Henry swallows a wasp

I was pursuing the wasp around the kitchen, as you do, with a glass tumbler and a piece of cardboard. I was waiting for it to settle. Several of the cats had a go at it, but I managed to thwart them. Henry, however, was too quick for me. The wasp was gone, down inside him, and as with Browning’s Last Duchess, all buzzes stopped together. Surely it must have stung him all the way down? I waited, aghast, for his little oesophagus to start swelling up, for the gasping, the terrible whining indrawn effort at breath –

I was wondering if the vets had those pens you were supposed to stab people with when they accidentally ate peanuts. Were there those pens for cats? Would the vets have them. They were only a small vets, not much room for supplies. Should I just bundle him in the car and drive the six miles to the surgery? Would I have to burst in in some awful melodramatic way? Please – my cat – he’s swallowed – a wasp – ! Every bone in my non-melodramatic body rebelled against it. I simply couldn’t draw attention to myself. But I must.

Henry was probably dying of a wasp.

But if he was dying, he’d probably be dead by the time I got there anyway. Suppose I got to the car park with him in his little box and he was lying there, all golden and expired? I could hardly walk in, in front of the gloomy waiting hordes and their miscellaneous creatures, who would turn their gloomy waiting eyes upon me, expecting entertainment. What could I say?

Excuse me. My cat just died in the car. Of a wasp. Yes, a few seconds ago. Maybe we could arrange a cremation?

Henry continued to occupy the sunlit windowsill, bolt upright. He licked his lips several times. Oh My God, I thought, this is it, the wheezing, the –

What did you have to go and do that for? I asked. I sounded rather petulant.

Henry inspected his immaculate, pale gold coat – the faintest of stripes therein. He licked his lips again, and did not die.

Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands,
Then all smiles stopped together.

Before The Deluge

I need to get out more. Too many days in a row spent indoors in various stages of unkemptness, saving money, saving petrol. Or could that be Unconscious Code for saving effort or (whisper it) incipient agoraphobia? And what have I been doing?

Not a lot, to be honest. Well of course I’ve been feeding and cleaning up after the houseful of cats. That in itself is the equivalent of a part-time job. And I’ve not been slumped on the couch watching television because I no longer have a TV. I have done some ironing, and discovered why my tumble dryer isn’t working, and that I can’t fix it.

And I have forced myself to start working through Python For Infants. I was pleased to find that I could understand the first few pages. I have made it print out Hi Python! and not print out You are a silly shoe! I have learned about Strings, Comments, Syntax Errors and Escape Characters.

Getting rid of the TV actually made me realise how long a day is, and how much of it I must previously have used up – watching TV.  At the moment I still haven’t adapted. I seem to be cycling through alternative ‘things to do’, trying to settle into a new routine.

I check the News App more often than is necessary. The news doesn’t change that often in the course of one day, but it might. That’s the trouble. What if something really dramatic did happen, and I didn’t know? What if somebody was assassinated or something actually changed in connection with Brexit? What if – I don’t know – Scotland suddenly calved away from the mainland – after all, it’s only attached by that little skinny bit in the middle –  or there were to be a plague of tigers?

Sadly, I have to confess, I have watched some TV on my tablet. Not live TV, obviously, because I haven’t got a licence, but those highly addictive whole series. I watched the first three series of Mr Robot in a very short time, and still haven’t recovered. The fourth series is supposed to have started in the United States but it isn’t on my tablet yet. When will it be on my tablet? I simply can’t wait.

And today I have been watching, in short bursts between housework, cat-tending, ironing and coding-learning, a British TV movie called Flood. It stars David Suchet and Robert Carlyle. Any film with either of those in is usually a guarantee of quality, but something has gone awry. David Suchet is acting all right but everyone else – including the great Robert Carlyle – seems to have got an attack of awful-acting-itis.

However, this is made up for by the tension of following this great hypothetical storm surge, from Scotland down the east coast and up the Thames, overwhelming (of course) the Thames Flood Barrier. In the control room here is a lot of terse commanding whilst staring at multiple wall-screens. In British disaster movies the characters, no matter how stressed, tend not to bellow or punch one another on the nose. No, they command, increasingly tersely.

And then there’s a lot of dramatic splashing about in the water and clinging to the tops of lamp-posts, just visible above the flood. And everybody’s hairdo is ruined, and they are rescued by helicopters with searchlights.

Given where I live, and knowing my luck, if there were to be such a flood I would be the lady up in the attic, hammering against the stuck-fast dormer window, the water up around my ears. I spend some time, whilst washing up, making plans. I will bring in all the cat boxes from the garage and – if I can get the dormer window open (which I do not have, by the way) I will pass all nineteen moggies up to the hovering helicopter with the searchlight first. Take them first, I hear myself tersely commanding. Don’t bother about me… Come back some time. If you can.

As the helicopter slowly sinks towards the water, weighed down by all those hefty cats in all those hefty pet carriers.

The News app shows newspaper headlines. The Sun appears to be saying we should prepare ourselves for three months of non-stop 100 mph winds. I find this hard to believe and impossible to imagine. I am refusing to try. I inherited my paternal grandmother’s hatred of windy weather.

“Devilish Wind!” she used to exclaim. Tersely.

Cows and Hens in Jelly – yum!

I have always liked things with foreign writing on. Even when I was a child. It may be something to do with being left-handed. Scientists have recently discovered that left-handed people have better integration between the two halves of the brain, and often superior language skills. Well, finally! As if we didn’t know that! But at least, something positive after centuries of being called sinister, clumsy, weird and (effectively) shit-handed. The left is the hand Arabic-type countries use for bottom-wiping, whilst the right is reserved for eating.

Which reminds me, obliquely, of sugar. Somewhere around the Sixties there was a rash of rumours in the UK – this or that was going to disappear from the shelves. In fact these rumours seem to have been started by cunning suppliers intent on causing panic buying and as a result selling lots more stuff. I am fairly sure we are in for a lot more of that, come Brexit. If Brexit.

Anyway, one of them was for sugar. Sugar was going to be in short supply. In those days Mum was working in an office down at the little local Quay as some kind of shipping clerk. I think the rough, tough dock foreman (or whatever they are called) had taken rather a shine to Mum, happily married though she was, to my Dad. I am not sure whether Mum had taken a shine back, but she did blush and giggle a bit the day she brought home a couple of bags of sugar which had accidentally fallen off a ship. And into her bag.

The paper packets were white, like all sugar bags, but they were in Polish. I suspect Mum must have told us it was Polish, and the fruity old foreman must in turn have told her. Even with my superior cack-handed language skills I doubt if I could have deduced it, then. I perused those sugar bags for hours, trying in vain to decipher the mysterious, wonderful stuff it was written in. Words are like honey to me. Or sugar. I am Pooh Bear when it comes to any kind of print.

Incidentally, and biting one’s tail a bit, the next ‘shortage’ was of toilet paper. Another round of panic buying ensued. My mother even bought Izal. Now, if you’ve ever experienced Izal you will know that it is hard, it is sharp. It is not an item that you would want about your nether regions. Torn up newspaper would have been preferable. Apparently that used to be a children’s task, before commercial loo-paper – tearing old newspapers into squares, making a hole in one corner and stringing it all together. I would have done that willingly. Anything but Izal.

Back to foreign writing. It has now seemingly become impossible to buy Felix in tins over here. I don’t think this is anything to do with – the B word – since it has been going on for ages. You can buy the very expensive, and indeed very convenient sachets, but you can’t get the same stuff in tins. Now, I am a squeamish-ish vegetarian (who occasionally eats fish and chips, sorry) and would love to use sachets but with nineteen cats I just can’t afford to. One answer might be not to buy Felix at all but my cats – perversely – love Felix. Felix is to my cats as words are to me.

So I buy Felix over the internet, and they are German. They arrive in great monster packs of 40 or so, which nearly cripple the poor little delivery lady. (I have offered to help, but she won’t let me.) German Felix makes both me and the cats happy. The cats rush to gobble it down. I read the tins and savour the words. For some reason they will not automatically translate themselves into the obvious English equivalent. Lachs & Forelle turn into Salmon and Trout – fair enough. But Rind & Huhn in Gelee insists on translating as Cows and Hens in Jelly.

Cows and Hens in Jelly, I murmur to myself, as I go about my household tasks. Cows and Hens… I can hardly wait for the next random batch to arrive. What might it be – Goats and Pigeons in Tomato Sauce? Dog Fish and Canary?

A letter from the Land of Cockaigne

Not that I have ever been in the Chill Out Room of some Rave, but this carries the same atmosphere with it, all the way from 1567. It I called The Land of Cockaigne and was painted by Pieter Breugel the Elder. Cockaigne was a mythical land of plenty much written about by poets, and was a reaction to the harshness of peasant life. It is a kind of heaven on earth, a place where nobody has to work, where abbots are beaten by monks, and nun show you their bottoms. It is a place where the sky rains cheeses and where grilled geese fly directly to one’s mouth. The weather is always mild and the wine flows freely; sex is always available and nobody grows old.

However, Breugel has turned the original concept on it head, and shows the end product of gluttony and excess. It seems to be affecting all classes – the man at the front is a labourer, sleeping on what could be a scythe. The man at back has discarded an armoured glove, as if he were a knight. The one on the right, sleeping on some kind of fur cloak, has a book next to him, and papers beneath his head. Maybe he is a lawyer, or a merchant. In these old paintings every object symbolises something; if you had been viewing The Land of Cockaigne as at the time you could easily have read the subtext of these apparently random, scattered objects.

Nothing is as it should be. Everything is at odd angles, and disorderly, from the loosened codpiece of the guy on the right to what appear to be rows of tarts about to slide off a roof. An egg has sprouted little legs and seem to have a knife or spoon poking out of it; a pig wanders around cheerily with slices already cut from his side. It looks like the afternoon after a particularly sumptuous Christmas Dinner. You are fascinated, you are drawn in. You so want to be there too, or to have been there, and yet you don’t. It’s uncomfortable, it’s queasy. It’s – worrying.

It just reminds me of something my sister said when we were having our awkward chat about Brexit. I knew, but until that day in the café she did not, that we had voted on opposite sides in the Referendum. It had reached the stage where I had to tell her. The thing I remember most from our conversation was her reaction to a comment I made. She is seven years younger than me, and I started to say that I actually remembered what it was like before we joined the European Union, and everything seemed to be OK, no one was starving or…

But that’s nostalgia! she gasped, as if it was the dirtiest of dirty words. This bewildered me, and still does. I hadn’t been about to launch into a dreamy chat about the wonder of little steam trains chugging through the green English countryside, or eulogise about a time when wondrous wizards inhabited every cave and gauzy-winged fairies lurked by every burbling stream. I wasn’t even going to say that I was particularly happy in those days, because I wasn’t.

I was just trying to explain that life seemed normal then. Usual. Everyday. We didn’t feel deprived. People didn’t feel that their children and grandchildren’s futures were blighted by our not being in one trade agreement or another. Things seemed to be more or less Under Control. Under Control – isn’t that all any of us long for, now?

I am a sad old person with only her radios and her many cats for company, and so I spent more or less the whole day yesterday, dribbling cats on lap, knitting in hand, listening to politicians tearing themselves and – though they don’t seem to be aware of it – every one of us to bits over this blessed Brexit. Last night I couldn’t sleep, at least not for a while. It was all going round in my head. In the end I got up and wrote pages and pages of notes. Most of them have not found their way into this particular post. Might use them later.

One thing that struck me was my sister and I. For years we have hardly spoken. We belong to different generations and don’t have a lot in common, apart from half our genetic material. And of course a mother with dementia, to whom we are both still tied, emotionally, and for whom we are jointly, legally responsible. In a way it was Mum who tore us apart, unwittingly, after years of – also unwittingly – holding us together.

And after years of this we finally managed to resume negotiations, at least to the extent of meeting for joint visits to the Home, for coffee afterwards, chats, and texts. This Brexit thing probably hasn’t reversed that small amount of  progress but it might have. And for what? In the event our two votes meant nothing since hers cancelled out mine, and vice versa; but even if we had both voted one way, both voted the other or neither had voted at all, the result of the 2016 referendum would have been exactly the same.

My Emotional Support Rabbit

I want an Emotional Support Rabbit, I’ve decided. According to the BBC, anyway, such fabulous creatures are allowed to accompany those suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental health issues on to American aeroplanes. What a wonderful thing. There have apparently been Emotional Support Kangaroos, Emotional Support Turkeys, Emotional Support Cats and Dogs, even an Emotional Support Miniature Horse. (Presumably the turkeys would be excused flights home for Thanksgiving.) However, a Support Peacock by the name of Dexter was turned away because he was too big and heavy. The Support Miniature Horse was in fact smaller and lighter than the Support Peacock?

After the peacock incident United Airlines decided to ban a range of less usual creatures, including frogs, hedgehogs and goats, and are currently limiting it to cats, dogs, and of course miniature horses.

In Britain, of course, we are far more staid. Just tune in to a session of Parliament and watch the MPs discussing Brexit – bellowing, jeering, catcalling and even, fairly recently, making sheep noises – to be sure of this. (I am not sure if they ever tracked down that sheep-noise maker: they were certainly trying quite hard to.) So, British airlines, being far more staid, do not permit support animals for mental health conditions, though they do permit physical disability/guide dogs, and presumably those might be doubling as emotional support.

This reminds me of a Christmas Dinner I was once forced to attend with my colleagues at Poop, Stagger & Collapse, Solicitors (no, not really). We were sitting around long tables in a restaurant slightly more expensive than most of us would have normally been able to afford – draughty and underheated, with snowy-white tablecloths adding to the general chill. At the end of the food and quite a few bottles of wine, nearly all of the partners (or so it seemed) stood up to give a speech about the progress the firm had made in the past year and it’s plans for the one to come. The final, particularly long and rambling speech was interrupted by mysterious crowings – Cock-a-doodle-doooo, etc – from a novelty alarm clock. Everyone knew who it was, but since he was a Partner himself nothing was done.

Back to Emotional Support Creatures. Given the choice I would go for an Emotional Support Little Rabbit – just big enough to fit in my jacket pocket, with large brown eyes and twitchy little whiskers. Much as I love cats they are absolutely no good at emotional support. A cat will scratch you when you’re down, demand food when you’re stressed. Cats poop, piddle and vomit everywhere. Trying to persuade a cat not to perform three of his five Favourite Natural Functions just because it was on an aeroplane – nah! Taking a cat anywhere, even six miles in a motor car, leaves one a nervous wreck. Or nervous boat as a distance learning student once put it:

My postal course materials am stolen in the prison where I reside. Please, I am become a nervous boat.

It does seem to be a week for animal-themed posts. I follow an excellent WordPress blog called ‘English Language Thoughts’ and the question posed was;

Which would you choose – to be able to speak another language or to speak to the animals?

My Comment was that talking to the animals would be best. At my time of life and in my straitened circumstances I am hardly likely to need to speak to a foreign person in their own language. Unless Britain happens to be invaded by Foreign Persons in which case I shall sincerely wish I had learned that particular language and start scrabbling around for text books and studying by candle-light.

But how useful, to be able to ask your pet how it felt instead of hazarding a guess. Pets are notoriously ‘stoical’, ie they keep a poker face and disguise suffering as a defence against predators. How many trips to the vet could be saved if they could just tell you.

On the other hand – what if our beloved animals, no longer mute, chose to inform us stuff we didn’t want to hear – anything from I abhor this leopard-skin collar to Why exactly did you remove my reproductive organs when I was just a kitten? to What about vivisection!

I have always assumed my own cats to be super intelligent. Inside those furry little noddles they would have been composing Oscar Wilde-type witticisms or ruminating upon the meaning of life from a feline perspective. But it occurs to me that this ain’t necessarily so. Supposing they are really stupid? Supposing all they can chat about is Whiskas versus Felix? Supposing their political opinions can be summarised in one sentence: Well, there’s nothing I can do about anything in any case so I’m not even going to think about it.

Yes, someone actually said that to me. And she wasn’t a cat, either.

More Comething and Wentething

Further to my previous post. I should link to it, but I’ve forgotten how. It’s just… diddle down a bit.

The Maths Book Cometh

Sometime today. At intervals throughout my life I have attempted to fulfil my fantasy of Being Surprisingly Good At Maths. I did eventually get an ‘O’ level in Maths, many years ago in my twenties. I was quite proud of myself, since I was the one at the (very) bottom of the class who got 12% in one yearly exam, which the teacher informed me was for spelling my own name right at the top. Forced to re-take it, I achieved 7%. Presumably I had even got my name wrong this time. I was humiliated.

Perversely, ever since I have been fascinated by famous mathematicians and physicists, by unintelligible blackboards covered in chalked formulae, by genius. Even more perversely, I have been convinced that I am really a mathematical genius, or was destined to be. Something just went a bit wrong. It is a dream that won’t leave me alone.

So, in the spirit of crossing things off the bucket list of ongoing Lifetime Annoyances, and after spending most of one afternoon covering old envelopes with laborious pencil sums to compare one putative dual fuel tariff to another prior to switching  – yes, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing – I was quite proud of myself – I decided to send for a maths book and study it throughout the forthcoming Winter, a bit every day.

Partly this is to fulfil my inner conviction of being an Einstein or Hawking manqué, partly to fend off dementia. I read somewhere that the best thing you can do to Fend It Off – apart from eating vegetables a lot, jogging cheerily round the park and drinking several gallon of water a day – is to challenge your brain. Maths is the thing that challenges me most, but yet – I have noticed whilst wrestling with the calculator and the well-chewed pencil, that I am totally absorbed in the struggle. Sudoku (taught myself, still bad at it), comparative electricity prices, desperately creative household budgeting, whatever – I am lost to the world. This seem to me a good thing. This seems to me exactly the thing to generate new brain cells and forge new connections between them. The maths book should be arriving later today. Suppose I will have to start at fractions again.

Rationing Rumoured To Be Comething

It is as I suspected. Because of Brexit – sorry, should have said ‘The B Word’ – there are now rumours of rationing after we leave, due to possible hold-ups at customs points in this country or on the Continent, long queues of lorries on the motorways, etc., etc. I knew it, and have been stocking up on tins of cat food for some time. And I have other strategies, which I shall not reveal, for fear that others will copy me. Failing even these, I may have to go round the village knocking on doors, offering to swop one hour of ironing or dog-walking for a single tin of Whiskas. Failing that, I would have to let them out, to mouse as best they can, in spite of having had very little practice. Even the blind one, and the three-leggety one, and the one that’s so old it’s hard to believe she’s still alive… Sob!

Not bothered about me. I can live on bread-and-marmalade and the odd dish of microwaved porridge if necessary. (So much for the dementia-avoiding diet.) But bothered about the cats. It seems to me that if they are going to ration cat food, they will be doing so on the assumption that nobody has more than one or two cats. Stupidly! And of course, I have nineteen. I have visions of the cats and I starving together, slowly, with no way through the bureaucracy, no way of obtaining more of the life-saving Tins.

How ironic, that I should have been born soon enough after the last War for rationing of some items – sweets, I believe, and sugar – still to be in place – and here I am at the other end potentially rationed all over again. All the same, I have been fascinated by rationing all my life – bit like the maths – for no obvious reason. I read that whole series of books of correspondence to Mass Observation – people rejoicing having chanced upon an ancient tin of peaches in a corner shop – people triumphant after a three-hour queue in the rain had yielded a bunch of watercress or some spinach. I even found myself fascinated by the Potato Peel Pie in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (do read, of you get the chance) which consisted of mashed potato with an artful garnish of potato peel. I just loved all that, and imagined myself making do. And mending.

Funny how it always seem to be the awful things that most fascinate you the most. Almost like you are willing them to happen.

PS: I think there was supposed to be a Wentething, but I have forgotten what it was.

There’s a rockabilly party on Saturday night…

Readers may recall – though probably not – that I recently gave up my TV licence as a protest against the Government/BBC’s plans to remove free TV licenses from the over 75s next year. Annoyingly, the BBC mentioned on their radio news programme this morning that TV viewing figures are falling drastically, especially among the young. I imagined I was rebelliously depriving myself of something for the sake of a principle – now I discover I was conforming to some mindless Younger Generation.

Staring mournfully at the gap where the TV set used to be, I realise I used to use it to switch off, ie to become part of the mindless Older GenerationNow I am finding being at home all day quite hard work – all that thinking about stuff – all that What should I be getting on with now? TV was an excuse to sit still and do nothing. Or knitting.

I’ve been managing quite well with my collection of radios, each tuned to a different station – not being much of a re-tuner of DAB radios. I have one stuck on Radio 4, for the News and Woman’s Hour. I sampled The Archers (‘an everyday story of countryfolk’), in the hope that, being older now, I would suddenly be able to stand to listen to it.

I still hated it, apart from one episode when a character called Hayley was going round frantically demanding money from fellow villagers in order to solve her mortgage shortfall problem – telling them she was entitled to it. She was being so annoying and so manifestly and counter-productively foolish in her approach, and all in a fake rural accent, that I just wanted to slap her. I suppose I was gripped, but not enough to make me tune in to the next episode.

One of my other radios is tuned to something called Mellow Magic. I have always resisted anything with the word mellow in it, along with the words heart-warming and epic – but I tried it and was hooked. Basically they play all the songs you remember quite a few of the words to, that whisk you back to your past.

Another radio is tuned to Scala, which advertises itself a classical music station with a modern twist. I use this as background music for reading. I used to use Spotify for this, but was always worried that by listening online I might be using up a lot of data, whatever that is.

Most of the time it’s fine – film scores, sad tinkly piano music – but occasionally you are jolted back into the living room by something unexpected and truly ghastly such as the Dam-Busters March or Mars, the Bringer of War. It’s even worse when you’re trying to get to the end of a popular physics book which is proving beyond your comprehension. I used to read books that dealt with string theory, multiverses and spooky action at a distance, but I think my brain must have atrophied since then.

So, I just migrate from one radio to another. Now what I need is some kind of hooked pokey-stick, or series of long pieces of string tied to all the radio like reins – to take the place of the TV remote control.

Then there are the TED talks. Someone stands on stage somewhere in the world – Iceland, Toronto, whatever – and records a short talk about whatever they happen to know or feel strongly about. These talks are free to listen to and are useful if suddenly craving the sight of a human being moving about and gesticulating, as opposed to disembodied voices. You have to be selective – no point watching fifteen minutes of someone enlightening you on how to sell a million pink plastic water-jugs in one day.

That’s how I came to be watching a lady psychologist talking about deathbed visions. I think she worked in end-of-life care or similar. She was saying people attending at a death should not be surprised if the dying person was able to ‘see’ other people in the room, or even reached up to them. One person had regular visits from an old dog who had died many years before, and which slept curled up on a chair. The psychologist lady explained that visions would usually be tailored to the person’s cultural background, so people in different countries might see angels, or the Buddha, or the Hindu god of death. And children tended to see visions tailored to them – so one child told his parents that the children’s train had arrived at the station; it was time for him to go.

People also see dead relatives or friends, and have the sense that they have come to greet them from the after-world, and help them across. This set me to thinking – who would I want to come and meet me? At first I thought, nobody.  What dead person would be willing to go to the trouble of struggling into human form again, and go and lurk around at some windswept crossroads waiting for me to turn up? And then I thought, well it would be the ultimate poor sad me thing, wouldn’t it – turning up at the afterlife crossroads and nobody – not even the Devil – who I gather has a tendency to keep assignations at crossroads-es to collect the souls people have sold to him – could be bothered to be there to say ‘Hi’.

So I settled for Nan, who would probably be wearing her cardigan and her flowery overall; Sophie, a long-lost and much loved black and white ‘tuxedo’ cat, and Godmother. Godmother isn’t actually dead yet, but she’s ninety, so presumably she would be by that time. Unless, of course, what probate solicitors often refer to as The Under The Bus Scenario were to happen fairly shortly. I even considered Ex but then I thought no, he’d be tapping his watch saying You’re three-and-a-half-minutes late! Don’t you know that you are Low On My List of Priorities?

Who or what would you want to crowd around your deathbed, or be waiting for you at the crossroads?

rockabilly

There’s a rockabilly party on Saturday night
Are you gonna be there?
(Well I got my invite)
Gonna bring your records?
(Oh, will do) …

Mott the Hoople, Roll Away The Stone, 1974