Sunday, 28 June 2009

The Brush-off!

Austin has several human words in his vocabulary; at least four to my certain knowledge. Austin is one. Uh uh is another, used as a negative imperative. The other two are chicken and brush. These last two are his favourite things in all the world. The problem is he hasn't, as yet, come to grips with the notion of context, so we have had to adapt our conversation somewhat.

"John was a bit of a hen when he had a comb with the law".

I have already spoken about Austin's c*****n addiction, which he has had since we first dragged him kicking and screaming from his cosy cage in the RSPCA rescue centre. The b***h thing has kind of evolved. At first, whenever I approached him with what looked like a spikey instrument of torture, he acted as if he'd been dragged before a Torquemadan tribunal:

Eyes go huge
Eyes go black;
Whiskers all bristle
And ears turn back.

He would then wrap his whole body around both myself and the b***h and bite, scratch and kick all at the same time. The house stank of TCP and elastoplast for months. Then just when I'd got to down to the last day of bidding for chain mail, steel helmet and bikers leather gloves on ebay, he decided that it was cool to be b***hed! Go figure! Perhaps he and Tigger had had a chat and Tigger had shared with him the benefits of having one's skin ritually scraped and pricked. He turned from the devil incarnate to the angel Gabriel overnight!! Bless ;-) Must say I was relieved, as his ability to projectile vomit hairballs was getting close to olympic standard!

Here we go!

Just having a cuddle!

"Forget the fundamental go back to the chin!"

Check the paws for ecstasy!

Don't forget the end bit!

Whiskers need a trim!

What's that dangly doodad hanging from that silver box thingy ?

Just close my eyes for a minute if that's all right with you!
This is his post brush coma pose ;-}

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Tale of a Tail!

Have you ever tried to measure a cat's tail? Just wondered. I've always been very impressed by young Austin's magnificent rear appendage. It is the bit you notice first when he approaches, especially when it's raised in greeting. Having Tigger the Tabby around here a lot of the time, it has made it all the more obvious how long and luxurious it is. Tigger's is a stunted specimen in comparison - although I would never say that to his face for fear of hurting his feelings!

Being a bit at a loose end and with nothing better to do I set about trying to measure Austin's hindmost part.

So there you have it! Best I could ascertain, given the prevailing conditions, is that it is somewhere between 11 and 12 inches. By comparison, Tigger's, using a mathmatical pro-rata type equation thingy, must be about 9 inches and a bit on the puny side. Given the relationship between the two - close, but with Austin in the ascendancy (even though he is smaller and lacking accoutrements) - I would suggest that it is the length and breadth of the tail that determines who is top cat in the pack. Using the same analogy, I would hazzard a guess that Big Ginge's tail is about two foot long, even though I cannot get anywhere near it.


Early(ish) this morning I had to rush outside in my jimjams to rescue Austin from the outstretched claws of Big Ginge!! I think it must be a racial thing I really do. No other ethnic subgroup has quite this effect on our young hero. First I heard the subliminal growl, then the increasing cacophony of screeching until it reached a deafening crescendo of caterwauling. I made it to the window just in time to catch Austin's tail-turned-brush disappearing round the corner down below and Big Ginge's ample furry bod waddling across the garden up above.

It'd been so long since I'd caught even a glimpse of Big Ginge, I'd consoled both myself and Austin with the belief that he'd been elevated to the great catnip patch in the sky. But no! Now much as I love all felines of the domestic persuasion, any that wish to thwart the progress of Austin the KewlKat has to contend with Big MommaKat! So, as I saw Austin hurtle around the corner back into view again, I opened the window, he leapt through, I closed window, he lay growling and panting in a heap, I stood yowling and panting in a heap (while inspecting claw-shaped hole in foot). It was a seamless military manoeuvre. A good while later, after I'd clothed myself and tended the wound, I found him wedged and skulking at the back of the summerhouse (glorified shed really).

Not a happy bunny. No doubt he is, at this moment, telling his story to Tigger (every little detail, except the bit where I rescued him, of course). They can be found most days, sunning themselves, one on each of the comfy chairs, in that very same summerhouse. You will, of course, understand that as the incident unfolded I was unable to catch it on camera, so Austin, the ham that he is, obliged by reenacting the leaping through the window bit for posterity.

I believe he has now entered in to negotiations with Simon Cowell for a DVD and nationwide tour!

Saturday, 20 June 2009

One mind with but a single thought!

There he goes, the walking definition of cupboard love!

Anyone would think Tigger was only interested in eating. Errrrr yep, he is!

50 Camels!!!!

..... actually it was more like two donkeys and a gerbil! That, apparently, is how much I'm worth on the open market! BTW this is my last blog post (I think) about my past; after all this is supposed to be about my cat. However, I think he's needed a bit less of me me me time, just to make him realise that the whole world doesn't revolve around him. Well, ok, it does, but I have to assert my authority sometimes so the status can be allowed to return to quo!

Back to the camels
and donkeys. When it came to currency exchange we were told that the best and cheapest way to do it was to go down to the Christian quarter of the old city to Shaban's shop (most of the shops were run by Arabs) and he would exchange pretty well anything for anything and wouldn't shaft you as much as some of the other moneychangers. Amazing really because about three days after the transaction the money appeared on your bank statement as going into some numbered account in Switzerland! He was very used to dealing with wet-behind-the-ears naïve westerners and as there were a lot of us, he knew when he was on to a good thing: so he didn't need to charge too much. However, when the ground war started in Jan 91 he suddenly disappeared. I won't go into why, but enough to say that the reason was more political than criminal.

He left us all in the capable hands of Lutfe who had a little shop that sold Bedouin clothes and artifacts. Whenever we went down there, it was all very laid back and unhurried. So we'd have a cuppa (but not "tea" as we know it!) and put the world to rights while doing the business with the shekels. Could have taken all day if you weren't careful. It was great fun and - to this rather prosaic, earth-bound Occidental - very exotic, especially the day when business was slow and Lutfe made me dress up in the full garb (see above)! He thought I looked very fetching! I thought I looked better in the gas mask. Things got a bit unclear after that, but I believe the subject of a dowry came up: as I wasn't clear about who was supposed to pay whom - did I really want to saddle my father in South Bucks with a whole herd of camels, or even a couple of donkeys? When I talked to him later on the phone, he said what with the congestion on the M25, a camel or even a donkey might solve his commuting problems. In fact he could foresee a business opportunity - "Camel Cabs".
I did move off campus into an apartment in West Jerusalem, but eventually I decided that the climate and the continual "shishaks" were doing more harm than good, so made the reluctant decision to come back to Blighty in November '91.
I did meet some very cool wise men though :>)

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The Gas Mask - an excellent dietary aid and facial sauna!

When the ground war started in January 1991 we were well prepared. Told to expect chemical or poison bombs we had to have a sealed room allocated to which we ran as fast as we could after the sirens went off. Then once inside we had to make sure all cracks were sealed, fill a large container full of water and sit with our gas masks on until the all clear sounded. We had also been told that it might be a good idea to wear rubber clothing!!! I do have a photo somewhere of someone who actually did that the first time a scud was sent over from southern Iraq. They looked like something out of the Rocky Horror show - complete with marigolds! In fact the whole thing had a kind of surreal gothic sci-fi aura about it.

The student population had been decimated due to hysterical parents demanding the return of their precious offspring. Being 34 and not so precious, my mother had instructed me to "remember you're British, darling", so I stayed through all the fun. Even though many had returned to the bosom of their families, there were still about 30 students and staff ensconced at the Institute for the duration. This meant that there were two rooms allocated to be used as sealed units.

When the siren went off for the first time, I wisely headed towards the one that had the loo. The other room (which was right next door) was without "facilities". Needless to say someone in that room needed to use the "facilities" pretty soon after lock down.

I probably need to explain here that we had no idea what might happen. For all we knew a whole raft of scuds with chemical warheads could've been winging their way across the desert. So the first night we heard those jolly sirens we kept to the rules, including (or so we thought) not opening the door so the poor girl in the room next door could nip along to the loo.

What followed is a bit hazy. I mean why did the Principal, whose bedroom I was in, keep a pickaxe next to his
bed? And whose idea was it to start breaking the wall down between the rooms? Remember this was a first century construction, so there was none of your Barratt Home flimsy breeze block and internal wall cavities. This was built by Herod and the walls were three foot thick! After a while most of us were covered in dust and the demolition workers were finding the gas masks a bit of a hindrance. Also some poor s*d had to keep an ear to the radio, just in case there was any news.

Meanwhile next door and unbeknown to us, there had been a steady stream of people leaving the sealed room to avail themselves of the "facilities" down the corridor! After about five hours, and just when we were making aural contact, the all clear was sounded and we all trotted back to bed. The Principal and his wife now had one heck of a mess to clear up and a brand new open doorway through to their neighbours (the occupants of the other sealed room), a lovely
Japanese couple with two very young children!

After this initial furore caused by one Saddam Hussein, we quickly got into a routine with the scuds. No one ever wore their gas masks (or marigolds!) again and we got the sealed room routine down to a fine art. I think there were about thirty of these altogether and we spent the time playing
Rook, reading, chatting or sleeping (as most of the scuds were sent over at night).

In between times we studied, had classes, went to the movies, played volleyball and became experts at Rook.

The first Gulf war ended on February 28th 1991, which just happened to be the Jewish feast of Purim. Then, before the authorities would let any of us foreigners leave the country, we had to give our gas masks back and have our passports stamped to prove it!

Monday, 15 June 2009

Geckos and insects and seeing the sights!

I seem to remember we did quite a lot of travelling around that first trimester before the war started in earnest.

The Lebanese border

The Sea of Galilee

The Jerusalem Walls

I just love this photo of the busker in Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem. He was probably a Russian gastric surgeon, who'd "made Aliya" and couldn't get a job. The place was heaving with highly skilled immigrants - doctors, accountants, lawyers - but what they really needed were farmers and sewerage experts.

Not so much "Eyeless in Gaza" as Bug-Eyed in Sinai! It was jolly cold that day.

The first few weeks were a blur to be honest. I remember the food was great except I couldn't eat it. I had succumbed (along with everyone else) to "Shishak's Revenge", a condition which caused "dire rear" and other nasties. Shishak, for the uninitiated, was an Egyptian Pharaoh who went through Israel like a dose of errr ... . well ... Shishaks! See 1 Kings 14:25. Onomatopoeia is a wonderful thing!

As well as being attacked from the inside, we were
also attacked from the outside by flying and creeping things . In my case
I had so many lumps and bumps and festering sores that even Quasimodo would've been a bit envious. And I'm not even going to mention the roaches! Ok I will. These tended to congregate in the little room where the public telephone was. Soon as you turned on the light you could see and hear them scuttling away. One day I caught one lying on its back in the telephone cradle! I think it was exhausted from hanging on for the overseas operator! I also learnt that leaving a few crumbs lying around is like a call of reveille to the ants. You turn your back for a minute and whole battalions of them are marching across the floor in neat military rows. I lost my inner-slut PDQ!

Happily, after a while, Gordon the Gecko moved in and became my room-mate and buddy :>) He ate all the creepy-crawlies and flying things (except the roaches!) until he was inadvertently squashed in the door one day while munching on a mosquito :(

Sunday, 14 June 2009

There's always a cat!

Yep even in the bowels of Jerusalem I managed to find a feline f(r)iend.
On the right we have a pair of spectacles. On the left we have the institute cat. Named Facile, she was fed and tickled and spoilt until eventually she got far too big for her boots, literally. She was a sweet thing, but quite nervous, especially of giant animated spectacles that tried to cuddle her!

Thinking back I believe those specs were excavated on an archaeological dig at Beit She'an and
were subsequently renovated, classified, tagged and exhibited in the British Museum in London - in the prehistory section. They needed a whole room just for themselves.

At last .......

..... we get to the Israel bit. I bet you were wondering if I'd ever make it! This is not going to be a great long memoir thingy, just a few standout memories and some apposite pics.

Well, I gathered myself and my stuff together and boarded a plane for Tel Aviv in August 1990. Now for
any one who is au fait with recent history, you'll know immediately that that was the exact same time Iraq invaded Kuwait and the first Gulf War started. It has been suggested, by some who are in the know, that these two events were not entirely unrelated. I can't see this myself, I've always protested my innocence in the absence of any real evidence.
Ok so I did arrive in Jerusalem on the back of one of these, but when they said you need to get a taxi from the airport, this was what was parked out front. I eventually fetched up at the Institute for Holy Land Studies (now called Jerusalem University College) and boy was it hot! No I mean it was hot ... sweltering. Bit of a climatical shock. The cultural one was to come later! The place was very old, parts of it go back to the first century. It reeked in history. I was bug-eyed with excitement. Can't remember much about signing in, but I do remember tripping over a few bodies that had already succumbed to the heat and dehydration. And, of course, when you need a drink, you drink water .... errr from the tap, don't you? More about that later!

When it came to accommodation, I was living on campus. Way, way back when I was first accepted
onto the program (I've put program rather than programme as this is an American run graduate school and they are sometimes a bit shy about using all the letters!), I had to fill in loads of forms and one of the questions asked was "what is the main quality you look for in a room-mate?" Horrified at the very idea of having to share any part of my dishabille with a stranger, I put "absent" and thought no more of it. Apparently this caused a great deal of merriment and general falling about amongst the staff (no idea why?) and they managed to find me a little cave/cell of my very own - although I didn't remain alone for very long!

The above photo is of the courtyard outside my room and the one above that is the room with the absent (at least to start with) room-mate.

NB Have just read that blog posts aren't supposed to be too long. Oooops!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Getting knotted in Bangor!

The years between 1977 and 1986 were fairly knotless. 1987 was a big knot year which culminated in me applying to go to Bangor University to do Religious Studies.
Having no A-levels, I was very sceptical that they would even give me an interview, let alone offer me a place. But my brother (who'd made the initial enquiry - being in situ) said they looked quite kindly on elderly applicants with no previous! So I trekked up to North Wales. I really wasn't sure what to expect from the professor, but what I didn't expect was a little man in dungarees with half an allotment under his finger nails! It seemed he'd been gardening and forgot the time - after all it was the summer vacation. He was a sweetie. We chatted about this and that and he asked me what happened between 1964 and 1969 (when I was allegedly being educated at grammar school)? I came clean and told him I'd wasted my time and he offered me a place there and then! I found out later that this prof was new to the post, as the previous one had unexpectedly done a runner to Australia (I think a woman was involved), and they were a bit desperate for bums on seats that year. If I'd applied a year later, I don't think I would've had a chance, as the department was oversubscribed with applicants who were actually qualified!
It seems theology was getting to be the thing to study. After all when you think about it, it does embrace quite a lot of disciplines within its bailiwick - philosophy, sociology, psychology, anthropology..... For all those who think theology is a complete waste of time, I would counter by positing (you can't be a proper scholar if you don't posit!) that if you want to understand the human condition, look at attitudes to belief and worship. It is very illuminating. Really, theology is anthropology with a cassock! So I sold my two up, two down in Buckinghamshire and bought a bungalow in Menai Bridge, Anglesey. At the age of 34, it really was a new start.

There followed the three happiest years of my life, even though it was the first time I'd engaged my brain cell in any
kind of intensive cerebral workout. Another thing that amazed me (and my tutors) was that I rather excelled at classical Hebrew!!! It was a bit of a slog to start with, until I twigged it would be easier to understand if I tried reading it from right to left. After that, I flew. Even though I knew the job opportunities for a baby Hebrew scholar would be a bit thin on the ground after graduation, I was so chuffed at actually being good at something, I gave the future scant

My contemporaries were a mixed
bunch and some were more mixed than others. Maybe I shouldn't discuss them too much here - well, you never know! There were plenty of would-be vicars and budding academics among the motley crew and some have since achieved great things - particularly, I note, the young girl who went on to become chaplain of St Davids in South Wales and who allegedly unfrocked the Bishop just prior to him becoming defrocked! Then there was the two lads who became two lasses and then
one of them became a lad again just before taking his finals.

A little cat retrogression at this point. It
was during this period that I got my first cat (as a fully grown up person!). Yeah I know it was a bit late, but then I've been a late developer at pretty well everything! I didn't exactly choose him, he was foisted upon me by a well meaning neighbour. He was a ginger and white feral (or so it transpired) cat and he arrived in a cardboard box one day when I was least expecting it. My neighbour felt I needed a companion, but did I really need this companion? I called him Riley. He was a good looking creature but with no social skills to speak of. In fact it became apparent quite early on that he was a bit of a sociopath. He attacked me, he attacked my friends, he attacked the other neighbourhood cats and he could have only been about 12 weeks old! He was a menace to society. People stopped visiting, or they arrived with complete top to toe body armour. Being rather more fond of my friends and my skin than this furry fiend, but not wanting to give up without a fight (
literally), I called in the RSPCA for advice.

A very nice inspector arrived. Riley attacked him too! After
I'd attended to his wounds, we had a long(ish) discussion which culminated sadly (very sadly) in Riley being frogmarched into a carrier and removed from the premises. I was heartbroken that I couldn't tame him, but I was running out of excuses and friends (not to
mention the fortune spent on TCP and sticking plasters!).

Not long after I was adopted by a kindly brown tabby
kitten (much like Tigger). I called him Harry and we lived together very harmoniously.
He helped me with my studies and soothed my anxious thoughts, especially when I was trying to grapple with such diverse subjects as Kenotic Christology, the complexities of Hegelian thought and the ambiguous hermeneutics of the waw-consecutive in Genesis 1. Eventually (and that word covers a multitude of sins!)
I achieved a lower second class honours (with Hebrew rising) and I was off to Israel. Harry, who had been my rock through it all fell in with a couple of fat cats and moved to Ipswich.