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A heavenly summer?

As the heatwave continues it is weird to see my neighbours’ children living my own vivid recollections of the long dry summer of 1976. I lug my tatty plastic watering can around the garden every evening, and I catch myself wishing that the pinkening sunset sky would at least have a go at gathering a few clouds to produce a shower overnight. Typical – never satisfied! (Post script – it has now rained which is perhaps why I have managed to summon up the energy to finish this post.)

We are lucky that our house remains tolerably cool, at least in parts, but we also had the chance to escape the London suburbs twice in the past couple of weeks.

Firstly, we drive for four hours to the Norfolk coast for a weekend with Mr J’s cousin and his wife in their static caravan. We are thus transplanted immediately (well, after four hours of driving, which I suppose is not technically immediate) into a whole new world. My previous experience of static caravan parks has been a little dispiriting; an appearance over the latest coastal ridge of sprawling white boxes covering a once rolling green sward offending my sense of natural beauty as I march endlessly on my South West Coast Path mission.

Here, however, I am predisposed to enjoy the generous invitation and we are swept through the entry gate in VIP style, attaching our “We’ve checked in” dangly sign to our rear-view mirror and carefully following our host through the winding site roads to the quiet corner where his home-from-home is located.

The site is enormous and I am immediately disorientated, unlikely ever to find my way back to the entrance I fear. I later disprove this theory and manage a walk unaccompanied to view the beach and sea. 

A tired reveller?

Inside the ‘caravan’ is a full Tardis experience, and a gentle (no, actually, quite a brutal) reminder that it is possible to keep a place completely box-fresh and beautiful even when spending considerable time in it. Whilst this place is not old, it has been used by our hosts and their offspring and young grandchildren for at least two seasons – and has not a scuff-mark or breakage to show for it. I secretly dread to think what this couple thought of my own scuzzy abode when they stayed with us a few years ago. Even though we had a weekly cleaner back then (and ok, I am not completely unhygienic or untidy even now), our place must have seemed terribly ‘tired’.

More importantly, this ‘caravan’ accommodation is attractive and comfortable. Our nearest comparison is the selection of rented recreational vehicles /mobile homes in which we have occasionally holidayed over the years. This is in a different league entirely. Also, it becomes obvious very quickly that we are not expected to lift a finger all weekend other than our trigger fingers on the pre-booked rifle range activity.

Caister beach accessed from the caravan park

A delightfully care-free and chat-filled weekend ensues. We are not tempted in the slightest to invest in a second property of any sort (lord knows, dealing with the one home we already have is more than enough), but we can completely see why this particular investment by Cousin P is such a hit.

A few days after our return from Norfolk, we embark (literally) on a narrow-boat adventure in the wilds of Surrey with our adult offspring. We have form for this sort of thing, having dragged the unfortunate progeny up and down various canals in France when they were teenagers, resulting in Daughter J’s only reliable French phrase (‘Ne sautez pas dans l’écluse. C’est très dangereux!’ as a result of my yelling this angrily at foolhardy French youths) and an enduring nightmarish memory of Son J’s ‘incident’ with a lock-paddle handle (best not go there) – but this was to be a gentle way of spending a day together loosely in honour of Mr J’s birthday which occurs sometime around this time of year. 

A Jillings operated lock

I decide to avoid the narrow-boat crew briefing on the basis that I am perfectly capable of steering such a craft (probably) and all the other crew family members are bigger and stronger than me, and should therefore do most of the work. I make a desultory attempt at decanting some of the food and drink from our various cold boxes and bags, but discover the on-board fridge is maxed out by only a fraction of our generous comestible rations, and go for the ‘they’ll be alright where they are’ option and instead test out the seating arrangements.

Once under way, we all revert to our ‘en famille’ norms – Mr J at the helm, Mrs J floating aimlessly around whilst Son and Daughter lark about a bit. In fact, the locks are negotiated splendidly with very little ‘sautez-ing’ and certainly none actually into the écluse. I find I am less fretful than on previous occasions, trusting that these young adults will likely have more sense and coordination than their younger selves. Daughter J is sporting very stylish canary-yellow trews and white blouse, which she miraculously manages to keep clean despite energetically operating lock-gates, sitting on the grassy banks and generally clambering around as required. Remarkable! Whose child actually is she?

I allow the others to take turns at the helm and my sole boating contribution is to hang onto a rope whilst we are rising or falling in the locks, and throw (rather well on this occasion) or catch (rather less reliably than throwing) same rope as needed. 

‘Viking’ hired from Farncombe Boat House

The views alongside the Wey Navigation are gorgeous and we spot a kingfisher, at least one heron and many many dragonflies – along with geese and cattle and the occasional tow-path rambling or SUP-ing human. A few other narrow-boats are out and we share locks several times with one – all amicable. We encounter a couple of lively groups of children, prompting the use of the French phrase under our breaths a few times but no need to use out loud, and one spectacularly stupid youth jumping from the very top of a large tree into the water, fortunately without serious consequence.

Lunch is a triumph as I wheel out a seemingly endless supply of dreadful picnic foodstuffs – until we realise that there is far too much for the small deck table (which I single-handedly assemble, to no cries of congratulation at all, which is a slight disappointment) and some of the tastier-looking items are less appetising than anticipated. No doubt when I am next required to provide a picnic spread I will make exactly the same mistakes again – I am quite predictable in this way.

A lovely day is had by all and the offspring return to their respective over-warm homes up in the smoke while Mr J and I collapse in front of the television in clammy suburbia.

As I record this, I realise that I am rhapsodising (I just checked and that IS a word) more than usual about these recent events.

From further memory delving, I now understand why.

On our first evening in Norfolk, my Fitbit had some sort of actual fit and ate its own battery. It buzzed and displayed peculiar messages but my random pressing of its many invisible buttons had no effect. By Saturday lunchtime it had given up the ghost completely and, as I had not thought to take the very specific charger it needs (because it should not have needed charging), it spent the remainder of the weekend in darkened silence on my wrist where it had to stay because I would otherwise have revealed the lily white strap mark I have allowed to develop there. Not cool.

So now, according to Fitbit, I have been defunct since Saturday … and thus presumably all of my subsequent events, activities and thoughts have been heavenly.

Hmm. Perhaps it’s just the heat.


Cat on a hot flat surface

Last Tuesday morning.

Hiding in a darkened house, downstairs where the coolth of our Edwardian pile has not yet entirely dissipated, whilst the Saharan heat dome looms outside.

It is odd and seemingly counterintuitive to keep the doors and windows closed in the tremendous heat as the news media is advising, but so far it seems to be paying dividends, and of course it is logical when you actually think about it. The curtains are closed at the front of the house against the searing sun, and I have made a mental note to close those at the back of the house after midday. Perhaps it would be easier to close them all for the entire day? 

But then I remember that in fact, after midday I will not be in this house at all, but sweatily making my way up to North London to cat-sit for my daughter.  In an upstairs flat in the big boiling metropolis. Hurrah!

Tuesday lunchtime.

With my small rucksack and large cool-bag slung about my person, I emerge from Jillings Towers into Dubai-level heat and – due to leaving it just that little bit later than ideal, as usual – scurrying the few hundred metres to the station to catch my train. I am relieved to see it is one of the new-fangled 10-coach trains – with AIR-CONDITIONING! The most comfortable 25 minutes of my day ensues – thank you SouthWestern Railways. 

View from bus – looks like abroad

Unable to bear the thought of the underground in such conditions, I risk another small outdoor stagger, this time to a bus-stop where a 521 immediately appears and whisks me up to Holborn (through the Strand underpass – haven’t been there for years! – such excitement) where I am able to change to the 91 with no more than 2 minutes standing in the roasting outdoors. This bus stops at the end of Daughter J’s road – fantastic. Both buses were reasonably empty and less oppressively hot than I had expected, so I patted myself metaphorically on the back for my sensible choices, and romped the last few metres and upstairs to the flat.

Tuesday afternoon.

I’ve been in the flat for a short while. I’ve greeted the cat, who perfunctorily acknowledged my presence for a few moments before slinking off somewhere to carry on being too hot in his own sweet way, and I’ve already raided my cool-bag for healthy snacks. I will need to venture to the local Waitrose, but that can wait until it cools down a bit this evening. It is definitely much hotter here than back at home, but not intolerably so. 

Tuesday evening.

The cat has not re-emerged from wherever he is hiding. I set off with my rucksack to investigate the Holloway Road Waitrose. Do they stock the same items in Islington that they have in the suburbs? Oh the excitement.  (Answer: Probably, but they aren’t as good at keeping the shelves stocked.)

Outside it is even hotter than inside, and definitely not much cooler than when I arrived, but needs must. I decide to spend quite a long time perusing the shelves in Waitrose. They have very nice air-con. 

Somehow, the few healthy provisions I intend to buy turn into more than thirty quid’s worth of chocolate, pâté, exotic crisp breads, peculiar salads and ginger beer. Unfamiliar with the store layout, I end up using one of those old-fashioned checkouts with an actual person – and realise I have completely lost the ability to pack my items all at once when scanned quickly by someone more dextrous than myself. Rucksacks are not ideal for this – and the last couple of items have to be carried ‘loose’ in my hands. Fortunately these are not of a melty nature and survive the journey.

Returning to the flat (nervous because Daughter J recently broke her key in the lock and I’m convinced that the spare key I’m using is thinner than normal and will definitely break too), I creep up the stairs and let myself through the flat door – careful to shoo the cat inside as he winds himself around my feet.

It’s good that he’s reappeared. I take the opportunity to give him a drink. I have tried several times earlier in the afternoon to entice him to the bathroom where his preferred (and possibly only) method of drinking involves perching him on the side of the sink and running a gentle stream of cold water until he remembers how to slurp it down. That’s what you get when you go ‘pedigree’. He’s probably got certificates for this. Anyhow, my earlier efforts proved unsuccessful, despite lifting him up several times, and making encouraging noises and signals. (I have executed this procedure successfully on previous occasions so I know not to expect immediate action on his part, but he has slunk off each time I try on this visit. Is this wilful awkwardness, heat-induced confusion, or simply a lack of thirst? I’ll never know.)

Hot and disappointed

Having slaked the cat’s thirst – and he IS very sweet when he finally drinks –  I sit myself down and eat far more than I need to in my attempt to sample new and interesting varieties of Waitrose fodder. I watch some nonsense on iPlayer on my iPad (iNonsense?), and eventually wonder where the cat has gone. I call him. No reply and no appearance. It’s so hot – I suppose he’s just being sensible but I’m beginning to worry. Eventually, after pouring the last drops from my enormous bottle of ginger beer, I spot him staring at me from a perch on the little walkway which leads out to a baking roof-terrace (onto which I will NOT be venturing – a) because it’s far too hot to contemplate being out in the sunshine and b) because it involves some precarious manoeuvring which I do not trust myself to undertake without incident). I reach across and stroke him and we seem to be friends.

I administer another cat-drink and take myself off to bed, to swelter privately.

Wednesday morning.

Both cat and I are breakfasted and watered, and I decide that I must have some outdoor exercise even though the temperature continues to be uncomfortable. I will go for a long but gentle walk. I check around the flat before I leave. I realise that one of the rooms has large windows wide open – hmm, I know we are two floors up, but surely the cat might try his luck on one of the window ledges. I suppose he hasn’t done so yet, but I probably should be extra careful, so I – illogically in fact – close one of the windows but also close the internal door so that the cat cannot get in there. This was to prove a poor decision.

Wednesday evening.

I return to the flat after traipsing happily from Lower Holloway to South Kensington, largely along the canal, and exploring the new developments at Kings Cross and Paddington Basin en route. It is liberating now that I have my old person’s travel pass; I allow myself to make my return journey by public transport because it is FREE – something I would have counted as frivolity when I had to pay for it. This means I can walk much further away from my starting point in the knowledge that I will be able to get home.

Paddington Basin – before heading home

As usual, the cat greets me with his disappointed face, realising that I am not his beloved keeper. In this instance, he also has a defiant look about him (I may be sexing this up a little for dramatic effect – sorry) which makes me nervy. After slugging back a pint of water myself, and successfully tempting the cat to the bathroom basin, I pop into my room for something – and discover a pungent smell which quickly focuses me on a substantial offering from my cat-sittee in the middle of the duvet cover on my bed. He’s braving it out and watches me carefully (and possibly triumphantly) as I deal with this latest challenge. Having so recently spent several weeks at home regularly cleaning up after my poor late lamented puss, I am perfectly capable – if a little tired and disappointed – of rising to the challenge. I haven’t the energy to be cross and on the plus side, the fact that there is no duvet inside the cover makes the task easier than would otherwise be the case. The domestic washing machine can deal with this, once initial scoop and disposal manoeuvres are complete.

With the duvet cover and bed sheet draped over drying rack and banisters – they will dry quickly in this heat – I sink into the sofa and discover my appetite has not been harmed by recent events and my self-allocated chocolate allowance for the evening is increased as compensation.

I determine that perhaps this incident can remain between me and the cat (and Mr J of course, who receives regular electronic bulletins as the clearing up is in progress – he can both empathise and laugh like a drain). 

Before retiring to sleep, on the perfectly dried sheet and beneath the almost dry duvet cover, I notice that the cat has disappeared. I wanted to give him a last drink so he won’t need one overnight but I can’t find him and he doesn’t come when I call. So now he’s ashamed? Well, I really do want to make sure he’s ok and I realise that for some reason I have opened the door to that room with the open windows, and I immediately begin to catastrophize (I’m good at that) that Mr Cat has staged a further protest and made a bid for freedom. As a result of my silly fear, and against daughterly instructions, I venture up the precipitously steep wooden stairs to Daughter J’s bedroom to see if I can spot him there before complete panic stations set in. I’m not supposed to go up to this room, as it has not been tidied and it’s none of my business to inspect etc. And I’m quite happy with that because I’m terrified of those stairs, and have no wish to go against instructions (nor am I the type to want to clear up after someone else – quite right, none of my business/duty, didn’t do much of it when they lived at home). But – needs must. I can’t go to sleep unsure whether I have negligently allowed the cat to fall from a window, however unlikely that may seem.

Clinging to the banister, I haul myself into the even hotter top room and scan the bed and all four corners of the room – and there is no sign of the cat. Panic is not far away now, but I am not going to start rummaging around – I would surely be able to see him if he was up here. Clinging even tighter, I descend carefully and look again in the room with the windows. Nothing.

Finally, I remember the stash of cat treats in the cupboard. Aha – I was just starting to open the packet, when in a flash, my friend (for such he suddenly is) slinks effortlessly down those perilous stairs from wherever he was hiding, and is beseechingly by my side. So, all is well with the world and we both celebrate with a late-night drink (of water in both our cases) before turning in.


It is marginally cooler now and my night has passed uneventfully. I tidy after myself, straighten up a few things in the kitchen, give the cat one last drink and a bit of a stroke, and then make my way back across London.

Daughter J returns in the evening, after I have already departed. It is late and we message briefly and don’t discuss the cat.


I get a phone call from Daughter J. We talk about her trip, and I tell her how far I walked. Inevitably (as we are British) we spend some time discussing the weather. She then asks me – ‘Was there an accident with the bedding? – I see you’ve washed it all.’ Oh well, my best intentions dashed, I admit that yes, there had been an incident…

‘Well, I noticed that the door to his toilet room was closed!’


And oops.

* In my defence, although I had spectacularly failed to notice the sparkling hi-tech litter tray, I had spotted a different, although slightly less hi-tech, litter tray in the very room which he decided to soil – but apparently this was not the one he usually uses even if it IS the one which comes with him to our house at Christmas.  We wonder whether in fact the window-room door had blown closed before I arrived which might give me a greater reason to ensure it was closed when I left the flat. Daughter, and my memory, may be being charitable here, although it is true that it was very windy despite the enormous heat. We’ll never know, and after a week of feeling stupid about this, I’ve decided it’s better to laugh about it. 






Sweetly gruesome

Middle of the night.

Adjacent snoring situation. Overheated and not at all sleepy. Decamp to my daughter’s old room where a bed is always made up. Chuck off the piles of ironing awaiting attention. About to climb in with my book, when I notice some reddish spots and lumps on the far edge of the white duvet – up against the wall. Oh lord – has the cat had a ‘problem’ up here again? It’s really quite revolting – although mercifully not enormous.

I am grossed out, but also perplexed. It is, after all, not the best time of day to analyse deposits. Nevertheless, I am intrigued and look around me for more evidence. Horrifically, on the wall above the bed, I see what appears to be the remnants of someone’s brains, blown out – presumably – silently and before an almost-successful clear up of the body.

The clue is in the name – staring me in the face

Suitably annoyed now, given that I quickly and sensibly decided against the notions of either feline or cranial explosion, I moved to my son’s old room and settled to read in a less comfy bed there instead.

On enquiring of my daughter the next day, it seems that the ‘blood and guts’ were in fact sweets which had been affixed with glue to a birthday poster presented to her some 8 years ago. Obviously. These had survived on her bedroom wall all that time, until the temperatures rose above 35 degrees for an extended period last week.

Apocalyptic times.

She is coming next week to remove ALL items from the wall. This will perhaps  save me from further macabre discoveries.

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