Sylvia A. Winters

British romance writer and rat enthusiast

Heatwave

So I’ve done what most British people do when exposed to the slightest bit of sun: gotten burnt. I did it for a good cause, though. I was too busy listening to speeches at an animal rights protest rally to go home and put suncream on. Strange, but it seems like more people are dicks about animal rights protests. I’ve been to a few anti-austerity protests before this one, and maybe it was the size of the protest or something, because it was about 40-50 people instead of several hundred, but a good half dozen people or more were happily shouting ‘meat is normal’ and ‘I love bacon’ at us. One man did come up to bitch about Jeremy Corbyn though… Wrong protest, but nice try. Maybe people get offended and defensive because we’re not just asking for slaughterhouses to be closed, we’re asking the people we pass by to reconsider their diet, the way they live; we’re telling them outright that what they’re doing is wrong. Or maybe they’re just dicks and like to wind up the ‘snowflakes’. But eating meat isn’t normal. Not the way we do it in this country. There’s no love or respect in it. Animals are abused, they’re scared, they don’t want to die. If you wouldn’t eat your dog, why eat a pig? For survival, I get. But it’s not something to be proud of.

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An interesting sentiment hit home with me during the speeches. That just being vegan isn’t enough. Being vegan is saying ‘I want nothing to do with this cruelty, I’ll have no part in it’. It’s passive. Vegan activism is doing something to stop it. That said, I do think just the act of being vegan does something. People ask you about it, because it’s a ‘weird thing’ and they’re curious, and you can show people that you don’t just eat rabbit food, that on the weekend you’re out eating pizza and burgers and cake and ice cream (although probably not all at once). There’s a need to talk about it, to talk about what goes on and to explain your decisions, because animals have no voice of their own to speak with. I worry – I don’t want to ruin peoples’ dinner, but then maybe it should be ruined. Because what went into that dinner is grim as fuck. Most people, if they had to see all that, they wouldn’t want to eat it. At least I don’t think they would. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful thing though. Sometimes it’s easier to go on deceiving yourself than to acknowledge brutal truths. People don’t want to know. I think that applies to anything, really. If I want a smart phone, or a new laptop, is it easier to live without one or to just not think about the fact that child slaves are used to mine the elements that go into making them?

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Odin and Tyr’s first time pea fishing.

It’s hot again today, maybe even hotter than it was yesterday, because I woke at 9am thinking it was midday. I’m thinking up ways to keep my rats cool over the summer. This heatwave is going to last all week, so I’ve ordered some ice pods for them. Today we’ve all moved down from the attic to the living room as it’s cooler here. They’re not happy about being in their hamster cages/carriers, but needs must. I’ve got plastic tubs of water chilling in the freezer to put in the cages. Every evening free roam is occupied with pea fishing. Frozen strawberries, peas, and sweetcorn are dropped into their cages every few hours (less so on the strawberries – too high in sugar) so they’ve something cold. I’m glad of my old stone flat in weather like this – it keeps the cold in. It’s still hot, but not as hot as it could be. My rats aren’t happily running about, but they’re not about to keel over.

The other problem is the flies. I don’t know if it’s just something about living in the city centre, or if it’s because we’re fairly close to the river, but there are like twenty or more flies buzzing around our living room. In a vegan household it’s not so easy to get rid of them, either. I’ve put basil in the window, and we’ll be adding mint and cloth strips dipped in eucalyptus oil come payday, but in the meantime we just have to put up with it. They’re not harming anything, they’re just annoying as fuck. If anyone has any other cheap, cruelty-free tips, we’ll take them.

 

Further Resources:

Viva – articles and resources on farming conditions and veganism.

How to keep pets cool on hot days

How to keep rats cool in the summer 1

How to keep rats cool in the summer 2

Rats are Bastards

Male rat intros are hard. I’ve always just dumped new girls in the same carrier or small hamster cage as the residents and the most aggro I’ve ever had was from Ren, who looked annoyed and fluffy for an entire afternoon until she finally relented and accepted the new rats. A little bit of pushing and shoving, but nothing more than that. This is the first time I’ve ever had to introduce boys. I’ve read up on it, got advice from a few long time rat keepers, and thought I had found the best solution. They were getting on fine in a bathtub filled with an inch of water – Hati even seemed a little protective of Odin, one of my new babies. Odin kept squeaking and trying to jump out of the bath, and Hati took lead from him. So I moved them into a carrier thinking it would be fine, and after only a second there was squealing as Hati jumped on Odin. I fiddled with the latch of the carrier, grabbed Hati and shoved him straight back into his cage, but in the maybe twenty seconds it took me to do that, he’d torn a huge chunk out of Odin.

It was horrible, a big open wound and I’ve never seen anything like it before. Cue me crying down the phone to the emergency vet receptionist, who I called twice just to make sure I was doing the right things. She told me not to bring him in, just to keep an eye on him. It didn’t make me feel better, but it did save me spending the rest of my meagre savings. Apparently, according to my rat keeping friends, boys do this a lot. So I waited, and yesterday it was already healing, half of it closed up. Odin didn’t even flinch when I went to clean it. He just sat there and let me bathe it in a salt solution, which couldn’t have been comfortable. He’s only known me two weeks, but he seems to trust me already, even though in his mind I’ve tried to drown him several times and set a giant angry rat on him. I don’t know if I’ll keep going with this intro. I probably moved too fast with it, so I might, and take it extra slow, or I might neuter Hati and try again in 8 weeks. We’ll see. As lovely and cuddly as these boys are, I might stick to girls next time.

Luckily my own introduction to my new housemate was not quite so violent. It all seems to be going okay at the moment, and although we’re different in some ways we do have a fair bit in common. We went on a walk that I swear wasn’t meant to be six miles long but somehow ended up that way, checked out Cabot Tower to see Bristol from up high, the Bristol Suspension Bridge which was much nicer than it looks from below, and Ashton Court deer park. On the way home we stopped at VX, the best vegan junk food shop of all time, just before closing, and might have gotten the bus the rest of the way home because our legs wouldn’t work anymore.

Jay has now moved all her things out (except little things that I keep finding everywhere – mostly sewing needles that have embedded themselves into the carpet), but it’s been quite a gradual change, and not the dramatic ‘bye forever’ that was my last big move as she’s only moving a forty minute walk away (I’ll probably still catch the bus).

We’re starting to get the house more as we want it now. I’ve moved into the attic and the rats have their own little room which is an absolute godsend, as is their new two storey cage which is so much easier to clean. I spent three hours putting that thing together, and now I’ve realised I have to take half of it apart again to make it more secure for the girls (if I don’t, there’s a risk of them worming their way into the boys’ half of the cage, which would obviously not be good). It’ll be worth the effort though.

Wales

I spent the morning sitting in the conservatory at my dad’s house, watching a red kite swoop over the pond. He couldn’t get anything out – this is why there’s a net covering it. I’ve only ever seen them from a distance before, black silhouettes with forked tails hovering over the hills, gliding on the updrafts. It’s easy to forget how huge these birds are. There are tales of them carrying off small dogs, but I think they prefer an easy meal, road kill or food that’s left out for them. This one didn’t seem to be going for any of the live fish, he was swooping for a dead one floating on the surface.

We then left for Devil’s Bridge, and had a good wander around the falls, testing my fear of heights with Jacob’s Ladder.

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Jacob’s Ladder

We stopped for a while by The Robber’s Cave, where the legendary Bat’s Children had their hiding place, and where I got the idea for my book of the same name. Being here makes me think a lot about that story, walking the same paths that my characters walked, seeing, more or less, the same landscapes. It’s nicer in the summer, but the dark dreariness is probably more the setting I envisaged as I was writing.

Outside of the falls, it’s a lovely, bright day, with the gorse in bloom and lambs darting around the fields. I’m a bit tempted to smuggle one home with me.

Ireland

Today we’re having a chill out day. I’m sitting in my cousin’s house with a cat curled up on my lap, staring out the window at the countryside. It’s a nice day, breezy but the sun is shining and there’s more white cloud than grey in the sky.

We’ve packed a lot into these past couple of days. On Saturday we went for a walk along the cliffs of Courtmacsherry to see a raven’s nest. At first I thought there were six to eight raven chicks in there, but on a second look there were only two. They were huge. The mother raven was sitting a few feet away on a rock, while another was gliding in the air above. For a first raven experience, it was pretty great. After that we stumbled across a faerie hollow and picked some wild garlic for dinner before retiring to drink gin, cuddle squishy rats, and play Cards Against Humanity.

On Sunday we drove into Kerry, passing through West Cork, into the mountains of Killarney national park. We stopped for lunch in Kenmare, and I spent too much on fancy soap and mugs. Lunch was had at a little cafe called Mick and Jimmy’s, where a band were playing, and the staff were very sweet and provided us with lots of great vegan options. After, we made our way to the Gap of Dunloe, and saw another raven being attacked by a much smaller hooded crow, and a kestrel that was standing in the middle of the road and took flight as we approached.

Killarney is crazy pretty. It’s incredibly dramatic, and you can’t not think about how it was created when there are giant boulders bigger than most houses, cracked in half either side of the road after being spewed out by some great volcano. It was the perfect weather for it too, with storm clouds lurking over the mountains. Though thankfully the rain held off until we were on our way home.

Later, we’ll go for a walk to look at baby goats, come back and watch some films. My cousin hasn’t seen What We Do in the Shadows, which is practically a tragedy.

Europort

I’m sitting in the port at Rosslare, drinking strong coffee after four hours on a coach and another four on the ferry, trying to sleep instead of throw up, trying not to swear at the teenage boys that kept running up and down the lounge and yelling at each other while everyone else was curled up on sofas with blankets or coats pulled over them.

There’s a strike on, the bus that would have taken me down to Cork is cancelled, so I’m waiting for my cousin to drive up to collect me. The train would take longer, seven hours to take me up to Dublin and back down again, for the price of €60.

I was hoping to see the sunrise over the ocean, but it was too cloudy for that. Still, the smell of sea air was nice, and there’s a childlike excitement that comes with travelling over water, watching the waves chop under you, salt on your palms and fingertips after holding onto the railings.

I’ve had maybe three hours of sleep, full of interruptions, but I’m here, in Ireland. This is my first time here, so I’m excited to see everything. I’m not sure what I’m expecting. Faeries gathering around ancient stones, maybe. Banshees wailing from the hilltops.

When it gets to 9, I’ll take a walk around Rosslare, although it seems a bit dreary from here. The main town is over the hill though, and I can’t see it from here. Perhaps it has more charm. Either way, at least it should have food.

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Turn of the Wheel

This week has been… interesting. Jay Robin announced that she’s moving out. Which means this weekend is going to be a flurry of cleaning so I can take photographs to persuade people that this is a decent and respectable place to live. Or something like that.

I’ve got time. She’s not just clicking her fingers and vanishing into thin air, but still the clock is ticking and I want to find a decent human being and not some cave troll of the sort I have unfortunately found myself living with in the past. Not wanting meat in the house might slow things down. The veggie/vegan list on Spare Room is about ten times shorter than the omni list. Still, if I get this right, I’ll end up with a new friend (:

One of my best friends from uni announced she’s getting married next year and asked me to be one of her bridesmaids, which was pretty cool. It means a trip to Australia so the saving starts now. I’m pretty excited because not only will I get to see her and her new (okay, not so new since she’s been there for three years) life out there, I’ll get to explore the other side of the world! I just need to get hold of a flamethrower and some heavy duty spider repellent because she couldn’t live in a nice, safe city; instead she’s right in the outback where all the really nasty things lurk. The upside of that is maybe I’ll get to see a crocodile! Might not go swimming though…

I’ve also booked a trip to Ireland next month, which is less exotic than Australia, but somewhere I’ve never been and always wanted to go, and I’ll get to hang out with a cousin I haven’t seen in a fair while. Might even see a fairy road.

I’m also planning a few more tattoos, including one I’ll hopefully get in Melbourne next year after this wedding (it’s probably going to be a crocodile, not gonna lie – big up tourist tattoos).

There’s a fair amount to look forward to at the moment, and also a fair amount to stress me the fuck out, so it’s been quite a mixed week all in all. I’ll be a little more relaxed once I’ve got some adverts up for the room and I can feel like I’m being proactive. According to my recent tarot reading I’m the eight of swords, hanging there while the wheel of fortune turns. I tack my readings to my wall so those cards are just staring down at me, reminding me that I need to start doing something. So far all I’ve done is bought a mop.

Wish me luck!

Reflection & Resolutions

I learnt a lot in 2016. Not all of it good. Most of my time was probably spent watching political news as though as it was some really tense disaster movie, or more likely the prequel to one (except probably worse because it was real). But I won’t dwell on the bad things about 2016. We all know what they were.

Let’s focus on the good stuff instead, like David Attenborough surviving the year. Actually, I’m just going to talk about good stuff in my 2016, like finally getting my first tattoo, and then my second a few months later. I’ve wanted tattoos since I was a kid, but for years I didn’t know what to get or whether I should get one. Then I found an old Norse symbol I liked and just thought ‘fuck it’, and got it done a couple of days later. I lost three rats in 2016, including my heart rat, Ren, but gained another five (despite declaring I was going to take a break from animals for a while). It seems like it never happened now, but I fostered a rabbit and learnt a lot about their care, like how much space, food, and attention they really need (hint: it’s a fuck of a lot). I got to be a bridesmaid and watched two of my best friends get married. I spent four days in August at a music festival (only my third one), saw some great new-to-me bands and ended up queuing for something called The Big Ride which turned out to be a children’s wheeled horse pushed by a mime. Bat’s Children was published and it was nice to see that to completion, especially as it’s the first totally new publication of mine in about two years. The value of the pound dropped so I got paid more in royalties (always a plus side). And I finally got properly started on a novel (my first!) after months of thinking about the story and how it would work, and many scrapped beginnings.

For 2017 I have a couple of resolutions. One is something I should have been doing this year, but failed at miserably, and that’s to fucking budget. Since I got the job I’m in now, I’ve developed the tendency to throw money away on silly little things that all add up, when I could be saving it for those rainy days that are always lurking somewhere up ahead. So I’ve worked out a reasonable budget for at least the first three months of 2017 and that’s what I’m going to stick to. I’m going to stop slipping into my god damn overdraft and get some savings together. This means no more takeaway pizza or Best Buy samosas whenever I feel like it, and a lot more cooking from scratch.

The other resolution is to finish a few stories that really need finishing. These are: Read the rest of this entry »

Rat Updates: The Boys Arrive

It’s highly likely that few people care much about my rats except me (well, me and the rescues I get them from) and that writing about them a lot is boring for people, but they take up a large chunk of my life and I like talking about them, so I will.

Mahogany had her lump removal on Friday. Her scar is going to be HUGE. It extends all the way from her front left armpit to halfway down her body. Apparently the lump we could see was only a very small portion of what was actually there. She’s just spent the last couple of days sleeping in the hamster cage and it all seems to be healing nicely. We’re back to the vet next week for her check-up.

I got my boys on Monday. They’re pretty massive. I’m continuing my theme of mythical names (Porcelain and Mahogany didn’t get them because they were meant to be here for short term fostering) and I think I’ve decided on Loki, Sköll and Hati. Sköll is a bit of a bully, Hati is the sweeter, people-friendly rat, and Loki is the nervous one who spends most of his time at the moment hiding from me and Sköll. They’re all a bit sneezey which is annoying, but I’ll give them a week’s worth of nebulising and see how that goes.

Porcelain is being rather, let’s say, amorous, towards them. She was climbing up my stack of DVDs last night to get to them, so I’m very glad rats can’t mate through bars (not that I think she could reach the cage anyway). Mahogany doesn’t seem bothered by them at all, and it’s only Sköll who seems particularly interested in the girls. I swapped a rope shelf from the girls’ cage into the boys’ since it was never used, and Sköll would not let anyone else on it. From now on, there’ll be no swapping items unless thoroughly washed first.

The cinema I used to work at had their Christmas party on Monday, and naturally I went along. I miss the people I used to work with there. It’s very different from where I work now where people are quiet and polite and correct themselves from swearing, and a night out is a quiet meal or a Mama Mia singalong (shudder). This party was loud and drunken with people interrupting each other’s games by lying on the pool tables and throwing all the balls into the pockets–these are people who work closely with each other, who know each other, and who are totally comfortable in the presence of one another. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t miss the job at all and really most of the people who work there now are quite a bit younger than me–at 23 I was ‘old’ when I started that job and I’m definitely not about to de-age any time soon. Also, talking to someone there made me realise I need to be more proactive about looking for the kind of job I want. I like my current job, but I’d be very much settling if I did this forever, because it’s a nice, easy job with good benefits, and maybe it’s the best job I’ve had so far, but it’s not the dream job and it only takes time away from doing what I really want to do. I tend not to go for jobs that might otherwise be perfect because it’s not the right location (i.e. they’re all in fucking London) or some excuse like that because I’m comfortable where I am, and that’s not really going to get me anywhere.

The students are starting to leave halls now, so things are quieting down a bit here. I am counting down the days until we get to leave too! I am going to savour this holiday like a fine wine (except not wine, because wine is evil).

Wintering

I finally saw Sisters of Mercy, a band whose music I’ve loved since I was about thirteen years old, live last week. It was far more packed in there than I expected, but then they’re probably right at the top of the popular goth music list and I didn’t see anyone younger than us there (sob). It wasn’t as good as I expected to be honest as the vocals kept sinking into the music and I couldn’t really make out the words which was a shame, and the band was mostly hidden in smoke (which was kind of cool but maybe like 5% less smoke for some visibility would have been good). I enjoyed the night though despite being stuck on the stairs dancing like my arms were glued to my sides and trying not to accidentally grind on the woman in front of me, and yeah, I’d probably still see them again because Sisters of Mercy!

The next item in my calendar was Glastonbury’s Frost Fayre, which was an afternoon of eating Christmas cookies and drinking mulled cider, listening to drums and choirs and folk music. I haven’t been to Glastonbury in years so it was really nice to go back again, especially when it was so busy because it’s a place packed with strange and wonderful people. I got a couple of Christmas presents there and some books for myself, because Glastonbury has some great book shops that are pretty cheap and naturally they’re all stocked full of mythology, spiritualism and occult titles. Very handy inspiration and reference tools for writing.

I stood and watched a band for a bit and then found myself in the middle of a crowd of witches and wizards waving wands and broomsticks. Nothing to do with the fayre, just a joint stag and hen do going past. Things closed down a bit earlier than expected, and by 8pm the bustling, crowded streets were dark and empty so we took refuge in The George and Pilgrim, a supposedly haunted pub dating back to the 15th century. Eventually we had to leave and I jumped on a bus back home, back to light and noise and city fumes.

There was a rather tense moment when the couple sat on the bus next to me started having a very loud argument because the bloke wanted to get off at an earlier stop for a piss, and the woman wouldn’t let him. For a while I was genuinely worried I was going to get this drunk stranger’s wee on my coat (obviously moving wasn’t an option because British). Thankfully they eventually decided to get off the bus.

My foster rats are back with me now after their stay at the rescue, and they’re settling back in pretty well, although they were in a foul mood the first night I had them free roaming and Mahogany bit me twice. I think she’s trying to establish that she’s boss, but considering our size difference I’m pretty sure she loses that one. Meanwhile Porcelain is trying out some new meds for her mycoplasma — I have to count out exactly ten grains from a tablet meant for dogs twice a day which is just as exciting as it sounds.

It’s now December, so I’m spending most days fighting through the crowds at the Christmas market to get home, and switching the heating on every ten minutes when it goes off. I have a feeling it’s going to be a very cold winter this year, as the last few days have been around or below freezing and we actually had mist inside the hall the other day. (Cue people from Scandinavia rolling their eyes at me – I know 0 degrees is nothing, okay, but I’m cold.)

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                                                  Frosty.

I have a pretty quiet week ahead of me, hopefully, and plan to just focus on my paranormal detective story because I really need to work out the knots I’ve gotten myself into there. Step one is to finish reading The Crime Writer’s Guide to Police Practice and Procedure (for those of you trying to write crime in the UK it’s absolutely fantastic and up-to-date so far!) This means taking a little break from the internet, which is surely the hardest part of any kind of work. I think I might have actually started to get somewhere this evening. At least I hope so! Fingers crossed.

Obsessing over Rats (again)

It’s hammering it down outside today. My clothes had only just dried after getting to work soaked when I had to leave again. When I got back, I found it was raining inside my boiler as well, meaning no heating. So my clothes are still drying five hours later and everything from the boiler cupboard is in a big sopping mess in our hallway. I’m just surprised it wasn’t the internet that broke, because that’s what usually goes.

I’m a bit stuck on the story I’ve been working on lately. I hit 40k and now I’ve stalled. It’s like I’ve dug half a pond and hit rock. Bit frustrating to be honest because I’ve no idea what to do about it. I need to sit and figure it out but I’m balking at the idea a bit because I’m worried it’ll mean starting again. I’ve restarted this story so many times! And I’ve just come way too far now to do that again. I suppose if I must, then I must, because I want to do these characters and their story justice, but… argh.

On to better things: tomorrow I’m seeing Sisters of Mercy, one of the few bands I’ve loved and listened to since I was a young teen and I’m so excited! It’s going to be pretty great, even if I can’t drink that much because school night.

This week I’m also going to be picking up my two long stay foster rats, Porcelain and Mahogany, from the rescue after their viewing last week. It didn’t go so well. Mahogany sat stuffing her face whilst ignoring everyone and Porcelain went and bit the rescuer in front of her prospective new parent and that was pretty much the end of that.

Whilst there I will hopefully get a chance to fawn over a group of boys the rescue currently has, which includes two rexes and a marten. One of my first rats was a beautiful blue rex girl and I loved her curly little whiskers. And martens… well I’ve never even seen one before. I’d love to have them but I’m late to the party as they’ve had lots of interest and really, I shouldn’t anyway. I’m meant to be taking a little ratty holiday. Plus it would mean having two separate cages and doubling the time spent free roaming them. Still, I’m probably more excited to just go and stare at this marten rat for a bit than I am to see one of my favourite bands. Here’s a picture of him – he doesn’t look happy, bless him, but I’m sure he’s settled now and been given lots of treats. The other boys below certainly look happy enough with their dinner.14918924_10154751634904644_521091455180730298_o15025268_10154758718014644_456424192634479249_o

Aren’t they gorgeous? Obviously I stole the pictures. Both images should link to the rescue facebook page in case you’re in or near south west England and want some rats – but probably not these lucky boys.