Life in a Dol house
2017 - Week 53

2017 and the cat who came in from the cold

In just a few hours we will wave goodbye to 2017 and welcome in 2018. 

For some it will happen before others, but such is the fickle way of time. 

Time is that most illusive of elements. You cannot see it, touch it or smell it but you can watch it slip away. 

Time is something we alternately never have enough of - unless you are at school, then the hands of the clock seem to move ever more slowly, especially during double maths!

But as the old year passes, it is an appropriate moment to look back over the year, the successes and failures and the moments in between.

The start of the year here was cold, very cold for Dol. 

Locals could not remember such sustained cold and with a bitter Bura wind which reduced the feel - the wind chill - well into double digit minus figures. 

The actual minimum air temperature we experienced, without wind, was -7.8 C and everywhere was covered in frost for several days.

The casualties were the tender trees, especially the Citrus. Not just my young trees, but well established mature orange and lemon trees, together with fifty year old palm trees. 

That quintessential Mediterranean plant, the Bougainvillea was frozen to soil level.  Some sprouted again with new growth, some didn't.

Then there were the frozen pipes, which burst under the pressure of the ice inside and more than 1,000 water meters froze on the island. 

That the water supply system was put under such stress in itself speaks for how unusual the event was.

​Around New Year, a young male cat appeared and claimed a cardboard box on my patio table as his night time sleeping quarters. 

He was wary of people but happy to accept food and my two felines were happy to leave him some - which he cleaned up with gusto.
​Some will remember the cartoon cat Snagglepuss - always dressed in a crisp white collared shirt and with white cuffs on each paw. 

This young cat also had a white shirt front and white cuffs, together with an engaging smile, so that became his name. 

OK, he wasn't pink and didn't come from the County Palatine of Drruham, but he reminded me of the Snagglepuss seen on Kellogg's Cornflakes packets.

By the end of January the weather had turned more spring like, and I had made the decision only to repair the solar water pipes after the plumber who installed the heating system refused to support its repair. 

The central heating was not required and I planned to use new generation plastic pipes rather than copper. The plastic carries a 50 year guarantee, which should be enough for me I think.

I have been keeping a "Springwatch" calendar, but it is a development project and 2017 was the first year I could really see any results, albeit over a very short three year period.

​The cold at the start of the month had really set things back and by the end of my Springwatch, which was in June, of the indicator species I could track, just four were earlier than previous year's averages and twelve were later by an average of 14 days. 

This was in marked contrast to the start of 2016 when all the indicator species were ten to fifteen days earlier than 2015.

Once again, this will be of value in 30 years time, when meaningful analysis will be able to be made, something which 3 years of incomplete data will never do.

So far this winter has had fewer colder days, but it has seen slightly more rainfall.

​I have already started the 2018 Spring watch, when the Spring Hyacinth bulbs started poking through outside in early December and they now have flower buds just visible. Even today, in the last days of the year, I spotted the first Daffodil flower bud today.

Once we get to the middle of January, the days of winter are numbered. 

The last possible date for a frost on Hvar, based on the Croatian Meteorological Service 50 year rolling average is February 14th, but my experience is it is usually before the end of January. 

The Mediterranean climate is generally winter mild and wet, summer, hot and dry. But with climate change, every year I have lived in my Dol house has been different, so what is an aberration and what is the new "normal" is anyone's guess.

With the winter over, Spring weather soon arrived and 2017 was warmer and drier than previous years.

Because there are such huge differences in the weather we experience over a calendar month, I have come up with my own way to "number crunch" and make sense of the vast amounts of data that my weather station generates every day.

Listen to the weather forecast on the TV or read something on the internet, and to make things simple a calendar month is quoted. But the days in a month vary from 28 to 31. 

If you use the weekly numbering system, that start day varies by country and region of the world. Also a casual reader cannot equate Week 22 to the first week of June. Then some years have 53 weeks, not 52!

Only February has a perfect 28 days or four weeks, three years out of four.

So to help make both accurate and meaningful comparisons, I have given every month four weeks, which means there are only 48 weeks in my weather year - but every year is alike. 

The first and second weather weeks of each month except February have eight days of weather data. In a 30 day month, the third and fourth weeks have seven days of data, and in a 31 day month week three has 8 days and week 4 seven days.

Statistically, you should always compare like with like, so my way of taking the daily data and then assigning it to one of 48 weekly periods in a year allows for easy and meaningful comparisons to be made.

​You can also look at the detail, for example in this three month, midwinter snapshot, of the average weekly minimum temperatures. The only firm conclusion I can draw is that the coldest weeks of the year are generally the first and second week in January and by week three the temperatures are starting to rise. 

There is considerable weekly temperature variation between weeks of the same year and the same weeks of different years.

By April, I need to fit the insect screens on doors and windows, so they can remain open during the daytime, 

and in 2017, ​Snagglepuss had become accepted by my two cats, even if there were the occasional shouting matches (usually over food).

By May, my rain water storage cisterns were empty, but I needed to water plants, so I started irrigating. 

With the last rain of any significance in May, until the drought broke in September, I used quite a lot of tap water, and then only on specific plants and trees, to keep them alive. 

Snagglepuss likes to be around me when I am working and he had gained the confidence to play - and what better place than a hot, sunny orchard?

​By August, everything that was not getting irrigation water - and some plants that were - had become seriously stressed by the summer drought and heatwave

Even by the Mediterranean standard of "summer hot an dry", 2017 was exceptionally so. 

Just as in winter, when the coldest period is a week or two after the winter solstice, so the most intense summer heat is felt at the end of July and early in August.

The heat and dry air helped fires to spread. 

This one on the mainland, close to Split,

coloured the sky in Dol with the dense smoke.

But it was not long before we had fires in the next village, barely a kilometre away as a hot ember flies.

​Fortunately the Canadair water bombers arrived before any properties were lost, but it does make you think when you live close enough to touch the trees in the forest.

Building work has gone on throughout the year, with major reconstruction taking place in the last quarter, when the old, leaking roof of the cottage was removed and replaced, making a very useful loft space for storage.

All the while, Snagglepuss has gradually been getting closer to Risha and Callie.

Risha had his 11th birthday in August and in human years, he is now eligible for his free bus pass, not that he uses busses much, or even that we have a bus service in the village!

Risha has seen Callie grow up, as she was born in my villa in Abu Dhabi, so they get on well together.

Although he would fight any feline that had the temerity to come into the compound in Abu Dhabi, and had a love/hate relationship with Luna, the cat which lived opposite (mostly hate), since coming to Dol he has become much more tolerant.

Snagglepuss has spent ten months watching Risha and Callie come and go through their cat flaps. 

I've seen him sit with his head tilted slightly to one side, watching intently as one or other effortlessly negotiate the plastic door. 

Finally in late November, on a cold night he took the plunge and opened the flap with his paw, pushed his head through and came in from the cold.

In Abu Dhabi, Dr Katrin Jahn at the German Veterinary Clinic used to look after my cats. 

She used to tell me that from choice she would only deal with cats because they are the most interesting of all her animal kingdom patients. 

She holds the Gold Standard Certificate from the International Society for Feline Medicine.

After working out how to use the cat flap and finding a comfy bed he can call his own, it has been an interesting year watching Snagglepuss make every possible attempt to be adopted into the family and be accepted by all the incumbents.​

Some day there will be a way to properly understand our pets. Already the scientists are working on the meaning of feline sounds I'd like to know where he came from and how he came to be homeless. 

Feral cats do not roll on their backs, kick their paws in the air and beg for a tummy rub!

He seems to have been brought up well so possibly was someones pet who just got lost.

Snagglepuss made the decision he was going to join the family and set his stall out to do just that, just as scientific research has shown that the cat has lived alongside humankind for Millennia and that they chose to become domesticated - the only animal known to have made that choice for themselves. 

He becomes completely submissive if my senior cat Risha challenges him, but he also aggressively challenges any neighbouring feline who comes into the garden or orchards close to the house.

Having watched my two climb on my knee and curl up, Snagglepuss tried it just before Christmas, and it is where he is as I write this. 

He's still not completely sure about human knees, but he is the one who has made the choice to move from a box on the table outside, to the warmth of a chair in front of the computer, or a bed on the floor near the wood stove.

The weather was quite cold in mid December, then in the last week of the year, it has warmed up. 

The wind is coming from the south - a Jugo - bringing warm air from the Sahara. There has been some rain, a little hail associated with convective activity and some gusty winds, but altogether a different week from the same period last year.

​The storm system which brought the rain and hail to Dol has deposited a nice covering of snow on the Dinaric Alps, on the mainland to the east. 

As I look ahead for the next ten days, there is little sign of any really cold weather. 

It's time to get my seed bank out and decide what I am going to plant. I have been reading about preventing mosquito attacks using various aromatic plants. 

That will be one of the things on my list of things to grow in 2018.

As New Year approaches, with the clock ticking down towards midnight on December 31st 2017, I wish you a very safe, happy, healthy and prosperous 2018, where every you may be

I'll be back next week with more tales of Life in a Dol house.