Friday, 30 November 2007

Flad the impaled

There was a mighty howling on the far side of the hedge last night - the sound of two cats locked in bitter battle. I rushed out, calling Flad's name but the feline challenges and swearing was so loud that my anxious cries were ignored.

In the end, my partner lobbed a chunk of firewood over the hedge in their general direction, not intending to hit them but just to distract them and shortly afterwards, even though the door was open, a black and white cat with a tail like a fox's brush shot through the Portus Felides (cat flap in Latin? I hope so!).

He sank to the rug in the corner of the living room, panting and licking his lips. His paws and fur were covered in dirt. It looked as if he had been held down by his rival, a stripy tom that I call (excuse the language) Tabby Bollocks, because even his male accoutrements look like huge humbugs. Poor Flad has none at all, stripy or otherwise. When he appeared as a half-grown stray in the garden ten years back, they had already been removed - or, we suspect, had never dropped, which would explain the fact that he can't meow but can only issue a high-pitched Eek.

It was soon apparent that he had sore paws, a sore mouth and was feeling very sorry for himself. Today he is still limping and he is also completely silent. Not even the tiniest squeak. I fear his beating-up has traumatised him. Will he ever be the same cat again? The glossy-furred, golden-eyed boss of the household who ousts partner from office chair and bashes me on the leg for the entire hour that leads up to the time he gets fed? I will let you know. Meanwhile, he sleepeth on the sofa, twitching in his slumber and probably giving Tabby Bollocks a poke in the eye.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


It's eleven years since I stopped my regular visits to my old hometown of Liverpool following the death of my mum. On my last couple of short trips there, I was so choked with emotion that I decided that I could never, ever contemplate living there again. The city was down-at-heel, depressed and devoid of the spirit and energy it had back in the mid Sixties when I was a student enjoying all it had to offer.

Now all that has changed. Liverpool has got its buzz back. In the run-up to its year-long line-up of events on being appointed European City of Culture 2008, it's been transformed and is every bit as vibrant as it was in the heyday of the Beatles. In fact (note this in your diaries, folks) Ringo will be appearing there in January and Paul later on in the year. All the details can be found on the website

I have just come back from spending a week there, during which I made my first visit to the city centre in decades, to find it pedestrianised and a complete shoppers' paradise, with cheaper prices than Londoners pay for the same goods. Liverpool humour abounds. Sitting Bull, the googly eyed red bovine above, has appeared on Otterspool promenade. The netting scupture was on the prom, too. (Both photos taken in twilight, so excuse the dim colours.)

Plucking up courage and fighting back the tears, I passed by the old family home. We sold it in 1997 for £41,000. Now it is back on the market, repainted and refurbished, with a slate path and green lawns in place of the old rockeries, at a staggering £225,000. If only we had kept it! But it needed so much work that neither my sister nor I felt up to the job.

For the first time, I realised what an easy city it was to live in for a non-driver like me. The train runs every 15 minutes from Aigburth and gets to the centre in three stops, which beats my commute into London by over an hour. I think I could live there again. In fact, this scouser-in-exile just might return.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Travel Phobia

I have to catch a train to Liverpool at midday tomorrow. This requires a journey of almost two hours from my home to Euston station, and having to obtain my ticket from the fast ticket machine. Last time I tried this, I ended up with half a ticket, the return section having been kept by the machine. Fortunately, as it was a long and expensive journey - especially so if I had had to buy a new ticket on the day to replace the one I had bought in advance at a quarter of the price- I had taken with me the email from, containing the details of my purchase and with this, I was able to persuade the ticket inspector that he should not either charge me £90 or throw me off the train.

Travelling in the UK is a dodgy business. Once upon a time, you could rely on a single ticket costing exactly half the amount of a return one. Now, it can cost twice as much, which is utterly ridiculous. We are all forced to become on-line hunter-gatherers, searching for good hauls and bargains and, when we find them, letting out the whoops of Neanderthals discovering a stricken dinosaur.

I awoke with a feeling of dread in my stomach, completely connected to the forthcoming journey. I mean, so much could go wrong. This is a journey I must make, as it is to help out a friend who is going into hospital. Nothing, bar World War Three (and certainly not my random collection of ailments) must prevent me making the journey. Yet so much could go wrong. I could wake to find the tube trains aren't working, owing to leaves on the line, or a sudden strike. I could be faced with a fast ticket machine that won't even spit out the ticket for the outward leg of my journey, let alone the return. I could find Virgin Trains have pulled the particular train I am meant to be travelling on, forcing me to take the overcrowded next one and stand for three hours. I could find the trains aren't working at all for some reason. And (hushed tones and trembling limbs) the train might crash! I know I shan't sleep tonight.

If you think this attack of pre-travel nerves is bad, you should see me when faced with a flight, as I shall be in a mere three weeks' time. Waiting around for two or more hours in the Departure Lounge is, in my mind, equivalent to sitting in the dentist's waiting room knowing you have to have root canal work, or a wisdom tooth pulled.

There must be a name for my condition. I call it Morbid Fear of Travelling. I hope I shan't reach the state my mother got into, a kind of agoraphobia that prevented her from going any unfamiliar, including my sister's new house. She never visited me in London once in the 30 years between my moving and her dying. I suppose the only treatment is to get out more - and by that, I mean get out to far-off locations involving more trains and more planes.

If only you could be given a pill, put into a pod and transferred across the world without knowing anything till you woke up the other end, lying in a comfy bed with a bottle of champagne next to you and the blue sea sparkling outside the window. I'd like to be beamed up like Scotty in Star Trek. Come on, scientists. It's cool, it's green, it's stress-free, it's the answer we've all been waiting for.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Still trotting

Although I didn't take any more of those homeopathic sleeping tablets (I'm not THAT daft), I still awoke at 6 am with the stomach gripes. Do the effects of alfalfa last that long? Apparently when the cattle are put out to grass in America, all the alfalfa is cut first, as it's a sure-fire way of giving cattle the runs, and who wants cowpats that stretch from one side of the state of Texas to the other?

I've had lentil soup for lunch the last two days, but that would have kicked in long before 6 am, so it can't be that. A bug? I really don't know, so I'm sticking to one banana and a couple of slices of toast today, plus countless glasses of water.

Which brings me to a silly but appropriate rhyme.

There was a man called Dyer
Who asked to join the choir.
The vicar said, "No fear,
We don't want Dyer 'ere."

Friday, 16 November 2007

I finka eet's de alfalfa

I looked up all the ingredients of Noctura (see last post) and the only one that could have upset my stomach is Alfalfa which, according to one alternative medicines website, can cause 'stomach discomfort, bloating, gas and larger and more frequent stools'. Well, I don't know about 'larger'; I couldn't really say it had any shape or size at all. It would be like trying to define the shape of the contents of a bowl of porridge with an Oxo cube dissolved in it. Er... pass the sickbag, Alice.

Sleeping sickness

My body must have been assembled on a Friday afternoon, from the sweepings and the leftovers from the rest of the week. God's little helpers, eager to go off and cavort amongst the cumulus, stuck on the arms and legs, gave it some red hair that nobody else wanted and stuffed the skin with the correct organs without checking if they all worked properly. I was lucky with the heart (so far, at least) and the brain scores about 6 out of 10, but the stomach! What inconsiderate, sadistic seraphim gave me an ulcer-prone duodenum and a gut that was sensitive to just about anything, according to whether I eat it on a Monday or a Wednesday by a moon that is waxing or waning? And then the aforementioned spirit (damn its harp to hell) made sure that the sins of greed and gluttony were added to the mix that composes my nature.

Yes, my digestive system is impossible to predict and has ruined many a plan, and even the odd foreign holiday, kyboshed before I even set foot in the taxi to take me to the airport.

One of my problems is, of course, that I am curious by nature, as well as greedy, and can never resist trying something new, especially if I think it's something I need. I have mentioned my insomnia before. Having had great results from homeopathy when it comes to nipping colds in the bud (gelsemium for the kind that start with a sore, tickly throat, Nat. Mur. for the type that begins with sneezes and a runny nose), I decided to look round my local health food shop to see if there was any homeopathic remedy for insomnia.

To my delight, I discovered Nelson's Noctura. Knowing that homeopathic remedies contain only tiny doses, I thought there was unlikely to be anything in this remedy to affect me. I took the required two tablets four hours before bedtime. I was meant to take another two 'on retiring' but I fell asleep at midnight before I could take them. So far, so successful. But awaking at 4.30am with awful pains in my stomach was not conducive to a full and restful night's slumber. An hour and a half later, the loo started to see rather a lot of me (sans mobile and sans book, if you read the last two entries).

I felt so grim that I would have cancelled almost any engagement this morning, save the one I staggered out to as I knew it could only do me good. That was a massage from Daphne, the brilliant Malaysian lady with the diagnostic powers and healing hands.

"I feel cold patches here and here," she said, touching left kidney and lower abdomen. (I'd had cystitis a week or so back.) "And here," she added, and I ouched as she pressed my guts on my right-hand side. Very gently, she massaged me with tea tree oil. Since she began this treatment, my daily Zantac intake has been cut to around one per fortnight, a brilliant result.

Now, four hours on, I can still feel a dull pain but nothing like as bad as it was this morning. As for the Noctura, it does send you to sleep, if you don't have sensitive innards. It cures constipation too, take it from me. Anyone want the rest of the packet?

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Phoning in the loo

I've been told that I should have mentioned people who take their phones into the toilet in my last post. I don't know about you, but I think talking to people while you're performing a bodily function is beyond the pail - oops, pale. I have been carrying on a normal conversation with someone, have heard a splashing sound, asked what it was and been told, "I'm on the bog having a dump." I ask you! This is too much information. You wouldn't do that if you were talking to someone face to face, so at least be polite enough to excuse yourself - you don't even have to say where you're going - and tell them you'll call them back later.

I wouldn't dream of taking my mobile into the bathroom with me. Think of the accidents that might befall it. Bathrooms are full of receptacles for water. Loos are full of... whatever. You don't want your phone to go there. In fact it reminds me of someone I used to work with. When he was 11, his father gave him a tape recorder for his birthday and, being an 11-year-old schoolboy, he decided to record himself farting. Only he tried a bit too hard and the microphone was being held a bit too close. I never asked what had happened after that. But think: would you want your mobile to suffer the same fate? Though I suppose it depends on whether or not you're one of those people who talks out of their, er, derriere.

So next time you're halfway through a conversation with me and nature calls, have some of what the French call, with exquisite accuracy, delicatesse, and spare my ears and my imagination. Keep your ablutions private or your service provider might suddenly change from 02 to 0-poo.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Loo with a review

The world is divided on the subject of whether one should take any reading matter into the loo or not. Some people have loo libraries, which is where they put those stocking filler books containing jokes, or the history of how Thomas Crapper gave his name to the wc, or back issues of magazines on such esoteric subjects as mountaineering equipment - yes, I suppose a good knowedge of carabiniers and crampons would help if one inadvertently got sucked down the aforementioned crapper by some inverse force equivalent to the output of methane, and then had to clamber back out of the bowels of the bowl to the pungency of the smallest room.

Some people won't have reading material in the lavatory at all, deeming it unhygienic. Yet, unless germs can leap out of the bowl with the velocity of jumping fleas, surely the only likelihood of transfer is when the act of wiping takes place and surely the magazine or book is abandoned by this stage, as one needs two hands to rip off the appropriate pieces of puppy-soft tissue, even if only one is needed for the actual mop-up job? (Though of course, if the toilet paper has run out, the pages of the magazine or newspaper - don't use a book for this, please! It's sacrilege - will never be reading matter again unless you want to give the expression 'brown study' a whole new meaning.)

Personally, I tend to take magazines or newspaper colour supplements in with me, but hereby hangs a problem. This morning, my chosen reading matter was the latest issue of Writing Magazine (absolutely essential reading for anyone who wants to get published in anything other than their own blog). On the front it had a large picture of Joanne Harris peering round a door. Now, Joanne is one of my favourite authors but she looked just as if she was peering at ME. Now, I think I'm speaking for all but the most exhibitionistic of folk when I say I do NOT want to be looked at while I perform this most private, smelly and potentially embarrassing of functions. I don't want to think about Joanne Harris being in the bathroom with me , being privy to my privy. I don't want to be looked at when my pants are round my ankles and my backside planted on the throne. So I felt compelled to turn the magazine face-down and count the number of spiders on the ceiling instead. They were probably looking at me, too.

The reason why we take reading matter into the loo is two-fold. One, it helps us relax, ensuring easy passage of whatever we ate yesterday (or last week in some cases, especially after the excesses of Christmas) and two, it's the only time in which the average person has some uninterrupted, unmolested time to do some reading. Doctors say it's bad for us. If we sit for too long with the sphincter open, we are likely to develop piles. (Try telling that to your gay male friends.) Well, speaking as someone who's got them already, probably from the six months it took me to read War and Peace (only kidding; it took me six years, not all in one sitting), I'm never going to break the regular habit of a lifetime.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Sneezes again

Actually, this particular sneeze, the explosive one, sounds more like "ErHURRRR". Maybe each different bug has its own sneeze and doctors should look into this. They could work out the strain, and therefore the cure, just by listening to the patient sneeze.

Though, come to think of it, don't doctors' waiting rooms have notices up telling you not to come if you have a cold or 'flu? Damn it, there goes another excellent theory!


The unidentifiable bug has turned into a particularly sneezy, snotty cold which is giving me the chance to get my revenge on those members of society who cough on me on buses and let off fireworks just when I'm trying to get to sleep.

Colds for me necessitate laying in stocks of panty-liners in case a sneeze catches me unwawares in the middle of the street and I have a sudden and unfortunate (though usually minor, I mean 1p sized), attack of stress incontinence. Luckily I haven't reached the Tena Lady stage yet. No doubt I shall, despite all the pelvic floor exercises performed discreetly at the bus stop.

Whilst sneezing my way through today, I remembered how each member of my family had a different sneezing style. My father's sneeze was "AAAAAcher!" My sister's was "Choo!" My mother's sneeze was most distinctive, being a restrained and refined "Ulchoo," the like of which I have never heard before or since. My own is an "aaaaCHOOO!" with an explosion at the end that is no doubt what triggers the aforementioned damp affliction.

Way back in the patchouli-scented mists of time, I used to work with a pretty blonde designer called Clare. As well as her looks and her willowy model's figure, she was distinguished by being the only person I've ever known who had an orgasm each time she sneezed. Maybe this is why her boss, he of the bristly ginger moustache and cavalry twill trousers, took snuff at regular intervals, making sure he blew plenty into the surrounding air.

I wonder what happened to Clare? Did she wear herself out during a 'flu epidemic? If so, I bet she died with a smile on her face. Though I don't think panty-liners had been invented in 1972.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Firework Phobia

I HATE FIREWORKS! Everybody knows it so nobody, thank God, invites me to their bonfire night parties. I've known some dreadful nights when I stayed quaking in a friend's kitchen while the merry band of friends went off to some wretched mortar bomb fest, sparklers in hand.

From around October 28th to November 12th (let's get Diwali well over with as well), I try to stay home after dusk. I mean, how can you stick both fingers in your ears to blot out the bangers while carrying a handbag plus four carriers of supermarket shopping plus your gym gear?

I shall also admit (in hushed tones of shame and feebleness) that I have a mortal fear of Christmas crackers, too. And saints be praised that plastic bags have replaced those paper ones that wretched little boys used to blow up then bang with both hands, having crept up behind you in the hope of hearing you scream. (If anyone's going to do this to me, better bring me a clean pair of knickers, too.)

I once asked my mother if there was any reason why I should be so scared of sudden loud bangs. "When I was six or seven months pregnant with you," she recalled, "I was on a tram and a landmine exploded in the next street." This was 1945. Landmines were extremely loud. She and everyone on that tram must have been terrified for their lives. My theory to explain my phobia is that the sudden explosion and her terror registered with the foetus (me) and the two events were forever coupled in my mind. Loud bangs = fear for one's life.

I don't think I need a psychoanalyst to tell me this makes sense.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Unidentifiable Bugs

I've just recovered from a week of cystitis. Didn't I mention that? No. Too busy talking about toes, bums and pigeons. (Reminds me of George Melly's wonderful, rollicking 1960s memoir, Rum, Bum and Concertina: God alone know what he might have done with a fat, feathery pigeon.)

It began the day after I had drunk the last remaining glass in a bottle of Rose wine - the very same one that had reduced me to hangover hell after I'd drunk 3/4 of it on the Friday. Saturday was liver recovery day. On Sunday I found myself doing that lip-smacking, 'Hmm, just got the taste for a nice glass of something cool and alcoholic' thing and tipped down the pink-tinged remnants. They were not good. In fact, they tasted like something that might have been put to better use as a sink cleaner. Or even for making the lavatory bowl sparkle with the 'ting!' of super cleanliness. Next morning, I was down at the storage unit moving boxes when suddenly, I felt a burning in the lower abdomen and a desperate urge to visit the loo. Which was a Portaloo across the hard about a quarter of a mile away.

"Take me home, please," I whimpered to The Boyfriend. "But I want to go to Staples and buy an external hard drive," he grumbled. "No!" I barked. "You can go there later." Thighs were clenched firmly together and eyes were starting to water. "I. Need. To. Go. Home. Now."

There followed six days of misery of near Biblical proportions, during which my usual remedy, bicarbonate of soda (half a teaspoon in a little hot water or flat Coke) failed me for the first time ever. In desperation, I went to the chemist, who sold me something called Oasis, a misnomer if ever I heard one, for what a cystitis sufferer needs is the desert, rather than needing to pee a lakeful. It tasted of cranberry mixed with something so incredibly bitter that the tastebuds went into revolt and the chunder mechanism nearly followed. But it has worked - so much so that last night, a week after the waterworks problem started, I drank a glass of red wine (purely as as experiment, you understand), so far to no ill effect. So, for this camel, the Oasis hit the spot.

Talking of hitting things, my head was just hitting the pillow last night when I realised there was a nasty tickle in my throat, rather as if some of that desert sand was stuck to my tonsils. Then it began. Cough, streaming eyes, phlegmy throat. I took a swig of Glycerine, Lemon and Honey. That didn't ease it at all. I got up, searched the drawer in which I kept my throat sweets and popped one in my mouth. It was hard and vile - probably two years out of date, too. It didn't work. Next, I popped four Nelsons homeopathic cattarrh and sinus pills. Nope.

By now it was 2.30 am. I had retired three hours earlier. In the gloom, I groped, found a bottle, swug. It was Night Nurse. Surely that would do the trick? Cough, stream. No effect whatever, though perhaps that was because there was more on my jimjams than down my throat. The glands in my neck hurt. I'd shivered with cold all day. It was 3.05 am. I had work to do the following day. Desperate measures were called for. I found the battered box containing the last few illicit Spanish sleeping tablets. Broke one in half. Shuddered at the bitter taste as I swilled it down with mineral water.

And slept. Blissfully. Till 10.10 am. Boyfriend thought I must be dead. He'd just made a cup of tea whilst putting off the awful moment of coming in to check. In fact, when I shambled in looking wan, with green gloops of Night Nurse adhering stickily to my front, he started slightly, as one might do if confronted by a recently dug up and supernaturally animated zombie. Which I am today, as the bug hasn't developed into anything yet. It's still merely a tickly cough, runny eyes and thumping headache. But tomorrow, who knows?

OHS's Harem

Following the pigeon murder (see 'Pigeon Down' post) and those dreadful days that followed, when Open Heart Surgery wasn't seen and we feared the worst, a whole new chapter in his life (as well as his chest) has opened up.

It now transpires that it was OHS's mate, Quasimodo, who was the victim of the pigeon murder, and his withdrawal from the scene was his way of grieving. ?. Perhaps not. He could have been spending the time checking out the talent, for now it appears that he has found not one new mate, but two. Yes, it's Columba Palumbus troilism. (Wood Pigeon, to you). There he is on the left, his scar just visible, guarding his flock as fiercely as any rutting stag in autumn.

No. 1 mate in the centre is young, lithe and slender, whilst No. 2 boasts a pretty pink flush on her breast. Or maybe they'd just indulged in some action which, in OHS's case, as his seduction technique isn't the subtlest, involves him strutting up with his chest and neck inflated, saying, "Coo-coom on, luv, show us your tail feathers!"

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Mugger microbes

I have suffered from athlete's foot for as long as I can remember. Regular immersions in seawater is the only thing that keeps it at bay (pun, groan). I get it between my little toe and its next-door neighbour and as long as my feet are dry, it's no bother. But the moment I step out of the bath or shower, if I don't dry my feet within seconds, a crack opens up between them and it gets very sore and flaky.

Antifungal foot creams? Forget it. They keep my feet moist, which is the worst thing for them as those pesky little fungi have a fetish for frolicking in gloop. I think the term is 'sploshing', which covers everything from food fights to baked bean baths. Powder works better, so long as I apply it instantly, and sometimes instantly isn't soon enough.

I read that the reason athlete's foot occurs most often between these particular toes is that they are generally jammed tight together so that the air doesn't circulate between them. (Air? In a sock? Is there a marketing opportunity here for socks with a built-in layer that releases air that puffs between the toes when you tread, in the manner of a woolly whoopee cushion?) With this in mind, when I had a bath last night I jammed one of those toe separators that we ladies use when painting our nails, between the digits in question before I even hopped out and grabbed the towel, in the hope that instant aeration would do the trick. Did it hell! By the time I'd grabbed towel off rail, the Grand Canyon had opened and the microbes were snickering at me: "Ho, ho, we're on your toe."

I sprinkled the buggers with Mycil and pulled on my socks thinking, "Die, you bastards." Half an hour later, I felt the painful sting as the athletes jabbed javelins into the crimson chasm. Which brings me to a terrible joke. I've tried to censor it for the sake of my politer readers, but those of the filth persuasion can read between the lines.

A man goes to the doctors with a horribly swollen and painful big toe. As he peels off his sock and shows it to the doctor, the doc bursts out laughing. "Whoo-hoo. Ha-ha!" he wheezes.
"Okay," says the patient. "It may be funny to you but it's damned painful for me. What is it? Gout? Have I broken it?"
The doctor looks at him candidly and asks, "Have you had sex in any strange positions lately?"
"Why?" asks the patient curtly, angry at this intrusion into his private life.
"Well, you've got syphilis of the big toe," announces the doctor, and bursts out laughing again.
"Syphilis of the big toe? That's not funny!" protests the patient. "How do you know it's syphilis of the big toe?"
"Well," guffaws the doc, "I've just had a woman in here with athlete's ----!"