Monthly Archives: April 2014

Empty House, Full Heart

He’s crying upstairs. I can hear the quiet snuffles between the echoing thuds of his footsteps on the bare boards – newly stripped of their carpet.

I could go to him, try to comfort him, but there’s been a lot of tears and a lot of hugs this weekend and, I guess, now that we are at the end of things he might need this moment alone. Besides, down in the hallway I’m furiously blinking back my own tears as I look into the stripped kitchen.

‘Must not cry, must stay strong. For him.’

It’s a daft idea, not only because I’m utterly failing to stay dry-eyed but also, because he knows I’m sad, that this is hard for me too.

Clump, clump, clump on the naked stairs, he’s coming down. The only items left to remove are Rufus and Moriarty. They have been his constant companions these past few days – more than St F and I – but now they too must leave.

‘Shall I take the cats outside and give you a minute?’ I ask. He raises his gaze to mine, his brown eyes soft with unembarrassed grief.

‘No, I’m good,’ he whispers. ‘Let’s go.’

Stooping, we grab a cat each and step outside. Rufus under one arm, he fumbles the keys from his pocket to lock the door behind us. Uncertain of how to be at this momentously awful moment I say, ‘I bet that’s the wrong key.’ I’m right, it is.

‘That’s the backdoor key he,’ smiles, holding it up for me to inspect. Unfortunately it’s near-enough identical to the other key on the ring and I know, from experience it’s always that one that comes to hand first. shifting Rufus’ weight slightly, he turns back, inserts the second key in the lock. And turns it. He is now locked out of his childhood home, the place where his mother raised him and his sister.

‘You’ll be here when I get back?’ he asks, placing Rufus on the ground before turning for the gate. I nod. He strides to his car, head up, shoulders squared and gets in and drives away. Rufus immediately takes up station on the doorstep. He wants to go back into the house but he can’t. The keys are on their way back to the council offices. Rufus, Moriarty and I are technically trespassers now.

I try to persuade the old cat to come home to St F’s, next door, but he won’t, he won’t leave the doorstep of the house that he’s visited almost every day for the last fourteen years. Moriarty won’t leave Rufus so I am forced to leave alone.

Keys returned, he comes back and I make coffee. Strong, black, with an entire plantation’s worth of sugar in it. We swap stories – he talks about the RAF and I tell salty sea stories. We laugh and joke until St F comes home from work. There’s a pause after we hear her car pull up, turns out she’s spotted Rufus on next-door’s step and gone to get him. Rufus isn’t happy about this but he deigns to be enfolded into the arms of our guest and spreads ginger fur across the man’s trousers, shirt, chin … Moriarty sits on the windowsill outside, occasionally glancing in at us but, mostly, he’s casing the garden for mischief, for some furry or feathered creature to come within range. Thankfully the local wildlife has got wise to him and he remains on the windowsill.

Back in next-door’s garden – Betty’s garden – humans and cats take a last tour, a last look at view across the valley.

‘Goodbye, old friend,’ he murmurs into Rufus’ ear after hugging St F and I and thanking us for our help and then he’s gone. His family’s last link with this village, broken. His car stuffed to the roof with salvaged belongings. He’s gone. His sister has gone. Their childhood is cast adrift from its moorings and now exists only in their memories. ST F and I stay in the garden a little longer and face up to the fact that Betty too has finally left us. Completely and irrevocably. Only Rufus is not convinced. He sits on the steps and miaows.

Rufus and Moriarty at Betty's


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Posted by on April 30, 2014 in Family Life


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Invisible Angst

The charcoal grey haze of defeat, studded with black chips of despair hangs, like an iron cape, from the shoulders. Pressing, squashing, tiring.

Can it be seen? Touched? Tasted? Does it leave the smell of decayed bitterness on the skin?

Decayed bitterness – bitterness that once was – but the wearer of the cape has stumbled beyond bitterness. All that remains are flaky, powdered traces buried in the deeper layers of self-loathing. Even bitterness can be crushed, can become irrelevant. Bitterness indicates a belief in the unfairness of it all. Only the true connoisseur, the long-term wearer of the iron cape, knows that fairness and justice are illusions. There is only the glacially slow oppression from the cape. It is what it is, what is always was, what it always will be.

Some stars can’t be changed


Posted by on April 30, 2014 in Musing


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Toodle Pip, Betty

Between my bedroom curtains large tufts of cumulus drifted across the clean blue sky like galleons in full sail. Below them, the tree tops hazed with the green of spring buds and from the field next door I could hear an industrious woodpecker drilling for his breakfast. Next to me, in the bed, Roger roused, yawned, and burrowed back under the duvet. Heedless of my lazy, bed-hogging dog, my mind was on yesterday’s sunlight falling through another window into a bright room that seemed to have taken on a darker, shadowy texture in my memory. In that room, four waifs huddled, trying to keep their dignity in the face of the one thing they never wanted to see – the tiny little coffin on a plinth in front of them.

I was one of those waifs.

For fourteen years my sister, St Francis, had been neighbours with Betty. Private and solitary, unless her children were visiting, Betty would have remained out of our reach if it wasn’t for Rufus. That great feline flirt took a fancy to Betty and spent many of his days in her house or snoring under her hydrangea bushes. He became a part of her family much as he was a part of ours and come Christmas, he sent her a card and a gift. Betty thought St F was daft for doing such a thing but St F maintained that she had nothing to do with it … Betty never fed Rufus, she was very strict about that. He had a home to go to and come the appropriate time, she’d shoo him out the door and tell him to come back the next day. And he did. Year in, year out, Rufus shared himself between us. Betty retired from her job with plans to spend her time gardening, Rufus got skinny and arthritic. The two pals were growing old together. Outside, in the warm westcountry summers, Betty would potter about under her straw hat looking, for all the world, like an animated mushroom and the cat would follow her. Chatting away, Betty warned him not to tread all over her plants or fall off the stone bridge in the rockery until he got too hot, then he’d head for the shade of the bushes.

‘That’s right,’ Betty would call after him. ‘You go and have a lie down, Roofdus.’ She always called him Roofdus.

When Betty became a little frail, St F and I helped out in the garden. We cut down the odd dead tree, mowed the lawn and I spent three painful days removing the six-foot-high brambles that had shot up through the Hydrangea. Our reward was always a cup of coffee and chocolate biscuits. It seemed a fair exchange.

There were shopping trips and lunches out and trips to the dentist and Betty came ever closer to us. We don’t have parents, St F and I – well we do but that’s a whole other story – so Betty came to fulfill a motherly role for us in that we could give her the care and attention that we would have given our own mother who is the same age. Not that Betty needed anymore kids. Her son and daughter were regular visitors and whilst not a demonstrative woman, she was clearly proud of both of them. Despite being geographically far apart, they were a close family. St F and I were gatecrashers but no one seemed to mind.

I wrote a post a short while ago called, I’m Old But I AIn’t Fell Over – Yet, in which I explained how St F and I discovered that Betty had fallen and was unable to get up one day. (in that post I called her The Morrighan for the sake of her privacy but now …) We visited her the following Saturday and it was good to see Betty firing on all cylinders. She laughed at us and we laughed at her and the memory of a frail but determined old lady in her nightwear trying (and failing) to roll herself a cigarette whilst the ambulance crew waited to take her to hospital hid at the back for a bit. We already knew, though, as we were laughing with her, that she had terminal cancer. That was why she’d been so poorly.

As Rufus approached his 21st birthday last year, St F and I wondered how we’d ever break the news to Betty if he died. And, what would we do come Christmastime? We came up with the idea that we would tell her that Rufus had left a will detailing the presents he wanted her to have for the next twenty Christmases. We never imagined it’d be other way around. We never dreamed we’d have to watch Betty’s tear-streaked son gather Rufus into his arms and whisper into is ear, ‘Mum’s gone.’ but six days after our hospital visit that’s how it was.

There were others who could have come and shared that sunlit chapel. Other bouquets that could have laid next ours and the one from from Rufus but that wasn’t what Betty had wanted. Private to the end, it was only her two children that she wanted at her funeral – and the two middle-aged orphans who’d borrowed her for a while.

Lying in my bed, the next morning, gazing at the world outside my window, Betty was the first thing I thought about. Idly rubbing the dog’s ear, I remembered how, when the curtain slid in front of the coffin towards the end of the service, I felt my head shake involuntarily. Inside I was saying, ‘no, no, don’t take her yet.’ It makes my chest hitch to think of it. To calm myself I moved to another memory. To how, when the vicar intoned ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust,’ I had to fight an impulse to lean over to ST F and whisper, ‘if the dope don’t get you, the acid’s a must.’ That made me smile. It made me laugh when I imagined Betty saying to me, ‘Lorraine, I do sometimes wish you’d grow up.’

‘Toodle pip.’ That’s how she ended her phone calls. ‘Toodle pip.’ We put it on the card with our flowers.

Toodle pip, Betty. From St F and me. And Roofdus XX


Posted by on April 10, 2014 in Family Life


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To Prong or Not to Prong – That is the Question

Let’s toss a controversial opinion out there and see what debate results.

You may not be a pet owner. You may not even be much of an animal lover but would you seriously consider putting one these around a dog’s neck?



Let’s be clear about this, those spikes are on the inside of the collar.

Pinch Collar

Like this.

Many people are using these things because they honestly don’t know better. Perhaps they’ve been advised by a dog trainer. The idea is to stop the dog pulling when it’s on the lead by inflicting pain and fear on the animal. A dog that is in fear, a dog that is in pain is more likely to become aggressive and then the dog faces further punishment. Might that result in a no-win situation for the dog?

Once upon a time it was very common to see dogs in choke chains. I know that the dogs we had when I was a kid all wore them. The idea with those was that when the dog pulled, it choked, therefore, the dog would stop pulling. None of ours did. The dog went on pulling and choking and pulling and choking. It is now known that choke collars are responsible for all kinds of terrible injuries from a crushed windpipe to blindness. Now imagine lining the inside of one of those collars with a row of spikes…

Defenders of prong collars (AKA pinch collars) will say that when used properly, these will not cause injury. They will also say that they are a gentle method of controlling and correcting your dog. Others will say ‘I didn’t even know these things existed.’

Well,they do exist and they do cause injury. Sometimes it’s a physical injury that you can see and sometimes it’s a psychological one – either way prong collars offer very few positive outcomes when weighed against the risk and I am working with a bunch of concerned citizens to get them banned in the UK. If you are of a mind to, come over to the Banning of Pinch Collars on Facebook ( If you’re from the UK sign the petition, get info on writing to your MP, join others in emailing the sellers and manufacturers of prong collars. Make like a Quaker and bear witness – tell the world about this questionable but legal form of dog control. For it is legal in the UK – unlike Quebec.There is a fine of several hundred  dollars if caught using one (see Good old Quebec. Let’s spread their enlightenment.

Are these legal where you live? Do you want them to be? If not then use the power of your keyboard and get the word out there. Dogs need strong, assertive, caring, educated owners not spikes. In the last couple of days, because of pressure from communities like Banning of Pinch Collars, both Amazon and eBay UK have reviewed their policies and found that prong collars contravene their own rules on animal welfare. They have undertaken to stop selling them. Which other suppliers could you email? How about manufacturers like Herm-Sprenger? Can we get them to see our point of view?

The prong or pinch collar is an anachronism. If we must ever see one, let it be in a museum of the macabre alongside the rack and the iron maiden. Not, NOT on a dog.

If you have no strong view or, if you believe that there is a place for such a collar then don’t just read what I have to say, check out these links;

It may not seem much but getting these collars banned is a step along the road to better animal welfare and, as the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.


Posted by on April 6, 2014 in Uncategorized


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