Where is the humanity? Where is the mercy?

This is the most important blogpost you will read in October. Please – read, digest and share.

This is what your taxes are paying for …

Phil's Boring Blog

EVEN DALEKS UNDERSTAND MERCY. But not, it seems, the DWP, the Department for Work and Pensions.

That’s the conclusion I reached this week as I signed yet another cheque from 5 Quid for Life for someone whose benefits have been axed after a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). No matter that they’ve been diagnosed with mental health difficulties which affect their ability to hold down a job: the DWP’s decision makers decided that they’re capable of some type of work and can therefore no longer be paid Employment and Support Allowance, ESA:

Because your work capability assessment shows that you can do some type of work this means we can't pay you ESA... Because your work capability assessment shows that you can do some type of work this means we can’t pay you ESA…

No matter that they’re out of work with no job prospects on the horizon: they’re capable of some type of work and can therefore no longer be paid ESA.

No matter that this leaves them without enough…

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For Greg and all who loved him

Reblogging because tonight, on the second anniversary of Greg’s death, this has sadly never been more relevant 😦

confessions of a serial titflasher

Last weekend I lost a friend. He slipped through my hands just at the last moment, at the point where things were so bad for him, they simply had to get better.

He had what I believed to be an irrepressible spirit. He was a musician, a writer, a saver of souls, and people and animals.

Although in my head I knew we were losing him, my heart could not believe he would take himself away from life completely. My heart believed that with enough love and a glimmer of hope, he would somehow miraculously wind himself up the rope he dangled from and come back to us.

Everyone always says “oh he was a good person” when someone dies. They say it automatically, even if the miserable excuse for a human being was in reality a wife-beating thug who kicked kittens every day.

But in truth, Greg was good…

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Dear Kayla

Dear Kayla I’m using your real name in the vain and pointless hope that one day you will read this.

I know you are about 10/11 years old in 2015, that you like pretty things, startlingly adult perfume, that you love your cuddly toys but also sparkles, beads, trinkets.

I think that you may have lived in Holland Road, South Norwood or in the immediate neighbourhood. I know that you are doing well at school, well enough to get an award.

I know that your favourite colours are bright ones. I think you are probably very loved, given what I found.

You see, T and I run an animal rescue.  To try and fund it, we buy and sell second hand stuff. We’ve become adept at spotting skips, rubbish in front gardens, flytipped things (we have little shame, needs must and all that) and so we spotted a group of black bags outside a group of flats, which are council-owned.

Gleefully, we stopped the car, leapt out and had a look.  A few things were outside the bags, slightly damp from the rain, but saleable. Inside the bags, we found toys.

Not unusual as often parents in this neighbourhood leave toys out for people to take if they want.  But these were in bags, not left on the top of a fence with a note saying “please help yourself”.

These toys had just been shoved in the bags, no thought to the love they have been shown, bare patches of fake fur rubbed off with proximity to a young girl’s cheek, one eye replaced.

There was no respect and it was then that my unease grew.

Because you see Kayla, when I got to the bottom of the bag and found your trinkets, your perfume, your friendship bracelet, your diary, I realised exactly what had happened.

No parent would throw out these personal things.  No parent who gave you such lovely toys would stuff them in a bag and leave them like refuse

No parent would scoop up a child’s jewellery and throw these at the bottom of a rubbish bag, to rot.

No parent would half crumple and discard last year’s hard won certificate of merit.

And certainly, no parent would continue to fill a bag with the little things that find their way to the cracks and crevices of drawers.

Your things were clearly put in those bags by people who didn’t give a hoot about them.

Just coldly cleared a young girl’s room out and dumped the things she loved on the pavement outside, like so much trash.

I knew then Kayla, you were the victim of an eviction.

Did you know Kayla, were you there?  God I hope not.

Did you come home from school and find yourself locked out?  God I hope that didn’t happen either.

Did your parent/s fetch you, tell you you were homeless?

Did they tell you, your stuff was gone?

And where are you now?

I know the council, having had its budget cut two years ago and about to have it cut again, have no spare housing.

I know neighbouring boroughs are not dissimilar.  I know you could be anywhere, just now.

I know that the soup kitchen queues are getting longer and longer.

I know that further cuts to benefits, the ones that probably cripped your mum, your dad or both of them, are on the way.

My heart broke for you, not just because of a little girl whose things were stolen from her, but for all the boys and girls out there in similar positions.

I had no idea what to do.

What I wanted to do was find you and give you back your things but I had no way of knowing your surname, no way of finding a forwarding address.

I didn’t even know for sure whether your stuff had been dumped outside your address because it was flytipped and no bailiff with half a brain would dump where he had evicted someone, when being paid to dispose of legally.

To take some things would be capitalising on your situation and to leave them would be to let them moulder on the pavement.

We opened every bag, to try and find something, anything to identify you, to be able to trace you.

Beyond anger, beyond grief, in tears, we went through every one of your belongings but all I had in the end was your stuff and your first name.

I wanted to tell you that not every person voted for the Tories, who through their cuts and demonisation of people on benefits, were responsible for this.

I wanted to tell you that not everyone would think your parent/s feckless for having a child they later could not afford to support, thanks to faceless, harsh benefit caps.

I wanted to bring your stuff to you, to give you something, anything back, to clean it all up and cast it back to you, so you had something to hold onto, over the years ahead, which may well be bleak ones.

I wanted to give you your replaced-eye teddy back, so you had something to hold, through the nights of a shelter, or the hardness of a sleeping bag on someone’s floor.

In the end, we thought it was best not to leave all your things there.

We thought it was best that if we couldn’t reunite you with your belongings that the best we could do was to ensure that some good came out of this.

I couldn’t bear to keep your certificate, it felt like theft.

I can’t give you back your home or the sense of security that has been forcibly removed from you.

I can’t kick the people who invaded your bedroom withot respect or human emotion.

I can’t stop this government from doing this over and over and over again, to thousands of children like you.

All I can do, is try and keep a little part of you safe.

So, I kept the little mirror surrounded by beads and threads.

One day perhaps, I’ll meet you.  Perhaps you’ll be grown up by then, with children of your own.

But I’ll have kept it safe for you and give it back to you because I cannot, no matter how much I want to, give you the life you had back.

And I cannot, no matter how much I debate sensibly or shout and scream, get the electorate of this country to care enough to stop these over-privileged bunch of self-serving psychopaths from destroying the lives, dreams and security of children up and down the country.

I’m sorry Kayla, truly I am …

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Losing Dad … a decade on

Ten years ago today, I was about to board a plane to Plymouth, having rearranged it after making a trip to see my father a few weeks before in South Africa, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  It was just after the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London and security at the airport was high, with lots of testosterone-filled, armed policemen.

I travelled a great deal for work in those days, the length and breadth of the country, and not without mishap.  My boss at the time was brilliant and he was both a little in awe of the scrapes I could get into whilst travelling and sometimes benignly irritated.

Some of these were absolutely my own fault, some were helped along by providence.  My father thought they were hilarious and often ventured the thought how a highly organised person who, as he said it “could command the attention and respect of 90 people in different locations across the country to run their sites exactly as she wanted” could end up, for instance, booking herself on a flight to Ireland the day before she was actually due to fly.

His response to my email about getting to the airport, realising my mistake and begging an over-tired booking desk clerk with 4am eyes to “please for the love of God, get me on the next flight to Belfast” before discovering I had neglected to bring my passport, engendering another round of anxious over-emotional enquiries as to how I was actually going to be allowed on the plane was simply this:

Travel blues

If you plan a trip across the sea to Ireland
Then maybe…… before you get to close your door
You will stop and check upon your tickets
And find you left the very day before.

Then there was the trip to Manchester that took far longer than it should have (but being an organised person, I had got up an hour earlier and left myself an hour’s grace before my meeting), which left me just enough time to dash into the client’s office with my presentation, which was … several hundred miles away, at home … still linked up to my internet.  I’d helpfully brought the bag along so at least had a mouse.

The day was salvaged by the fact I’d sent my colleague a copy of it and I presented it from her laptop … but I was rendered workless by its absence and spent the time trying to look busy, whilst my inbox filled up.  It was the days before blackberries were common so all I could do was take phone calls, including one from my boss – “have you seen that email …”.  I decided to go home early in disgust, getting on a train that, unbeknown to me had been late on arrival and the staff had thought it best to get it straight back into operation, without replenishing catering.

I had a seven hour journey back to London in the height of summer on a train that contained not even a bottle of water, but did have a broken down airconditioning system and no opening windows.

I then traversed a London fraught with tube and train problems before staggering in at midnight.  The day was truly ended for me by going out to feed the foxes in the pitch dark, tripping over a large plant pot and ending up face-down in the muddy remnants of the summer shower that presaged my arrival home.

Dad, whose nightshifts were legendary, was still up as I pinged him a quick email and he responded with “go to bed, go directly to bed, do not do ANYTHING else”.

Whenever I flew home, Dad would stay up all night and track the flight on the internet.  When he finally got a mobile, I would always be greeted by a text when I landed at Joburg – normally along the lines of “don’t forget to collect your luggage”.  Once, I arrived on a four hours late connecting flight in the height of the Christmas season, my internal flight long gone and landed in Durban by the time I got there.

The airport was beyond chaotic and I sent Dad a text to explain the situation and that I was in the world’s longest queue for a new flight, which were being offered on standby only due to the sheer number of people whose journeys had been snafued.

I got a series of texts back, directing me to a slightly shorter queue with a lady “who has long brown hair with a red clip in it and the loveliest voice” who would hand over the tickets he had bought for me when, at 3am, he realised my flight was not going to land in time.

Not only had he bought them for me, he had then stayed up to talk to the booking staff at SAA in Johannesburg and got the lady to describe herself so that I could identify, in the chaos, who had my tickets for a flight that afternoon.  He advised me to check in asap.  I did.

When we were kids, I under-estimated how much “just happened” because my Dad would keep a watchful eye on us.  Sometimes he seemed to be everywhere, just in time to catch us as we fell, or warn us to avoid the drop.

As an adult, I often relied on, but never took for granted, his ongoing care of me, even as I lived on the other side of the world.

My Dad was born in the 1930s, my Mum in the 1940s.  They had a very traditional relationship, with very split male-female roles.  They managed to produce very modern children.

I hid for a while the fact that my partner and I were living together until it became so obvious it was unavoidable.  My Dad asked me why I did that and I took him back to a conversation we had had as a teenager where he had warned me about co-habiting.

“No” he roared over the airwaves, “I didn’t say don’t live together, I just said don’t live together in a man’s home, because if the relationship doesn’t work, you’ll lose everything”.

“R lives in your house, so that’s fine”.

Dad had an irrepressible sense of humour and loved the electronic age.  He taught himself how to use a computer and once email came into play (much cheaper than faxing), there was nothing to stop him communicating any time he wanted to do so.

I will regret to my dying day not thinking to keep the emails he sent to various work addresses as long conversations about various serious and also completely fictitious things would occur, randomly and go on for days.

There was the whole saga of the dwarves living under his desk, who he blamed for creating the mess that inevitably surrounded it – fag ash, discarded paper, coffee cups and in the middle of it all, the tiny hoover I had bought him, to try and prolong the life of his oft-breaking keyboards who all seemed to succumb early to a mixture of coffee and ash, still pristine in its packaging.

There was the time that my sister, on hearing I had probably met the man I wanted to marry, raised the issue of “how do you know when” with Dad, which started the most tender conversation about the nature of love at first sight and how it had only happened twice to him and he had married both women.

His first marriage was for him, a shameful piece of his history, not because he did anything bad but because it was for him, a personal failure.

His first wife’s family, who adored him, were still in contact and were presented on their various visits and phone calls, as extended family which was fine when we were children but engendered questions as we got older.  We each found out in different ways, by mistake, an overheard conversation and it was only in later years that he was able to talk about it comfortably.

My mother thought it was hilarious.  His first wife’s name was Cynthia, her’s was Eve.  He once made the mistake of calling Mum by his first wife’s name (to be fair, the topic of conversation had just been the welfare of Cynthia’s mother), leading her to tell everyone that he couldn’t tell the difference between “Evil and Cyn”.

Dad, like me, had a long rope for people.  You could keep on and keep on letting him down but at some point he was going to let go of that rope and never look back.

It was with Cynthia’s family that this happened most abruptly.  She and her brother were in Johannesburg, with her Mum, Mrs Brown.  Other relatives were still living in Zimbabwe, somewhat precariously.

For someone who made the law his life’s work, he had an unbridled, ongoing irritation with it and was never afraid to break laws he felt were stupid and unnecessary.

P and A had been married for years and he sadly passed away after a return of the cancer which he had survived some time ago.  She was stranded in Zim, with no way to get from there to Australia, where her surviving son lived.

Dad stepped in and wrote several letters to the authorities, claiming she was his cousin and had rights of entry into South Africa, breaking several laws in the process.  It worked and not only did she fly to South Africa and then to her son, but Dad scraped together the money that got Mum and my sister up to Johannesburg, to meet her off the plane and ensure that poor, distraught lady left the country with a proper goodbye and onto the right aircraft.

During the arranging of this, Dad’s best friend and Cynthia’s brother, took offence to Dad doing what he should have been doing and sent an email around to various family members, telling them he was a sentimental old fool.  Sadly, he also copied in Dad.

Dad, very hurt, withdrew.  My mother, absolutely incensed because G had all the means at his disposal to help the lady and no inclination to do it, leaving it to the “sentimental old fool” to save her life, wrote back not to him, but to everyone on the email list, telling him exactly what she thought of him, in very singular terms.

Dad never bothered to speak to him again.

In his later years, he started a business with the help of the Legal Resources Centre in Durban, writing legal manuals on the laws affecting Black people in South Africa, selling these to universities, libraries, schools and government offices.

He and I found endless humour in the fact that he often broke the law, more often in order to help someone, less often just because he damned well could.

His early years as a policeman in Zimbabwe earned him a full driver’s licence for cars, trucks, motorcycles and everything with wheels, stopping short only at trains.  Post-apartheid, a new law came in which meant that every driver had to apply for a new driver’s licence, costing them several hundred rands.  Dad refused to do this and spent the last five or so years of his driving life doing so illegally.

His love of people and of life kept him young and as his body aged, his mind did not.  Whilst he got grumpier he also retained an amazing sense of humour.  When I was planning my marriage, unsure as to what to do with a guest who was known for getting drunk and coming onto women, he suggested a guest placement in my garden which would make it easy for someone to push him into the conifer bushes or, as he put it:

“i.e. locate such putative offenders in the immediate proximity of the conifers…. into which they may be neatly “brushed off” or “accidentally” tipped and thereafter abandoned to await rescue at a convenient moment……if ever”

This particular email, several pages long was ended with:

Have found myself pontificating…..
Will continue later……….

The response to a fraught,irritated email from me, whilst juggling work, home, meetings and cats, finding the time to dash out to put money in Dad’s bank account, only to discover that I had the wrong number was this:

What happened is that somebody extracted their digit. This was so unusual that confusion reigned thereafter. So I have put it back.

When my brother, in the height of the war he started with my father, sent him an email hysterically accusing him of ruining his life and chasing away all the girls who had ever loved him, my father refuted this by making a list of all his girlfriends and rated them charmingly and appropriately.

The one he rated above all was the entirely unsuitable lady who had two kids.  I’m not sure whether he ever sent the list to him, but it made me snort with laughter.

Going back to that day, 10 years ago, as I stood at Gatwick, waiting for my flight to Plymouth, my mind was occupied by organising my workload for the following month, and I was making arrangements to be able to go back to SA and work from there as far as possible.  I’d said to my boss just the day before that I was going to put everything in motion and then go home, coming back only once Dad had died.  He had kindly agreed to give me whatever time off I needed.

I had been comforted by the fact that after his admission to hospital, Dad had rallied and the matron I had spoken to at the weekend had said he had “several months” yet.

So when the call came through from my brother to say my father had just died, I responded in shock as much as grief and looked for a quiet place, any place, where I could talk to him, then make the inevitable arrangements that would cancel my next few days of meetings and the meeting I was due to attend when I landed.

Not really noticing the armed policemen, I had not realised the picture I presented to them, my laptop in a rucksack, at an airport, having an emotional conversation on the phone, a few days after the worst terrorist atrocity ever in London.

As I wheeled away from people and policemen, I gathered a following of men with guns and as I found a spot, I finished the conversation with my brother and looked up to find myself pretty much cornered. I’m probably lucky I don’t look that middle-eastern because when I yelled at them to fuck off, my father had just died, they didn’t shoot me but instead apologetically searched my belongings before I was able to call my client in Plymouth, my boss and various other people who needed to know I was not going to be available for the next week or so.

It was pretty much the ultimate travel-related snafu which being “nearly got shot by anti-Terrorism branch”, rated higher than Ireland, higher than Manchester.

Somehow, I suspect my father would have simultaneously approved and called me a stupid cow :).

Ten years without such a large, wonderful personality in my life has been hard.

Knowing that there is no-one truly looking out for me in the way he did, even harder.

My father transformed a childhood in which he was raised to be normal and not stick his head above the parapet for anyone or anything into a joyful, sad, spirited conquering of the world in which he lived.

Raised to be a posh twit by a mother whose background and his birth cast her in the shadows, forever to be an outcast even in the most middle class of society, throwing it off to use his education and his voice to stand up for people in all sorts of ways, teaching himself computering in his late 50s, responding to several threats and attempts to shut him up, some of them permanently with humour, making a mockery of their anger and fear, he remains for me a shining example of what you can accomplish if you truly do not give a flying duck about anyone’s opinion of you.

My mother said of Dad, some years after he died, when I was teasing her that it was time to find a toyboy, that he was like a saint – “impossible to live with and just as impossible to replace”.

I rather suspect she was right.

Here’s to you Dad! I bloody hope they have Laphroaig wherever you are now xxx

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Felix joined us in the spring of 2001.  I’d seen her eating the foxes’ dinner in the garden, a sturdy, solid black and white cat with the most adorable markings – it looked like God had painted a line across both legs.  When she stood up, the slash of black met exactly where her legs separated.

I knew very little of her story except she was an obvious stray.  Her head green from the moss she used to sleep in under my lilac tree, she avoided the cats I had and me and only really emerged at fox dinner time.  Somewhere I have a marvellous piece of video, of Felix and Mommi Fox, eating together, their heads in the plate side by side.

Dad came over in the autumn of 2002 and called her the Pain Cat as it was clear she wanted to move in.  The previous winter, she had slept on the top shelf of my conservatory, snuggled away, catching the late sun’s rays for warmth and it appeared she hoped I would not notice her.  She wasn’t particuarly keen on making friends.

I couldn’t let her see out another cold winter sleeping on a box on a shelf so gradually started to entice her indoors.  Surprisingly, she didn’t need a lot of coaxing and was quite prepared for my lot, who gave her a bit of a hard time.  It was before the days of the boys and Guin being used to strange cats in the house and a fair amount of hissyspittythatsMYcouchGERROF went on for a few days.  She gave as good as she got and soon settled in.  My Dad, on hearing me explain that I now had a fourth cat, sighed and said “I told you he’d do it”.

He had to be revised to “she” and Felix became Felicia at her first vet visit :).  It never caught on though and she was quite happy to be called Fee or Felix or Feefihunnybum.

As she was used to being outdoors, she was the first cat I let out in the morning and called for at night and she was as regular as clockwork.  Until a year later when she didn’t come home.  The next day, I went around the neighbourhood, dropping flyers in people’s posboxes and putting posters up.  I went around to the allotments to ask if they had seen her and was greeted by “oh, you’re the lady who took her in.  We thought someone had, as she is looking so much better”.  I then got to hear some of her story:

She had been abandoned by a family (the only desription I have is that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses) who lived on the other side of the allotments, and subsequently  looked after by an old man called Frank, who had held his allotment for many years, through the war, through raising a family and having them fly the nest and through his wife dying.  He was lonely, he saw Felix hunting amongst the plots one night, where she had up until then been an infrequent visitor and recognising loneliness, realised what had happened.

He started feeding her and she became his muse and his love.  Every day, he would walk around to the allotments and she would be there to greet him.  He’d made a cup of coffee on his stove and she would sit on his knee and have great conversations with him, him with his soothing words and well-worn hands and she with her bright eyes and face and great purr.

Soon she was adopted into the life there, with good people who always kept an eye out for her.  She retained her hunting skills, she was loved and wanted as much for her ratting as her lovely personality and she started walking around looking at everyone’s plots, as if inspecting them.

She only ever once blotted her copybook, when she was found fast asleep on someone’s prize shallots and they only once blotted hers, when she came too close to inspect a hole that was being dug and got accidentally clipped over the head with a spade.

When meetings were held, she would join everyone in the hall, sitting on Frank’s knee or on a chair next to him.  When a bonfire lit up the autumn sky, she would be found near to it, her eyes tigerish in the flames.

She had an idyllic life for a cat – in winter she would sleep in the warmth of one of the number of compost piles, in the summer, on newly turned over beds.  She and Frank spent many hours together in the Springs, planning what they would plant and she would dance around the flowers in the summer, as if admiring them.

When competition time came around, she’d escort the judges onto every plot, as if introducing each one to them.

One day, Frank died.  I am not sure whether he died at home or died on the allotments but suddenly there was no one to care for her, no lap to sit on, no planning to do, no conversation to be had.  Only Felix, bereft all over again, sitting by herself in the sun, as if unsure of her reception now that he had gone.

The allotment holders fretted over what to do.  Whilst fretting, they stroked her, cuddled her, tried to make her feel welcome.  Soon she settled back into her routine, but a little quieter and with some of the happy light gone out of her eyes.

A year passed and then another, whilst everyone debated and agreed that she loved the allotments and it would be cruel to take her away from them.  None of the group who lived around the edges of it could take her, having their own cats who would not appreciate an interloper or having allergies.  However she seemed healthy and happy so the situation was left.

Time moved on and as the seasons rolled into winter, she started getting thinner and older and concern rose again.  No-one wanted to see her going to a rescue and going into a cage in the hope that she might find a nice home with someone who wanted an older cat.

She was as free as a bird on the plots. But she needed something more than another set of winters where the ground and water would freeze and the winds would make a fully clothed person shiver.

Just at the point where she was looking a bit too thin and a bit too ragged and the decision all but made to call up a rescue, she started looking better and there was a great relief felt.  Unbeknown to them, she had moved in with us.  As time went on, she spent her days on the allotments but disappeared at night and one day someone heard me calling “Feeeeeliiiiiix Fooodeeees” and she bounced up and away and the mystery was solved.

The whole time the story was being told, in bits and pieces by the people gathered around me, my “missing” cat was sitting on a shed roof in the sun, eating a rat and looking rather pleased with herself.  I told her to come in for dinner and in she duly came, eating a full dinner despite her rat snack.

Not however before I had taken several phone calls from people who had missing black and white cats and picked up a note put through my door to call the Working Mens’ Club, which was on the far corner of the allotments, near the main road.

Confusion reigned as I wasn’t sure why I was calling them and also when I realised that the person I was speaking to knew me.  I had put my address on the poster and it had been recognised.  The person I was calling said “that isn’t Len Roger’s granddaughter is it?  I heard you had bought the house off his family.”

Indeed it was me and the person I was speaking to had been a great friend of my step-Grandfather’s and taken a lot of time and trouble to visit him in his last years.  He told me not to worry about Felix – he had seen her that morning at breakfast.  Apparently, she would leave mine, go across to the Working Mens’ Club, have bacon and eggs there with some of the allotment holders and then go over to the plots for the day.

The plot holders were so pleased she had a home and one in which she could still be a part of the allotments.  I, seeing what a lovely place it was asked about a plot but unfortunately there was a huge waiting list.

Several years later, I got one.  I rather imagine Felix had a fair amount to do with it.

Felix, with both her worlds merging, was ecstatic and the moment I set foot on the ground would come running towards me, greeting me loudly and lead me toFelix enjoying the sun and showing her stunning colouration my plot.  We had a schedule.  I’d put a chair and table out and open my flask of tea and she would sit on my lap whilst I drank it, drinking the dregs once cool.

I’d work, she’d inspect and then we would take a break together. I had the allotment from 2004 until 2012 and we spent many hours together there.

There was the day she came proudly out of the long grass to show me her catch which was massive. I’m not sure whether it was a rat or not because it was huge and because there were bits missing but I shooed her away (I am fond of rats) and she re-emerged some time later, her mouth ringed with grey fur, to jump up and give me a kiss.

For both of us, it was time away from home and the other cats, where she got undivided attention and love. Its fair to say Felix blossomed.  I wasn’t sure how old she was but put her age as around the same as the boys, who were 6 when I started the plot.

Time moved on, Oscar came to live with us and many a scrap was had over the allotment territory.  They got on okayish at home but he had to stay well away from her on the plots or else there was hell to pay.

Gradually though, he won more and more of  the territory and they would glower at each other, from the borders of it, with the path running between the plots a “nocatsland”.

One day, I walked into the front rooSNARL Felix Oscarm and got a shock.

Felix and Oscar were curled up on the sofa.

Felix looked like she was laughing at Oscar, who was greatly perturbed but welcoming of the cuddle.

Felix disgraced herself a few times over the years. She loved catnip and I successfully grew a whole lot one year before she trashed it all in one day, coming in high as a kite and warbling.

SNARL FelixI took this photo earlier that same day, when she was “helping” me sort out seedlings at home.  To say she loved her nip was an understatement.

I underestimated what an idyllic life we had in those days.  My health was better, I was still able to dig and plant and we worked hard the two of us – her ratting and me hoeing; watching the sun go down after a long day and then I would walk the long way around and she would jump over the fence and be there to greet me as I got home.

The winter after my father died and my husband left was hard.  It was cold, unforgiving and the tears I wept over both thawed the frost-laden ground.  Felix was a great comforter.  The allotment folk, recognising pain when they saw it, gave me space as I railed against an unfair world, digging and snivelling.  Felix did no such thing, sticking by my side like glue.

Keeping me cheered at home was a little robin who would follow me around the garden, chirping as if he was talking to me.  He had a mate, a little brown robin who was more reticent, but who dutifully followed him, a few hops behind, as he followed me.

In the Spring, one day whilst I was washing up, Felix walked into the kitchen and proudly deposited his body onto my bare feet and was most perturbed as to why I was upset when she clearly had brought me a present.

I stood there with the poor bird still on my feet and realised that snotty shouting wasn’t going to change anything and was jst confusing the hell out of her.  From a cat’s point of view, she had seen me near him all winter, unable to “catch” him, so did it for me.

In a calmer voice, I told her what a good cat she was and congratulated her and asked her to take it outside.  This she did, neatly picking the poor bird up off my feet and noisily eating it outside.

After I left the allotments, she visited there less and less and occasionally I would get a call asking if she was okay.  She was clearly ageing, but gracefully so, her years living rough and her muscle tone helping.

She is the only cat I have ever known who would nestle next to me without going through the whole settling down, tamping away period.  She would snuggle up, my arm would go around her and she would lie down, with no fuss, purring away.

My kitchen tap downstairs is partially kaput and only gives out warm water.  Soon she was asking for warm water upstairs too.  It had to be a particular temperature (baby bottle warm, tested with my elbow, the way I used to test my brother’s and sister’s bottles) otherwise she’d sniff, sit back down, indicate her disapproval with a meow and we’d be asked to do it again.  Of course, we did.

Felix pretending to be a plush toy

Felix pretending to be a plush toy

Felix had a particular fondness for men and whilst she would cuddle up to me, in the main, it was men who visited who got most of her attention.  She even preferred male cats, apart from Jaggie, with whom, up until today, she was still capable of and willing to, exchange words, paws and spit with.

She loved the luxury of a warm bed, even better when there were human water bottles in it.

The flash of black across her paws is just evident in this photo as is her gorgeous, lush tummy fur which enticed you until you got four sets of claws around your hand for your trouble.

It was only on talking four years ago to two ladies who live down the road from me, who are also longtime allotment holders that the first clue as to Felix’s actual age came about.

I had always asssumed that Frank had died only a year or two before Felix came to live with me.  I knew she had been left as an adult and had been spayed, so had calculated backwards to estimate that she had been about 1 when dumped and a few years with Frank meant 3-5 when she came to stay with us.

As it turned out, that calculation was all wrong.  Frank had died several years previous to her coming to live with me and she and he had spent several years together.  At the time of the conversation, I had to add 6 years to her age.

Also, no-one was sure exactly how old she was when she was dumped.  I was flabbergasted.  It had only been in the previous year that she had shown any signs of ageing at all.  I basically had an at least nineteen year old cat who looked 12/14.

In all that time, she had been ill only once.  So when we took her to the vet the other day, she was less than impressed.  When she went back for a checkup, she was even less than impressed with any of us.

The vet remarked on how lively she was despite having no really discernible kidneys and so thin.  She growled at him in a voice that she had only previously reserved for Jaggie-in-a-snit.

The last few weeks have been trying to strike a balance between letting her do her own thing and keeping her safe.  She went outside this weekend briefly both days, shepherded by Merlin.

Last night I took  her outside where she would be more comfortable and watched over her whilst she slept in the grass.

Whilst she has had an incredibly happy life, the loss of her is tremendous.

She made a space for herself in a home which was full of CatsAmongstCats; she challenged Oscar for years until she gracefully conceded her territory to live closer to home, she loved Mommi Fox, who would share her dinner with Felix and tolerated the foxes who came after her.

Even last night, she tried to get up to watch the cubs as they came over for dinner, giving up when her left paw just wouldn’t get up with her, her face pointed in their direction as they enjoyed their noms.

Choosing when to put a cat to sleep is probably the hardest decision I will ever make.  I still think I should have given Guin a day or so to give her the chance to recover and I still think I should have let Arthur go a day sooner.

It’s never perfect and I prayed my ass off last night that Bast would just take her whilst we were outside, to avoid me having to do this again, for the third time in six months.

Such a selfish thought amongst so many memories, but in truth, I did not want to put her through the trauma of a carrier, the vets, another cat put to death whilst her love for her life shone through her eyes, even as her body was giving up.

I guess in the end, all I have to say is this:

“Frank, I’ve taken care of and adored your beautiful girl for thirteen years.  In return, she has given me love and cuddles and care, dead robins on my feet and rat kisses.  I think that’s a fair exchange.

You’ve got her back now and whilst I am bereft, it’s a lovely thing to think that she might be sitting right now on your knee, as you drink your coffee and talk to her about the flowers you’ve planted. Take good care of her, because she is precious and she is mine as much as she is yours and I’ll be coming to claim her again, bringing my flask of tea with me and we can watch the sun go down, together, as she brings us her newest find and decides on whose lap she wants to sit today.”

Run free beautiful girl, you are so loved and will be missed beyond measure.


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Old post rediscovered: Things I never thought I’d hear myself saying …

The past five weeks or so have passed in a blur of Life! Love! Work! Cats! Drama! People! But along the way, there are several things which have passed my lips which I never thought I’d hear …

1. It’s okay, we’re not the police

A man and a woman get out of what looks like an unmarked police car, walk purposefully up the path and knock on your door.  You fearfully answer in broken English, denying any knowledge of the person they are looking for,  Yes, that was us.  Oops … Boobie the ex-police car still has that “Police persona” (it’s a total lie that when she passes emergency vehicles with their sirens on, she gets all excited, well … maybe, maybe not) and we did look a bit like a team … sorry poor lady who thought we were the cops … we haven’t yet found the person we were looking for but it’s just a matter of time …

Are you peeing on this, or eating it?

Me, to the cats, after Jaggie’s old owner gave me some cat biscuits as a thank you for looking after him, I put it in the hallway, forgetting that (a) Jaggie would help himself and (b) it was in Felix’s favourite pee spot …  silly Mommi …

Knock-knock “XX organisation”, just checking the toilets, sir (for the hundredth time)

Nearly two years, I am still barging into men’s toilets to check the quality of the cleaning.   I’ve seen more urinals than the average cottager, I’ve seen every single kind of behaviour in toilets (including a masturbating woman) and quite frankly, it’s time to move on …

Hello, RSPCA, can I leave a message for Inspector XX

Okay, I kind of expected I’d be ringing the same inspector (who incidentally, is brilliant) again sometime about the same set of people getting dogs, not treating them properly and wanting to then dump them … but honestly!!!!

Dear hoover, please, please, please work …

Not everyone can jam a hoover with a sock but I managed it.  My only consolation is that a friend of mine did exactly the same on the same day.  Not just me then … two broken nails and two wire coathangers later, it took two of us to take the thingiemahbub off the hosebit and retrieve the sock.  Yes those are technical terms.

Do you really, really have to?

Okay, I expected to say this at least once a month but I’ve lost count of how many times it has passed my lips when:

(i)      a clean litter tray means poop next to it

(ii)    Merlin jumps down off the boiler and scatters everything on the counter all over the kitchen floor

(iii)  Grumpy the Persian comes in covered in brick dust, bits of masonry and twigs (gods knows what he was doing)

(iv) Oscar plays his favourite autumn game of getting soaking wet, draping himself around my legs and then shaking like a dog.  He’s a big cat and can hold a lot of water.

(v) Merlin jumps on my back for the umpteenth time except he now uses claws to grab hold of me rather than balance (being a little aged bless him).

(vi) Kitty decides that Grumpy is really not the sort of cat she wants to live with and stalks him, over and over again until we both lose patience with her.

Apparently, yes, they DO have to :).

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To those of you who voted Tory … (yes that means you)

Those who know me well know that the recent election results have left me aghast, alarmed and pretty much heartbroken.

Those who know me well and who voted Tory, are really quite amused at what they perceive as my rather extreme reaction.

I am compelled to write this because every single Tory voter needs to understand what they have done and if you think this post is about you, it probably is.

You see, I don’t understand how anyone could vote Tory or not vote at all.  I understand voting Labour (as much as I can’t say I am a massive fan after Blair); I understand not being happy about the political system in the UK, which clearly doesn’t do what it is intended to do.  But it is all we have at the moment and any opportunity for change over the next five years has been lost, if you voted Tory or not at all.

I can understand voting for an Independent, voting Green, even voting for UKIP.  I get all that, as much as I will never agree with a UKIP vote.

What I don’t understand is why you would vote for a party who openly stands for things you don’t.

This is what is going to happen in the next five years.  This is not a list of Boudie’s predictions, this is what the Conservatives have promised:

(i) A repeal of the Hunting Act.  And they have more than enough MPs to do it now.  This means that when my partner goes out at the weekend to save animals from being torn apart by dogs, he will have no law behind him.

That won’t stop him but it will result in animals being torn apart by dogs and those who try to stop this will be arrested.  So you have voted for a party which will see my boyfriend (and many of my friends) treated like criminals.

You care about animals but you have ensured that those same animals are going to die, horrifically and those of us who try and protect them will be prosecuted.

Just as bad, I cannot get the police or RSPCA to investigate a group of lads who go out every couple of weekends and hunt with their dogs and post the photos and video on social media because the government gave the same people licences to kill badgers during the badger cull.  And until the culls are stopped, this will continue.  You voted for this.

(ii) Selling off large portions of the NHS.  If you are ill and need an operation, get in there NOW.  Because in a couple of years time unless you have private medical cover, you won’t get access to medical care.

In the US, people who fall ill with cancer, MS, ME, any number of life- or welfare- threatening illnesses often have to sell their homes in order to cover their costs.  Those who are not home owners and who have no private medical cover die because government care will not grant them expensive treatments like chemotherapy.  This is what will happen here and this is the future for which you have voted.

(iii) Benefits – we have had five years of people with long term physical or mental illnesses being demonised in the press and having their benefits taken away from them.  Many have died.  The Tories promised to further reduce the welfare bill which means that many more will die.

Some of you tell me what a lovely person I am because I help to run a small charitable trust that offers emergency funding to people who have lost their benefits because they are too ill to jump through the hoops that this government is putting them through to prove that they are too ill to work.  So you know this happening and you know that we needed to do this to try and save lives.  And yet, you have still voted for more of this.

Some of you have friends and family who claim benefits they shouldn’t and you know about this.  And you let it happen but will not grant the same mercy to someone who is fully entitled to those benefits and who needs them to survive.  How could you do that?

(iv) Public spending will be cut yet again.  So if you are a public servant, at best your workload will increase.  At worst, you’ll lose your job.  Also, your pension and your medical cover.  You voted for this.

(v) If you are a small businessperson, you will be paying tax.  You might have lost out on a number of contracts for work because outsourcing contracts tend to be offered to large companies who can provide services across the country.  Either you will have lost out because you can’t do that or you will have lost out because you can’t work to the  economies of scale that larger companies can.  The Tories promote this so you have voted for a party who will continue to deny you work and an income.

(vi) If you are worried about our public spending and wish to see large corporates pay more tax then you voted for the wrong party.  The Tories will continue to offer their friends who run these companies the opportunity of using tax havens and breaks because their mates give the Tory party funding.  This is public knowledge and yet, you voted for them.

I could go on and on and on … but here is what your vote means to me:

– It means that I am going to have to sit and watch over the next five years whilst a group of unmentionable young men tear animals apart and rub themselves with their entrails and blood, who post photos and video about how much damage their dogs sustain during these fights and how they patch their dogs up themselves, not always successfully, because they daren’t go to a vet.  And then watch as they are paid by the government to go and legally shoot badgers, often leaving them suffering for hours afterwards before they die. You voted for this.

– T and my lives will be in turmoil from the moment the Hunting Act is repealed as we will have to make decisions about whether we put ourselves at risk (and therefore also put at risk the welbeing of the animals we take care of) to try and save other animals from hideous deaths.  You voted for this.

– My best friend needs a kidney transplant and I never thought for a moment that her biggest worry might be that she’d have to pay for it.  If it happens in the next year she should be okay.  God help her if it happens in a couple of year’s time.  You voted for this.

– I lost my job last year, in the council’s attempt to save £10 million.  It brought me to the edge of destruction and I’m not even clear yet and with hope, might be in a year or two.  You voted for more of this.

– Several of my friends have been brought to the edges of their own destruction because they have been made to jump through hoops they had no hope of reaching.  So far, I haven’t lost one yet.  This is only because we have an awesome support network and also because we set up 5Quid for Life.

Over 80 suicide cases have been directly linked to the changes made to benefits by the Tories.  Over 60,000 people have died since being forced back to work.  This is going to happen over and over and over through the next five years.  Those people had families, loved ones, friends and some of those people’s deaths even made it into the press so you know about it.  I am going to lose people I love and you voted for this.

Forgive me if I distance myself from you for the moment, I am simply too heartbroken and too disappointed in you to engage with you on any level at all.

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Rest in peace my beautiful Arthur

Arthur Jenkin was born somewhere in South London and dumped with his three siblings, at my friend’s petshop. Walking by one day, with plans now that I owned my house, to get an older cat that no one wanted (for the cat) and a kitten (for me), I was drawn instead to a local petshop.

The last time I felt that sort of urge, which was also the last time I had stepped foot inside a petshop, I had found a three week old kitten, half comatose in a bird cage. So there was no way I was going to ignore the urge. A “Kittens for sale” sign was in the window and accompanied by a rather confused-at-my-I-hate-pet-shops-growl-and-subsequent-perambulation towards it, Sally, my friend and lodger, I marched into the shop.

A rather robust conversation ensued … our friends have heard the story 100s of times, about how I waltzed in, asked about kittens, discovered they were ill, demanded to see them, had a stand up fight with the owner, eventually getting my way and discovering that despite my worst fears, they were getting excellent care.

We were talking only yesterday how Marion chose me as their owner some time before I did. I checked on them every Saturday for weeks, as Marion battled to save all four, then as the girls stabilised, just the boys and then just Arthur as Merlin stabilised and he battled catflu, vision problems, hearing problems and was finally deemed well enough to rehome, with several reservations.

To describe him as a fighter, would do discredit to his loving nature. To describe him as a loving cat would belie the very fire in him that fought to survive.

And survive he did, from frail kitten to frail undersized cat, who always had biggie paws he never quite grew into. Several times, he nearly lost the battle. At 10 months, his first vet agreed to give it one more shot, warning that I would be doing well to get him to one, Merlin to 10.

I, guided by Arthur’s purr, his will to live and his determination to get up and wobble to the food bowl or the litter tray, or lift his head up when he saw me, no matter how ill he was, did whatever I could, culminating in a major turning point in both of our lives when I sat on the floor in my hallway and, with Arthur at my feet and a book in my lap, tried energy healing for the first time and felt it work out of me and into him and felt him accept it.

That night, he made noticeable improvement, astounding everyone. I always told him I wanted a little fat Arfie, not a skinny one and whilst he never ever got near fat, despite the copious amounts he ate, he filled out, his skin cleared up and his fur shone. He eventually developed a little tummy which I used to pat.

The first time he climbed halfway up the pear tree I cried from sheer happiness. The first time I spotted him on the conservatory roof, with Merlin I knew he was going to make it.

Aged about a year and half old, he was still frail when we were having Outsides one weekend afternoon and two strange foxes came into the garden. Aware that they were not “our foxes”, he took one look at them and gave chase, a tiny cat chasing two of the largest foxes I had ever seen. My visibility impaired by the trees, I ran upstairs and watched out of the window, my heart in my mouth, as he chased them two gardens away. When he turned to come back, they were still running. He ran back home, a smile of satisfaction on his tiny mouth.

As my life changed gradually from “woman with two cats” to “mad rescue woman” (https://titflasher.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/looking-back-in-fondness/), he loved and looked after all the frightened, sick and traumatised cats and kittens who found their way to my door. It is always wiser to keep new cats in quarantine for a while if you have resident cats, so Arthur spent many hours stretched out on the landing, purring through a closed door to the cats inside.

He cleaned kittens, played with them, showed them the litter tray, loved the fur of them, resulting in me making a promise I was never then able to keep https://titflasher.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/a-kitten-for-arthur/.

He and Merlin were a complete unit, Merlin the mischevious one, Arthur his rock. My father called them The Bookends, because they unconsciously mimicked each other, in mirror image; always like one cat in two bodies. Whether sitting on either side of the bay window, when I caught them unexpectedly up my curtains in the front room, side by side at the food bowls, curled up in each other’s paws on the sofa, wherever one was, the other would be.

When Guinevere arrived, I was worried their close bond would prevent them fully accepting her, but from the first moment they saw her, they opened their hearts to that tiny orphaned kitten and let her be queen.

When Merlin started to venture out the front, where he was strictly not allowed, Arthur would come and tell me, running to the front window or door and pointing with his nose and meeping until I brought him in, failing only once when Merlin ventured out front quickly late one afternoon and was attacked by a dog. He made it back home and underwent emergency surgery, staying at the vet for nearly 10 days. Arthur fretted the whole of the time and bopped his nose when he arrived home, stitched up like Frankenstein, before spending two weeks loving him back to health.

A legacy from their kitten days, they trusted me completely, one draped over each shoulder, or both on my back.  Up until a few weeks ago, Arthur was still climbing up people’s trousers to get on their back if he really liked them. It was an Arfie badge of honour if he did this.

They let me groom them eventually, and we made it into a game. I would yell “showcats” and they would come running, falling over each other to get under the brush or comb.

Always willing to get me up and well aware that I could sleep through anything, he would be me feline alarm clock. Lately, with my new waking up time, he had taken to waking me up at 5am every morning rather than six, something that was never welcome but always ended in me bringing him into bed with me and him curling up in my arms or in the curve of my side, next to my tummy, purring his wonderful Arfie purr. If he slept next to me, he would put his paw in my hand, holding gently with his claws.

Arthur survived cat flu and its recurrences, severe food allergies, severe flea allergies, an allergy to his arthritis medication which resulted in a perforated stomach ulcer, arthritis and then a complication of it a few years ago, when he simply could not get up one day. He walked two days later after intensive treatment and the spurs on his spine grew over without trapping the nerves he needed to be able to walk. He subsequently survived a nasty stomach bug https://titflasher.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/a-heartbreak-waiting-to-happen/.

He survived so much, it I guess was hardly surprising we all hoped he would survive this too.

He was the origin of the term “persisticat” and “pesticat”, always willing to eat, often eating twice as much as the others. He loved grass, running out the front door at every opportunity to nom some and when there wasn’t any in the winter, the spider plant that grows outside.

He had eclectic tastes, from tinned asaparagus (but only the brand that an ex-boyfriend used to buy in Brighton) to tinned mushrooms, smoothies, bish and grapes. I discovered the grape fetish by making the mistake one day of popping my shopping down in the hallway and going upstairs to start the ironing. As I only had fruit and veg in the carriers, I didn’t think twice when I heard rustling but when I heard the distinctive nomnomnom noises he made, I went to investigate. I discovered he had not only torn the plastic to get at them but had neatly bitten off all the tops of the grapes. He could be driven mad with frenzied passion if I showed him the tin of mushrooms.

When he wasn’t pesticatting for noms, he pesticatted for cuddles and was never happier than when on my lap, his brother draped across my shoulders. He loved his chin rubbed, his nose kissed, bring brushed, being warm and secure, snuggled along my tummy, in my arms, across my neck, in his brother’s paws.

Whenever Tony arrives, all my cats go into raptures but Arfie tended to wait until Tony was in bed. Poppet tends to take over Tony completely but Arfie would often just join in, paying no heed to cat manners for a cuddle. One of the last photos I have of him is a couple of weeks ago, doing just that.  He loved to climb onto Tony’s shoulder and purr in his ear.

I can’t actually describe Arthur’s character in words that would make sense to anyone who hadn’t met him. He was wise, funny, loving, pesticatting, fierce when he needed to be and tender always. I can’t describe his purr – it moved from normal purr to deep rumble to chirping when he was ecstatically happy. He purred no matter what was going on with him; the moment he saw me, he purred.

He existed to love and be loved in return. The only creature he ever really disagreed with were spiders and he soon cleared my house of them, several times running around with the spider in his mouse as their legs tickled his whiskers, which he appeared to like.

Because the boys were so allergic to so many foods, they didn’t get treats of any kind and I was always careful not to overdo the human food. However, they never seemed to do him any harm, not even the first grape overdose.

When he was at the vet on Wednesday and so ill and we went to see him, thinking it was time, he purred gently as I held him and Tony, Marion and Chris all stroked his nose and his ears. He made a remarkable recovery, one last effort to stay with us.

On Thursday night when I went back to visit, he purred well, stronger and clung on to me when he realised he was going back into the cage, subsequently trying to claw his way out of it to get back to me. I think he knew then he wasn’t going to make it.

Tony brought him back on Thursday morning and when I got home after work, he had managed to get up and stand on the landing, greeting me. Friday night he did the same, but was noticeably weaker.

Yesterday, he made it downstairs so I wrapped him up in a blanket and took him outside briefly to watch the sky. We went back indoors when he indicated that was enough and he toddled back up the stairs to lie down again.

By last night I knew the fight was over. He didn’t want to be fed or disturbed, just left in the spare room to lie with the cats he had so welcomed a few weeks ago.

Those cats did a sterling job of looking after him, at one point both of them lay surrounding him, not touching but close enough, as he slept. Merlin did not move off the ironing board once except to go to the loo.

This morning, Arthur was nearly comatose but that didn’t stop him staggering up when Merlin got off the ironing board and into the bathroom to eat and drink (Felix at 22 gets to eat where she likes and lately that means feeding her in the bathroom). Arthur lay down next to him, a last gesture of love.

In hindsight, it may be that I should have just left him at home, to die naturally but I could not bear him to suffer until my vet opened tomorrow and with such a small window of time before the emergency vet I wanted to use closed, it was a very distraught me who gathered him up in my arms in a towel. Tony raced home to get the car and we made it to the vet with 30 seconds to spare before they closed.

As we sat and waited, me in absolute fits of tears but trying to stay calm to keep him calm, a lovely lady in there with her own cat, one of many, offered some wonderful words of comfort and stroked his nose. He was slipping away from me then, having I think a stroke in the car which was evident in his eyes.

It was the same vet practice who had treated him when he had the perforated stomach ulcer and as I explained what had gone on, he said in surprise, “yes, I saw his history on the computer”, amazed that this was the same cat.

Arthur’s breathing was imperceptible as he slipped from life to death, with Tony and I stroking his nose, after a life lived so exceptionally well, it is hard to think of an equal, in human or feline form.

The thought of having nocat to nick my smoothies (eventually we agree to share them, so I had the majority, undisturbed, as long as I poured some in the lid for him), nocat waking me up in the morning, nocat trying to get out of the door for grassnoms, nocat loving me quite the way Arthur loved me, is so painful I can hardly breathe.

It was my biggest fear that he would not survive Guin’s passing and sadly I have been proven right. My job now is to love and comfort his brother, the other half of him who, like the rest of us, has to learn to live without him.

Arthur9 ArthurMerlin10 Arthur7 ArthurMerlin4

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And then, suddenly there were eight …

On Wednesday evening at around 5pm, Guinevere took her last breath as I cuddled and stroked her and told her she was a brave girl, how much I loved her, and how proud I was of her.

I was in bits, absolute bits. I still am.

Guinie didn’t want to die.

It was her third close brush with death, after two mystery illnesses, suspected poisonings, a few years ago saw her near comatose, on drips and saved only by my wonderful vets after extensive treatment and her fighting spirit.

I didn’t want her to die either.

But most of all, I didn’t want to put her through painful treatment as she was going into terminal kidney failure, which might have given her a few more days of life reduced to living in a room, on special food, her spirit broken.

Gordon, the vet who took such good care of her in her last years, remarked this evening that despite how ill she was, despite the double incontinence, the dehydration, her failing kidneys, despite everything, she kept her dignity and her spirit throughout. Several times during the day they had gone into the ward room and each time she lifted her head up high and greeted them.

She kept her dignity when she first had trouble walking, she kept her dignity when she first pooed on my feet by mistake (giving me an “oops, sorry, oh dear, tough” look), she kept her dignity when she peed on my pillow, on my mattress, on my carpets; she even kept her dignity when I was bathing her, insisting on arching her back away from me and having nothing to do with the process, except when she chose to latch her still sharp little teeth into my arm and hang on.

She even kept her dignity when she staggered out of the front room not 24 hours before, her nose covered with dried snot and asked for help.

Never underestimate the power of some warm water on a tissue, some left over baytril and a syringe.

Whilst she was on my lap, I called T, warned him that she was ill and I suspected she wasn’t going to make it; she stayed on my lap as I called the emergency vet and said I was bringing her in; she stayed as I texted M to say she was in trouble.

A quarter of an hour later, I had a completely different cat on my lap in terms of situation. With her nose clean, she could drink. Encouraged by the four syringes of water I had carefully got down her, she got down and lapped on her own. Her nose filled up again with green gunk but I cleared it each time so it didn‘t get a chance to cover her nostrils.

She got back up into my lap after each drink, a little calmer, a little more comfortable, although her breathing was shocking.

My other cats gathered in the back room. Merlin tried to get onto my shoulders and unusually, he withdrew once I said no. Arthur huddled around my feet. Poppet, Kitty, Felix, Oscar, Daisy and Jaggie sat on the floor around us, quiet and still. Grumpy was in the spot he had nicked from Oscar. All looked at me, in absolute silence

I knew then we were going to lose her.

I tried to balance the choices of having her put to sleep by a vet she didn’t know, in a strange place, or dying in the night at home, or put to sleep by a vet she did know, with the risk she might suffer before we could get her there in the morning.

I took her upstairs, put eucalyptus and tea tree oils in a diffuser to help her breathing and made her comfortable in the bathroom, where she had spent so many happy hours making nests and pooing in both my clean and dirty washing.

Later, I got an anti-emetic down her to try and encourage her to eat but over the course of the following hour, she continued to heave at the smell of food, so I removed it, topping up her water twice and placing it within half a head’s stretch of her so she could get to it without moving.

I continued wiping her nose and mouth and later, got under her chin and combed out the crud encrusted under her chin, which made her purr through clogged lungs.

Her little head lifted up to receive the gentle combing, her eyes closed in bliss even as her whole body moved with the effort to keep breathing.

I found some baytril, got that down her, gave her a second dose of the painkillers she was on to keep her inflamed skin from hurting her and I gave her intermittent strokes and loves (she didn’t want big fusses) as I watched her stabilise and then plateau, refusing food.

I called the emergency vet back only to discover their vet had “gone home”, something I need to pick up with my vets but it flew out of my head tonight so even if I had taken her down then, she would not have got more than a nurse’s care.

That set the seal on my decision to keep her at home.

Eventually going to bed when she was comfortable, and there was nothing I could do to enhance that comfort, I fell into an exhausted sleep.

Waking the next morning, I topped up her water, tried to syringe feed her, got told off, failed to get anything down her, told her again how much I loved her, said goodbye to her properly in case it really was goodbye and set off to work in my new job, hating every single step I took away from her.

Whilst on the way, I checked that Gordon was available (whilst there is a third vet who is perfectly capable, I don’t have the same level of trust with her as I do with Gordon and Deane and as I was sure we had reached the end, I didn’t want her seen by anyone else), booked her in and confirmed back with Tony that he was in place to take her whilst I wandered around the east end housing estate that my phone gps had decided to take me in lieu of my third workplace in as many days, alternatively sobbing and swearing at my phone.

Having finally reached my destination, I explained to the lady who I am replacing what was happening as I would have to interrupt her training to speak to the vet. She understood perfectly, having been in the US when her childhood cat had taken ill, frantically trying to get on a flight and arriving just in time to say goodbye to him.

At 10.15 came the call I dreaded and after some discussion, Gordon and I agreed, given her spirit, which was still shining through her eyes, that we would give it one last shot but if there was no radical change, we would do the right thing. We would make the decision at 2pm.

At 2pm, Gordon said that she had rallied a little and suggested we postpone the decision until I could get there. She tried so hard to come home. I tried so hard to bring her home.

I suspect Gordon was being kind enough to save me a terrible journey back.

By 4.30pm when T and I arrived, she lifted her head up and silent miaowed as we walked in. She held her head so proudly, waggling the paw that held her drip at me, in complaint. Another silent miaow indicated she wanted it removed. I told her not yet but soon. She put it down and stretched her head over for a scratch.

Gordon joined us, explaining how ill she was.

It was clear she was not coming home. At the start of terminal kidney failure, my worst fears were realised by the fact her body was giving up, just as her spirit would not.

I was going to have to put her to sleep against her will.

Bringing her back would have maybe (if we were lucky) have given her a few more days; days that would have been for me, not for her.

I don’t look after and love cats for me. I love and look after them for them; and no matter how heartbroken I am, no matter how much I didn’t want her to die, more than all of those things, I wanted my sweet girl to not lose that spirit, that dignity, that light in her eyes I first saw 15 and a half years ago, when she was small enough to fit into the palm of my hand, when she sat on the arm of the chair in the back of M’s shop, looked at me and cocked her head, as if to say, “my cat mommi iz ded, yoo beez my Mommi now”.

We agreed it was time.

I cried buckets, composing myself to cuddle her, to whisper encouragement and love, before losing it again, over and over. I stroked her head, her ears, her chin, she purred through heavy breaths, as around us Gordon and the nurse calmly made the preparations they needed to.

T was a tower of strength by my side.  Unhurried, I told her everything I needed to tell her.

Once on the table, she realised what was happening and started to stress.

Again, because we were unhurried and because my vet is fucking awesome, I had the time to calm her. They must have picked up on this too because no move was made until she was ready.

When she was ready, she relaxed under my hands. She looked me full in the face, trust in me shining in her eyes. I looked into hers as I told her I loved her, that she was my gorgeous Guinie baby girl and I would always love her.

I saw Gordon gently remove the drip and insert the syringe which would end her life.

I held her gaze as her spirit left her body, her eyes never leaving mine, not for a single moment. She didn’t blink as life left her, her eyes still open, still staring into mine as her head dropped into my hand.

I stood with her, kissed the top of her little nose for what must be the thousand of a thousands times, ran my bottom lip over the fur there. I took a tissue, wiped her nostrils, found my favourite Guinie-spot, the inside of her front paw, about three-quarters up, where her fur is the softest and pressed my lips to it.

I don’t remember everything I said to her, just that it was right and honest. I cried buckets, drenching her fur with my tears.

Some time later, Gordon came in, apologised because he had to see a patient (I have no idea how long he waited for us, maybe half an hour, bless that man) but telling us to take as long as we needed.

I was nearly done, there was nothing more I could do for her except drench her in more tears. My vet kindly agreed to keep her until I was able to bury her at the weekend.

T and I said our final goodbyes, I asked for the bill as the nurse said how sorry she was, assured me she would look after Guin for me and we were presented with an amount of roughly half what I calculated it would be

That set me off again because not only have they looked after Guin at every point, but they would look after and honour her body now that she has gone. After spending a huge amount of time ensuring I had all the time I needed, they billed me a tiny amount for that time.

I came home tonight and fed the foxes, seeing in my head Guinevere running about the way she did on Sunday, slightly bow-legged, her walking better than it has been in weeks, sniffing here, sniffing there, completely alive and living in the moment.

I cried as I saw her run towards me the way she did on Sunday when I called her in, not ready to come in yet but unable to resist a noms call, pushing Oscar out of the way as she ran towards the back step, stopped, worked out how to scrabble up it, her back legs arriving a millisecond before her body, her head poking forward to redress the balance before plunging into the food bowl. After that, she came inside happily, having reacquainted herself with the foxies, the garden in general, having told everycat what to do and how to do it.

I went into the bathroom tonight, and saw her final bath, the cuddles we had afterwards and saw the one and only time she finished cuddles early and got out of the towel, drying instead by the radiator, which seems to have caused the fatal infection which took her from me.

A whole host of memories assail me now, the first day she arrived, going up the stairs, completely unafraid; the first time she went outside, aged about 14 weeks, way too young but determined, flanked by her brothers who didn’t let her out of their sight or paw’s reach.

I remember her being small enough to sit in her first human Daddi‘s pocket, which she loved, being carried about. She would get disgruntled when he eventually sat down and she had to stalk out, her little face saying “not long enuff”.

I remember the time I had to board her and the two boys at a cattery and she nearly gave my cab driver heart failure https://titflasher.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/for-nicole-why-cardboard-cat-carriers-are-a-swearword-in-my-house/.

I recall the times she sat on the top of the shed with the fox cubs, watching the sun go down over the allotments, the times I would call her in, in the summer, only to have her streak past me with those same cubs, now fully grown.

At the time, we had an old immersion heater, which contained only so much hot water, requiring a run and a second run half an hour later, to get a decent hot bath. Guin learned quickly to come in only after she heard the second lot of water, knowing I would get straight in, which meant she could creep in for food and stay out until the early hours.

Thankfully, we grew wise and my housemate Sally would place herself downstairs, ready to close the kitchen door when she dashed in.

I remember when I got her spayed, later than usual, because I sensed it would not be good for her. It wasn’t and she spent weeks sulking on my pillow and several years after that sulking in whatever place she chose to perch. I suspect she had fancied having some fox babies.

I remember the year Jaggie spent, crawling up to the chair she lived on at the time, trying to say thank you for bringing him home, only to have her ignore totally his advances, or swipe his ears if he was lucky.

I remember the first time she went down with poisoning and an animal hospital wanted to charge me thousands for an ultrasound scan. M ran to a friend of hers for help and he (bless him) arrived in the petshop, with the cash in his hands, just as I found another local vet could and would do the same scan for 50 quid.

I remember the subsequent journey between vets, Guin carefully crated in her carrier, barely conscious, me holding her drip so it didn’t pull out, M in the front seat of the cab and at a major set of traffic lights, a cuntish truck driver got out of his cab to harangue the taxi driver over some alleged infraction.

I told him that I had a seriously ill cat in the back seat, on a drip which I waggled, we were dashing her to the vet and he could kindly get back in his truck and drive away or deal with me. He stepped back, apologised and got back in his vehicle which made us all giggle a bit.

I remember the time Jaggie had a right go at Arthur, a few months after he started living with us. Guinevere gave him one look, just one and he cowered in the corner, in shame. Guin was always on Arthur’s side, apart from when he personally annoyed her. This didn’t happen often but when it did, was usually caused by him making friends with a foster or new kitty. She could never keep it up though and once he got the message which he usually ignored), she would be back to loving him, just the same https://titflasher.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/sleep-no-evil-purrr-no-evil-stare-no-evil/.

When Kitty came along and challenged her for leadership, she didn’t bother to fight, just gave her the look and continued to do so, whilst Kitty tried to engage her in feline warfare.

Kitty eventually gave up, moving upstairs to try and reign in the spare room, a plan Guin thwarted by occasional forays in there, planting herself squarely in the middle of the room and daring Kitty to try and get past.

For years, Guin held herself aloof from most people, even me at times. It is only in the last few years that she started to seek me out again for cuddles and strokes, rather than just waiting for them to come her way.

As she started to lose mobility and continence, she needed more reassurance. Guin, who had depended on no-one and nothing to make her mark on the world, depended on me. Guin, who had never lacked self-confidence, needed to know she was still loved.

She didn’t lose her queenship, it never wavered. Always the quickest cat by far, she soon worked out that she couldn’t stay upright swiping with one paw, so perfected the art of balancing on her disabled back legs and bum, rising up to issue a sharp two-pawed slap on the top of the head of any feline who annoyed her.

She would clamber up into my computer chair, scrabbling in next to me, wait and if a headstroke was not forthcoming, bite my upper arm gently and stay there, her teeth a mere warning on my skin, until she got what she wanted.

She loved the computer chair and before her spine crippled, would often jump on it and wait for me to swing her around, eyes tight shut, her mouth in a grimace of enjoyment, I would turn it around over and over one way, then the same number of times in reverse, leaving her dizzy and purring, leaning against the back of the chair, her eyes still tight shut in pleasure.

When fully mobile, she would open the bathroom door by running at it and hitting it with one hip; this last year, she used the same double-pawed move to pop it open.

The first time I bathed her, I was terrified. She had grown so frail. She never stopped hating it but I could tell she felt better after each one. What she hated more than baths was the cream so I did it as often as I could without distressing her, not quite meeting the veterinary requirement of twice a day, ever mindful that fly strike could kill her or her skin would become so sensitive she couldn’t bear it.

My biggest fear was flies (her kidneys were fine when they were tested about nine months ago) and I did everything I could to encourage the bathroom bitey to get as many as possible.

In becoming a cheerleader for a spider, I realised the enormous trust Guin placed in me to do the right things for her and how much of a privilege it was to do just that.

I got used to my carpets being ruined, I got used to gearing up for the inevitable struggle that would ensue when bathing her, I got used to putting cream on her little bits as she turned her head away from me, refusing to engage with the process, just as she turned her head back to me the moment it was over, pushing her nose into my neck and purring like an engine as she knew bath time was over and cuddles and rubs were now on the agenda.

I got used to being woken in the early hours of the morning by a smelly cat wanting a cuddle. I got used to half-sleeping, my hands on her head and neck, both keeping her at bay and stroking her. I got used to coaxing her off the bed whilst half asleep when she had got in without me being aware of it, determined to sleep on our heads, trying to ensure she didn’t feel excluded as I led her back to the warm spot in the spare room where a heating pipe runs underneath the floorboards.

We even managed a few nights with her curled up next to me.

A couple of times I closed the bedroom door, just to give us a good night’s sleep and would emerge in the morning to find Guin pressed up against the door, as if guarding it, her little face all cross until she realised it was noms o clock at which point she would get up haltingly then stagger around in circles with excitement.

Each of the cats has their special place for feeding and Kitty, Arthur and Poppet eat on the stairs. Guin used to do so, but if she was spending her time downstairs, it was rare for her to make the move upstairs to eat, and I would feed her next to me. If she was spending time upstairs however, she would sit on the landing until I called, at which point she would come downstairs, often at a sideways run. It was a frequent occurrence that she would try to over-compensate and end up crashing into the others, sending bowls flying, food everywhere and poor Kitty upstairs in fright.

The first time she did it, I was so fearful she had hurt herself but I soon realised she caught herself each time, perilously near the bottom and seemed to be enjoying the experience. Kitty and Poppet were slightly less enthralled.

I got used to putting the mattress up on its side each morning, leaving the futon cover (which lives underneath) for her to sleep on and wreck. Kitty would then sleep on the side of the upturned mattress.

Last weekend, Guin nearly made it up there too, so fast I turned with the noise of her paws attempting the run up, watching amazed as she levered herself up it to the top and then fell off as she tried to clamber on, so fast I didn‘t have time to react, just thankful her fall was cushioned by the futon cover as she dusted herself off and glared at me, as if it were my fault.

I got used to agonising about how long she would last and what to do for the best. I made and remade decisions all the time. When she was diagnosed with bladder cancer, only to have the tumour to drop off, followed by developing a nasty mammary tumour, which once tied off, disappeared, it would have been easy to believe that she was always going to be blessed, but I couldn’t buy into that.

Cats pick up their humans stress way too easily and I didn’t want her health to be a type of  worst fears self fulfilling prophecy; but it would be wrong to claim that I never cried when she cuddled in my lap. It would be wrong to claim I didn’t notice her fragility.

I let her out against my own advice, watching her but not interfering as she lived her life, on her terms, did what she wanted to do, always. I was petrified that one day she would not come back, victim of a situation she couldn’t move fast enough to escape, or getting stuck someplace she couldn’t move her body out of. Never a great miaower, her miaow decreased over the years to a whisper and I knew if she needed help and called for it, I would never hear her.

However, I feared something far more than that. I feared her last days would be blighted by my fears; that she would be frustrated and annoyed at being treated like an invalid so I let her out to do her thing.

It was absolutely the right decision for her and she came in, albeit a few times later than she should have, safe every time, her eyes shining with delight and adventure.

During her last bath, as with her first and all the ones in between, she whipped her head around and bit me. I wish it had been deeper, had left a scar rather than just a bruise, something tangible to keep now that she has gone.

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is wishing all her readers a very …

Merry Christmas. Blessings and love to you all xx

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