The Dark Christmas Of The Soul

I try not to be cynical, but when I see those Salvation Army adverts for those who are homeless, gift-less, cold, shivering or alone at Christmas, I can’t help but wonder things like…

Is the old chap in the armchair real, or when the cameras stop rolling (or whatever cameras do nowadays) does he get up from his shabby armchair, brush back his long, unwashed hair and start talking in ringing Shakespearian tones like Sir John Gielgud? And the poor young chap shivering on the street corner with snow falling all around and people pausing only to mock or kick him. Once the shoot is complete, does he stand up, removing umpteen toasty hot hot-water-bottles from beneath that snow-soaked duvet and suggest everyone repair to the café over the road for a cup-a-soup or cheese on toast? I mean, I know the lonely old chap, the child who won’t be being visited by Santa and the shivering youth exist in all their sad and multiple forms in real life, but are the ones in the adverts real? And does it matter either way?

This is the sort of thing you start pondering, when you are alone in a house for two or three days with only the cats and the TV for company. After this, I am going to look up Dark Night of the Soul. I think I may be going through it. Not dark enough, however, to merit a visit from the Salvation Army. Boring, misguiding and distracting the Jehovah ladies has consumed all my psychic energy. It has been quite fun, at times, but I can’t manage the Sally Army on top.

I went to visit Mum in the home a few days ago but discovered her, once again, asleep and corpse-like at nearly lunchtime. I was told it would be better if I made an appointment to visit her instead of “just turning up”. That depressed me. It says in the brochure that relatives are free to visit at any time. And yet I know that if I do call the Home it will ring and ring and no one will answer because the Home is just one of those places where phone-answering is no one’s specific responsibility and so nobody does it.

In the good old, bad old pre-and incipient dementia days, of course, I would have gone over to Mum’s on Christmas Day and we would have sat, mostly in silence because of her deafness and increasing unwillingness to read, or even look at, the notes I passed her. Eventually she would just toss them down on the imitation parquet flooring. We would knit blanket squares together for around three hours in her underheated living room. Poor Kitten (now rescued, and still alive at the human equivalent of 115 or thereabouts) would be crammed underneath the lukewarm storage heater, her nose tightly wrapped in her tail. The clock would be ticking loudly on the mantelpiece, and there we would sit, having consumed…

Well, for a while it was a cooked meal, though not a Christmas cooked meal. Towards the end it would be Ryvita with increasingly eccentric toppings. And then nothing. Shops, meals, preparations for guests or visiting daughters – all such had been erased from her mind.

Canadian Sister is actually in the UK but oop north with her late husband’s rellies. She flew over here solo for the first time – passport renewal, navigation of Schiphol airport, jetlag – the lot. She has texted me once or twice. I was teaching her to text, transatlantic fashion, soon after her husband died. She seems to have mastered that and has sent me several texts from oop north – mostly about underground trains – how many stops between Euston and Victoria – even though Victoria is closed between Christmas and New Year as I keep on and on trying to explain, to no effect whatsoever. However, it hasn’t seemed to occur to her to telephone me, as she would have done if she had been at home in Canada on Christmas Day. I did casually text explaining that it would be possible for her to call my mobile – sorry, cell – phone from oop north on her mobile – sorry, cell – phone – so as to avoid having to run up a bill on mother-in-law’s landline. But maybe the technology tutorials haven’t quite stretched that far. A phone call would have been nice.

By day I look out of the window and note the cars crammed into all the driveways, and wonder who is having whom to visit. By night I look out of those same windows and, up and down the hill, am treated to richly decorated and flashing council house façades. I know why this is. It’s because the Parish Council are offering three prizes of £50 each to the most festively-decorated houses. A few days ago they sent round pairs of judges – all of them couples, each couple with a borrowed dog as a cunning disguise. Disguise dogs… It seems to me it would cost considerably more than £50 to purchase so many fancy lights and keep them lit up with expensive electricity night after night – but perhaps I’m missing something.

My friend down the road had another great granddaughter on Xmas Day. She texted me, joyously. I can’t imagine what it is like to possess a great grandchild, but did my best to sound appropriately pleased, and decorated my reply text with what seemed like appropriate icons.

I listen to my neighbours playing video games. It seeps through the walls. I think they have got a new baby – at least, I can hear something very small and new crying at intervals – and she did get a trifle tubby for a while… But though the rock music marathons have mercifully ceased since the small crying sound started, the intermittent video whooshes and crashes have not. The child – if it actually is a child and not a figment of my imagination – will no doubt grow up to be one of these Pinball Wizards with the joysticks and clickety-buttons, slumped in a beanbag in front of a screen all day.

What else have I done? Now, let me think. I must have scooped out poop at least fifty times over the last few days. The moggies seem to be going into poop-overdrive for the festive season. And I have fed all nineteen of them twice a day, and washed all the dirty bowls up after. Not to mention the current outdoor moggie, Buster, a scary hissy-and-snarly ginger bruiser who has been turning up every day at dawn and dusk recently in the expectation of a whole tin of Whiskas and then waits round the corner or behind the bins, just out of sight, for maybe another 400g tin? It’s like that figgy pudding song – We all want some figgy pudding, so bring some out here!

I have watched a whole lot of Call The Midwife Christmas Specials – so many of those lifelike rubbery babies emerging – so many nuns – and a whole afternoon’s kind of box set on Channel 4 or something similar, of The Yorkshire Vet. I just got into it whilst knitting squares for my blanket and somehow or other couldn’t turn it off. Do you know, in every single programme he takes his top off and puts his arm up a cow? And in every single program at least one set of gonads are removed with a squelch – pig, dog, cat, ferret, polecat … I feel I could now castrate almost any living thing, from memory.

Love the one you’re with

We recently lost Bruce Forsyth, the all round entertainer and game show host. I must admit he wasn’t one of my favourites but I recognised his abilities, his professionalism, his popularity and his longevity. He had many catchphrases but his most recent and best-remembered is “You’re My Favourite”. Hosting one of the BBC’s most popular shows, Strictly Come Dancing his job, in a way, was to protect the contestants from the judges.

Each couple went on and danced. Some were brilliant, others made a bit of a mess of it, but invariably at the end he would greet the bespangled, lycra-and-satin clad couple as they sashayed towards him trying not to look as if they were gasping for breath, with a huge smile. And before they turned to face the judges he would reassure them in a stage whisper “You’re My Favourite“. Nobody believed him of course, but I bet it mattered to hear it at that point. Sometimes we have to pretend, and pretending can be enough.

Growing up, both Canadian Sister and I understood that English Sister was Mum’s favourite. Her last-born, her surprise baby. This was just a fact of life though we may have grumbled about it between ourselves, every now and again. Anyway, Mum got old and she got galloping dementia and other stuff, at which stage all sorts of things that might best have been kept secret began to be blurted out. During one of my Sunday visits she said “Of course (Canadian Sister) was always your Dad’s favourite”, and that cut like a knife. She had lost the ability to make connections between things by that time – logic was one of the first things to go – and I suppose it didn’t occur to her that that left me as nobody’s favourite. It’s simple when you think about it – two parents, three children – if there must be favourites then one of them has to be out in the cold. Why had it taken me so long to realise?

However, life isn’t fair for anybody, and we survive these things.

I can’t blame my Mum. I have eighteen cats and it’s difficult to share the attention and affection out equally. Often I’m harassed and worn out, wading through this sea of cats, all demanding something. And some cats, lets face it, are especially charming. It’s easy to love short-sighted George, for example, a goofy, clumsy cat who falls off everything and falls over himself in sheer excitement if he gets to sit on your lap. George is beautiful and fluffy, and he needs someone to look out for him.

Not so easy to love Kitten, who is ancient and deaf; who wakes me in the middle of the night bellowing for attention; who hauls pieces of food out of her bowl and distributes them over a wide area for me to clean up; who is voluminously sick on the carpet at least twice a day; who may die at any minute, so every morning when I find her curled up in her favourite cardboard box I have to wonder, is she going to lift her head when I tap on the edge to wake her, or is this going to be The Day?

Not so easy to love Rufus, either – that bony little ginger chap inherited from the disabled woman over the road. Rufus was left mostly to his own devices, I think. He lived a hard, tom-cat sort of life and he hung around outside most of the time. He got fed by anyone who happened to remember. Rufus now has a cauliflower ear and a weepy, half-closed eye that the vet can’t do anything about. He likes to curl up in the bed with me on winter nights, which means I can’t get to sleep in case I squash him, so I lie and wait for him to leave of his own accord. He sometimes bites – luckily he has very few teeth nowadays – and sometimes spits. He has never forgiven me for stealing him away from Old Mummy, not understanding that Old Mummy died.

So I pretend, and I keep reminding myself to do so. I remind myself to talk to them and make a bit of a fuss of them in passing. I remind myself that ultimately we are All One and that Kitten and Rufus have souls no less valuable than mine, and no less beautiful than the souls of the other cats. That’s about all anyone can do, isn’t it?

IMG_20170913_084509_kindlephoto-2869089

By George!

Have you ever discovered an injury and not known how you got it? All sorts of lurid explanations flash through your mind:

I must have started sleep-walking and walked into a cupboard, then walked back to bed and fallen asleep again. That’s why I have this purple bump on my forehead…

I was abducted by aliens, who did experiments on me. That’s why there’s this inexplicable star-like scratch on my knee – it’s a kind of marker so they know not to abduct me twice. And then of course they would have had to erase my memory…

I was just shuffling about in my bedroom slippers, as you do, when suddenly…

Ow! Why are my big toe and second toe suddenly so painful?

Incidentally – and I know you didn’t want to know this – my big toe and second toe happen to be the same length, in fact I believe the second toe may be a micro-millimetre the longer of the two. This indicates that my genome contains Neanderthal genes. Maybe. But I digress.

I inspected the toes in question with care. They looked a trifle puffy, a trifle bruised perhaps but had retained their waggleability so were probably not broken.

My imagination went into overdrive. It must have happened when I was out in the garden yesterday. Some awful jungle critter had burrowed its way into my foot and only now was I noticing the first symptoms as it chomped and chomped, consuming my flesh from the inside, and from the big-and-next toes up.

There had been a lot on TV about the prevalence of ticks and their dreaded consequence, Lyme’s Disease. OMG, I thought, it’s only a matter of time before that distinctive target-like rash appears on my foot, and then I’m a gonner. Maybe I should start finding foster homes for the cats now, before the pain gets too bad? Is my Will up to date?

And then it dawned on me – George, the clumsiest cat on the planet. It was George who did my toes in. He was pottering past Kitten’s Room yesterday morning and was involved in yet another of the Incidents that George always seems to be getting involved in.

I should explain that Kitten is well over a hundred in human-equivalent years. I had to rescue her from Mum a while back and she immediately ring-fenced the spare bedroom for herself, sleeping in a cardboard box underneath what was once my writing desk, waking up at widely-spaced intervals to totter across to her feeding station and sample a few gumsful of special old-lady catfood, or to bellow in deafening, hideous senile fashion for… something. I still haven’t discovered what. Maybe she just forgets where, what or why she is.

So just as George pottered past, splendid black tail aloft, Kitten did her party-trick – the high-speed, sideways, fully fluffed-up totter out of the spare room. In terror, George tried to bolt but instead encountered my slippered right foot and rammed most of his black and white furry self between big-toe-and-next. Both of us screeched. He ran off. I somehow forgot about it. Kitten retreated to her cardboard palace.

Mystery solved.

Even wobblier in all sorts of ways than I had imagined

I’m not a great play-goer. They tend to be ‘foreign territory’ to me, along with ballet and opera. Well, opera I just hate. So the few plays I’ve seen, apart from pantomimes, tend to have been with N.

N was my boss when I was a legal secretary. We shared a love of the labyrinthine coils of English Legalese and general bad luck with men. Her luck was to change, eventually; mine wasn’t. Intelligence-and-common-sense-wise she was several hundred points ahead of me but she was patient, considering my whimsical incompetence, tendency to throw a wobbly or quietly panic most days and to either file all her stuff in the wrong place or forget to file it at all. She even found it amusing that people tended to think I was the solicitor and she the secretary. An entirely logical conclusion: the big bony lummox must be the boss, the little birdlike one must be the secretary. It’s evolution, innit? Eventually she went to work for another legal firm. Eventually, also, she became my friend, for which I am grateful.

In my defence, I could type really fast. It was just… well, all the rest of it.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Extract from (long lost) first blog : Blue, with Stars : 2003 – 2006

Rosie the kitten is sitting on my knee. We had the ceremonial opening of the cat-flap yesterday and she shot out into the outside world. Of course I spent the whole day trying not to keep checking up on her and making sure I could still see her, hunting for her all over the place. This must be what it’s like for parents letting their children go off on a gap year to Africa or whatever. Luckily Rosie didn’t set off for East Anglia (where she came from) at a brisk trot, via the M25 so she must be content to stay with me. I’ve been doing some calculations. I had vaguely thought she would be about 6 months (when they have to be spayed) in February but according to my diary it’s more like December, just before Christmas. I’ll have to check with the vet in October, when I take the remaining three in for their cat-flu injections.

Went to the theatre with N on Friday night. Not the best of nights as I was exhausted, as always after work, but especially at the end of the week, and I think she was too. She hadn’t been home but had carried on working. It was an amateur performance, and I thought it might be interesting just because of the “wobbly scenery” possibilities but it was even “wobblier” in all sorts of ways than I had imagined.

The theatre was a very small section of a leisure centre and we had to wait in a rather dismal area on a motley selection of hard chairs, saggy sofas and chaise longues, while the (one) lady behind the bar struggled to serve the queue with orange juices etc. Then we found that the theatre seats weren’t numbered and all the locals had stampeded in first to bag seats for their friends. We couldn’t sit together because there simply weren’t two seats left.

The play was a murder mystery of staggering uninterest, the actors had costumes made of what looked like curtains dyed different colours and were totally miscast – eg the ‘honeymoon couple’ were a reasonably attractive young woman and a hideous old bloke (who later got ‘killed’ and staggered back in with – possibly strawberry jam – all over his white shirt). Thank goodness for that, I thought.

The second half was a kind of question and answer session where the audience and a panel asked questions of the cast and tried to work out who dunnit. Nobody had a pencil to write the answer down. The plot had so many logic-holes (normally a plus point, as far as I am concerned, and one of the most entertaining aspects of Star Trek) that I couldn’t work out why they dunnit even when I was told that they had dunnit, and furthermore I didn’t care. It turned out to have been written by a member of the cast (the fat one with the bow-tie).

I felt a bit embarrassed that I had let N in for this awfulness but she seemed to find it quite amusing, said it was better than sitting at home writing Wills for people all evening.

# posted @ 8:56 AM