The Wonderful Everyday

I have always been fascinated by the story of the village sisters Mary and Martha – how Jesus came to their house one day, and whilst Mary settled herself at his feet to listen Martha slaved away resentfully in the kitchen unaided. I even renamed two of my rescue cats Martha and Mary – well, they were Fluffy and Tiny. Actually, Fluffy and Tiny describes them just as well, though Tiny has put on a pound or two since then and Fluffy, for reasons best known to herself, has licked away most of her back fur, so she now resembles the Last of the Mohicans, or Baldy at the Back, Fluffy at the Front.

I used to see myself as a Definite Mary – the spiritual one. Not the drab, cross one fretting about a mountain of washing up in another room. But things have happened to me recently which have made me reassess my attitude to everyday life and value two items – the company of my multitude of cats, and the endless tiny repetitions of simple tasks – the drudgery, if you like, of everyday life. Indeed these two threads are intertwined since ninety percent of the drudgery is generated by the many cats!

Twice a day I pick up twenty empty, or half-empty, cat-food bowls and scrape them into a green waste bin. (It should be nineteen, since Rufus left us for those sunny meadows in the sky on Christmas Day – but I can’t be bothered to divide tins of Whiskas into precise fractions-of-a-tin first thing in the morning. When we get back to even numbers again, I’ll do the math. Probably.)

Twice a day I put out twenty more bowls and change four bigger bowls of water.

Twice a day I wash up those twenty bowls, plus a lot of other stuff that seems to have accumulated by the sink. In between, I clean out dirt-boxes, dispense medicines, mop up piles of sick, separate those who would murder one another and unhook various hapless creatures from items of soft furniture to which they have managed to hook themselves irretrievably. Twice a day day, just when I collapse on the sofa with a cup of tea and a biscuit, under the impression that I have finished my ‘duties’ for the time being at least, more muddle materialises.

And then there is that Zen tale, of the monk who was repeatedly told, after eating his rice: Wash Your Bowl”, upon hearing which he was Enlightened. The idea is, I would guess, that you should avail yourself of any passing opportunity to be existing ‘in the moment’. After eating your rice, wash your bowl. Do not decide to wash your bowl, or wonder why you are washing your bowl, or resent having to wash your bowl. After eating, wash your bowl: it is a form of meditation.

So maybe the tale of Mary and Martha isn’t so black and white after all. Maybe Martha wasn’t the villain – or wouldn’t necessarily have been if she hadn’t got all self-righteous and started whingeing. Maybe both sisters were heroes, and the contrast between them shows that there are many different ways of focussing on what’s important; more than one way of Being in the world.

Of cats in cupboards and head-banging to Rita Ora

This is not the most genteel of areas, and the many cats I have rescued from it do seem to reflect that. They are… delinquents.

A few days ago Henry climbed onto the back of the sofa behind my head and sneezed, voluminously, all over my face. Of course, then I got a sore throat, sneezes, snuffles… I thought cat viruses were not transferrable to humans but Henry’s seem to be. Although of course I could just as easily have picked it up from some unhygienic surface at the hospital whilst waiting for my appointment.

Then there are the fights between Nicholas the three-legged cat (aka Hoppity) and Snoots (aka Snooty-Poops). For two practically identical black and white cats they don’t seem to like each other at all and it was one of their yowling, snarling, rolling around sessions that resulted in a savagely bitten hand for me, and a whole unpleasant series of subsequent events.

Last night they engaged in another of their seven-legged wrestling matches leaving the living room floor ankle deep in black and white fur ‘feathers’ – which of course I had to clear up.

And then the TV started acting spookily – nothing to do with cats you might think. It was off, but then suddenly it was on, and then off. And then strange menus started appearing on the screen and scary choices being made on drop-down menus. To avoid stress and confusion I never touch anything on a remote control apart from Channel Change, Volume and Up & Down. I get by perfectly well with those. But of course cats are more adventurous. One of them was standing on it, and paddling about randomly with her great, furry feet.

And then there are the piles of sick hidden behind sofas – anywhere you might not look for a few days – or right in the middle of the landing where you cannot help but tread. There are the ripped net curtains (I have now thrown out all net curtains and use decorative plastic film instead) and the shredded water-bottle tops, the taps with teethmarks on them, the spectacle arms that suddenly become rough and scratchy where someone has had a jolly good chew when I wasn’t looking.

I have a cat who – with great difficulty and much contortion of his flexible feline self – stoops to drink from the toilet, when there are two large bowls of fresh water right outside the door. I have one who leaves piles of aromatic poo on top of the kitchen cabinets, too high for a human to see. It’s a process of elimination. If you can’t see one in any of the usual places get out the telescopic mirror and run it along the top of the cabinet like a periscope.

I have cats who turn the taps on when I am out, meaning I come home to gushing (expensive) hot water. I now have to remember to tie the two taps together with a child’s elastic hairband, before I go out. I have cats who turn on the cooker gas taps, so when I leave the house I have to cover them with a plastic box.

I have a cat who tries to help the iron to do the ironing, and one who sits on the mouse mat and tethers the mouse and its cord to the desk. There she sits, mournfully, reflecting upon life in general. Sometimes for a change she comes and sits in front of the screen so I can’t see what I’m typing.

I have a cat who jumps into the food cupboard every time I open the door, and cannot be removed without scattering tins and packets all over the place. Usually all that is visible of her is the rear end, tail defiantly aloft, and all that can be heard is the sound of her licking the top biscuit of an open packet of digestives.

This morning, driving cross-country round twisty country lanes, it suddenly occurred to me that since I stood no chance of beating the moggies at their little games I might as well join them. I decided to become – gradually – a Delinquent Pensioner.

All my life I have modified my behaviour, shall we say, partly so as not to be a nuisance to my fellow human beings but mainly so as not to be conspicuous. That was the overwhelming theme of my childhood:

Do not draw attention to yourself!!!

We were taught to walk quietly, eat quietly and with our mouths closed, never put our elbows on the table (except for Dad, who could do whatever he liked) – hell, even think quietly. We were taught to keep our opinions to ourselves. We were taught to laugh discreetly and never, never raise our voices to the level that other people were forced to overhear our conversations. We were little mice, and I was the Arch-Mouse.

So, ever since I have been driving – since 1980 or thereabouts – I have tried to resist the temptation to dance to the car radio. Know what I mean – that jiggling about, head-banging activity when your favourite song comes on? Not enough to sing along to it (quietly, tunelessly, missing out most of the words, getting out of breath) – you have to dance. Whilst driving.

Now, I have always tried to suppress my natural in-car jiggly-ness because people behind might laugh, or people behind might think I was a dangerous driver, or people might think it inappropriate to be singing at the top of my voice and head-banging along to Rita Ora:

Over the hills and far away
A million miles from L.A
Just anywhere away with you…

But this morning I did.

Think you can misbehave, Moggies?

toad3

You ain’t seen nothing yet!

He’ll be there waiting for me

Quite a while back I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post which I called Sleeping With The Gingery Gentleman. Hopefully WordPress’s Similar Posts miraculous algorithm thingammajig will pick it up and put it at the bottom of this post, but if it doesn’t I will go looking for it and link it, if I can remember how. That’s the thing about growing old – if you don’t use it you tend to lose it, at least when it comes to computers.

The post was in fact about sleeping – or rather, finding it somewhat difficult to sleep – with an ancient but fiercely determined ginger gentleman cat called Rufus. If I remember, I whimsically depicted him as plucking at the duvet like an importunate old man, wheedling for just five minutes of ‘making the two spoons’ on a cold winter’s night, which would greatly ease his arthritics. It was an extended metaphor. Yes, ladies and gentleman, I can even do those.

I recall I was nervous about calling it Sleeping With… but assumed that the picture of a ginger cat at the top would sufficiently give the game away in advance, which it did, to all but one of my readers, and there then ensued the most entertaining exchanges of comments and answers I have had. God love him, that gentleman, he was so nice, and the highlight of my week!

Rufus was very old when I first took him in. He had one of three cats belonging to Ruth, the disabled lady over the road. When Ruth died I took in two of them.  Unfortunately Felix, the elegant black-and-white boy I really longed for, was allocated to Charlie, my rival cat-person. Grrr…!

Poor Rufus, his “Mummy” was so badly disabled she could not even raise her arms, so he and the other cats had been fed by Ruth’s sister Amy. At least twice a day I would see Amy, very elderly herself by this time, picking her way slowly  back and forth along our treacherous little bit of unmade road to visit Ruth and feed the cats, even though at the time she believed she was allergic to cats.

So though regularly fed, neither cat got much of a fuss; but Rufus was always out the front on sunny days and other neighbours, like Charlie, would bend to give him a stroke in passing. But Rufus did have an unfortunate habit of vigorously attaching himself, tooth and extended claw, to the hand of the unwary stroker. He didn’t have much of a life, little Rufus, but people did what they could for him.

And so he came to me, and for two and a half years has been tottering around upstairs, like a little gingery skeleton, and occasionally managing to get under the duvet for a cuddle on cold winter’s nights. He was also somewhat incontinent, or wildly unpredictable, shall we say, in his choice of location. Another reason I was reluctant to allow him under the duvet (although of course I did).

He had got to about twenty-and-a-half in human years when, on Christmas Night/Boxing Day Morning, he passed away. There was nothing I could do to help him in the process – everywhere being closed – so I just bent down and gave him a little stroke every now and again in passing, and this time he didn’t make a grab for my hand. Then there was the business after Christmas, of arranging for the stiff little body to be cremated.

Anyway, I rarely see Amy nowadays so I left a message with her neighbours, and later that evening she arrived at my door. She came in for a brief chat, older than ever but as beautifully made-up as always, and I wondered again if she had been an actress or a model in her younger days.

She said she had been expecting for some time to hear that Rufus had gone, and thanked me for doing the best I could for him at the end of his life.

“Don’t be sad,” she said. “He’ll be there waiting for me.”

 

Featured Image: The Great Cat by Gu Yingzhi (1945 – )

Just Keep Taking The Tablets

Dr Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People. When I first saw this poster I wondered how long it took him to think that one up? I imagined him, this mysterious Dr Williams, as some sort of Victorian gentleman with luxuriant side-whiskers. I saw him seated by a roaring fire in a stuffy drawing room, The Times newspaper folded by his side – and maybe a pipe of some sort, emitting a rich aroma of tobacco. Yes, there he sits in a fug of scented smoke, scribbling in a little black leather notebook with – what would they have used in those days? – did they have pencils?

Green Pills for Greenish Girls, he scribbles.

Hmmm…

Lavender Lozenges for Lethargic Ladies…

Hmmm… Ah….

Pink Pills for Pale People! That way you attract both male and female customers. And Pale… that could mean anything. It was claimed that Pink Pills could cure chorea, or “St Vitus Dance”. This was something my mother accused me of having as a child, I remember, because some passing woman had made a comment about her toddler (me) making funny faces all the time. Did I? It has been one of my nightmares (confession imminent) that I have been making funny faces all my life but just can’t seem to catch myself doing it. People may have just been too kind to tell me.

Pink Pill were good for all sorts of other things too, it seems – locomotor ataxia (no idea) partial paralyxia (no idea), seistica (definitely no idea), neuralgia, rheumatism, nervous headache, the after effects of la grippe (flu?), palpitation of the heart, pale and sallow complexions and all forms of weakness in male or female.

In fact it seems unlikely that Dr Williams himself ever existed except as an advertising concept, since Dr Williams’ Medicine Company was the trading arm of G T Fulford & Company, Canada.

Pills… endless pills. Until Christmas I was quite proud of myself for having attained this advanced age without being permanently on pills of any sort, this one interacting unfavourably with that one… An Old People Thing, pills were. On the rare occasion that I was prescribed pills, for this and that, mostly I wouldn’t take them.

The ghastliness of old age. I think I have just witnessed too much of it, through shadowing a carer (twice) and through Mum and her endless dementia. She had pills, first in a pill-sorter and then (after she began to toss her pills all over the kitchen for some reason) in a sealed dosette box from the chemist. But she quickly learned how to break into it, and added whimsical things to the various compartments – giant, unidentifiable orange vitamin pills, for example. This used to annoy the carers. As did hiding the toaster so that they couldn’t do her tea.

I will never, I promised myself, become that sort of zombified old person surrounded by medical impedimenta. I will never, I vowed, possess a pill-sorter. No dosette box shall ever pass over my doorstep. (In fact Mum used to put the dosette box, together with the carers’ blue plastic record book and various other unrelated objects, back over her doorstep as soon as they departed. She stacked them in a corner of the porch, where they got damp, or buried under the usual blizzard of incoming junk mail.)

The words for things change when you become old. No longer do you rifle around in the medicine cabinet (biscuit tin, in my case) hoping to locate an ancient plaster to stick on a  cut. No, somebody comes and puts a dressing on you. No longer do you rummage in the medicine cabinet/biscuit tin for a couple of ancient Paracetamol still in their foil casing and so probably hygienic enough. Now teams of people come and discuss pain management. Every part of you seems to be going manky, somehow, and you’re not even in control of it.

I’m not that old yet, I suppose. I always thought, when I got that old, I would do a Virginia Woolf, weighting the old pockets with stones (such strong pockets she must have had) and wading into the river. How do you know when you’ve reached that fulcrum moment, I wonder, between being capable of deciding your own destiny and no longer being capable? Presumably you don’t know, and that is why there are so many old folks sitting around on plastic armchairs in Homes, watching Gordon Ramsay on Daytime TV.

But, you have to be practical. Yesterday I sorted all my various antibiotics and iron tablets into a jolly, multi-coloured pill-sorter. It has compartments for Morning, Noon, Evening and Reserve. What is reserve for goodness sake? Hopefully the antibiotics will be finished by next Thursday, then I will just be left with the iron pills, which I should be able to remember without the aid of the multi-coloured pill-sorter.

But it never ends. Today I took Shadow to the vet’s. She’s got an eye infection. I’d intended to take her before Christmas but then I got sick and anyway, conveniently, the cat’s eye infection seemed to be going away. Then I got better, and the cat’s eye infection – inconveniently – came back in full force. So now I have not only all my pills but eye drops (twice a day) and antibiotic ointment three times a day for her.

I have had to re-do my list.

I seem to be spending all day either trying to swallow monstrous pills myself (I inherited from my father the greatest difficulty swallowing pills) and pursuing an unwilling cat round the house, managing to do first one eye then, half an hour later the other eye. Or not

pink pills

Breathing Spaces

Apropos of nothing, the one-armed cat is gaining speed with every day that passes. He has now re-learned how to gallop, and therefore how to scare the bejasus out of selected other cats. This morning I spotted George clinging hot-foot to a central-heating radiator, trying and failing to haul himself up, having been chased up there by some sort of furry Grendel, now nipping joyfully at his ankles. Cats cope with adversity so much better than us. If you had lost an arm, would you be galloping?

I was thinking the other day about the spaces I have found, when I felt like the wounded Grendel. Grendel, if I remember aright, slunk off to the swamp, or maybe some sort of big pond, and drowned there. Poor Grendel! Why do I feel sorrier for him than that granite-jawed hero Beowulf, who also died – in the end?

So, when feeling like a wounded Grendel (on average once a day, when imprisoned in the world of work), I would have to get away. If I couldn’t get away – meltdown. If you’ve never seen a meltdown…

The thing is with meltdowns, you can see them happening from inside. You can witness yourself behaving like some kind of lunatic and yet you can’t stop. Not for hours, sometimes not for days can you stop. And then you have to get yourself home, still sobbing and attracting horrified glances from passers-by. I had to walk four miles in that condition, once. And then you have to recover. And then, somehow, you have to go back, hoping you haven’t been fired in your absence. Pretending it never happened.

Breathing spaces are essential, and the trick is to get to them early, to forestall… it.

When I worked at the Power Station, it was difficult. We were virtually imprisoned many windswept miles from anywhere at all, behind a revolving-gate and plastic-pass security system that sometimes would and sometimes wouldn’t let you out. Mostly I hid in the loos, but there’s only so long you can do that, and toilets are not the most pleasant of places when you’re trying to regain your sang froid. I remember once, a blowsy blonde fellow-employee (I recognised her voice and that inane laugh) entered the cubicle next to me. I took a deep breath. She let off a huge – what’s a polite word for it – oh, bother it – Fart.

Oops! she screeched – that laugh again – But better out than in!

Oh go away, I thought. But people never go away.

In later jobs it got easier, though there was always at least one meltdown per job, just as there was always one bull-necked female supervisor or superior who took a raging dislike to me. Where did I go in those latter days, to breathe?

There was the library, in winter. I would find an empty table in the reference section and prop some weighty tome in front of me. I wasn’t actually using the tome, of course, I was writing, reading or daydreaming behind it.

And there was the church. That was usually empty at lunchtimes. I’ve always liked churches, when empty. I like places with really high ceilings. I think that’s what it is, the ceilings. Which I suppose is why churches and cathedrals were designed that way – as a kind of foretaste of heaven. Occasionally though they would have art exhibitions of fairly bad paintings, or concerts, or flower-arranging competitions.  Not so good.

In summer there was the Memorial Gardens – why do I find death so restful? – where the dead of World War One were cast in greenish bronze on all four sides of a stone memorial. What I liked was the space, and the green of the grass, and the rows of trees, and the unimaginative flower bed with their soldierly ranks of pansies and marigolds. I liked the wasps, and the students mucking about in their lunch-hours, and the drunks in the far bushes with their bottles of stuff in paper bags, or surrounded by a clutter of empty tins. I liked the prim professional people with their sandwiches. I liked the blue sky and the sunshine and the distance. Distance. I have to have space. That was my best place. Most of my best poems were written there.

And at other times I have found sanctuary in cafés, sitting in a parked car in a huge, anonymous supermarket carpark, and on railway stations where I could hang around pretending to wait for trains. Distance again – those rails which might be going – anywhere. I didn’t need to go. It was enough to know that I could go. Sometimes I found a kind of harbour at harbours, or anywhere, really, by the sea. Sea is distance. It is on the edge, it is – where you could, if necessary, walk into the water and swim, or jump onto a ship and sail away, never to be seen or heard of again. Distant parts. Freedom.

Where are your breathing spaces? Or don’t you need them?

deep-breath

And Matilda Went Waltzing Away

I was shuffling about the kitchen in my ancient man’s dressing gown. (Ancient dressing gown meant for a man, that is, not a dressing gown stolen from or donated by an ancient man.) The sleeves are so long I have to turn them up several times so they don’t dangle in the washing-up water, but I don’t suppose you wanted to know that.

Outside it is pitch black. It’s what I hate the worst about winter: being in that kitchen with the big windows and the big french doors and outside it’s like… Space, The Final Frontier…

But the cats need to be fed, which includes not only all of mine but also the various black-and-white and ginger huge toms that materialise out of the darkness. Sometimes, even at 4 in the morning – yes, sometimes I can’t sleep and am up at 4 in the morning when it is just as dark as at 6 – you can see one or other of their little furry faces pressed up against the glass. Where exactly are my three personal bowls of Felix, missuss?

Of course, this requires opening and closing the kitchen doors, collecting old bowls, taking out new ones, and this gives Matilda her daily chance to do a runner, which she does today.

I called her Matilda because every evening at dusk when she was a stray she would come waltzing up the garden, a veritable painted lady, a tortoiseshell of the most lurid black, white and orange design, full of confidence, and ravenous.

Pitch black outside. Unable just to close the door on her and wait, or at least hope that she comes back I make trip after trip out into the damp, dark garden, wambling around in my carpet slippers and dangle-sleeved dressing gown whispering Pusscat? Puss Puss Puss? I am aware that the neighbours may be watching and listening, but the need to recapture Matilda trumps self-respect.

Matilda? I call, setting down a bowl of her favourite Gourmet. I spot her, at intervals – a grey shape circling round me. I make several efforts to grab her but she’s young, and fast.

Matilda? I cry, returning with my second to last mini-tin of tuna? I sit on the (rain-soaked) plastic garden seat and wait. The grey shape materialises and gets near the tuna, but not near enough. Matilda has been caught like this before.

And so it goes on. And on. Daylight dawns and I catch sight of her coming over the wall from the neighbours then sashaying off up the hill, in the opposite direction to the one she always used to arrive from. More distant, my Matilda, every time I catch sight her.

Really I am inundated, drowning in stray cats – and you’d think that I might even be quite relieved to mislay one every now and again. You’d think I could say, Well suit yourself, Matilda. That’s the way you want it, moggie, that’s the way you got it. But it doesn’t seem to work that way.

I return to the washing up, plunging my arms into the tepid water, not even bothering to roll up the dangling sleeves this time, and as I wipe away tears on damp dressing-gown I suddenly understand the story of the Prodigal Son as I never did at Sunday School and, being childless, had never really thought about since. How joyfully his father celebrated that selfish boy’s return, and he wasn’t even a tortoiseshell cat.

prodigal2

I was going to go on about the rest of my doleful Matilda-less morning, about the bit on the news about talking to potential ‘jumpers’ on railway platforms. Say anything at all, talk about the weather, anything that disrupts that train of suicidal thoughts… And my darkly sardonic thought that I would be less likely to spot a potential suicide than for a potential suicide to spot me and come running up, wanting to tell me their whole dreadful life story and, clinging to me for dear life, refuse to be rescued by anyone else

And I had planned to tell you how I was obliged to set off on the bus to pay the weekly visit to my ‘befriendee’ lady, whilst all the time that bumptious, overconfident Matilda was waltzing around in the wild, up hill and down dale, almost certainly being eaten by foxes or raped by one or other of the great lascivious toms I myself had been feeding.

I was going to convey to you how nobly and kindly I smiled as I did my befriending, maintaining eye-contact whilst eating two chocolate biscuits (it was definitely a two-chocolate-biscuit day) and forcing myself to focus on the issue of whether it would be a good idea for her to purchase a replacement television in time for Christmas, whilst all the time my poor little Matilda…

But I expect all you really want to know whether Matilda ever came back. And she did, after a lengthy walkabout, lured through an open kitchen door by the last remaining tin of tuna. Even then she was half way escaped again by the time I managed to tiptoe round and shut it behind her. She almost got her paws squashed.

I don’t suppose she’s likely to fall for that one again.

The Tortoiseshell Cat: Patrick R Chalmers

The tortoiseshell cat

She sits on the mat

As gay as a sunflower she;

In orange and black you see her blink,

And her waistcoat’s white, and her nose is pink,

And her eyes are green of the sea.

But all is vanity, all the way;

Twilight’s coming, and close of day,

And every cat  in the twilight’s grey,

Every possible cat.

 

Matilda and friends

 

The tortoiseshell cat,

She is smooth and fat,

And we call her Josephine,

Because she weareth upon her back

This coat of colours, this raven black,

This red of the tangerine.

But all is vanity, all the way;

Twilight follows the brightest day,

And every cat in the twilight’s grey,

Every possible cat.

 

Patrick Reginald Chalmers (1872–1942) was an Irish writer, who worked as a banker. His first book was Green Days and Blue Days (1912), followed by A Peck of Malt (1915).

He wrote in a number of different areas, including field sports, deerstalking and horse racing, as well biographies of Kenneth Grahame and J. M. Barrie. He was a contributor to Punch magazine and The Field, and editor of the hunting diaries of Edward VIII (as Prince of Wales). He also wrote much poetry, with topics war, dogs and cats, and Irish life, as well as hunting and fishing.

A line from his poem “Roundabouts and Swings” has passed into common parlance, though the origin is often no longer remembered.

Wikipedia

Now that’s interesting, isn’t it? The same poet who wrote this pussycat poem also wrote a kind of novelty poem in which these two sets of ‘end’ lines appear:

But lookin’ at it broad, an’ while it ain’t no merchant king’s,
What’s lost upon the roundabouts we pulls up on the swings!”

For “up an’ down an’ round,” said ‘e, “goes all appointed things,
An’ losses on the roundabouts means profits on the swings!”

And that’s the origin of the common phrase “What you lose on the roundabouts you gain on the swings” or “It’s swings and roundabouts”.

I’d give you the whole poem but it’s long, and in a kind of Irish-Victorian cockney dialect that becomes tedious after a while. I do prefer the cat poem, which is a little masterpiece of cat-poem-ery.

Featured Image cat is Matilda, because when she was a stray, not so long ago, she used to ‘waltz’ up from somewhere mysterious beyond the bottom of my the garden to be fed. Matilda/Tilly is young, and even naughtier than my other tortoiseshell. Difficult to even get a photo of her because she is always waltzing or haring about (haring: verb, British: running around as fast and as wildly as a hare).

Here are some black and white moggies, whilst I’m at it. I struggle to get photos from my tablet to the computer to this blog. Something always seems to go wrong, and in the most dramatic way.

Overnight, for instance, my tablet has accumulated around 500 album covers in it’s photo memory – all the stuff I’ve been listening to on Kindle and Spotify – at least six copies of each. I’ve just been laboriously deleting them all. So let’s make hay while the sun shines:

Left to right, top to bottom:

  1. The elusive Frizzle
  2. Hugo and Hector
  3. Pandy, Hugo and Hector
  4. Ditto
  5. George doing what George does best / least dangerously.

 

Unexpected Rainbows

Sometimes life throws you an unexpected bonus or – if things have really been bad –  a consolation. For example, the other day I had to wait an hour at the hospital for a blood test, and the buses home only go once an hour. I sat with my torn-off paper ticket (number 106 in a queue starting at 85) and I sat, and I sat, and finally I got behind that blue curtain to get my blood test, one minute after the bus was due to have left. I trudged to the hospital bus stop and found nobody waiting. Yes, my bus had definitely gone. And then there it was, like magic, my precious bus coming round the corner, two minutes late. Did you just do me a good turn? I asked the universe.

And today I have rainbows. I put some sheeting stuff up at the kitchen windows – it’s clear, textured plastic, held up by nothing more than warm water and washing up liquid, plus suction. The reviews on Amazon did mention rainbows but I hadn’t seen any. Ah well, I thought, I am now invisible to the neighbours and vice versa, and that’s all that matters. Privacy is restored.

I have this thing, you see, about eyes. It feels as if I am caught in the headlights when someone stares at me, and particularly if they persistently stare at me. I read somewhere that in the 17th century and earlier, people did not yet understand about light and vision (I believe it was Newton who eventually sorted it out) and actually believed that people ‘saw’ by sending out an invisible beam from their eyes. In other words, their eyes were sending out light rather than receiving it. John Donne uses this to good effect in his erotic poem The Ecstasy:

Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread / Our eyes upon one double string…

Anyway, although I am a Thoroughly Modern Post-Newtonian Person and know that nobody is actually fixing me with their X-ray eye-beams, that’s what it feels like. In some sort of psychic or psychological way, it hurts. And similarly, if I am forced to stare at someone or even see them when I don’t want to, it hurts. Without intending to they are invading me, and the space around me, just by being in my line of sight.

So, given this weirdness, which seems to be  one of two absolutely fundamental and incurable issues with me – boundaries and visibility – I more-or-less solved the problem by buying two rolls of the plastic stuff on Amazon. And today, finally, the sun shone brightly enough through my kitchen window to create those promised rainbows.

Sorry it’s cats again – and sorry for apologising since I know from previous feedback that this is British of me – but sorry, anyway – but cats is what I have a lot of and cats are what I spend most of my day either feeding, tripping over or being sat-upon by. I just saw these rainbows on the cats – and on the floor – and decided I must try to capture them – for posterity – for this electronic treasure trove of ours – and for – not having to wash up a whole sink load of cat dishes for at least another five minutes. So much more fun to tiddle about with photographs.

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Plastic rainbows on my grubby kitchen floor (hence the vignette filter causing a convenient Darkness on the Edge of… um, the floor tile)

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Henry in his basket, bedecked with rainbows. Suspect he cannot see them, as I read somewhere that cats can only see in shades of blue and lilac. This seems like a terrible disability, if it’s true, but it doesn’t seem to stop them catching mice.

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 Henry – more rainbows.

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Martha -no rainbows, because being a tortoiseshell (calico) she carries one around with her.

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Rosie – no rainbows, just because I love her, and she’s getting on a bit now. Rosie was rescued from a road in Norfolk as a tiny, sick, dehydrated kitten and brought to me on a hot summer’s day, in a cardboard box with no proper air-holes, all the way round the M25 and beyond. She is the inspiration behind my blogging name: Rosie2009 and the reason for much subsequent confusion.

Forwardspringing Through Technicality

For a long time we were regaled with ads for motorcars which ended with some deep-voiced actor mumbling Vorsprung Durch Technik. And not translating it. I suspect it was the same actor who voiced that Irish butter ad – the one where he does his damnedest to seduce you into baking a large spud slowly and luxuriously in the oven instead of microwaving it like any normal person would – and then slathering it with Irish butter. I am something of a connoisseur of ads.

Anyway, at the time nobody except real Germans and German A level students knew what Vorsprung Durch Whatsit meant and most, like me, were too idle even to look it up. In a way, it was more interesting untranslated, like a mantra. Who really needs to know what Om Mani Padme Hum means?

But of course, worrisome Translating Mind would not, could not leave it alone. Way back in the past I had made a couple of attempts at learning German, the first being a term of adult education evening classes. I had been good at French at school. Unfortunately being good at French does not make you good at German. Two totally different Kettles of Fish.

The classes consisted mainly of nouns and verbs. Our teacher, a thin, weary man with an untidy beard and corduroy trousers, must have decided it would be too difficult to explain to us the masculine, feminine or neuter article so for a whole term we chanted (in German) such things as Cat Sits On Mat, Dog Walks in Park and Hedgehog Hunts in Hedgerow.

Part Two of each lesson involved a very long film. Every Thursday evening we watched this same film, starting from the beginning and never, ever getting to the end. It was something to do with two unattractive backpackers called Mary and John, who were really looking forward to sightseeing in Köln. Mary and John, having first changed their money at something called a Wechselstube, bought tickets at the Hauptbahnhof von Köln. That was how you always had to say it – von Köln. We never got any further than that and I have been unable to ‘wipe’ the Hauptbahnhof von Köln from of my mind ever since.

So, rather than look up Vorsprung Durch Technik I toyed around with it, idly splitting it into its component parts.

Vor I was fairly sure meant Forward, and the sprung bit was probably something to do with springing – the spring has sprung, the grass is riz, and all that – so Vorsprung must mean Forwardspringing.

Durch I actually remembered was ‘through’.

Technik I decided, losing interest now, must be Technicality.  So, this car firm was Forwardspringing Through Technicality. (Yawn…)

This leads me, finally, to flea traps. I have eighteen cats and, now, in spite of expensive flea treatments and in spite of the fact that they are indoor cats and until recently were flea-free, I appear to have eighteen cats with fleas.

It only takes one. You open the door, and in it hops, and onto a cat it hops and then you’re done for. You take a cat to the vet and it comes back with a flea. Yipee! Rich pickings!

This afternoon two German Flea Killers or Floh-Vernichter (Flea-Make-Notter) or alternatively Destructeur des Puces (Destroyer of Fleas) and Matapulgas (Flea-Matador) arrived, one for upstairs and one for downstairs. German engineering is famously splendid, of course, but it seems only Germans are clever enough to assemble items designed by Germans. It took me an hour and a half to put together one kit and almost as long again to assemble the other.

I just couldn’t get that piddly little light bulb into its piddly little socket. The bulb socket was designed only for German fingers, for those mutig enough to risk a finger-and-thumb-ful of brittle glass. All Germans, I think, must be right handed.

And that was only the beginning. Then there were the little plastic supports which had to be placed inside the lid using something called the non-return end (benutzen sie hierzu die Rücklaufsperren an den Enden).

And then there was the sticky paper disc which, as I discovered too late, had to go in before you attached the lid to the base with your Rücklaufsperren. Super-sticky, this paper disc. I couldn’t detach myself from it. In the end I had to anchor it with the top of a biro and wrench my hand away. No mere Floh would stand a chance against a Schutzpapier this ferocious. It would be Vernichted, slowly and excruciatingly.

It would be an ex-flea. This flea would be no more.

It occurred to me that rather than bombing us during the Second World War it would have been wiser to drop great sacksful of Floh-Vernichter kits. Shortly thereafter the invading armies could have hopped across the channel and taken over the whole country quite easily. As  we puzzled over our Rücklaufsperrens, our Glühlampes and our Schutzpapiers, we’d scarcely have noticed.

A step too far?

 

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William: large-and-in-charge (when awake)

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Small, fluffy and ferocious: Frizzle, another Wild One from the cat sanctuary

Photos were aiming to be ‘moody and atmospheric’.

Suspect I may have taken a step too far, into ‘grainy and unrecognisable’ territory.

I do have another post in mind, just haven’t had time to write it yet.

Purrs and dribbles to all. 🙂

From my bookcase: Dissolution: C J Sansom

It is well known that cats are drawn to those who fear them most, and sit at their feet, eyes wide and sort of… threatening. I have long suspected that this principle is in fact universal, and that potentially life-threatening items are inexorably attracted to those who fear them most. Hence the deadly nightshade.

I have deadly nightshade in my garden. I cannot dig it out (as advised by the internet) because its actual roots are in my next door neighbour’s garden and she, being a school teacher and not afraid of anything, didn’t take me seriously when I hinted that she might dig it out. She had her fence panels renewed recently and I suppose the ground being disturbed has given new life to the indigenous weed population. Now the dreaded belladonna has joined those two other local residents, the giant bramble and the unidentifiable yellow triffid-thing.

I’ve always been worried about poisonous vegetation. I remember even as a child, some other infant telling me not to eat the tiny black seeds that rained onto the pavement from the laburnum tree in my mother’s front garden because they were deadly poisonous. That set the seed, as it were, for my not-quite-phobia.

Every few weeks or so the stuff starts sprouting and every few weeks or so I go out there armed with thick rubber gardening gloves, the secateurs, a garden-rubbish bag and a bottle of vinegar to cut it back.  The internet advises that deadly nightshade cannot thrive in a vinegar-treated environment. I can see the amateur chemistry behind this – acetic acid versus poisonous alkaloid. Unfortunately my deadly nightshade plant just seems to guzzle it up and sprout away again.

A long and winding introduction, then, to C J Sansom’s historical crime novel, first in the ‘Shardlake’ series, entitled ‘Dissolution’. You may remember that in a previous post I mentioned my calamitous loss-of-mojo as far as reading was concerned, but I also said I was still trying to get lost in books again, and ‘Dissolution’ is the novel I am trying it with. I found a battered copy in a charity shop – 50p, excellent value – on the way from the bus to the train station. I seem to be permanently between bus and train station nowadays, when not mucking out or feeding cats, decapitating monster brambles or sloshing vinegar on the belladonna.

I suppose this is a sign the book-mojo-magic-thing worked, at least temporarily: having read to the end of Chapter 12, where a poor little novice monk is poisoned by deadly nightshade and comes to a terrible, hallucinating, twistingly-spasmodic end, I put down the book and went out under the full glare of the midday sun (gosh, it’s hot out there!) and attacked the belladonna. It’s been well and truly cut off and vinegar-sodden and I have washed my hands at length at the kitchen sink using yellow washing-up liquid. Irrelevant, I know, the yellowness of the washing-up liquid, but the good detective (or hunchbacked lawyer/agent of Lord Cromwell in this case) lets no detail pass unrecorded.

So, a good one to read if you like that sort of thing. ‘Dark Fire’, the next one in the ‘Shardlake’ series, arrived today. Post-lady gave up trying to push it through the letter box after ten minutes or so of determined wrestling (I was watching her in the living room mirror – even behind frosted glass that tomato-red Royal Mail uniform is unmistakeable) and had to knock on the door and hand it to me in person. Really, I suppose, I should have got up and opened the front door but I was curious to discover how long she would spend trying to ram a thick novel through an obviously inadequate hole in a door.

The cat in the photo is Sophie, by the way. She was my first cat and has, sadly, gone to that great Summer Garden in the sky. And greatly missed she is, even now, hence the elaborate photo frame which I found, of all places, in a garden centre café whilst queuing for egg-on toast and a pot-of-tea with Mum and Dad. Funny how objects bring back memories.

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In Some Disarray

Our local cat rescue society is in some disarray, and everyone keeps telling me this. ‘I am only phoning you because I gather the local cat rescue society is in some disarray’. Even the vet said it, at my latest appointment.

It would seem that our local cat rescue society, whether as a result of a shortage of volunteers, vicious in-fighting or an outbreak of bubonic plague, no longer in any meaningful sense exists. And this seems to have been the situation for at least the last several years.

Neighbours tend to arrive on my doorstep, usually in or just after thunderstorms bearing straggly, ear-mite infected kittens and huge, battered, un-neutered toms.

‘I thought as you have lots of cats you might just know the telephone number of the local cat rescue society, although I hear that nowadays they are in some disarray..

What they always mean is: one way or another I intend to give you this cat.

So I was not particularly surprised the other evening to get a telephone call on the subject of cats from ex-sister-in-law-the-elder, and to be advised yet again that my local cat rescue society is in some disarray. Somehow or other she was aware of this even though she lives sixty miles away. This is why she has extracted my new landline number from ex-sister-in-law-the-younger, something she wouldn’t have dreamed of doing in any other circumstances, etc.

‘I wouldn’t bother you’, she said – she wasn’t – but there’s this old lady, you see, who lives really, really close to you, you see, and you see she’s got this lovely old cat. And she’s got this problem

And so yet again, after yet another bout of rain, I ended up on the rattly local bus with its endless diversions on the way to visit an old lady in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. ‘Really, really close to you’ equates to almost an hour on the bus, then a bit of a walk, street-map in hand. Ex-sister-in-law did not realise I’d lost the car.

By coincidence, Ex’s family used to live around these parts, and this lady used to be nanny to ex-sister-in-law-the-elder. Now in her eighties Annie is tiny, bent almost double with arthritis and only able to shuffle about very, very slowly with the help of a walker, and strong painkillers. When she first opened the street door I thought she must be at least a hundred. Recently she also had a massive heart attack and was in hospital for two weeks. Ex-sister-in-law wasn’t told.

Annie brought up two children. They were not her biological children but she brought them up anyway. About four years ago she was given a cat for company – a large, soppy black and white creature – let’s call him Moppet. Moppet loves Annie to bits, and Annie loves Moppet.

Because of the arthritis Annie is now confined to the ground floor of her tiny terraced house. As you walk along the hallway the stairway is uncarpeted, ascending into darkness. Everywhere is uncarpeted, just wooden floors. In her front room is a bed and a chair and a television set, and that’s all. When I saw it I promised myself I would never again fret about my house being shabby or uncomfortable. Moppet ambles between this room and the back kitchen. He greets me casually, jumps up onto the bed and then onto her lap.

‘He’s a real mummy’s boy’, she says. ‘Aren’t you, Moppet?’

But this same laid-back Moppet has apparently savaged the ‘son’s’ hands, or legs whenever approached on a visit. And the son has said to her: ‘When you’re out, Annie, I’m going to come in and get that cat and take it somewhere – leave it in a field.’ I suspect the son has been rough with the cat in the past, and the cat remembers. Annie does too.

‘He’d do it,’ she tells me. ‘He’d really do it, and I couldn’t stop him. I’m so frightened he’ll take Moppet and leave him in a field.’

She is also afraid that she might die and that her pet will be instantly disposed of, or that she might be rushed off to hospital again and Moppet will have vanished by the time she comes out. Several times she has been sobbing to my sister-in-law over the telephone. I really hate human beings sometimes. Even if he was joking, what a dreadful, insensitive thing to say. And if he wasn’t…

I sat on the bed. We had a bit of a chat. ‘Friends’ and its canned laughter carried on in the background. I gave her both my phone numbers and told her (more than once) that Moppet would always have a home with me if he needed one – either permanently or as temporary respite. Sister-in-law telephoned me later to say that Annie likes me, and was greatly relieved to have met Moppet’s potential rescuer face to face.

But it worries me. That cat really needs to be out of danger but he and Annie are great friends, and she needs him. Besides, it’s not my decision to make. It worries me that by the time I found out something had gone wrong, and long before I could embark on that interminable bus journey clutching one of my spare cat boxes, the worst would already have happened. Annie can’t tell her son about me because she is frightened of him. Sister-in-law daren’t tell him that there would be somewhere for Moppet to go if necessary: he is suspicious of sister-in-law and her husband, and she feels this might just tip him over into carrying out his threats.

Yet another frail old person to add to my growing collection. And yet another little cat for Saint Francis to watch over.

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He hates me, he hates me not…

This morning, crammed into one corner of my tiny sofa, one cat or another on lap, bowl of Oatibix-and-sliced-banana poised midway ‘twixt hand and mouth, ghastly news on TV as always – I happened to look around and there was Hector sat in the other corner of my tiny sofa. Admittedly, he was leaning sharply away from me, the Hated Mummy. However, this is progress of a sort because although Hector is technically “mine” and has been for some months, I may never actually have touched him.

He and his cohort arrived late one evening in the back of a clapped-out car from the cat sanctuary, in (non-crushed) crush cages. Their elderly human carriers had driven a very long way to bring them to me and were visibly wilting under the weight of these heavy-duty metal contraptions which would normally be used by vets for the treatment of animals that cannot be held securely by the nurse. In the noise, excitement and confusion of their arrival I assumed this was because animal sanctuaries, always struggling for cash, would need to make use of whatever equipment they had for many different purposes.

At the cat sanctuary Hector had – or at least I was sure I remembered he had – allowed me to stroke him, once. But then there had been four very similar cats backed up in one rather small – not illegally small, of course – outdoor wooden cubicle. They had been  in that cubicle for the past two years, come rain or shine or bonfire. There was a bonfire burning in the field behind them on that day, and the smoke was drifting through. It was making me cough. They had been inspected by a stream of visitors, all of whom had no doubt reached out with their big, clumsy, terrifying human hands and tried to stroke. Every visitor had walked away with some other cat or kitten.

Why, is now becoming clearer. In a moment of Cat Mummy Madness I volunteered to adopt all four. I couldn’t choose between them and I couldn’t leave them there. All four have turned out to be as wild as wild can be. Hector and his amigos/amiga represent the North Korea of cats. Furthermore, because they are still together in a group, sharing the same scent, they are strong in their wildness. Kind people – soft-hearted and foolish like myself – have rescued and fed them but nobody has had the time to love them, or been permitted to. They cringe at the approach of a hand, or foot. I think they must have been kicked.

I would guess that Hector and his compadres are years away from the stage where I could pick any of them up, which only becomes a problem when there is a need to visit the vet. That’s a real worry. Fingers crossed they don’t get sick for a while or that patience and love will somehow, miraculously, prevail.

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Grainy (this photograph – bit of a stretch, I know!)

 

Cor(e) Blimey

Well, I never thought I would find myself lusting after three pieces of orange neon Perspex shaped like apple-cores, but you live and learn. All over the internet are ladies commenting on quilting posts, and their universal reaction to a picture of an apple core quilt or the apple core template is “Where did you get it? I want one”.

I never learn. I’d been happily sewing squares together on the machine and waiting for my left-handed rotary cutter to arrive from America. (Left-handed rotary cutters are as scarce as the droppings of rocking horses, but right-handed ones are no good because you can’t see where you’re cutting.)  Well, happily… it was getting a bit boring. It’s OK sewing a few squares together but a whole quilt-full and it becomes like working in a Greetings Card Factory. Something I have also done. Believe me, you don’t know the meaning of tedious until you have spent the whole of July at a bench with a glue-gun attaching red glitter to luxurious padded Valentine cards.

I first saw an apple-core quilt on the internet. It was done by an Amish lady and it was utterly magical. I wanted one!  To add to the magic, it’s a template that can only be used on it’s own. It disdains to fit with anything else, like those common old squares and triangles and whatnot.

Anyway, my templates finally arrived today – all three of them, glowing a discreet orange and seductively heavy. From Poland! No wonder they took so long. In between my usual tasks – feeding, watering and mucking out after eighteen cats; doing several machine-loads of washing and so forth – I have been watching YouTube videos and experimenting.

I have watched ladies in tartan shorts sitting in rocking chairs on their back porches sewing apple-cores by hand. I have watched ladies with pearls and neat white perms sewing apple-cores by machine. I have read articles about the history of patchwork by unknown bloggers. This is the way I teach myself to do anything nowadays. I used to go and get books from the library and immediately lose interest at the sight of all those diagrams. Video tutorials are quicker and easier.

The thing with the apple-core is, it’s got a curve to it. That makes it difficult, and the more difficult the smaller the template you are working with. “It’s all right for you,” I tell the perm-and-pearls lady, “working with a template the size of a house brick”. But she does give some excellent advice, which is:

“You can’t hurry a curve.”

You can say that again. First you fold to find your centre, then you pin in an elaborate kind of way, and then you – well, then I – tack and then you run it through your sewing machine really slowly – like one of those slow bicycle races.

And then you unpick it and try again.

Eventually you get it more or less right and iron the seam flat.

Then you start again.

The thing is, if you are feeling depressed, if life has become a bit much for you, if you are harassed or in any way unhappy, I would recommend attaching one single apple core piece to another. This will take you about an hour of quiet concentration, and at the end of it you will be happy.

By the way, no British person has said Cor Blimey or its variant Gor Blimey since the 1950s. The last time I remember it was in a comic song by Lonnie Donegan entitled “My Old Man’s A Dustman”. The words went something like this:

My old man’s a dustman

He wears a dustman’s hat

He wears Gor Blimey trousers

And he lives in a council flat…

or something like that.

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Oh yes, and the Dick Van Dyke attempt whilst playing Bert the chimney-sweep in Mary Poppins, which sounded a bit like Gar Bloimey. Apparently DVD has recently apologised for his atrocious Cockney accent in that film. He said he asked a famous old English actor, then working in Hollywood, what a Cockney accent might sound like. So the famous old English actor demonstrated the accent and DVD copied it faithfully. The rest is history.

Apparently he tackled the elderly English actor about this later and the English actor said something to the effect that he never claimed to have actually met a Cockney.

No, no one much says Cor Blimey. It’s one of those phrases that went out with the Ark, like Stap Me Vitals or ‘Zounds, Sir, Have At Ye! (Both to be exclaimed by a sword-fighting nobleman in slashed knickerbockers or maybe tights, swathes of lace at his wrist and a pet monkey on his shoulder) or Avast, Ye Swabs! (Suitable for a pirate captain with a wooden leg and a parakeet on his shoulder). Or Arr, pieces of eight, pieces of eight! (Suitable only for the parakeet.)

Although I did actually sit next to an man wearing Gor Blimey trousers once, in a village pub. Ex was up at the bar getting the drinks (I just had to sit) and I was sat on this bench next to old – let’s call him Harry. And there was this smell something like the long-cooked cabbage we had for school dinners. When the opportunity presented itself I asked Ex (in a whisper, of course) what that smell was. He said it was Harry’s trousers. Innocently I enquired: But why would Harry’s trousers smell like that?

Ex explained.

(Ex, by the way, had a Lonnie Donegan blue-and-white sweater as a teenager. I believe his Mum knitted it for him.)

Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle. Horse. Sideways.

I have been vaguely considering the idea of a ‘feature’ day – like Wordless Wednesday when people just post a photo of something or other. So it occurred to me to trial a Totally Random Thursday.

It’s either that or another of Mum’s Old Recipes.

I was feeding the five thousand (cats) just now – impossible to settle down write anything until their insistent twice-daily needs have been met – and it occurred to me how many black or black and white cats I am now surrounded by. It occurs to me that I will soon have reached the scary stage – particularly scary for someone whose mother has dementia – of not being able to recall which name goes with which cat. And then if one of them needs to go to the vet? Will it need to be – ‘Hello, this is Rosie, or possibly Shadow, or then again Arthur, although of course it might be Hector… And he or she needs his or her claws clipping’.

I have a two page Cat List taped to the fridge, neatly typed with each cat’s name, origin/source, probable age, physical description and microchip number if applicable. Not a former legal secretary for nothing. The ostensible purpose of this list is – if I am some day spotted through the window collapsed on the carpet, dead and half-eaten by mice and the RSPCA break in to rescue my horde of cats, they may stand an outside chance of identifying and re-homing some of them.

I constantly rehearse their names and descriptions in my head, making a kind of game of it. At the moment, if it’s quite frail and bony and doesn’t weigh very much it’s Rosie; if it’s got a tiny brown patch under its chin, a tiny white bit on one paw, snapped-off looking front teeth and weighs a ton it’s Little Arf; if it’s plump and soft and barges its way to the food first and in no nonsense fashion it’s Winnie; if it’s tiny and affectionate, with a long face like the Sphynx and slightly scary teeth like a bat or mini-Dracula when she yawns it’s Shadow. And if it has long legs, a pointy nose and hates me it’s probably Pandy from the cat sanctuary.

It occurs to me to wonder why I frighten some people, including most children. Looking at myself in the mirror I look just normal – a bit lumpy, like any oldish person. Harmless. But babies scream at the sight of me in supermarkets. Probably a good thing I wasn’t able to have any, thereby dooming some innocent infant to a life of perpetual apprehension.

Bertie-on-the-bus seems afraid of me too, though that doesn’t stop him talking to me (relentlessly). I’d be quite happy to follow the British on-the-train formula of staring out of the window for as long as possibly, until your neck actually begins to hurt from the effort of not meeting anyone else’s eyes, even accidentally, and appearing very interested in cows, fields and suchlike, but this rule does not apply to rural buses. You have to talk.

Bertie and I have a kind of communication disjunction. I know people like me tend to have this anyway, but Bertie is an especially tricky one. First, he tells you something, but not very much. He is going to his meeting at the Council, he confides. He has mentioned this meeting at the Council several times before and I have not followed it up. I wonder now if he is hoping I’ll ask him about it.

‘Do you work at the Council then, Bertie?’ I venture.

He looks sideways at me, suspiciously. I may be a secret agent.

‘No’, he says, after a very long pause.

‘Did you get to your dentist appointment the other day?’ he asks after a while.

‘Oh well, it was the hygienist actually. She was new – Swedish or something – and just brutal. It was so painful. And since April they’ve put their prices up…’

Now he is staring out of the window, examining the cows.

‘So you did get to the dentist.’

We spot one of his friends at an upcoming bus stop. Bertie has friends all round the route. He knows all their names and their routines, and what days to expect them. He does not know my name, however, and refers to me to other passengers as ‘she’ or ‘her.’ I thought of telling him my name – what harm could come of it? – but decided not to in case he mistakenly concluded I was Making Advances. Bertie, I think, is terrified of women for just that reason: they might Make Advances.

The upcoming friend is the big man with the metal crutches – giant tripping hazards that seem to take up the whole bus – and the endless collection of eccentric tee shirts.

‘He doesn’t really need to put his hand out for the bus,’ I murmur. ‘You could hardly miss him.’ Today he is wearing an acid yellow shirt with broad, grass green horizontal stripes. He looks like the Wasp from Outer Space.

‘No, he does like his tee shirts,’ says Bertie. And then, surprisingly: ‘I knitted a jumper that colour once.’

‘Do you knit, Bertie?’ For once my interest is genuinely piqued. I want to tell him that I knit too and what a relaxing hobby it is, especially on long winter evenings…

He gives me that secret agent look again.

‘I knitted it with my mother.’ Of course he did. I want to ask him more, scenting an actual story here, and one which I will enjoy, but he has turned his attention to the friend with the monster crutches in the yellow and green.

‘I was just telling her…’

I sit in a living room with my elderly Visitee and she goes through her diary with me, reading out her appointments for several weeks to come, with the cleaner, the man who comes to clean out her pond, various specialists etc. I remember these same appointments from last week. My coffee is going cold but I continue to nod and smile in the right places. She tells me again about all the different shops there used to be in Town and we compare our systems for filing household documents. I eat a chocolate biscuit, quickly as it melts in my hand. This one is quite soft. Usually she keeps them in the fridge. In the background, the carriage clock ticks. I quite like this kind of conversation. It reminds me of Mum.

On the bus going back the only empty seat is next to Woman With No Teeth. Now this is a real problem, because I am slightly deaf. Normally it isn’t a problem and I am not conscious of the extent to which I am I am actually lip-reading. But Woman With No Teeth – she just doesn’t make the right mouth-shapes, or rather she makes a whole series of puckery, wrinkly mouth-shapes but these refuse to tie up with any known word. I wonder if it is just the teeth or whether she also has a cleft palate. Either way, I can’t understand her. Today it sounded a bit like this:

‘Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle. Horse. Sideways.’

I try a smile and a sage nod, surmising that as we have just passed two horses being ridden along the side of a narrow road she may be talking about some traffic incident involving horses.

‘Horses are so strong,’ I venture. ‘You have to drive past them really slowly.’

She gives me the secret agent look and begins again:

‘Orem ipsum dolor sit amet. Caravan. Rain.’

Ah, only another twenty minutes.

My life is so complicated…

The old ginger cat just peed in my hairdryer. Oh joy.

I now have not one but two ancient, toothless cats, far gone into senility. One is over a hundred in human terms, the other, who knows? Combined, these two make my domestic life a nightmare.

One is deaf and, I suspect, very nearly blind. She wakes me up at all hour of the night with a chorus of bellowings and screechings. Nothing can console her, neither little tins of extra-special-and-very-expensive food nor consolatory pats-and-strokes nor witty conversation. She stands, gazing at where she senses I probably am and lets rip at full volume. If the new neighbours were not so noisy and party-prone themselves I would probably feel guilty about this.

The other is incontinent. By this I mean that he spends his entire day inventing ever more exotic places in which to pee voluminously, which are not a dirt box. He pees on boxes of cat-food, he pees against sacks of cat litter; he spray paperback books on the lower shelves of bookcases, he leaves deposits in dark corners, he waters the front doormat. Worst of all, now, he has taken to peeing in my bed.

A couple of weeks ago somewhere around midnight I entered the bedroom and observed (why am I talking like a policeman all of a sudden?) that the bed seemed eccentrically rearranged. Fearing the worst I pulled back the covers and there, behold, a spreading circle of wetness. It had gone through two duvets – the summer one, but also the winter one which, for want of anywhere else too keep it, I ‘store’ on the bed itself, underneath the bottom sheets. It had gone through the sheets. It had gone through the counterpane. It had gone through absolutely everything. And naturally this was on the side I would usually sleep on.

So of course I stripped it all off and washed it all. It was a damp and drizzly week, not a glimpse of the sun, and it took me a full five days to dry everything out. I had duvets draped over the stair rails and sheets hanging from coat-hangers in doorways; it was a chamber of horrors. In the meantime, night after night I slept on a naked mattress, awkwardly rolled in a child-size duvet. Every so often a cat playfully pounced up one or other of my naked feet, and savaged it.

And I had only just been telling GE today of my ingenious solution to this problem. Every morning I make the bed and immediately spread over it one of those heavy duty green ‘festival’ rain-capes – the sort that opens out and doubles as a groundsheet. This makes the bedroom smell rather rubbery, but since then the bed has not been peed on. He must have got the message, I thought.

But this evening I briefly but foolishly left my hairdryer on top of the green heavy duty festival rain-cape. When I picked it up, cat pee cascaded from it in veritable torrents onto the bedroom carpet. Where I had picked it up from, a golden pool of wee.

At least the bed’s still dry but I daren’t use that hairdryer. It wouldn’t be worth the risk of electrocution – or would it? No, it wouldn’t!

Unfortunately I’ve got long, long hair like some ancient hippie, mainly because I can’t afford to have it cut – I just wash it and dry it and snip a bit off the fringe at intervals. I don’t go out with it inappropriately flowing, though. It does get tied up a variety of buns, pony tails and plaits. But without the hairdryer…

Luckily… I have a spare hairdryer. Spare for everything, that’s me.

But now I suppose I ought to buy a spare for the spare, just in case.

My life is so complicated.

Bonphobia

I was going to call this post C’mon Baby, Light My Fire. It would probably have attracted more clicks but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t.

I was a Girl Guide, actually, for about a week. Having miraculously escaped being drummed out of the Brownies for landing in the middle of the Toadstool and crushing it to death I became a Girl Guide but my new blue uniform hadn’t even arrived before I left of my own accord having been instructed to light a fire in a puddle round the back of the Junior School.

I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. It wasn’t so much the fire, at that stage, it was the ridiculousness of it.

I have never before tried to light a bonfire, to be honest. All this time and I left it to men. It was one of those men-tasks. Ex was very keen on starting fires. He was a man of many talents and in spite of being an artist worked for quite a while as a miniature steam train driver. As they chugged along – he and the Guard, who shovelled in the coal – they frequently set accidental fires all along the track. He loved doing that.

Later on he used to hold Bonfire Night parties and invite all the neighbours, and he personally would have built that gigantic bonfire down the bottom of the garden, and the elaborate Guy Fawkes. He personally had set up and would rush round setting off every single firework. He personally would have cooked vast trays of sausages and he personally would be dishing them up, in between rockets. I did nothing. All I saw of him all evening was this demonic shadow, leaping about, running the whole show. Something of a control freak.

Yesterday I was forced to try to light my first bonfire. I mean, how hard can it be to set light to some stuff in a bin? Too hard for me, evidently.

I was having to have the bonfire because I can no longer afford to drive my car. Seventeen cats means an awful lot of damp sawdust minus poo, sacks and sacks of it, and the Council only collects once a fortnight. Hitherto I had solved the problem by loading the car up with black sacks at intervals and driving ten miles or so to the tip where Council employees might or might not help me to drag the (leaking) sacks up the steep wooden stairs to the skip and heave them, somehow, over the top. Over the years as I have become weaker this has become more difficult.

I did ring the Council. I explained about the not driving and asked whether it would be possible for me to hire a second green bin, though really I couldn’t have afforded to.

No, she said.

Then would it be possible to class, say, paper bags full of sawdust as garden waste and hire one of those brown bins?

No, she said. Could you perhaps bury ten bin sacks full of damp sawdust in your garden every week?

Not really, I said.

I obtained all the stuff. The dustbin with the chimney, the red fireproof gloves, some little sachets called “fire starters”, a poker. I checked online when I was allowed to have fires and which weather conditions to avoid. The sawdust mountain was taking over the garage and I knew the day had came when I had to actually Set Light To Stuff. I hardly slept the night before. I don’t like to draw attention, you see. I don’t like to be seen. Setting Light To Stuff and causing a lot of smelly smoke was the equivalent, for me, of the casting off of the Seventh Veil.

As an afterthought I filled a large bucket of water to throw on it if it got out of hand.

I had no idea how to begin.

I realised I couldn’t just tip the sawdust in because there were air-holes in the bottom of the bin and it would just fall through. I thought I might have solved that problem by bagging the sawdust in paper bags. I put quite a lot of these in the bottom, and a bit of garden waste, and one or two of those little sachets of what looked like damp sugar, took a deep breath, lit a match and threw it in there.

Fifteen matches later, most of the bags had kind of singed through and blackened cat litter was trickling out of them. There had been a small amount of smoke but scarcely any flame, and what little flame there had been had died, repeatedly.

So, what did I do? Well, I did what I usually do in such crushing situations, of which there have been many in my life, I hid and trembled for a bit. Luckily in the corner behind the garage there happened to be plastic chair. No one could see me. Could they?

After a while I gathered myself together and went indoors, leaving the mess, temporarily. I went upstairs and turned on the computer and watched several YouTube videos on – How To Start A Fire, My New Garden Incinerator etc. Twenty minutes of watching some man throwing one log in after another and then putting the lid back on. I thought I would die of boredom but it was better than dealing with the mess.

I decided I had missed out several stages. I should have scrumpled up paper in the bottom, and on top of that I should have placed something called ‘kindling’ in a kind of horizontal lattice pattern on top. I searched for ‘kindling’ on Amazon and ordered some. Oh God, more expense. I should have set light to that and then introduced the cat litter once it was really hot. But how to introduce the cat litter, a mountain of which was currently bagged up in large brown paper bags guaranteed to kill any flame?

Then I found a video made by some bearded man with a pipe in a garage in America. It was about making fire-starters out of sawdust. He gnawed on this pipe as he melted down wax candles and mixed them with the sawdust in a bucket. Something about him was…soothing. Maybe it was the sound of the rain hammering on his workshop roof. I’m gonna work indoors today, he said, because of the rain. I wondered what manly, competent thing he usually did outdoors.

And then, he mumbled, around the pipe, you transfer the mixture still warm to these here muffin tins. Don’t use your wife’s (your wife?) best muffin tins because she will not be pleased. You press it down hard, like this and you put these here muffin tins in the fridge for twenty minutes or so to harden off and then you knock them out, like this, and…

So that’s what I’m going to try next, just as soon as the candles arrive.

Pensioner in Crumbling Cliff-top Plunge, Almost

Did I tell you I wanted to be a journalist when I was at school? I was sent to see the Careers Advisor and confided in her my secret ambition. She looked very depressed, but she smiled. I have some pamphlets here about the Women’s Army, she said, eyeing my not inconsiderable height and sturdy skeleton. And there’s always Woolworths…

That was it, and truth to tell it would have taken less than that to discourage me. Some kids, unfortunately, need a great deal more input than their surrounding adults are prepared to give them; they will only flourish when bathed in the sunshine of positive and persistent encouragement.

But onwards, to that cliff-top: I’m sure you’re desperate to know all about the crumbly and her plunge from dizzying heights – almost.

Yesterday I decided to experiment with catching the bus. It must be twenty years since I caught the last one and I was nervous. How would I cope with being away from home without my car in which to beat a hasty retreat if necessary? Could I really use the Bus Pass the Council issued me with a while back and which has been mouldering in the bottom of my handbag ever since? Which way up did it go? What happened if it was invalid now? Would I be ejected from the bus in disgrace?

However, I managed it and spent the next hour hurtling around narrow country lanes, jolted this way and that whilst clinging to the seat-rail in a howling gale from the driver’s open window. That was why all the passengers were sitting on the left hand side. During one of the bus’s brief stops I shuffled across to join them. I saw villages, hamlets and straggly clumps of houses I had never seen before. I swept past field after field of bright yellow oil seed rape. I never thought a bus could go so fast. I never realised that speed bumps mean nothing whatsoever to a bus driver. In a way it was quite enjoyable, a bit of an adventure.

By the time I was waiting at the hospital bus stop to come back I felt almost confident. I had read the timetable affixed to the stop. I at least, unlike the brace of old persons waiting with me on that hard metal seat, knew when the next was due. Do you know when the next one’s coming? the old lady asked the old man. Search me, duckie. I’m a Londoner. Last time I was sat ‘ere over an hour.

A bus arrived ten minutes early, a bad sign which I failed to recognise at the time. But it had the name my home village on the sign on the front. What could possibly go wrong? Is this the one for Town? asked the old lady.

No, I threw back over my shoulder as I mounted the step with the air of a seasoned hippie-world-traveller, this one is going the other way.

Well, it was going the other way – from Town. Unfortunately it was also going another other way that I hadn’t even thought of. After three quarters of an hour of jolting through fields of this and that, a lengthy detour to the prison, where we picked up neither prisoners nor visitors, and a tortuous negotiation of country lanes too small for a small car let alone a large bus, the bus came to a stop at what I recognised to be the top of the cliffs, close to but far, far above where I lived. The bus driver and her bus driver apprentice turned and regarded me – the last remaining passenger – interrogatively.

I – I believe I may have got on the wrong bus, I murmured, and they agreed. In front of me a red and white sign saying Dangerous: Impassable to Motor Vehicles!!! or some such.

Um, I believe that road joins up with the top of my road? They stared at me again.

There’s no way I can get the bus down there, the lady driver said. She actually thought I was asking her to drive the bus down there, for my sole benefit.

No! I mean – I meant – I can surely walk it, if I’m careful? I’m only about fifteen minutes away from my house as the crow flies. They had obviously never heard that expression.

So I got off the bus and set off down the path, doing that confident, bibbety-bobbity Bugs Bunny walk I tend to do when I know I am making a complete idiot of myself. The bus did a several point turn and disappeared. The silence as I walked was deafening. Nothing but the odd cricket chirping. I was old, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a warm spring day, and quite alone.

Now, if it is possible for an old person on foot to screech to a halt, that’s what I did. A few inches in front of me the clifftop sheered away to nothing, in fact there was an overhang. I was standing on a thin overhanging shelf of mud whilst far below me the cold spring sea churned and tiny ships went back and forth on the horizon. It’s like Breughel’s Icarus, I thought. All I will be is a leg disappearing into the water, spotted by a ploughman.

I reversed, carefully, and walked back along the path, still cheery-looking and bibbety-bobbity. I know where I’m going, my jaunty walk proclaimed as I examined my options. I had overheard the bus driver and her accomplice saying that the bus only came up here once a day. Maybe I could call a taxi. Would my mobile phone get a signal up here? Maybe I could walk to the nearest house and plead insanity.

easter bunny

And then a horse came alone – not on its own, I mean there was a human being perched on top of it in a riding hat. May I ask you something? I asked the lady on the horse. The creature reared back several paces, or maybe the lady pulled it back. I suppose a wild-haired, panicking pensioner must have been the last thing either of them expected to see.

I’ll stay back, I heard myself saying, ridiculously. I wouldn’t want to frighten the horse.

Anyway, all’s well that ends well. Horse Lady pointed out another path, one that looked for all the world like the entrance to a holiday camp but wasn’t. Follow that right round, keep going and you’ll end up in the right place. It was a bit pot-holey – in fact very pot-holey. Very muddy, but luckily dried mud. Very quiet. I began reviewing the likely headlines:

Pensioner Found Dead on Remote Pathway

Pensioner Tumbles into Giant Pot-Hole

What Was She Doing There Anyway? Enquire Grieving Relatives

I felt quite smug once safely indoors slurping tea and munching on a cheese and pickle sandwich surrounded by cats. The hip would be playing up tomorrow but I had learned a valuable lesson (not ever to get on that bus again) and escaped unscathed, unplunged etc.

The relatives would just have to grieve another day.

He was only expecting a manicure

Could forgetfulness be some kind of germ – catching, transmittable, etc? I only ask because… because….

Well, as you know my mother’s got dementia. I’m not at all sure she knows who I am now – if she looks up at all when I go in, it is with a vague sort of puzzlement. I might be anybody, from cleaner to carer to relative to friend. The important thing is, can I reach her water jug? Can I untangle her sheets?

And of course, you start to check yourself – daily, hourly, by the minute. Why didn’t that fact spring to mind? Why was there that slight hesitation over someone’s name? Have I just done something peculiar? Would I know if I had?

The other night the new lady came round from next door. She introduced herself. After she’d gone I went straight through to the kitchen, scribbled “Claire” on a slip of paper and taped it to the fridge. Gotcha!

Next night she came round again. We were talking about a workman who might be needed to do a repair on her house. “He does know you want to see him,” I assured her. “I told him that your name was Claire.”

“Ros,” she said.

At least it’s not just me. Yesterday one of my elderly neighbours very kindly offered to help me with my many cats if ever the need arose. “I’ve written my number on a piece of paper,” she said. “You have only to call me and I’ll come straight over.”

“That’s so kind of you,” I said, “but aren’t you allergic to cats?”

“No,” she said. “I love little moggies.”

Now a few years back she told me she couldn’t take in a particularly muddy, flea-ridden and unneutered stray kitten herself, though she would have loved to, since she was allergic. Started sneezing and coughing almost straight away, she did. (That’s how I got George.) Several times she’s come to the door and I’ve invited her in and she’s dithered in terror on my doorstep. “Oh no, I couldn’t. I’m allergic, you see. Start sneezing and coughing almost straight away…”

Has she forgotten the allergy or the fib? Or could I over the years somehow have fabricated an entire narrative, in several successive parts, about my neighbour and her allergy to cats? Either way, I’ve got to think of a way for her to feel useful and wanted now that she no longer has her disabled sister to care for – which I suspect is what she really needs – without letting her loose on my rambunctious and precious moggies, at least in any unsupervised capacity.

And finally, as they say on the News. Late this afternoon I telephoned the vet’s receptionist . “Could I make an appointment for Rufus to come in and have his claws clipped by the nurse?”

“Certainly,” she said. We discussed possible dates as she leafed through the diary. In the background I could hear somebody muttering “Anal glands, anal glands.”

That’s odd, I thought. Maybe there’s someone standing behind her, trying to remind her of the urgent anal glands of some other furry client.

“Yes,” she said, “Rufus can come in for his anal glands on Saturday morning.”

“Um, where are you getting anal glands from? Poor little chap, he was only expecting a manicure…

“Not anal glands?”

No, really, just his claws.”

“Oh dear! Where did I get anal glands from?”

Who knows? How did Ros metamorphose into Claire between the front door and the refrigerator? And where did my neighbour’s allergy disappear to?

It’s a mystery.