How I Spent The Last Saturday Before Christmas

Sat 22 Dec 2013

Last night The Boss swung past the vet’s to pick up Foster Cat’s body from their freezer. They gave him to us in a big biodegradable cardboard box. We drove over to our old house late last night so we could bury him today at a pet cemetery close by. The Boss hasn’t been too affected by the old boy’s death up till now – partly because he was getting very fed up cleaning up the pee and poo he’d been decorating the house with, partly because Foster Cat had sprayed him a few times, and partly because I was the cat’s main carer – but carrying the little coffin from the boot of the car to our garage (very cold overnight) upset him. I’m glad we got to take him ‘home’ briefly because I think he loved living in this little town. He was well-known in our street, marching up and down that hill a few times a day with the kids! (He’d walk us all down to school, then sit and wait under a bush till I and at least one minx came back again, then shepherd us back up the hill, rounding up any straggling girls).

DSCF8148We went to the pet cemetery this morning and met the man who runs it. He does it out of the goodness of his heart and won’t accept payment (though he thankfully did accept a donation that we gave him to use as he sees fit, whether to buy supplies for the cemetery or to gift to a charity of his choice). It’s a beautiful place. He’d already dug a hole and picked out some stones to Foster Cat’s grave.

Westerly view

Westerly view

The ‘ceremony’ itself was a bit awkward, but in hindsight I think it was important to ‘end’ everything for the girls. The man made it really lovely for us as best he could: he wheeled Foster Cat’s coffin a few metres to the grave in his wheelbarrow, then he and The Boss took the cat out the box. I wasn’t expecting that, and wasn’t really prepared to see my lovely old boy again, dead, with his ears bent over with rigor mortis. Still, it did give us the chance to see that the

Northerly view

Northerly view

vet had taken the trouble to wrap Foster Cat lovingly in his fluffy blanket with his wee head peeping out, like he was tucked in the box for bed. The youngest 2 didn’t seem fazed by this, but sensitive Maxi Minx started to cry. I hurriedly reminded the kids that this wasn’t Foster Cat; this was just what was left of his body, now, and to remember that he wasn’t hurting anymore. I’d had a 60 second sort of memorial speech ready, but it kind of got bombed out the water with the sudden and unexpected appearance of the cat!

Easterly view

Easterly view

After The Boss and the man lowered Foster Cat into the hole, the man covered over Foster Cat’s head with the blanket. Maxi Minx dropped in a be-ribboned posy that we’d made that morning from all the flowers that were still in bloom in our garden (I know – at the end of December! Mad!), and bits from some of the plants that Foster Cat had liked to hide under. The man covered up the grave, then gently pressed it in with his feet. Mini and Midi wailed at him standing on the cat, so I quickly said “Tuck, tuck, tuck!”, which is a kind of code I’ve used since the girls were tiny: I say it as I’m tucking them into bed every night, and quietly again when they’re asleep and I have to tuck a little minx limb back under the sheets. I distracted the kids by telling them my favourite stories about Foster Cat while the man ‘tucked him in’ with sand from the harbour, then put on another dressy layer of pea gravel. On top of that, I put some painted stones that the girls had painted last year. They’d suggested themselves that we use those stones to decorate Foster Cat’s grave. Maxi used a stone to press in a paw imprint in the stones at the bottom.

The kids then legged it to explore the rest of the cemetery, The Boss trailing, while I stayed and chatted with the man for a while. Eventually we all left. I looked back to see the man stood still by Foster Cat’s grave for a long while, motionless. What a lovely old soul he is!

DSCF8156This evening I painted Foster Cat’s name and date of death on a lovely, heavy, flat stone I picked up from Bertha’s Beach, Falkland Islands, in 1999. I’d been keeping it to paint a landscape on, or maybe something to mark the house, but I figured it was better used as a kind of headstone. I’ll put it above his stone rainbow on the way back to Aberdeenshire tomorrow and take some photos.

Edit: photos now up. I’ve also included ones that show what a lovely spot the cemetery is at – wonderful views of the Moray Firth dolphins, cormorants and seals.

After the cat’s ‘funeral’, we went to a local cafe for big, late breakfasts. After the minxes were happily troughing (Maxi chose a very sophisticated scrambled egg and smoked salmon on a bagel), I commented that sitting quietly, eating, and sharing funny stories of the cat, made it feel like we were at a wake. It was actually just what we needed.

That lovely pause and reflection over, we were booted brutally back into the reality of the last shopping Saturday before Christmas when we stopped at Elgin for something to eat that night. In the carpark, a woman in an oversized Chelsea Tractor made a real mess of reversing out her space. She managed to mount the pavement, graze a lamp-post, and had me and another passer-by side-step for cover. I raised my eyebrows, inwardly reflecting that maybe she needed to use her mirrors and windows to see out of, instead of checking her reflection in the rear-view. She rolled down her window and yelled at me haughtily, “Are you actually looking at my car?!” I think the nonsense of the statement might be why I managed a non-confrontational “Naw, don’t think so, hen” instead of a more fun “Christ Almighty, go buy some driving lessons!” or “Arrrrrgh, you’ve driven over my child!” or even a witty “Feck off!” In defence of my sheep-iness, I was still reeling from the past few days.

In the shop, the heaving masses, long queues, aggressive shoppers, overly-loud music and antics of 3 bored, naughty minxes was a little too much for me. I fetched a bottle of wine and clung to it instead of letting it roll down the conveyor belt. “You can let it go now!” the patient till assistant smiled. I don’t think she *actually* uncurled my fingers from around the neck – I think I might have let go by myself so she could scan it. Oh boy, am I looking forward to sharing that with The Boss later!

After 24 Hours Like These, I Need Christmas!

Thursday 19 Dec 2013

Yesterday had a terrible start. Want to hear about the next 24 hours?!

Christmas cake parcels

Contents of most of the parcels

Well, I had to leg it back down the busy 70mph dual carriageway (2 right turns. With teary eyes. Safe. Not…) to get my forgotten purse. Then back again to pay the vet. Mini and I had an early lunch at the local cafe – she ate and I cried into my coffee. I also had a stack of Christmas parcels to send, so waited an age at the Post Office to send them. Normally I’m not bothered about waiting in queues, but this wait gave me too much time to think about my poor cat. I walked back across town in the rain with Mini Minx to post 2 big parcels by Collect Plus at the Co-Op. Or so I hoped. The woman behind the counter looked in horror at the parcels like they might explode and said that I needed to take them to the Post Office, that this was a supermarket.

“No”, I replied, “They’re going CollectPlus. Can I buy a label for them here?”.

She sighed, and with over-exaggerated enunciation said: “You. Need. To. Take. Them. To. The. Post. Office”. Then very helpfully: “Parcels need stamp. No stamp here. Food shop. Go Post Office”. Wow. I guess my Glaswegian accent must have confused her. Maybe her little brain couldn’t cope with looking at a tear-stained middle-aged face framed with pink hair, and also speaking in vaguely-grammatical English at the same time.

I picked up the huge parcels and realised that actually, maybe CollectPlus shops didn’t do labels after all, and that I’d need to go home to buy a pre-paid label. Oops…

So I bundled Mini back in the car, and off we set back down the dual carriageway (yep, 2 more dangerous right turns, more tears). It took about half an hour to shout at the printer and sort out the labels. Back in the car, back down the dual carriageway, back to the Co-op. This time I got to smile winningly at the now-exasperated woman (“No! You go Post Office! You not <beep> Oh….. It scanned. Bah.”).

By now I was running out of time to pick up the eldest 2 from school, and I was also running out of diesel. So, back on the dual carriageway (go on – guess which way I had to turn…?) to the incredibly expensive garage to buy just enough fuel to collect the minxes from school and get them to gymnastics and back.

It was hard telling them about Foster Cat, but I insisted they went to gymnastics to take their minds off him. It being so stormy, driving there and back certainly concentrated my mind, away from the cat.

Once we were all safely home and The Boss took over parenting duties, I slunk away for a hot bath, which generally makes me feel better and on a more even keel. The Boss came up to check I’d not drowned myself and spotted the torch by the side of the bath. He scoffed at my explanation that the lights might go off at any time in this storm and that I needed a torch within hand’s reach at all times.

I was the one smirking, though, when not one hour later the power failed suddenly and with no warning.

“Stand still kids!” I yelled up the stairs “Mummy’s coming to get you!” And just as I’d coached them the previous month, the girls froze to the spot as the lights went out and waited for me to come with my torch. Florence Mummy-gale.

Xmas Cakes 2014After settling the girls again in their bed, I got The Boss to hold his torch above my head while I finished decorating the final batch of Christmas cakes I’d been making for relatives. It was actually quite a pleasant little half hour, rolling marzipan by the light of a little Petzl!

19 DecWhen the lights had gone out, my first action was to reassure the kids. The Boss’s immediate response was to cover the nicely heating mulled wine with a lid to keep it warm. Good man! So when the cakes were ready to be left to dry, we retired to dark beds with a big shared mug of mulled wine. We had to make Edwinn and Edward’s elf shenanigans pretty basic that night…

The next morning (19 Dec) had an early kick-off with 3 cold little girls fighting and squirming beside us. With no power, there was no heating. And this old farmhouse gets very cold very quickly. The Boss bounded out of bed and went to the heat of work just as fast as his long legs would take him. Though he did pause long enough to find the old camping gas canister and make us both a cup of coffee. Superstar! Meanwhile, creative Maxi objected to me serving up breakfast by the the stark light of the torch and asked that we light the Christmas candles instead. So we had 5 tealights in an ornate and fancy snowflake. Lovely!

No-one objected to an early school run, so I delivered Maxi and Midi to a snowy playground that was warmer than the house (8degC and dropping). The Boss had contacted the electricity company and texted me that a power line had come down locally; when that was repaired, we’d have power. On the way back from the school run I could see the missing power line. I could also see the energy company reps huddled inside the energy company van for warmth. I could also see the snow blasting the van sideways, and the bitter wind rocking it. It didn’t take a genius to figure that it might be some time till we got power back… In a fit of cleverness, I kept driving past the house and on to the local soft play area.

Mini thought all her Christmases had come at once as she had the whole place to herself. She tore about sliding and jumping and squealing and dancing. I managed a coffee, then strained my neck falling asleep. (I fell asleep sitting up. My head lolled back. I got mini-whiplash jerking it back up. Doh).

With our 2 hours over and bodies nicely defrosted and dry, we drove reluctantly home and I put the fire on. It’s a fire I’ve moaned about before – lovely big flames, but unless you are hanging directly over it, it gives off no heat at all, all the warmth rockets up the chimney.

Suddenly, at midday, just as I was losing the will to live, the power came on. Hooray! My immediate actions this time? Get the heating on, get the kettle on for a coffee (and to fill a flask and a hot water bottle), and ask Mini what she wanted for lunch.

“Hom-lit” (winsome smile)

That child is addicted to my cheese omelettes! I don’t know if it’s just the taste or that I let her make them entirely herself apart from the frying pan bit. So I set her in front of the cheese and the grater while I put the frying pan on the hob and got the eggs out the fridge ready for her to do her knock-knock-eggs-put-thumb-in. I guess the excitement was too much for her – for no reason we can fathom, she suddenly toppled off the little kitchen step. Yep, the step that’s covered in grippy glitter glue and long sand-papery grip strips. So no-one can slip off it. I’ve still no idea how she did it.

I heard the huge crash and felt the kitchen shudder. The poor baby let out a roar that just went up and up in pitch. She turned her little face to me, blood dripping from her contorted mouth. Actually, a lot of blood dripping. On to the floor. An awful lot. Had she knocked a wee tooth out? I looked closer and saw a gaping hole in her tongue. Ow, ow, ow! I picked her up and cuddled her while I paced about completely ineffectually. Well, in my defence it took all my capacity to say reassuring things and make my voice sound completely normal! I finally found a flannel, ran it under cold water, and got her to bite on it. We sat on the floor rocking until she calmed down a little. She showed me her tongue again. The gash was maybe a bit over 2cm long. It started to bleed again. I popped a dose of Calpol in there, got her to bite on the flannel again and grabbed a trusty home medical manual. Nothing on bleeding tongues. I called The Boss and got him to google for me so I didn’t have to put my clingy monkey down. Nothing scary, but nothing reassuring either. We sat in front of some inane stuff on iPlayer for 10 minutes. I asked Mini to poke her tongue out at me again. Yep, definitely an inch-long cut. I decided to take her straight to the doctor’s surgery to check that I’d done all the right things. Getting Mini to let go long enough for me to drive back along the dual carriageway (I swear I’m wearing a trail to that town!!) was a trial.

The lovely Practice Nurse made Mini almost laugh, and gave me some great advice on where to go for medical help for a range of future inevitable Minx accidents. She reassured me that no treatment was needed unless the bleeding was unstoppable or the tongue was hanging off. She also agreed that Mini had the longest non-giraffe tongue in NATO.

The rest of the afternoon was spent snuggling in front of CBeebies on iPlayer (ie every single episode of Topsy & Tim, followed by every single episode of Katie Morag). Mini liked the Quiet Time, and I needed the calm and cuddles after the previous day. Within a few hours she was snoring happily in my arms, a mostly-rotten 24 hours behind her and forgotten.

Post-Script

angel delight yuckThe final part of the day did get better. As I’d been too entangled in hurt 3 yo to make a decent dinner (curry out a jar) and no pudding, The Boss made up a batch of instant muck: Angel Delight. Midi made the momentous discovery that strawberry Angel Delight tastes amazing eaten off a bit of poppadom. Bleurgh! angel delight yuck 2

Sleep Well, My Beautiful Boy

Update on Foster Cat:

1 Nov 2013: after switching from steroid injections every week or so, he started taking prednisolone (steroid) tablets. And suddenly he started getting his miaow back! He’s had an up and down month, but the ups have been very, very good and he’s been a happy old boy.

1 Dec 2013: The ups have plateaued off and he had a steady month of being spoiled rotten and loved.

9 Dec 2013: He’s struggling to eat and wants to sleep all the time. I can persuade him to eat his steroids by hiding them in lumps of cheese (ha! You should see me persuading minxy children and recalcitrant husbands to take their medicines…), and can always coax him to drink a little milk. But it’s taking him all day to eat a pouch of wet food – he’s interested, but he won’t or can’t eat much.

Wed 18 Dec

It was the usual hectic morning at Garrison Trout, but it came to an abrupt halt when I went in to fetch Foster Cat’s breakfast to feed him his morning steroid pill. He was lying awkwardly on his cushion, last night’s dinner still untouched. And the little lumps of his best-loved cheese that hid last night’s steroid pill were intact. I gave him his all-time favourite treat of a Crispie. Nothing. Not even a sniff or acknowledgement that it was there. He stiffly jumped down and waddled to the door to get out, breathing quickly. I let him outside and made him up a bowl of just-warm milk (another sure-fire favourite). He wouldn’t come in from his new hidey-hole and didn’t struggle when I carried him in. He looked at the milk and slunk off to the sofa.

I stopped the minxes from half-killing each other and sadly told them that they needed to say goodbye to Foster Cat: I was going to call the vet because I thought his time had finally come. They calmly and gently stroked him and told him how much they loved him. Maxi whipped out a pencil and paper and drew a quick portrait of him.

While they did that, I had a long mental check: was this sudden? Nope, he’d given us a few scares last week, and he’d never really gotten much butter. Did he seem to be in pain? Yes. Was the poor old boy suffering? Hell, yes. Could I think of any other alternative? No. Shit.

I tried to get hold of my brother via Skype, because this really would be the last time he’d be able to see his beloved cat. Yet again, the time difference defeated us. I called the vet. They wanted us in immediately. Double-shit – no time to really say goodbye. But… he really was beyond miserable. Even kisses from Maxi didn’t make him move (he usually scarpered very quickly at getting soppy kid kisses).

I had to take Mini in with me, and the receptionist kindly agreed to keep her occupied while I went in with Foster Cat. The vet gave him a quick check over, then shaved the fur off his leg. I quipped that this must be the worst part of her job and she agreed. I picked up some of his shaved fur and stuffed it in my pocket. I stopped trying not to cry and sobbed and blubbed over my beautiful boy. I gathered him in my arms and croaked stupid stuff, like what a good boy he was; a very clever boy; the very best boy. The vet gave him a sedative and he passed out asleep in my arms. She gave him the heart-stopper and he died.

For a long while I stroked his warm, soft fur and sniffed his strangely-sweet-smelling head. Then I stood up, turned my back on him, and walked out with his empty cat basket to collect my chatty 3 yo. And that’s when I discovered that I’d left my purse at home…

The vet will hang on to Foster Cat’s body until the weekend when we’ll go bury him.

cat pampered 2

One Poorly Cat

Remember I’d said in September how depressed poor old Foster Cat was at having to be an indoor cat? And how much he perked up at finally getting outside?

Well, the same day I noticed that his breathing was noisy and his purr was a bit ‘off’. We’ve been no stranger to Foster Cat’s strange vocalisations: when he came to us, he didn’t miaow – it was soundless, like a mime artist. He barely made any noise except for purring. Except when he had to go to the vet – then he’d make enough noise! We put the funny noises down to him maybe being over the moon at getting outdoors and thought nothing more, especially as his appetite had come back.

The next day, the funny breathing was still there, but otherwise he was a happy, active, normal Foster Cat.

Maybe 3 days later, although he still wanted out, he didn’t really want to explore or do much active. He was also sneezing a bit. When we took over his care, we’d gotten his annual injections back up to speed, so I’ve never seen him poorly or sniffly. Did cats catch colds and flu?

The day after that, though, when he went out he just sat down on the step. He didn’t mind if I picked him up and carried him indoors. His breathing was noisy all the time, not just when he was purring. He was definitely lethargic. I was definitely unhappy and watched him closely all day, willing the hours to pass quickly till it was Monday again and the vets would be open (I didn’t know about emergency vets… duh).

The next day was Monday. When he breathed that morning, I could see his tummy flaring below his ribs. Stop. Put everything else on hold. Straight to Yellow Pages and find a vet immediately. Luckily there was one in the next town, who saw him that afternoon. She wasn’t happy with his breathing either, and asked for him to come back the next day for a chest x-ray. She gave him steroid and diuretic injections in the meantime and told me to starve him because he’d need an anaesthetic for the x-ray.

Next morning (1 October) I took my now-hungry big boy to the vet for his x-ray. Overnight I’d wondered if the 3 engorged ticks we’d found on him 3 weeks ago – obviously a leaving present from the woods near our old house! – had given him a tick-borne infection? I asked if he could have his bloods checked. I was told to call back around 1pm.

The vet rang at 10.30am. It wasn’t good. She’d found a large mass in his throat when she’d tried to intubate him. The x-ray showed ‘suspicious little nodules’ in his lungs. The upshot was that he was too old and too ill for any operations; we could try and buy him a little time (days or maybe a few weeks) with steroids; or because he was still under anaesthetic she could euthanize him immediately. I surprised myself by bursting into tears. I’m not an animal lover (except flash-fried in a ginger and garlic-based sauce). Why was I breaking my heart over him? No way was he dying alone – he was coming home first to say goodbye. Oh hell, how was I going to tell the minxes? And I had the small matter of Foster Cat’s main staff (my little brother and his children) to tell first. The vet wasn’t too happy about letting him come home right away and kept hold of him till evening.

When we got him home, he wasn’t a happy cat at all. Neither was I – I was still tearful. I am never tearful. In general I am often angry but rarely upset. I think the old boy recognized this, because he spent the night cuddled up on a blanket I put beside my bed or right beside me on the bed. Now, he loves snuggling up beside Mini Minx, in a guarding, protective kind of way, and sometimes the other 2 if Mini pushes him away. But he’s never shown any interest in snuggling in my bed. We shared quite a moment that night.

Next morning, he was still depressed and unhappy, and the girls started the first of many painted portraits of him. Maxi in particular found it easier to express how she felt by painting than by trying to articulate her feelings in words. I’d sat the girls down after school and just told them simply that the vet had seen Foster Cat again, that he was very, very ill, and very old, and that he was going to die soon but not today. Maxi burst into immediate tears but the other 2 didn’t really process it right away.

Over the next few weeks, Foster Cat started a series of steroid injections. The first ‘big’ one turned him into a kitten again; he decided to attack the tree again… I opened the back door to let him out and he pelted hell for leather at the big sycamore tree. With a powerful pounce, he sprang at the trunk about halfway up, elegantly spreading his legs to catch the bark with 4 sets of claws. He hit the trunk. He suffered claw-failure. He slid cartoon-like down the trunk. I doubled over laughing. He prinked off aloofly, almost muttering, “You never saw nuffink; I wasn’t here”.

He’d lost so much weight that we decided to feed Mr Suddenly Very Hungry All The Time kitten food. We reasoned that if his throat was constricted, then it made sense to give him food with tinier chunks and to jam-pack it with calories. And with a prognosis of at best a few weeks left, we stopped stinting on the treats! He suddenly became one pampered feline: the odd bowl of warm milk, little bits of raw chicken when I was cooking it, little crunchie treats at bedtime… After a month, he’d regained most of his weight and was looking better, more alert, and far happier than he’d been in months, so long as I kept a close eye on him and got him an injection quickly as the previous one wore off: a lovely Indian Summer for him!

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Edward and Edwinn: The End

The end of December was a very chaotic time (I’ll explain in a later post), so Edwinn and Edward behaved themselves the night we were away (21st/22nd). Or perhaps they just stayed locked in the fridge so they couldn’t do any additional mischief…

23 Dec

23 DecThey pretended to be good little elves and pinned up some colouring sheets the minxes had done at the cafe in Cullen yesterday, and sat back to appreciate them. Maybe. I still think Edwinn is pinching her cousin elf’s bum.

24 Dec

24 DecI guess the strain of behaving was too much, and they had a little bit of a party. Drink – just say no, kids! (Say the parents who’ve generally gotten through the last month in a post-kids’-bedtime-foggy-haze…). The minxes were gleeful: “Again! Edward did it again!” they screeched. I guess last year’s whisky vomit made a right impact on them. PS if you want to recreate, just use leftover lumpy custard, add and mix a bit of water, and nip out bits of carrot with your finger-nails. You do want to do it yourself – don’t you?!

25 Dec

the endPhew, all over for another year. And that’s that. Will they return late 2014? Well, the kids found this note (written in my best left-handed scrawl) attached to a box of Roses. I was very proud of my Horrid Henry-esque howl of “Noooooooooo!”. My performance deserved an Oscar, because I can’t wait 🙂

Aside

13 November 13

Maxi’s probably coming down with the virus that’s floored the rest of her family over the last fortnight: she was asleep in bed by 8.30pm (she’s normally being scolded for still reading at 11pm. Like both her parents before her…). Anyway, when the kids are asleep and I check on them at night, I’m in the habit of covering up any exposed cold bits with spare duvet cover whilst whispering, “Tuck, tuck, tuck; goodnight Princess”. Tonight Maxi replied clearly in her sleep, “I think, I think, I know who I stink, I know who I know”.

I’m surprised my giggles at her sleepy ‘poetry’ didn’t wake her up.