Marmite Mouse Hangs Up His Spurs

I don’t think I ever told you about George.

George arrived one teeming February morning, upside-down in the arms of Sylvia, a vintage lady of, I would guess, theatrical connections. He was black and white in random patches; he was very small, very young, very  hungry and very wet. His legs were caked with mud.

It keeps coming round, said Sylvia. It keeps asking to be fed and I do feed it, sometimes, but I can’t keep on. And I can’t pick it up, you see, because of my chest. As if to demonstrate, she was shaken by a long, chesty cough.

I’m allergic, you see.

Privately, I thought a lifetime of smoking Players Extra Strong might have contributed to her cat-allergy.

I have never, ever referred to an animal as “it”. All animals have a gender and a name, which they will tell us if we ask them nicely. George was telling me that his name was George. He didn’t need to tell me he was a tom, and an unneutered one, since he was upside down with his legs in the air.

So I took him in, and paid for him to be neutered, de-wormed, de-flea’d and expensively poked and prodded by the local vet. After that, Sylvia brought me three more cats, spread over a year or so. Sylvia, like Charlie, is a species of menace. I’ve told you about Charlie.

George is also a menace, although he doesn’t mean to be. I suspect he’s either not very bright, or short-sighted. He falls off every surface he throws himself at – and he throws himself at a lot of surfaces. He walks past his food bowl every single time, though he has been frantically pacing the work surface for minutes. I feed him first, yet at the end of the Feeding of the Thirteen, George somehow has no bowl of food; everyone’s food is more interesting than his; he inspects them all and eats nothing. George intersects your trajectory, wherever you go. He will always manage to be exactly where your feet are when you walk across a room. He has a permanently bewildered look. But I am fond of him.

Hence the impulse purchase, in Tesco, of Marmite the mouse. Marmite is vaguely brown, made of pear-shaped pieces of felt. His body is flat, being unstuffed, and his nose is cone-shaped. He has round felt ears, frayed and permanently pinned back now due to repeated traumas in the washing-machine. Tesco no longer seem to sell the Marmite Mouse, though they sell other, less interesting mice. At one point – I’d just got a sewing machine – I even tried to make a Marmite Mouse pattern, but Marmite is more complicated than he looks. Normally I’m quite good at that spatial stuff but none of his home-made “replacements” looked anything like him.

Marmite became Marmite, I think, because of his propensity to be loved and hated simultaneously. If – not being English, perhaps – you are unfamiliar with the vegetarian food-spread known Marmite, you may find this simile problematic. Marmite – the food-spread – has a very strong and distinctive taste, put it like that. A Marmite Company, in temp agency parlance, is a company some temps love to work for and others refuse at all costs to venture into.

George has loved Marmite – loved him almost to death. For almost a year, Marmite has been hooked on George’s scimitar claws, bitten on the nose by George’s sharp young teeth. George has attempted (unsuccessfully, since he’s George) to chew off Marmite’s ears, and gouge out his little eyes.

The cats have got a kind of ladder/platform arrangement in the kitchen. They run up the ladder and perch on one of several shelves. Once in a while George manages to get to the top shelf without falling off, and there he waits, impatiently, for me to locate Marmite. Often he’s under the washing machine or in one of the litter trays or squashed into a corner somewhere gathering dusty. It has been my job to throw Marmite into the air so that George can leap up and either catch Marmite between his clumsy paws or fall right off the platform. This game – which mothers will no doubt recognise – is a variety of “throw teddy out of the pram” and results in “Mummy” getting far more exercise than “baby”/George.

However, just recently Marmite has been showing signs of exhaustion. Enough is enough, Big Mummy, I have heard him pleading. No more Georgie. So, Sir Marmite Mouse has entered an honourable retirement. He has hung up his spurs and divested himself of his armour. (No? No, I knew you weren’t going to believe the bit about the chain mail.) He has had one final adventure in the washing machine and now accompanies me all over the place as my lucky mascot. Sometimes he is in my coat pocket, sometimes in that capacious bag of mine. You never know where he’s going to pop up next.

George is still looking.

Maybe something old with plenty of beams…

So I was sitting in the car eating a Tesco sandwich and saving till last the Yorkie Bar ladies are not allowed to eat. I only permit myself chocolate bars on these in-the-car occasions, which usually follow inexplicable road trips back to the town where I used to live. Somehow I am drawn back to the Tesco’s there at intervals. It makes me feel safe – comforted. I tend to go there when I’m stressed. I know – how weird can you get? It’s just that – that Tesco’s is kind of the centre of my ‘map’.

I’m even worrying myself now.

So, I drive all the way down there, which takes an hour and twenty minutes and uses petrol I can’t afford. I nearly always get stuck in three separate traffic bottlenecks, which wastes even more petrol. And the sun is usually in my eyes on the way down. I have these pathetic old eyes nowadays – I can see out of them same as ever, via specs, but the sun hurts them – a lot. I have therefore taken to wearing giant wrap-around ‘overglasses’. But as soon as I put them on, people – especially men, for some reason – start honking at me. I can see much better in strong sunlight with the overglasses over my prescription glasses, but I suppose they may give me the air of a doddery, nearly-blind-person, still irresponsibly driving. No doubt I spook people. Tee hee.

By the time I return the sun will have sailed just far enough across the sky to get in my eyes all over again. Nevertheless, I seem to have to go. It’s like Therapy. Once there, I don’t usually buy much – odd stuff like cat food and magazines, sandwiches and manly chocolate bars. I drink water from a bottle I carry with me, and I read a magazine for a bit before setting off on the return journey. Sometimes I watch people – my Dad’s favourite occupation too, in his declining years. Not that I’m in my declining years as yet.

Sometimes over the top of my magazine I observe fat ladies wearing the wrong sorts of dresses; children with smartphones clamped to their little pink ears; dogs eager to get into the backs of four-by-fours and make them all muddy. And I like to watch the man who collects the trolleys from the Perspex shelters and pushes them back to the racks, from where they are immediately removed, re-used and dumped in the Perspex shelters again. He gave me my long pink scarf back once. I left it tied to a handle and he ran after me with it. I liked that long pink scarf. A modern-day Sisyphus, he is. What did he do so wrong, I wonder, this nice, kind, simple man, that the gods should have consigned him to an eternity of trolleyology at Tesco’s.

I would have made a good detective, I think. I notice stuff. Stuff that might come in useful, if I was a detective.

But on this particular day, I was actually reading the magazine, and this one was a free magazine that had fallen out of another free magazine. It was called Property and it was about (three guesses) property. I am a bit of a sucker for the useless and the glossy. I like the smell of glossy magazines, the sheer opulent shininess of them, the newness. And I’m thinking about moving house myself, so I suppose Property is lurking about in my brain at the moment.

But not this sort of property. This is the sort of stuff that costs £520,000. It’s fun to window-shop, though. I like to imagine myself in “a handsome country cottage with fantastic rural views” or a Desirable Detached Stone-Built Period House: 4 Bedrooms: Contemporary Family Bathroom: 4 good sized reception rooms… 4 reception rooms!!

What is a reception room?

I do rather crave a “long rear Garden adjoining a meadow” – adjoining a meadow… Ohhhh – a meadow – all those pretty flowers – and a “Fabulous Detached Studio Home Office or Guest Room”.

And they say money can’t buy you happiness. If only I could just try it…

But I came upon a nasty surprise. In the centrefold feature, a misguided estate agent had taken it upon him(or her)self to write poems on behalf of clients searching for Properties as opposed to selling them. Don’t you just hate the sort of poems people who can’t write poems write? I loathe the very assumption that as long as it more or less rhymes, it’s poetry. No matter if it scans, even. What’s scans?

Here are just a few, for your delectation and delight:

My Belgium (sic) clients are coming to Kent / A period property would be heaven sent / A rural retreat complete with a view / Entertaining clients is something he has to do / business or pleasure he needs great space, / A garden, a pool to relax the pace… / Although this fine gent would like to play – London still often calls him away / Thus transport to London for the working day… / Can you help this man find his work rest and play?

(This one was superimposed over a faded-out photo of a swimming-pool)

A young city couple, looking to escape the rat race / Would like a rural, leafy retreat with plenty of outside space / Looking for two or three bedrooms for their family to increase / Must have plenty of character and set in a haven of peace / A period home not far from the station / East Sussex would be their perfect location / Original features are wanted it seems / Maybe something old with plenty of beams

(This one was superimposed over a faded-out photo of an orange ban-the-bomb symbol. It took me a while to join up the dots. Haven of peace – ban nuclear weapons – sort of peaceful, innnit?)

No, it’s no good. I was going to type out a third, but I just can’t bear to. My fingers refuse to obey my brain.