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 – )

‘Av yer seen the ginger cat?

Charlie: my nemesis.

I can see him now. I mean actually, not as a figment. He’s out on his driveway with that old heap of a silver car. Both are engulfed in a sea of parcels. The Hermes lorry has just been.

You’d think Charlie and I would be the best of friends. I suppose in a way we are since he’s the other Cat Person in this road. He’s the only other one that rescues cats rather than trying to chase them away with a pitchfork and/or murder them. We have this much in common – eccentric, misfits, shabby, shy and surrounded by rescued animals.

And then there’s Felix. Felix is one of the loves of my life, cat-wise – I can’t say the love, cat-wise, as there was once another.

Charlie got Felix when Felix’s owner died. I got her other two cats, Rufus and Missy. I didn’t mind giving them a home – really – and no one else would have had them. Missy is fluffy, grumpy and spherical – God knows how she got to be that shape – and has an odd left eye – looks like the iris has broken and spilled out all over it. Rufus is ancient and bony. He’s a biter and has an odd right eye – all brown and permanently weeping. They hate each other.

I wanted Felix.

Felix isn’t fussed who he belongs to. He spends much of the day in my back garden, birdwatching / killing, but reports back to Charlie of an evening. When we all occasionally meet up in the middle of the road Felix tangles himself around our legs, chirping up at both of us in a diplomatic, non-committal fashion.

But Charlie always seems to set something off in me – some terrible primal Anxiety and Bewilderment. And he’s always either losing his own cats or worrying about strays. Yesterday lunchtime he buttonholed me returning from a trip to the tip with garden waste. My heart sank as the familiar, shambling figure approached. I wound down the car window. He leant in, slightly too far. Onion sandwiches.

‘Av yer seen the ginger cat recently?’

You need to be always a couple of steps ahead in a conversation with Charlie. He’s not the greatest supplier of information.

‘The ginger…?’

‘E’s got very thin?’

‘Oh, the ginger and white one. Tom, unneutered, quite grubby?’

‘Yus, the ginger one that’s got very thin. I ‘aven’t caught sight ‘im for quite a while. Used to see ‘im out and about, down the other end of the village, up the hill. ‘Aven’t seen ‘im. Reckon Something Dreadful’s ‘appened to ‘im.

‘E was a nice cat, too. I thought maybe you’d rescued ‘im?’

‘No, sorry.’  I seem to have rescued all the other stray cats on the Island, apart from the ginger one. Possibly they are now bussing stray cats in from off-island. In the dead of night the doors swish open and a stream of them alight, with their little suitcases, right outside my front door.

He shakes his head mournfully and shambles off over the road. I wonder how he keeps those few long strands of hair in place. I wonder how his trousers stay up and whether he ever washes.

But now he’s set me off.  Now I can’t stop thinking about the ginger cat. I put some food out. Poor thing’s probably decaying in a ditch somewhere or locked in someone’s garage, but now I’m glued to the patio door and the view down the back garden. Every time I pass that view I look out. Where is that Lost Ginger Cat? I am getting obsessed. I put more food out.

I put food out again that night. In the morning the dish is polished clean, but that’s not good. That’s what the hedgehog does. I put out more food for the sun to burn down on and bluebottles to lay their eggs in. I am still glued to the view down the back garden. Where could he be, the Poor Ginger Cat? And then that evening I catch sight of him en passant.  He looks thin, but no thinner than before. He sniffs at the various food dishes dotted around the lawn and ignores them all. He’s about important business. He is en passant and will not pause.

I must let Charlie know. He’ll be overjoyed.

Charlie is deaf and never comes out when you knock, so I wait until the Hermes lorry comes along knowing this alone will winkle my neighbour out of his house. I watch from behind the net curtains till the Hermes man has finished flinging a huge stack of loose parcels and canvas bags containing other parcels from the back of his lorry into the road. I watch as Charlie starts to drag stuff up onto his driveway. The canvas bags are almost as big as he is.

Timing it to perfection, as the Hermes lorry begins its long, beeping reverse I skip out. Guess what, Charlie. I spotted the ginger cat. Yes, at seven o’clock last night…

Ginger cat? Charlie does not look up. He is surveying the monstrous heap of parcels on his driveway and scratching his few remaining wisps of hair. He’s visualising his route, I guess. He’s Anxious and Bewildered, trying to work how long this lot is going to take him to get rid of, assuming he can get them sorted and stuffed into the car by mid-morning…

Ginger cat was yesterday.

For Felix – with love and squalor

So I’m not moving. Yes, it’s all fallen through again. Story of my life.

Why has it all fallen through? The nail in the coffin I suppose was the central heating system packing up. A very nice man came and basically condemned the wiring that feeds the central heating boiler (don’t ask me, I’m only an electrician’s daughter…). Then the man who was buying my house sent a boiler man to do an inspection and then he wanted a large amount of discount to cover the unexpected rewire/new boiler. Understandably, but it made it not worth my while to move.

Anyway, I’m here, and facing my first winter without central heating or hot water. I say this now. I may be a tad less sanguine about it when the Gales of November Come Early or when Snowflakes Keep Falling On My Head (Oh no, that was Raindrops, wasn’t it? He was going round in circles on a bicycle and then he got shot.) At the moment, however, it’s fine. Hot outside. Quite a few kettles inside. Shower and washing machine still work. How are they still working? No idea. Expect they’re on a separate… whatsit.

For the winter I’ve got several of those big plug-in radiators. Luckily I moved them with me from house to house to house, storing them in sheds, garages and whatnot. Wipe away the cobwebs – good as new.

It means getting used to Being Here again, rather than Being There. It means appreciating what you’ve got instead of yearning for something else.

I was looking out at my garden yesterday evening – at the overgrown grass, the twisty path I foolishly thought it would be a good idea to rip up and grass over; roses, passionflower, honeysuckle and giant, vicious brambles running riot up the side of the garage, attached to a rusting bedframe. It’s way over my head now. Even at my height and standing on a chair I can’t reach them with the secateurs. All I can do is keep an eye out for brambles forced down by heavy rain and rush out there and snip them before they have a chance to recover. And yet, there’s a certain pleasure in that. In the brambles. In the snipping. In the unruliness of it all.

I noticed the neighbours’ orange bush had blossomed. They spend most of their time in France now and often miss the blossoming of the bush. It’s a moving sight, somehow – a fire of petals. I feel like Moses, witnessing something profound.

I watched the sparrows feeding on chunks of bread, not knowing, as I did, that Felix was lurking in the undergrowth. I love Felix. We have a bond. He’s not my cat, I cannot possess him; there’s no way he could be mine unless his owner should die of the Plague or meet with an unfortunate accident. (I try very hard not to think about this in case wishing makes it so.) But Felix is a beauty. Black and white, long and lean, he has the look of the wizard about him. And now, since I’m not moving, I can commune with him whenever he chooses to come into my garden. Leaving Felix would have been the hardest thing.

Even in winter, muffled up in layers of charity shop jumpers, woolly hats and the fingerless mittens I’m about to start knitting; even when there’s a gale blowing and those brambles are bent almost to the ground by the force of the wind but it’s too cold to go out and cut them; even when the sky is the colour of saucepans and great clouds race across it; even then I will know there are sparrows about, and Felix; even then I will know that the blossom is coming again.

felix

 

IT’S OH SO QUIET, IT’S OH SO STILL

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

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

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

No Whiskas! No till six.

Whiskas!!

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

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

Brimful of Asha on the forty-five…

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

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

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

So what is keeping me awake? Many things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

I recently learned that Google has extended its mapping service and now not only drives along people’s roads, filming their houses and catching them out in such nefarious activities as walking the poodle, taking the bins out, etcetera, but also employs relays of solitary walkers to film trails inside the Peak District National Park. The walkers set out with that periscope-type camera strapped to their backs. I am just wondering why Google doesn’t use drones now – or maybe it does. The scary little beasties seem to be everywhere, so why not some low-level flying along walking paths and up and down mountain tracks? The occasional beheaded walker to be written off as collateral damage.

Because after all look at the results – and they are truly impressive:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-29933459

The Peak District has become the first national park to have its trails and hard-to-reach locations captured on Google Street View.

http://www.ukclimbing.com/news/item.php?id=69285

Selected bits of the Peak District have become the first off-road terrain in a British national park to be featured on Google’s Street View.

I am not against Google Maps per se, having used them myself when house-hunting. It’s very useful to be able to walk up and down the road in which you are thinking of viewing a house, since that highly-photo-shopped picture of the house on the property websites doesn’t give you any idea what sort of area it is in – whether there’s a gasworks at the end of the street; or the street’s so narrow there’s nowhere to park; or there’s a school right opposite which will be besieged by parking ‘mummies’ and dangerously running-about children twice a day; or there are tattered red and white ‘England’ flags flapping out of the windows – meaning you will be living in a National Front stronghold, or at least among an unacceptably high number of football fanatics, who will drink lager in their front rooms during the World Cup and cheer, suddenly.

Google Maps does save you a lot of time and petrol but it works both ways. Prospective buyers of your house, who might otherwise be fooled into coming and viewing it, may take a virtual dislike, and you’ve lost them before you’ve begun.

And it is useful for spying. When the Irish lady (she of the red jumper who lurked behind the glass – see earlier post) and her husband moved away, unexpectedly I was feeling lonely without them. In a moment of weakness I typed into Google Maps the name of the far-away town they had moved to, and the street name, and then ‘walked’ the length and breadth of it.

I imagined them walking there in the flesh. Which way would they go to the shops? What would they see around this corner? Was there a bit of a park nearby, for the old dog’s daily walkies? But it didn’t end there. Confession time. Unable to resist employing a minor gift for detective work I managed to find their house, still on sale on the estate agent’s website (they leave them there for ages after they’re sold, I’ve discovered – to make you think there is much more on their books than there is – oh that one, unfortunately that one just sold, but this one… ) and clicked on ‘Start Slideshow’, and inspected every single one of their new rooms. The place was smaller than I expected, though neat and newly-decorated. Shame about that little bit of decking instead of a garden…

I imagined I was the only one with this grubby little secret but later discovered that most of the neighbours had done variations on the same prying search. Even the lady who had bought the house next door had done it. She was cross with them for not telling her about the rotten floorboards concealed beneath the bedroom carpet. I think she was plotting long-distance virtual vengeance of some sort.

This virtual Peak District tour, though – it’s walking porn – walking for those who haven’t the energy to walk, just want to enjoy the views they would enjoy if they were walking. Similarly there’s cookery porn – cookery programmes for those who live on chips and take-away curries in real life – gardening porn – garden makeover programmes for those whose gardens are full of children’s toys, dog poo, long grass and rusty swings – holiday porn – for those who can’t even afford a train ticket to Blackpool – and even ballroom porn – for those who have never sewn on a sequin and couldn’t fleckle if their lives depended on it. And now we have this long-distance yomping porn – for those who rarely get off the sofa or close their laptops. Slugs, the lot of ’em.

Google’s latest wheeze did, however, inspire me into writing post. I thought I would go out for my usual walk round the block, but ‘wearing’ an imaginary periscope-type Google camera. (There is only one walk you can do here, really, unless you go round twice, or clockwise sometimes and anti-clockwise other times, or make a sort of squarish figure-of-eight of it by cutting through alleyways.) With the help of my imaginary periscope-type Google camera I would proceed to ‘record’ my little walk, but using words in place of film. This, then, would be boredom porn – for those who actually have interesting and beautiful places to walk, but yearn to experience the exotic desolation of my surroundings – without actually having to come here.

So, out of the back door (everyone uses their back doors as their front doors round here. My house doesn’t have a front door, only a side door – but I don’t use that) and here is my garden. The grass is a bit too long. Felix is crouching in the midst of it, eyes firmly fixed on the wire bird-feeder, swaying with hungry sparrows in spite of him. He doesn’t eat them very often. More often he just watches. Sparrow porn.

Now round the slippery, muddy bit at the side – when it rains, torrents of mud slide down the hillside and make, specifically, for my driveway – and out into the road. Opposite, now, is the house of Caravan Man. He used to be Washing Man because he was depressed and would stand in his back garden for hours watching his white sheets rotating on his rotary drier. Now he’s got a girlfriend – well, sort of – so he’s given over watching his sheets go round (laundry porn) and bought a white caravan, not to use for anything but to fill up the whole of the concrete hard-standing outside his house so that lorries, vans and neighbours can no longer use it for reversing. Now they struggle with tight three-point turns and worsen the potholes instead. The potholes are full of water. This morning the Council men came and (hurrah!) one of them raised the other up in a cherry-picker and he mended the orange streetlamp. Tonight, for the first time in months, there will be something other than pitch-darkness outside our windows.

Weather – blue sky, just little scratty bits of cloud. But it’s cool. The lawns are wet, the potholes still full of stormwater. Autumn is here to stay.

Past the Chinese chap with the very loud voice and the nice garden.

Past the chap at the end who breeds parrots and lets several dogs out every time he sees me. Hello, doggies! Disappointingly for him, dogs do not tend to attack me.

Past the nettles – a whole back garden, nothing but nettles. I wonder if there is the corpse of a stabbed-person in the middle (we specialise in stabbings round here) or maybe a maggot-infested badger, or an ancient mattress with brambles growing through the springs…

It reminds me of Nan’s garden. There was an old apple tree surrounded by a sea of mint, and on one sawn-off branch of the tree the head of a bisque doll. My uncle hung the dolls head on a twig. Then he joined the RAF and went away, and the twig grew, and grew, and eventually the doll’s head was firmly stuck on the fattened twig. Nan warned me that the doll’s head would be bound to break – the twig would burst it. I didn’t believe her. Then it happened. That’s life, isn’t it? Bad things happen, but somehow you manage to pretend they might not.

And then they do.

THE DARKNESS OF THE MUSIC OF THE NIGHT

When I moved here I thought – well, this is the middle of nowhere, the end of the earth, but at least I’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep.

It was not exactly the area I would have chosen, but it was the nearest I could afford to move to my ailing mother. This week I have been wondering how much longer I will be here. A few days back I was visiting her at home with a lady social worker and Mum airily referred to me as my friend over there. She was never much of a one for verbal flourishes, but could she have meant it in an elliptical, literary sort of way? Or had she, for that moment, forgotten my name and how we were related? These lapses are only brief; another time she will know me, but for how much longer? Not too long I suspect before it doesn’t really matter where I am; I’ll just need to turn up to visit every couple of weeks and remind her I was once her daughter.

When that time does come maybe I will up sticks and go back to where I once belonged; or go somewhere else new, where I have never belonged. Maybe at that point I’ll discover that what’s left of my gypsy spirit has trickled away and I just can’t face all over again packing my life into cardboard boxes; amassing two great lever-arch files of legal paperwork, one labelled Sale and one labelled Purchase; booking cattery places on an industrial scale and being fawned over by two separate sets of estate agents. Oh for a crystal ball and a magic wand.

Well, it certainly is dark here. We did have a street-light. It gave off a faint orange light, most of the time. The lamp-post is still here, right opposite my house, listing drunkenly to port, but the orange light no longer lights up. Opposite my house is where lorries and delivery vans are obliged to reverse, so being reversed into was something of a foregone conclusion for that poor, solitary lamp-post, but that wasn’t what stopped it working. That was the local Council on one of its economy drives. Since we lived in the middle of nowhere they didn’t think we would miss it.

Almost every night the current custodian of the famous, beautiful and psychic Felix (see FELIX BROUGHT ME A MOUSE) stumbles up and down our unmade road in pitch darkness with a torch in search of him. We have all memorised the potholes and it is possible to avoid them, even in the dark, but you have to concentrate. Firstly Neighbour whistles that anxious, repetitive cat-summoning whistle that cats automatically disregard, then he starts with the calling:

Felix? Felix? Where are you, boy?

Felix quite often lurks in my back garden but I refuse to reveal his secrets. Felix and I have a bond.

I know what’s going to happen next. After ten minutes or so the whistling and calling resumes in my back garden. I am not supposed to notice. I am assumed to be asleep.

Felix? Felix? Where are you, boy?

This does rather annoy me. How come I am the only person in the street whose back garden can be entered by anyone who pleases? Just like I was the only person who could be left sitting around in a waiting room at the eye hospital with both eyes full of atropine drops, unable to read a magazine or even see the time on the clock without help, until the drops wore off and had to be put in again because a lot of more important people came in.

They have a different concept of privacy round here. It’s a cultural difference. At one point I found several children clustered round my side door, laboriously reading aloud a note I had taped to it for the delivery man. My next door neighbour at that time was an Irish lady with a red jumper. She’d never knock, just somehow be outside my side door now and again. I’d pass the side door and either catch her clambering stiffly over the low garden wall that separated our two houses or she’d just be there, silently waiting for me to pass my side door on the inside, catch sight of a scarlet woolly cloud behind the glass and open up. It could have been an hour since I last passed the door.  Had she been there all that time?

Felix? Felix? Where are you, boy?

If the worst comes to the worst Neighbour knocks on my door, wringing his hands in the darkness, distressed, pathetic, imploring, and I have to put on my fluffy slippers and go out into my own rain-soaked garden, with my own torch, in my dressing gown, to search for his cat. Felix, wherever he is, now realises the game is up; Neighbour will almost certainly have disappeared into his own house, a svelte black and white bundle under his arm, long before I get back to my living room, muddy, cross and even less likely to sleep.

Then there are the shift-workers coming home. This tends to be about 2.30 a.m. if they’re on 7 to 2. Their headlights sweep past my window, gravel swishes, rainwater exits deep potholes with a splosh, car radio gets turned off in mid-thump, car door opens, car door is slammed shut. Sometimes they give each other lifts and then there has to be the lengthy goodbye-see-you-tomorrow-all-right-mate conversation.

Then there are the doggy conversations echoing all round the hillside. These have got louder and more frequent since the coming of a giant black dog, Ayesha (Ajska) who was rescued by my next-door neighbour from another, far less kindly, neighbour. Ayesha is actually a lady of Polish origins; she has a Polish passport, even. She also has the deepest, loudest bark imaginable and is an early riser. Four o’clock in the morning:

Wooooooof!!! (It’s ME!!!)

At once a doggy dawn chorus starts up, answering her, answering one another:

Here I am! Me too!! Are you there? No, I’m here! Who are you? Are you her? No, I’m me! Who’s me? Me! You know me! Me down here. You’re down there? I’m up here! He’s over there!

Occasionally there is a party and dance music will drift up to me from open windows. That isn’t too bad – it’s free music after all, and sometimes I sing along. It’s the way the partygoers tend to get drunker and drunker and louder and louder that’s the problem. Then come the arguments and then the bottle-throwing. Everything seems to echo round here. Thunderstorms; parties; Saturday night Karaoke in the social club down the road; police car sirens; ambulance sirens; after-pub staggering home conversations, the boys cajoling, the girls shrieking in response. Once in a terrible while a girl will scream and not stop screaming. Occasionally gangs of caravan site people bump into gangs of locals on the beach and stab one other. Drowning would be a quieter, and the sea is conveniently close, but knives seem to be favourite. Shortly thereafter, the sirens. But that’s only on the worst nights.

There are pleasanter noises. Bats for instance: strictly speaking you don’t hear bats, their cries being ultrasonic, but you do kind of sense them drawing near. Somewhere around nine or nine-thirty, that’s their time. You’ll see them if you are patient: watch for a bird not moving like a bird, something black and winged that dips and swoops, abruptly changing direction. At around the same time the hedgehog is on the move. On moonlit nights, look for a patch of lawn appearing to move; a small, round, scuttling segment of darkness. At around midnight he’ll come closer in search of food. I leave a bowl of cat food out for him; sometimes Felix nabs it first but if there’s any left the hotchi-pig has it. And I always know which one of them it was. Cats will pick from the bowl, and always leave some; hedgehogs stand in the bowl, tip it up, empty it out and clatter it around with their little pointy snouts; and in the morning there is nothing left.

I once went out to change the bowl of cat food. In the darkness, I groped around for the bowl in its usual place and found the hedgehog instead. Hedgehog hearing isn’t good; my hand accidentally brushed the top of his spines. Instantly, a great clattering and scrabbling as he jumped forward and rolled himself into a ball. Sorry, I whispered, putting the new food down and creeping indoors to bed.

READING MONTAIGNE IN THE BATH

I was reading Michel de Montaigne in the bath (as you do) and thought to check back over the various pink postit-notes I had attached to him.

‘A dog one knows’ said one postit.

‘Cat in a pasty’ said another.

‘Cat and bird’ said the third.

‘A dog one knows’ is Montaigne quoting St Augustine (‘an ancient father’) who apparently said:

‘We are better off in the company of a dog we know than in that of a man whose language we do not understand’. Montaigne goes on to say ‘Therefore those of different nations do not regard one another as men.’

I agree with him (or rather St Augustine) about the dog we know; I also agree that not knowing someone’s language makes it more of a stretch to see them as real or human in the sense that you yourself are real and human. What I’m not sure about is how Montaigne is making the second the consequence of the first.

In researching Montaigne on the internet I kept coming across the famous quotation about Montaigne and his cat. You may have seen it yourself – when I play with my cat, am I amusing myself with her or is she amusing herself with me? Which reminds me of Lao Tzu asking, on waking from sleep, having had a dream in which he was a butterfly: Am I a man dreaming I am a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I am a man?

Even before that first cat quotation I guessed that Montaigne would be a cat person – how could he not be since we were kindred spirits? – but quickly became tired of reading the same quote over and over again. Surely he must have made other moggie-mentions? I decided to postit them as I went along.

I’ve only found two so far but have such a lot of Montaigne ahead of me that I’m confident there are more to come. The first, ‘Cat and bird’, links back to my first ever post (Felix brought me a mouse) in which Felix rescues me from a dying mouse. Montaigne is interested in the connection between mind and body – not just our own mind influencing our own body, but other minds influencing bodies not even their own. He starts with a rather suspect list of examples – ostriches hatching their eggs merely by looking at them, hares and partridges turned white by the snow on the mountains and so forth – but goes on to tell this little story:

Someone in my house recently saw a cat watching a bird at the top of a tree. After they had gazed fixedly at one another for some time, the bird dropped, apparently dead, between the cat’s paws, either stupefied by its own imagination or drawn by some power of attraction of the cat.

Didn’t I tell you? Felix rescued me from a mouse.

The second, ‘Cat in pasty’, is my favourite:

I know of a gentleman too who, three or four days after having entertained a large party in his house, bragged, by way of a joke – for there was nothing in it – that he had made them eat cat in a pasty. One young lady in the company was thereupon so horrified that she was seized with a severe dysentery and fever, and nothing could be done to save her.

Which, being an example of mind over matter, prompts me to mention the other book that I happen to be reading at the moment: ‘Getting Well Again’ by Simonton, Simonton and Creighton (1978).

Carl Simonton was a cancer specialist who demonstrated a link between certain typical mind-sets and both the likelihood of getting cancer and the likelihood of dying from it. He demonstrated that a person may unconsciously be choosing to die, that even if they don’t realise it their death is solving a problem for them. He and his wife also found various ways of helping cancer patients, through relaxation and visualisation, to take control of their illness and often affect its outcome.

This is such a clearly-written and inspiring little book that if you know someone who has cancer or have recently been diagnosed with it yourself, it’s worth getting hold of a second-hand copy. As it happens, thankfully and fingers crossed, that wasn’t why I was reading it ; in spite of the usual ‘getting older’ problems – sore knees, sore eyes, sore back – I’m OK.

I was interested in finding out whether some of us might unconsciously be choosing to end our days with dementia / Alzheimer’s. I know, whoever would choose the scenario everyone’s terrified of? But then who would choose cancer? If the principle – that people’s minds have the power to destroy their bodies – applies to cancer, why wouldn’t it apply to any other illness?