My uncle took the message and he wrote it on the wall

Canadian sister phones. I thought maybe once her husband had died she would stop phoning me, that I would be cast aside like some moth-eaten fur coat etc etc. This has not happened – just now she phones me at all odd times. Before she could only phone me when he was asleep. And then he would wake up. Always. I could hear the creaking of the bedroom door upstairs in their house, right across the Atlantic. Sometimes I heard it before she heard it. I could hear the change in her tone of voice. The worried note creeping in, the sudden summing up, the hasty goodbye.

She is all at sea without him, and yet, I note, she is surviving. She says she has just spent the two longest evenings of her life, alone in the house. ‘What do single people do in the evenings?’ she asks me. ‘Well, I say, hobbies tend to expand to fill the time available for doing them…’ I am aware that I am paraphrasing someone. ‘What did you do of an evening when he was still alive, and well?’

‘Mostly he was outside in his workshop. If he came inside I might knit while he watched TV.’

I resist saying that this seems to me as much like being alone as being alone. I remember when I was married, all those years ago. Being always alone, even when not.

‘You can call me any time,’ I say. ‘After all, nobody else does. I mean, it’s not like you’re interrupting a huge queue of my fans, all eagerly trying to contact me…’

‘Nobody?’

She sounds shocked. I would have lied, if necessary. I would have told her the above story so that she didn’t feel she was being in any way a nuisance phoning me at all hours, because at the moment I am one of her few fixed points in a radically shifting universe. I am good at making up tales on the spur of the moment. Sometimes I don’t realise they’re tales, till after.

And sometimes I don’t realise they’re true, till after.

So, today I have had a very stressful day. Stress exhausts me, so I tend only ever to schedule one stressful or unpleasant event per day, but today I thought, why not get them all over with at once, for once? So I set off, early, stopping off at the post office in the next village to post Canadian Sister a belated birthday present. Two books. The cost of the airmail is greater than the combined cost of the books. But that was OK, and I managed to get myself out of the tiny car park, with the parking spaces all at the wrong angles.

I went on to the Tip, in Town. I managed to get my car in and not have to sit drumming my fingers on the dash for three-quarters of an hour down the stinky alleyway that leads to it. I managed to heave out the six monstrously heavy black sacks full of used cat litter, pretending to be innocent household waste. I managed to lug four of them, one at a time, up the slippery metal steps to the skip and, with a muscle-wrenching effort, heave them over the rim of the skip. Then – that rare event – one of the men in high-vis yellow came to my rescue, and made off with my two remaining sacks – in the direction of the skip labelled Garden Waste.

‘Did yer want the bags back?’

‘Er, no…’

I knew I should have yelled after him, ‘Excuse me, my man, but I believe you may be under a misapprehension. That is in fact Non-Recyclable Household Waste’ (cat poo).

But I didn’t. I reversed, rather smartly, and exited.

And then I did a rather long and illogical detour to the petrol station, where an elderly idiot with a white moustache rather like the current transient US Secretary of State’s, nearly took my wing-mirror off in his selfish efforts not to let me get to the pump I needed, which was not the same pump he needed.

Ah, I thought, things are reverting to the usual dire pattern. I swore voluminously at him, but from inside my car so that he could see perfectly well that I was swearing voluminously, but we could both, upon exiting our cars, pretend it wasn’t aimed at him.

And then I drove over to visit my mother in the Home. This was number four (?) of Things I Don’t Want To Do Today But Am Going To Do Anyway. But Mum was asleep, with the curtains drawn. All the other residents were up. She looked dreadfully like a corpse so I tiptoed in and checked that she was still breathing. Then I went and found the Nurse – not in the Nurses Station (that was occupied by Someone Who Didn’t Even Work There) but in a cupboard. He said Mum was OK, but had been left to sleep in after one of her night-time rampages. I have never seen one of these rampages, and find them difficult to imagine, but apparently she shouts at other residents, and they shout back. She was never like this. Anything not to draw attention to herself, to stay in the background.

When I get home the Nurse will phone me again to say that after I left she wrestled another resident to the ground (where she happened to be lying) and was having a fight with them.

‘I wonder,’ I said, if it’s all the things they suppress during their lifetimes, when they are them, that suddenly start escaping when this happens?

The Nurse did not seem all that interested in my intellectual speculations.

After the Home I drove down to Ashford, thinking to stock up on black bin sacks in my favourite former supermarket, then drive home. Gridlocked.  When I finally inched my way there – instantly to be blocked in by a giant black-windowed vehicle that was going to make reversing out a nightmare – the woman behind the till tried to explain what was causing the gridlock. It’s the closure of the A2070 she said. I could not remember which of the many road around Ashford the A2070 was and hence, when trying to escape from Ashford some time later, got caught in two further lots of gridlock because I guessed wrong and headed straight for it rather than away from it.

You see that’s the trouble. Road diversions are signposted by men, and usually men who have GPS in their cars. I am a woman, and I do not have GPS. I do not understand Diversion signs and I navigate the sensible way, by Landmarks, not Numbers. If they had put up a sign saying Motorway Junction Absolutely And Completely Closed, well then I wouldn’t have gone that way, would I? I’d have wended my way up the back roads to Smelly Farm Corner and turned right towards The Place Where There Is A Pub I Once Walked Along The Grass Verge To With The Boyfriend With The Pointy Nose. Of course I would have got stuck in another lot of gridlock, but a smaller and more ultimately hopeful lot.

And how are you? my sister asks, eventually. It’s early morning in Alberta. She hasn’t already had a whole day of Utter Ghastliness.

‘Oh… a bit tired, maybe?’

phone tap

Featured Image: London street art by Banksy

 

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!