Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Horror’s Story – The Final Episode

Our little black cat had the most fiercely independent and tenacious nature, I’ve come across even in a species known for those qualities.

She used up most of her nine lives in narrow escapes and hazardous exploits, but hung on to that last one for another five years after the vet shook his head over her and advised us to take her home to be comfortable for her last few weeks. She recovered, relapsed, recovered and never ran out of determination for an instant even at the last.

Back when we lived in our London photographic studio, before the children came along, our cats were our kids. We bought them solely to solve our mouse problem, so we told ourselves, they were to be studio cats with a job to do... they quickly became part of the family.

The studios were old factories and warehouses with tin roofs, surrounded by railway lines and archways. Our kittens soon became streetwise, finding their way around the rooftops, making it safely along the street to the pub, playing with mice in the cobblestone yard, miaowing to be let in at our skylight at three in the morning, urban cool cats to the core. There were delivery vans and trucks in the yard, express trains on the tracks, long drops from the railing that they used to access the roof. Sometimes they featured in fashion shoots, other times they entertained visiting photographers and models and looked decorative. Certainly the mouse population moved out to safer pastures.

Horror (named Horatia, shortened to Horry and thence corrupted) among other exploits managed to stowaway on a trip to Birmingham in a furniture van (luckily being brought back to our yard on the return trip). We think she fell one time from the high platform that led to our first floor studios as she came in limping. She definitely lost one life one Christmas, when we were away: our friend came by to feed the cats for us and found her with her head wedged in an empty cat food tin, limp, almost out of air. He was probably more traumatised than she was and remembers it to this day.

Her middle and old age has been mellower. Since we brought her to South Africa, she adapted to country life and showed the dogs who was boss very early on. Last year she used to enjoy taking showers in the herb garden sprinkler, getting herself thoroughly soaked and washing furiously.
More recently she has been weaker, lying out in the sunshine in the middle of the path, where she would be right in the way, sprawling in the centre of the kitchen floor to be tripped over. It was as if she wanted to make sure she was close to the action, even though she was getting rather deaf and blind. I’d be making bread and step back only to find she’d crept up behind me and I was treading on her tail again. Yet she was still fiercely clinging on to life, demanding to be fed, expecting attention, purring, deciding for herself exactly where she wanted to be. With some animals you know it is time to take them on a final journey to the vet, that they are ready to go, but with Horror that moment never came.

We came back from our week’s holiday at the river to find her a little weaker than before. She greeted us and lay in our path as usual. The next day she didn’t bother eating and lay out in her usual place all day slipping gradually into a comatose state. We thought then it was the end, wondered about taking her to the vet, but decided that would be more traumatic than kind. It was the right decision; she slipped away gradually in her own time, at her own pace. At the end of the evening found that she’d gone. It was her time, she’d finally decided to let go.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Summer Holiday

I’m sitting on a stack of rocks half-way up a steep track, the smell of fynbos and scrub wafting in hot afternoon sun, looking down on the roof of our home for the week. A wide stretch of brown river catches the sunlight, cliffs on its far side bounce back the cries of hadedas and geese. We’ve been in and out of the water all week swimming, canoeing, drifting, paddling. I’m only perched up here right now because the girls have decided we must have a pudding for our friends’ last night and this is the only place where I can access the internet on my phone.

I’ve been ignoring technology all holiday but I need to look up the ingredient quantities from a couple of my trusty recipes and there they are right there on my blog – our crustless milk tart and the pastry recipe for Nigella’s translucent apple tart, both simple recipes using basic ingredients that we happen to have with us, for improvised puddings when none were planned. So my phone, which has been ignored all week, is dusted off and put to use just long enough to grab the recipes I need before I dip back into the water for another swim.

That’s one more reason why I love blogging – I can put up my recipes once and know that I can get hold of them from anywhere, as long as I can get online that is. Then when you’ve been blogging for so many years, a blog becomes more like a family album. Sitting on that dry scrubby hillside, I started getting nostalgic looking through those early posts; a time when the kids were little and I blogged a lot more often, about them as well as about food.

And yet another reason to love blogs came through my email today. My second cousin got in touch – we haven’t seen each other for years now that we’re in South Africa, but she’d just found my blog and it was lovely to hear from her. And then there are all the lovely blog friends that I would never have met if it were not for blogging.

I’m feeling like an old fogey championing the blog over more recent and ephemeral forms of social media... who would ever be able to scroll through years of old Facebook statuses to find a recipe they knew they’d linked to there once... Twitter is there for a day, Facebook for a week or two but blogs are forever (cue cheesey soap opera theme tune in the background). Remind me to back mine up again!

We’re back from our holiday now, half the laundry mountain dealt with, poised between holiday relaxation and return to work stress. School starts next week and plans have to be made; my mother’s visit comes to an end; clients have to be contacted to get the work flow going again; early January in SA is rather like limbo with half the country determinedly clinging on to summer holidays, the other half frustrated in trying to get things happening again.

So I’ll just pretend we are still on holiday and post a few more pictures of Breede River magic, so that I can remind myself  for years to come - the feeling of silky soft river water on skin, the squish of mud at low tide, the somnolence of a day devoted to water, reading and food, long days that pass by happily and seamlessly all too fast.