At 5.30 this morning, a time when most normal people would still be in bed, I took my son to work for his 6am start. I dropped him off in the works car park then just as I pulled out through the gates back onto the road my headlights picked out a fox on the nearby grass bank. It quickly disappeared into the undergrowth at the top of the bank but as I had my camera in the van, and just on the off-chance I might see it again, I stopped, turned the engine off, and waited. My patience was rewarded a few minutes later when the fox reappeared, and with the aid of a security light from a nearby building I managed to get a shot of it as it rooted about in the undergrowth on the bank.
Now on my camping travels over the last few years I’ve seen many foxes which have been road-kill victims, but even though I live in a semi-rural area only ten minutes walk from open countryside and moorland that was the first time I’ve ever seen a live fox at close quarters. It was lucky I had the camera too – it had been left in the van from when I went out with the dogs yesterday – and though I wasn’t sure how good the photo would be it’s turned out better than I expected. So there’s something to be said for getting up at stupid ‘o clock in the morning – as the saying goes, the early bird catches the worm, or in this case the early photographer catches the fox!
It’s taken me a couple of days to get round to writing this as after my recent quick trip over to Ireland I’ve been feeling very much as the title suggests. The journey from home last Wednesday with my son and his dad started off well but went downhill at Manchester airport when the plane was delayed – it seemed that, for some reason, one of the runways had been closed and the plane coming in from Ireland was late landing, so with the turn round time our flight was an hour and a half late taking off and we were all feeling tired and fed-up before we’d even gone anywhere. I was quite surprised though that even though all my information told me the flight time was an hour it was actually only thirty five minutes, which would have been a bonus, but the delayed take-off meant we missed the coach we wanted to get from Dublin airport and had to wait until 3.15pm for the next one. After a 3-hour journey on that we finally arrived at the family home nearly ten hours after we first set off from home in the morning, and with my son’s dad completely exhausted and looking not at all well.
The next few hours for me passed in a confused and rather bewildered blur – being welcomed into the family home by relatives who my son knew well but I had never ever met before, having a meal and being given endless mugs of tea, making friends with Trixie the adorable little family dog, being introduced first to Alice, the next-door neighbour, then to Paul, a guy who lived across the street, and being told that my son and I would be sleeping at his house that night, which I thought was totally weird though it was explained that the family home only had two bedrooms. My son’s dad took himself off to bed at 9pm as he was totally whacked out, then Paul came to take us over to his house about an hour later. I was so tired by then that I was almost asleep on my feet so he showed me to my room and I left him and my son watching tv.
The following morning I got up at 7.30 and thinking my son would have been sleeping on the settee in Paul’s living room I went to wake him up but he was nowhere to be seen – totally confused again, and hearing noises in the kitchen, I went to find Paul and he told me that my son was in a small bedroom just off the back corridor. Once he was awake and dressed we went back across the street to the family home where breakfast was waiting for us, then before long it was time to leave as we were getting the 9am coach back to the airport. My son’s dad was still in bed and saying goodbye to him was really emotional; he looked so frail, and as I hugged him I wished more than anything that I could take away his pain and get him well again. It took several minutes in the kitchen on my own before I felt ready to leave the house; my son was sitting on the front step, he didn’t say much but I knew he was feeling the same way as me.
The journey back home was, fortunately, much more straightforward than the previous day. A neighbour, Kathy, took us and Paul up to the bus stop in her car and Paul waited with us until the coach came. This one was from a different company and used a more direct route to the airport so the journey time was only two hours, though we had quite a bit of time to kill once we got there. The plane took off on time just before 2pm, our friend was waiting for us when we landed at Manchester, and with no delays on the motorway we were back home by 3.30pm. An hour later I was at work and as I went through my normal routine I found it hard to believe that only a few hours previously I’d been somewhere in the middle of southern Ireland.
It was the following day when the events of the previous two days caught up with me – the long and tiring journey on the first day, meeting several different people for the first time, sleeping in an unknown house, then saying goodbye to my son’s dad with the possibility of never seeing him alive again, and the journey back home, all condensed into a little over thirty hours -the whole experience had left me with a feeling of surrealism and confusion, as if I’d ‘time travelled’ and been somewhere but hadn’t, or maybe had an out-of-body experience, and the tiredness I felt was overwhelming. I know you can’t get jet lag from just a thirty minute flight but I really did feel totally wiped out. I’m hoping I can go back soon to see my son’s dad again while he’s still alive but if and when I do I’ll make sure I take more time off work – even just one more day would make a big difference.
Tomorrow I’m making my very first trip to Co. Tipperary in southern Ireland, and though I wish I could say I’m going for pleasure the reality is unfortunately very different. I’m accompanying my son’s dad on what will most likely be his last journey over there – he has terminal cancer in his throat which can’t be treated, and though he’s done well on the medication he’s been taking it’s now got to the stage where it’s really affecting him and it’s becoming obvious that he doesn’t have much longer to live. He’s always said that he wants to be buried ‘back home’ so he’s going back to live with his brother and sister-in-law while he’s still capable of making the journey. His annual holidays over there have always been via coach and ferry, which is quite a long and tedious journey and one which he now feels he can’t make, so he said he wanted to fly there this time and asked me to go with him as he’s not confident enough to go alone – my son has taken time off work so he can come too as it may well be the last time he sees his dad alive.
I booked the flights on the internet a couple of weeks ago, then on Sunday I checked us all in online, printed out the boarding passes and arranged for a friend to take us to Manchester airport – our flight to Dublin leaves at noon but it will be late afternoon when we get to our final destination as it’s a 76-mile coach journey from the airport. Unfortunately I can only stay overnight as I have work commitments so my son and I are coming back on Thursday. The flight back leaves Dublin just before 2pm, it only takes an hour so with a bit of luck I should be back home in time to go to work at 5pm. To be honest, although I love flying I’m really not looking forward to any of this and I know my son isn’t either – leaving his dad behind in Ireland will be difficult for both of us but we’ll get through it somehow. I just wish my first trip over there could have been made in happier circumstances.
I have a friend who, although very intelligent – she was a historian and university lecturer before she took early retirement – is often very scatterbrained and absent-minded. She’s only 63 so not exactly old but she’s the epitome of a completely dotty old lady and some of the things she says and does are often a source of great amusement. At least she has the ability to laugh at herself though so I know she won’t mind me posting an example of her scattyness on here.
A few years ago I took her camping with me to a small site in Northumberland, and though my van and drive-away awning were pitched on the main part of the site her tent was pitched in the next field and just the other side of the dividing hedge. On the day we were coming home I was busy packing up the van when I noticed my friend walking across the site – thinking she was taking some rubbish to the bin I didn’t give it much thought and carried on with what I was doing. I was just about to start taking the pegs out of the awning when she came across and asked me where her stuff was. What stuff?….The stuff she’d just piled at the front of the van ready for packing, it had taken her five journeys to carry it all across.
Well I hadn’t seen her stuff and there was definitely nothing in front of the van so where the heck was it? We were both totally confused, and she was just beginning to think that someone had somehow managed to swipe the lot when I went for a scout round and found it – she’d piled it up at the front of someone else’s caravan two pitches further along!! That must have been where she was going when I’d seen her walking across the site earlier on, but how on earth she’d managed to mistake a large white twin-axle caravan for my grey van and awning I’ll never know. I’d actually seen the occupants of the caravan going over to the shower block a while before so heaven only knows what they thought when they got back and found all that stuff piled up at the front of it! That incident has come up in conversation more than once over the last few years and we always have a laugh about it.
So this morning at 11am my friend phoned me and her first words were “Where’s my bath plug?”. Not “Hi, how are you?” or “Sorry to bother you if you’re busy” just “Where’s my bath plug?” Now unfortunately I don’t have the ability to see up the road, round corners and through brick walls so my reply was “How the heck do I know where your bath plug is?” I clean the house for her once a week and it’s only a few days since I blitzed the bathroom and left the plug on the side of the bath so I suggested that was where it probably still was, though she swore blind it wasn’t there. However, about half an hour ago she phoned me again and this time her words were “I’ve found the bath plug” so I just had to ask her where it was. “On the side of the bath” came the reply – which was exactly where I’d said it would be. It seemed that while having a shower she’d put the long-handled back brush on the side of the bath right where the plug was – so was it a case of she couldn’t see for looking or hadn’t she looked properly in the first place? I don’t know, but what I do know is that it won’t be long before the next scatty episode occurs – I wonder what it will be next time?
Mouse number one arrived as one of three kittens born to a stray cat I’d taken in back in 2002. She was the smallest of the litter, and though I found good homes for the other two I just couldn’t bear to part with her so she stayed and became one of my ever-growing family of pets. Her name came about because she could never miaow properly – she squeaked, like the ‘mee’ without the ‘oww’, and because of that and her very small size it seemed logical to call her Mouse.
A dark tortoiseshell with a ginger mark down one side of her nose, Mouse very quickly became my little shadow and would follow me all round the house. As she grew she developed a beautiful coat with fur like velvet, and when I sat watching tv in the evenings she would often drape herself round my neck like a fur collar or lie in my arms with her head snuggled under my hair. And she could purr for England, usually right in my ear if she was round my neck. She had many funny and endearing little ways and was one of the most affectionate cats I’ve ever had. When she wasn’t with me her constant companion within the cat family was Tiger and they could often be found curled up together.
It was one night in October 2006 that I thought Mouse had disappeared from my life completely – she’d been out during the evening but didn’t come back when I called her later on, and as I knew she never went far from the house I had the awful feeling that something bad had happened to her. Posters on lamp posts around the area and days and hours spent searching produced nothing but my own heartache and tears – even finding her little body somewhere would have been preferable to not knowing where she was or what had happened to her.
Then three weeks later I got a phone call from a vet’s practice in a town twelve miles away – Mouse had been found. A young couple had seen her wandering near where they lived and had taken her in, then went to the vet’s to see if she could be identified, and because of her microchip she was traced back to me. The relief that she was okay was overwhelming but getting her back wasn’t that simple. The couple had already had her a week before they went to the vet’s and they’d said they wanted to keep her if the owner wasn’t found. The vet’s receptionist wouldn’t give me their address for me to go and get her back, saying she would arrange a day and time for the couple to take Mouse into the practice for me to collect her from there, but the couple themselves spent so long stalling for time that I had to threaten legal action against both them and the vets before proper arrangements were made.
When the evening came to collect Mouse my partner came with me, getting to the vet’s just ahead of the arranged time, and as we got out of the car I saw the young couple carrying Mouse into the building though I didn’t speak to them. I’d only just sat down in the waiting room when the receptionist called me over to the desk and Mouse was transferred from the vet’s cat carrier to mine. I wasn’t allowed to just walk out of the building with her though – I was charged £28, and when I questioned it I was told it was a boarding fee. For what? Mouse had only been in there for five minutes, they hadn’t given her any food or treatment so why the charge?? Now under any other circumstances I would probably have argued about it but I was just so glad to have Mouse back I paid it anyway and brought her back home. I would have loved to know how she got to where she was found though – there was no way she could have walked there so I could only assume she must have jumped into a van or truck parked near the house on the day she went missing and jumped out again when the driver eventually stopped. If only she could have told me.
It was February 2007 when I lost Mouse for ever. She had a habit of sitting close to the gas fire in the living room and one night we noticed that her breathing was really heavy – thinking it was because she was close to the fire and too hot I turned the fire off but her breathing didn’t improve so the following morning I took her to the vet’s. He examined her, said he would keep her in and sedate her then do an x-ray to find out the cause of the problem and phone me later on. It was 1pm when he phoned and gave me the bad news; one of her lungs had collapsed completely and she only had a 20% capacity in the other lung – there was nothing he could do for her.
Now to have a pet put to sleep for any reason is very upsetting but to have to authorise it over the phone without getting to say goodbye was truly heartbreaking and I was in bits. The vet was a lovely man though, and when I went to collect Mouse he’d curled her round and nestled her in a soft blanket to make it look like she was just asleep. The following day I bought a small wicker basket with a lid and she was buried in a sunny spot in the back garden. It took me quite a while to get over losing Mouse; I’ve had many cats over the years and I’ve loved them all but every so often there’s been one that was just that little bit more special than most – Mouse was one of these, a very special little cat in many ways.