Wot, no showres soote

Monday 2nd April

A bad night punctuated by hourly moans that privileges had been unfairly withdrawn. It's so hard to explain that it is for his own good and is hurting me as much as him. Unfortunately it's also hurting the Bellower who starts up his own litany of complaint - something about getting picked up at 6 am to catch a plane and how the **** is he supposed to get any sleep?. William and I exchange knowing glances: typical, Self, self, self. So it is with mixed emotions and a thumping tension headache that I wave off MDH to Houston and shortly thereafter (but not nearly shortly enough) bundle a starving and highly indignant William into his basket and off to the Vet's for a routine scale and polish. Several hours later I am summoned to collect him and given the usual spiel about how your cat may feel drowsy for up to 24 hours and be off his food so here is a sachet of revolting pap to tempt his taste buds. Two "super size me" portions of prime Felix later William is ensconced on his favourite garden bench deep in contemplation of the iniquities of the day so I am at liberty to consult his dental chart. B****y H**l!! He has had no less than 6 teeth removed which, together with the 6 that were mysteriously "already missing" make him practically the proverbial toothless wonder. And, adding outrageous insult to grievous injury 2 of the extracted teeth were his impressive set of upper canines (or whatever the feline equivalent). Surely they should have sought my permission? My cat has been violated, emasculated even, although that particular outrage was actually perpetrated almost 6 years to the day. I am already deeply upset when a whole host of horrid thoughts moves in. What if his little face starts to crumple and his lovely smiling mouth shrink to a very unattractive puckered aperture like that of a pensioner who's long mislaid his dentures? Can cats be fitted with false teeth? Will he eat his favourite Go Cat biscuits ever again? How will it affect his self-image? Was he, grey haired and white whiskered, carelessly mistaken for some other badly neglected geriatric feline? And why have I just voluntarily paid out a King's ransom to have my Beloved thus humiliated? After all, Brian got his vasectomy on the NHS.

For the several members of the William Merchant Fan Club, I am happy to report that none of the above fears have, so far, come to fruition. Lack of gnashers notwithstanding, he is as handsome as ever, (fortunately good cheekbones run in the family), Easter turkey, tuna mayo and crunchy treats have proved no obstacle to his dining pleasure and, as for his delicate sensibilities, as 3 out of 4 beds are now draped in some sort of fleecy blanket or throw carefully sculpted into a William shaped nest, I think we may assume that self esteem has not been noticeably diminished.

Thursday 5th April

A good day. Daughter Number 2 arrives in good spirits with Chapter 2 of the famous dissertation securely in the bag and the British Naval personnel are returned safe from Iran. I am very relieved on both counts having feared, especially in the latter case, a much less favourable outcome, as it was pretty obvious that (apart from Bush, who frankly doesn't count - pace my Texan buddies) no-one in the West was exactly rushing to our aid. Unlike Max Hastings and other "old school" military observers, I didn't think our people had disgraced themselves during captivity: I think they did the best they could in very frightening circumstances for which they had apparently received little or no training - although I did think they might have dumped the presidential "goody bags" before they arrived back in the YUK.

Daughter No 2 is not, as previously promised, accompanied by Boyfriend No 2 who has once again failed to make the trek to Middletown, presumably in fear of an indigestible diet of Daily Mail opinions and "council house" carrots (wheels, not batons). Well, in that case, I can abandon my attempt to impress this famed Foodie with an Easter cake filled with home-made lemon curd and decorated with fresh cream and real daffodils (Jocelyn Dimbleby) and substitute an Aldi chocolate cake which is met with cries of disgust and derision from both Brian and his child but which, when left unattended on the kitchen worktop, mysteriously disappears and not into the bin either unlike the sultanas in my widely acclaimed bread pud which were deemed just "too big and juicy"

Friday 6th April

Good Friday - not. I awake to the news that the Ministry of Defence has allowed the Iranian hostages to sell their stories to the media and go around the house giving a very passable imitation of Victor Meldrew. The country has gone mad. What is the government doing? Do we have a government now that Tony has all but clocked off - no doubt heaving a large sigh of relief over all the near misses of the his last days in office - and Gordon had yet to clock on for what is surely destined to be a very short and, I suspect, inglorious shift.

Monday 9th April

Thank Goodness. Someone called Des Brown, of whom I have never heard but is apparently Minister for Defence, has countermanded permission for the sailors to go public. So why is Able Seaman Faye Turney still appearing on TV tonight with Trevor McDonald, valiantly attempting to lend elder statesmen newscaster gravitas to the toe curling proceedings? At the risk of straying into deep controversial waters, it is my (very own) opinion that Ms Turney 's reaction to an admittedly very unpleasant but in the end not so very terrible part of her job epitomises the reasons why women on the front line is not a good idea. A lot of women have a tendency to take things personally. I know; I'm one of them. Faye wanted to "tell my own story, in my own words. I want people to know what happened to me". Neither I nor any member of my family has been in the military (I don't count the Girl Guides or even the Police Force although parallels could be drawn) but I have the firm idea that the being a member of the armed forces meant that you were (extremely commendably) putting "them" or "us" (whether that be King and Country, civilians or your comrades in arms) before "me". Faye Turney and young Arthur Batchelor were obviously very frightened by their capture which arguably, had the Navy been on the ball, should never have occurred. Fortunately, nothing very horrible happened to them or their fellows; all the horror was, understandably, in their heads. I can't accept that being labelled "Mr Bean" by your jailer constitutes any form of physcological abuse and nor do I accept that they were in any way traumatised. Trauma suffers, in my book, do not negotiate deals with the tabloid press within hours of release from their "ordeal".

Tuesday 10th April

Brian's birthday. After the lending obligatory witness to the opening of cards and a packet of M&S days of the week socks, Daughter Number 2 is ready to depart on the 12.30 train to London ("This train is full, standing room only, those of a delicate or invalid disposition are advised to vacate the train forthwith") as Number 3 arrives on the 12.40 - a mutually satisfactory arrangement which although disappointing to their Mama has the compensation of involving only trip to the station and no change of bed linen. William is gratifyingly pleased to see Number 3 (second on a very short list of personae grata) and even more so when the sudden appearance of a nasty rash delays her departure until after the weekend, saving him from a stay in the overflow caravan at the unFAB cattery.

Saturday 14th April

My birthday. For my treat I am allowed to chauffeur Brian, who has hurt his back turning over 12 sq m of earth in our pocket handkerchief patch, to our ancestral homeland in the North East. Owing to the aforementioned back problem, an alarm not set and a bed-ridden daughter to whom copious instructions must be shouted from the hall and despite my excellent driving, we arrive in Country Durham 2 hours late for elevenses. A warm welcome from William's erstwhile foster parents is still waiting, however, and so are the cream cakes, but only just. An hour further up the road I am seated in a beautiful Italianate back garden enjoying continental-strength sunshine and yet more delicious cake with my two oldest (as in longstanding) friends but one. We top off the day with a Chinese meal which arrives in the nick of time just as my knees begin to give way. The food is delectable perhaps as a much needed antidote to the massive sugar overload or perhaps because, as I suddenly realise, of all the myriad culinary experiences which Houston had to offer "a Chinese" was not usually one of them.

Monday 16th April

News of the student massacre at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg breaks in the UK, seemingly a tragic coalescence of seriously disaffected youth and ready access to firearms and, of course, a bit of police incompetence thrown in for good measure. I feel as if there should be more to say, things about the pressures of modern life, the alienation of young men, the proliferation of violent and pornographic images and, not least, the folly of continuing to enshrine an anachronistic tenant of the American Constitution but after Columbine, Nickel Mines even Dunblane it's all been said and nothing changes. Sadly, distance and repetition make a pretty effective anaesthetic.

Why has Des Brown not resigned?

Wednesday 18th April

Another day of beautiful weather, just a bit fresher than of late. I am awoken by peremptory ringing and knocking at the front door and stumble to the window in time to see the post man crossing the road to number 19. Hopeful of a belated surprise birthday parcel, I pull on a dressing gown and wave gaily from the doorstep. "So sorry to disturb you, my Dear, it says to leave this with you". Oh, a box of mail order shoes for number 17, required for their romantic weekend getaway to Salzburg apparently. And it's not even anyone's birthday. So now I'm up and William is up and thus the day begins. Before making a start on the day's list of jobs (yes, I do things) I could do with a kick start so once the bin men have departed and William has been readmitted to take cover from the infernal onslaught, I am free to take myself off for a walk. The pleasure of walking around Onceuponafarm estate, especially when most people are at work or school, is one I have not yet tired of extolling to my friends and former neighbours most of whom still live on the well established and sought after 1920's enclave on the far side of town. Although they are too polite to say so, I know they are totally unconvinced by my enthusiasm for modern living although some 80 years ago their (and my former) houses were once part of a brand new development which was no doubt looked upon as an excrescence and blot on the (agricultural) landscape by the indigenous village people. Although we are surprisingly fond of our current abode, the question of where and how to live out the next decade in the run up to retirement continues to vex and, like other unwelcome intrusions, has a nasty habit of popping up in the middle of the night. So far I've managed to summon up the ghost of Scarlett O'Hara and put it on hold until tomorrow, and tomorrow and .....Anyway, all of Middletown and surrounding countryside is simply glorious at present. The early summer we have enjoyed over the past couple of weeks has brought forth blossom and foliage in luxuriant excess. Every garden and byway is an impressionist painter's dream. Even our modest patch is bursting out all over and it's only April. In the words of American singer/songwriter Kate Campbell ("Monuments"), it's hard to believe that so much is wrong with the world while "as long as wisteria still climbs up the wall".

Thursday 19th April

Sat up until 1.30 am this morning waiting for William to come home. Actually he was only 6 feet or so from the front door but turning a deaf ear to my entreaties. Most evenings now he is engaged in a stand off with Domino, the black and white cat across the road. This requires each cat to sit under their respective parent's cars and dare the other to set paw in enemy territory. As far as I can tell this never happens but last night about 11 pm Domino upped the ante by climbing onto his porch roof and adopting several provocative poses. William cannot leave his post until Domino capitulates and is certainly not going to suffer the ignominy of being called in by his over-anxious Mummy. I can empathise; this was my fate on many a childhood summer evening just when the games were getting really exciting and a humiliation I would probably have revisited upon my own children had they ever been allowed to play in the street. I had just got settled in bed with the new Kate Atkinson when William landed and proceeded to make himself very comfortable in the feet area, equidistant between the Bellower and myself. Very strange and I was just saying as much to His Nibs when the Bellower woke up and kicked him, claiming not to have known that we had a cat on board. William looked aggrieved as well he might but calmly rearranged himself just a little closer to she who sat through 3 rounds of Classic Millionaire while waiting for a truce to be declared in the Convenience Close turf wars. The little so n'so was obviously currying favour although why he thought that toadying up to someone who repeatedly told me I was off my head for pandering to a mere cat would win him any points, I don't know. And what neither yet knows is that in between winning myself a hypothetical 120,000 and wearing a hole in the hall carpet, I seized the opportunity to polish off the last of the Easter Eggs. She who sleeps last, sleeps soundest, don't you know.

Friday 20th April

Slept like the proverbial log as did William who was denied egress after 10 pm and contented himself with monitoring Domino's house from a gap under the newly installed living room blind which probably explains the strangely quizzical angle of his head this morning. Such was my need for restorative slumber that I was oblivious to the rescheduled recycling collection, the delivery of a skip to next door's drive and semi-anaesthetised to a bad tempered rummage in the bedside cabinet for the passport necessary for the upcoming Brazilian visa. In fact I only came to just in time to tune in to Radio 4's current series about a US family and a British one who swap lives in order that the Brits can educate their Texan counterparts in the ways of eco-conservation and minimizing their carbon footprint. Full of worthy intentions, I'm afraid the expose of life in shockingly wasteful and sybaritic Dallas as opposed to smug and spartan Knutsford has had a regressive effect upon this listener and sown the first real seeds of nostalgia and ever so slight dissatisfaction in her hitherto contented breast. I was particularly amused by the Knutsford incredulity when faced with the inability of the Home Depot to supply them with a composting bin. Three years plus in Houston has given me a very clear insight as to just how this scenario might have played out. Oh to have been a mosquito on the brim of their obligatory baseball caps. Get real, people, who wants to sit in the spa sipping margaritas and counting the brightly shining stars (no domestic street lighting, now that must score points) in the endless Texas sky with a dung heap steaming away in the background?

Saturday 21st April

Gardening day. Having spent a small fortune in the local Garden Centre the night before, Brian and I pass a very happy few hours constantly bickering about the depth of holes and the requisite amounts of water and compost, the siting of new plants and the pruning of old ones. By 5 o'clock we are mutually satisfied with our efforts and the neighbours heave a collective sigh of relief and offered up prayers for rain which has been so conspicuous by its absence this month. Around 10 am I had winkled William out of his nest in the terracotta bedroom to join in the fun in the sun and was just about to fetch my camera to immortalise his fetching leonine pose next to the despised straw squirrel when Brian's unscheduled entrance via the side gate, brass front door handle triumphantly brandished aloft, sent him scuttling for cover, not to be seen again until after dark. I try hard to remind myself that Brian does not commit these faux pas on purpose and give thanks for the virtue of patience with which I have been blessed in abundance, just as long as my prescription holds out..


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