Henry Hates Firework Nights

Now that Slack-jawed Selfish Morons’ Firework Season (run-up to Hallowe’en, Hallowe’en, run-up to Bonfire Night, Bonfire Night, numerous extra Bonfire Nights for people unable to celebrate on November 5th, run-up to Christmas, Christmas, post-Christmas, run-up to New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Eve, post-New Year’s Eve, plus random explosions in between times) is in full swing, Henry Wowler has to spend most evenings cowering in his safety box under our bed – and given the propensity of said selfish morons to continue letting off bangers till midnight, we don’t have the heart to evict the poor little chap.

On such occasions, when he eventually feels it’s safe to emerge and wants Mummy-cat to take him downstairs and administer bedtime biscuits, he usually sits at the foot of the bed whispering, ‘Mrrp? Mrrp?’ in a very small voice until I awake. But last night, he mrrped to no avail – both worn-out cat-parents were too fast asleep to hear him; so the first I knew of his wakefulness and desire for attention was when he jumped on the bed, landed on my feet and snuggled down in the space between our legs. I stroked him. He purred. I thought, ‘Aw. This is OK – I can cope if he settles there,’ and went back to sleep (after throwing back the bedspread and sticking one leg out from under the duvet to compensate for the extra heat generated by his large furry presence).

But he didn’t settle there, of course. Night is his time to do cat stuff; so shortly he got up, went out in the pouring rain for a while, then came back upstairs shouting, ‘Wet!’ I ignored him, and- aha! Instead of pestering on to be mopped dry, he dealt with the situation himself, allowing me to doze off again to the slight, soothing sound of a washing cat. But of course the peace didn’t last – soon Henry was wowling again, obliging me to arise before he woke Daddy-cat too, escort him downstairs, give him some fuss, then lure him into the kitchen with the usual biscuit bribe and shut the door firmly behind me.

All this took place between 10.30 pm and 1.40 am; and this, dear reader, is the reason why on normal nights, if Mr Wowler tries to evade the normal nightly routine of being confined to the kitchen by hiding under our bed, he gets prodded out with a longbow…

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Feline Friends!

Henry Wowler doesn’t take kindly to strangers on his patch. If visitors are human, his normal response is to hide in his safety box under our bed and sulk until they go home. If they’re feline, he’ll caterwaul terrible songs of hate and retribution at them; and if that doesn’t work, he takes more positive action. Given that he’s twice the size of most of our neighbourhood moggies, seeing the feline equivalent of a Rottweiler (sixteen pounds of spectacularly fuzzed-out Wowler) charging towards them at high speed generally suffices to see them off the premises pretty damn quick – and if that fails, he won’t baulk at resorting to violence.

So it was with some trepidation that I noticed the new kid on the block – a sparky ginger tom-kitten – had taken to exploring our garden. Last week he got stuck on the roof of our wood-box, and was so over-excited, fighty and bitey when I tried to rescue him that I had to don heavy leather gardening gloves in order to pick him up. Yesterday afternoon GK (Ginger Kitten) was back again; and when I went upstairs I was surprised to find Henry sitting on the bedroom window-sill watching him potter about down below. Not fluffed up, or growling, or even lashing his tail – just watching with mild interest, which was extremely unusual.

At tea-time, with Wowler in his customary early-evening position on my lap, the young intruder returned. This time his reaction was what we’ve come to expect: he sat bolt upright, glaring; then dismounted and sat by the patio window, yowling.

“I’m not letting you out, Henry,” said Daddy-cat. “If you want to see him off you’ll have to use your cat-flap.” While Henry thought about this, the undaunted GK came up and inspected him through the glass, then began frolicking around the patio clearly wanting to play. Henry stopped yowling and watched. Intrigued, I took a jingly ball outside and entertained GK with it, wondering if Wowler would follow; but no, he just continued to watch.

I petted GK as he twined round my ankles, then went back indoors. “This is what he smells like,” I said to Henry. He sniffed my hand. Finally, as the kitten went on cavorting, he could stand it no longer. Hubcap and I looked at each other as the cat-flap clicked, expecting the usual mayhem and braced to rescue GK if the Wowler tried to savage him. But to our utter astonishment, he simply strolled up and held out his nose. So did GK. A mutual bottom inspection followed. “They’re greeting!” I gasped. Then came a slight laying back of ears and batting with forepaws; then Henry bounced away with his tail in the air, hotly pursued by the kitten; then the kitten came back into view, hotly pursued by Henry.

Hubcap and I watched entranced. The only other cat Wowler normally tolerates is the ginger tom from three doors down, who we’ve always jokingly referred to as Henry’s dad (as he may well be); but they don’t cosy up or play together, they just hang out in a companionable, blokey sort of way. So this was the first time in six years that we’ve ever seen Henry larking about with another feline, apparently enjoying its company, (admittedly, he did fetch GK one good clip round the ear that elicited a cry of protest, but it was no more than an uppity kitten deserved).

Delighted, I went out to fuss them both, and my amazement was complete when Henry flopped down on his back, giving the full social roll. Playful chasing then continued until Henry, in wild excitement, leapt into Hubcap’s wheelbarrow so forcefully that it overturned and scared him back into the house.

The episode was no fluke or one-off. This morning GK came back, peering in through the patio door obviously looking for his playmate. I let him in, entertained him with a piece of string, then led him to our bedroom where the Wow was asleep on the bed; and when he eventually woke and condescended to notice, another amicable meeting and greeting took place, followed by more outdoor play. It can’t just be down to GK’s youth and smallness – Henry has hated our opposite neighbour’s lovely lavender-grey pair, Boris and Doris, and chased them off with extreme prejudice ever since they were the same age as this little lad. So I can’t help but wonder whether they belong to some secret League of Red-headed Cats – whether Henry recognises GK as a fellow ginge and, like Tormund in Game of Thrones, finds him ‘kissed by fire’ and beautiful.

Whatever, at long last it seems our anti-social Wowler has a real cat-pal – and I’m chuffed to bits!

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Henry Wowler has a Hissy-fit

Once upon a time, a long, long time (well, 18 months) ago, The Cigarette was the siren-song that lured Hubcap back to the house from wherever he happened to be. Yes, whatever time I chose to come down from the office for a fag-break, the minute I began rolling it he was guaranteed to turn up: on early/late lunch, to get changed/clean his teeth before a doctor/ dentist appointment, to pick up/drop off gear and have an unscheduled cuppa or loo-break while he was at it, or because he’d finished the day’s jobs/was rained off/had randomly decided to knock off early or take a half-holiday – thus obliging me to either wait for the fag until he cleared off again, or have it outdoors, or sit uncomfortably at the end of the kitchen, blowing smoke out of the window. I kid you not – it was like some weird psychic whistle calling him home.

But now I’ve given up (by and large), the lure has changed to Henry Wowler’s tea-time. No matter at what point in the cat-son’s permitted feeding window (any time after 3.30 pm; or 3 pm, at a push; or even 2.30, if his demands become too unbearably annoying) he wakes and decides that he’s hungry, the minute I dish his food out Hubcap’s van is sure to roll up – whereupon the trauma starts.

Mr Wowler dines in the kitchen, you see, not far from the back door – and like any cat, he dislikes being disturbed while he’s eating. Unfortunately, Henry finds Daddy-cat extremely disturbing – sometimes by his mere existence and proximity, especially when he’s dressed in his boiler-suit and big clumpy work-boots, which are clearly very dangerous for cats. Then there’s the noise factor as heavy feet tramp up and down the garden path unloading gear from the van to the shed, passing a bare metre away from Henry’s bowl; and the ultimate horror of the back door opening and shutting, often repeatedly depending on what needs bringing into the house – firewood, coal, shopping, armloads of soggy clothing etc – before Hubcap is finally finished and can divest himself of the scary work-wear and sit down for his own meal.

If Henry’s really hungry, he might dare to snatch a few mouthfuls while this is going on, tensed to spring away at any moment should the door open; but sometimes it’s simply too much for a cat to cope with. Like yesterday, for instance, when I was making dinner and (surprise surprise) the arrival of a soft pressure against my calf and a long orange tail curling round my leg coincided almost to the second with the sound of an engine drawing near. I dished Henry’s food out as he dashed into the living room, then followed to give him a reassuring stroke and encourage him to eat before Hubcap came in. He duly jumped down from the armchair only to halt dithering in the doorway, caught between the sounds of trundling lawnmower wheels and clumping boots ahead, and Mummy-cat’s urging from behind.

I should’ve known better. Henry Wowler does not like being told what to do; and when he’s in a Mood he does not like people dogging his paw-steps and invading his personal space. And of course, now he was in a Mood, baulked of the pleasure of stuffing his face in peace by his horrible, inconsiderate cat-parents. ‘Ssssssssss!’ he said to me crossly, ‘Wrow-row-row-row-row,’ then turned tail and fled upstairs.

None of my previous cats have ever hissed the way Henry does. But being a cat of decided character and voluble expression, the Sound of Extreme Wrath and Displeasure is quite a common part of his vocabulary; and he usually gets away with it with me, although Daddy-cat objects and has been known to swat his little ginger bum for using bad language. And I let it go this time because I felt quite sorry for the little chap – not to mention impressed by the admirable clarity with which he made his feelings known.

(For any reader concerned by Mr Wowler’s hungry plight, the story does end well – within half an hour he’d managed to fill his belly and curl up on Mummy-cat’s lap, and we all lived happily ever after – or at least until I had to get up and go for a pee…)

Catty Christmas

Even as a kitten, Henry Wowler hated Christmas. At the age of four months, when a proud new Mummy-cat tried to involve him in our first festive season together – rolling wrapping-paper balls and trailing lengths of ribbon for him to chase – he just stalked off and sulked in his tent. (His tepee, to be precise: a big bubble-wrap sheet draped over his scratchy-post, one of his favourite hidey-holes). He didn’t like the alien objects invading his living room playground; some smelt funny, and none were connected with his comfort or pleasure. The rattle of paper sheets and ripping sound of sticky-tape were most unsettling. And as for the shiny, dangly things that later appeared everywhere – pooh! He couldn’t be bothered to lift a paw at those (thank goodness – no Christmas trees or mantelpiece swags would bite the dust in Helmickton).

Needless to say, he didn’t mellow with age; and at four years, he finds Christmas simply a Nuisance. The fetching of materials from the loft disturbs his sleep with noises overhead; it’s also dangerous for cats, (we might bring the ceiling down), obliging Mr. Wowler to retreat to his safety-box under the bed, leaving a sad little depression in the duvet to reproach us when we descend. Postmen and couriers knock more frequently with parcels, producing a similar result (Stranger Danger! They’ve come to take him away – better hide!). Then there’s the space invasion: the influx of cards and gifts received and yet-to-give piled on every available flat surface, and worst of all, visitors… yes, it’s Extremely Distasteful for a gentlemog of Henry’s refinement and retiring disposition.

Still, our vulgar festivities hold some compensations, like his dinner of fresh raw chicken moistened with turkey cat-food gravy and, of course, presents. As a successful mouse-mass-murderer, the Wow has largely lost interest in play substitutes, but this year he’s rather taken with the run-around mousie-on-wheels from a gift-box of treats given by a friend, (for reasons I can’t quite fathom, family and friends often give presents to the moody fatso). Our gift goes down well with him too – a minute after I filled it up, in fact…

Yes, in lieu of his usual sturdy brand of catnip fishes, (of which there were none to be had), I buy a fluffy hedgehog about the size of a real mouse, with a Velcro slit in its tummy and a tube of catnip to stuff in at home to ensure maximum fresh aroma. A split-second after I toss it to the Wowler – who promptly goes into nip-frenzy, growling and biting and rubbing it over his face – I realise my mistake: Hedgehog is a toy for kittens or small polite lady-cats, not our huge strong tom. Engulfed by his jaws it looks pathetically tiny and so like his usual prey I half-expect to hear it squeak; and as he clasps it in his forepaws and rips into its belly with his hind claws, the Velcro parts slightly and bleeds a little catnip onto the carpet.

Oops – I need to get Hedgehog back before it all pours out and makes a real mess. Of course, Henry Wowler’s having none of that; as I attempt to snatch it, he swipes at my hand and hooks a claw in the side of my thumb, deeply and painfully. Involuntarily I yank my hand back, which only makes matters worse. ‘Argh!’ I cry. Startled, Henry rears up, dragging my impaled digit with him. ‘Argh!’ I repeat as the pain worsens, then try desperately to soothe the cat, rescue the hedgehog and unhook my thumb before any more damage is done.

Five minutes later, Hedgehog is sporting a tight girdle of bootlace to stop its flaps opening while it’s being savaged by the Wowler, I’m sporting a plaster on my throbbing, oozing thumb, and I’ve learnt a few useful things:

  1. Never give a tom-cat girly presents
  2. Never try to part a Wowler from his nip
  3. When snagged by a cat, never yell or pull; remain calm, treat the claw as a fish-hook, and gently push to release your pierced flesh
  4. Remember these points for Christmas 2016…

De-clawing = Cruelty to Cats

Today I saw a most distressing image on Facebook: a pathetic, devastated-looking kitten newly returned from de-clawing. It was such a pitiful sight that it’s prompted this heartfelt plea: if you, or anyone you know, is considering this operation for a cat, PLEASE DON’T DO IT!

I can understand the reasons why people want cats de-clawed – they can be horribly, expensively destructive little monsters. Twenty-odd years ago, mine certainly were. I’d just bought my first house, and was repeatedly reduced to tears by the damage they did. They couldn’t resist blown vinyl and textured wallpapers, so the living room, kitchen and bathroom décor rapidly fell victim to their claws – as did the pristine Art Deco moquette three-piece suite I’d just proudly acquired from an auction room.

So when I took them to be neutered, I innocently asked the vet if he could de-claw them while he was about it. He gave me a funny look and replied sniffily, “We don’t do that operation here.” I wondered why not – it’s only like cutting your nails or trimming a horse’s hooves, right? Then I shrugged it off, redecorated with flat wallpaper that offered no interest to their claws, and put up with their loop-work on my suite until I could eventually afford to replace it (by which time, alas, both cats were long gone).

And I only discovered quite recently that de-clawing a cat isn’t like cutting fingernails AT ALL. It’s a radical, invasive procedure more akin to having your fingernails pulled out. When the anaesthetic wears off, your cat will be in pain – for a long time. It may develop infections involving more pain and medical treatment. The function of its paws will be permanently impaired. Okay, so it won’t be able to scratch you or your precious furnishings, or get stuck up trees, and it’ll probably make a pretty useless hunter… but it’ll pay a heavy price for your convenience.

If you’re in any doubt about how cruel de-clawing is, have a dig about on the internet and find out what it involves. The pictures are not pretty. I firmly believe that this operation should be made illegal, and that any vet who carries it out should be prosecuted – as should the owner who caused it to be inflicted – because there are other, far kinder (and cheaper) ways to deal with the scratching problem. Cats may not be as amenable to training as dogs, but they CAN learn – apparently a quick squirt of cold water from a plant-spray is excellent for training kittens not to scratch. You can also provide scratching posts and encourage your cat to use them by incorporating them into play, and put sacrificial scratchy-mats in places they like to use. Deterrent sprays are helpful, too – our present cat, Henry, loathes the smell of Indorex flea-control spray, so putting that on the upholstery is a sure-fire way of keeping him off the soft furnishings. (He also knows full well that scratting the suite is BAD, and as an adult only resorts to it when he’s desperate for attention because he knows he’s absolutely guaranteed to get it then – even if only a yell of “Henry Wowler! Stop that!”).

Or you can accept that all pets do anti-social stuff and learn to live with it. Dogs roll in dead foxes and eat their own poo. Rabbits and small rodents gnaw stuff. Birds crap everywhere. Cats claw stuff. It’s just the nature of the beast. So we live with Henry’s scratch-zones in the bathroom and office and on the landing carpet, the fur that coats the whole house and the small creatures (or fragments thereof) with which we’re regularly presented. We may not exactly like it, but what the heck – we like the cat, and we like the fact that he’s happily doing his cat-thing.

So please, please, let your cat keep its claws… or if you really can’t stand the thought of letting a cat BE a cat, maybe you shouldn’t keep one at all.

Cats: for life, not just for Christmas

Christmas is coming – so why not give a cat? They’re cheap to feed (only c. £5 a week), easy to house-train thanks to their poo-burying instincts, and easy to look after since they sleep for 18 out of 24 hours – besides, just imagine the children’s little faces when a cute, bright-eyed kitten bursts out of its box on Christmas morning!

Actually, as any responsible cat-lover knows, this is an extremely bad idea. Christmas, with all its upheaval, social excitement and dangerously chewable decorations, isn’t the best time to introduce a new animal to a household; plus kittens are not toys to be cast aside when their batteries run flat (which they won’t) or the new PlayStation game is unwrapped. They are sentient beings with rights and needs which extend far beyond the festive season – a fact which many people, sadly, still fail to grasp, judging from the influx of unwanted ‘Christmas presents’ into the animal shelters every New Year.

This doesn’t mean that children and cats can’t go together very successfully (although crawling infants and toddlers may make for an unhappy mix, with few cats likely to enjoy their clumsily enthusiastic attentions). Pet ownership teaches a lot about care, companionship and responsibility, and my own beloved cats were among the chief joys of my childhood. But the key word is responsibility, and it’s why you should NEVER give a child a kitten (or any living creature) unless you’re 100% certain that the adults in the household are fully prepared to welcome it, and to embrace its care if and when the novelty wears off – because this involves a lot more than buying a food-bowl and a weekly pack of Felix. A litter-tray, poop-scoop and poo-bags are fundamental requirements, along with plentiful supplies of cat-litter – an additional ongoing expense if the cat will live permanently indoors – because kittens produce copious pee and amazingly large stinky poos, necessitating at least a daily clean-out if the house isn’t to reek; and in my experience, fresh litter provokes an ‘Ooh, goody!’ response and an immediate, gleeful evacuation demanding yet another session with the poop-scoop.

Then there are the vet bills, at the very least for inoculations (with annual boosters) and neutering, to safeguard the cat’s health and prevent further additions to the unwanted feline population – so an insurance policy is a wise precaution against the hefty expenses often incurred for dealing with accidents or illness. If the cat goes outdoors it will pick up fleas and require disinfesting (as may the house!), as well as regular worming if it hunts and eats rodents or birds. So, based on our healthy, ‘free-range’ hunting tom with pet insurance and a daily dose of special dental biscuits to keep his teeth clean, this all adds up to annual maintenance costs of c. £250 on top of c. £300 for food and mineral water (he won’t drink fluoridated tap water) – an average of more than £10 a week to keep Henry Wowler in fine fettle. This might be modest compared to the cost of keeping a large dog, but it may still be a significant burden on a cash-strapped family’s budget – a vital factor to consider before adding a cat to a household. And of course it doesn’t take into account things like a pet-carrier (essential for vet visits, and can double up as a cat-bedroom), or optional extras like toys and scratching posts. (It may not be worth shelling out on an expensive bed, since cats are notorious for preferring to sleep in the box it came in!).

Last but not least is the care. Sure, adult cats spend most of their lives looking out of the window, out and about doing cat-stuff, or curled up asleep – but they may expect to spend a substantial portion of this sleeping time on a person, and demand the right to do so with highly vocal persistence. Cat-children are another matter. Like any young creature, kittens are tiny concentrations of energy, as demanding of attention as a human infant but capable of damaging mischief a baby could never achieve – climbing up wallpaper and curtains, pooing in plant-pots (when they aren’t chewing the leaves), shredding furniture and carpets, knocking ornaments off high shelves – the list is endless. Our 12-week-old Wowler required five to six hours of play every morning before he would finally collapse, (and woe betide me – and the house – if I tried to deny him), plus another couple of hours in the evening. Admittedly it was great fun, albeit more so for Henry than for us – the attraction of trailing a string round the floor, rolling balls and jiggling catnip mousies does pall after a while. Then, unless you acquire one of those sad hairless breeds, there’s the matter of fur. Long-hairs need regular grooming to stop their coats getting matted, and even short-hairs benefit from periodic fine-tooth combing to check for fleas and reduce the amount of sheddings which will otherwise blanket the house, especially in summer. Cat under-fur is so fine that it floats on the air and gets into places pussy never goes, as I discovered on taking a dress never worn in Wowler’s presence from the wardrobe. Yes, it’s true that ‘everything in a house with a cat IS a cat’ – so sharing an abode with a feline may add considerably to the burden of housework, unless the residents are content to wear, eat and sleep in their pet as well as look after it.

So the real message is, ‘DON’T give a cat for Christmas’. Instead, give cat-related gifts from welfare charities like the Cats Protection League or RSPCA. Or, if you’re absolutely certain that someone truly wants a feline companion and is willing and able to care for it properly, wait until early 2015 – because then the rescue centres will be overflowing with misguided ‘Christmas presents’ desperately needing new homes.

Animals Matter: Of Mice and Men (and Cats)

For all that I love cats, I must admit they have some less than lovable habits. For instance, in common (I suspect) with most cat owners, since acquiring our feline lodger Henry Wowler, we also acquired a Mouse Problem. (Yes, I know. Cats are supposed to get rid of mice – hah!).

‘He’s got big ears,’ said the vet, when I took him for his first inoculations. ‘I bet he’ll make a good mouser.’ Alas for us, and the local wildlife, he was right. The Wow ‘made his bones’, so to speak, on earthworms – which, right from the start, he proudly brought in through his cat-flap (a mixed blessing if ever there was one) to play with. His delight at his first major kill knew no bounds – even though we knew it was only a puff of breast-feathers from a blackbird exploded by a sparrow-hawk. But inevitably, the mice (or parts thereof) began to appear in the kitchen (where he’s confined overnight to keep the gore off our soft furnishings)… as, inevitably, I had to resign myself to mopping up after his nocturnal hunting expeditions.

On the one hand, I can’t help admiring his skill, diligence and perfect physical adaptation for killing small creatures: his huge, sound-funnel ears, keen nose and big brilliant eyes that miss nothing; his lightning reflexes; his incredible patience (reminiscent of an Inuit seal-hunter crouching for hours over an ice-hole); and of course his paws and mouth full of deadly weapons. On the other hand, disposing of his victims is a pain in the bum.

House rule is, if it comes in alive, he loses it – assuming we get to it before he does. (Unfortunately, if it comes in dead he often loses it as well, usually by batting it under the fridge beyond claw reach where it lies, undiscovered, until the growing stench or suspicious swarms of flies alert us to its presence). This has led to many a ludicrous Tom-and-Jerry-style chase as Wowler and I (creature-catching glass in hand) fight for possession… and a couple of occasions when Jerry has given both of us the slip and holed up in the cavity under the electric fire in the living room hearth.

The first time this happened, we had no humane traps; so I pushed in a paper tissue for Mousie to make a bed, two jam-jar lids of water and birdseed, and barricaded it into a luxurious prison behind walls of video cases and books. Then for £4.50 we bought a twin-pack of The Big Cheese, a simple plastic rocking trap, ready-baited, with a lid that snaps shut when triggered by the weight of the mouse inside. At least, that’s the theory – and indeed, we did catch it a day or two later and (much to Henry’s chagrin) returned it to the wild.

However, the second mouse was much more cunning. Evading the two Big Cheeses set for it either side of the fridge where it had taken up refuge, it waited until Wow and I had cleared off then found its way to the living room and took up residence in Mouse Motel (as I realised when Henry mounted a permanent guard on the hearth-rug). Twice, this Mousie managed to steal the peanut butter with which I’d re-baited the Big Cheese without tripping the trap… clearly, sterner measures were called for. So I bought a Procter Brothers Ltd. Pest-Stop Multicatch trap – at £4.50 for a single unbaited trap, it’s more expensive than the Big Cheese but a far more robust affair; a grey box that can hold up to four mice, with an internal metal ‘bridge’ that flips up behind to stop them getting back out the way they came in. Advantages are that it doesn’t need to sit on a perfectly flat surface – and it can’t be accidentally tripped by a nosy cat. (Disadvantage is, unlike the Big Cheese, you can’t see at a glance whether it’s tripped… and if you forget to check it regularly, it soon stops being humane!).

Anyhow, yes! As soon as Mousie had munched the room-service portion of seeds provided, (well, I felt sorry for it), it succumbed to the lure of peanut butter and chocolate biscuit in the trap and this time we had it. A fine, big handsome mouse – well, I suppose it would be after several days of nothing to do but kip in the warm and pog out on seed and peanut butter – and we felt very guilty about evicting it into a freezing cold night to burrow into a heap of leaves in the woods. Am now confidently expecting it to start hanging round in our garden at night, hoping the Wow will catch it and bring it back in for another stay in Mouse Motel – bit like an habituated convict who doesn’t want to leave prison.

Meanwhile if you, like us, have an issue with uninvited ‘mouse-guests’ but can’t bear to kill them or leave them to the un-tender mercies of your cat, I can recommend the Pest-Stop Multicatch – it works, and it doesn’t hurt a bit.