The final happy and sad Majick episode….

Majick’s return home after fourteen months’ absence was an incredible surprise, and I was so happy. The wanderer had been reconnected with me via a local vet who phoned my mobile after checking his chip. He’d been brought in by a woman who’d been feeding him for a while and I suspect that she wanted to adopt him. The low-slung black cat with the stumpy tail and the little bat face was delighted to be home though. He sat on my knee, purred, slept each night with his paws round my neck. I was so glad to have him back.

Ten days later, I had to go to London for an overnight stop. Majick had settled, been using the cat flap to come in and out for a few days, but I was still worried about letting him roam. My gut instinct said that leaving him for 24 hours would be risky, even though there would be someone popping in to feed him.

I was right. When I came back, there was no Maj. Colin was asleep on his cushion. TC and Murphy had eaten everything they could get hold of. But Maj was absent.

That night I didn’t sleep well, hoping that he’d come back. It had been his style – to stay out half the night, turn up in the early hours and shout at me for food, then sit on my knee and purr. But the next day, he still wasn’t back.

I phoned the kind woman who’d been feeding him and she said she’d seen him hanging around again. I called her a few days later and he was in her house, well-fed and asleep on his own bed with her other cat. He’d settled back in. Of course – that’s where he’d really been living for the last six months. He’d turned up there after the snows in the spring and settled. His new owner loved him. He was her cat. He had gone home.

I talked to friends who all said ‘Go and get him. Bring him back. Try again – he’ll stay this time.’ I wasn’t sure that was the right thing to do. I didn’t want to be selfish.

Was it Sting who sang the song If you love someone set them free? I had some soul searching to do and it was fairly clear what had to happen next. I didn’t want to do it, but it was about Majick, not me. Hadn’t he made his choice? Hadn’t he gone back home to the place where he’d been comfortable and fed for a long time? A place where he was loved.

I took a couple of days to think it over, but really I already knew what I had to do. I’d spoken twice to the woman on the phone. She obviously adored him. I’d go to visit her one time, see him there happy and curled up in front of a log fire in his new home, safe and loved, and then I’d come back and remember him with fondness, knowing that he is happy.

A good friend of mine said ‘I couldn’t do that- I couldn’t say goodbye to my cat, and give him away.’ I didn’t really want to, to be honest. Majick’s a special cat, lovely natured, great to be with. He has a deep purr; he’s more affectionate than quirky grumpy Colin, or TC and Murphy, the feral perils, who follow me everywhere for food and then sleep like curmudgeons by themselves in front of the fire, although I love all three of them to bits. But it’s not about me, is it?

So that’s what I did. I handed over adoption. He has a new home, not mine. Majick lives three miles away now, so I’m not likely to see him in the garden hunting mice and rabbits. He won’t call in for a cuddle, a quick nibble of cat biscuits and a purr. He’s gone now and that’s it. I hope he’s as happy as he can be. He’s fine, well cared-for – that’s the most important thing. And I’m glad that I know he’s alive and safe and happy and I’m glad I had him for those few days, because I realise that he’s fond of me. That’s enough.

It’s been quite a tale – and he’s a real personality. People would write novels about the adventures of Majick Cat. He’d find his way into people’s hearts as easily as he found his way into a new home. He’ll be well fed and warm this winter. I won’t visit him now – that wouldn’t be easy. I will think of him from time to time and I’ll still look for his little bat face amid the shrubs and flowers. But I know he won’t come back.

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Why I’ve stopped writing my new novel for at least a week…

I moved home about fifteen months ago, at the end of the summer of 2017, into a beautiful old farmhouse in the sticks. It is quirky, fairly spacious, perfectly habitable, well-loved by its previous owners; it’s in a fantastic setting of fields and trees, sheep, pigs, pheasants and buzzards, with great neighbours. Last winter was cold here – we had ice and snow, but there’s an old Rayburn in the kitchen and two wood burning stoves in each of the downstairs rooms, so everything was cosy.

By Christmas day last year, the new kitchen was ready – I cooked nut roast wellington with all the usual stuff on the new range and it was great fun finding out how all the knobs and settings worked for the first time. Bold from the success of a nice new kitchen, I moved to decorate the dining room and stripped off the wood panelling to find damp walls underneath. Of course, in a house that is 500 years old, a bit of damp isn’t a problem, but I decided to have it lime plastered and done properly. The man who did the job was brilliant and I’m now putting 10 coats of lime paint on the walls. Every time I open the tub of lime wash, I think ‘This is the stuff they used to put in paupers’ graves. Mozart went down under a load of lime wash. It is fierce stuff: I’d better mask-up and wear protective clothing. On a roll, I ordered new windows, to make the house better insulated for the winter. A dear friend recommended the company who’d done his beautiful windows. All would be well, of course- what could go wrong?

A month later, I’m still lime-washing a huge empty room. All the dining room furniture is in the lounge, so I can’t move around in there. My desk, my computer, two sofas, two easy chairs, a TV, books, shelves, CDs, furniture and me, are squashed in or piled high. I can’t light the fire in the wood burner – I can’t even see where it is. It’s incredibly cold in the lounge. And then there is the saga of the windows.

Last Friday I looked on as the window installers sat in an open windowless frame upstairs, in tears, as several large random bricks fell about them out of the wall and onto the ground outside. ‘I didn’t expect this…’ he muttered. ‘It’ll need plastering. And rendering.’

‘It’s an old house…’ I suggested, feeling very sorry for him.

‘Can I come back next Friday and finish it off?’

So the current situation is that the Beast from the East is out there along with cold icy blasts, perhaps even snow. The house is freezing, especially the lounge – the rubble room, where my desk and my computer are.

I’ve been busy writing: I’m over 50,000 words into a new novel and I love it. I’m having such a good time writing about the adventures of my three protagonists who are mixing it up hilariously in a little village in the middle of summer time. I’m laughing out loud and I know exactly where the plot is going next, with great effect. I’m completely enjoying myself and I’m really pleased with how the characters and action are coming together.

So, imagine me on my way to work each day, climbing over the rolled-up rugs, the sofas and chairs; there are piles of books like elephant droppings everywhere. I crawl over to my computer to log on amid the icicles. My cats TC and Murphy follow me into the lounge in case I have any food – the oldest cat, Colin, won’t come – it’s too cold, he can see his breath! So I’m dressed in two jumpers, a pair of jeans, thick socks, sturdy boots, a long coat, a colourful faux- woollen hat with plaits and the word Amsterdam on the front, a football scarf, a pair of fingerless gloves and leg warmers. I have a steaming cup of green tea to keep me warm, a flask of pumpkin soup, and I’m still freezing. The patch of sky I can see through the half- finished window over the piles of junk is stone grey.

Back in the kitchen, I can press my backside against the Rayburn and try to heat up my bones. Upstairs, I can go in my little gym to warm up, but I’ll need to step over the floor boards that are there resting before they go into the new en suite. And as I try to reach my exercise bike, I have to clamber over a new shower tray, a radiator and a toilet, complete with fittings, which is leaning against my punch bag.

Of course it will all be over by Christmas. (Isn’t that what they said in wartime?) But I’m keeping my pecker up with green tea and soup. Perhaps I’ll take a week off writing, do some planning instead with my feet on the Rayburn, listen to music, go for a walk or a run, and make bread and vegan bacon. (Note to reader – Another blog post is in its early stages, about a conversation someone had with me recently, which went ‘Why do people even make vegan bacon? Can’t you just eat the real thing?’)

By Christmas I will have a proper lounge, a living room, an en suite and double glazed windows. And I’ll have another novel, almost finished, ready to soak in brandy, leave to mull for four weeks and come back to edit in the New Year. By Boxing Day I will be able to invite friends round for drinks and nibbles (such as vegan bacon…) and a good time will be had by all, as we huddle close to the wood burning stoves fresh from a shower in the new en suite, and chatter about nothing much in the warm, well- insulated rooms. There won’t be an Amsterdam hat with plaits or a pair of leg warmers in sight as I sprawl on the sofa watching the football in vest and pants murmuring ‘Open the new windows – I’m boiling.’

But for now I think I’ll just take a week off, park my bum against the Rayburn and dream of a fortnight in Goa, imagining myself sitting on a beach sipping cool beer. Brrr. I wish!

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The continuing saga of a cat called Majick

He left fourteen months ago, about six weeks after I moved house. I kept him in for the advised few weeks and then he’d been out a few times, coming back for feeds and sleep. Majick Cat had always been a bit of a character – I’d had him for a few years, inherited from a woman who lived in a flat in Plymouth, loved him to distraction: she’d never let him out and finally gave him up to Pet Rescue when she had to move back to Romania to look after a sick parent. She’d labelled his bowl with his name so when he came to me aged two years old, I continued to call him Majick. He was all black except for a little white spray of fur on his neck; he had a little bat face, short legs and a stumpy tail. He was a character, he’d take off for a few days, come home at midnight and howl at the front door rather than use the cat flap, and he’d sit on my knee for hours. He was lovely.

Then one day, after I’d been living in the new house in the sticks for six weeks, something lit up in his eyes as he stared across a wide field full of sheep. And off he went. I didn’t see him again, although he’d been sighted several times by neighbours. I wouldn’t give him up.

Of course he’d made it clear he didn’t like the new house. He peed on my oak floor and sulked under the bed. He didn’t adapt well. But he’d still cheer up, eat, purr and sleep with his paws round my neck at night. I thought he’d be all right.

After he took off,  I looked for him. Wherever I’d go, I’d keep my eyes out for a little bat face in the hedge or a stumpy tail and short legs belting across the road. Nothing. The winter came, the cold, deep snow, icy wind. Someone told me ‘He’s dead, get over it.’

Spring came, then summer – still no Majick, no happy return of the wanderer. Then a week ago, I was driving home from a meeting and the phone rang. I pulled over. The local vet said ‘Do you have a cat called Majick? Well, he’s here.’ I couldn’t speak for an hour.

I went to pick him up. When he saw me his eyes shone – he leaped straight on my knee and purred. He’d gained weight, two little chins on his bat face. But he was ok. I took him home, fed him. He wasn’t keen on the other cats – he’d forgotten Colin Cat completely – but he slept on my bed all night purring, his paws round my neck and he seemed glad to be back.

I rang the kind woman over the hill, three miles away, who’d been giving him food, to thank her. She’d coaxed him into her house after several months of feeding him, then she took him to the vets. I think she loved him and wanted to keep him. Why wouldn’t she? Maj is a real character.

He stayed in for a week and was happy enough. After eight days, he sat in the window and sulked a bit – he wanted to go out. I kept him in for three more days. He broke through the mesh on the pantry window and scrambled into the outside shed. I brought him back inside and promised him he could go out the next day. Then, the following morning, I let him out: we walked round together, me chatting to him for half an hour while he explored the garden. Then he came in and had some food. I thought, ok, this is it now, he’s settling.

For three days he came in and out of the cat flap like a good cat, eating, sleeping, purring. He stayed out late one night but he came into my bedroom in the early hours, asking for a hug and some food. Several days later I went to London and stayed overnight. When I came back, he was gone.

I’d been worried he might disappear. I rang the kind woman who’d fed him, who lived about three miles away. She said she’d seen him again, but only in the distance. I drove up to the fields where I think he is and I called him. After half an hour, I went home by myself.

I sat quietly and did some soul searching. If he wants to be a wanderer, who am I to stop him? If he loves the other place and has a bond with the woman there who feeds him, if he’s happy, who am I to want to drag him home? Perhaps he’ll come back to me occasionally for food and enjoy the life of a vagrant cat? Perhaps he’s just lost. I rang the woman again and left a message on her phone yesterday morning. I haven’t had a reply yet.

I haven’t given him up. He might be back tomorrow. He might be back in fourteen months. The vet might ring again if he’s handed in. But then what do I do? As I do with cats, children, everyone, I put them first. My feelings don’t matter – it’s about what’s best for Majick. Was it my day of neglect in London when I broke the continuity that made him want to run off or does he just want to roam? How do I know? I hope he’s not lost – I hope that he knows the way back home. Maybe he’s found his home with the woman beyond the hills who loves him.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see his stumpy shape in the garden or his little bat face at the window. But as is often the case in life, I’m waiting for his next move. It’s not up to me, is it? Ah well.

I dare say this won’t be the last post about Majick cat. I find myself looking out the window, wondering where he is as the skies turn grey and the wind batters the glass, and suddenly I’m singing that old song from Lady and the Tramp, the lines that go:

 

He’s a tramp
He’s a scoundrel
He’s a rounder
He’s a cad

He’s a tramp
But I love him
Yes, even I have got it pretty bad

He’s a tramp
He’s a rover
And there’s nothing more to say

If he’s a tramp
He’s a good one
And I wish that I could travel his way
Wish that I could travel his way
Wish that I could travel his way

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Frustrated are the vegans for they shall not eat (sometimes)…

Imagine the scene.

A woman walks into a restaurant. ‘I’m hungry,’ she says. ‘What’s for lunch?’

The waiter hands her a menu, and she peruses the list: chicken pie, omelettes, fish cakes, macaroni cheese, and several other choices. Then the waiter points to the specials board. ‘We also have beef stroganoff, tuna bake, sausage and mash, gammon and eggs and I can recommend the scampi and chips.’

‘Mmm.’ The woman licks her lips. ‘It all sounds so good. I’m spoiled for choice.’

Meanwhile, not so far away, I’m invited to lunch at the same restaurant. I haven’t been there before so I ring them in advance, hoping they’ll have something I can eat. ‘Hello. I’m joining a friend for lunch on Friday. I’ve looked at your menu online and there doesn’t seem to be anything vegan. Can you accommodate me, please?’

The nice lady on the end of the phone pauses a moment. ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ She thinks for a little longer then I hear her yell ‘Sandra? It’s a vegan. ’

Another voice is on the line. ‘Hello.’

‘Hello,’ I try again. ‘Can you feed me on Friday lunch time? I’m vegan.’

There’s a silence. ‘I’m not sure. I’ll ask the chef.’

‘Thanks,’ I say. I wait for a few minutes, wondering what choices I’ll be offered. I’m not the greatest tomato on pasta fan. I’d be happy with a hummus sandwich. I hear Sandra coming back, the sound of footfall becoming increasingly louder.

‘Hello?’ She’s loud and clear.

‘Hello,’ I reply optimistically.

‘Chef says yes.’

I think for a few seconds. ‘Yes you have something vegan?’

‘Yes.’ She sounds pleased, efficient. ‘So we’ll see you on Friday.’

‘Ok, thanks. What is it?’

She’s puzzled. ‘What’s what?’

‘The vegan meal?’

She’s now surprised by my question. ‘I’ve no idea.’

‘Ah,’ I sigh a bit without meaning to. ‘Can you find out? It’d be nice to know what the choices are.’

She’s confused. ‘Choices?’

‘Of the vegan meal.’

‘Chef said he’d do you something vegan. It’s fine. We can cater for you.’

I can sense I’m becoming a stereotype – a vegan who is being difficult, pernickety. I don’t just want something vegan, but I want to know what it is. What affrontery! ‘It’s just that I don’t like –um- Quorn sausages or soya mince…’

Sandra is a bit fed up now. ‘Well, I ‘m not sure what chef is doing for you, but it will be vegan.’

I wonder how I can explain to Sandra that I’m grateful that they are making me a meal but I have likes and dislikes, as everyone does. I recall past meals I’ve been offered in cafés and bars: the bland vegan salad of lettuce and tomatoes with no dressing; the vegan potato curry that contained nothing but boiled potatoes, curry sauce and rice; the steamed courgette covered in a heated tomatoes from a tin, that I couldn’t eat because it looked both phallic and unhealthy. I simply want something that I’m happy to eat. I’m not asking or a menu of several choices so that I can make my mind up on the day. I just want something I’ll like.

I give up. ‘Can chef just make me a hummus sandwich?’ I’m trying my best. ‘Lettuce, tomato, no mayo?’

Sandra is cross now. ‘I suppose so. I’ll check later. He’s busy now.’

‘Thank you. I’m looking forward to next Friday…’

The phone goes dead. Sandra is undoubtedly telling anyone who’ll listen that vegans are a pain in the butt, ungrateful and ridiculously fussy – why can’t they be thankful that chef is making the effort?

Meanwhile, I’m not surprised. The same thing has happened before. There was the long-haul flight when I was offered something that contained meat and told there was nothing else available, despite the fact that I’d booked a vegan meal well in advance. Another time, at a conference, having been promised something vegan, I was told that they had nothing appropriate – even the vegetables had butter on them. A third time, when I asked for mushrooms on toast for breakfast because I was a vegan, I was told ‘You should change.’

I’m delighted that things are getting much better nowadays. Most people know what vegan means and there is so much vegan fare available in supermarkets now. When I first became vegan twenty five years ago, that wasn’t the case. And I’m grateful when I’m catered for, I truly am. My local pub and restaurant do vegan food to die for – it’s so good that non-vegans choose it, and I’m all for that. My favourite curry restaurant cooks me something incredible every time I go there. A cafe in town makes a vegan breakfast that knocks spots off everything else on their menu. I am understood, well fed and happy.

But just once in a while, the above scenario rears its head again in some form or another and I find myself back to square one. I don’t want parity with meat eaters, to be offered lots of choices – the world isn’t there yet. But I would like a meal I’m happy to eat and it would be very useful to know that I will want to eat it before it is presented as a fait accompli on the plate….

 

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