.. and on

Wednesday 21st March

The first official day of Spring . William decides to mark it with an ultimatum: it is high time that he should be allowed access to the front of the property which he has been monitoring for weeks from the living room window sill and has now decided is in need of some paws on investigation. In accordance with the William modus operandi, this intent is never actually articulated but after several days of seeing him extended like a draught excluder across the bottom of the front door we begin to get the message. Brian is the first to weaken (or has he another agenda?) but the new kid on the block isn't out for long before the sudden appearance of an innocent little girl on a very tame scooter has him begging for readmission. Ditto a cordial visit from the black and white cat from two doors down and the distant clank of the bin wagon.

Friday 23rd March

Fur Inn day but William is unwell. I've been up since 8 am but he has not yet put in an appearance let alone a request for breakfast or leave to inspect the Northern territories.. A quick search finds him curled in a tight ball on the guest bed. As I approach he unfurls slightly and starts a barely discernible purr. An attempt to pick him up meets with gentle but very firm resistance. Oh dear. A phone call postpones his arrival at the Fur Inn until the afternoon. Around lunch time he slopes downstairs for a quick bite and a 2 minute peek outdoors before resuming the blanket protest for such it now appears. Hmm - I had been very careful not to leave the travelling basket lying around but perhaps the careless mention of "William" and "cattery" in the same sentence while phoning Daughter No 2 the night before was prescient enough. At 4 o'clock time is running out so I hardened my heart and bundle him into the basket. William has always enjoyed a car ride and, front paws nonchalantly crossed and eyes half shut, today seems no exception. What a pleasant change from his erstwhile kennel companion, the unfortunate George(ina) who unfailing lost control of one or both ends of her anatomy before I had even changed into 4th gear. The Fur Inn turns out to be not only a cat and small animal hostelry but also a busy livery stable with plenty of interesting equine coming and goings and William perks up considerably. I leave him happily inspecting his 5 star guest accommodation and drive home feeling a bit of a fool.

Saturday 24th March

Up at 7 am to allow enough time to become sufficiently compos mentis to drive the Pretender to friends on the south coast. I have promised to do this to justify purchase of aforementioned vehicle. Mission accomplished without any untoward events save the purchase of some scalding and poisonous coffee from motorway services south of Winchester. We arrive too early and take our hosts by surprise, leaving us at leisure to inspect their recently purchased Edwardian maisonette. Spread over 2 upper levels with big rooms, high ceilings and panoramic views from large casement windows this new flat is a gem. Forgetting my previous paeans to modern living, I am instantly in love and hatching plans to find a similar property for ourselves while conveniently overlooking the misery and discomfort caused by 6 months of replastering, rewiring and redecorating. Brian says he likes it too but on return to Middletown such lofty ambitions are forgotten in the Herculean effort required in deciding between 2 models of new kitchen sink. Better to visit and enjoy vicarious period pleasures, perhaps, especially if all our hosts are as generously hospitable.

Monday 26th March

Have arranged to pick William up at 4 pm so plenty of time for a swim to combat the excesses of the weekend. After a couple of lengths it becomes apparent that my arms and legs are not working very efficiently and feel as it they are filled with lead shot. Move from the medium to the slow lane where I bump, almost literally, into some old friends and swim for a further 45 mins without noticeable effort as we get "caught up" Collect William from the cat hotel where he has obviously had a very satisfactory sojourn. Try to make a booking for 2 further long weekends but no room at the Inn so am forced to resort to another establishment where they can only squeeze him into the annex, a converted caravan. Am totally out of touch with the overwhelming demand for pet accommodation. Make mental note not to discuss these arrangements within William's hearing or to at least refer to the caravan as the Fur Inn Mark 2.

Wednesday 28th March

Miss the bus into town by 30 seconds. Decide to take a little detour around the estate and almost miss a second bus which arrives 7 minutes early. Better make the most of this super-efficient service while it lasts. Enjoy a leisurely coffee with a friend and former neighbour, spend a small fortune on Easter cards and catch the bus home. Realise do not feel well and join William in bed - not the same one though as the Master bedroom is virtually a feline no go area while I continue to share it with the night time bellower. Even when at work his evil presence still prevails, apparently. It certainly does at 6 o'clock when Brian returns home to discover both wife and cat fast asleep and no sign of dinner preparations except for a slab of half defrosted mince on the kitchen counter top.

Saturday 31st March

Brian is off to Houston on Monday, not sure if I am envious of not. To be honest, I think I might find it somewhat surreal although visiting with Texan friends would be a bonus. I content myself with composing a comprehensive Walmart wish list. Co-incidentally it will be exactly 4 years since we made our second "look see" visit and sealed the deal, so to speak. As he will be way until Easter, Brian has prepared a little treat by way of a visit to some "lovely little lambs" which he has previously chanced upon while running the perimeter of Onceuponafarm Estate. When we get to the field, just half a mile from our front door there is, predictably, nothing to see. Brian is put out but after a few minutes of not very patient waiting one by one some not very attractive grey woolly creatures crest the brow of the hill and a fairly respectable flock of mums and offspring assembles in front of us, staring balefully. Camera at the ready, Brian is waiting to capture some gambolling and frolicking but non is forthcoming. "Mint sauce, mint sauce" he suddenly shouts in an oddly convoluted attempt at encouragement. The lambs rush headlong down the hill, I stare in shock and total bewilderment while a grizzled old matriarch loudly and furiously denounces B as a cross between Hannibal Lecter and a character with certain ovine predilections from an early Woody Allen film. We troop home in silence where a nerve-calming cup of Earl Grey and the promise of a husband free week is treat enough for me. William fervently agrees but sadly he is as yet unaware that the first week of April brings the tooth overhaul, preceded by an overnight fast followed several overnight visitors with more pressing claims to the Merchant guest suite then even a much put upon puddy tat. Fortunately, as I write, the bed is at last being reconstructed in the sadly neglected pink bedroom and with a few inspired home décor touches such as the removal of the vacuum cleaner and Brian's toolbox, it might just provide an acceptable temporary bolthole.

Sunday April 1st

Brian finds a free CD featuring the movie music hits of Ennio Morricone hidden in the pages of the Sunday Times and promptly terrorises an unsuspecting William with a particularly nerve jangling version of the theme from "The Good the Bad and the Ugly", causing him to involuntarily spray little portions of Felix "Looks like Homemade" (not in this house) beef dinner all across the kitchen floor as he bolts, as Brian appositely remarks, like a speeding bullet from a gun to the safety of his bean bag hideaway. The look William gives me as I tenderly inquire as to the state of his mental health says it all - "How much longer till Monday"? Better a day at the vets than one more second of that infernal creation - or its biggest fan. Brian protests that he is only "getting in the mood for Texas". Who does he think he's kidding? There's a far greater likelihood of a show down in the kitchen at 22 Convenience Close than in the corridors of the Houston Hilton. And, Brian should take note, in the original Italian title of this famous spaghetti western The Bad translates as Il Cattivo. Now who's choking on his pasta?

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