Let’s all just jump on William

Funny how things go: I just sat down here to write an article about – in a rambling sort of way – justice – and cats – and found a comment on that same subject by a new follower, on a different post.

I remember a lengthy conversation I had with Ex. We did have quite a few such lengthy conversations, often after too much beer or cider, which seemed to be the only way we could get past each other’s barriers. Hasten to add, I don’t drink now. Well, maybe the odd glass of wine at Christmas, if offered.

I was working for a firm of solicitors and had just had another conversation with my boss. She was a probate and trusts partner, but I had asked her how a criminal lawyer can bring themselves to defend someone who is pleading innocent although everyone knows he’s guilty – a violent rapist, say, or a mass murderer. Firstly, she said that if at any point the client was foolish enough to tell the lawyer he was guilty, the lawyer could no longer defend him. As long as he maintained his innocence, the lawyer – even though all sorts of verbal games had to be played to keep up this pretence – would continue to represent him, and do his or her utmost to put his side of the case (which isn’t necessarily the same thing as proving him innocent). Secondly, she said, everyone is entitled to a fair trial.

Now, Ex was a complex being. A gentle soul in many ways, he buried his deceased goldfish around the pond. He put up little crosses where each old cat was buried, and asked me to write a poem on a slip of paper to bury with them. He was many IQ points brighter than me (he took the test for MENSA) but if you were just listening to him arguing – about anything – you’d assume he was one of those shaven-headed National Front members, the sort with HATE tattooed on their knuckles. In argument, at least, he was always absolutely black or white, no shades of grey. Me, I love a good paradox: ambiguity is one of the few things I can cope with.

So his take on Justice was – and for all I know may still be – this: if everyone knows some bugger is guilty, then that bugger should be immediately shot, beheaded or castrated, depending on what he did. No time wasted by mealy-mouthed lawyers, arguing on his side. I remember, through the usual cider fog, saying that that was all very well, but just because everyone thinks they know someone is guilty, doesn’t mean that they actually are. After all, everyone knew all those poor, harmless old ladies in the Middle Ages were guilty of witchcraft and allowed the Devil to suckle on their teats, etcetera.

I remember asking him what if you were the one accused of a crime of which you were innocent – but everyone – everyone – knew you were guilty. Wouldn’t you be grateful then for a lawyer willing to prepare your case and argue in your defence? How could we call ourselves civilised, I asked him, if we reverted to taking it upon our individual selves to shoot, hang, castrate – or whatever – anyone we decided we knew was guilty?

And cats? Well, this week I have been looking after a cat called Nicholas.  Oh, let’s be honest, I’ve gone and adopted yet another stray. Nicholas arrived at my back door with a badly mangled arm, and the vet gave me the choice of either amputation at the shoulder, more or less, or euthanasia. So of course I paid for the amputation. I collected the cat later in the day. Inside his box they had wrapped him in a blanket against the cold. They did not offer to show him to me before I took him home, but I could imagine. Actually, though it looks strange – a cat with only one front leg – and sad, it’s not that shocking. He’s still the same Nicholas.

All went well for the first week, then I was woken at 2 in the morning by what sounded like a horrendous cat fight. But it wasn’t. It was Nicholas, standing in his pet bed, wobbling about on all three legs, screaming in terror whilst fighting off some invisible enemy that was obviously much larger than himself. This – whatever it might have been – fox, dog – had him by the leg – the now-amputated front leg – and Nicholas was twisting and turning, lashing out, trying desperately to pull himself free.

All my cats came running, as they always do when there is a ‘fight’. Their idea of justice is this: usually, any fight will involve William. William is a lumbering ginger cat who thinks he is in charge but isn’t – although he used to be. William is not very bright and, I’m afraid, a bit of a bully. So the cats come running and all jump on William. This does solve the problem, though it’s not exactly fair on William – he might have been in the right.

But now, with Nicholas, the weakness of cat strategy – the fundamental alien-ness of cats – has become apparent to me. Every couple of hours, still, in the depth of his nightmares poor Nicholas wakes up screaming. Fighting for his life against an invisible opponent.

Arthur approaches Nicholas. Arthur, huge, but usually the soppiest and most tremulous of cats. Ah, I think, he’s going to try and comfort his little friend. Arthur approaches, on tiptoe and extends a nose towards Nicholas’s nose, whiffling gently. And then he pounces on Nicholas and, notwithstanding the amputated front arm, proceeds to try to murder him. Fur flies everywhere. I grab Arthur. How could you? I ask him, tearfully. Even a human being wouldn’t set upon a disabled member of their own species, especially one who was suffering from PTSD.

Nicholas seems OK, if a bit battered. The stitches are still in place. Arthur looks at me blankly. He doesn’t understand and I don’t understand. How is this logic?

So I am having to think of strategies to protect Nicholas when I am forced to be out of the house, just in case. Feliway Friends (expensive! and you have to buy a refill every thirty days!) plugged in right next to the room he is occupying – the bathroom at the moment, which is very inconvenient (argh, a pun!) – and a long rabbit run for the spare room, so that he can get around but hopefully not be attacked.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: My Life Is So Complicated.

A woman needs a bus like a fish needs a bicycle

I think Bertie-bus-stop must be in one of his low phases at the moment . I’ve noticed he swings between talking (a terrible lot) and staring out bitterly at the sea – or what would be the sea if the huge grassy bank of the sea wall wasn’t between us and it, since we’re below sea level. When the tide is up you can actually see boats and ships and stuff floating along on some invisible surface/horizon above your head. It’s weird.

This week he has had a permanent half-a-beard. Not designer stubble, I think, but maybe the result of shaving every third day, or chopping off tufts of beard with the kitchen scissors. The day before yesterday he was on an upswing, telling me in microscopic detail about the method of propagation for wallflowers. He has a family of wallflowers in his conservatory, not that I’ve seen his conservatory. But today it’s low tide and he’s at a low ebb, and he glares out at what would be the sea, if he could see it.

It may be the psoriasis, of course. It seems to be running away with him at the moment. I am not laughing. English Sister gets psoriasis at intervals, when stressed. It seems to start in her hair and creep down onto her forehead, meaning her scalp feels as if it is tightening up and holding her in a vice-like grip. She had to give up swimming because of it. Bertie has it on his hands, which he has shown me, but also – I now see – on his face. He says it’s from using bleach and other chemicals to do cleaning. I am not sure whether he means household cleaning or whether he is a cleaner.

Last time he mentioned the psoriasis I suggested those purple neoprene gloves, but he said he didn’t like wearing rubber gloves because he couldn’t feel what he was doing when cleaning toilets. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to be able to do when cleaning a toilet is to feel what I am doing. I am very, very squeamish and get through all such tasks by trying to ‘move my mind’ elsewhere, to contemplate infinity, to replay the plot of whatever book I am reading or film I saw last. Most of the time (confession time) I just squirt loads of bleach and limescale-remover down there and wander away, until forced to remember and do something about it.

But people do what they do, and don’t do what they don’t do, and I suppose he’s plumped for the psoriasis. And so we both stare at what would be the sea, if we could see it. And the bus doesn’t come, and it doesn’t come and it doesn’t come. Two more people join us, and still no sign of the bus.

Bertie walks up the road a way, posting himself as lookout. He always does this. He has good eyesight and enjoys being ‘bus monitor’. I inspect the scruffy piece of tarmac outside our one and only Store in some detail. How does so much litter manage to miss the litter bin? Once upon a time it would have been used condoms. Nowadays it seems to be cigarette butts, olive green cigarette packets (it makes them less attractive) and lots of little empty plastic tubes. I suspect holidaymaking teenagers may have used these to inhale some recreational substance during the night.

I have Arthur with me, balanced on the damp brick wall, in the pet carrier. We have an appointment at the vets two settlements over, for his claws to be done. The latest pet-carrier is ideal for both the bus journey and the rough terrain round here, normally. You can heave it up onto your back and wear it like a rucksack or you can put it down and pull out a handle, and it has wheels – it turns into a trolley. The cats don’t seem to mind it.  You’d think they would.

But’s it’s been a struggle with Arthur because he’s so heavy. I have staggered the twenty minutes down to the bus stop bent forward under the combined, considerable weight of Arf and the carrier, feeling like Good King Wenceslas’s page in the song, or some venerable crone sent out to gather a bundle of wood in a fairy tale.

Arthur is patient. I can just see his little green eyes peering out of the mesh sides at me, all the rest blending in with the darkness. But he’s been out here for ages, and the bus is twenty minutes late. We’ll not get there in time now, and if we get there late we’ll miss the usual bus home, and that’ll mean an hour and a half or something like, waiting in the draughty bus shelter on the other side of the road. You can’t expect a cat to hold off on the wees-n’-poos indefinitely, especially an old boy like Arthur. And then… squelchy-cat! No getting on a bus for us, in that condition. Or a taxi, for that matter. What do we do then? Totter the six mile back? Squelch, stagger, squelch, stagger…

I give up and ring the vet to cancel the appointment, then bid farewell to Bertie and the two other people waiting, the mousy-looking woman with the shopping basket, and a vaguely familiar local wench – she with the raven hair, the leggings, the lots of eye make up and the computer game that makes goldfish noises.

Maybe the bus arrived, eventually, or maybe it didn’t. Most likely it was one of those days when the driver decided not to come down our road at all. Sometimes the prison ‘gets it’, sometimes we do, and sometimes the next village is arbitrarily bypassed and all the elderly and disabled folks left to wait for the next (hourly) bus, assuming that doesn’t bypass them too.

Now I remember exactly how lovely it was to have a motor-car. I wonder – could I still balance on a bicycle?fish bike

PAWS CROSSED FOR LITTLE ARF

I was just emailing my friend about Arthur, who isn’t very well at the moment. She emailed me back, you’re a sucker for an undercat – and I suppose I am. Poor Little Arf – he can’t breathe very well, he keeps sneezing and licking his lips, and his eyes have gone all small.

First I fed him and then I rescued him. He didn’t put up much resistance. Cats tend to revert to the wild when they’ve been straying for so long. It can take six months to a year before they even let you touch them, and longer than that before they let you pick them up. Sometimes, just sometimes, you never can. I fed a hideous old tomcat called Frodo for many years – as did the whole neighbourhood – but I only managed to stroke him once, when he was dying.

First you put out food for them and keep watch from indoors. After a while you go quietly out and sit, at a distance, just watching them eat, sending out kindness. I have sat on my back door step for fifteen minutes at a time, sometimes, watching a stray cat eat, saying a few words – just things like There you are, are you ok? What’s your name, then? Do you have a name? and getting no reply. I have sat on that step in the snow with no coat on because there wasn’t time to fetch one. I have sat in the rain and waited, making no sudden moves.

And sometimes I find that their name has arrived in my head. It was like that with Arthur. Could you be Arthur? Are you my Little Arf? I think he decided fairly quickly that he was. Of all the cats I have rescued, Arthur probably had the least to lose by giving up on the wild. When he came indoors I discovered that his two canine teeth had been snapped off at exactly the same level, as if somebody had kicked him in the face. Now the vet says he’s got a larynx like a cauliflower from repeated throat infections. He may need to be antibiotics for the rest of his life or it may be something worse but Arthur and I, we are hoping for the best. We are keeping our paws crossed.

So many years he was out there on his own, running around looking for food in all weathers. So very long before he came to me. I wish I could heal his past as well as his present illness. I wish I could go back and revise his little life, give him a second chance – to be young again, to sit by the fire; to curl up for a nap in the sun, well fed; to be loved as all cats should be.

Somebody once told me there is a special prayer or church service known as The Healing of the Memories. If only such a thing worked, and not only on cats: on people, on nations, on cities.

Update 29th November:

Hopefully Arthur is over the worst now. Still sneezing all over me, and the other cats, who are also sneezing, but there’s been no practical way of segregating him. He has started eating and drinking again, and got a bit of his “shine” back, and the others seem to be going through/have gone through a lesser version of – whatever it was. Most of the “cure” I suspect comes from purrs: lots and lots of time on the lap, and purrs. The laying on of hands.

Update 9th December:

Arf continues to improve, with the occasional splashy sneeze inches from Mummy’s face to remind her he’s still not quite better and requires an awful lot of fuss to make sure he doesn’t fade away again. He’s now back to head-butting me out of the way to get to a new plate of food. Out of the woods, I think.

IT’S OH SO QUIET, IT’S OH SO STILL

So I’ve woken up in the middle of the night again, probably because Old Rufus and Young Rufus are competing to see which can be the biggest nuisance. Young Rufus is winning, on the mega-purr front and in the violent-chin-butting contest. My mouth is full of that floaty fur you get when cats decide to demonstrate affection. After an abortive attempt to ignore all this and go back to sleep, I get up. It is four o’clock in the morning.

Sideways down the stairs, one step at a time, clinging to the rail. The right knee is playing up.

Vertical human equals food, and the Whiskas-lust is upon them. I’m not feeding you yet; you’ve got twelve half-bowls of Felix to be going on with. Anyway, most of you are too fat. I make a cup of coffee. While the kettle is boiling I play a quick game of football with George. The knee is still playing up but this is a tiny football, with a bell in the middle. George is much better at football than I. Sometimes I tell people he was called that after footballer George Best, but in fact he was named after several King Georges of England. The only King George I can usually remember is the mad one, with the purple wee. All the boys are named after Kings of one sort or another. I don’t switch on the living room light in case the neighbours might see I am about in the middle of the night and conclude that I am wandering in an elderly, Alzheimer’s kind of way, or just weird. Somehow their opinions, even their putative, probably non-existent opinions, constitute an invasion of my privacy. Flicking on the News Channel, I attempt to lift the mug around Arthur without it spilling. He sits on my knee, nose to nose, bolt upright. He is staring me out. Whiskas!

No Whiskas! No till six.

Whiskas!!

Same old, same old. City centre shootings, back-street stabbings and endless migrants; border after border closing in Europe, razor-wire being rolled out; crying children, babes in arms; exhausted adults swathed in blankets against the night rain, trapped between one barbed wire fence and another all day and all night; desperate faces. I could weep for the world.

For some reason this reminds me of that 1997 song by Cornershop, an East/West fusion band.

Brimful of Asha on the forty-five…

The song was catchy and also included the excellent line Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow, everybody needs a bosom… It is a song with many layers of meaning. Asha means Hope, and Indian films are all about hope, relentless and sometimes rather syrupy. Asha was also the name of a one of the popular singing sisters Asha Bhonsle and Lata Mangeshkar, who recorded background tracks for Bollywood films. Cornershop’s lead singer is of Punjabi heritage, yet he sings Asher. In the Punjab Asha would have been pronounced Aaasha, so he is indicating that he grew up in a different culture speaking English. The forty-five was a forty-five rpm record player… the sort of thing parents still had, when their children were moving over to CD players.

The house adjoining mine is empty, oppressively so. I don’t notice it during the day but at night a chill, a kind of dankness seems to come through the walls. Apparently they are in the South of France for several months, engaged in a Grand Design project, their dream villa; or staying in the caravan of a friend of a friend, it depends which neighbour you talk to. Presumably doggy is with them. The labradoodle. I wonder what the French would call a labradoodle. Le doodle probably, since they have a tendency to leave out bits of the words and phrases they borrow from us. Le scotch for Scotch tape but Le Scotch for the whisky. Le parking for the car-park. Le living for living-room. Le brushing for blow-drying. Interestingly, le fashion-victim is a compliment rather than an insult if you are called it by a Frenchman.

Things keep reminding me of things at this time of the night – sorry, morning. There was this play. They were all in a cottage, having a dinner party. It all seemed quite normal to start with and then someone peered out of the window – never a wise thing to do in a TV play – and there was nothing there. Nothing at all. Blackness. It was as if they were flying through space, trapped together for all eternity in this one cottage, in this dreadful dinner party, with this same little group of dreadful people. The play must have thoroughly creeped me out since I am now recalling it thirty years later. I keep thinking Rocket Cottage but no, that was the name of an album by Steeleye Span. It had a rocket on the front.

So what is keeping me awake? Many things.

Mum, deep in dementia yet refusing all help. My sister emailed me yesterday: ‘I think of Mum all the time, even in the middle of the night.’ Do we just have to wait for disaster to happen? Is there no safety net – no contingency plan in a situation like this? Surely we can’t be the only ones in this situation?

And catalogues, of course. Catalogue-delivering and income supplementation strategies generally eat into my precious time – time reserved for blogging, reading and thinking. I can’t think. No time to. The house is filling up with shiny home-shopping catalogues in shiny plastic snap-bags. Drowning under the weight of them. Glug. Glug, glug… I find I have written strange notes to myself: Bag up cats – Deliver cats – Wipe and recycle cats. It’s a good thing the actual cats can’t read.

There’s a pebble-man propped up against the poetry in my bookcase. My sister made him for me and posted him from Canada. Pebbles glued on to white board, with additional art-work. I can’t help wondering how those pebbles felt, one minute nestling in brotherly companionship on some Canadian lake shore, say, the next glued to a board and painted round then whizzed into first one then another postal system and ending up for no obvious reason in an English bookcase. Are they homesick?

My neighbour arrives in from his night shift, killing the headlights early so as not to wake the neighbours – those that are not already awake. I hear him attempting to drive quietly on our unmade road, but the potholes, gravel and broken lumps of concrete of which it is composed announced his arrival from the minute he turned into the road. If the Council were to adopt the road it would be surfaced, smooth and luxurious, but our Council Tax would shoot up so we don’t make too much of a fuss.

I lift the corner of the curtain to see if there are any other lighted living-room windows, indicating that other people are about. There are one or two, up the hill and down, but you can never be sure there are actually people in those rooms. They could just have left the lights on to discourage burglars. At one time I worked an evening shift and came in at ten. Sometimes our one and only streetlight was out when I got home and it was a case of groping round the side of the house and through the night garden, trying to find the keyhole with a tiny torch, the key unwilling to fit because I was rushing to get indoors. I was imagining escaped prisoners lying in wait just beyond the bird-feeders, or lurking in the lavender.

And suddenly it is 6.30. Time to feed the cats.