yesterday I watched TV, which is rare for me (although less so since classes finished). I was channel surfing, and I stopped on a channel that was showing what I thought might be A Bug's Life or something like that. (I have not seen A Bug's Life.) After a few minutes I realized that the bugs I was watching were not computer animations, but real. I wondered if it was a documentary, and if it was, where was the narration? There was music, but no narration. Also, even in the most beautifully photographed documentary, I had never seen anything quite like this.

I continued to watch, half bored at first, but slowly getting pulled in. My finger hovered over the remote button, but I did not change channels. After about five minutes I noticed that I had put the remote down and had moved closer to the screen. I made myself close my mouth, got comfortable, and gave in to the hypnosis.

Microcosmos is the most extraordinary film I have ever seen. It is utterly gripping and strange. Who knew caterpillars could be so funny? Or snails so shamelessly sexy? I certainly never expected to cheer on a dung beetle, but there I was, shouting encouragement at the screen. ("The problem is round the other side! The OTHER SIDE!") And those bees! My goodness! So that's why we talk about 'the birds and the bees.' (I still don't get the bird connection, I must admit, but the bee reference suddenly became rather ... explicit.)

The lack of narration is a perfect touch. The filmmakers have resisted the temptation to explain or bombard us with information. Visually the film is so stunning that narration would have been overload. There is a little narration at the beginning and end, I later read, but I missed the beginning. For most of the film there are no words to distract from the power and almost alien beauty of the images.

I told The Man about the film after he came home. I was still feeling a little stunned.

"Oh, yes, that one," he said. "We have that on DVD."

I was shocked. How could I have not known that? Easily, I realized - I so rarely watch TV or DVDs that he doesn't bother telling me any more when he finds a good one. But how wonderful. I can watch it again!

And that, really, is the highest recommendation I can give any film . I almost never watch films twice, but Microcosmos is one I want to watch again, and soon.

It is also a perfect example of how photography can change the way you look at the world.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Against the flow

I was sitting at the side of the river watching the water tumbling below me.

Suddenly I heard a squeaky little voice.

"Are you guys ready for this?" it asked.

I looked down.

"Yes!" squeaked an answering chorus of tiny voices.


It was inspiring.

"YES! YES!" cried the chorus, hysterically.

"GOOD!" yelled the fish. "Ready ... set ... GO!"

And they went.

It was amazing.

They leaped and struggled to get to the top ...

It seemed impossible, but they jumped higher and higher ...

And some even made it over the top.

I'm fairly sure, however, that a few of them wished that they hadn't.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Stretching routine

Follow this simple routine, and you, too could be as flexible as a professional athlete.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


I have still been listening to The Naked Scientists occasionally. Although it is only a once a week program, there are a lot of old programs up on their webpage and I have been going through their archives. Today, they informed me that the average person laughs fifteen times a day.

I have a horrible suspicion I have been using up somebody else's laugh allowance, thereby condemning them to a life of gloom. If it is you, well ... I was going to apologize, but actually it is probably your own fault for leaving your laughs lying around where I can get at them. I mean, really. How could you be so careless?

You can take comfort in the fact that by keeping a straight face you probably have FAR fewer wrinkles than I do. I'm sure you look a miserable ten years younger than you really are.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

In the park

This morning, to escape the noise and smell (the house next door is releasing some very strange and disturbing odours as it is being demolished) I went out to a coffee shop for breakfast, and then to a little park. It is the first really fine day we've had for what feels like weeks, sunny and not too hot. I thought I should enjoy it while I can, because more rain is forecast for tomorrow, and for most of next week.

The park was full of children with nets, chasing cicadas. A small boy wandered behind me with a net and a small plastic cage, and I asked what was in the cage.

"SEMI! he shouted in the way small boys do before they have discovered the volume control. "IT WAS REALLY NOISY! IT WENT BZZZZZ BZZZZZ BZZZZZ! METCHA NOISY!"

"Can I take a picture of it?" I asked.

"NO! I'M BUSY," he said, and ran away, waving his net in one hand and his cage in the other. There were cicadas all over the place, indiscreetly giving away their locations with their shouting, and I got the feeling he was worried that the other kids might get them all first if he didn't hurry.

I sat for a while longer, and then an elderly man appeared and sat beside me. He was carrying an enormous plastic bag. It was so large it looked like he'd stuffed a pillow into it, except that it was a pillow made of concrete, because it was also heavy. It made him list to one side. He was not a large man and looked too frail to be carrying such a heavy bag.

He put the bag down. and sat beside it.

"Taking photos?" he asked, politely, pointing at my camera.

"Yes," I said.

"My wife died a few years ago," he told me.

I said something sympathetic.

"But I keep busy," he said. "I volunteer. Later today I'm helping out at an old people's home."

"That's a good thing to do," I said politely.

"I like taking photos too," he said. "I go to parks and take pictures of people. I especially like photographing children."

I mumbled something polite, not sure how to respond. I wondered if he were one of the park perverts or murderers I was always hearing about. But then he open his plastic bag and took out a paper packet, which he handed to me.

It was full of photographs.

I started going through his photographs as he told me about the various parks where he'd taken them. They were photos of babies and toddlers with their parents, and also photos of teenagers in the latest fashions and with dyed hair and nose rings, and of office people out for a stroll in their lunch break, and couples, and families, and parties of people. All these people were smiling for the camera and evidently perfectly happy having their picture taken. These were not photographs taken surreptitiously. There was nothing sinister about them.

But they were all of different people. As I leafed through the photos I waited for faces to recur, and they didn't. Puzzled, I asked him who the people were.

He laughed.

"They're all people I don't know," he said.

They were terrifically boring photographs. This did not stop me from going through them. There was something sad and compelling about this collection of hundreds of strangers smiling at the camera, happy to be seen, posing for the polite old gentleman with the instant camera. There were dozens more packets inside the bag, and he kept taking out another one and handing it to me as I handed the last one back. They went back years. They were all the same, and yet all different. It was overwhelming. I started thinking that if I looked for long enough, eventually I'd see someone I knew.

The old man chatted as I looked through the photos. He told me he'd come to the park by car, and how did I get there? He said that the reason he was carrying all the photos was that he went to the same parks often, and if he saw someone he thought he'd photographed he could get them to go through them to find the photo of themselves, to keep.

We talked for a while longer. I commented on some of the photos, and we talked about cameras.

Eventually he put the photos back into the bag, and told me it was time for him to go to his volunteer job at the old people's home. We said goodbye.

I stayed in the park for a while longer, and then I went home.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


"Summer summer summer," said the heron, deliriously. "I LOVE it."

"Why?" I asked. "Can you catch more fish in summer?"

"Never mind the fish," said the heron. "It's the fireworks festivals. I LOVE fireworks festivals."

"Really? Fireworks festivals?" I said. "Aren't they scary?"

"Scary?" said the heron. "Don't be ridiculous! Fireworks festivals were invented because of me! I was the inspiration! They're all about me!"

"They are not!" I said.

"They are so!" said the heron. "Watch!"

I watched.


I gasped.

"Well, for goodness' sakes," I said. "Nobody tells me anything!"

"I noticed," said the heron.

"That must be why you're so ignorant."

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Today on my way back from work (almost finished the semester!) I decided to experiment with my camera. It is a lovely camera, but I have never really learned to use the manual functions. Most of the time I have it set on auto and just let it do its thing. I am not really a photographer, and don't know what most of the manual functions are for anyway.

But today there were butterflies everywhere, and I wanted to try to photograph them, so I decided to experiment. I knew that the shutter speed was important for capturing butterflies in flight, so I set the camera to a very fast shutter speed, at which point the numbers went red. This meant that there would not be enough light, so I lowered the number until it went green, and tried.

The pictures were hopelessly blurred.

So I set the number back into the red zone and tried anyway. So what if the pictures are dark, I thought. I'll just pretend I took them at night.

On the little viewscreen the results were awful. I was taking, I discovered, dark, unfocused photographs. Things that move so quickly are really hard to focus on, so that even when you could see the butterflies in the horrible gloom, they were hopelessly out of focus.

I took lots of photos anyway, trying various settings but not really sure what I was doing.

When I got home I checked them out, and most of them were a dead loss. But two are not so bad. In this first one the shutter speed was not fast enough, so there is quite a lot of blur. These two butterflies were dancing and spinning around each other like old-fashioned fighter planes in WWII movies. The focus is awful. But somehow, it almost works.

In this one the focus is sharper. It could be a lot better, but I like it anyway.

I also photographed a spider. Spiders, I found, were easier. Spiders sit patiently for their portraits. You do not have to worry about shutter speed.

This dragonfly also sat still for me.

While I was photographing the spider, I heard a voice.

"You're photographing BUGS!" said the voice. "And with me right here, too! How bizarre! How perverse!"

"Sorry," I said. "I didn't see you."

I quickly snapped a picture.

"That's no excuse," said the cat. "BUGS! Aren't you embarrassed?"

I noticed that I had focused on the shrubbery instead of on the cat, and lifted the camera to have another try. But the cat had gone.

So I photographed another spider, instead.

Sometimes I have no shame.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Why it is hard to concentrate

This is what the house next door looked like today.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A good day

"Hello Mama!" said the little egret.

"Hello dear," said her mother. "Did you have a good day at school?"

"Yes," said the little egret. "It was really fun."

"Tell me all about it," said her mother.

"Well, for fishing class we went on a field trip and I caught a fish," said the little egret.

"It was delicious."

"Clever girl," said her mother.

"And then," said the little egret. "I caught another one while we were practicing downhill skiing!"

"I'm so proud of you, dear," said her mother.

"After that we had running class," said the little egret. "We've been learning some new running techniques, and I'm the best in the class! Watch!"

The little egret demonstrated her new running techniques.

"Like this!"

"And this!"

"And this! Can you see me, Mama?"

"Yes, dear," said the mother egret. "That was lovely. Now show how fast you can run back to me."

"Here I come!"

"Good girl. You've studied very hard today."

"Do we have to go now?"

"Yes, dear. It's bedtime."

"But don't worry. You can come back and do it all again tomorrow."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The question

"Why are you so green?" I asked the turtle.

"You ... know, " said the turtle, slowly, and stopped.

I waited for a few minutes, but the turtle did not continue.

"I know what?" I asked.

"That ... old ... saying," said the turtle.

"Old saying?" I asked. "What old saying?"

"A ... rolling," said the turtle, and stopped again.

"A rolling?" I said.

"Stone," added the turtle.

"Oh, I know!" I said. "A rolling stone gathers no moss!"

"That's ... " said the turtle, and hesitated.

"That's what?" I asked.

"Right," said the turtle.

There was a long silence as we both thought about it.

"And so?" I asked, finally.

The turtle sighed once or twice. Then it said.

"I ... am," and paused for a long time, staring at the sky.

"You are what?" I asked, impatiently.

"Not," said the turtle, decidedly.

I waited for a few minutes, but the turtle did not continue.

"Not WHAT?" I demanded.

" A ... rolling," said the turtle.

"A ROLLING STONE!" I shouted.

"Exactly," said the turtle.

We were silent for a while.

I frowned.

"What was my question again?" I asked.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Yesterday morning on my way to work I stopped at a little park. I do not usually stop there, but yesterday I saw something strange coming towards me as I was approaching the park, and decided to stop and sit on a bench for a few minutes, to make sure I was not hallucinating.

What I had seen was a woman pushing a pram, and in the pram, on top of piles and piles of bedding, was a dog. This was a little strange, but not that strange. What was strange was the way the dog was lying on the bedding. It was lying on its side, and its legs were sticking out sideways. Straight out sideways, I mean. It was not a bendy or relaxed-looking dog.

I went into the park and sat on a bench. Then the woman turned into the park as well. I did not stare. Or at least I did stare, but I tried not to look like I was staring. I watched the dog's legs. Every time the pram went over a bump, the dog's legs bounced stiffly. I saw that its eyes were open, but did not see it blink. I did not see its eyes for very long, though, because I was not staring. It may have blinked. I could have missed it. (How often do dogs blink, anyway?)

The woman veered off course and headed straight for me, and I mentally debated whether to get up and leave. But she did not look scary. She looked fairly normal. It was her dog that did not look normal. She did not appear to be taking any notice of me.

I wanted to take a picture, but she had come too close for me to be discreet.

Then she stopped, a few metres from me, and bent down to the pram. She picked up the dog. The dog stayed in exactly the same position as she turned it over so its head was up and its back legs parallel to the ground, and then she bent over and held it in a sort of normal position for a standing dog, only a bit off the ground. I could not see what happened next. It looked as though she was holding the dog over a bush so that it could relieve itself, but did it? There was a grunting sound, and a fart. That might not have been the dog, although I thought it was. (Everybody knows women do not fart in public. It had to be the dog. Right?)

The woman took the dog over to another bush, where she went through the whole performance again, only more quickly. I could see even less this time, because the bush was between us. I only know she bent over with the dog, and said encouraging words to it. And then she went around the park, holding the dog over bushes and sometimes beside rocks, and every time she did I tried to see whether the dog actually did anything, but I couldn’t. I imagined that these were all the dog's favourite places to mark, and she was helping it to live a normal life (or death) in its extremely paralyzed and unbendy (or dead) condition, but I could not see properly. Nor was I was courageous enough to do anything about getting a closer look, or to ask about the dog's existential status. Like everybody else in the park yesterday morning, I was busy pretending that nothing was unusual.

I would be a terrible journalist.

Finally I gave up and got on my bicycle, just in time to see the woman replace the dog in the pram. Its legs stuck straight up until she pushed them down sideways. She wheeled off, and as she passed I saw the dog's face again. Did it roll its eyes, or did I imagine it? Again I did not look for long, so I cannot be sure.

The woman walked off with her pram and her unbendy dog, and I rode to work.

And that is the unsatisfactory end of the story.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Foreign culture

Yesterday a group of my first year students approached me after class with a question. They wanted to know about the connection between New Year, the number of times the watch-night bell rings, and Christianity.

I am sure my blank stare was not the answer they were hoping for.

I asked where the question came from. They told me they had to write a report about the topic for one of their classes. I asked what the course was, and they told me it was called 外国文化 (foreign culture). It was taught by a Japanese professor, and this report was their final assignment. (Their only assignment, to be accurate.) Furthermore, it turned out that they had not been assigned any reading material, or references to reading material, which could shed light on the question they were supposed to be writing about. All they had was a handout from the professor, with the questions on it. Perhaps the professor gave the answers in lectures the students either did not attend or slept through, both of which are normal responses to lectures here, as far as I have seen.

I asked the students what a watch-night bell was, exactly, but they weren't sure, at least not in the 'foreign' context. They were hoping I would tell them. I asked them where the word came from, and it turned out to be a translation of 除夜の鐘, which was the word their professor had used. (The professor did not use English, so the students had to translate it to ask me the question.) My dictionary told me that a 除夜の鐘 is a temple bell, rung 108 times at New Year, in Japan, and used the English word watch-night bell, as the students said. As far as I knew it had nothing to do with Christianity or 'foreign culture' and I wondered if the professor actually meant church bells. It seemed possible. But were church bells rung at New Year? I didn't think so, but didn't really know. You do not hear church bells often in New Zealand.

I told the students that I'd never heard of New Year having any connection with Christianity. I asked them in which country this watch-night bell was rung at New Year for a specific (but unspecified) number of times, and they looked at me as if I were mad.

"English-speaking foreign countries," they said.

"Well, I've never heard of it, and I'm from an English-speaking country," I told them, feeling rather defensive.

My students were worried and amazed at my ignorance.

While they were discussing what to do next, I overheard them agreeing that I was obviously clueless and they should consult their friend Koh-chan, who had, they said, become so good at English that his Japanese had become terrible. They didn't know I could understand what they were saying. I listened as I packed up my things, and puzzled over their acceptance of the idea that a person could only hold one language in their head at a time, and at how they thought that being a good speaker of English conferred knowledge of obscure 'facts' about foreign cultures such as these ones about Christianity, New Year and the watch-night bell. Also, if they thought that speaking English well made their friend so clever, did that mean that they thought I was a rare, stupid English speaker? Or was it because I was a native speaker that I was stupid? Was it only Japanese English speakers who were clever and knowledgeable?

Rather than get sidetracked by bringing up the topic of my shocking stupidity, I suggested that we visit the teachers' room, where we could consult a few of the foreign teachers from countries other than New Zealand, which has (as everybody knows) no culture to speak of. They agreed, but reluctantly, and more because they didn't know how to say no politely than because they really wanted to come. They had lost faith in foreign teachers, and it was my fault.

The first teacher we saw as we were going down the corridor was Michael, who is English and knows everything. (If he doesn't, he makes it up.)

"Mike!" I called, trailing hesitant students behind me like a comet tail. "We have a question about British culture!"

"Ooh, British culture!" said Mike. A gleam appeared in his eye and he turned to the students.


"Michael!" I snapped, whacking him on the shoulder. "Stop it! This is not a tea question."

The students giggled nervously.

"Oh, all right," Mike said. "What do you want to know?"

But he didn't know the answer to the watch-night bell question, and when he started looking thoughtful and saying, "Ooh! I know! It's probably something to do with ... " (his prelude to making something up) "... SHIPS!" I thanked him hastily and hurried off with my entourage to ask someone else. But it turned out that nobody knew what it was, or knew of any connection between New Year and Christianity.

In the end I gave up, and sent the students off, apologizing for the foreign teachers' collective ignorance about our own cultures. I also suggested that they might try looking it up on the Internet.

When I got home, I looked it up on the Internet myself, and found this:

Many Christians, particularly in the Methodist tradition, gather on New Year's Eve for what are called Watch Night services. During these sometimes three hour long services, hymns are sung and prayers offered in a rededication to God, as participants watch for the new year. John Wesley wrote and adapted services for Watch Night celebrations.

So it appears there is a Watch Night, which might be what the professor meant, but I couldn't find any reference to a watch-night bell which must be rung at New Year a specific number of times for specific religious reasons, outside of the Japanese or Korean context. (Am I missing something obvious? Or even something not so obvious?)

I guess this must be one of the essential elements of foreign culture that we foreigners (at least at the university) all managed to miss out on, due to our collective stupidity. No wonder they won't let us teach foreign culture classes. We are far too ignorant.

Incidentally, Mike's tea comments may seem odd, but in fact they are perfectly understandable. What happens here is that Japanese professors of 'foreign culture' (and other knowledgeable, 'intellectual' people), if they hear you are from England, almost always respond with reference to the fact that English people drink tea and don't like coffee. "Do you drink tea?" they will ask, gleefully, and will tell you, knowingly, that British people are not like Americans, who (as everybody knows) drink a lot of coffee and don't like tea. English people drink tea, a lot. They LOVE tea! This is the most important thing every intellectual person knows about British culture and, quite frequently, the only thing. It is also something that British people get very, very tired of hearing, especially if they are coffee drinkers.

So Mike was expecting a question about tea, and responded accordingly.

His response was relatively mild. I have another English friend who practically explodes if you so much as mention tea and British culture in the same breath, but I think Mike has given up on the whole thing. Or perhaps he hasn't given up but is trying another approach. I haven't asked. I only know he tends to get very, very sarcastic (in a friendly way) about tea. Perhaps he is trying to turn the tea stereotype into something so ridiculous nobody will take it seriously. If so, his plan is backfiring, because sarcasm does not cross the cultural divide very well, if at all. It does not matter how outrageous his tea 'facts' are. They are taken completely seriously.

But I am wondering how my students got on with their report. Can any of you foreigners hazard a guess as to what the professor was talking about?

Friday, July 07, 2006


This week I've been holding conversation tests in many of my classes. On paper, this is to make my grading look more objective, and it keeps the bureaucrats happy. For the students, it is something to aim for, and causes them to take me more seriously. This is a society based on tests. Everything has a test, and if it does not, it is not worth anything.

But the real, secret purpose of the test is to provide me with a stick for the days when the carrot is not working. Another, more valid reason, is that sometimes during these tests I am surprised by a quiet student who has made real progress, unnoticed in the hubbub of class.

In fact the test is worth only a little of the students' final grade, and although I tell them this, they really don't seem to get it. They take the test VERY, VERY SERIOUSLY. When they sit down in front of me, two at a time, and I ask them to have a conversation about one of the topics they have been practicing all semester, they are horribly nervous. There is a lot of sweaty hand-wiping and self-hugging, and quite frequent moments of blind panic in which all English is forgotten and they stare at each other, helplessly stagestruck. (When that happens I stop the timer, laugh at them, and tell them to BREATHE. They're generally fine the second time.)

But the biggest problem with the tests is boredom. Not for the students, but for me. I want them to show me how well they can do, but when I am testing all day there comes a point where my attention starts to drift, and once that starts it's almost impossible to get it back properly. I start listening to each conversation totally determined, but by thirty seconds or so in I am staring fixedly at my grading paper, apparently listening carefully, but actually my brain has taken flight and is somewhere else entirely. Then the timer goes off and I do a little internal jump, frown at the paper with my pen poised, and in my head rewind the tape of the conversation I've just been totally oblivious to. Then I tell them their grade and add a comment or two and some advice, and ask the students if they're happy with that. If they want another go they can have it, with a different partner, but almost nobody takes advantage of this offer. They're happy to have it over with.

This tape-rewinding technique doesn't always work, however. Towards the end of the day I occasionally find myself staring at the paper and making up numbers and comments based on what I remember those particular students doing in class during semester. Then I ask the students, as I always do, if they think the grade is fair. I've never had anybody say no, although I've had the occasional delighted, '"REALLY?" which has made me wonder whether I drifted off during a pause that lasted the length of the test.

(I have just established myself as a very bad teacher, haven't I? Sometimes it is true. But how many times can YOU hear - What is your hobby? - Sleeping. How about you? - I like to shopping and watching TV - without drifting off?)

On Tuesday during these interminable tests, one of the students was making a lot of horrible mistakes. Almost all of them were things I'd noticed and corrected during semester. The two most grating mistakes, which I spend a lot of time on, were wrong forms or usages my students seem to all pick up somewhere (where? WHERE?) and really LEARN. These mistakes are incredibly hard to eradicate. One goes like this:

Q. How many families do you have?
A. I have six families. My father, my mother, my grandmother, my old brother and my dog.

And the other one goes like this;

Q. What do you like music?
A. I like music hip-hop.

And yes, I know, that first one has more than one problem, but the second comes in various incarnations, too: What do you like food? and Who do you like soccer player? and so on. During semester I correct both, often, and provide lots of practice with correct forms, and everybody, more or less, starts to get it right. Unfortunately the correct forms only persist until the test, when panic takes over and they revert to making the same mistakes all over again. After the test I take great care to undo the damage the test did by reminding them AGAIN, at which point they all smack themselves on their foreheads and wonder, as I did, how they could have got something so simple wrong.

So ... where was I ...? Oh, yes, this particular student somehow managed to make almost every utterance into one of these common mistakes, or something like them. It was painful to listen to, and I was having trouble restraining myself from jumping down his throat and pulling his vocal chords out with my bare hands to ensure that he would never again inflict his version of the English language on my delicate ears.

But then I happened to look up as he shifted in his chair and the movement revealed the front of his t-shirt, which said, in large letters,


And yes, I'm sorry, that was the punchline (if you can call it that) of this story. Not a very good one, I agree, but it seemed funny at the time. A little light relief goes a long way at times like that.

After the test I had a little conversation with the student.

"What does your t-shirt say?" I asked. He looked surprised and tugged at his front, trying to read it.

"Never mind," I said. Apparently he hadn't noticed he was wearing a t-shirt with English on it, in his English class.

I then spent the rest of the day horribly distracted, dreaming up suitable t-shirt slogans for the rest of the test-takers. My favourite one, if I say so myself, was for the student who answered questions in this way:

Dogs? Yes, I like.


I went to concert. I enjoyed.


I don't have a car. I want.

I have designed the perfect t-shirt for him. His t-shirt would say:


Wednesday, July 05, 2006


If I fell off the bridge ...

Would they gobble me up?


Today as I was cycling to work I noticed a cat, sitting in the weeds alongside the river.

"What a cute cat!" I said, stopping and getting out my camera. "I wonder if it is related to the cat that had something to tell me on Monday?"

"I doubt it," said the cat, and I jumped, startled. Usually I can't understand cats.

"I am not related to anybody," said the cat, moodily. "I am different."

"Oh, er, really?" I said.

"Also," continued the cat, "don't call me cute. I HATE that."

"Oh," I said. "But - "

"I am not cute," said the cat. "I am special."

"I see," I said. "But - "

Then the cat looked at me, and I really did see.

I jumped again.

"Er, sorry," I said.

"Are you REALLY sorry?" asked the cat.

"Yes," I quavered.

"Good," said the cat.

"Um, I think I might be late for work," I said.

"Better hurry, then," said the cat.

I got to work early today.