The cat.

Facey moved in with us last September. He was a big, beautiful Maine Coon with a huge personality, and we were looking after him while his owner, N, sold his flat. He was the difference between a house and a home. I’ve never known a cat as affectionate, chirpy or sociable. He worked a room at a party better than I could. He didn’t believe there was ever an inappropriate time for cuddles. If he’s been a person, he’d have been a player, cosied up with a different woman every night. It was like having a cool new housemate, albeit one who shits in a box in the corner and sometimes wakes you in the night by sticking his paw in your mouth. Frankly, I’ve lived with worse.

He taught me how to relax. I’m usually a whirlwind of activity when I get home after work, determined to cram as much as possible into every minute of my free time. All that stops when you have a cat halfway up the stairs, mewing frantically as you open the front door, desperate for you to lie down on the bed with him for a cuddle. Cat-spooning could easily take up an hour of my evening. I would rest there with him blissfully asleep on me, as I read a book or daydreamed or simply lay with him.

He taught he what it is to care deeply for another, more vulnerable, life. A month ago – just one, brief month, how incredible to write that down – he started to get ill. Not much at first, some fur loss put down to ear mites or maybe a flea bite allergy. Then sickness, lethargy, discomfort. More fur loss, and more, and more, and all the vets could do was take photos and consult each other over this mysterious malady. His beautiful coat ravaged, his tail reduced to almost nothing. A patch of fur left on his face left him recognisably feline. Unable to jump onto the bed or, if lifted onto it, to lie down comfortably. We kept trying the tablets and consulting more specialists. I was the first to realise that he wasn’t going to recover.

He taught me how to die. We will never knew if he had any concept of how ill he was, except for in his final hours when he was confused and suffering and crying out. The dash to the emergency vet, who confirmed what we already knew, and gave him an injection to stop his pain while we sobbed in that sterile room at midnight. He was quiet, stoical, accepting. His time had simply run out.

He taught me about how grief gives you tunnel vision, knocks out everything except for raw emotion, leaves you incapable of doing anything. I know it’ll get better but today I just miss him. Rest in peace, little puss, and thank you.



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Health and safety gone mad

Things, according to my colleagues, that you can’t say any more because of political correctness/health and safety/”Them”:

  • “Blackmail”
  • “Black coffee”
  • “That computer is black.”


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The Shit Fair

Last night, Jo and I went to the Shit Fair.

The Shit Fair returns thrice yearly to peddle candyfloss and ropey rides to the folk of south London. It isn’t, sadly, as shit as it used to be. It used to boast a ride that was simply an office chair attached to a cherry picker. For a pound, you could ascend, look out over the rolling plains of Brixton, then gently descend. It was like the fair in Father Ted. That had the Spinning Cat, Duck Startling, and The Ladder. The Shit Fair offered a half-deflated bouncy castle, a copyright-defying ‘Disney Dome’, and a dirty pond.

Because it was a Tuesday night, we had the place to ourselves. The kids on half-term were drifting out, reluctantly going home for their tea, as we raced in past the sign that said ‘NO GANGS THIS IS A FAMILY FAIR’. It was so empty that men called idly to us as we walked past each ride. “Cowardly custards!”, yelled the man as he slumped at the ghost train kiosk when we strolled by. To our left, a small girl dressed as Alice in Wonderland waved regally from a miniature bus going round in circles. To our right, the man running the chair-o-planes was managing to both control it and ride one, his legs casually dangling out as it rose higher and higher.

Our first ride: the simulator. I LOVE a simulator as long as (1) I am shaken around enough inside to cause minor bruising and (2) the film has a plot. I get so involved that I feel genuine fear when, for instance, the mine cart dismounts from its rails and threatens to throw us all into the murky gloom. It comes as a shock even if the ride is billed THE RUNAWAY MINE CART.

Sadly, this was a film shot in 1983 out of the window of a jumbo jet. Inside the cavernous empty simulator we watched a desultory three minute video of tree tops and fields while a pilot’s voice, cloaked in static, mumbled to ground control. The screen was marginally bigger than a standard television. I may as well have thrown £2 out of my window and watched a YouTube video of some sheep. As we got out, the man made a belated effort to create some atmosphere by pressing a button to pump dry ice around our feet while a green light flashed on and off.

Seeing our disappointment, a young man beckoned us over to his hook-a-duck stall. We eyed up the prizes on offer and Jo told him she definitely wanted to win a Mega Ball, a two-foot wide felt sphere. She asked how much it was to play. ‘For you, it’s £3,’ he said. Hanging heavy in the air was his thought: ‘here are two employed women with a heightened sense of irony. They’ll cough up.’ ‘Alternatively,’ he suggested, ‘you could pay me £3 for the ball.’ And miss the fun of hooking a duck? He didn’t know us at all. After fumbling around with the rod and triumphantly lifting our bright yellow birds, he declared we were ‘quite good for ladies’ and ceremoniously handed over our prize.

We watched a community policeman buy some pick and mix while we chose our second ride: the Runaway Train. The track for this ride looked fairly tame so I thought I’d cope better than on its terrifying neighbour: a ride that essentially involved being strapped into a cage and then spun upside down for four minutes. Would we like to sit at the front or back, the friendly owner asked. ‘The back’, replied Jo. And would we like separate seats or did we want to sit together? ‘Together,’ she replied. He smiled, strapped us in, and, misunderstanding the nature of our relationship, left us alone for some quiet time.

After several minutes of fruitlessly looking for other riders, he sensed how close we were to getting over-excited and being sick and started the ride. And suddenly, what had looked like a lovely meander along some gentle slopes became a high speed hurtle over steep hills and sharp bends. We were flung into each other as the carriages shot through tunnels, squealing with pain rather than excitement, until it finally came to a halt and we tottered off to inspect our bruises.

We walked home through the park, bouncing the Mega Ball between us as we headed for the gate. Two kids on bikes started pedalling slowly behind us and we resigned ourselves to losing with the Mega Ball or our bags to them. But I suspect they saw us as simpletons and knew they’d win no respect from mugging us – it would be like mugging a toddler, or a kitten. Either that or, more likely, they were nice young men who happened to be following the same route home. We bounced the Mega Ball home until it inevitably burst and we were left with a limp felt bag.

In conclusion, it was an excellent evening and I cannot believe I haven’t sampled the Shit Fair before. Total cost: £7. Amount more fun it was than going to the pub: 3000. I’m going back on Sunday when I shall visit the Mystery Hotel, which I hope is simply a bored receptionist saying “guess which hotel this is?” while I ask ‘is it a Hilton? Is it a Plaza? Is it a  Travelodge?’ until I hit upon the right one and she hands me another Mega Ball.


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I live on a hellmouth

Things that broke this weekend, in order of how devastated I am about them:

1) My laptop
2) MY FUCKING LAPTOP (it deserves the top two spaces)
3) The washing machine (water everywhere)
4) The boiler (started leaking in sympathy with the washing machine)
5) My phone (semi-broke, in that it now thinks 140 characters is three text messages, not one, and charges me accordingly)
5) The ironing board

‘My spirit’ should go in there somewhere. I ended up feeling like I live on a technological hellmouth. Suspect number 1 is the ghost of Ceiling Squirrel, returned to haunt us for poisoning him and his family. Fair enough, I suppose. I channelled my utter misery about my computer into cleaning the entire flat. The kitchen floor reeks of bleach and tears. I washed it in cold water with a thin cloth, as a sort of penance. An offering to the gods: look how sorrowful I am and restore my laptop to full health, I beseech you. They ignored me.

I spent Saturday evening slumped despondently on the sofa with my friend Jo. We ate a whole Toblerone and watched three hours of ITV’s new dating show, Take Me Out. I am adding this to my penance list because my god, that show is life-threateningly bad. It makes Blind Date look like A Room With A View.  One Lynx-drenched man is wheeled out in front of thirty women, who can rule themselves out of consideration by turning off a light in front of them if he does anything to displease them. In the episodes I watched, this included:

  • running marathons for charity
  • being a violinist
  • coming second in Cork’s Next Top Model
  • having teddy bears on the bed
  • living with his mum
  • admitting to not showering much when he was a teenager.

For the last sorrowful contestant, his disclaimer came too late and he’d been buzzed off by everyone before he could shout that he was now very clean. He had to ascend alone in the Love Lift, his genitals audibly shrinking as presenter and professional northerner Paddy McGuinness led the audience in singing ‘All By Myself’ at his retreating form.

Not that he was in line for a big win. Men who manage not to incur the wrath of all the women get to choose one to go on a date to Fernando’s, a Manchester nightclub. Where they go in the middle of the day, and sit awkwardly at a brightly lit table sipping one drink each and scrambling desperately to find common ground. The Irish version of the show (yes, we turned to YouTube, please don’t judge, it had been a hard day) was even worse. The ‘prize’ is an evening in Shifters – or ‘SHIFTERS!’ as the host forces everyone to shout in a simulacrum of enthusiasm – which the show claims is a club but which is clearly a sofa in a broom cupboard with a derisory black cloth behind it. You can still hear the noise of the TV studio as the couple down their pint of Guinness/white wine spritzer and tell the camera there was ‘no spark’.

There’s definitely a drinking game in it, mind. Take a shot every time you look at Paddy McGuinness and think: no-one is actually that northern. Take two when the girls start to applaud something incredibly inane. Take three when the show is so excruciating you can’t even watch it through your fingers any more. Take joy in shouting ‘replenish the clunge!’ when one girl is whisked off on a date and another identikit blonde is dropped into her place on the panel. You’ll be pissed by half nine and won’t care that nothing – nothing – in your house works any more.


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Things I discovered at the gym last night (yes, I went back)

  •  I am not the only person with Falling Off The Treadmill Fear. I noticed two other women who were hunched over the dashboard (dashboard? Is that the word for the thing with flashing lights and numbers? My gym vocab is seriously lacking) in desperate attempts not to topple off the end. They may have been there last time, but I wasn’t able to move my head from its fixed position staring down at my feet. I felt more adventurous last night, and at one point even raised my head to watch a whole four minutes of The Alan Titchmarsh Show playing on a big screen in front of me.
  • It is possible to listen to Willow Smith’s Whip My Hair three times during a 36 minute run, if you scroll continuously through the radio channels. I love that she advises her listeners that there ‘ain’t no sense listening to them haters’. One: learn some basic grammar. Two: you are ten years old. Your dad Will Smith (DO YOU SEE WHAT HE DID THERE?) would deal with any haters by simply having a quiet word in the playground.
  • Still can’t walk when I come off the treadmill. I developed a lurching stagger from one machine to the next until I could casually prop myself against a wall.
  • After ten minutes on a cross-trainer, I had generated enough energy to power a light bulb for about 40 seconds. Just hook me up to the National Grid and call me Tesla.
  • There is, contrary to my initial belief, a private changing room in the gym. It is behind what I call the Curtain Of Shame. I didn’t venture behind it in case everyone thought I was hideously deformed. I took my clothes into the shower again and emerged three minutes later, damp but victorious. Victorious against nudity.

I doubt I’ll have any more gym updates as the ice is thawing. Soon I’ll be able to run on the pavements again, alternating between a leisurely long run (in posh Dulwich) and a briefer sprint (through the less salubrious parts of Brixton). Don’t worry, I won’t blog about running because that inevitably makes for incredibly dull reading. I have my running friend Claire to bore on about that to – her last text involved great excitement about double-layer running socks – so you’re excused. Think yourselves lucky.


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It’s been far to icy to go for a run. Even walking to the station has involved clutching onto fences, trees, passers-by, and resigning myself to falling over at least twice. After several days of working from home, I am going stir-crazy and in desperate need of some kind of exercise. Which is how I find myself outside Jef’s gym, clutching a guest pass, and about to do indoor physical activity for the first time since school.

I realise this is a bad idea as soon as I walk in. It is a perfectly lovely, non-intimidating gym, full of normal-looking people and friendly staff, but it is so reminiscent of school that I’m convinced someone will throw my bag in the shower and laugh at my legs. I’ve avoided any risk of public nudity by cleverly wearing my gym kit underneath my clothes. Yes, including shorts. Yes, it was bulky but I didn’t have to flash my pants in the changing room. Dignity is the real winner here.

I am here to run, but I’ve never used a treadmill before. I’m pretty confident it’ll be easy enough until we walk into the main room of the gym and it is towering over me, all lights and buttons and rumblings. Suddenly I am like my grandmother on a travelator. At airports, it takes three of us to get her off them. Two of us have to haul her off as she squeaks and trips while the third hovers anxiously near the emergency stop button. “Honestly mam, it’s just WALKING,” my mum chastises as we take her for some restorative Baileys while she puffs and pants and says she knew a man who was killed on one of those.

Except it isn’t “just walking” when it’s a teeny tiny moving strip, and you are very aware of the end of it and the seemingly high possibility of falling off the end. For a long time, I can only walk on it exceedingly slowly for 10 seconds at a time (“1 km per hour”, the machine coos patronisingly), before freaking out and leaping onto the immovable lengths on either sides of the track, while furiously stage-whispering at Jef that I HATE it here and I’m going to GO HOME. But I persist, and after a few minutes I manage a gentle jog while clinging onto the rails with both hands. Another few minutes, and I can take one hand off. With a tentative switch, I can take the other hand away. Then I realise that as long as I stare fixedly at my shoes to make sure I’m not drifting towards the end of the conveyor belt (conveyor belt? Is that right?), I can run normally, hands-free, like all the other gym-goers around me.

Which is when I realise how boring this is. Oh god, this is dull. All I can hear are my Clarks trainers flapping away underneath me. My machine is in front of a window which would afford me a view out across Streatham if it was still light, but as it is I can only see my reflection. I am distracted by how stupid my hair is. Then I can’t decide what expression my face should be making. Every one looks wrong. This is terrible. Time seems to be going backwards. This is literally no fun at all. This is anti-fun.

I punch the ‘stop’ button after 27 minutes, and the display flashes up that I’ve covered a feeble 2.5 miles. Most of this was covered solely by the treadmill. More embarrassingly, when I step off I discover I can’t walk on solid ground now. Jef has to half-carry me away as I cling to the bar and try to reintroduce my feet to the concept of a static floor. It has been less than half an hour since they were last ambling around on one. How quickly they forget. Idiots.

Next I have a go on a cross-trainer. This is a machine where you get to swing your arms and legs wildly while the display board beeps and flashes until you input your age and weight. It’s like being on a first date with someone with no social skills. “How OLD are you?” it bellows exasperatedly over the starter. “I CAN’T continue with this unless you TELL ME!” No sooner have you told it then it demands your weight. Once you’ve whispered that, it sits back and starts smugly telling you how many calories you’re burning. I don’t care, but it continues to flash the numbers up in my face. “96 cals! 103 cals! This exercise will burn a total of 127 cals!” I want to tell it I’m not bothered because I’d actually like to put on weight, but it insists on trying to force me into an eating disorder. I stop after 15 minutes and, yet again, my feet have forgotten how to navigate solid ground and Jef has to haul me off.

My final obstacle is the shower room. Once I’ve found my locker – they all look the same and I didn’t realise they had numbers – I slowly take out my towels and clothes, thinking furiously about how to avoid getting dressed in front of everyone. There are private shower cubicles but then you’re supposed to swan out in the nip, and dress in a communal changing area. No, thank you. I come up with a genius plan – I will wrap my clothes in one towel and use the other one to dry myself. I can put the clothes/towel bundle on the floor and the towel will stop everything getting soaked. My plan is moderately successful and my t-shirt and underwear emerge only slightly damp. I have left my jeans in my locker. They are my one concession to public dressing. I wrap both towels around my waist as I pull them on and get away with the merest knee flash.

Then, finally, what feels like days after we arrived, Jef and I go home via Lidl to pick up some of their finest wine. I drink my way through more than 127 calories – in your FACE, machine – and check the weather forecast, counting the days until I can take my ridiculous flailing run out onto the streets again.


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I’ve lived in London, on and off, for thirty years now and thankfully haven’t yet been a victim of crime. I have led a sheltered enough existence to have not even witnessed crime – aside from a spot of shoplifting – until last Thursday. 

I met James for a drink in Kings Cross, and as we were meandering from his office to the pub, we passed two men skulking around near a bike chained to a railing, one on foot, the other on a motorbike. The one on foot looked like a weasel in a hoodie. His friend looked like a less attractive James Corden. Weasel Hoodie shook the bike to check how securely it was attached which, my brain realised ten paces on, was not the behaviour of a bike owner. We both stopped, turned, and by unspoken agreement, walked back.

I didn’t know what I was going to do at this point. Neither of us are physically intimidating. I’m about as strong as a malnourished kitten. But I wanted to do something. The thought of ignoring it was more sickening than the thought of a confrontation.

As we approached, Hoodie got out a pair of bolt-cutters and started made short work of the lock. Half a dozen people were watching on the other side of the road, and a man sitting outside a pub nearby was looking on with interest. “You’re stealing that, aren’t you?” said James, which seemed a hilariously obvious comment in retrospect, but we had to say something to break the awkward stand-off. At that point, if he’d said “actually I lost my keys but this really is my bike” we probably would have been very British about it and commented about what a dreadful situation that was and how lucky he was to own a sturdy pair of bolt-cutters. He offered a lacklustre “no” and then started muttering something sweary at us.

James put his hands on the bike and I thought the pair were going to leg it, but Motorcycle Boy started shouting and swearing at us, saying he was going to “knock [us] out”, which in my state of hyper-adrenaline I misheard as “knock you up”. I started laughing, taken back to days of schoolyard bullying when my only defence was bravado. I wanted him to know I found him pitiful, not scary. Because I did. His heart wasn’t in what he was saying. He was unconvincing. But he was also a big man in a heated situation and it crossed my mind that he could just reverse into us.

Hoodie started riding away and accelerated to an incredible speed, followed by his motorised pal. The whole thing, from walking past to confrontation to escape, had taken about a minute. I was glad that we hadn’t been knocked out – or, as James pointed out in the pub, stabbed – but annoyed at myself for not taking the bike’s registration number.

I was naïve enough to think that just confronting a criminal would be enough; that somehow our presence would scare them off and we would have triumphantly prevented a crime. I was left with a feeling of feeble impotence, at not being able to do more. We analysed what we could have done differently and, aside from looking at the bloody registration plate, I don’t think there was anything.

We left a note on the tree for the ex-bike owner with my contact details. He emailed me on Friday morning, thanking me for my message and asking me to ring him. Poor Francois.


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