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!

Ow! (Ow Ow!)

Well, this will be my first one-armed post. So probably quite a short one.

Cat (appropriately, three-legged cat) turned round and bit me as I foolishly tried to stop him biting another cat. I suppose, if thinking at all, I was thinking – a three-legged cat, what harm can he do? Four very sharp teeth punctured my left hand full force, and now of course it has gone All Funny. Hand swollen up like a balloon. Cannot open tins with either hand, since I am strongly left-handed and yes, the left hand is the disabled one. Am having to feed them Felix pouches ordered in big boxes from Amazon and opened painfully with scissors. They love Felix but the pouch version costs the earth. At this rate there will be no presents for anybody next Christmas or the Christmas after that.

So, I cannot drive (just bought a replacement car) and cannot write. This morning got yet another email asking me for my meter readings. Thought a bit, then typed the numbers right-handed into my phone. Rest of the time am reduced to watching TV, ice pack clamped to hand, filth and chaos multiplying all around.

When I went to the hospital yesterday (on the bus, with Bertie, who isn’t very well either) they looked at me reprovingly and asked me why I hadn’t come in yesterday morning, when it happened. Well, I didn’t really realise it was going to almost immediately start looking like some kind of vile swamp and blow up like a balloon. I assumed it would just sort of go away… eventually.

Three things:

a) Apparently 90% of the British population is naturally immune to Tetanus nowadays. They immunise children for it as babies, it seems. They don’t like wasting tetanus shots so they do a little blood test on you first, and I am one of the 10% with no immunity. So, a tetanus shot in either arm and four more still to come.

b) They have put me on these very strong antibiotics which nurse describes, encouragingly, as “the Domestos of all antibiotics”. She tells me it would be best not to read the contra-indications in the leaflet inside the box. Antibiotics usually make me feel queasy, but oddly these haven’t. Neither have they reduced the size of the swollen hand, yet. The pain-killers are making me feel queasy.

c) I am instructed if the redness reaches my elbow or begins to track upwards “like veins” I am to make my way immediately to Accident and Emergency fifteen or twenty miles away. Over Christmas. With no buses, no trains, and unable to drive. Thankfully, so far no tracking.

Ah, tis indeed the season to be Merry!

holly

 

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

Let’s all just jump on William

Funny how things go: I just sat down here to write an article about – in a rambling sort of way – justice – and cats – and found a comment on that same subject by a new follower, on a different post.

I remember a lengthy conversation I had with Ex. We did have quite a few such lengthy conversations, often after too much beer or cider, which seemed to be the only way we could get past each other’s barriers. Hasten to add, I don’t drink now. Well, maybe the odd glass of wine at Christmas, if offered.

I was working for a firm of solicitors and had just had another conversation with my boss. She was a probate and trusts partner, but I had asked her how a criminal lawyer can bring themselves to defend someone who is pleading innocent although everyone knows he’s guilty – a violent rapist, say, or a mass murderer. Firstly, she said that if at any point the client was foolish enough to tell the lawyer he was guilty, the lawyer could no longer defend him. As long as he maintained his innocence, the lawyer – even though all sorts of verbal games had to be played to keep up this pretence – would continue to represent him, and do his or her utmost to put his side of the case (which isn’t necessarily the same thing as proving him innocent). Secondly, she said, everyone is entitled to a fair trial.

Now, Ex was a complex being. A gentle soul in many ways, he buried his deceased goldfish around the pond. He put up little crosses where each old cat was buried, and asked me to write a poem on a slip of paper to bury with them. He was many IQ points brighter than me (he took the test for MENSA) but if you were just listening to him arguing – about anything – you’d assume he was one of those shaven-headed National Front members, the sort with HATE tattooed on their knuckles. In argument, at least, he was always absolutely black or white, no shades of grey. Me, I love a good paradox: ambiguity is one of the few things I can cope with.

So his take on Justice was – and for all I know may still be – this: if everyone knows some bugger is guilty, then that bugger should be immediately shot, beheaded or castrated, depending on what he did. No time wasted by mealy-mouthed lawyers, arguing on his side. I remember, through the usual cider fog, saying that that was all very well, but just because everyone thinks they know someone is guilty, doesn’t mean that they actually are. After all, everyone knew all those poor, harmless old ladies in the Middle Ages were guilty of witchcraft and allowed the Devil to suckle on their teats, etcetera.

I remember asking him what if you were the one accused of a crime of which you were innocent – but everyone – everyone – knew you were guilty. Wouldn’t you be grateful then for a lawyer willing to prepare your case and argue in your defence? How could we call ourselves civilised, I asked him, if we reverted to taking it upon our individual selves to shoot, hang, castrate – or whatever – anyone we decided we knew was guilty?

And cats? Well, this week I have been looking after a cat called Nicholas.  Oh, let’s be honest, I’ve gone and adopted yet another stray. Nicholas arrived at my back door with a badly mangled arm, and the vet gave me the choice of either amputation at the shoulder, more or less, or euthanasia. So of course I paid for the amputation. I collected the cat later in the day. Inside his box they had wrapped him in a blanket against the cold. They did not offer to show him to me before I took him home, but I could imagine. Actually, though it looks strange – a cat with only one front leg – and sad, it’s not that shocking. He’s still the same Nicholas.

All went well for the first week, then I was woken at 2 in the morning by what sounded like a horrendous cat fight. But it wasn’t. It was Nicholas, standing in his pet bed, wobbling about on all three legs, screaming in terror whilst fighting off some invisible enemy that was obviously much larger than himself. This – whatever it might have been – fox, dog – had him by the leg – the now-amputated front leg – and Nicholas was twisting and turning, lashing out, trying desperately to pull himself free.

All my cats came running, as they always do when there is a ‘fight’. Their idea of justice is this: usually, any fight will involve William. William is a lumbering ginger cat who thinks he is in charge but isn’t – although he used to be. William is not very bright and, I’m afraid, a bit of a bully. So the cats come running and all jump on William. This does solve the problem, though it’s not exactly fair on William – he might have been in the right.

But now, with Nicholas, the weakness of cat strategy – the fundamental alien-ness of cats – has become apparent to me. Every couple of hours, still, in the depth of his nightmares poor Nicholas wakes up screaming. Fighting for his life against an invisible opponent.

Arthur approaches Nicholas. Arthur, huge, but usually the soppiest and most tremulous of cats. Ah, I think, he’s going to try and comfort his little friend. Arthur approaches, on tiptoe and extends a nose towards Nicholas’s nose, whiffling gently. And then he pounces on Nicholas and, notwithstanding the amputated front arm, proceeds to try to murder him. Fur flies everywhere. I grab Arthur. How could you? I ask him, tearfully. Even a human being wouldn’t set upon a disabled member of their own species, especially one who was suffering from PTSD.

Nicholas seems OK, if a bit battered. The stitches are still in place. Arthur looks at me blankly. He doesn’t understand and I don’t understand. How is this logic?

So I am having to think of strategies to protect Nicholas when I am forced to be out of the house, just in case. Feliway Friends (expensive! and you have to buy a refill every thirty days!) plugged in right next to the room he is occupying – the bathroom at the moment, which is very inconvenient (argh, a pun!) – and a long rabbit run for the spare room, so that he can get around but hopefully not be attacked.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: My Life Is So Complicated.

Florence Nottingale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concentrate, woman…

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

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

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

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