Monday 31 March 2008

Brrrrr! and Grrrrr!

I am having a day at home, as Tricia has to go to work today, in order to have enough leave left for the rest of my stay. So while she is slaving in a Government office dealing with the mostly-disaffected general public, I am idling about, doing a bit of gardening, dead heading the roses, and feeling virtuous about recycling water. It is bright and sunny, but windy and cold. So windy and cold, in fact, that I keep forgetting that I'm not in England, until a very big spider scuttles away from me or an even bigger and unfamiliar bird flaps screeching overhead. Soon, I shall cook dinner for us both. Braised chicken with creme fraiche and tarragon - except that creme fraiche doesn't seem to be known here in Canberra, so it will be soured cream instead.

The cheerful chap from Menzies Aviation at Sydney Airport whose unenviable job it is to ring disgruntled passengers to tell them their luggage has still not been found rang me today, on Tricia's landline, for just that purpose.

Me: "I will be away from Thursday. Can you use my mobile number from then?"
Him: "Oh, you'll have your luggage by Thursday!"
Me: (note of joy in voice): "Really?"
Him: "No, I haven't a clue; I was just trying to be nice."
Me: "Well, can you use my mobile number
from Thursday to keep me informed?"
Him: "I'm using it now."
Me: "No, you're not. I can tell this because I'm speaking to you on a landline handset..."
Him: checks the number, clearly not believing me.

I can astound myself sometimes with my own patience and ability to refrain from very loud swearing.

Sunday 30 March 2008

This is the life

Can't post any pictures yet, until we work out how to make our camera/PC programmes compatible, so you will have to take my word for how beautiful it is here. I will have to stay alert to the overuse of words like beautiful, amazing, wonderful, astonishing, stunning, but it will be hard. However, I shall allow myself a few this time; I'm still a bit underslept and none too clever, and adopting a writing style to match my brain today would risk unsublime prose along the lines of: Yesterday we went in the big car. It was fun. We saw a pelican.

Yesterday we had a family outing to Wollongong, via an amazingly scenic route, had barramundi and chips on the harbour (built 1844 by 300 convicts - see, a bit of history too) and then Tricia and I drove to Canberra, shifting suddenly from lush green landscape to dry, reaching her comfortable welcoming home full of familiar things from when she lived in Newcastle and couldn't part with anything.

She lives right on the edge of the city, so a quick car ride to get some groceries allowed us to see large wild kangaroos in the deepening dusk; these, the sunset behind the Brindabellas (mountains to you who haven't been) all around, and the emergence of bright unfamiliar stars suddenly overwhelmed me, and I found myself helplessly in tears, so conscious of being on the other side of the world, with an old and dear friend, having what I hope will continue to be a strange and wonderful time.

Don't think I'll have barramundi again though.

All going according to plan

I'm not sure whose plan, though. Travel-wise, it's been a mixed success so far. I checked in, saying goodbye to my small case filled with presents and new hot weather clothes. A very late shuttle from Heathrow delayed my flight from Newcastle. Clue 1 regarding the launch of Terminal 5.... The pilot hinted at teething problems. But the transfer by bus from T5 to 4 went like clockwork; there was no real hint of the chaos taking place in the brand new multi-million pound shed as with mistaken confidence we tootled through tunnels, moving from shiny-shiny new T5 with its helpers standing every 25 yards waiting to be called upon, to somewhat scruffier old T4. There I had a longish wait, filled by walking miles past all the shopping opportunities, eating a huge salad-and fruit-based dinner, and texting confident messages to everyone who might remember me only as a neurotic and bumbling twit who couldn't make it safely to the corner shop. I was now Intrepid Traveller, capable, experienced, and in the right place at the right time; I was calm, collected and prepared for anything.

Time to board the big flying tin tube.The youngish Australian man
next to me barely spoke, jumped and twitched a great deal, created knee-deep litter about us both, and wolfed his revolting airline food and drink at lightning speed. Second time round, fascinated, I paid more attention to his technique - hoovering, basically. I was still picking my way gingerly through the gloopy main course trying to identify various items, and lo! he had finished his, as well as his salad, bread roll, dessert and both our chocolate biscuits, and had gone back to jumping about, throwing litter and knocking his drinks over us.

We had lots of leg room, facing a wall panel, which was great - for Mr Messy in particular - but this plane could have doubled as refrigerated transport for perishable foodstuffs. After half an hour I began to worry about hypothermia, despite cardigan, fleece, thick socks, and later BA's tea-towel-thin blanket and tiny flabby pillow. The hours dragged by; freezing to death is a slow process, and you can feel your brain shutting down cell by cell. Not slow enough to become used to the too-high headrest which pushed my head down at a painful angle which it has since maintained. I can now walk convincingly like a chicken, head poked forward; all I need to add are the sound effects.

After what seemed like 24 hours, with a short stop in Bangkok to thaw out while the plane was refuelled, cleaned, and restocked with potential litter, we arrived in Sydney. By this time, we knew that T5 was in trouble, and that luggage seemed to be involved, but didn't know the full extent of that trouble - 15,000 items in all. The carousel went round in its tantalising fashion, the non-T5 passengers collected their cases, and the small group of us unlucky ones went off to report that our luggage was, well, probably still in the bowels of the state-of-the-art terminal in London. We were given $100 each and told not to ring up for at least 48 hours to give the airline time to find our precious bags. 36 hours later, I have received two messages to tell me that they have not been successful yet. Prioritise me, I want to scream. I have new slippers in that case!

So far I have splashed out on 2 t-shirts and a nightie, spending an astonishing $9.99 of my BA compensation payment. That's under a fiver.
I am going to be very sick of these trousers by the time I get my case back/give in and buy a complete holiday wardrobe, but I bet I could do it all within the 100 bucks.

More next time on what has gone wonderfully (heart-stoppingly wonderfully, in actual fact) well.....

Thursday 27 March 2008


Well, not exactly, more still going really, but definitely on my way. In a horribly lengthy period of time (UK time Friday night, Oz time Saturday morning, my body clock time about a week from now) I will, I hope, touch down safely in Sydney, to be greeted by smiley people: friend Tricia, friend's daughter Chelsea, and later her three delightful little girls, who I'm really looking forward to meeting for the first time. What they will make of me is another matter; a week of terror, lots of displacement activity, plus about 36 hours' travel from my house to theirs may not prove conducive to a reassuring first impression.

So, that's it for now; I'll be back online when I can, if I'm spared...(well, you know, spiders, snakes, crocodiles)....and back home on April 22nd. Thank you to all who are cats-dog-and-house-sitting; sorry about the cat hair.

You know how much I love you all.

The Intrepid Traveller, aka The Whingeing Pom - you decide what fits best.


Wednesday 26 March 2008

Presents to fly with

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Ready, steady.....

Not quite Go! yet. But nearly....

Today we played at being normal, ie
not doom-prophesying, fretful, and racked by anxiety. The Lovely Son dug enough of the allotment for me to plant 3 rows of potatoes which were chitting on the windowsill, and whose sprouts would have flagged before my return, and some garlic. The dog and her bedding have been washed; she has had her fringe trimmed so that she can see my luggage better, and is having a major mope. Poor little thing, it's bad enough when just one of us is leaving, but the LS goes away tomorrow too. I tidied the kitchen to within an inch of its life, then we ate up some leftover curry, and generally messed about aimlessly till it was time for the online check-in facility to open in British Airways' virtual world.

To my relief, they appear to have allocated me a decent seat, by a window in a row of two, with a cot point opposite - it seems rather unlikely that they would put anyone else's baby in a cot opposite my seat, so I'm assuming that I will have some decent legroom. Shame about not having decent (i.e. long) legs to fill it with. I could have changed seats, but this one seemed fine, so I left it as allocated, and hope I will be proved right.

After this, I calmed down a bit, having worried neurotically about being stuck in the middle of a row, as I once was on a trip to India, struggling with claustrophobia I didn't know I had until that flight, and/or about being next to the loos, with very large people in the the queue taking turns to lean on you. Lovely niece Laura had such a seat on a trip from Toronto, and complained so vigorously about it for the next month that I now think of it as a fate worse than death. Or the cause of a new phenomenon: Air Toilet Queue Rage.

Suzy and Lesley brought going-away presents, which I shall photograph and show you, and you will then be able to visualise what I shall be doing on the journey, exhorting other passengers to join in, bribing them with sweets.

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Cat news and domestic chaos

For the followers of Kevin: I am thinking of changing his name to Lazarus. He was given a very positive report after half an hour of tests at the vet's today, and he behaved astonishingly well throughout, grumbling a bit but not fighting, and certainly not creating the Lake of Protest again. I have been told there's no need to worry about him while I'm away; he's even gained some weight.

The Lovely Son arrived today, to cluck in despair over the state of my PC, the endless and unsorted list of bookmarked websites, my dismal failure to remember computer jargon or to understand what a browser
is and how it differs from a server, and many other gross deficiencies of intellect on my part. I receive exasperated lectures along the lines of "Look, this (something or other) is on your desktop... Firefox just lets you (something or other) ...and it's all stored on your computer! ...and that (something or other) is a storage device....and you're not downloading, you're transferring!!" and then he bangs his forehead on the keyboard in utter despair at his eejit mother. I can feel myself ready to swoon in fear and loathing at how instantly forgettable it all is, like the rules (I know, they're laws, not rules) of cricket .

But in return I cluck in despair over the instant chaos and disorder that arrives with him; the clothing bomb that explodes silently within moments of his rucksack being set down, always in a place where it becomes a major trip hazard, the fridge-raiding just before a meal, his easily-triggered swearing, the creation of
countless half-finished mugs of tea, and many other gross and eejit-like deficiencies on his part. We get on very well together, obviously.

Travel terror continues to strike me from time to time, although Shelagh and the Lovely Son between them reassure me that all the electronic ticketing stuff works really well and that I have everything printed that I will need. Something else is bound to go wrong, I just know it.....I will walk through the crowded airport clad only in a skimpy vest and dying of embarrassment.....oh no, that's the dream we all have, isn't it......

Monday 24 March 2008

Ticket terror, security subversion

Call me old-fashioned, but these e-tickets, e-visas, and (on Wednesday) e-boarding passes just don't feel right to me. I keep checking the bits of paper that I have printed out myself to make sure there really isn't something I've failed to do that will cause me to be refused entry at the airport, miss my flight and spend painful hours trying to explain to everyone that I'm a) more of an idiot than they ever thought possible, and b) didn't do it on purpose through fear of flying.

And then even if I do succeed in making it to Terminal 5 (or T5 as they trendily call it) there's the pressure to sabotage any attempt to fingerprint me - someone on Radio 4 PM this evening was calling for all-out passenger rebellion, suggesting the use of superglue and a small pointy implement to create your own finger-end designs instead of fingerprints. But, quite aside from superglue having a mind of its own, and the risk of sticking myself to my hand luggage, or worse, the security personnel trying to arrest me, my freehand icing skills leave so much to be desired - how on earth can I design my own fingertips to an acceptable aesthetic standard? So much to worry about!

Sunday 23 March 2008

Happy Easter !

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Saturday 22 March 2008

Bush Hats

Maybe I should get one of these hats for my bar-b-que trip to the Australian bush. Maybe I should get that shade of lipstick too. Germolene pink.
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Small confused scream

For some time, Tricia has been emailing me in that breathless way she has, full of dots, dashes and exclamation marks, to say how excited she is about my impending visit, and how hot ("blummin hot") it is in Canberra. So, rather pleased at the prospect of blummin hot weather, I have packed accordingly. Blummin vests and sandals. Today she emailed to say she had just come home from a barbecue (which, endearingly, she prefers to spell as bar-b-que) and to complain about how blummin cold it was. Cold! It was over 100 degrees F the other day!

So, I have had to demand an urgent interpretation of the word cold; does she mean I might need a cardi, or socks with my sandals, or a full re-pack of my case full of skimpy clothes? She is under orders to think like the Yorkshire woman she really is, and try to remember how a pallid, frozen Briton might experience the blummin cold of a very hot country. As there is a planned bar-b-que somewhere in the bush, I guess thermals and woolly gloves might not be needed, but you know, I'd prefer to go prepared. And ooh, the bush! That sounds exciting! Will I need bush clothes? What are they anyway? Are they warm?

PS Stop curling your lip like that. The socks with sandals thing was a joke.

Friday 21 March 2008

A quick roundup

Kevin: seems to be doing well, but had a strange collapsing moment this morning while taking his medication, reminding me of a little dog of my mother's who had heart failure. He picked up within a few seconds and ate a hearty breakfast, but it has jangled me badly. Back to the vet next Tuesday.

Australia trip: I'm all packed, money and passport ready, and only 2 small cases to take, both hand-luggage-sized, one to check into the hold, obviously. Impressive, yes? And not leaving for another 6 days. Oh, the joy of having a friend shopping in advance of my arrival, so no toiletries to pack, and a hot country, so very few clothes required!

The house etc: Still loads of cake orders to fill, kitchen and weird chaotic fridge to clear up, but think I have time to do this. I may be proved very wrong, and then there will be very bad shouty language.

The dog: Hates me going into the spare room where the cases are kept, and tries to encourage me out. Her body language is very clear on that point. I feel like a murderess.

The vibe: I'm at that very specific stage where I just know with absolute certainty that my plane is going to come down in a shark-infested sea, and I have the urge to go round all my friends and family and tell them how much I love them. You know, like drunk people tell you....."I WUV yoooooo, I reelly reelly wuv yoo." But I really really do.

We wish....

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What we do after breakfast

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lemon drizzle cake

This is what all the complaining is about
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Thursday 20 March 2008

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But we're British! We have to suffer!

It's officially the First Day of Spring tomorrow.

Lambs leaping, little birds canoodling, flower buds bursting forth, Nature in all her fecundity - great word, fecund; sounds a bit rude - and so on, and a Bank Holiday, as well as the major Christian celebration of the year (well, Christmas hardly seems Christian any more, does it),
coming up this weekend. We Brits will swarm onto our already-clogged roads, determined to have a chocolate-fuelled holiday of some sort.

But, predictably, the weather prefers to ignore all cause for rejoicing. Keep your vests on, and the central heating, stay away from the seaside at all costs, and mutter resentfully about the British version of global warming typically having to be global wetting, blowing and freezing. Maybe it's character-building.

Wednesday 19 March 2008

Could this be it?

Roger thinks The Baby Over The Way could be in this book.
I have emailed the Canadian bookseller who owns it to ask, and will keep you all posted. You do want to know what happens, don't you? And see the pictures of the scruffy baby with the tousled hair and the perfect baby with the quiff and neat bib? Of course you do.
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Posting from where? Mars?

Lesley down the street has just had a conversation with someone she describes as 'a boy' from the Post Office, a subsidiary of the Royal Mail. She has been trying since January to arrange for her work mail to be redirected from Sunderland to Newcastle, cities maybe 10 miles apart; there have been costs incurred, a total lack of success, many phone calls and broken promises of refunds involved in this inexplicably complex matter.

The Post Office, a venerable institution founded in 1660, and once the envy of the western world, has struggled to understand what was required: no no, letter not go Sunderland, come Newcastle instead; easy-peasy when form filled out and fee paid and accepted. This morning 'the boy' assured Lesley that a refund cheque would definitely go out to her in today's post.

She has to allow 5-7 days for delivery.

Note: The Post Office has as one of its logos: With Us, It's Personal. Yes, quite.

The gulf widens

Picture this: Suzy and I walking down our street the other day. Suzy is in her pyjamas under her coat - well, I did tell her no one would notice, and I was right. We pass a car, parked slightly wonkily. Its window is open, and a large handbag, also gaping open, is on the seat. Opportunistic theft is common round here, and this is an open invitation, but Suzy and I haven't got the nerve, and anyway we don't like that sort of bag.

About 5 doors up, a student house, matching the car in dilapidation, has its front door standing wide open, so I go up and knock. Suzy stands guard by the car, looking fierce in her jim-jams. I am ignored. Cheerful voices carry on chatting at that amazing volume so beloved of well-brought-up girls standing two feet from each other, so I knock again, louder and somewhat more persistently, and eventually a young woman breaks off her conversation and comes to the door.

Before I can speak, she has assumed that slightly pitying yet disappointed look of someone finding the caller is not interesting or a bosom friend, i.e. not her own age. I ask if the car and bag belong to anyone there, as they are likely to be stolen if left open. She says dismissively "Oh, she's coming out in a minute" and turns away.

The middle-aged mother in me surges forward and says in that particular sort of voice that a minute could be all it takes to have the bag stolen, and that we could have stolen it ourselves by now if we'd been so inclined. And instantaneously,
almost imperceptibly, the girl's look changes to that of the nagged child, and I have a flash of insight into how she sees me. I give up, laugh, say "I know, I sound like your mum" and walk away. Suzy and I walk on, two annoying irrelevant middle aged women in peculiar outfits, and marvel at the young. Were we like this, we wonder? Most probably. Silly girls, look at us now, and be warned.

Tuesday 18 March 2008


Awoken at 2.45 this morning by animated girly student chatter in the street, as always with volume control disabled; clearly something a bit more exciting going on than the usual falling drunk out of a house and into a taxi. Got up and looked out of dormer window, saw two young women cycling - cycling! in the middle of the night! - somewhat unsteadily, one with a cycle lamp tucked under her arm. Directed looks of small-hours-and-awake-again-rage at their backs, and put radio on for a while. Dog slept on, oblivious. Nothing on the news today about excitable drunk girls cycling off the quayside into the Tyne. But the spiteful side of me that is released by disturbed sleep hopes that they were saddle-sore by the time they got to wherever they were whooping and wobbling to. By the time I slept again the blackbirds were singing; such a beautiful sound, but they set their alarms a bit too early.

Underslept and crabby, I shopped, collected orders for cakes (lots, to be frozen in advance of my holiday so that the current craze for lemon boring drizzle cake isn't affected by my selfish need for a break), and made the first of seven. The will to live is going to disappear by the end of this lemon drizzathon. Also made a simnel cake for Annie, deciding to put 12 marzipan balls on the top, not just 11; let's have Judas out there too! He can get eaten just like the regular non-treacherous Apostles. Made a batch of pecan and maple scones and some ginger biscuits for the expected visitor who failed to arrive, although she rang later to apologise, not having found the email confirming her own arrangement until it was too late. At least I have something other than lemon drizzle cake to offer people tomorrow. This house could have a plaque commemorating the contribution I have made to the nation's tooth decay.

Annie arrived for our planned Chinese takeaway - strangely, a real treat for her, living as she does in a one-horse town with little to offer vegetarians looking for an easy dinner option. Two tired people, we slumped in the armchairs and scooped it all up in the most unmannerly way.The dog scrounged the slug-type mushrooms that you either love or loathe. We loathe them extravagantly.

The Lovely Son forwarded his train booking details: home for 2 days after Easter, and staying long enough to see his mother off on the plane to Heathrow. Hurrah! But I wish he was coming with me.

Bedtime now.......zzzzzz.....drizzzzzz........

Monday 17 March 2008

On other people's blogs

When I was little, I had a book of children's poems with delightful illustrations. One resentful little poem began

"The baby over the way
Is a better baby than me.
The baby over the way
Is all that a baby ought to be"

and so on. It ends with a fierce promise that the perfect baby over the way is going to get his lights punched out one of these days. (If you know this one, and can source it for me, I would be thrilled, and could check if my memory is indeed accurate after more than 50 years. And yes, it was a book genuinely intended for children!)

It's like that with other people's blogs - perfect blogbabies over the way. Seems to me that they are full of intelligent, often amusing thoughts, even when merely complaining about their author's inability to get out of bed due to being a bit tired, and they are packed with impressive photographs, all in focus and beautifully composed, of their charming dogs, impressive art- or craftwork, sublime cooking, and lovely homes. Foreigners living abroad have clever, perceptive, witty and sometimes acerbic comments on their host country, and almost everyone holds down a fascinating job, and cares lovingly for their beautiful and well-behaved children and animals. They style and embellish their home environment themselves using only ethically-sourced organic materials and their own impressive creative skills, and feed their attractive children and adored partners exquisite dishes made from ingredients from their local farmers market.
And they photograph it all.

Tick whichever applies:

  • Impresses you no end
  • Inspires you to higher standards
  • Makes you sick

Sunday 16 March 2008


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Joy, curiosity, loathing

Today we had a visitor, Jasper, aged 16 weeks. Perpetual Motion Boy. No manners, but an infectious, fearless zest for life. He was oh-so-thrilled to be here.
Harry was intrigued. Kevin was upstairs sleeping.
Puppy-hating, middle-aged dog was horrified, affronted and martyred.

Photos to follow. I haven't worked out the special setting for kids and animals yet....

Saturday 15 March 2008

Oh no!

British Airways pilots and their families marching in protest! It was on the BBC so it must be true! Please please give them everything they are protesting about, and don't let it get to strike action. If I get stuck in an airport on my own for days on end, I will surely die.......

Not quite a countdown

more a catch up. There is more work and brain-racking involved in leaving a house and animals behind than in actually getting yourself to Australia, I find. It's when you realise how many foibles, idiosyncracies and plain awful neglected jobs your home possesses, and how difficult it is to write a clear step-by-step guide to using everyday things when you might need unexpected implements to do so, like pliers (the missing gas fire control knob), or a screwdriver (the yard door latch). And how you need a firm hand with the back door but a gentle hand with the fridge, a firm voice for Harry and no voice at all for deaf Kevin, and how neither of them will eat the sardine or rabbit cat food in the multipacks, but will fight for the whitefish one....Don't forget the milkman hides the milk in the lavender since it was stolen once, and oh, do remember to check underneath it for little slugs. The vet's number is here, neighbours' keys and alarm codes are hidden here, and the spare house keys are here....And if anything goes wrong, yell for Sandra, quick, and unless it involves horrid decisions about the animals, don't tell me anything till I get home. Shelagh leaves details of her dentist - I assumed in case she has to be identified by her dental records, but she denies that, and I am left puzzled.

Packing? Fine. Travel money? Ordered. Me? Chilled. (See my nose growing......)

Friday 14 March 2008


is just around the corner. The almond blossom, foxglove seedling and magnolia buds are all, literally, just round the corner from where I live.
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Cleaning windows the Warrior Way

Sitting upstairs at my computer before breakfast doing emails (I know, how sad), I was startled by Dave the Windows appearing silently, fuzzy window-wiper in hand, blocking out the light. Now after about 17 years of working round here, Dave is used to seeing me and probably many other customers in their dressing gowns and bed hair, but usually you hear the ladder being put up at the window and you can compose your features a little to look less like you've been dragged through a hedge backwards.

Today he had stepped silently across from the front door ledge, fooling even the dog, who fancies herself as ever-alert, especially, fearsomely, fang-flashingly alert to men in baseball caps.

Dave just said "It's the Ninja Window Cleaner!" and carried on.

Dog, you have much to learn.

Thursday 13 March 2008

Do I have murder in my heart?

Last year this ancient clematis at my front door produced only a few weedy little flowers. Time to dig it up, I thought, and replace it with something fresh and lively, scented, climbing and untemperamental.

So I cut it back hard, and totally forgot about digging it out until now. And then I looked again, and, oh dear, it is trying really really hard to be a fresh, lively climber again. What to do? Savagery or compassion? Sense or soppiness?
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Wednesday 12 March 2008

Ok, I know... of cats and baking, when I was trying not to be so cat-and-baking obsessed.

But these were taken with my new camera, and I deliberately held it at arms' length to test the anti-shake. Worked pretty well, I thought.

There was also a good picture of the dog, but she was being hugged by a friend who had come in for a bit of a cry, and I thought it wasn't fair to show her and her streaked mascara (the friend's, not the dog's).
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New camera

See post before last. It arrived today, less than 24 hours after ordering, another small gleaming object of desire to add to my collection. All this spending of money is a bit scary though; I feel quite profligate. After this trip, I am going to pull in my horns! Lentils and charity shop clothes for me, supermarket's generic dog food for herself. Just watch us.

Q: What's better than winning the lottery?

A: Getting your feet done by a wonderful chiropodist (or is that podiatrist, or both, and is there a hierarchy or an etiquette for what you call them?) whilst chatting about winning the lottery - though as neither of us actually buy lottery tickets, this scuppers our chances just a little.

I now have holiday feet, fit to show Australia. I won't go into any detail whatsoever of how that was achieved, but for people like me who are squeamish about feet and .... I can hardly bear to type the word.... toenails, having someone else willingly and skilfully sort them out for you while you look away, it's a life-enhancing experience. Thank you, Alison! I hope you enjoy the peanut butter biscuits.

After what we call our Vivienne Night, which took place yesterday, and is a euphemism for collective pain and suffering involving leg waxing and eyebrow tweezing, I just have to get my Black Gown trauma/hair appointment over and done with next week to feel like I am almost fit to be seen in a country where no one has spent the previous six months huddled, pale grey and flabby, in thick layers of vests, socks and jumpers, with only chapped hands and weatherbeaten faces showing.

Tuesday 11 March 2008

Here it is

Well, not really; it won't arrive for a few days yet

This Is Not a Cat Blog

Contrary to what you may think, this blog was not set up in order for me to witter on endlessly about my cats and their various ailments or traits. It's time for a break from them now, unless some dramatic event or downturn happens along. Instead, I shall endeavour to demonstrate that, occasionally, very occasionally, there is intelligent life going on in here, and that my life consists of more and deeper things than baking, pets and getting my boots on all wrong.

So, what to write about? The new camera I have just ordered, or the question of why take photos at all? The conflict between seeing and experiencing, using just your eyes and mind, before moving on to the next moment, and the freezing of the selected moment, cutting off and isolating the experience
from its time?

Or shall I just post a picture of my new camera and let you have intelligent thoughts about it? Right, I'll do that. I can read those thoughts already: "Ooh, shiny!"; "She's still going to take blurry pictures with that"; "What on earth was she talking about?"; " Aaaww, where have the cute cat stories gone?"

For those of you who liked the cat bits, I'll take photos of the cats with my new camera. Voila, conflict resolved.

Monday 10 March 2008

News about Kevin!

Claire the vet has just rung with Kevin's test results. It seems that although his kidneys are "very leaky" - the mind boggles at what this means, but thank goodness for skin holding his insides in - his prognosis, apart from the unpredictable old age factor, is middling. Although vague and not flag-wavingly thrilling, this is still comforting, in that he isn't in the dreaded range of 0-6-months-to-live, (but also isn't in the 2-years-plus) and is likely to carry on quite well for some time, which for me, about to leave him for 3 weeks, is a huge relief. There were some percentages of whatever they tested for, which I forgot immediately, as that's maths and science, therefore instantly forgettable, but Claire seemed upbeat about his condition, and I won't argue with that.

He will have another check up and - oh joy! a sample of wee to be tested - before I go away, with Sandra there to be briefed by the vet on what to look out for. The most pressing concern at present is how to cope with Kevin's new practice of waking me up at a hideously early hour to dispense breakfast. Sandra's son, caretaking my house in my absence, may be more hard-hearted than me about this, and Kevin will have to unlearn this unappealing tendency. (No, leaving more supper out when I go to bed isn't an option, now that Tubby You-know-who can find his way to Kevin's dishes.)

Meantime, a tiny bit of rejoicing is in order, with some relief that it is his kidneys, and not his bladder, that leak. And for an old gent who is somewhere around 90 in the equivalent of human years, that's not bad at all. Good old Kevin.

Comfy chair is ours....zzzzz....

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Maybe I shouldn't be admitting this

I have just spent the morning in town, doing what I hoped would be the last of the holiday-prep shopping. Sadly, that didn't work out, due to my lack of application and focus, but I got a couple of essentials and picked up my new specs. Shiny-shiny, designery and modern, but not much different or more comfortable than my old ones, I now find. Impulse-buying brings its own penalties.

Then I had a brain-numbing trail round the holiday clothes section of M & S, wondering who buys and dares to wear those day-glo bathing costumes, tops and wash-and-wear sarongs? People who are so scared of getting separated from their loved ones on a crowded beach that they dress in colours that would be visible from the Space Station, let alone the air-sea rescue helicopter?

Anyway, I digress. After a brisk walk home, ready for a cup of tea and a revision of my never-ending shopping list, I took my boots off. And saw that I had gone out in one black boot and one brown.

Inside this sturdy sensible middle aged woman there is a dotty little old lady struggling to get out.

Sunday 9 March 2008

Just to encourage us all...

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How is he?

Well, Kevin seems fine. But someone is throwing up on the landing (twice today). Could be Kevin, but could also be Harry, whose ability to overeat has been raised to new levels since he discovered how to get to Kevin's dish, which for over a year been placed in an inaccessible spot, too high for a Billy Bunter of a cat to get to.

Kevin has always been athletic, and good at jumping and climbing, so a high feeding place poses no problems for him. It also places him near the sink, where he likes to meditate. Harry, too rotund to do much more than heave himself onto a bed or an armchair, knew that there was a higher place (no, not Cat Heaven) where food could be lurking, but the logistics of reaching such a place defeated him for a long time. But eventually, when I was away for a few days, he learned to get up onto the hob, which is lower than the other kitchen work surfaces, and trot nimbly round the worktops, fired by gluttony, and finish up whatever un-greedy Kevin had left. He has become quite brazen about it too.

Antibacterial surface cleaners are big in this house; I know it's not green, but if any of my friends were to to die of food poisoning, I'd rather the investigation focused on supermarket ready meals or the Council's staff canteen, and not on the slack approach to paw hygiene taken by certain persons round here.

Saturday 8 March 2008

Universal peace and a boiled egg

Suzy tells me that she is going to an all-day event tomorrow, called Dances for Universal Peace. She has to bring a blanket, as there might be some lying down, which she is looking forward to very much. She could do the lying down bit all day, she says. She also has to bring vegetarian food to share, and has made a potato salad and something involving celery, but is going to smuggle in a boiled egg in her pocket. Something tells me that her commitment to universal peace may not be quite 100%. She intends to give me a demonstration of the dance tomorrow evening, using the dog and her snooty cat as partners.

Friday 7 March 2008

Medicating the cat the hard way

It might be easier to split the atom than to divide Kevin's new pills into quarters as directed. It's pictured here next to a regular aspirin to give you some idea of scale.

It is made of a material harder than granite, has no useful score line to assist when wielding a sharp knife, and is very tiny. Its purpose is to lower his blood pressure; it does this by raising mine.
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Thursday 6 March 2008

Pink! Very pink!

Thank you, Charlotte
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The Aunties are mustering

Kevin is getting visitors, and I am getting phone calls and emails, all from his concerned aunties. To all of you, I'm pleased to say that he behaved well at the vet's, spat and swore a bit with the repeated blood pressure-taking, but no further public incontinence (oops, sorry, I forgot) and was allowed home in the early afternoon. He will be going onto medication for his raised BP as well as his kidneys. He is amazingly easy to medicate; the almost-severed fingers and blood-spattered walls of the past, when I had a challenging bunch of cats to worm, are long gone; this fine chap meekly accepts a little syringe of water and crushed pill into his mouth without a murmur. But the crucial test results are still awaited, so my locked-in-place fingers remain crossed.

Charlotte came round with her handsome young policeman, bearing some very pink, very Charlotte-y home made cupcakes; Kevin sat on their laps in turn, shedding hair as generously as ever
(no visitor leaves without a liberal donation of ginger hair), and looking cheerful.

Very little else happened today. It is mild, it is Spring-like, I hung washing out, made a cake to order, and walked across the bridge to feed Lynn's cat; some of my packing has now been ironed and my holiday shoes chosen (like the Queen Mum, I tend to favour old comfy shoes over glamour), and I now have a pressing need to go and sit down in front of the telly and veg out for a bit, possibly in my dressing gown and slippers. Post-vet fatigue. Thank you all for sharing my worry and accepting my obsessive need to talk ad nauseam about a scrawny old moggie who always leaves you covered in fur.

Wednesday 5 March 2008

Postscript to Wipe-Up Wednesday

What Kevin doesn't know is that he is going back to the hated vet tomorrow morning, to be abandoned by his uncaring owner (or Personal Shopper as a current cat food ad has it) for the day, so that the vet can take serial blood pressure readings. That's what she says, anyway. I suspect she's really hoping for another lagoon-of-wee event that she can video and post on YouTube.

And the third strike happened - no one poo-ed, but Kevin overdid his dinner and decided to bring it back up. Not using his ten-feet-projectile technique,
thankfully, and so, with lightning reflexes, I managed to get the dog's beanbag cushion under him (I'm getting to be a dab hand at positioning things at either end of this cat today!) as it's easier to clean up than from a carpet. What a day; despite the jokes and faux hard-heartedness, it is quite a harrowing time, and I intend to have an early night. With earplugs in, so that any sounds of retching, coughing, splashing, crying, and worse will be minimised. I shall just watch my step carefully if I have to get up in the night. Gentle reader, I promise not to mention bodily functions any more this week.

Cat Talk

So I peed on them both. Like, loads.

You didn't!

Yeah, I did.

You're so cool, Kevin!
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Two Down, One To Go

If you are one of the squeamish who don't want to read about bodily functions, then this post is not for you.

First of all, I managed to obtain a urine sample from Kevin, as requested by the vet, a suggestion received incredulously by me at the time. But it proved surprisingly easy to sneak up on a deaf old cat in the back yard and position a plastic dish under his tail while he wee-ed - he did notice eventually, and meowed in astonishment, but carried on. So far so good. I could be a vet's nurse, I'm sure.

But later on the dog lowered the tone, by throwing up on one of the new chairs. Not simple regurgitation of breakfast - no, that wouldn't do for new chairs - but that scary bile-yellowy-green liquid that burns through carpets, underlay, floorboards, foundations, any secret subterranean chambers remember, just like in Alien, acid burning through deck after deck. And on the same new chair that the Wicked Cat has already clicked with his giant claws.

But to my astonishment, and totally unlike similar ruination events in the past involving new carpets or bedcovers, these stains sponged off with warm diluted oxi-type miraculous stain remover. Those chairs must be coated with something quite amazing, possibly designed to repel acid rain, nuclear fallout and the weirdly-coloured goo they put in those corner yoghurts.

The dog seemed unbothered; I suspect this had been the result of over-eating, probably on stolen cat food, so I wasted little sympathy (none at all, to be honest). I stayed calm and zen-like over it all, repeating my lifelong personal mantra several times: You'll Never Have A Nice House While You Have Children & Animals.....You'll Never Have A....and so on.

Later, it was time to take Kevin back to the vet. A much happier little cat today, he walked meekly into the carrier, washed his paws en route, clearly very chilled about it all, and only had to be tipped out of the basket, rather than dragged out by the scruff of the neck, onto the exam table. Questions were asked, tests were taken using the sample, and it was sent off to the lab to determine how long Kevin might have before his kidneys fail altogether. Kevin stood quietly, but I could see him eyeing his basket longingly.

Then he had his blood pressure checked. This involved firm holding by me, lots of fiddly stuff by vet, and some struggling and loud protesting by Kevin. This is the cat who would make a major assault allegation, at top volume, every time he had a new collar put on, so I am inured to the melodrama. Nothing painful or over-intrusive was done; it was just slow and tricky. In the middle of it all, the vet and I noticed a pool of wee appearing from under Kevin, a pool that grew....and grew....and formed a small lagoon....and began to have small white-tipped waves and little boats appear on it, until it reached the edges of the table and trickled onto our shoes...and still it flowed, the urine sample to beat all urine samples. A Pets Win Prizes Urine Sample. Astounded, the vet remarked to him "You're a real pissy-pants today, aren't you!" which I think is obscure veterinary-medical jargon. Kevin returned to the basket with the self-satisfied expression of one who had truly got his point across.

So, we've had vomit, we've had wee - I await the next excretory episode with resigned, nay, fatalistic acceptance and some rubber gloves. If you like, you can chant softly with me: You'll Never Have A Nice House While You Have Children & Animals....

Tuesday 4 March 2008

PS Kevin Update 7

He seems fine. Eating, drinking, pottering about. My fingers are so tightly crossed they are beginning to graft onto each other.

House Marks: Could Do Better

I have a house that I'm the first to admit is too big for me, since I became family-free. That means lots of rooms to keep things in, or, if you like, to use as discreet storage for one person's streamlined belongings. I have a house aspiration that involves key words like calm, serene, light-filled, uncluttered, with soul, style, and deep deep comfort. In reality, only my sitting room is kept tidy. Elsewhere I have heaps of papers, cluttered surfaces, crowded cupboards, mountains of shoes and ironing, a generous layer of cat hair as the unifying element throughout, and, as this is a sunny house, well-defined pet-nose marks on the rattly old windows. I also have tidy friends who are wonderful homemakers; they cajole, tut, organise, encourage, and probably despair; I simply cannot stay tidy or throw out/recycle/freecycle enough stuff to make a lasting difference, and I have two (two!) Rooms of Shame as a result. I despair sometimes too.

So why am I talking about this now? It's all because of that DIY Will form. The idea of leaving everything I own to the Lovely Son, with instructions to disperse some of it to others, has had the unwanted effect of reminding me (and the LS) that this may be a lifelong task for him. I still haven't managed to let go of all of my own mother's belongings, almost five years on; what hope then for my cupboards, filled with strange and wonderful jumbles of items which are not quite awful or useless enough to go in the bin, and aren't quite wonderful enough to be given away? That feather quilt, which needs a tiny tear repaired before it can be cleaned and maybe put on eBay; those poems that friends wrote for my 40th birthday; the paint; the salvaged wrapping paper; the boxes and boxes of photos to be gone through and selected for scanning; the collar-tags of long-deceased but much-loved cats..... And of course all those hugely dull papers, forms, certificates, policies, statements, that sap the spirit and overflowed the filing cabinet long ago. Just thinking about tackling it all makes me quail. I have time now, which could be used to good effect here, but really, time isn't the issue, it's me.

But there's something else too, while we are talking about dismal and depressing things: those energy-saving light bulbs. Whoever invented them should be exhibited in the town square and pelted with Prozac bottles. The Lovely Son refers to them as Suicide Bulbs; energy-sapping rather than saving, they have created an ambience that harks back to gaslight, even at 100W equivalent. Who in their right mind would want to spend an evening clearing heaps in the Rooms of Shame under lighting that Dr Crippen would have felt at home with? Lovely Son, it's all yours.

Monday 3 March 2008

To be fair/soppy/scared

The Lovely Son did email me a loving Mother's Day message at the end of his working day. Sniff. I suppose when you work the weird hours that he does for a couple of events companies, getting up in the small hours, working flat out at high speed throughout the day, having several hours off (but often too far away from home to sleep or do anything sensible) while the event takes place, then taking everything that you put up earlier down again, it can be a challenge to think of much else except getting back to bed before 4 a.m. Add to that a reluctance to be manipulated by the card-and-chocolate companies, and you have a recipe for Forget-Your-Mother Day. I forgive you, Lovely Son. Again.

Kevin Update 6: Rather perky today! We have given up on the special diet food, which only the dog will eat - and if Harry doesn't eat it, it has to be awful - and moved on to raw turkey mince - num num.....cats do seem to like stuff that smells vile; the horrid thing is that it is intended for human consumption. The vet might have something to say
on Wednesday about this dietary defiance, but anyone who has tried to persuade a very thin elderly cat that something nasty is still a good thing to eat will know that they will fail miserably, every time. Thin elderly cats have massive reserves of will power of the I'd-rather-die-than-eat-that-muck variety, and Kevin is no exception.

Countdown to Australia: Day 3. While I was in the long queue at the Post Office (never go on a Monday) and browsing the shelves where all sorts of thrilling items are on display - did you know you can still get cap guns? And little plastic discs of caps? Sadly not the paper rolls of caps, though - I spotted and bought a DIY Will form. This is a temporary measure because my old home-made will is terribly obsolete, and I am going in a big metal flying tube to the other side of the world, and it seems so improbable in every respect that it will a) lift itself up into the sky, b) stay there, progressing very fast in an Antipodean direction, and c) won't end in some dreadful disaster that includes my sad demise. I feel I should inflict my last wishes on my beloved friends and family before I take the brave step into the arms (or wings) of British Airways. Charlotte's Auntie Theresa did tell me last week that BA's food is the worst in the world, so even if the plane does manage to take off and land safely, there are other hazards to be navigated en route. I need people to know that they have been nominated as Executors, and, worse, asked to assist in clearing my house of my many, many belongings....I just know they'll be cheered by that knowledge.

Plain and simple; Neighbourhood Watch built in

Oddly, whilst these chairs and cushions look stiff and formal, they are actually soft and squashily-comfortable, and before will......zzzzzzzzzz

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