For all the tea in China

Two halves of the same cat

Every autumn I start putting out food for the strays again. I always tell myself I won’t, because strays means bonding and bonding means coming indoors and coming indoors means staying for ever and a day. I remind myself that I cannot save every single stray cat in all the world. Nevertheless, that seems to be what I am programmed to do. I have no other purpose.

The first dishes usually go to waste, but on the second day of the putting out of the food, strays appear; sometimes one, occasionally four but most often two of them. And so it is this year. At first I thought there was only one, since all I could see of it was a large, black furry bottom poking out of the dog/cat kennel whilst the head inside busily slurped. But no, it’s two – I heard yowling round the side and caught them nose to nose, whisker to whisker, an all black one and a mostly black one with white bits on her face. A boy and a girl, I think, possibly brother and sister. They will have to organise themselves not to turn up at exactly the same time.

The lawn fails to get the message

The lawn mowing duo turned up on time today, weather-beaten and muscular in their matching green tee-shirts. I haven’t yet decided whether they are married or siblings. Heavy morning rain had ceased only seconds before. They must have a line to whoever or whatever turns the rain on and off. (The cats think this is me.)

The industrial, gas-powered machines were unloaded from the truck, one large green person took the front and one the back and it was done in a tenth of the time it would have taken me. I could just about still do it, but have reached the stage of breathlessness/ agonising boredom where I just don’t want to do it. A monthly visit from The Green People is my only luxury.

They will not be back now till March, when the grass officially starts growing again. The grass has now, since it is November, officially stopped growing. Unfortunately nobody has told the grass. After the Green People left last month it was so made up, so overjoyed to have been mown by professionals, that it put on a spurt of growth. I have a feeling another spurt will follow their November visit. So under a carpet of snow, that bright green grass will be growing and growing…

But then, I’m not the one who will be doing the first cut next spring. Yay!

I have decided I don’t like my lady vet

I used to like the vet, when he was an eastern European chap with an accent you could cut with a knife. I don’t think he was Russian – because would Russian vets be allowed to come over here? – just sounded for all the world like one of those meercats in the TV ads. But he has gone. I went in one day to discover he had gone, for good, to France. He has taken all his cats, and his dogs, so he can’t be coming back. Indeed, why would you come back, here? I wouldn’t come back here if I had a chance to go somewhere else: no, not for all the tea in China.

But the lady we have instead – well, she is a lady, for a start. And she’s not him. She has an accent but not the same accent. She’s large, she has a tattoo and a brusque manner and I can’t bring myself to trust her. She talks to me like some generic, probably senile, Old Person, some tiresome Member of the Public; whereas he – I felt, anyway – actually seemed to be talking to me. I got the feeling he saw me as unpredictable and scarily odd: everybody seems to react to me like that – so be grateful that I am blogging rather than turning up on your street corner or lurking by the swings in the park. But occasionally amusing. And he didn’t make the mistake of thinking I was daft.

Really, it must be genetic. Why is it still easier to trust a man even though, throughout my life at any rate, the men I have known (in any detail) have proven themselves crueller, more devious, more judgmental and less supportive than women? No wonder we remain unemancipated.

But still, I think I’ll bite the bullet and try out (gasp!) another surgery altogether.

I think bread may be causing my IBS

I ate an experimental sandwich at lunch time and yes, the agony has returned. I am writing to distract myself from it. Think I will go and make myself a hot water bottle and distract myself still further by watching a really dreadful Christmas movie and knitting yet another dishcloth.

Unlicensed To Chill

The careers advice at school consisted of one short interview in an office off the main entry hall, with a bored, irritated female “sent from somewhere”. I remember shyly confiding in her – not unreasonably I thought since I was getting good marks in A level English – that I would like to be a newspaper reporter. She shook her head and passed me pamphlets on the Women’s Army. One of the perils of being tall and built like a brick outhouse, thanks to your father, is that people can only picture you charging around some jungle like Camouflage, that heroic and – as it turns out – somewhat ghostly marine.

And her face at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale…

Oh dear, earworm time.

But given the uninspired naffness of this blog title, perhaps the Career Cow was right after all. Too old for a career now, in any case.

But not quite old enough, as yet, to have my free TV licence whipped away from me because neither the Government – that shameful shambles – and the BBC – that parcel of pillocks – are willing to fund it any longer. As from 2020 all pensioners not in receipt of Pension Credit will just have to carry on paying their £12.85 a month until they drop. Up till now, if you succeeded in clawing your way to your 75th birthday you were allowed to watch TV for free. It was the one thing most of us had to look forward to about getting old. Dementia, possibly – galloping arthritis, possibly – chronic constipation, unreachable toenails, being patronised by everybody, whatever – but at 75

I won’t have to pay for my TV licence. Yay !!!**!!!

In one sense I am lucky. I am some way off 75 so would have been having to pay for some years anyway. However, my friend Daisy and beloved Godmother already have the free TV licence. As of next year, those will be snatched away. I wonder whether they are going to drag 100 year old pensioners through the courts because, being a bit wafty or not having access to “online” they didn’t get the email explaining this and therefore failed to start paying. I believe the fine for watching without a licence is £100. You can’t be imprisoned for failing to purchase a TV licence but if you fail to pay the £100, you can be. Imagine prisons filled with bewildered geriatrics. At least they can probably watch TV in there.

So, that is one reason why I have now given up my TV licence. Solidarity with all those unknown oldies who are about to have an already depressing existence made just a tad more depressing. Either they can carry on coughing up £12.85 a month (which will no doubt increase) ad infinitem, or they can do as I just did – chuck the TV, remote control and all that wiring into a cardboard box and banish it to the garage.

(Almost immediately after that my garage was flooded in a freak thunderstorm. I’m not sure the TV would even work now.)

No more live TV and no more catch-up or live TV on BBC iPlayer. (That’s the bigger loss.) No more Charlie and Naga perched on a hideous red sofa chirping out the news every morning. No more weather forecasters with unpronounceable names forecasting gales and flooding. No more interminable weeks of Wimbledon. No more late night panels of journalists pontificating or shouting each other down over Brexit.

The other reason I gave up is logical, but in a female sort of way. It was one of those lightbulb moments: if, to continue watching live TV, I am henceforth doomed to pay £12.85 a month by direct debit until they stuff me into my coffin – why am I actually paying it now? I mean, I really can’t afford it. I can’t afford anything. I have had to give up buying 1p second hand books from Amazon, for goodness sake, because they add on £2-something for postage.

Why am I paying £154-ish per annum to this BBC, who are about to snatch free licences from my elderly friends? Why should I let them pocket a chunk of my meagre State Pension, damn them? They pay a former footballer called Gary something-or-other – who already makes a packet out of advertising potato crisps – trillions per annum just for presenting a sports programme that no woman could ever bear to watch. Why not sack him for a start, Mr Pointless Football Pundit? And his female equivalent high-earner Claudia Winkelman, who is famous for having a too-long fringe and making kooky unfunny jokes on Strictly Come Dancing. Bin her. Bring back free licences.

And the final straw came when some twenty or thirty-something late night journalist, whose opinions I had always been interested to hear, up to that point, blurted out something to this effect:

Old people are nearly all rolling in money anyway, unlike us millennials. They don’t deserve free licences. And after all, they can just go out and buy a subscription to Netflix….

The difficulty with this is, many people in the over 75 age group do not have a computer of any sort. And even if you can afford to buy one at that age you are going to need a smartarse grandchild or computer chappie to set it up and teach you how to use it. It is not easy learning to use a computer later in life. I know, I was forced to teach myself the whole lot by trial and error, being childless and so not having access to a smartarse grandchild. Also, how many old people know what Netflix – or even what an app is? How can they afford to subscribe to Netflix if they can’t afford the licence fee? Can you even watch live TV on Netflix? My research says not, but some Millennial will no doubt correct me.

The Millennial’s co-late-night-journalist sat and gazed at her silent and slack-jawed when she came out with that one. I don’t think he could believe she had actually said it.

Anyway, rant over (phew!). I am actually finding it’s OK-ish without TV. I have deleted  BBC iPlayer from my tablet so that I can’t click on it accidentally, thus incurring a £100 fine or communal prison television surrounded by murderers, rapists and drug-dealers. I have three radio sets, set on Radio 4, 4 Extra and – miscellaneous music stations. I look up the daily schedules on one app (thus saving myself the expense of buying the Radio Times), the weather on another and news headlines and in-depth articles on another. Sorted! as they say around here.

Party On, Gran!

The usual Christmas card came from an old friend, many miles away. It contained the usual folded-in-four, once-a-year letter. I’m not sure how old Jen is now but she must be ancient, considering she was a great deal older than me when we typed together for a while, in that tiny, exhaust-fume filled basement next to the ring road – bars on the windows; stiflingly crammed with sweating female bodies and those massive old word processors and printers. She tells me that her husband and his mother are on different floors of the same hospice – rooms above and below one another – and that she walks uphill for twenty minutes or so several times a week to visit them both. Neither of them know who she is.

One sentence from her letter has stuck in my mind – “I am afraid my world has become rather narrow”. Poor Jen, it was always narrow, though she wasn’t one to complain – a narrow, if cheerful, upbringing, narrow horizons, narrow expectations, narrow opportunities – and now it is narrower still.

Yesterday I went to the free Christmas Dinner the Parish Council put on every year. This place gradually seeps into your bones. You find yourself beginning to acquire the local cunning, which basically boils down to a series of mottoes such as:

  • Pay no more than 50p for anything.
  • Get the 9.30 bus so that you can use your bus pass. Argue piously with the driver if he says it’s 29 minutes past. By the time you have finished arguing it will be 30 minutes past. And then you can use your bus pass.
  • Leggings go with everything, and they are very cheap.
  • Tee shirts go with leggings, and they are also cheap.
  • Get your hair (beautifully) cut and (unpredictably) coloured by college students. They are very cheap.

Everyone goes to the Christmas Dinner, and every tiny parish has one. You have to fill in a form from the Post Office requesting a place. You have to be old, and local. There are a series of Christmas Dinners on different days in one of the three possibly “venues”. Sometimes the same venue hosts different parishes on different days of the month. It’s complex. But free. And actually, quite good. At least there’s plenty of it, even sprouts, even those tough-ish roast potatoes that remind you of school – even if a rainstorm is swirling outside, the car park is a sea of mud, your baby elephant sized paper hat is falling down over your ears and you are being forced to listen to mega-amplified Sixties classics sung by a man with sideburns in a shiny suit.

saw him, hiding behind the amplifier, wolfing it down before he began. A plate of Christmas Dinner must be part of the fee.

Poor chap, he worked really, really hard, but they made the mistake of calling the raffle (30 sumptuous prizes, including a box of biscuits-for-cheese) moments before he got up to tune his guitar (new strings, he was having problems with them). Immediately afterwards all the oldies started struggling into their coats and hats to go home. Mr Guitar Man was left, mid-afternoon, trying to ginger up a three parts empty hall, the few remaining oldies in the middle with their elephant hats, full of Xmas Pud and clapping sporadically, and a few schoolgirls (still in uniform) propping up the bar. Presumably they were related to the proprietors rather than hardened drinkers.

And oh, he sang Driving Home For Christmas. Extremely tunefully, but very loud. How I loathe that song. And Another Brick In the Wall by Pink Floyd, which I used to like but only for about three and a half minutes back in the Seventies. Very, very loud. And that Ride, Sally, Ride one. What’s that all about? Wasn’t that the Fifties?

And this – by way of attempting to bite one’s tail, post-wise, serpent-wise – is what really worries me. But I don’t think I can explain it. Oh well, I’ll have a bash.

It’s what my first-paragraph friend said about the narrowing of one’s world. I see it happening to me, of course, and yet, oddly, not. I see the advantages of being sucked in and submerged, the comfort and blanketing ease that narrowness brings – old age, no money, working class. Belonging. You see, that is what I have never, ever experienced, and part of me wishes only to be absorbed into it, never to have to think ‘outside the box’ again. Never again to be forced to sit on some hard, chilly seat and observe. I didn’t want to write this, because I observed it.

All the while I was sitting in the corner on that hard, chilly seat and knew however much I was clapping and smiling and chinking glasses and wishing people Happy Christmas at the socially appropriate (also observed) times, playing with the debris from the Christmas crackers, wishing I’d got one of those tiny spinning tops instead of a tiny yellow car – I was making mental notes, and I couldn’t stop. And I knew that I would never be able to, however lonely it was.

Watching my friend (of this paragraph) struggling to her feet to clap and sing along to Driving Home For Christmas; watching her propping her telescopic walking stick out of sight and hobbling onto the dance floor to do a kind of dignified, shuffling Sixties dance in the middle of the floor with another woman; observing her dancing, her with her floaty, surprisingly-coloured-by-students hairdo, wearing a blouse so large, twinkly and besequinned it was like a little constellation all of itself, I so wished I could do that, be like that. And yet I didn’t, and I couldn’t. I would rather the floor had opened and swallowed me whole than venture forth to dance. The other half of me was wondering how soon it could think of an excuse to go home and feed the cats.

The part of me that recognised courage in the face of adversity, a certain inexplicable joyousness about her, also felt the horror.

In Some Disarray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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