There have been three fairly stock questions that I get asked from friends and family on Whatsapp and on the phone since we arrived in South Africa just over 6 weeks ago and they are generally in this precise order:
How is Mikaela coping with living in her Mom’s house?
How are the kids settling into their new life and school?
How’s the Tortoise?
The Tortoise is fine and so am I but thanks for asking!!
Therefore let me please introduce you all to the infamous Mr. Mary-Anne. Confused by the name? Not as half as Mikaela clearly was when she found him injured by the side of the road about 25 years ago.
Mikaela is animal mad and when I met her 11 years ago she had more direct debits to animal sanctuary’s and random parrot’s she had adopted in Brazil than you could shake a stick at. There were dolphins, monkeys and dogs all over the world benefitting from her generosity. We were getting Christmas cards of donkey’s and pictures of Jack Russells photo shopped into butchers aprons stood in front of BBQ’s at the beginning of the summer.
It was no surprise to me on my first visit in 2009 then to be led into the garden about 6:30 on the first morning and see a random tortoise scooting surprisingly speedily across the garden. It was Mr. Mary-Anne and he wanted feeding. Lettuce and Cabbage were then torn apart and he munched away gleefully in the morning sun. It was rather hypnotic to watch if I’m honest but the best was yet to come. As it got hotter during the day he would climb into a bowl of water that had been refreshed at the bottom of the garden to simply cool down. Just chilling out in his own private plunge pool.
Mikaela had found Mr. Mary Anne injured by the side of the road years before and although it may not have been strictly allowed her heart over ruled her head and she carried him home to nurse the patient back to full fitness.
During this period of time Mikaela had frustrated her mum endlessly by walking four legged and winged waifs and strays into the house but my personal favourite story of all was when she bought a small chick home from the school fete.
‘It wasn’t a chick but a flippen’ rooster’ Jenny, Mikaela’s Mom once exclaimed to me.
Well ‘Hawk-Eye’ as he was known soon made Jenny’s home his own and used to take up the whole sofa before being chased hurriedly out of the back door and up amongst the plantation much to Mikaela’s amusement.
Mr. Mary-Anne was easy though as he made his home in the bushes, slept for a large portion of the year and ate leftover salad so Jenny thought he was great. Low maintenance and low expense for a change. Mikaela named him Mary-Anne but a couple of years later someone took the highly scientific step of turning him upside down to reveal that she was in-fact a he. Not wanting to confuse the poor man anymore about who he truly was through a full name change the prefix of Mr. was simply added instead.
He certainly has some character about him though. He has survived dogs trying to bite him, hens trying to peck him and the circling Hawk that preyed in the area for a while. He’s a tough cookie that’s for sure.
For the last year he has been residing in the next door neighbour’s garden and they have looked after him admirably. They quite often look over the fence to see if he’s ok now and always ask if he’s being fed well enough.
Again; I’m settling in fine, thanks for asking!
He eats like a king might I just add. Watermelon is his absolute favourite but it’s going out of season now so Apples and Pears will have to suffice.
The day we collected him was emotional for the neighbours. I thought that their daughter would be really upset but it was actually her Mum that was looking longingly at him as she picked him up and passed him over the fence. I’ve told her she can visit him whenever she likes and can have unsupervised visits every second weekend.
Issy and Emilie also love him. When they see he has poked his head out of the bushes they scurry to the fridge to grab any greenery they can find and get to feeding him straight away. Emilie just points and shouts the word ‘tortoise’ at him but Issy often sits with him and he eats out of her hand as she chats away to her reptilian roomy.
My relationship with him is very different. It’s love hate to say the least. I love him and he hates me. I think that he is a ladies’ man if I’m honest. Mikaela can crouch down and tickle his head whilst the girls are allowed to scratch his shell but if I approach then the head and front legs just disappear into the safety of his defensive system. I’ve tried everything, genuinely I have. I’ve brought him food, water and I’ve tried chatting to him but he just hates me.
I am starting to wonder if I’m simply trying too hard as a step-father. I’ve told him that I want him to view me as a friend rather than a father figure and that I hope one day we can be mates but he’s just not budging. Any parental advice would be welcome here.
He will go into hibernation soon so I’m expecting to be asked daily when he is going to wake up or whether we can indeed wake him up by the children but with the drought he has just survived he’ll probably be dreaming of his first dip in the plunge pool and chomping through some watermelon when summer soon arrives again.
I’m going to read some parenting books in the meantime and just to let you all know, as I am sure it is question number four on everyone’s lips, I’m ok thanks and I’m settling in just fine!!