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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