Florence Nottingale

The Domestic Science wing at my school was known as The Crimea. This was on account of some connection with Florence Nightingale, the Lady With The Lamp. The headmistress never stopped banging on about old Florence and gave us the impression that wounded soldiers were actually nursed in our Domestic Science wing, in beds, in rows, like the picture above. I never quite understood this, because I thought they were on the battlefield and she went out to them.

You’d think this might have inspired me to be a nurse, or a heroine of some kind, but all I ever wanted to be was a Poet. My parents were not impressed when I told them this. They said I would be making better use of my time as a shorthand typist for the Electricity Board. Actually, over a whole frittered lifetime, there turned out to be nothing much I would have been better using my time doing.

Fast forward and here I am apparently nursing a stray cat with an amputated leg. I mean a very amputated leg, right up at the shoulder. His name is Nicholas, because he has a white necklace. When you have quite a few black and white cats it’s easier to remember them that way, like recognising seabirds by their beaks or whales by their fins. I have been feeding him outside for some time. He and Sunshine (another un-neutered tom) were sharing the garden on an unspoken rota basis. But Nicholas has been missing for several day.

Yesterday I got home from a routine visit the vet’s to find Nicholas outside. He looked brisk and business-like enough but he was holding a front paw in the air. Perhaps a thorn, I thought, or a cut. Looking on the bright side, or trying to, I reached down and scooped him up. Bad sign, that he let me do that.

Several phone calls to the vet, the RSPCA (to get an Incident Number), to the vet again, to a taxi firm. I can’t take a sick cat all that way on the bus. By lunchtime we are back at the vets. Probably an abscess, says the vet, in that Russian-type accent I have never been able to reproduce. If you are going to take him I will do the operation and castrate him at the same time. But when the x-rays come in he shows me – that leg is shattered. You have three options he says: have the cat put to sleep, refer him to an orthopaedic surgeon – because I can’t fix that – which would cost you around £4,000 – or have the leg amputated and the castration done at the same time, which I could do cheaply for you for only… Only?

The cat might be adopted afterwards, of course. He looks round from his computer and grins. ‘You don’t have to take them all.’ But he knows perfectly well that I do.

And so here I am – Mrs Squeamish, who hates any kind of physical responsibility, trying to be Florence Nightingale. Nicholas is alternately stretched out and curled up in an untidy heap of pet bed, blanket and folded fleece in the corner, partly covered by a blanket. He doesn’t look too bright, but he has eaten something and doesn’t seem averse to a stroke and a purr every now and again, between long sleeps. For some reason I think about Beowulf, and Grendel and his arm torn off at the shoulder at the battle of Heriot…

Concentrate, woman…

To be honest, I have never seen a newly-amputated creature before. An amputee is one thing – you see them on TV all the time – but a new wound is another. I had to bathe it this morning, and of course there are ugly things, like stitches and blood and shaven, puckered skin. I shall be so glad when that fur begins to grow back, Nicholas. He squirms over onto his tummy and squints up at me. I am going to get so bitten, I think, approaching on creaking knees with the cotton wool and the bowl of warm water. But no, he lies patiently and lets me clean him up and looks ever so slightly less appalling afterwards. Much smarter, I say.

I was thinking about angels, and that mysterious old man on the bus who talked to me about the meaning of life, recited Desiderata and vanished. I was wondering if we are all obliged to do ‘Angel Duty’ – a bit like conscription – at some point, or in one aspect of our lives. I was thinking maybe it was my job to be Nicholas’ angel today, and that he had at least chosen the right person to hobble to. I was wondering who my right person was, or would be if and when the time came, to hobble to.

I was thinking about competence and incompetence, and how the both things can exist in the same person at the same time. I was thinking that my sister doesn’t speak to me now, and wondering if it is because she has got lumbered with all the financial and practical stuff in connection with my mother, and despises me and my irresponsibility/incompetence/host of financial phobias and anxieties, for having backed out of all that so smartly. Did I let her down? At the time I just knew she would be better at it, but all the same… I’m the older sister and that should have been my responsibility.

No, you don’t have to take them all in. And you don’t have to be an Angel in everything. You have your one thing, and maybe only that one thing. That’s your mission, should you choose to accept it…

From Mum’s Old Recipe Book: Bread Pudding

Serves 6

Good way of using up left-over bread.

  • 12 oz (ounces) stale bread
  • 2 oz granulated sugar
  • 4 oz sultanas
  • 1 1b mincemeat (this is sweet – not minced/ground meat)
  • 4 level teaspoons mixed spice
  • 2 level tablespoons granulated sugar, for sprinkling
  • 7 inch square cake tin, greased and lined at the base

Cut the bread into one inch pieces. Put in a bowl and add enough cold water to cover the bread. Leave to soak for at least an hour. Drain well and squeeze out all the water.

Put the bread in a mixing bowl and beat in the sugar. Mix in the sultanas, mincemeat and mixed spice.

Moderate oven. Gas mark 4 or 350ºF/ 180º C.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 2 1/2 hours until golden. Cool slightly and remove from the tin, then sprinkle with granulated sugar. When cold, cut into squares. Can also serve warm with custard or cream.

Hector likes to live life on the edge!

IMG_20170909_185024_kindlephoto-980345.jpg

Angel Delight, concluded

Pete had never heard of a new router somehow managing to reset a person’s home page, but that was what it seemed to have done. Instead of Google, Hot Babes popped up on his screen. Although…

Well she was hot enough, he supposed – blonde, blue-eyed, a shapely figure from what you could see of it beneath that white, feathery outfit. Too much of the feathers, he thought, and not enough flesh. It was hardly worth the subscription, this site. And she wasn’t… she wasn’t behaving like a Hot Babe usually did – none of suggestive pouting, the secretive smiles, no writhing… And where was the bed? The whole set looked a bit weird compared to normal. Instead of a boudoir type thing, this blonde babe seemed to be in an office, working on a computer not so very different from his own. She seemed absorbed in whatever she was studying on that screen, didn’t even look up though she must have known he was there. Some little light must have gone on.

At last the webchat box came up. Ah, that was more like it.

Helo gorjus! Pete typed, with one cigarette-stained forefinger. And wot is yr name?

The girl looked up then. He wasn’t using the webcam but he could have sworn she could see him. An expression which might or might not have been distaste flitted across her face, to be replaced by one of neutral efficiency. Must be some sort of role-play, Pete thought: a variation on the one where there was a nurse in a very short, starched white uniform which would conveniently get removed, in instalments. Sometimes the one fee covered all. Sometimes the girl would pause and demand extra in bitcoin before she took off the rest. When were those feathers going to start falling? He hoped she wasn’t going to want the extra. Pete had never really understood bitcoin, and couldn’t be bothered to find out. She was taking her own sweet time about replying.

Nameless, she replied, eventually. And your name please?  All this was beginning to unnerve Pete. His head was beginning to thump again. Why hadn’t Google come up? What was this?

Pete.

Pete short for Peter? Peter what?

Hey, liten up babe…

Surname now, please, and any middle names. Reluctantly, he typed in the information. Surely they didn’t usually ask for surnames? It was getting weirder by the minute but he couldn’t seem to unglue his hands from the keyboard.

Nameless is typing…

Nameless is typing…

The girl in the feathers appeared to be looking down a list of names, then second list of names. As she typed, he spotted something. There was something on the desk beside her. It moved… it was alive. A small, black, silky creature that looked very much like a cat. It came closer and bent to rub its head against her ear. Nameless reached up a slender, well-manicured hand to acknowledge the affectionate greeting. Then it walked right across her keyboard and for a second or two was looking straight out of the screen. What was it about that cat? Something familiar…

Nameless is…

You do not appear on my database, Mr Peter.

Yr wot?

You do not feature on any of my lists, Mr Peter. I believe the most helpful course of action would be to transfer you to a colleague.

Wot colleeg?

A colleague in different department. Transferring you now.

Hang on, Nameless. Cum bak hear!!

But another face had appeared on the screen. This time it was a middle-aged man in a very dirty singlet. He was in the process of mopping a sweaty, soot-smeared brow with what might once, many aeons ago, have been a white handkerchief.

What can I do for you tonight, mate?

Tonite? Iss no even diner tim hear!

Different time zone, matey. Different everything. Black as the night and fiery as a furnace, hahaha. Name?

Pete.

Pete what?

Jus went thru all that with the other one.

Well just go thru it again, eh, Pete? Humour me. Surname and any middle names? Ah, here you are. I found you on my Little List. Hmmm…nice one! No fewer than three pitchforks against your name, Pete. You’ll be a splendid addition. Come on down, mate…

Down were?

Down here of course, matey. Come a little closer to the screen, that’s right. It won’t hurt much I promise you.

WOT wont hurt much?

Just a little closer to the screen, that’s it.

And a little closer…

Featured Image: Black angel kitten cat – I miss you too 3: Cyra R Cancel, Florida

Angel Delight, continued

The doorbell-leaner was the postman, with a flattish cardboard package. “Looks like a new router maybe, Pete,” he said. For a moment, still trying to prise his eyelids open and squinting against the light, Pete squinted suspiciously at the man’s face, wondered how a postman knew his name. Then it came to him – Jerry. They’d been at school together, once, a long time ago. Jerry: quiet and dull. Wouldn’t say boo to a goose. No real challenge. Apart from the occasional routine beating for the purposes of extracting cash Pete had hardly noticed him. The loser had never had much worth stealing, anyway.

Jerry was sweating and obviously ill-at-ease. I’d sock you one in the eye just for old times’ sake, you fat git, thought Pete. Lucky for you I don’t feel up to it this morning.

Jerry cleared his throat. ‘That cat, Pete…’

What cat, Jerry?’

‘The little black one.’

‘I ain’t seen no cat, Jerry.’

‘Oh, I see, only…. only if you had seen it I was going to offer to take it off your hands, like. I’m fond of cats, see, Pete, and… well, I expect you’ve got enough on your hands, what with the wife…’

‘And what about my wife?’ he asked, pushing a bleary, unshaven face into Jerry’s and breathing stale alcohol. Jerry took a step back, and then another.

‘Oh, well nothing really, but… the cat, Pete. Were you looking to re-home it maybe? Only I’d be glad to take it off your hands, like.  It’s just that one or two of the neighbours… the RSPCA… I didn’t want you to get into trouble, Pete. I just thought it might be a help if I could take that little cat off…’

Pete glanced sideways at the bloodied heap of fur on the far side of his debris-strewn living room.

‘Get lost,’ he snarled, and slammed the front door.

Pete watched from the side panel as his former classmate shuffled off up the garden path, and then down the neighbours’ path, edging sideways between a cast off plastic go-cart and a heap of old wooden pallets, his postman’s sack hunched over his shoulder. He looked miserable.

‘Dammit,’ thought Pete, and went through to the kitchen for a black sack. Whose wheelie bin am I going to dump it in?

*

When he got back he engineered some space amongst a pile of grubby, union jack scatter cushions and watched some TV; then, catching sight of the remains of a take-away curry mouldering on the coffee table in front of him, he rushed out and threw up in the sink. Feeling a bit better, he made himself a mug of black coffee and watched some more TV. Then the long, flat parcel caught his eye – his new router. Better fix that thing up before he started into the booze again, he supposed. He was looking forward to visiting that new gaming site they’d been advertising, as soon as the computer was up and running again. And then there was Hot Babes. He hadn’t had a look in on those Babes for a while.

Seized by a sudden impatience to get a tedious task out of the way Pete muted the TV, ripped open the cardboard box, tossed the instructions to one side and discovered that he was just about sober enough, by now, to plug in a few wires. He pressed the button on the top of the router and a promising blue light came on – yay! Then he hit the power button on his computer and waited for Google to come up. But it didn’t.

Something else did.

Featured Image: Tuxedo angel cat with peace dove heaven stained glass window: Cyra R Cancel, Florida

There’s a Moose Loose Aboot This Hoose

Now this is the scary bit. I’ve just watched a bit of Loose Women – an annoying programme for Ladies featuring a selection of twittering Lady presenters with nothing better to do – hugely outclassed and overshadowed by the erudite Janet Street-Porter. Anyway, on this particular bit-of-a-programme the question was: Do you believe in an afterlife?  Janet Street-Porter, surprisingly, did, and explained why. That blonde woman who writes ghost-written romances and used to be married to Peter André appeared not to believe because… I mean, if you die and go to heaven, where can you go? Where is it? I mean, it’s not up there, is it? ‘Cos up there’s the sky.’

Anyway, they showed this film of a boy’s Wake in  the Philippines … well, lets see if I can find it…

[video since removed from YouTube by user]

Well, I had just been watching that and you just wonder – why wasn’t anyone else giving her a hug at this point? Are they all just sitting around filming her and watching her cry? And whether or not the balloon is her dead little boy come back to give her one last cuddle you have to hope, don’t you?

So I suppose I was already in a frame of mind to be spooked, because I looked down and there was Rufus the Younger looking up at me with a dead mouse in his mouth. Not a stuffed mouse – a real mouse. But dead. Which shouldn’t be. Because my cats are indoor cats. They have to be, because the neighbours are prone – or at any rate rumoured, which is enough – to murdering inconvenient cats and depositing them in wheelie bins for the bin-men to take away. I’ve been here around five years and no cat has ever caught a mouse inside my house. There appear to be no mouse holes, and if there is one that has escaped my attention in five or more years, why didn’t I notice all thirteen cats glued to it? No red-blooded cat is going to ignore a hole in the skirting board, not for a second.

I ran through all the possibilities.

Eight of the thirteen had had to be taken to the vets last week to get their injections (for going into a cattery on moving day). Could a mouse somehow have snuck into one of the pet-carriers, journeyed home with the cat (the equivalent of being sealed into the labyrinth with the Minotaur), jumped out once indoors and hidden all this time undetected by thirteen cats?

And yesterday… yesterday I had to go out in the garage. My landline is playing up and I was on my mobile to some boy in a call centre in Scotland. He was insisting on doing tests, over the phone. He told me to find my old handset and an old set of splitters. No hurry, he had all day, he said. Mind how you go there, dearie, don’t fall over anything… I was getting increasingly frantic and irritable. I had found the old handset (not in the garage after all) but no splitters. I had made several trips out into the garage, in the gloaming (as they say in Scotland). There is no light in the garage so I was bumping around among cardboard boxes (neatly stacked to impress male house-viewers) trying to find by touch a set of splitters. Then I remembered putting them out for the ‘small electricals’ collection last week.

So, a lot of stress, no splitters, no further testing possible, landline still up the spout, calls diverted to my mobile indefinitely, £10 on Amazon to order a new, unnecessary set… not a good day yesterday. But could I have brought a mouse in in my frantic searching of the garage in the semi-darkness? Could it somehow have hitched a ride in my pocket? Poor mousie. What a mistake!

I never kill anything, and I’m not afraid of mice. If I’d found one attached to the leg of my jeans or poking out of my pocket I’d have saved it. I’d have fought off flesh-hungry cats till Kingdom Come. But…

how did that mouse get into my house? Suggestions on a postcard, please.

 

Anna Maria’s film – so very bad it’s almost very good, if you know what I mean. Should point out – as she does, that though Anna’s video features her stuffed moose, Zeus (naturally) moose in ‘Scottish’ actually means mouse. The song Hoots Mon, There’s a Moose Loose Aboot this Hoose is by Lord Rockingham’s XI (1958).

Sleeping with the Gingery Gentleman

Recently, I have been sleeping with a gingery gentleman. He’s pretty old. I mean, I’ve always tended to go for the Older Man but this one’s 89 by my calculations – ancient, even by my standards.

And it’s not as if he’s rich. I mean, if you had to, it would be at least a minor consolation to think he was going to leave you the yacht in the Mediterranean and the various villas with the solid gold bath taps and a swimming-pool in every room.

Do let me in, my deario” he quavers, querelously plucking at the duvet. “The old rheumaticks is playing up and I do so need warmth! Raise just a corner of that 10-tog monstrosity, missus, so that I may creep in and make the smaller of the two spoons.”

“I’d really rather not,” I mumble, pulling the duvet tighter around my shoulders. “There’s something about red-headed men that puts me off – Damian Lewis being the exception that proves the rule. I really don’t want those tickly whiskers getting up my nostrils when I’m trying to sleep. And besides, it’s not just the… rufusity; it’s the thin-ness. You’re little more than a skeleton on legs. I’m afraid I’ll roll over and squash you.”

“That squashing thing’s a myth,” he says. “Did you skip the last chapter of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings?”

“Quite possibly,” I say. “But do please go away. It’s not just the gingery hair and the tickly whiskers and the thin-ness, it’s the incurable brown-and-watery-eye.”

“Did I ask to be afflicted with an incurable brown-and-watery-eye? Besides, you won’t be able to see it in the dark. Please, lady! Take pity on a senior citizen this cold and windswept winter’s midnight. I’m a veteran of four World Wars. Ten minutes of snuggle-time is all I ask. What harm can it do, eh? A bit of a purr, a dribble or two… it’d do wonders for the rheumatism.”

“Well OK. As long as you don’t do any widdling in situ.”

Widdling? How could you be so cruel! When have I ever widdled?”

“You mean you want a list…?”

Secrets and lies

I’ve lived a long time, though not nearly as long as my mother who this afternoon informed me (for the umpteenth time) and her doctor (for the first but probably not the last time) that she was nearly a hundred and had been through four World Wars. Also that her ancient cat had been eating the giant slugs that live and multiply under the house, and the slugs are growing inside her. Also that… oh, I could write several thousand words of Also that’s. None of it is true, of course.

All my life I seem to have attracted secrets and lies of one sort or another. I must be the human equivalent of the pots of marmalade-and-water people used to put out to drown wasps in the summertime – paper over the top held with an elastic band, and holes punched in it. Once in, the wasps swam around desperately for what seemed like hours, slowly, slowly drowning. It was considered a kind of picnic entertainment. I think the War must have coarsened people.

Me, I’m post-War, so I let wasps out. I let everything out – birds, ants, flies, butterflies, spiders; they all get shunted onto slips of paper, caught in wine glasses, cradled in paper tissues or gently encouraged towards the gap at the window’s edge. My mother (when she still remembered things) once reminded me of an incident from my youth. On one of our Sunday drive-abouts in the car, she, Dad and I had stopped at a roadside café, where there were picnic tables. My Dad bought us one of those polystyrene cups of coffee each and we were sitting at the tables with them.

‘A wasp landed in yours,’ she said, ‘and do you know what, you tipped the whole cup of coffee away into the grass just to save the wasp!’ And I’m thinking – you mean, you wouldn’t have? You’d have watched him drown to death in steaming hot liquid?

But where was I? Lost the plot again. Oh yes, secrets and lies. You sometimes end up thinking in a demented kind of way when you’ve spent an afternoon trying to decode the conversation someone who has it – and then it lingers!

Secrets, for example. Shall I tell you the saddest secret anybody ever told me? As a young teenager I would walk up the road every day to catch the train to school with one of my classmates. Another of my classmates came from a different direction and tended to walk up the road on the opposite side, not speaking to us. Both had what sounded to me like German surnames. This didn’t strike me as strange. Our particular small town was full of Polish people – perhaps soldiers who had fought with us then stayed, imported their families or married local girls. So I just assumed there had been a few German people stranded too.

Then one day these two girls had a fight – a verbal fight, but a violent one. They chased each other up the road, screaming abuse from one pavement to the other. I remember their high-pitched voices echoing off the shop windows, off the walls, it seemed.

Afterwards I asked the one I usually walked with, what was that all about? She was obviously shaken, still. She looked around her carefully and, when she could be absolutely sure no one could hear, whispered ‘I’m Jewish.’ I was mystified. It sounded like some sort of disease. When I got home I asked my parents what exactly Jewish was, and why someone should be so ashamed of being it.

Now for a lie.

When I was at infants school the yo-yo was all the rage. I had been given an orange and yellow one for Christmas and was very pleased with it. I liked the colour combination – like sweeties – I liked the magical way you could flick the string and the yo-yo went up and down (easily pleased) and most of all I liked the fact that I could walk around the playground looking pleasantly occupied – having fun in my solitary, weird-kid way – which meant teachers would be less likely to swoop on me and place me in the middle of terrifying rings of children engaged in some game or other. As soon as the teacher’s eye was off them, the rings of children would expel me, or I would wriggle out and run off. Then one lunch hour I got hauled by the collar to see the headmistress, who told me another girl had accused me of stealing her orange and yellow yo-yo. I think I made a big, terrible fuss. She’s not having my yo-yo. My Daddy bought it for me for a present, it’s mine and so ad infinitum. They had probably expected a stuttering, shame-faced admission and what they got was a major hissy fit. They let me go, but traumatised, scarred for life.

Oh yes, credulous teachers. Oh yes, evil-lying-little-girl whose orange and yellow yo-yo my yo-yo was not, I’ve got your numbers. It’s all written down in my little black book.