28 April 2011

Look what happens when I'm dutiful...

A very embarrassing thing happened to me on Monday. As every dutiful flatmate knows, when the person you live with is away; you take out the recycling. The small black box we'd got from IKEA a couple of months back, had been festering - yes, there is no other word for it - festering a little way past our front door. Just far enough so it didn't stink as you turned the key. And with Liam away for a few nights, I did the dutiful thing.

It is one of the jobs Liam always does. It is one of those jobs that I try my utmost to never do. Along with emptying the recycling, theres taking the rubbish bins out and hoovering. I don't have to ask him to do these jobs. I just let it get so bad he realises it needs doing. Terrible, but true.

I cautiously picked the black box up by both handles- careful to breathe through my mouth- and staggered with it, holding it a good foot away from my body along the corridor. Something dripped from the bottom and landed with a splosh onto my flip-flop.

Down four flights of steps, and an aluminium coke can jumps out the box. It rolls one flight, two flights and rolls some more. I have to place the box down so I can pick up the runaway can. But when I go to lift the heavy black box again, my hand slides down the handle. Ohmigod. Green goo. Wipe it on the takeaway pizza box. No matter.

We are lucky. We have recycling bins that you just chuck everything into- no sorting needed- at the edge of the car park. So I swagger over to them after the four flights of steps with my bottom sticking out, and my knees bent. My spindly little arms are holding on tight.

This is the bit where I have to touch the lid. The gross, dirty lid of the recycling bin, with weird bits of sludge on the handle. So I do it quick; one, two, three, GO!
With my left hand I hold the sludgy lid up, with my right I go nuts, throwing all my recycling into the bin as quick as possible. Glass pasta sauce pots with tomatoey juice lurking in the bottom, cardboard cereal boxes flattened and wedged in tight, Cobra beer, Heineken beer, Singha beer bottles with old dregs... What's this? Champagne bottle? I feel a bit bad chucking that in, but in it goes with all my glass, paper, tin and card, smashing about in the bottom of the wheelie bin, causing great crashes to echo around my block of flats.
I wouldn't be surprised if all my neighbours are peeping at me from behind their lacy blinds, tut tutting at such a noise clattering about their bank holiday afternoon. But hey, I'm recycling. They can't complain.

A car pulls up to my left, nearly knocking my black recycling box over. I tut tut and frown a little at the silver Smoothie in the front seat, who's got his window wound down, a straw hat on and boating shoes. He gets out of his car, the Beach Boys humming from his car radio (I wasn't surprised). He nods at me, and goes to get something out of his boot.
With only a few more bits left in the box, I grab the few remaining cartons, and reach to the bottom of the box, for a flyer which had got wedged in the corner...

Then suddenly, I scream.

A loud, blood-curdling scream which reverberates all around the block of flats and drowns out 'Little Deuce Coupe' in an instant.

I run around in circles, hopping from one leg to another, shaking my arms and legs involuntarily. I wiggle my fingers, my bottom, and my knees are out at odd angles. A shiver shakes down my spine. I'm aware I'm making incomprehensible noises like, Ugggghhhh.

Smoothie looks like he might have pooped himself out of shock.

I'm still hopping, rolling my head around and flapping my T-Shirt in and out. I wince.

'Still there. It's STILL THERE!' I shriek.

Shake a bit more, and Smoothie stalks casually to the box, glances in whilst lifting it with one hand. No fear, Smoothie?

He looks at me like I'm not from this world, bangs the box upside down and raises one eyebrow, to make me feel really stupid. 'It's only a little one.'

Yeah frickin' right.

26 April 2011

Kiss me quick!

Waking up early on a Sunday morning, I peek out of the curtains. Its only 7:00am and it’s always going to look foggy like that at this time. The clouds loom over head, but it’s still bright, nonetheless. I’m positive, I’m excited, and quickly run a cool shower. Liam’s still snoozing as I pull on my jeans, a short white T-shirt, and a long navy cardigan. To flip-flop? Or not to flip flop?  I didn’t. I opted for black leather pumps instead. The kettle sounds loud in the quiet flat, as I flick it on, and it jumps into action. It wakes up the cat who is not used to such early morning start on a Sunday. She mews and expects her breakfast before I go to get mine.
It’s a quick turnaround, and within twenty minutes all the lights are turned off, the radio set onto Radio 4 to keep the cat company, before the front door shuts behind us and the key is turned in the lock. Do you think the peach mac or the canvas jacket? I ponder at the top of the stairs. Do you want to catch the train or not? He asks, rolling his eyes at me. The air is fresh, so I stick with the mackintosh and we race to the train station.
One change. Two change. A hot sausage roll and take-away coffee later, we are on the train to Brighton. It’s only an hour journey and I pop one earphone in my right ear and one in Liam’s left. It’s still early, I rest my head on his shoulder and close my eyes. Two little girls colour a large pad of paper with bright felt-tip pens in the chairs next to us. An old lady and her flowered shopping trolley get on ten minutes later. She parks it close by and shuffles onto the seat opposite me. Gardens with whirligig washing lines full of whites pass by, fields busy with Sunday morning football clubs appear and then are gone as quickly as I saw them. Clatter, bump. Jitter, clunk; the train clambers down the track.
In no time at all, I’m being woken up. My hand in his, I am led down the platform, among a swarm of people. I look up to a maze of Victorian windows and beams, painted blue high up above my head; the station roof. A stern brow and a nod from the inspector. Tickets please. I hand him mine. Thank you. He says.
On the sunny side of the street we walk, avoiding the sea wind whipping past us too cold. I feel like skipping now we are out of London, out of the smoke and one square metre of space in that city. The air feels lighter. Can I see the sea? I tiptoe for a moment. I’ve got to see the sea! Not quite yet. We walk closer down the hill, passing cafes and slightly run down shops, the kind you know have been there forever, with their signs a little peeled, and their customers too few. The promenade is not yet busy. It’s open for business with one or two stalls, selling shells and jewellery spread out on bright cloths. Tinkling music is playing, all in different tunes, from different places, luring you to each end of the stretch. And there’s the sea! My hands are place gently on the cool metal bars along the front. Feel my feet firm on that concrete promenade. But my heart wants to leap out from my chest and do a little dance over the waves into the distance. Take a deep breath, it smells like the sea; salty and fresh. Miles and miles of glittering blue, today quite calm and still.

A Mr Whippy ice-cream? He asks as he kisses my head. Oh, yes, please. No flake... I remember to add. The sun has got hot, I feel it on my face. We walk slowly towards the pier with our ice creams, hand in hand. The pier vibrates with the music on the megaphone. It's Bob Dylan. So we stand and watch the sea, and listen for a while. My Mac over my arm, I tiptoe across the slats. Avoid the dips, the gaps and damaged bits and eye the rusty bolts with suspicion.

We have all the time in the world as we walk along the pier, the wind blowing my hair gently to the right. I feel like a Victorian Lady from an old sepia photo. I pretend I'm in a long frilly dress, adorned with jewels, my parasol and hat. I strut proudly along the pier. Link arms with my tall, top-hatted man, and laugh as I imagine his handlebar moustache.

Ker-ching! Clunk Clunk Clunk! Brrrrring! Oooh, the Penny Arcade. Flashing lights. Tinkling tunes. I feel seven again, and rush to go inside. Holding as many two pennies in my hand as possible. I make a little carrier for them with the bottom of my T-Shirt. Eyes darting to the trays underneath, I look for the coins which have fallen too soon. One through the slot. Slide down the chute. Hit the bottom. Spinning around and around until it stops. Then sweep. Knocked down a level. Pushing the rows forward and forward more. One or two fall, and I hear the satisfying clatter of two pences in the tray below. And everyone stops to glare a jealous look.

I see the fair at the end of the pier from the corner of my eye. Dodgems, the Waltzers, a Helter Skelter - roller coasters galore!
I grasp Liam's hand, dragging him across the slats. Oh we've got to have a go on the Waltzers! He looks at me as if I'm crazy. But I was sick last time... He says. Oh don't be a baby. Lets get tokens! I kiss his cheek. We change over six pounds with the tiny lady in the booth, and compromise to have a go on The Twister - fast, but less sicky.
The bar goes down across our laps. We hand over our tokens. The bell sounds and the music starts. His arm is tight around my shoulders. The ride jolts into action; we swing sharply to the left. There's a pause for half a second - I catch Liam's eye - before we fly across the section, my hair whipping furiously behind me. I throw my head back and look to the sky. Hands in the air! I scream to him. The people waiting by the side, whizz in and out of sight. My heart is thump, thump, thumping so I hold on tight. His face looks green, his teeth are grinding and his lips curl. 
We slow right down all of a sudden; the music comes to a stop. My hand is white from gripping on so tight. Giggling, I lift the bar and hop onto the floor.

His arm slips around my waist and I pretend not to notice that he's wobbling a bit, or that he's using me as a crutch. Laughing, we pass a small pub with patio chairs and tables. How about a pint on the pier? I ask, with a slight glint in my eye. Hmm... Maybe in a bit. He says, squinting into the sun. I flop over the railings to the sides of the pier; still trying to catch my breath. We look out to sea, to the beautiful blue and right across the stony beaches. The sun beats down a little stronger than before. The tinkling music plays on. Lets get you back to shore. I say.

16 April 2011

A lucky black cat. The End.

I saw him standing at the end of the road, waving at me and smiling like a lunatic, a little black cat by his side snug and safe in the cream canvas cat carrier. Even from nearly two hundred metres away, I could see her eyes peeping through the black mesh, all big and looming. Bess had become quite heavy now she had a huge bandaged leg, so I was grateful Liam had been able to carry her to the hospital.

Liam had taken the morning off as I had to make it in for work at 8:30am, since there was no one available to cover those first few morning hours on reception, I had left work at 10:00am, grabbed my coat and taken the tube, reaching East Putney only twenty minutes later. As I walked out from the station, the sun was more than shining - it was positively beaming down on me - and I hoped it was the sign of a good omen.
The animal hospital wasn't far from the station, and I was glad for the walk along Putney high street to clear my head, it was nice to be in there at a strange hour, amongst different types of people - the ones I usually miss from being at work.

Nervous wasn't the word. Desperate was more accurate. 

'Don't worry.' Liam said as I reached him. 'You look petrified! You know what? If it doesn't work today - we have a back up.'

'I know.'

That was one thing at least.

'I'm okay. But thanks for bringing her over...' I replied softly, and then I leant down until those two gleaming black eyes were level with mine. 'Come on then, girl.'

I picked up the cat carrier and kissed Liam goodbye before walking towards the automatic glass doors.
Inside Putney RSPCA Animal Hospital, it was organised chaos. There were (rather unsurprisingly) all kinds of animals, being held on leads, in boxes, cages and on the knees of their worried-looking owners. I was rather amused, despite the situation, to see how many people in that waiting room did in fact resemble the animal they'd arrived here with. (Whether that meant I was small, black and furry, was quite another thing.)

I approached the reception, and gave my name to the lady dressed in green overalls behind the counter. She nodded and smiled at me, before ushering me to take a seat in the crowded waiting room. Stepping over one of the biggest dogs I had ever seen, I lifted Bess high above my head, partly because I didn't want her to get worked up about the dogs, and partly because the huge animal had started sitting up to sniff her. I placed her in the corner, so she didn't have to see the Chihuahua opposite, or the yappy Westie to it's right who just wouldn't stop barking. I realised after about five minutes that there were, in fact, loads of dogs in this waiting room. And then I noticed the large black and white sign on the opposite side of the room, which read 'CATS AND SMALL ANIMALS'.


Back over the enormous dog (bear?) that was still sprawled out across the pathway, we went, and into the much quieter area of 'Cats and Small Animals'. It was a bit like Narnia. No, it wasn't, really. But there was definitely no sniffing, barking, yelping, scratching or drooling. Hurrah.

There was one other girl sitting alone on the bench, with her cat placed on the floor by her feet. As I walked over, looking relieved, she smiled, and leant forward immediately to talk to me.

'Much quieter over here, isn't it!?' The girl said cheerily as I walked over. She was roughly my age, perhaps a little younger, and had wide expressive eyes and a open face. Instantly I connected with her, mainly because she was willing to talk to a complete stranger (like I do), but also because she had made me feel at ease in a situation where I was far from it.

'Ahhhh... Is that your baby?' She leant over and peered in at Bess. 'She's beautiful. Look at her silky fur. What's her name?'

'Bess.' I replied. And perhaps, as a rather unnecessary after thought I added, 'I named her after my Great Grandmother.'

'This is Gypsy, but we also call her Gyps. An actual gypsy woman gave her to us when she was a kitten.' The girl said. When she spoke, she waved her hands about a lot. I do that too.
'That's so sweet.' I replied, looking through the bars at her huge black and white cat, with a little black dot on her nose.

'Yes, well. The gypsy said she would have to drown her if they couldn't find a home for her, so we took her in at once.' The girl looked serious and thoughtful for a moment, before going on to ask me question after question about why we were here, what had happened at the other vets, how the prices for vets fees are just terrible and finally how she was here today because she had found a lump on Gypsy's back. Gypsy, I'd just found out, was nearly fourteen, and the second eldest of her four cats.

I was grateful for this chatty girl who loved cats. But before long, a vet walked out into the corridor and called Bess' name. I quickly wished the girl- and Gypsy- good luck, before picking up Bess and her three x-rays (which I had brought with me), and followed the vet into one of the side rooms.

The room was larger than the one we had waited in at the vets last week. The lady who had ushered me in, was indeed the vet, and she introduced herself as Juliet. Juliet had a sparkle in her eyes, and sounded ever-so posh, like she might have had horses and a swimming pool at home. She was matter of fact, but kind, because she put me at ease right away by joking about how they (meaning the other vets) might have given Bess a pink bandage, as it looked like she supported Manchester City football team with the sky blue one she had on now. I laughed, and said it might well be appropriate as she was born in south Manchester... Juliet took the x-rays out of the brown envelope and got to looking at them right away on the light box.

Alongside Juliet was a friendly-looking man in his late twenties. He was the veterinary nurse assisting the vet. He beamed at me, and I noticed how lovely his teeth looked when he smiled.

'It must have been a nightmare week for you. But don't look so worried, you can relax now! Bess is in safe hands.' He said as he helped me lift her carrier onto the examination table.

'Oh yes.' Juliet piped up. 'It's a bad break, and the bone is quite splintered. I really wouldn't recommend any other kind of operation, than one to insert a plate along the bone. Of course, there is always the option of amputation, but I really think we can fix her leg without such drastic measures.'

'And you can do the operation for her, here, at the RSPCA?' I asked, tentatively, shuffling from one foot to the other, expecting the worst.

'No problem. Now, we are very upfront about payment here, and we don't mind talking about money. A lot of people who come to us haven't got much to spare, so we understand the need to be open. Obviously since we are a charity, we are able to subsidise the prices heavily for you, but you are on the higher side of our pay bracket... Let me see... An operation would be in the region of....'

She checked her computer for a moment.

'... £400 at most. That's everything included. Today's consultation, the operation, anaesthetic, a few overnight stays, and the after care to take the stitches out and future x-rays. It won't be any more than that.' She pulled a oh god this is a lot and I'm sorry face.

I nearly jumped over the examination table to kiss her. She would do it. I could find that sort of money - I mean, it wasn't nothing - it was still a lot - but it wasn't such a unimaginable amount as £1,700. I suddenly felt lightheaded.

'Lets do it. Oh, you have no idea how relieved I am that you can help her. I've been so worried about her, and I've felt like such an irresponsible parent for not taking out pet insurance...'

'Oh, don't be silly. Even I don't take out pet insurance for my cats. They can be so catchy, full of loop holes.'

I didn't like to point out at that point that she was a vet and could probably operate on them at home on the kitchen table, herself.

She was quick, matter of fact, as went through the details of the surgery. She mentioned how, if once they'd opened her leg, it looked worse than they'd originally thought - impossible to salvage - then they would do the best thing for Bess' future recovery and quality of life - even if that meant amputating the leg. I trusted her implicitly. So, is that it? I kept saying to her, over and over, hardly believing that they didn't want more money, and there were no more complicated matters than this.

'That's really it.' Juliet said, laughing. 'She will be fine, don't worry. Give us a ring tonight, to see if we managed to squeeze her in for the operation today - if not, she will definitely be done tomorrow. Plus, you can pop in to see her anytime you like during working hours over the next few days, if you miss her.'

'Thank you so much for looking after her.' I said, and I had never meant it more.

The smiley male nurse, who's name I had found out was Leandro, went to pick Bess out of her carrier to put her into the RSPCA cage with a soft green blanket, which he had prepared as Juliet had been talking to me.

'Do you want to give her a cuddle before you go?' Leandro asked, avoiding knocking her huge blue bandage on the sides of the carrier.

'Yes please.' I said, as I took her out of his arms, and kissed her velvety left ear. She flicked it, and growled a little at me, but I stroked her nose, and hoped she knew she was staying somewhere safe.

Thanking them both profusely and glancing one last look at Bess, I walked out of the calming white examination room and back into the manic reception area. As soon as the door clicked shut, I felt a wave of pure relief wash over me, and I sighed loudly, utterly oblivious to the yapping and general chatter of the waiting room around me. The most colossal grin spread right across my face, I couldn't help it and I didn't care if they all thought I was nuts. It was as if every worry, stress and seemingly unsolvable problem of the last week had left my aura, crying a little 'oh' of happiness.

I looked over to the 'Cats and Small Animals' section.
A couple were sitting together with a wicker cat basket on the chair next to them. Gypsy and her owner had gone. Shame, I thought, it would have been nice to take her phone number. I hoped that Gypsy's lump hadn't been anything too serious.
The lady sat with her partner was looking at me, and had seen my euphoric face as I'd walked out of the examination room with an empty cat carrier.

'Good news?!' She asked me.

'Yes.' I said, and beamed at her.

I'd learnt it was like being part of a club, having a cat. Everyone wants to help as your rationality goes out of the window and your heart takes over. Cat-owners (or rather, cat-lovers) all understand that pain you go through when the little animal you are so used to having around the house; who eats the chicken you'd left out for dinner, leaves muddy paw prints on the windowsill, or dead mice under your bed, falls ill, or has a nasty accident. You see, when she was no longer able to prppp when I walked through the front door or curl into a ball on my lap as I watch television, stretching her claws out and spiking me through the fabric of my jeans, I had realised the lengths I would go to, to make her better again. 

Bess, home after the operation with her shaved and stitched up leg.
Getting all the love.

Bess is now back home, resting from her operation. It looks like it went really well. She has to stay in a large cage for a couple of weeks until the bone heals. But she is happy, and back to her old self again. Thank you to everyone who sent their kind thoughts to us and offered help; you made such a difference. If you would like to find out more about RSPCA Putney Animal Hospital, and the brilliant work they do, click here to visit their website.

13 April 2011

One cat, a hundred calls and three options

Tuesday 5th April

I sat on the couch in my dressing gown. Laptop on knee. Reporters notepad and pen in hand. It was 8:10am. Usually I'd be getting off at Earls Court tube stop around this time to change for the Piccadilly line. Liam was brushing his teeth after the shortest shower in history -  he had only got out of bed five minutes earlier. It was funny to see what exactly he does in the thirty minutes after I have left for work each morning - and I had concluded; not very much.

A quick email to my sympathetic, cat-loving manager secured today off as a holiday from work. I didn't think I'd be having much of a holiday, however. I glanced down at my to-do list, wistfully.

  • Telephone all possible animal charities who help injured cats, and their desperate, low-incomed owners. Cats Protection, Blue Cross and the RSPCA were the ones I'd heard of... and then, if no luck, find some more.
  • Telephone vets outside of London for quotes on mending a cat's broken hind leg. Perhaps, like a can of Coke, the rates would be cheaper outside the capital? 
And if all this fails:
  • Start fundraising... Painting - perhaps I could sell them? Card-making - everyone likes cards. Crochet? No. Would take too long. Not everyone loves crocheted creatures... *Spider diagram needed.

Liam suddenly appeared fully dressed and ready for work in the living room. He looked far too well turned out for only having had eight or so minutes to get ready. Glancing in the mirror to flatten a fluffy bit of hair, he lifted his keys off the coffee table and leant in to kiss me goodbye.

'Take it easy.' He said, as he gave me one of his bear hugs. 'A quiet day in the flat is what you need. Keep in touch via email, and I'll ring you at lunch.'

He poked his finger through the bars of the cage, and stroked the top of Bess' furry head. She opened her eyes, but didn't raise her head off her blanket. She looked as I did when I took the occasional Tramadol for stomach pains; drunk.

As the front door slammed shut, I heard him shout 'Good luck!' I listened to the sound of his feet skip every third step down the four flights of stairs until he reached the ground floor. Pottering into the kitchen, I put the kettle on for a cup of tea. Nothing would be open until 9:00am so I had a few minutes to spare. I stood in the kitchen and stared blankly out the window, as the sound of the kettle boiling got louder and louder until the steam billowed into an upward-climbing waterfall around my kitchen cupboards.  A good night's sleep had dulled my shock, but the astronomical figures I'd heard at the vets last night still whirred about my head.
I thought I would try the charities first, and as soon as the clock hit 9:00am, I picked up my phone to dial the first number. By mid morning, nearly all of my calls, had sounded some sort of a variation of this:

Me: 'Ah. Good morning. I hope you can help me. My cat has badly broken her hind leg, and I have been quoted a large amount for the operation she needs, which I am really struggling to pay. I heard your charity might be able to help me...?'

Them: 'Do you receive any income support or council tax benefit?'

Me: 'Um... No... But I'm desperate - I can't meet the bill the vets have quoted me...'

Them: 'I'm sorry, but I'm afraid you aren't eligible for our services or support if you are not on benefits."

By mid morning, I was mentally exhausted, had been through four cups of tea and was willing myself unemployed. Of all the possible charities in London, not one had been able to help me - unless I could provide documentation to prove I was on benefits. I was outraged.
Last year I had struggled to find a job when I'd moved from Manchester down to London. London did not seem to be recruiting, and for just under six weeks I'd had to sign on for job seekers allowance. The amount I received was hardly enough to survive on, and once I'd paid the bus fare to take the twenty-five minute bus ride to the local Job Centre each week (you could hardly call it local) there was barely enough for food, let alone rent. Each week, the admin officer in the Job Centre would look narrowly at me, glance at my papers, (upon which I had dutifully listed all the job applications I had made that week in neat little capitals, placed carefully in the right box) and then eye me suspiciously. She would yawn and sign my paper off only once she had probed me with the same monotonous questions.

I had since fought hard to get settled in London. And now, I had finally established myself in a little flat, with a modestly paid job, and I felt as if I was getting punished for it.

By 2:00pm, I had Liam's parents ringing vets in Worcestershire, and my Mum checking the vets in Hertfordshire to compare prices for leg operations and amputations. I had posted out for help and advice using Twitter and Facebook last night, and the support I had received from all my friends and fellow bloggers was incredible. Everyone it seemed, knew at least one cat who was missing a leg, and last night Liam and I had sat together and checked out the suggested websites, and laughed a little reading the cute stories of three-legged cats who still lived life as if they had four. Each person who posted me some advice, lifted a little weight off my mind. I had the support. All I needed now, was the universe to spit out a solution (one I could afford) that could help my girl feel better.
 Bess hadn't moved much in the last hour, and I was getting worried. I knew she was still drugged from the tablets and anaesthetic, but she hadn't eaten, used her litter tray or drank much water since she'd come home. I looked at her dry cat food, splattered with anti-inflammatory drugs (a bit like ibuprofen) which smelt like marzipan. No, I wouldn't have eaten it either. I decided to go for a quick walk to Tescos to pick her up something tastier, that really stank - like mackerel or tuna. Then she might eat it. Stroking her ear, she didn't even open her eyes, which worried me, so I grabbed my bag, and hurried out the front door, phone and cigarettes in hand.

As my converse trainers padded the pavement and I puffed on my cigarette, I took a look up to the sky, and threw my worries right up there; across the park until they splattered across the skyscrapers to my far left and right. I walked with my head up, and shoulders back, because it made me feel better, less trapped, and I spoke loudly in my head to anyone 'up there' who might listen. I don't always feel the need to know who I'm talking to, but think maybe just the intention of what I need might bring it closer to me somehow. As I nattered along the pavement, I suddenly felt my pocket vibrate, and I fumbled about in my jacket to answer it. It was a strange number. I caught it just in time:


'Oh, Hello.' Came a rather quiet, strained voice that I guessed belonged to someone much older than me. 'My name is Mr Farlan, I'm calling from the RSPCA in Wimbledon. I was given your number by one of my colleagues who said you were in a rather tricky situation.'

I couldn't believe it. Fast work, God.

I remembered my call to the RSPCA earlier that morning. The girl on the telephone had fully listened to my plea (unlike most of the other charities) before sounding terribly guilty that she couldn't help me, but she had asked for my telephone number, just in case she thought of anything.

'Yes, Yes... ' I said quickly, before relaying the entire story to Mr Farlan.
'Well, my colleague is quite right, y'know, you will struggle to qualify for financial help with the RSPCA. But it is an awful situation... These vets... I can't quite believe their prices. It's daylight robbery!'

I agreed, and felt my self lifted by the mere fact that someone sympathised and understood.

'Now, let me have a think.' He paused, as if he wasn't on the telephone, and had all the time in the world to chat to me. I felt like I mattered. 'I'll have a word with our treasurer in Wimbledon, I'm not promising you anything, but I'll see if I can appeal your case. But in the meantime, have you thought of taking your cat to Putney RSPCA Animal Hospital?'

'Oh, thank you so much for asking.' I replied, thinking how glad I wasn't speaking with Mr Farlan in person, or I might have kissed him rather inappropriately on the spot. 'I haven't tried Putney hospital, no. I'll get onto them right away.'

'Yes... They might take you in, y'see. They help people on low incomes, not just if you're on benefits. It might be worth a ring. Anyway, love. Good luck, and I'll ring you tomorrow to see how you're doing.'

He hung up.

When Liam came home from work, around 6:30pm, I was splayed on the floor of our living room, on the land line phone, with two mobile phones scattered around me, taking notes from a vet in Worcestershire, on the price and procedure of pinning Bess' leg rather than plating it. It had been non-stop calling all day, and I was exhausted.

When I finally got off the phone a few minutes later, Liam had made me a cup of tea. I crawled up onto the sofa, resting my head on his lap, and rested my feet on the coffee table - a habit of Liam's, which I usually tell him off for - and closed my eyes, mumbling thanks.

'How are my girls?' He whispered after a couple of minutes quiet.

'I've worked so hard...' My words came out all pathetic. 'But I've got us three options.'

'I called Putney RSPCA Animal Hospital this afternoon, and spoke to a really kind receptionist, who listened. She advised, if I took Bess in, with wage slips, ID and a utility bill, I might qualify for them to operate on her. But they might not save the leg, as they always go for the best, but cheapest solution... And then there's big problem, that I might not qualify for a low enough wage...and if they turn us away...'

I paused to take a look at my notepad, since my brain was so muddled with all the words I had heard and spoken that day, I couldn't think quite straight.

'...I've got us a back-up plan, just in case. There's a small vets up near your Mum. He said he would pin her leg.' I'd noticed his eyebrow raise, and that familiar wrinkle appear on his forehead, letting me know he was about to throw a hundred questions by me. 'I've checked - It's not quite as secure as the plate - but they said it would definitely work. He's quoted me around £900 for the operation including the aftercare of taking the pins out.'

'That figure sounds a bit better...' Liam trailed off as I interrupted him.

'Yes. And your Mum has offered to drive down to London tonight to pick Bess up, take her to the vets and then care for her a couple of weeks after the operation at her house... She's been so kind...'

'...But you're worried that you won't be able to look after her yourself?'

He knew me so well.

Yes, the idea of carrying on with work, my day to day life, whilst Liam's Mum cared for my cat seemed wrong somehow. She was my responsibility...

'And the third option?' Liam asked.

'The Celia Hammond Animal Trust will do an amputation. They don't tend to do operations as they are a little too specialist, but they would charge me significantly less than the vets would, just to amputate the leg...'

I knew Liam was against the idea of amputating Bess' leg, especially as the vets had advised that it was possible to save it. But we were running low on possibilities within our budget, and time was running out.

'You've done so well...' He picked my tea off the coffee table - avoiding my feet, and not saying a word about them - and passed the mug to me. 'Let's visit the RSPCA tomorrow morning, first thing, and take it from there.'

8 April 2011

The cat, the accident and her bandage

Sunday 3rd April

It was around nine O'clock, Sunday night. Liam had slumped fully on the sofa, catching the highlights of Match of the Day 2, occasionally sitting upright, shouting and throwing his arms in the air every time there was a foul, handball or goal he didn't like. I was tidying the bedroom, ironing clothes for tomorrow and occasionally reminding him that they couldn't hear him - as I always do.
Then we heard the most almighty racket.
A screaming howl which stopped my ironing dead in its tracks, loud enough even, to cause Liam to switch the telly off - yes, Match of the Day. We looked at each other, both thinking the same thing.

That sounded like our cat.

Our cat, but if someone had poked her eyes out, pulled her tail and swung her three times around their head.
Liam leapt off the sofa and rushed outside, forgetting he had no shoes on, to see what the commotion was about.

'There's a bloody great cat out here, and no Bess!' He called from the open corridor, outside.

We live on the fourth floor of a large 1930's block of flats, and there are hundreds of doors lined one after the other along rows of open corridors. If you stand outside our flat, and are brave enough to look down over the metal handrail, there's a pretty courtyard, and padding about the courtyard, you almost always see at least ten cats, hiding amongst the ferns, on the roofs of the garages, and sleeping behind the tyres of the parked up cars.
There's the little black boy cat, who's longer than Bess and just as small, and walks like he's a fully grown tiger. I like to think that he's her boyfriend, as they'd make really cute, fluffy black babies. Sometimes they sit on the second floor corridor, side by side, as if either one of them is huddled up to a mirror, the only thing distinguishing them is his luminous yellow, manly collar.

'Is is her boyfriend?' I replied.

'No. He's a fucking great orange thing.'


'She's not out here. I'm going to go look for her.' I heard him stomp down the four flights of stairs, muttering something about him being on her territory and how dare he start a fight.

When Liam came back with no Bess, I put it down to her being scared, and thought she must be hiding in a bush somewhere in the courtyard, a little bashful after a fight.
But an hour later, I heard the door creak a little on its hinges, and I heard a frantic Liam call me into the living room.
She wasn't crying, and eyes were still bright, but as she limped around the living room, her back leg dangled uselessly behind her.

'It's probably dislocated.' I said, instinctively denying there was anything seriously wrong, and wanting so much to believe I was right.
'But it looks broken... ' Liam snapped back at me, whispering 'oh my God' under his breath, over and over, and shaking his head.
I stroked her beautiful, silky fur, and she mewed at me, looking grumpy, then hopped to the darkest corner underneath our bed and curled into a ball, carefully balancing so as not to put weight on the wobbly foot.
I thought back to September, when I'd got her micro-chipped, and how I'd picked up that leaflet on cat insurance. I remembered how I'd placed it on the fridge, in my 'to do' pile, 'to do' when I was earning just a little bit more. As I picked up the phone to dial the 24 hour vets, late on a Sunday night, I watched Liam bending on his hands and knees by the side of the bed, worrying.

I knew we had a problem.

Monday 4th March

As I sleepily rolled out of bed at the usual 6:00am, my first thought was Bess. Poking my head into the living room, I noticed she hadn't shifted one inch off the sheepskin blanket I'd left her on late last night. But at the sight of my bedraggled hair and pale, gormless face (which would have frightened most) her eyes lit up and she lifted her head to look at me. The vet had said to leave her until morning before bringing her in, and Liam was going to take her as soon as they opened - but I had to go to work. I felt awful, but at such late notice on Sunday night, I was unable to get the cover. I hurriedly had a shower, and pulled my clothes on, hardly caring what I looked like, and rushed out the door feeling like the bad, working mother I was.

The morning raced past, as I got coffees for numerous meetings, and spent the morning stopping people on their way past reception, to talk about how worried I was. I picked up the phone in automatic mode all morning, just waiting for Liam's call.
I imagined, with no insurance, I'd be looking at a £300 bill - tops, and had started to prepare myself for what I might be about to hear... A bad cat bite from the fight? A dislocated hip? A fracture?

The phone rang, and I grabbed for it. It was Liam.

"Hi darling, I've left her at the vets. They needed to x-ray her, because they are pretty sure it's broken. For the anaesthetic, a bandage and a couple of x-rays it's going to be a ball-park figure of £500...and that's before they've even worked out what it is that's wrong - before the treatment."

I was speechless. Sick with worry about where we were supposed to find £500. With no savings between us, both still deep into our overdrafts, and a few huge bills outstanding, it looked near-on impossible. I thought back to when I'd got Bess, how I'd begged Liam to let me have her. I'd found her advertised on Gumtree, given away because they didn't want her anymore. Everyone had said what an enormous responsibility she would be, and it was only my Mum who had said, 'Get her. If you can love her, and give her a good home, get her.' Mum had always taken in waifs and strays, and if something needed love, be it human, animal or plant, she would do anything she could to take care of it. When I'd gone round to visit Bess at her old family's home, she had straight away prppped and wound her way around my legs, staring at me intently as I stood waiting for them to answer the front door. After the visit, I just knew I had to get her, and sat in a non-descript bus stop for a while, picking at the loose thread on my cardigan, whilst Liam sat on the hard yellow seat next to me, and went through all the valid reasons why I shouldn't get her. The space. The cost. The restrictions. The vets bills...
But I knew she needed a home, and I knew she'd picked me.

'We'd like you and your partner to come in to discuss Bess' x-rays.' The receptionist said later that afternoon, after I had already called them three times that day to find out how she was. 'Can you make it in around 6:45pm to see the vet?'

'We'll be there.' I replied, quietly.

Liam gripped my hand tightly in the waiting room. My heart was in my mouth, my chest fluttering with worry, and I noticed my breathing had quickened. A sure sign of a panic attack -not the time or place. So I closed my eyes and took three deep breaths. Some irritating woman dressed in cycling shorts and the most unattractive luminous cycling helmet I had ever seen, was quibbling over paying an extra £5.00 for her dog's medication. I realised she was arguing with the vet that we were supposed to seeing, and it didn't look as if she was going to let the matter slide. The clock read 6:54pm, and I stared with an uncharacteristic venom at that luminous helmet, wishing she would just vanish so we could cut to the chase about how my girl was.
The vet had a kind face, and it surprised me to see that she was only a couple of years older than me. It felt as if we should be chatting over a glass of wine, rather than over the bright light box on the wall used to view x-rays.

'Now, Bess is okay, although her hind leg is quite badly broken. We gave her an anaesthetic this afternoon to administer the x-rays, and although she hasn't eaten much, she is bandaged up and quite alright....' The vet smiled at us, particularly me, since I must have looked as if I was about to faint, because she chose her next words carefully.

'There are three options. The first thing one is - and this is probably what we would prefer to do - an operation on her leg.'

I gasped, involuntarily. Liam shot me a look.

'Not to worry, it's fairly routine. We'd put a plate on her leg, then fix it with screws into the bone...'

I hung on her every word. Nodding like a little nodding dog whenever she mentioned a serious word, like bone or plate.

'The second option, is to bandage her each week for the next eight weeks, and to hope that it fuses back together well enough for her to walk. This, unfortunately, does not always work, and may cause her problems later in life; like arthritis, or even another break..."

'I don't like that option.' I blurted.

What was wrong with me? I couldn't speak properly. I felt like I had been muted.

'Okay. Then there's the third option, which is amputation of the leg.'

Oh, God. I'm going to have to make a horrible decision.

Wild images of legs, no legs and operations flashed through my mind. Poor Bess. Then I had a thought.

Why isn't she telling me the prices of what these three options cost?  And then I wondered. Am I terrible for thinking of the money?

I am usually the bossy, questioning one. I annoy strangers to get answers, quite regularly. I am unafraid to ask. But nothing came out of my mouth standing in this little sparse room at the vets. The man in the ticket office at the station gets my questions, the waitress in the restaurant and also the doctor at the surgery... I am, in short, the difficult one, the questioner. But Liam, suddenly took charge, and began asking all the questions I would have thought of, starting with the price.

The vet looked uneasy. I sort of felt sorry for her. She was clearly reluctant to tell us the amount. I had stressed on the phone, when I'd spoken to her that morning, that we didn't have insurance, and could she please keep that in mind. I had remembered from Mum's hundreds of bad vet experiences, that vets do tend to tot up the price of treatment quite quickly, often without a second thought.

'Well, for the metal plate operation, which will leave her leg in tact and perfect within a few weeks, you are looking at a ball-park figure of £1,400. Then, for the bandages... that's £50 a bandage... every four days for six weeks... including painkillers and vet appointments to change the bandage... around £900.'

'And to amputate?' Liam asked cooly.

'You're looking at around £1,000. But, I'm afraid -' She added quietly. 'that these figures are not including the £500 bill for today...'

I'm sure the look on my face said it all.

She left the room for a moment to get Bess from one of the back rooms. As soon as she left, I turned to look at Liam. We stood there, in the little consultation room, in silence.

The swinging door opened a few minutes later - although it might have only been seconds - and my sluggish little black cat was carried through the door slumped in my cat carrier. She was hardly recognisable as my Bess. Her fur was dusty, her eyes had been glooped with some sort of liquid to stop them sticking together, and she had lost her sparkle. Then there was the gigantic blue leg she had that took up most of the carrier, bandaged so big it looked like they'd stuck two of her legs in there together, not just the one.

'Have a think; we aren't expecting you to decide right away. I realise it's an awful lot of money.' The vet said as she put away the x-rays, in the large brown envelope. 'Ideally we need to operate Wednesday, so you have tomorrow to have a think about what you want to do.'

One day.

I felt as if I had been slapped in the face. I wanted to tell the vet there was no money. Not even the measly £500 that she wanted for today. I had absolutely no idea what we wanted to do for Bess apart from make her feel better. I looked at the vet; she really did only look a few years older than me, which is why I probably was able to pluck up the courage to ask a really mean question.

'Can I ask you something?' I said quietly.
'Of course!' She responded lightly, knowing full well that I would be asking it anyway.
'If she was your cat, and you were in our predicament, what would you do?'

It was a mean question, and she tried to avoid it, claiming it wasn't professional to have a personal opinion - which I agreed with. But after a moment, she looked at me straight and said:

'I've been a student for seven years, I know how tough it would be for me to find that sort of money. To be honest, I would go for the plate operation to keep her leg, and I think I'd ask my parents.'

I held the cat, quiet in her basket in the one hand, and grasped hold of her medication in the other - the dosage of which had been described to me in great detail just before we'd left the vets. Liam carried the monstrosity of a metal cage, which was on loan from the vets. It was designed to keep her still and out of pain for the next day while we decided what to do. As we walked home along the main road, in the quiet of our own thoughts, I turned to Liam, and very determinedly said;

'I'm going to raise this money. I want her to keep her leg. I don't have a clue how I'm going to find an amount like that, but there has got to be a way.'

And I meant it.

Bess and her bandage