polaroids of pets and their owners

Geoffrey has two cats. Suki is a heavyweight, silver grey affair, sprawled on the seat of Geoffrey’s four wheeled walker like a luxuriously furred but rather bedraggled cushion, one paw draped over the side, an expression on her face of the purest hatred for the world and everything in it, especially Harry, the kitten. Harry is as hyperactive as Suki is inert, seemingly on a mission to destroy the bungalow, in such random bursts of activity it’s like watching a film that slows one minute and speeds up the next. Harry attacks the curtains, my bag, a pile of rubbish, the TV cables, winding himself up for each assault with a tensioning wiggle of his hips, whipping his tail from side to side, then skittering across the carpet – this time to take out a little stuffed dinosaur, rolling over and over with it, coming to a stop on his back with the dinosaur in its teeth and front paws, brutally pedalling it to death.

‘He’s having a funny five minutes,’ chuckles Geoffrey from his riser-recliner throne, King of Catland, packets of fishy favours to hand on the cantilever table.

But I’ve already been here ten.

‘Are you okay with dogs?’
It’s an article of faith to say yes, because Leila’s brindle staffie Frankie is hurling himself against the baby gate so violently you’d think he hadn’t eaten in a week and a leg of mutton just walked in the door. Before I can answer either way, Leila unlatches the gate and Frankie bursts out. I stand my ground and ignore him – and, thank god, it works. In fact, it’s extraordinary how quickly he changes mode: from Hound of Hell to Snuffly Chump.
I scraggle him behind the ears, and he seems to like that. Then suddenly he’s reminded of something, and hurries off into the sitting room.
‘Oh no,’ says Leila. ‘Wait for it.’
There’s a plaintive squeak or two, then Frankie comes trotting back into the hallway to sit at my feet with a blue ball clamped in his jaws.
‘Oh for God’s sake,’ says Leila. ‘Him and that ball. I wish I’d never got it.’
Frankie bites down on it twice in quick succession, to emphasise.
‘It was funny the other night, though,’ says Leila. ‘He fell asleep with it in his mouth. Then he started dreaming, doing that spooky eye-rolling thing they do, twitching and jerking, and then the ball squeaked, and woke him up, and scared the bejeesus out of him. He fell off the sofa and the ball squeaked some more and he dropped it and ran behind the curtains. I thought that might’ve cured him. But no, he was straight back on it. Poor ol’ Frankie. He’s like me – an addictive personality.’

a cat and a dog

a cat

Anna’s bed is in the bay window, the sunniest spot in the house, a light breeze filtering in through an open window, gently filling and turning the curtains. Anna’s asleep, curled up on her right side with one hand crooked under her head; sunlight illuminating the linen sheets and multi-coloured crochet square throw with such intensity it’s as if I’ve been staring at a beautiful painting for so long I’ve found myself suddenly transported into it.
Aside from the bed, the rest of the living room is just that – a room for living. There’s a baby lying on its back in a baby gym, reaching up for the fabric toys hanging overhead, waving his legs and gurgling happily; a toddler, standing on the sofa with her arms draped over the back, staring at me with wide, brown eyes; their mother, kneeling on the carpet, talking into the phone crooked at her neck whilst she folds laundry from the trug, and then her mother, Anna’s daughter Jean, standing in her dressing gown in the doorway, smiling, overseeing everything, cradling a mug of tea.
To add to it, a plump tabby cat strides into the room with her tail in the air. The toddler on the sofa jumps up a little, points to the cat, says Dat! and looks at me even more intensely.
The cat raises its chin like a butler in an over-starched collar, looks right and left, gives one, long, imperious yeowl, then collapses at my feet and stretches out, using her claws on the carpet to increase the bend, until she’s one languorous curve from the tip of her tail to her nose.
Dat! Dat! says the toddler, bouncing up and down on the sofa cushions.
‘Molly!’ says Jean, shaking her head and laughing.
And for a second, I’m not sure which is which.

a dog

Getting in to see James this morning was like trying to solve a giant, unwieldy puzzle. His carer Leila was delayed, some kind of bus trouble, apparently (We didn’t crash she said Thank God! But he is learner driver I think and he clipped mirrors and we all stopped for a long time and eventually I said no, no, no this is not good I have place to go so I asked them to let me be free please, and he did, and so then I ran and jumped on number 5, and change at river…). Meanwhile, Wendy the scheme manager wasn’t answering the intercom button or her phone. Two other residents had come outside already, one to smoke, one to chat. Both had asked if I wanted to go in and I’d said no, thanks, but James’ door is locked so it won’t do much good. They tell me where they saw Wendy last, and that segues into what a great job she does, and how the fish and chip supper went last night. It’s a nice block. Everyone looks out for everyone else, like a vertical village, people coming and going, or hanging around, mostly. Even the contractors working on the underground garage are cheerful and friendly, raising their coffee cups and smiling, more like actors than electricians, sauntering over from the on-location, TV catering wagon in their laundry fresh check shirts and utility belts.

The main door opens again and this time I see Wendy, waving her phone from the mezzanine floor that overlooks the lobby.
‘Can you come up here?’ she calls out to me. ‘Barry’ll let you in to see Jimmy. Sorry about the intercom. They’re working on it… or so they tell me!’
She says this on cue, just as the contractors are passing through the lobby. They smile and raise their coffee cups again, and exit stage right.

I go up – but I don’t have to wait long before Barry appears, an elderly man so immaculately turned-out I can imagine his Spotlight photo in the casting directory alongside the contractors.
‘This way,’ he says, jangling a bunch of keys and pressing the button for the lift. Then he turns and calls out ‘Fred! Come on, mate! We’ll go without you!’
‘Come on Fred!’ I say, then I turn to Barry and ask him who Fred is.
‘You haven’t met Fred?’
‘You’re in for a treat.’
We both turn to look at the archway that leads from the TV room out onto the mezzanine. I hear him before I see him, a deep, wet, resonantly lumpy sound, like an old British motorbike firing on one cylinder. Then I feel him – or I think I do – the thump of him through the springy floor. The lift arrives behind us, the door pings open but we both ignore it, waiting for Fred to emerge through the arch. And then he does – a gigantic black labrador, his tongue lolling out, hauling himself along on arthritic hips, one vast pad after the other, his head bobbing up and down with the effort of it all.
‘Come on, Fred!’ says Barry. ‘Good boy! Let’s go see Jimmy! Hey?’

syracuse & the duck

Jennifer Syracuse is my name of the day – the year, probably. A private detective kind of name. The name you’d give to that character in the book who crashes in on page three, lights things up and drives all the way to the big reveal.

These days, what with one thing and another, the brandy bottles clinking in an unbroken line from sometime back in the fifties out to an empty bottle on a windowsill; the falling away of friends and family connections; the piling up of clutter until even the long-case clock strains to keep its face clear – these days, Jennifer Syracuse is lighting up the world a little less, and the big reveal has long since flattened out into something longer, looser and more predictable.

‘When you see a duck have its head cut off you know you’ll never eat pate again. The way the feet waggle – d’you know? They keep on waggling.’

She looks up at me from where she’s sprawled on the ottoman.

‘Do have a seat,’ she says. ‘You make the place look untidy.’

If you can ignore the heaps of clothes and books and undifferentiated clutter, it’s a pleasant enough flat. The french windows are standing open, and sunlight filters in through a thicket of wisteria, giving the place a sleepy, soupy feel. There’s a gigantic chocolate coloured cat on the only other seat clear enough to sit on, sprawled as luxuriously and definitively as Ms Syracuse.

‘That’s okay,’ I say. ‘I’m happy standing.’

‘I mean – how could anyone eat an animal?’ she says, ignoring me. ‘Take cows for instance. Now – don’t they remind you of the women’s institute? Fat old matriarchs marching around, jabbing you with their elbows. They’d look darling in a flowery hat, though, you have to admit. And then you get the young calves in the background, jumping up and down, wondering what all the fuss is about.’
‘I like cows,’ I say.
‘How could one not? I was brought up in India, for heaven’s sake! D’you know – the other morning I sat up in bed and found myself talking Hindi! I haven’t spoken a word in seventy years, and there I was, completely fluent! It passed, of course, but I’m convinced it’s in there somewhere. I just need to learn how to get it out.

When I steer Jennifer towards the reason for the visit – her numerous falls, weight loss and general decline – she adopts a serious expression and struggles into a more upright position.

Would you keep your voice down! Please!’ she hisses, then leans forward and waggles her fingers for me to meet her halfway.

That bitch upstairs listens to every word,’ she says, then satisfied I’ve got the message, winks slowly in a lopsided way that threatens to extend into an extemporary sleep, comes to herself again, acknowledges me with a start, and taps the side of her nose.

‘What d’you want to know?’ she says, and collapses back on the ottoman.

a cussed old cat

‘You cat looks exactly like ours. That same splodge of white on his back, like someone threw a paint brush at him.’

The black and white cat slowly raises his head and orientates himself to my voice, his eyes tightly closed, as if he understands the insult – and would like me to see that he understands – but chooses not to respond, conserving his energy instead for the more important things in life, like sleeping. The moment passes; he gets back down to it.

‘He’s a funny old thing,’ whispers Derek. ‘A cussed creature. Does what he likes. Much like me.’

I’m glad about the cat. I mean – I like having animals around anyway, but in Derek’s case it’s a definite advantage. I’d been given plenty of cautionary notes about Derek beforehand. His new diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, coming at a time of family problems generally. His self-discharge against advice. Self-neglect. Resistance to help. I’m calling round this morning ostensibly to dress a wound on his foot, but there’s more to it than that.

‘Of course, you are the boss of you,’ I’d said to him when he eventually answered the door. ‘You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. So long as you understand what it is you’re refusing, and what the consequences might be, you’re perfectly free to say no.’
It’s a speech I’ve used before, the verbal equivalent of putting the gun on the floor and backing up a little. It’s okay. I’m on your side.
‘Yes’ he said. ‘Well. Obviously.’

He talks softly and quickly through a fixed smile, his head tipped back and his eyes half-closed. Maybe it’s a combination of his illness and his natural character, but the effect is peculiarly unsettling, as if he’s using his very last reserves of sociability to maintain a pleasant appearance, like a light bulb connected to a failing generator, flickering on the edge of darkness.
I didn’t expect I’d make it over the threshold, but he’d shown me through to the sitting room, and that’s when I saw the cat.
‘He’s lovely’ I say.
‘There are foxes in the garden,’ whispers Derek. ‘They seem to get along.’

I ask him about his time in hospital while I bandage his foot.
‘Dreadful’ he says. ‘Jabbed and prodded all hours of the day and night. No explanations. No introductions. Bullies and fools the lot of them. I’d had enough. I walked out. Probably should have stayed. So long as they leave me alone. I don’t care.’
He smiles down at me.
‘How does it look?’ he says.

Derek’s wife Barbara comes in and although she seems perfectly pleasant the atmosphere changes. He shrinks a little into himself. She unpacks her shopping bags – sandwich packs, bags of crisps, milk, snacks. ‘Don’t mind me,’ she says.
‘We won’t,’ says Derek.

There’s a knock on the front door and Barbara goes to answer it.
‘Oh God’ says Derek.

Barbara shows someone in, a tall, brisk woman with an armful of files and folders and a blue NHS lanyard round her neck.
‘Oh! Hello there!’ she says to me.
‘I’m Jim from the community health team,’ I say, ‘come to dress Derek’s foot.’
‘Great!’ she says. ‘Excellent! Well – I’m Ruby, the social worker. Do you mind if I put my stuff on the counter?’ She unloads her files and things amongst the shopping, then turns to Derek, looming over him, supporting her weight with both hands on her knees, her ID card swinging in the space between them. She speaks slowly and loudly, for some reason.
‘Hello there, Derek. I’m Ruby. The Social Worker. Lovely to meet you.’
Derek leans away, his smile even more ghastly.
He draws back his foot.
‘Just let me get this last bit of tape on…’ I say.
‘We’re done,’ he says.

jane & the cat

it’s changed so much round here
well – everyone’s died
I’m the last woman standing
at night the street’s parked up
I picture them all
all them people
lying in their beds, in mid-air
during the day you don’t see no-one
no cars, nothing
I talk to the gardener once a week
he’s got a little dog
the yappy kind
we had a dog once,
a jack russell
called jane
she hated fireworks
I used to put cotton wool in her ears
wrap a scarf round her head
we had a cat, too, years ago
I don’t think he had a name
we just called him The Cat
his house got bombed out
so he come into ours
he was a funny little thing
filthy, not what you might call affectionate
he loved the rain
he’d go right out in it
and stay out
then sneak back in
and jump on your lap
give you a heart attack
like someone attacking you with a mop
I miss all our pets, though
when they was gone we didn’t get no more
not when we started playing table tennis
well – it wouldn’t be fair to them, would it?

beatrix splutter

Agnes lives in the last of a series of two-roomed cottages that tail off into the privet at the far end of an obscure cul-de-sac. It’s a dead-end, deeply shaded, out-of-the-way kind of place. The kind of place you’d imagine outlaws to live – at least, a very suburban kind of outlaw, with mobility scooters instead of horses.

I pass a strange duo sitting outside the first bungalow: an elderly man and his equally elderly cat. The man has no teeth, which makes it look as if his flat cap is a plunger that’s been pressed and driven the upper half of his head further down into his neck. He’s liberally smacking his lips as he concentrates on rolling a fag, one long and skinny leg crooked over the other and spasmodically kicking up and down, no doubt in time to his heartbeat. The cat is sitting on its haunches on the rusted patio table beside him, so fixed on the fag-rolling it’s like he’s waiting for the old man to finish, and pass the cigarette to him.
‘Morning!’ I say as I walk past.
The old man nods and waves the half-finished fag in the air. The cat merely turns to stare, in one smooth, arrogant slide, and an expression that seems to say: Don’t distract him.

Agnes’s cottage is so stuffed full of junk there’s almost no room for Agnes. She’s installed in bed in a living room with just enough space to move from the end of the bed to the commode. The whole scene is like a burrow, poorly lit by a low-wattage lamp on the shelf above her that casts a febrile, enclosing kind of light. Agnes smiles at me as I introduce myself. She’s like a Beatrix Potter mouse in a bonnet and nightie, twitching her whiskers as Doctor Magpie hops in and starts flapping around, trying to figure out whether any of her problems are new or not, and what’s to be done.

An hour or so later, when I’m walking back along the path, and filling my lungs with fresh air, I can’t help wondering if I’ll see the old man and the cat again. And yes – they are there, in exactly the same position. The old man is still smoking, tipping back his head and releasing such a quantity of smoke you’d think each cigarette would be vapourised in one, deep drag. The cat has already heard me coming, and draws a bead as I walk past the gate.
‘Alright?’ I say, and then: ‘Nice day’
The man raises his cigarette in the air in the same way as before, except now he accidentally disturbs a quantity of ash into his lap. He curses, uncross his legs, leans forward, and begins urgently smacking his trousers clear. The cat watches him, then turns to look at me again, this time with an expression that seems to say: You made him do that.

lola, baxter, suki & the shadow

I’m taking photos of a bricked-up window when a woman calls out to me from higher up the path.
I say! she says, then Hello? You there with the camera. Is your dog alright with puppies?
I turn to look.
It’s a woman in her late middle-age, dressed like a countess, lacquered hair and Alice band, navy-blue twinset, the cardigan draped over the shoulders and fixed by a button, the only concession to the walk being a pair of blindingly white court shoes. Her left arm’s crooked up for balance, presumably, the right extended straight out in front, attached to the lead of a porcine little pug, madly scrabbling its paws in its eagerness to make time. I know that pugs’ eyes bulge, but these seem particularly alarming. I put it down to the effort it’s making pulling the woman along.
‘She’s fine!’ I say, hoping to God it’s true. Lola doesn’t seem bothered, though. The pug makes a bunch of strangled yippy noises, describing a perfect arc in the dirt, but Lola lopes by safely out of reach with barely a glance.
‘What about cats?’ the woman says as she draws nearer.
‘Cats? Well – she lives with one. They get along. Why?’
‘Suki follows me when I go out.’
I can see a large, marmalade cat sitting on its haunches in the middle of the path, such an air of self-possession I wouldn’t be surprised if it produced a pair of field glasses and called in an airstrike by walkie talkie.
‘She’s so cute!’ I say.
‘She isn’t. Sometimes she turns and goes back. Sometimes she disappears. For weeks.’
I nod, like – yes – this is definitely something to bear in mind with cats.
‘She’ll be alright with her, y’think?’
‘I think so.’
In fact, Lola hasn’t even seen the cat. I’m not surprised. Last week she walked right past an adult deer over the woods: didn’t even look up. And once, when an entire herd of black and whites fell into line behind me all the way across the field, Lola walked calmly in front, like she expected exactly this to happen all along, and was actually a little disappointed.
I bend down to offer my hand to the pug, which it takes as an invitation to climb all over me.
‘Don’t encourage him,’ says the woman. ‘He’s already much too excited about these things. C’mon, Baxter…’

It’s certainly a day for meeting posh dog walkers.

Cut to: a tall, stooped figure in a tweed gilet and corduroy trousers, standing at the edge of the woods leaning on a rustic walking stick, one hand draped over the other, watching a stately black labrador sniffing around in the long grass. The man has a wide, thin-lipped mouth that barely moves when he talks, and the slightly fuddled demeanour of someone who’d woken up, dressed and made five miles before he knew what was going on.
‘Nice reprieve from the hot weather,’ he says when I draw level. ‘Not that I’m complaining, of course. One just needs time to aclimatise to these things.’
I agree with him and stand there a moment, catching my breath after the climb. Lola goes over to the labrador. They swap cards.
‘Good boy, Shadow,’ says the man, then raises his chin and stares off across the field.
‘Where are the brown cows, d’you think?’
‘Over that far side. Lying down under the trees.’
‘Ah!’ he says. ‘Good! Not that Shadow is troubled by them overmuch. Or they he’
‘No. He looks pretty solid.’
‘The black and whites are the worst,’ the man says. ‘Have you met those chaps?’
‘Absolutely! On the back field. They’re so inquisitive.’
‘Yes. They fell into line and followed us the other day. I think they thought I was going to milk them.’
He takes off his cap, scratches his head, replaces the cap.
‘I shouldn’t think there’s much to it, though. Do you?’
‘Probably not. You’d just have to watch the legs.’
‘Yes! I think I’d be a little twitchy in the old trouser department if someone started fiddling around with my udders.’


schatz katze

The key safe is hanging open so I ring the bell instead. I step back and look up at the house whilst I’m waiting – a substantial Regency building, a little down-at-heel and cracking up, perhaps, but still impressive, with a wildly overgrown garden whose depths of shadow hint at stone baths and iron cold frames and other features utterly consumed with ivy.

The door opens and a bright, middle-aged woman in a carer’s uniform steps out onto the cracked mozaic tiles.
‘I’m so glad you’re here!’ she says, showing me in. ‘I think this is one for social services as much as anyone. I’m Karen, by the way!’

I stand with her in the hallway so she can tell me what she’s found so far. Helga is a ninety-five year old with no package of care and generally ‘bumping along the bottom.’ A neighbour looks in now and again. Found her on the floor, called the ambulance, hospital declined, referrals made. Karen points out a sheet of paper sellotaped to the mirror: In Emergency written in shaky green caps at the top, and below it, a handful of names and numbers, the nearest being Munich, the furthest, Hobart, Tasmania.

‘I feel so bad for her, says Karen. ‘There’s hardly any food in the house. Can I leave her with you whilst I nip round the corner and get the basics?’

Helga is lying in bed, stroking a black cat that’s sprawled on top of her, purring so loudly it fills the entire house. In an odd kind of way, it makes the place seem emptier.
I introduce myself, and explain why I’ve come. When Helga reaches out to shake my hand, her hand is so weak and light in mine it’s like the memory of a handshake that happened sometime just after the war.

I start to talk to her about the situation. How she’s feeling, how she’s been coping and so on, gently trying to tease out the facts. Helga doesn’t want to engage, though.
‘Ah! Too tired!’ she says, transferring her attention back to the cat with a philosophical pursing of the lips.
Was ist los?’ she says, feebly waggling her fingers under its chin. ‘Was ist los, shatz? Was ist los?’

portraits of people & their pets

1. Rita, 88. Leaky heart valve. Anemia of uncertain origin, possibly Heyde’s syndrome. Too frail for the op.

Sitting in the window with a heavy marmalade cat called Moo Moo on the arm of the chair. The cat makes no movement at all when I unpack my kit, resting its blue and level eyes on me.

‘Moo Moo appeared from nowhere,’ says Rita. ‘She was completely feral. I really don’t think she’s frightened of anything.’

2. Sally, 91. History of unexplained weaknesses, falls, labile blood pressure, poorly controlled diabetes.

Sally is sitting on the sofa with one white Westie sprawled on the backrest, and one in a dog crate in the alcove. Sally bunches up her sleeve and then stretches out her arm for me to take blood, propping it up one of the dog’s teddy bears. The Westie sprawled on the backrest appears to be asleep, but the one in the crate growls.

‘It’s not you, it’s me,’ says Sally. ‘He doesn’t like me using his bear.’

3. Katherine, 76. Recovering from a chest infection, general debilitation. Poor E&D.

Katherine is sitting on a two-seater sofa, bathed in a sudden wash of sunlight from the bay window. Either side of the sofa are two tall, dark wood jardinieres, each one topped with a giant palm and supported on tripod of carved lions’ feet. A Sphynx cat appears from nowhere and lands so lightly on the folder in my lap it’s hardly like an animal of substance at all, but some ethereal creature conjured from the papers and letters on Katherine’s writing desk, with half a dozen strands of fuse wire for whiskers, and two thimble-sized drops of rainwater for eyes.

‘She likes you,’ says Katherine.


cat scene investigation

I took Solly to the vet’s for his vaccination and worming pill yesterday. Which is how I came to step barefoot on glass when I came down this morning.

You see, yesterday I’d taken the cooker extractor fan apart. It had started to make noises and drip gloop on the hob – a noxious, sticky substance that would’ve poisoned the whole family had it fallen into the soup (or improved it, one of the two). De-glooping the extractor fan is my least favourite chore. It doesn’t matter how much kitchen cleaner I spray on it, or how many times I flush it with boiling water, the two panels carry on oozing this stuff like it’s coming from a whole other dimension, like chef’s ectoplasm. Anyway, I did my best. I set the panels on some kitchen towel to drain as much of the gloop as possible. Whilst the panels were off, it seemed like a good time to change the bulb that had blown some time ago (shorted out by gloop, no doubt). We didn’t have a spare, so I put it to one side so I could take it in to get another.

Meanwhile, Solly had to go to the vets. He knew he was in trouble when he saw us bring the cat carrier down from the attic. But we’d thought ahead. We’d closed all connecting doors, shut the cat-flap and turned on all the lights. All that was left for him was to hide under the sofa, but we played the classic pincer-movement and made a grab when he ran for the chimney. Getting him into the cat carrier was tough. It always is. He sprouts extra legs, each one bristling with claws. It’s like trying to wrestle a bale of barbed wire through a letterbox. By the time we’d stuffed him into the cat carrier we looked like we’d been beaten up and thrown in a bramble patch.

‘Good luck at the vet’s’ Kath said, dabbing her arms.

As I took him outside, Solly began to wail. He’s a black and white cat, by the way – appropriate, given that this wail of his sounds exactly like the siren of a black and white cop car in an old noir movie, pulling up at the scene of a dreadful murder.

At the vets he was completely different, though. When the vet opened the carrier door and reached inside, he slunk out onto the examination table, looking straight ahead.
‘Wow! You’re like the cat whisperer!’ I said to her.
‘I wish I could take the credit’ she said. ‘But the plain fact is, he’s terrified.’
‘Poor Solly!’ I said, feeling guilty. I ruffled the top of his head, and that’s when he gave me the look. The look that said: Don’t think it ends here, my friend.
The vet began checking him over. Teeth, abdomen, ears. Stethoscope to chest.
‘How’s he looking?’ I said.
She sighed and took the stethoscope out of her ears.
‘Sorry. Carry on,’ I said.
She put the stethoscope back in.
And that’s when Solly gave her a look. See what I have to put up with?

Of course, when we got back home, Solly disappeared into the garden for hours. When he finally made it back in to eat, he was his usual, darkly mysterious self again, gnarling and chomping through his meat and biscuits with the noisy relish of an old sea captain back in the snug of The Neptune after a particularly harrowing whaling adventure. (Although I might be reading too much into it.) And that seemed to be that.

Except, of course, it wasn’t.

As Solly well knows, I tend to walk around barefoot. Certainly in the summer. In winter, it’s mostly socks, but I did get a pair of slippers, because the tiles in the kitchen are freezing. The only trouble is, I’ll often leave the slippers by the back door, so first thing in the morning, I’ll blunder downstairs, through the sitting room and into the kitchen to get them, not bothering to put on any lights.

That’s what happened this morning. Just as Solly knew it would.

I heard the crunch of glass before I felt the pain in my foot. I gasped and staggered backwards to put the light on, which showed me in an instant all I needed to know, like the flash of a CSI camera: Solly on the counter by the hob, smiling at me. Solly with one paw still extended – from having gently swiped the spent extractor fan bulb onto the floor. Solly leaping clear of the mess, and stalking away into the sitting room, his tail straight up, like an antenna, transmitting to all the other neighbourhood cats: Operation Vet Vengeance: Executed.


drag me to hell, traffic warden

We watched the Sam Raimi film Drag me to Hell last night. It was great. Plenty of outrageous set-ups, plenty of gloop (although nothing as horrible as the stuff from the extractor fan). One thing that did strike me, though – how convenient it is that the demons and evil spirits in these films always look so goddamn awful. They’ve all got terrible teeth and skin, weird eyes, ghastly nails. A demon is basically someone who pays no heed whatsoever to the basics of personal hygiene. Which is handy, in a way, because it makes them easier to spot.

Not like real life at all, then.

I mean, I was given a parking ticket the other day by a traffic warden, even though I wasn’t causing an obstruction, and even though I was attending to a very poorly patient.
‘Double yellows, yes. Loading bays, no,’ he said. ‘You should know that.’
‘But it’s Christmas’
He shrugged.
‘So let’s get this straight,’ I said, struggling to hold it together. ‘If I was unloading frozen chips to this chintzy fucking tea room, that would’ve been okay?’
‘So it’s chips and not sick people, is it?’
‘Don’t even bother,’ said a painter and decorator, passing by, stopping just long enough to give the traffic warden a stare that was worryingly like a curse. ‘He just better hope his family never needs help sometime.’

Looking back on it, setting aside all personal feelings about the matter, I have to say – the traffic warden looked as nice and friendly as anyone else. He certainly didn’t look like a demon, with yellow eyes and sharp teeth. And he had very nice hair, what I could see of it, round his cap.