Category Archives: self

Cat Catcher


Two posts in a row on cats! What is wrong with the Lone Grey Squirrel? Has his little squirrely brain gone nuts …….more than usual?  Is it a case of cat scratch fever?

Editor’s Note:- Cat scratch fever is a real thing!  And just another reason to get rid of your cats and adopt squirrels instead. Just another public service announcement.

The cat that I refer to in this post is the palm civet cat.  It is also known as the toddy cat and in Malaysia as the “musang”.  It’s scientific name is Paradoxurus hermaphroditus.  However, just to confuse things, it is neither a true cat nor a hermaphrodite.  Confused yet ?

But all this is unimportant to the telling of this true story.

What you need to know is that the musang is about 40 in or 100 cm from nose to tail and that it can sometimes be seen in urban areas.  Being a nocturnal creature, it comes out under the cover of darkness and run across the roof of houses causing such a racket with their clawed feet that house owners are often awakened from slumber, thinking that a cat burglar is trying to gain entry.

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Palm civet a.k.a. Musang

I was once called to attend to a case involving the civet cat.  The cat had fallen down an airwell into a house and had found its way into the master bedroom.  Now trapped and panicky, it was running around scared, ripping the bedsheets with its claws and peeing and pooping all over the place.

The home owners knew me personally and knew that I was working as a science officer  at a nature conservation organisation and called me to come help them out.  It was meant to be a capture, relocate and release operation.

Now, we did have colleagues that were trained field biologists with practical experience in handling wild animals.  Unfortunately, they were all out at that time doing their thing in the jungle.  There was just Andy and me.  Andy was our PR guy and I was actually trained in microbiology which meant that the only thing I knew how to catch was the flu!

The house owners were placing their hopes and expectations on us.  Little did they know we both felt as scared and as panicky as the civet.  We had zero field experience and zero equipment with us other than a large burlap bag in which we hoped to capture the animal.  So there we were entering a room with an angry, scared and cornered wild animal and we all know a cornered animal is a dangerous one.  I was thinking, if it bites me, I will have to get painful rabies shots. Yikes.

What followed was like something out of Keystone Cops.  First we tried to get it to run towards us and the bag but when it started to run towards us, we dropped the bag and fled in fear.  Then we tried to jump on it with the bag but it flashed past us leaving us in a heap.  We tried chasing it but it ran way faster than us.  We tried driving it into a corner but it got so angry that our courage failed.

Eventually it ran under the bed and stayed there.  When we peered under the bed, we could make out its beady eyes in the darkness.  And we stared at each other for a very long time; both civet and humans glad to have a pause in the frantic running around.

Andy and I did not really want another round of chase the cat.  So we discussed what we would do instead and all the while the civet stayed put in the gloom under the bed.

That was when we had an eureka moment.  The civet cat felt safe under the bed not just because the bed was a physical barrier but because being a nocturnal animal, it would always prefer to seek the safety of darkness.

We went out and brought back a long cardboard box, a broom and a couple of strong torchlights.   We placed the box down with one end open.  We then took positions on either side of the bed and then at the count of three we both switched on our torchlights.  The civet had lost its dark hiding place and with the further inducement of a prodding broomstick, streaked out of there.  But where would it now go?  It ran straight into the safety of the dark interior of the box.

We quickly closed the box.  Ta-da.  Mission accomplished and I may add, the civet seemed to calm down quite a bit in its new dark sanctuary.  After that, we were able to transfer the animal to a forest reserve and release it without further drama.

We were both proud of our newly learned civet catching skill but strangely enough we were never ever called to use that skill again.

Oh, did I mention that though we escaped physical injury, we both stank to high heaven from being around the civet’s secretions.  There was a definite dip in social life for the near future. Yeah……on second thought, I am glad I never had to do it again.

The Answer


It is strange how this post came about.  I had a few competing ideas for a post but decided I wanted to share a song here.  But then, there were a few new songs that I thought were “share-worthy”.  So how to narrow it down and pick one?

While I was still pondering my choices, I visited some blogs.  A couple of blogs had posts that made me remember a dark period in my life when I went through a life sapping depression or rather it reminded me of how I was able to escape its chains.

First, Beth posted a short quote by Eugene Kennedy about friendship and somehow it was a powerful trigger for memories of a dear friend whose unquestioning, non-judging, accepting, patient friendship was like a lifesaver that kept me from going under.

Then, I read the post by Caralyn, who has a wonderfully powerful and inspiring blog in which she shares about her journey through the “throes of anorexia”.  In this post, she openly answers the questions that many ask her – “How did I break free? How did I embrace recovery when I was so sick.”  Her answer was “It was God”.  She made the choice to begin her journey of recovery and asked God for His help and found that God gave her all  the strength and help she needed for that journey.  Well, that would be my answer too about how I recovered from shattered self worth and depression.

For these reasons, I would like to share with you this beautiful song “The Answer” by Corrine May.  I only recently heard this song.  Its melody is actually that of “Jupiter”by Gustav Holst from his Planets suite which is probably my all time favorite classical piece.  But the lyrics by Corrine May reflects what I have shared in this post and what I hold true to my own heart. (Incidentally, Corrine is from Singapore which is my part of the world – so go buy her music!)

Hope you enjoy it.

I believe You are the answer to every tear I’ve cried
I believe that You are with me,
My rising and my light. 

Give me strength when I am weary
Give me hope when I can’t see
Through the crosses I must carry
Lord, bind my heart to Thee

That when all my days are over
And all my chores are done,
I may see Your risen Glory
Forever where You are.

Striptease


Hi everyone!  I celebrated my birthday last week and I left clues in one of my posts to let you guys know where in the world I was.  Well, I waited and waited but none of you showed up to my birthday party.

What’s wrong?  Couldn’t solve the clues? Got lost? Got mugged in Tokyo and loss your memory?  Got stomped on by Godzilla?

Well anyway, you didn’t show up and it was your loss cause I chose to celebrate my birthday in my birthday suit!  Yes…..au naturel.  Bet you are kicking yourself for not getting on that early flight to Japan.

After decades of thinking about it, I finally got a chance to go to a ryokan and go into an outdoor onsen.  And I took the plunge!  I embraced the whole experience which involves letting it all hang out in a public bath.

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I Mean, …Ten Thousand Monkeys Can’t be Wrong

For the uninitiated, let me walk you through the process.

Step 1: Get Naked. – all you take with you is a tiny towel that is barely big enough to cover your privates.  Now it seems that the native Japanese tend to strut around with the tiny towel folded neatly on top of their heads.  Those less accustomed to public nudity may rather uncomfortably use it to shield the nether regions from prying eyes but it really doesn’t help much.  I tend to subscribe to the strategy of using the towel to cover the face so that no one knows who you are.

Step 2: Soap and wash. – There are washing stations lined up along the side of a wall where you are expected to sit on tiny stools and wash  and clean yourself thoroughly. NOTE:- You Have to be CLEAN before entering the hot spring pool.  Soaping yourself in the hot pool is a major faux pas; nay – a major diplomatic incident; nay reason for going to war.

Step 3:  Enter the hot spring fed pool and soak while enjoying the cold outdoors.  The waters heal all kinds of physical and mental ailments and tiredness.

So here we go …….

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Dressed for the Occasion in a Yukata (which apparently should not be confused with Yakuza)
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To prove your worthiness to enter the waters of the onsen, some torture may have to be endured
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Isn’t this just magical?

Well, that’s pretty much the end of this post.  If you were expecting some nudity, shame on you!   Please remember this is a family oriented blog.

Now, do you really want to see the squirrel disrobed?  I mean, do you really?  Are you sure?  Your final warning.  It’s not too late to turn back.  Last chance to save your eyes.

If you really want to see then follow this link…… I WANT TO SEE!

P.S. when asked about wearing his birthday suit for the occasion, LGS merely told the paparazzi that “it needed ironing”.

The Greying of the Squirrel


The Lone Grey Squirrel is getting more grey.  Today I am another year older and deeper in debt.  Yup….. a look in the mirror  and ……well, not a pretty sight.

For most of my life, I have always looked younger than my age. Even up to a couple of years ago, some of the younger folk had thought I was about 15 years younger than I really was.  And I really didn’t feel old either.

Then something happened and it seems as if a switch was suddenly flipped and everything changed.  First, a friend wanted to introduced me to his new sweet young thing.  He liked her and wanted my opinion of her. And so we were introduced and she said, “Hello, Uncle!”  In my culture, this is the way of showing respect to one’s elders.

Hmmph!  “Hello Uncle” indeed.  So I told my friend that I didn’t like her – call it a gut feeling.

Surprisingly, he listened to me and after sometime, he introduced me to another girl and we hit it off; like we had been friends for years.  None of that “Hello, Uncle” nonsense.  I was happy when they said they planned to get married.  And then, the girl’s mother was due to come to town to visit and meet my friend.  He recruited me to help entertain the mum and to help him make a good impression.  I was honored.  And then I met the mum ……… (pregnant pause) ……and learned that she was younger than me.  My friend’s girlfriend’s mum was younger than me.  When did I get that old?

Then again, recently I had cause to make a police report and I went to the station and was directed to see this elderly police sergeant.  He was clearly pass his prime and was waiting out his time before retirement doing a desk job.  His hair was shocking white and he was constantly out of breath; the result of years of smoking probably.  This frail old man looked up at me and said, “Hello, Uncle!”

Hmmmph!  But there was nothing to do but shrug it off.  I was due to have lunch with some of my buddies and I wanted to relate these funny incidents to them.  Unfortunately when I arrived, they were too busy exchanging information about vitamins, supplements and which doctors were good for colonoscopies!

You know what? If this means that I really am old now, then I plan to be grumpy as well.  You know like my heroes……..

grumpy old men

Where in the World…..


The Lone Grey Squirrel is out.  He is not here

He is scouting for suitable locations for his secret hideout from which to plan world domination and enslave mankind for their own good.

You might ask, “Where in the world is ………LGS?”

Here are some clues to which country I am scouting out.  See how many clues you need before you figure it out!

  1. Imports 85% of Jamaica’s coffee produce.
  2. You could feel the earth move under your feet at least 1500 times a year.
  3. Has the world’s largest fish market.
  4. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson appear together in a movie filmed here.
  5. “Handsome Weeping Boys” is a good paying career.
  6. Surprising number of missing fingertips.
  7. Baseball is its most popular spectator sport.
  8. In 2015, the title of “World Whiskey of the Year” was awarded to one of its brews.
  9. Won a famous victory against South Africa in the Rugby World Cup 2015.
  10. “Wax on, Wax off ” Part II

Have you figured it out?  Where in the world is LGS?

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“To Prince Edward Island” by Canadian artist, Alex Colville – One of my favorite paintings.

 

Graveyard Shift


A little bird blogger tells me that this weekend is Labor Day in the USA and Canada.  As such, most of you will be out enjoying the last days of summer with a Barbecue and a Bud at the Beach, Ball park or Beach. (The previous sentence was brought to you by the letter ‘B‘; tough economic realities has forced the management of this blog to accept sponsored messages).

What that all means is that this post may be a waste of time as it will remain unread…….but never mind, the blog must go on.  And, actually for the rest of the world, Labor Day is May 1st.  Don’t know why the North Americans have to do things differently.

Anyway, this North American only Labor Day celebration got me thinking about my own very checkered history in the work force.  Some of the jobs I had to do were quite demanding physically, emotionally and mentally.  I have paid my dues.

One of the things I once had to do was a 48 hour timed experiment where I had to take water samples from an elaborate setup meant to study the survival of pathogenic microbes and their indicators in the environment.   Initially, the setup was  in a laboratory to get baseline data but later, I had to repeat this with the equipment setup in the field.  I had to take samples and process them which takes about 45 minutes and then repeat the process every 4-6 hours.

This meant that  1)  I became increasingly sleep deprived and prone to making mistakes, 2) I became addicted to coffee and 3) I regularly worked the graveyard shift when past the witching hour, strange things are seen and heard.

For about two years, I was set up in a small medical laboratory in a very old building of a very old teaching hospital in Malaysia.  For most of the night, I was the only one in the complex.  Apart from the long corridors, my small lab was the only one lit as the rest were locked and in darkness.  The long corridors were also dimly lit and passed through open courtyards where ancient trees with creepers hanging down blocked the night sky making the darkness more complete.  I know this sounds like the setup for a B-grade horror movie but it is absolutely true and there is more.  As this section is essentially shutdown at night, for me to go in and out, I have to take the back way which connects with the main hospital building………….and this means I have to walk through the morgue. And I have seen many horrible sights there.  The bloodied bodies of accident victims were often in this room I had to walk pass ……..and after that was that long, long, dark corridor.  And when the wind blew and the trees creaked, you could almost swear you heard voices and saw shadows.   A glutton for punishment, I then killed time in the wee hours of the morning in between my samples by listening to ghost stories on the night radio.  Never needed coffee.  I stayed jumpy all night!

Even more unnerving was when I had to retrieve samples in the Malaysian jungle at night.  In one location, I was camped in the jungle.  The camp itself was quite nice and well lit but every 4 hours, I had to drive a jeep about 20 minutes along a rutted and unlit logging trail.  I then had to scramble for another 10 minutes along some rocky terrain on foot to a small river with only my head lamp to guide my way.  Taking the sample would take another 10 nervous minutes.  All that time, it was pitched black except for where my light shone in front of me.  Especially, when I was bent over collecting my samples, I felt very vulnerable.  There were some very real dangers like tigers (uncommon but not at all impossible) and perhaps more of a danger were wild boar and snakes.  But my heart was also pounding as I remember the tales of jungle spirits and wraiths.  The jungle at night is very dark but it is very noisy with all kinds of sounds; many of which one would not be able to identify.  Why, that noise could be the Malaysian jungle version of Jason or Freddy Kruger!

Then, even if I made it back to the jeep with heart racing, one always had to check to make sure something evil was not hiding in the darkness of the back seat.  But the part I found scariest of all was when I was driving back and my world was just that arc of illumination in front from the jeep headlights.  Occasionally, I would look at my rear view mirror and all I could see was darkness.  But you know, I kept expecting that the next time I looked, I would see a pair of glowing red eyes and hear a deep guttural growl.

But anyway, all’s well that ends well.  The Lone Grey Squirrel made it through those dark spooky nights unscathed …………..or did he? Mwahahaha.

Embarrassing Moments in Science


Regular readers will know that the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel loves to celebrate excellence……….excellence in failure, that is!  Yes, there is something about epic fails that fills the heart with soul healing mirth and with admiration for the gumption of those who dared to try and fall flat on their faces.  That is why, the IgNobel Awards are frequently feted here.

But recently, the Squirrel had been alerted to a new source of inspiration.  Fieldwork Fails is a book that has a collection of stories of scientists hard at work in the field collecting data and making a fool of themselves in the process.  Kind of a tribute to those who push the boundaries of science and find that the sometimes the boundaries push back.

Here is a couple of examples from Fieldwork Fails which is compiled and illustrated by Jim Jourdane.

science fails 1

science fail 2.jpg

Now I have a few personal examples that I could add to the compilation on account that I am a scientist, have done fieldwork and have experienced epic fails.  But the following is one of my favorite, true, “cross my heart and hope to die” yarns.

This was early in my career as a conservationist and I joined a scientific expedition to a part of the Malaysian jungle that had been relatively poorly investigated by science.  I was really inexperienced at that time but had the wonderful privilege of being in the company of some very respected biologists and botanists and learning from them.  In return, all these eminent scientists asked of me was to carry all their heavy gear through the hot, steamy jungle.

We operated out of a base camp that was almost totally constructed of jungle material.  We slept on stretcher like cots made out of wooden poles and canvas under a shelter that was constructed from various palm leaves laid over a wooden frame.

On one occasion, I had a chance to follow a group of three entomologists who were leaders in their field.  (Entomologist = someone crazy about insects).  After a long day out in the field collecting insect specimens from various traps, we returned to camp and plopped our tired bodies down on to adjacent cots.

It was there, while we lay in the fading light, nursing our sore muscles, that one of the guys spotted an extremely large stick insect up in the rafters of our crude shelter. Now, Malaysia is famous for its many species of stick insects – some of which are very large.

Cameron Highlands - Stick Insect

Anyway, all four of us continued to lie on our cots exhausted, observing the creature from afar and there then ensured an academic debate as to the identity of the curious visitor in our rafters.  One was sure that it was a rare species.  Another disagreed, citing the proportion of the body to the head did not fit the species characteristics.  The third insisted it was yet another species based on the structure and positioning of the legs.  For once, I was wise enough to keep silent and let the experts argue it out.

After, about 15 minutes of heated discussion, one of the experts declared, “There’s only one way to settle this!”.  With that, he got up, reached for his butterfly net and scooped the insect from the rafters for closer examination.  With the prize in hand, all three gathered round to make the final identification.

That’s when they realised that it wasn’t a stick insect at all, it was a …..stick.