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Purring cats and cars

I am triumphant. Daughter J’s cat is purring. Not just a passing breathiness or momentary hum, but a full five-minute rib-jangling thrumble as I cradle him tightly in my office.

In the interests of privacy, so important these days, let’s refer to this animal as Feline N, as he is the nth cat for which I have had some degree of responsibility. This time the relationship is purely temporary and thus even more tenuous in nature than in the traditionally ‘only just tolerated’ cat versus human/owner/carer/guardian/gaoler/chef/cleaner etc. standoff that exists in so many British families.

Feline N is not blessed with enormous intelligence. In fact, he may be more blessed than most of us in having almost none whatsoever, thus making his life stupendously simple.

This is a cat who has been known to burn his tongue on hair-straightening tongs (not mine! I wouldn’t know where to start, although I do know that you don’t lick them) and then come back for another lick. He looks astonished every time the doorbell rings, or the front door opens and he ‘seems’ to forget where his litter tray is or what it is for!

For more than four years he apparently fooled his doting owner into believing that he could only drink from a running tap in the presence of a condescendingly cooing and attentive human. Some of us have even secretly demonstrated to him at our own kitchen tap how he might improve his enormously ineffectual-looking technique of mid-stream water-lapping, but then we realised he’d been quaffing from a nearby porridge bowl perfectly competently when our backs were turned.

Perhaps he is cleverer than we think. He has lived in our house for more than three months now and spends most of his time in Daughter J’s room, but has worked out which are the places we least want him to go and makes a beeline for those rooms as soon as he hears the relevant door open. But now I consider more carefully, I think this is just innate cunning.  

I caught him a few days ago, focussed intently on a piece of skirting board in the kitchen, from which eventually appeared a sizeable black spider. I’m pretty sure he ate it (I’m informed that this is a favourite delicacy of his), but since then I have caught him several times a day sitting pointlessly beside the same tiny gap in the woodwork (sudden memories of Tom & Jerry cartoons now! Oh, for a startled mouse with spinning legs, that would show him), presumably imagining the spider will reappear. I may be doing him a disservice of course; there might be a whole spider family whispering away in there, just waiting to emerge as dinner.

Unlike our own previous pets, this chap is essentially built for cuddling and, even when withholding purrs, he is always willing to be scooped up and carried around, or draped on a shoulder for a while. He never stays put though, preferring his own company unless he can have actual Daughter J. She who can do no wrong. She who provides and cares (and leaves him for hours on end and sometimes days, but always comes back to him to clean up whatever bodily offering he may have left for her) and cuddles him into an immediate purring state.

So, it really is something of a coup to have made him purr, even if I now believe it was entirely accidental on his part and may never be repeated. It won’t stop me trying.

Feline N is not the only article purring around here though. I have previously mentioned the acquisition of a new car. And no, I am not referring to my own smug purring at the idea of a new set of wheels, but at the engine noise of the new beast, or rather, the strange lack of it when in electric mode.

We have acquired a four-year-old Hybrid. We have not gone the full electric because we have no-where obvious to charge such a vehicle, especially as the newly-arrived charging points on the Avenue’s lamp-posts are unhelpfully filled with pastry, or Play-Doh or some other such amusing substance.

Yes, we have given in to the London Mayoral edict that all comfortable old diesels should be banished or charged an arm-and-a-leg each time someone dares to drive them, and offloaded our 10-year-old Landrover to my brother to sell in rural Herefordshire. He assures me that nobody has heard of air-quality ‘down in the forest’ and my friendly old car will undoubtedly be run on unfriendly red diesel by its new owner. I’ll admit that this makes me feel ever so slightly less virtuous at my own conversion. Perhaps that’s what it means by Hybrid (ie of mixed virtue?)

Mr J informs me that despite our ever-increasing ages, we are not yet ready for an old-person’s car, so no little runabout for us just yet. Nor can we go upmarket and indulge in a jaunty soft-top for those Sunday trips along country lanes. (Surely this never happens any more – at least, not if you live anywhere near me.)  No, we need a car with 4-wheel drive which can be fitted with a tow-bar and a roof-rack, for boat trailer and sculling boat duty, and enormous inner capacity to take a full set of drums plus various amps, guitars and band-members. And random bits of boat paraphernalia of course. And the monthly Sainsburys shop (I thought I should have at least one requirement, other than simply a veto on unacceptable colours.)

In a surprisingly forward-looking initiative, we began looking for our replacement vehicle several months in advance of the Mayoral deadline (which has still not yet quite arrived) and after a couple of test-drives and garage visits had somehow narrowed the search to one particular model. On previous form, I would have expected this to mean that no such vehicle would come on the market for at least the next three years, but we struck lucky (or perhaps I should attribute this luck to Mr J’s unaccustomed diligence with Internet searches, it most certainly was not attributed to the diligence of local car salesmen who failed to alert us to anything useful and generally proved less knowledgeable about the cars on their forecourts than we were, and that surely must take some doing).

The downside of this do-it-yourself luck was that the car we found was located in Sidcup, a place I had heard of but never visited, it being on the wrong side of Sarf London. Once I had discovered that I could get there for free on one of the same Mayor’s old people’s trains (or rather two trains there and a bus and two trains back) I was off – and the motorcycling Mr J and I rendezvoused at the showroom to test-drive a rather attractive red car.

Successfully back from the backstreets of Sidcup and a bit of the nearby motorway, we swung into buying mode. With a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, and a small threat of Mr J hopping back on his motorcycle home without a deal, we reached an agreement with the salesman. Part of the deal was to pick the car up before the end of the calendar month, even though that would mean that the tow-bar fitting (which was included in the deal) would not have been done before we took delivery. With a keen eye for a financial advantage, we accepted this even though it meant an extra trip to return the car a few weeks later, and for a short time we would need to keep TWO cars (because there was some scheduled towage coming up). The extra trip did, of course, allow Mr J to play with all the exciting buttons and switches on an extra solo journey meaning that he will have an everlasting superiority in this regard, which I will endeavour to ignore.

But, to my point (at last!), this car purrs. A rumble rather than a rev. A rolling sort of swoosh. And, rather like the cat, it is not as easy to achieve as one might at first think. These self-charging hybrids don’t pretend to go far using just the battery, but for small manoeuvres and slow local travel it should be possible to avoid the engine cutting in. So of course, always up for a challenge, I try my best to get to Sainsburys at a battery-only purr. This requires both skill and luck, for there is a short piece of 30-mile-an-hour road en route and crawling just below 20 mph would no doubt cause massive irritation to other drivers, so I need to pick a really quiet time if I am to continue so slowly. There is also a bit of a hill on the way back, and the engine always kicks in then. I’m not sure if there is an alternative route which would work better. So far, an entirely purr-tastic journey has not yet been achieved (I am putting this down to lack of luck rather than lack of skill) but I only allow myself one vehicular Sainsbury trip per month, so I’ll have to work up to it for August.

With grand-pet-loving dedication, I may be more likely to achieve purr-fection at home in the meantime.

Post script – Due to rail strikes, I have just had to switch from the train to the car for my upcoming walking weekend away, which will provide me with more than 500 miles of practice. Apparently there are all sorts of clever gizmos for keeping me in lane, out of the car in front’s exhaust pipe and within the speed limit. On my long list of things to do this week there is ‘spend an hour or two sitting in the car and trying to work out what everything means’. (I’ve already found the air-conditioned seats though – hurrah!!) I haven’t yet worked out how many hours it will take me at 20mph – or informed my unsuspecting passenger that this is part of the deal. 





Glam up and carry on

And so finishes another week of highs and lows. True to my onecryingeye form, there has been brilliantly sharp-focused excitement on the one side, and tear-stained snotty sadness on the other. This week I truly have not needed to try to shoehorn my lived experience into the conceit of this blog. It has formed its very own ‘tears to the right of me, laughter to the left’ narrative.

I’ve alluded to the need to clean up after our cat in more than one of my recent drivellings, and the beginning of this week was most certainly underpinned by that continued theme. It had become the norm to brace ourselves before entering the part of the house into which our elderly feline had largely confined himself and we had become experts (or thought that we had) in spotting the latest faecal or chunderous offerings to be cleared before breakfast. We knew we did not have much longer with the poor little chap, whose body was seemingly rejecting all that he (and we) tried to put into it. In a rare gesture of soft-heartedness, I was even grilling him a nice fish whilst preparing my porridge each morning – apparently to no lasting avail, despite his clear delight at the eating stage.

So it was against this backdrop and after a rather fraught weekend that we left the house on Monday – plastered as it was with clean newspaper sheets, strategic litter-trays and bowls of kitty snacks – to venture up the railway tracks to SW19 and experience our first-ever Lawn Tennis Championship. It seems faintly ridiculous that we had attained such great ages and passed more than thirty years living no further than 4.5 miles from the All England Club without ever attempting to enter those hallowed grounds. Both offspring have experienced the event more than once with their friends, but we had somehow never got round to it.

Mr J had been offered tickets and we thought, ‘Well, why not?’ I think Mr J would watch almost any sport, and I grew up with parents who followed Wimbledon avidly each year, so have also sporadically been quite a fan. In the past 10 years though, I’m not sure either of us had given tennis a great deal of thought, seeing little more than the headlines on the news, or patriotically watching an Andy Murray game on TV.

It was therefore quite exciting finally to go and see what all the fuss was about for ourselves. I had donned my brilliant-white jeans in honour of the occasion. I later noticed that in fact only the line judges seemed to be wearing such attire and every other woman was in floaty dress and sunnies. Ah well.

Initially, a long and slow-moving queue to get into the grounds was a little dispiriting. It is probably not the best idea to visit on the first morning of the championship when they are using an entirely App-based entry system for the first time – and, note to self, especially not to choose a queue behind elderly ladies with prehistoric phones. But once inside, we raced around all the famous sights – the ivy-clad buildings, Henman Hill (or whatever it is we are supposed to call it now) and importantly the Tea Lawn, where we resisted strawberries and cream in favour of sarnies and a veggie pasty which later proved to have been an excellent choice to sustain us through the excitement, even if they were on the pricey side.

Strange green bouncy castles appeared on the outside courts

It rained for a while, so we scuttled around some of the outer courts and marvelled at the bouncy-castles which had seemingly been installed – perhaps as a distraction for nervous competitors, or to facilitate a pneumatic form of warm-up exercise?  But then it was time to take our seats in Court No 1. Mercifully, this court has a retractable roof, and the powers that be had decided not to open it today due to the unsettled nature of the forecast. Good call – the heavens opened spectacularly half-way through the afternoon and this would have caused considerable disruption.

Our seats were in the second row back from the edge of the Court, at the baseline. Amazing! (It turns out Mr J’s friend’s husband is someone important at Wimbledon – and these were wonderful complimentary seats. Our usually non-effusive tendencies were quite rightly ignored in our fulsome thank-yous on our return home.)

Struff – the underdog

Even at these close quarters, the grass was such a perfect shade of green and so manicured that it didn’t look real; much better, in fact, than it looks on TV. Everything was new and exciting. I had not expected to find it so interesting and absorbing when sitting at such close quarters. I will admit that I had never heard of any of the players we watched, even though two of them were seeded, (Mirjam Bjorklund v Ons Jabeur; Jan-Lennard Struff v Carlos Alcaraz – still in the competition as I write this on Sunday morning) but of course I have educated myself now. Mr J, in true British style, decided he would cheer for the underdog in the Men’s singles match and while there were several cries of ‘Vamos Carlos!’ for Señor Alcaraz, including from a properly cute young Spanish boy seated in front of us, Mr J’s occasional lone but fortissimo ‘Come on Jan!’ resounded strangely around the court. Someone has to do it I suppose.

Ons Jabeur serves right in front of us

Of course, being a slave to social media, I put up an over-excited Facebook post within minutes of taking our seats and later added some action shot photos to prove it was real. In fact, later in the week one of our friends mentioned that they had been relieved to see my Fb post because they had spotted Mr J on the live TV coverage and thought he was with some new ‘blonde’ – clearly this friend has not clapped eyes on me in the three years since I transformed myself into a bombshell *.

We didn’t move from our seats for more than four hours. I was genuinely thrilled to be there and enjoyed every minute. Who knew? Plus, my Fitbit registered thousands of steps, as of course we were applauding almost every point played and this causes confusion with wrist-born devices. A small triumph against the tyranny of the fitness trackers. Ha! Pass the chocolates immediately.

Two days later, we got ourselves togged up for our annual visit to Henley Royal Regatta. One has to do the season dontcha know. Son Jillings also informed us that he was keeping up appearances by attending the Edgbaston Test Match this weekend. I’m not entirely sure that qualifies as the season, but it must be a contender.

This time, I was most definitely in a floaty dress, teamed with my old College coxing blazer which is more stained than any other item of clothing I have ever possessed, but has to remain this way for reasons of … well, I’m not quite sure what the reasons are and it may possibly not actually apply to women as much as their male boaty friends, but I’m afraid I’m a stickler for equality in these matters and I refuse to budge. The once rich cream fabric now has liberal streakings of Cam water, Abbot Ale, Pimms No 1 Cup, a few lurid spots where the purple piping has run from the lapels to the shoulders in the rain and several unidentified blemishes (one of which could in fact even be blood – mine – from a particularly unfortunate boat-based incident). Mr J’s black and white striped effort is much newer and positively pristine in comparison.

Hers and his: boating couture

We were meeting with old friends from my university days and each of them had dug out his own old College Boat Club blazer, proudly displaying the fact that he could still fit into it and even do it up (briefly, anyway). After a mutual review of our respective stains, we collected another dear friend who had flown over from the Netherlands just for the day and wandered up the tow-path to meet another pair who advised us they would see us in the Redgrave Bar. Now, this is not part of the main fabric of this ancient regatta, but something of an upstart location and – to make matters even less seemly – appeared to have bouncers on the gate. With old-fashioned Hooray bravado, we sought admission and were surprisingly readily ushered into the bustling enclosure – on the basis, as it turned out, that we were sporting such a range of particularly offensive outer wear. Almost as soon as we had spotted our friends, we also observed that most of the hubbub was being caused by large numbers of cameramen and boom operators, and black-clad young men with ponytails and clipboards approaching us from all angles to request our particulars. Hmm.

It seems that we had stumbled into an episode of Gordon Ramsay finds another excuse to be rude to wanna-be chefs and pretend to be Alan Sugar and we were being urged to taste some flavoured vodkas and ice-creams from three different teams. Also, to sign a waiver so that our images could be used on screen. Well, dahlings, I don’t just sign anything you know and I don’t believe they were planning to pay us anything – so I snuck round behind the clip-boards and persuaded one of the contestants to give me an ice-cream without any vodka, it being still quite early in the day for hard liquor for this particular lady. In the confusion that followed, we were herded onto a small mound behind Gordon himself and requested to just carry on chatting or drinking or, in my case, awkwardly and messily eating ice-cream. The director clearly needed some gaudy Henley colour as a backdrop, and we were the best he was going to get – waivers or not. One of us may have signed on the dotted line – certainly neither Mr J nor myself – possibly De Heer M. Muis? So, presumably when they broadcast the episode sometime in 2023 there will be a bunch of natty blazers in extra-soft-focus looming behind – unidentifiable apart from a few blurry stains and our dear Dutch friend whose body-language I would defy anyone not to recognise, soft focus or not. 

I can’t remember if the filming took place before or after I took off my underwear. I had been irritated at a minor wardrobe malfunction which meant that instead of a hint of cleavage, I was displaying a small but annoying piece of undergarment fabric. Mr J’s brave tit-tape suggestion – once I had stopped laughing – proved useless as neither of us had tape of any kind (an unusual occurrence for Mr J at which I have to say I was mildly disappointed – one would expect more of a sailing man) and the only remedy appeared to be to remove the offending article completely and soldier on without. It added to my general amusement as we passed through several bag search locations that I could have hidden all sorts of offensive paraphernalia in my handbag beneath that slip, as it seemed that a distant glance was sufficient to ensure I was hastily waved through. 

A lovely day ensued – chat, Pimms, chat, ice-cream, deckchair, chat, tea next to the bandstand, ice-cream, chat etc. This time my Fitbit was probably pretty accurate in telling me I had walked more than 17,000 steps. The soles of my feet agreed.

We had two more days at the Regatta with different groups of people – requiring two different frocks and the same old blazer. Despite a prolonged rain shower which left my right side soaked – the left side being under a shared umbrella as I foolishly thought I could sit tight before making a mad dash to the beer tent – we had a thoroughly nice time and ticked off all the ritual experiences such visits entail.

As the light was fading on Friday, we arrived home …

… to a still and empty (and clean) house.

The ‘missing’ day of the week described above was sadly the last day for our poor old cat. On Tuesday, after one last spectacular floor decoration and increasing unsteadiness, he made the short final trip to the vet with us. I won’t describe this any further, but suffice it to say I would be only too glad to grill a bit of fish right now.

Such is real life. The camera-attracting and Facebook-able glamour on the one hand, tempered by the underlying stains of grief (and other bodily fluids) on the other.

Glam up and carry on!

*For bombshell, read bomb site if before 9am.




Don’t cry in my mask? I’m crying everywhere now

After my last post, relating to crying on the pavement outside the vet’s whilst wearing my mask, I have sadly had occasion to repeat the experience. This time with Mr J alongside me as we had to make the heart-wrenching decision to have our lovely cat put to sleep. 

We have spent the last few weeks, since she was diagnosed with a tumour in her gut, feeding her the loveliest food she has had in her entire life and administering steroids and gentle cat-laxative. Which had seemed to have encouraging results, and she had mostly been quite a happy lady.  I had convinced myself that she was actually putting on a little weight (she wasn’t) and that she was not in pain (we think I was right on this score at least), but she didn’t have much energy. We had hoped our children would see her again at Christmas at least.

She still managed to climb up the trellis onto our garden shed, so she could survey the nearby gardens. She would still hassle me for the fish or chicken I now miraculously prepared for her. 

But on Monday, she stayed in her basket at breakfast time. When she came out eventually to find me, I was rehearsing on Zoom with my singing group. I scooped her onto my lap and petted her whilst singing. She purred a lot. She would normally not have stayed long, but she clearly didn’t have the energy to climb off.

We realised she could not eat. She licked some fishy water from around the sides of my latest offering of coley. (Her brother thought it was his birthday as he wolfed what was left.) She could only walk a few steps at a time, and looked a little confused despite her purring. I called the vet – could we bring her checkup forward? We discussed options over the phone. Fear of internal rupture. I was able to discuss with Mr J and we hugged that poor old cat in the knowledge that we would probably not be able to do it again. On the very short drive to the vet surgery, the cat didn’t cry. That was a first – she hated car journeys and always gave us a running commentary.

The vet was great and gave us options, but also gentle advice. All of it out on the street, with our masks on and other pet-owners in a queue behind us. We made the right decision and came home with our lovely cat wrapped in a shroud in her carry-basket.

We were not allowed into the surgery while the vet did the deed. Having experienced this before inside the consulting room, I am in two minds as to whether this was better or worse.

Once the mask was off at home, I cried for the rest of the evening apart from a half-hour when I dragged myself out for a walk. Strange – it is normally out on the walk that the eyes get watering…

So, now we are a one-cat family. 




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