Monthly Archives: February 2010

I’m flummoxed… do they think I’m gormless?

Having sorted out (a bit) the finances… and realised it might not all slip away to nothingness and fantasy, we’ve been getting on with the process of uprooting and moving.

The first has been Steve’s bike – a CCM 604DS – a beautiful northern beast of a bike – his love and passion. I’ve been frequenting a couple of forums for expats, and realising they might just not be the place for us! I’d asked what to do about importing the bike, only to have some quite superficially helpful advice.

Turns out, it wasn’t so helpful. The guy who I was told to write to for an ‘attestation d’identité’ doesn’t deal with CCM any more… so after I’d painfully transcribed it in French, he’d written back to me (in English) and faxed it through to CCM in Bolton, a mere 4 miles from my house.  Bah.

Then it turns out it doesn’t have a certificate of conformity because it was pre-1996 and it was not manufactured in great numbers… so it had a motorbike single vehicle approval, which isn’t recognised in France, and it’ll need the equivalent in France.

Not a big deal, I hope.

Still, I’m quickly getting the impression that the forums are full of moaners who have done things the hard way, if at all. They pass on second and third hand stories about difficulties they’ve faced…. without any specific ‘do this, do this’ info, and the guy who I did get some from was so much of a pedant I’d probably slap him in the face. He questioned whether I’d done as he’d advised (to the letter, and better) and then told me what I already knew. Bah.

Then there’s the English ex-pats who want everything English – the same cheeses, the same meat, the same cars, who don’t want to be in France particularly except it was cheap and not a big deal to move there. It might as well be Spain, Italy, Germany…. France is the accidental part of it.

Why even move to a country you don’t want to really live in?

Steve and I went to his mum’s on Wednesday, so I could make my famous Anglesey eggs (thanks, Hairy Bikers) and we were talking about how close we are to a complete monetary failure in England. So much is owed. We’re like some tinpot dictatorship in Africa in the 1970s. It’s quite shocking. I’m going to Cuba if the world’s economy collapses. They’re virtually self-sufficient, were it not for a bit of Hugo Chavez’s oil. And they live like we plan to… fresh veg, chickens, bicycles, music…. I know there are social problems and problems getting various items, such as soap, when I was there, but when Hurricane Ivan swept over and much of the island was in black-out, it wasn’t much different from normal. No street lights in Havana, no extraneous lighting, no ridiculous food, no commercialism. It’s a world totally unaffected by commercial corporations, and I love that. I love that they sit 90 miles off American shores and stick two fingers up at McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, Gap and Banana Republic, Abercrombie and Fitch and so on…. I like that they do things their way. I wish not every country in the shadow of America had joined the embargo.

But, it’s a rural, quiet, basic life where people sing and play, work some and learn. They’re healthy and literate and it’s a beautiful untouched country. I like that about rural France.

So I’m not going to expect Sunday roasts and pubs and cheddar cheese and dole queues, but then I’m expecting it to be a lot nicer than England, too, if only because I won’t be bogged down in all this political cynicism I’ve developed. And in many ways, I hope the ex-pats don’t invade my turf. I’m interested in France, not living in an enclave or ghetto. Not for me, at all.

The day someone asks me something in French on the street, that’ll be the day I’m at my happiest.

Anyway, why is it that people who don’t know what they’re talking about feel free to add their grumbles, the old women. It’s as if they feel like they really should piss on your parade, just for fun. If something’s been hard for me, I usually do the opposite and say ‘oh, it was fairly easy’ and assume that any complications were idiocy on my behalf, or stupidity on behalf of whatever it is I’m trying to do (like some of my ridiculous phone calls of late) not that it’s impossible. That just makes me look incompetent.

Anyway, I’ve realised that someone is missing a damn fine PA. I’m very good at getting things done. I’m good at list-writing and ordering and colour-coding and photocopying, and things involving the post office. I’m good at phoning people up and following instructions and gathering stuff. I’m a paper-pusher of the highest order, and I do so in colour-coded box files and with multi-coloured sticky notes, with highlighter pens and dividers and folders and binders. I love Staples and Office World, and I especially love Paperchase who make organisation a kitsch and cute affair. I love boxes and labels and order.

I could definitely be a ‘move co-ordinator’ or a wedding planner or something like that. I would be an excellent sheepdog or shepherd, since I’m very good at corralling gormless animals, rounding up strays and bringing it all home tidily. At times, teaching is much more like herding cats, so all of this is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

So I say ‘bah’ in the general direction of the nay-sayers and the old Mary Anns who like to make everything sound impossibly difficult, and I promise, when I have done things, to share my wisdom and optimism about how easy it all was, in practical, colour-coded, logical steps. Yes.

Tha’ll be maunderin’ an’ maulin’ ’bout

I’ve got a couple of the bits and pieces coming through now to sort stuff out – namely, the motorbike and Jake’s school. I’d sent letters (it’s much easier to write in French than it is to come up with the right words when talking. I might pretend I’m mute) to the CCM importers in France, and to the Mairie, expecting bureaucracy, but not getting any. Harry, the guy from CCM Europa, doesn’t even work with CCM any more, but still faxed on my letter back to (ironiquement!) Bolton where they’re made, to ask for the Certificat de Conformité… moments later, I had an email from both; Harry said my French was very good – of which I was proud! – and Rachel from CCM asked if I could tell her in English what I wanted. If anyone tells me about French bureaucracy, I shall shoot them, especially in light of what happened later…

I also sent a letter asking what we had to do to get Jake into school – I’ve received the appropriate forms this morning, and had a little worry that his feeble ‘short’ birth certificate wouldn’t be enough. It was back within 7 days, all sorted, all clear, as well as the details we need to get him into school.

Not so Bolton Council, who umm and ahhh about everything, don’t send you stuff, lie about what they have sent, send you the wrong stuff, shout at immigrants and old people and entitled people and anyone who’ll stop a moment. They have bizarre protocol for some things, and then none for other, more important things. Then we had Aviva, continuing to charge Steve for a van he’s not had since October 2008 – and (in my very quiet opinion) his own fault for not checking his bank statements, but they’d also been charging him breakdown cover on a car he’s not owned for over a year, and not really bothered, as long as the money comes to them.

I duly went out in search of a form Aviva said we needed to send to the DVLA. The DVLA agreed: the V888 was the form in question (nicely titled, to avoid confusion with other V documents!) and you could get it from any post office that sells car tax. Not so, it transpires. I went to Deane Road post office (yes, I’m naming and shaming you, because you’ve been rude to me twice, and the women at St Helen’s Road Spar post office and the lovely Asian man in Daubhill post office are much nicer than you!) and was met by this:

Me: I need a V888 form.

BW: we don’t have any

Me: but the DVLA said you do

BW: but we don’t

Me: what is a V888 form? Do you even know?

BW: I know we don’t have any.

Me: well, could you at least look??

BW: but we don’t have any

Me: but the DVLA said you are supposed to

BW: Well, we don’t.

Me: Do you know where I can get one from?

BW: maybe from Bolton Central post office.

Me: Bah. I curse you and your offspring, you bureaucratic weasel of the highest order. May the stamps you lick give you tongue cancer and may your tongue grow sores and cankers and fall out, thus rendering you speechless, which, surely to God is better than now.

* BW = bureaucratic Weasel. It’s a name I give to jobsworths who rely on paperwork to get out of stuff. Mainly, they use the Data Protection Act as their main shield from doing work, but there are others.

So…. to anyone who tries to tell me that French bureaucracy is bad, I shall point them in the direction of Deane Road post office and tell them to go in there. What a waste of oxygen that woman was.

Things I shan’t miss:

21. Bureaucratic weasels and the rudeness from them.

22. Unhelpfulness (though I’m sure that exists everywhere in the world!)

23. The drivers that block the roads when there’s a lot of traffic

24. Drivers who pull out into the road when there’s traffic and make everyone brake. Has the point of the single white solid line or the double dashed white line been forgotten????! It means STOP if it’s the former or GIVE WAY if it’s the latter. Why isn’t this common knowledge any more? Has someone shifted the meaning to be that people on the main road should stop or give way???!

25. Overcrowded supermarkets

26. People who stop in doorways. Likewise, I know they will exist in France, but population density dictates these will be fewer and further between. I would, at this point, like to tell a little tale about a fight Steve and I witnessed in a car park in E Leclerc in La Rochefoucauld…. the man had obviously nicked her spot – which was ridiculous because there were about 200 spaces and only 20 cars… so she had got out of her car, where it was, where she had stopped in a moment of righteous indignation, and she was following him into the supermarket, barracking him and threatening to take his hat. It was hilarious. I think this should happen more often in England, let alone in France.

27. Those huge headphones. Anti-iPod headphones. As big as satellite dishes. What’s the point? You aren’t djing in the middle of the day, and the sound quality of an mp3 is pants anyway, compared with ‘older’ technology. You look like a knob if you’re wearing them.

so… what is it that annoys me?

I was thinking I could do with a list of all the things with this bit of the world that hack me off (to be followed by a list of things I love and I’ll miss!)

  1. Potholes. Why are there so many??! Particularly the ones on Adelaide Street and the really, really deep one on Bury Road
  2. Drivers. Slow ones. Fast ones. Ones that cut you up
  3. People who stop too close behind me. What difference does 12 inches make if you stop that much further away from me? It MAKES me want to stall on purpose
  4. The learner driver route that clogs up Bridgeman St
  5. Traffic lights that aren’t in sync. England has too many of them, and too many of them where you have to stop at EVERY SINGLE set, wasting time and petrol!
  6. The grey sky
  7. The fact it’s nearly March and there are no signs of improving weather
  8. The fact the council spends a ridiculous amount on stupid things, and then not enough on important things
  9. Buses that don’t give you long enough to overtake when they pull in
  10. Tax. Fuel tax. I’ve paid income tax on my salary – any other tax is just stealth tax. I reckon actual costs are so minimal now and tax accounts for about 80% of the products we buy
  11. The way council operatives talk to you
  12. The extortionate amount credit card companies charge, without anyone stopping them and saying they’re being ridiculous
  13. Newspapers that feel forced to spin every single story and then can’t see the irony of accusing politicians of spin
  14. Miserable faces
  15. The dirty shades of clothing Britain feels like it should dress itself in
  16. Why all new building projects are in shades of brown and grey. I realise it would be ridiculous to build everything in white or colours, but it would make it a little less miserable if there was a smidgen of a pleasant colour about
  17. The nastiness of my yellowing grass
  18. Moss in my grass
  19. Poor timekeeping
  20. Cold calls, especially for anything you aren’t at all interested in…

I’m sure more things will appear on my list as time goes on.

And the things I shall miss?

  1. The hills around Manchester, especially when they’re snow-capped
  2. The Hark to Towler, a combination of pub, music venue and pirate ship
  3. Rock Radio – nothing like Steve Berry’s banter of a morning, and some rousing rock tunes to spice up the rush hour!
  4. Manchester-friendly people, who’ll chat with you just to pass the time
  5. Northern curry houses – our best import! Trishna’s fantastic house specials, and the lovely guy who brings them
  6. Home delivery and takeaway – not that we indulge regularly, but I’m sure I’ll miss it
  7. Burger King and all its delightful burgers
  8. Hot Dog vans and the smell of fried onions outside the town hall
  9. Bolton library – France just doesn’t do libraries like we do!
  10. Manchester and city living – Affleck’s Palace, Ancoats, King St South, Kendals, Selfridge’s, Heals and all the shops, Kurt Geiger and Mac makeup. Paris is still a long way away!

I’m wondering if you can take the girl out of Manchester, but not Manchester out of the girl? It’s made me gritty and hard-working and industrious; it’s made me ironic and sharp, sarcastic and sardonic; it’s made me ‘mad fer it’ and it’s made me know how to celebrate. It’s all Buzzcocks and The Smiths, Joy Division and New Order, Happy Mondays, the Inspiral Carpets, The Stone Roses and Oasis. It’s made me all ‘fuck you’, but all full of self-swagger and insecurity. It’s my history, my roots. Dark nights at the International watching punk bands and pretty-boy metal, goth bands and thrash; cold winter nights on the locks, sitting outside, laughing and drinking in zero degrees without a coat; fantastic chinese, thai, greek, indian, bangladeshi and british food, and more too numerous to mention. It’s the Ritz on Monday night, and Dambusters. It’s Jilly’s and the Banshee, Band on the Wall and the Roadhouse. It’s the Hacienda and the Boardwalk, Sankey’s Soap and the Free Trade Hall. And Manchester has made me outspoken, concerned with social welfare; it’s the city of Marx and Engels, of suffrage and Peterloo, of trade unions and political radicalism. It’s a city of workers, lacking charm and sophistication. And it is me.

Can I reform sufficiently to leave this behind?

Thar’s all moither’d

Still on the countdown… buying packs of vegetable seeds like mad and contemplating how many different strains of carrots to grow, in amongst countless viewings and worryings and so on. I’ve been compiling a list of things to be sure we can buy in France, food-wise, that make up part of our weekly diet… judge not!

  • cornflour…. custard, thickening, gravy
  • suet… dumplings, suet puddings and suet crust
  • olive oil – simply because last time we were in Geant, it didn’t seem to have any! Can’t believe it would be a rare commodity, but there you go
  • corned beef – you can’t beat a tin of corned beef in the cupboard as a classic favourite to make a mighty meal with – much like last night, when I’d mislaid my shopping (it happens!) and we had corned beef hash with a suet crust!
  • curry spices
  • mushroom sauce
  • worcestershire sauce
  • toasted sesame oil
  • ginger
  • baked beans

I’m sure there’ll be more, but this is about it. As long as I’ve got something as a substitute, I’ll be okay. I know we go through pints of double cream, so it’ll be creme fraiche from now on, and I know we’ll have to make the switch to French cheeses, which is fine, although you can’t beat the versatility of cheddar or double gloucester, or the lovely acidity of lancashire or cheshire or caerphilly. I’m sure I can manage with good old Port Salut for melting on stuff, and I’m looking forwards to a proper tartiflette with a reblochon cheese, rather than mozzarella and cheddar. I’m not sure I mind going completely native, but it is good to have a suet crust from time to time, or a bit of custard. I am, however, looking forwards to the rewards of fresh eggs on tap – home made mayo, ice-cream, meringues, pavlova, forgotten pudding, yummy baked cheesecakes, boiled eggs for breakfast and proper egg pasta, and eggy bread, and bread and butter pudding…. I was reckoning I spent about £250.00 a year on good organic free range eggs – I might have given up my vegetarian ways, but I can’t quite bring myself to buy something made in a cage by a poor life-less animal, unless I can absolutely help it. I don’t even buy things with eggs in these days, for much the same reason. I’m planning on turning Steve meat-free, over the long run. I reckon with our own eggs, plenty of fresh fish and lots of vegetables and cheese and bread, that’ll happen fairly easily.

What I love is how often he tells the Molly-dog ‘you’ll love it in France’, which is sweet, if un-needed. I know animals understand a lot of what we say, but I’m not sure she yet understands she’s moving from England to France. I think what he’s really doing is getting himself excited. I hope so. He’s not a gig-dancer like I am, so it can be very hard to the untrained eye to see if he’s actually giddy.

There’s a lot I shan’t miss… the media frenzy and deliberate misinterpretation of facts, the ‘sleb’ focus we have in this country. I don’t care what Jordan/Katie Price/Kerry Katona et al are up to, but someone must. They keep buying magazines with their faces on them, tuning in to programmes about them. I shan’t miss that at all. I also shan’t miss the way the press make demons of people, or angels, when we’re all somewhere in between. It’s shallow and fickle and cruel. Headlines won’t affect us so much, I hope. I’m sick of the way the world has become managed globally, although I appreciate that someone somewhere has the foresight to see a big picture on our behalf, and I’m hoping I won’t feel as enmeshed in politics as I do here, and that the media frenzy which turned a slump into a credit-crunch and a recession, in my opinion, is in some way responsible for the panic that ensued.

Neither shall I miss the foul-mouthed, nasty, small-minded underclass we’ve got in this country, the kind that litter the Jeremy Kyle show. I wish, I really, truly wish, that Jeremy Kyle had no guests and they were actors, but you can tell that they aren’t. They’re symptomatic of the foul society that Britain rests on, its weakest link, the Karen Matthews’ of the world, who pop out children and fill up the welfare system and drain resources, and there’s times when I wish the government, the police and social workers would say ‘you’re a foul individual! Stop being such a fuck-up and sort yourselves out. You’ve got no-one to blame for this but yourself. Now step up to the mark and start contributing to society instead of sucking it dry’ Petty-minded, over-fertile, badly-nourished alcoholics and drug addicts and dependants who haven’t got the slightest concern about any other living being, and feel like the world owes them a living. The worst thing is, there seem to be more and more of these as time passes. I don’t know whether it’s the distorted view I get from the press or the fact that I run into these oxygen thieves on a daily basis, but I’m sick and tired of the fact that nothing is ever done about them, although we all seem to despise them, and no-one would own up to being one. Where have all the nice people gone??!

And now you get a small sense of what it is that’s driving me to abandon this country and have a go somewhere else. I’m tired of everyone running each other down with words, terrorising each other, abusing each other and thinking it’s harmless. It’s okay to scream at your children instead of loving them, blaming a seven year old for being ‘bad’ instead of thinking it’s anything to do with yourself. I hate the way there’s no-one left to intervene and neither the police nor social workers are even allowed to say ‘this isn’t okay’, and it’s left to Jeremy Kyle to say ‘it’s not okay for you to behave like this’. Heaven forbid anyone should cast blame on a parent for not bringing a child up effectively. I hate that. Maybe if we did say ‘it IS your fault your three-year-old is naughty’ instead of accepting excuses, then things might be a little better. Too few people take responsibility for their own weaknesses, yet find much to criticise in others. I hate that.

So… I’m hoping the nun-like solitude and the occasional copy of Charente Libre will keep me up to date, and revive my faith that the world is a lovely place after all.

Eee, put th’kekkle on, I’m just back from th’ospikul

My snowy driveway

Day 46 and counting…. Steve’s got the packing bug, now, and there are boxes everywhere. I’m still no nearer to finding a buyer, and despair of ever finding one, on account of I think people these days are trapped in a game of ‘real-life-through-the-keyhole’ and have a good game of a Sunday afternoon by going round other people’s houses, seeing what they can glean about their personality and trying to work out ‘who lives in a house like this?’. I half expect Loyd Grossman to walk in before them and comment on my artwork.

I personally didn’t have the time for this when I went looking in France. I met up with a couple of lovely estate agents, including the wonderful Thibaud, looked at 7 houses which were 90% like I’d asked for. I had a clear view of what we wanted, such as land size, bedrooms, outbuildings, state of repair and budget (most important!) and I told the estate agents, both of whom found me things that mostly looked like what I wanted. I didn’t care about where, as long as it was a small village in some space, and had some connections to amenities, and whilst every one of the seven houses was lovely, and I could see myself in any of them, at the same time, none were perfect. One felt right, and that’s the one we’re lucky enough to be buying. Hopefully!

But this breed of British real-life-through-the-keyhole-contestant/tyre kicker don’t even seem to want to buy an actual house. Some want a look. Three of my neighbours had no intention of moving, they just wanted a nosey. Loads more seemed to think that a modern-three-bed-semi-detached should actually be a mansion with three en-suites, a utility room, a conservatory and several drawing rooms/morning rooms and that just over 6 figures is too much for the aforementioned mansion they want. Even in France (even!) you’d get a mansion, but it’d be a ruin needing £200,000 worth of work. With the average UK house price at quarter of a million (yes, people, quarter of a million!) I feel like kicking the viewers in the head several times before beating them repeatedly with several thousand estate agents’ reports.

The family that came yesterday were a fairly typical example. The man knocked on the door, and then everyone decided to get out of the car (mum, kids, grandparents) whilst I’m standing there with a fixed smile on my face as all the heat blows out of my door into the wilds of Bolton’s mid-February air. After five minutes of door-opened, freezing, fixed smiling, the family are all in. All of us in my small front room. I say ‘What are you looking for, exactly’ in the hopes of getting a better picture so I can aim my pitch more accurately, and the woman says ‘just a look around’. I laugh, and explain, thinking she’s got the wrong end of the stick, but in the end, I’m the idiot, because that’s all they did want, not a house at all.

After that, we all cram into my small dining room. They won’t go outside, even though I suggest they should, so they can get an idea of how quiet the neighbourhood is and how secluded it is, and peer at it through the window. She asks a dumb question about why I’ve put double glazing in, and replaced the old, so I explain patiently. One previous visitor got obsessed by the water rates… bizarre. Think he was planning on running a water-bottling business from home. Then we all traipse upstairs. This is where the rudeness really kicks up a notch. Not one, not two, but ten of the viewers have felt it necessary to open my wardrobes and cupboards in my bedroom. When did this become de rigeur??! Whilst they’re all lovely and ordered, it’s still a bit much, especially if you’re only on a lookie-loo. And then they can’t be bothered to go into the bathrooms, bedrooms etc. It’s soooooo rude. They basically want to march in, root around and then vacate. I feel like I’m in a surreal version of The Life of Brian, where the Roman soldiers all march in, root a bit and then all march out again. Next time, I’m going to gauge them from the window, and if I don’t like the look of them, I’m going to shout obscenities from the bedroom window, until they go away. Or I might rig up the door handle so that it gives them an electric shock. I would love to know exactly what proportion of them go on to buy an actual house. Maybe they get tea and cake in some, and it’s a bit like those people who go to wakes just to get fed. I can’t think of a single real reason why anyone would want to spend their time looking round anyone else’s house, especially if the owner is there. You feel uncomfortable and a bit awkward, especially if you don’t like it, and you feel (well, I do!) like you should make soothing noises about how lovely it is, risking them getting excited about a future offer, so you don’t come across as rude. But not these vultures. They don’t care how rude they are, not one bit.

The worst thing is that it is starting to make me rude. I just feel like saying ‘what is this? a fucking freebie freak-show?’ I know families used to go to mental institutions in centuries gone by, to pass the time after church. Zoos have become a bit too saintly and ecological, without the chained animals and the rocking polar bears, Jeremy Kyle isn’t on, and I’m sure they just want a good gawp at someone losing their sanity.

Not only that, even if one of these bemoiled rudesbies actually made an offer, I’d feel inclined to reject it simply because I like my neighbours and I wouldn’t want to leave behind terror in my wake. I’d feel cruel.

Not that it will come to that. The woman (and family) yesterday were quite put out that the house had stairs. How very dare it. Stairs, indeed, in a house! Turned out it was for her elderly parents, and really they need a bungalow or flat, or assisted living, but I think the daughter thought it would be nice for them to spend the day getting cross at house owners for having stairs, which, according to many of my viewers, are in the wrong place. Or they’re too big, or they’re in a funny place. I’m guessing this is in that they go from downstairs to upstairs. How bizarre! Not only that, but my house is too small. I’m not sure, dearest Bastard Thieves woman, how I’m supposed to do anything about that, but thanks for the feedback anyway. That was a waste of two minutes of my life, and an added stress.

Whilst I write, the family I’m waiting for haven’t turned up. How rude! At least it saves me from swearing at them through the letterbox and saying ‘no tyre-kickers today, thank you!’

At least no-one told me it would be easy!!

Des pissenlits

So Steve has finally started packing. Unlike my military-style, highly-organised packing, he’s opted for the more laissez-faire approach. I’m now up to about 100 wine boxes, all labelled, all clearly identifiable, all helpfully sorted into room-by-room groups. I may colour code them, but I think that may be too much. Steve, however, has gone for the more ad-hoc approach of finding random-sized boxes of varying strengths, styles and shape, and he’s filling them with whatever he comes across. This may not help very much with my deciding where everything is likely to go, but it will help create an exact replica of his disorganised home. I, for instance, have packed CDs with CDs, make up with make up, handbags with handbags. He’s gone for the roman coins with shoelaces with history books with lead fishing weights. It’s novel. I’ll give him that. To give him credit, it makes sense to him. Quite why he wants to bring two small safes with him is beyond me. Both of them can be carried off to be smashed elsewhere, one of them has a single-tumbler lock and the other doesn’t lock (or shut) at all. In fact, the most use they’ve been is for our baby-sitting rescue cat to hide in.

The rescue cat has a story of its own, and we’re deeply affectionate about it (apart from Jake who seems to think the cat hates him with a passion)

Some time last summer, Jake and his friend ‘found’ a kitten under a hedge and brought it down for our perusal.

“It’s dead.” Steve said, unemotional as ever. The friend gave a look of abject horror.

“Dead?!” and the kitten was all set to be launched into space which would definitely have finished it off for good. Luckily, it gave a little move just in time, Steve realised his error, ran to its rescue and relieved the young boy of his fear that he may indeed be holding a dead animal. He put it in a box and waited for me to get home, having tried to tempt it with some milk and then some water. If Jake hadn’t found it, it’d be dead. If Steve hadn’t put it in a shady spot and fed it a little liquid, likewise.

Luckily, I have charm where animals are concerned. I’ve rescued a hamster, a gerbil, several fish and my own cat, Basil, from several near-death escapades. I hand-fed Basil New Covent Garden chicken soup when he was very poorly, and I know how to sort a cat out. Poor baby kitten was covered in fleas, lice, and most disconcerting, fly eggs and maggots, which had already begun to eat him. I washed him down and raced him to the RSPCA in Salford. This is an experience in itself. There was no apparent way in, as it has to be kept under constant lockdown from the nearby druggies, and it was operating on a three-door policy, where you went through one, were vetted, then went through another. Honestly, it was worse than airport security!

There was a chavvy looking bloke in there, with, yes, a Staffie and its pups. The Staffie had killed one, and they were worried it would kill another. Probably saw the life its children would lead and decided to put them out of their misery. Leather collars with metal spikes on, hanging around offies looking menacing, and being paraded as a menace when you’re really a sweetheart dog must be enough to drive any mother to consider euthanasia. Anyway, the vet took a look and then it was my turn, with my little shoebox with the recently-named ‘Ollie’, partly in honour of Oliver Twist, the most literary foundling I could think of, partly in honour of having a sound-alike to ‘Molly’. Steve had suggested ‘Arfur’ (‘Arf-Alive) but I like to bestow literary names upon my cats, in the best T.S. Eliot style.

I was worried Ollie had broken back legs, but it was just that he was so weak he couldn’t hold them properly. And the vet gave me some rehydration salts and sent me on my way.

Ollie had to be fed the fluid with a 2ml syringe. I sponged him down, put him in the airing cupboard, kept him warm, wiped his bum, knowing that baby cats need a mummy cat’s tongue on their arse to make them wee, apparently. What  a job. No wonder I’m not maternal. And I’m not even a cat. I gave him 2ml every hour, kept him clean, powdered him with gentle flea powder, and cleaned his eyes, which were glued shut with pus and snot.

Next day, he was still sniffing and sneezing. I knew the vet had missed something. Ollie had cat flu. He had to have. I took him to my vet, Michael, who is an adorable man. He’s so gentle and kind – he’s exactly what you’d want in a vet. And he agreed. Cat flu. Probably wouldn’t survive the night. Didn’t even know if he was old enough for anti-biotics. I thought he was about 6 weeks old, but in retrospect, he was probably only 2 or 3. So I paid up a princely sum for anti-biotics, cat milk, de-fleaing drops, and took him home to start the lengthy process of bringing him back to health.

The first two days, he didn’t move at all. He barely woke up when I was feeding him, and he was not even moving an inch during the day, just sleeping face down on Basil’s old cat cushion. I was convinced he would make it, despite what the vet said. I made another couple of trips to pick up more anti-biotics, and have check-ups, but it didn’t bode well.

Then he did a little poo.

Ollie, a couple of days later

All was beginning to look a little better. He was beginning to move from 2 ml to a 5 ml syringe, and he moved a little bit on the Thursday. He was a little cleaner, and he managed to get one eye open. Over the next week, he began to lap milk from a saucer, coaxed by me moving the syringe nearer and nearer to it. And he began to sit up and look more alive than dead. I went through many syringes, many towels, many cotton wool pads and cotton wool buds that week.

He began to move about a bit, and was kind of nicknamed Wobbly Bob. I don’t know why people who are wobbly get called Bob, but so it is. So Ollie became Ollie-Bob, and occasionally Bob Sagat (via Bob Seger!) and he began to get a lot more lively, although still very, very fragile!

Ollie looking a little bewildered

And he was beginning to follow Molly about, looking up to her like a surrogate mother. She loved it, and it made me feel a little bit sad that she’d been spayed, since she would have made an excellent mum! She was incredibly patient with him, though excited by the new addition to the family, never jealous of the time we spent with him. He even took to copying her mannerisms!

Molly teaching Ollie her best moves

He really was unbelievably small and wobbly. But one night, Ollie crept into Moll’s basket and cuddled up, and she loved it. It was like she was made to be cuddled up to by small animals. She wouldn’t move, and even when we went up to bed, she didn’t come with us, and that never happens. She always comes up to bed!

Moll's best friend

Not long after, my sister, Abi, had professed a desire to have Ollie. On one condition. He had to have a new name. My brother-in-law insisted he should be called Clint, after his film star hero (I assume!) and Ollie had to go. Not a problem. We’d come to realise, confirmed by my vet, that Clint was deaf, so Clint it was. Clint Horan. More Clint Boon than Eastwood. And he’s since lived up to the Clint Boon/Eastwood moniker by becoming a complete Manc hoodlum claw-slinging terror-mongering maniac. Now he’s in full-grown kitten hood, and although he walks around with his head on one side a bit, due to his early cat flu, and he’s balance-inept, and he’s unable to meow in any other way than making a Sweep-like squeak, we love him completely.

He’s come to rule my sister’s house. He breaks draining boards, knocks things over, terrorises anyone without shoes on and will willingly hang from you if you walk past.

Whilst we’ve been babysitting Clint, he’s managed to worm his way back into Moll’s heart, and was cuddled up next to her this morning, albeit with her under the duvet, and him on top. He eats her dog biscuits, she leaves his food untouched. He steals her bed, she sleeps in a corner. She sniffs him, he bites her head. But they’ve had this ongoing game of kiss-chase going on for days, and we’re really going to miss him when he’s gone. Still, whilst he might play well with Molly, Basil’s having none of it, since Clint seemed to think Basil was some kind of cat guru and has spent the last 4 days following him about everywhere in the house, trying to do exactly what Basil is doing, and desperate to play. But Basil is stately, now, and so he’s just put up with him, desperately trying to get some proper sleep. As if I won’t have enough animals with me without our little Clinton.