The Summer of a Dormouse

Musings of an incurable pessimist. "When one subtracts from life infancy (which is vegetation) - sleep, eating and swilling - buttoning and unbuttoning - how much remains of downright existence? The summer of a dormouse...(Lord Byron)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Goodbye Fluffy

I can't believe that it is nearly a year since I posted on this blog. It just shows that blogging is not really for me!

I don't suppose I would have bothered again except that yesterday I had to have a cat put to sleep and today I need to write about her. If anyone reading this is bored and irritated by "pets" - I prefer the term "companion animals" myself because it more accurately describes the relationship - then stop reading now.

Poor little Fluffy was only 11 years old, which is not a great age for a domestic cat these days. She and her brother were feral kittens living in a summerhouse in the next village; the owner of the house didn't know what to do with them and eventually called the CPL, whom I used to foster for.

The two kittens were about 9 weeks old, not at all socialised to humans; and by that stage it is doubtful whether they ever will or not. They were little black longhairs, and that in itself is bad news if you're a feral cat, because grooming is so difficult when living rough. They had fleas, lice, eczema. I put them in the rescue pen in the garden of the house we had then and we just hoped that with patience and gentleness we would be able to tame them and find them a home.

Unfortunately it didn't work out like that. They were never offered the right home, and there were always a parade of needier cats who queue-jumped and became house pets. I wish now that I had been more pro-active in handling Fluffy. It wasn't really until a few years ago that we were able to brush her and control the eczema she was getting from a matted coat; and it was only last year, when they both caught a strain of flu from a local feral cat and had to be intensively medicated, that we really got on handling terms.

Yes, of course they were vaccinated! But there is more than one strain of flu, like in humans.

She hated to be picked up, and would not sit on a lap. We organized a routine where I would collect her each evening and put her on an armchair so I could give her a good brushing, back and sides, base of tail, neck and ruff, back legs, tummy. She loved that and sometimes would get up on the chair herself,and stand paws on the arm, waiting for the ritual.

Then on this Bank Holiday Monday (isn't it always!) I found her, in the early afternoon, on the floor by the chair all tangled up in her blanket. She used to like to sleep on a high shelf, and the blanket was for comfort. She couldn't stand, one leg was paralysed and the other too weak. But she didn't seem in pain or frightened; but I shall always remember the look of relief on her face when she saw me. "Oh, thank goodness you're here; you will help me."

Oh if only I could have. We rang the surgery and took Fluffy in to see the emergency vet. Who confirmed that she had some kind of spinal injury, but he couldn't say what, or how bad. He prescribed intravenous steroids to damp down the inflammatory reaction to the injury, and antibiotics in case it was an infection, and said all we could do was wait. Her bladder was very full, so he emptied that. That makes me think she must have been there for some hours, for the bladder to fill up. Maybe that was why she was trying to go out.

We came home and made an extra fuss of her brother. Apart from a week when he had been isolated with an infection, they had never been separated all their lives. I frantically read up what Christopher Reeve in his marvellous book Still Me says about spinal injuries. The trouble is, nearly everything that is written about these, on the net anyway, seems to be about broken necks.

The next morning a senior vet saw Fluffy and kindly rang me. He said he thought that she was deteriorating. I went into the surgery at lunchtime and they allowed me into the kennels where she was confined in a little cage. She had eaten and drunk but not used her litter tray. I gave her a thorough brushing and she purred her heart out, but she still didn't want me to pick her up. I noticed that she seemed more paralysed, now both legs and her tail were useless. After some argument, they agreed to continue treatment for another 24 hours to see if there was any return of function.

In the evening the vet who had first treated her rang us. He said that compared to how he had first seen her, she had got noticeably worse. We went again to the surgery and I agreed that the paralysis was spreading. He said, if she had been a young cat he would have recommended keeping her going for longer, in the hope of what he called "a miracle" - well, I have known two cats (not mine) who were in RTAs and paralysed in the hind quarters and who both recovered, but they were young.

But it looked as if the paralysis would creep upwards, and anyway he had had to empty her bladder for her again, this time using a needle and aspirating. We agreed that that could not continue.

She was still dopey from the bladder aspiration, so I don't think she felt any fear. She was by now used to having people pull her about. Just one little squeak as the euthanasia drug went in. It is so very quick.

And then she wasn't Fluffy any more, but just any little black cat. We brought her home and buried her in the garden as we have done with other animals over the years. We did leave the body near where her brother was waiting, just in case. I don't know if cats recognise death, but I am sure that they mourn the loss of a friend, so it may help if they don't have to wonder where the friend has gone.

Then I went to clear up. Now with most companion animals there are things to be put away when they die: toys, a favourite blanket, food and water bowls, leads, harnesses, whatever has been necessary. But with Fluffy, there was only the little wire brush that I had used on her coat, and that will go to be used on another cat. She had fluttered through our lives for eleven years like a ghost, a frail little black soft bundle, huge eyes in a pretty little face her most noticeable feature, a general air of "treat me with respect, or else!", and left not a trace behind.

Except love.

Friday, May 12, 2006

In Memoriam

I have very recently lost a friend to death. A was only my age, and that makes the chill winds of mortality blow stronger.

Despite a clear intelligence, A belonged to probably the last generation of women to be prevented and discouraged by their families from education and a career. She married very young, and had two daughters. Nursing, which she would have liked to pursue, was no longer a practicable choice, so once the girls were grown, she became an untrained Care Assistant. And I am sure she was a good one.

I met her through the voluntary work we both did. By this time A had embarked on a University career, which was sadly cut short by increasing ill-health. Not discouraged, she threw herself into the voluntary work, accepted further training, and by her own efforts raised literally thousands of pounds for charity.

She was about to commence a new career when the illness took hold, and this time it would not be denied. A died peacefully with her family. She leaves a loving husband, two daughters and a grandchild. She was a good woman, wife, and mother, and a good friend. She will be much missed.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Where do we go from here?

Where I live we have a very good free paper The Blackmore Vale Magazine. It is packed with all kinds of local information and of course advertiesments, which are what pay for it to be free, of course. It comes out on Fridays (or later, if the lad who delivers them on our road can't persuade his mother to do it for him when he doesn't feel like it) and I like browsing through the various sections, ending up with the Property section at the back. We have no intention of moving, but you know how it is.

At this time of year in any rural area the property market is active, because rural living looks much more attractive when there isn't mud all over the place and silage spreading. I find myself amazed at the prices being asked for properties in Dorset now. Until Poole became a major port when containerisation developed, Dorset was a very poor area, with farming and tourism its only industries. So house prices were pretty low, and they remained like that right up until the 1990s. We have no motorway (thank goodness!) and only the one rail link along the south coast (Waterloo to Weymouth) and one along the northern boundary (Waterloo/Paddington to Exeter). So we were free from the worst of the London commuter overspill.

All that has changed with the coming of internet working. One of my neighbours worked in London for a while and commuted daily via Salisbury. It nearly killed him and did not do his home life any good, so he now workes for less money in Poole. But other neighbours work in the City part-time and the rest of the time via the internet, and yet others visit the US to work regularly, although they all consider themselves to be "Dorset residents." And that's not counting the thousands of second-home owners who found they could not afford to buy in the New Forest or the Cotswolds.

The local estate agents have been quick to capitalize on this. Some of them boast that they have London offices or affiliations, so that they can get London prices. I cannot understand why anyone would think this a good thing? That means that you have to pay London prices when you buy as well as when you sell, with knock-on results that we can now all see. I estimate that over half the village where I live is now owned as second-homes. The shop and the garage and the Post Office have closed down. Nearby villages show the same pattern. "Starter homes" are an unbelievable price even when new; if you want to buy anything period, even if it needs "total refurbishment", ie is derelict, the price tag starts at £200k and climbs.

And all this has happened so quickly that local wages just haven't caught up. When we bought this cottage, nine years ago this year, we paid under £100k for it and it is detached and has three/four bedrooms and a good-sized garden, although admittedly it is on a main road. The cottage over the road, with much less land but a similar size, was marketed at the same time for £65k but we didn't want it because of the lack of garden. That was a second home, incidentally. The person who bought it kept it for several years, did no improvements, then took advantage of the boom in prices and sold it on for £295k!!! Okay so it is a first home now, but the present people will want to recoup their outlay when they sell on and this must be happening everywhere. In this little free magazine, I see many properties for sale at over half a million, and a quarter-million seems to be an average price for anything larger than a boot cupboard on a bypass. I do not think that, this week, there is anything advertised at under £100k, and that includes flats.

Thinking about all this, I realised that actually the house market in Britain is behaving normally. To own your own home has always been an impossible dream for most people, except when Margaret Thatcher promoted the right-to-buy of Council houses. That released millions of properties into the private market, but more importantly, it promoted a change in people's expectations.

When I was young I went from school to university, which meant I left home, and after university I entered a profession. I expected to have low salaries for years as I worked my way up, and in consequence to have to live cheaply, in bedsits and rented, shared flats. Everyone lived like that if they didn't live at home until they were married. People in their twenties never dreamed of owning their own properties. Working-class people, if that is not an invidious term, knew they never would. That was what Council houses were for. Nowadays people feel aggrieved if they can't in youth "get onto the property ladder". They seem to accept levels of debt commitment - a mortgage on top of repaying further education fees - that would have scared the pants off my generation. Not that anyone would have lent us such vast sums anyway.

But the Council houses are not there any more. And if you look at the private rented sector, costs are again unbelievable to someone of my age. I see properties in the Magazine on the market for over £2 000 per month!! Who on earth earns that kind of money, that they can pour it down the drain, because that after all is what you do when you are renting. Nevertheless, estate agents will say that somebody must be able to afford these sums of money, because they are paid, and you don't see Hoovervilles or shanty towns of the homeless next to every town. I remember the big prices crash of the early 1990s, although most people seem to have blanked it out. There were crashes before that, occurring regularly back into the 19th century, whenever the bubble burst. Whether our society with its crumbling welfare system would be able to support the consequences of another crash, is another matter.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Sans everything

I would like to devote this blog against disablism specifically to be against disablism when it affects the elderly.

I confess a special interest here. I am approaching the sell-by date for a woman (age 60) and I have noticed that there is a particularly pervasive disablist ageist attitude which is found, to their shame, even amongst disabled people themselves.

This is the attitude that "oh it's only wear-and-tear. It's your age. It's only to be expected. You are not disabled as a young man or woman or a child is disabled: the quality of your life is of less importance because you are old. So put up with the pain, or the impaired senses, or the restricted mobility, and shut up about it. Do not expect any adjustments, let alone reasonable ones. Do not expect public money and research effort to be wasted on easing the effects of geriatric impairments. And above all, do not insult me by confusing
me with an old person, just because I am in a wheelchair or use a stick or a white cane or a hearing aid." It is the assumption that this confusion is an insult that saddens me. What does it say about the person's unconscious attitude to the seniors in his own family?

There's one thing that is for certain in this life, and that is, that we are all going to grow older. Some of us may not grow old, but that's another story. And as we sow, so shall we reap. Every jibe about useless old crumblies, every bit of tut-tuttery about them blocking beds (because their home adaptions haven't been done) and pavements (because their mobility is dependent on chairs and scooters), will come back a thousandfold, when it's our turn, because what we are doing is nurturing resentment against the old now.

In your own self-interest, if nothing else, do not refuse to make common cause with the old. You have in common with them your humanity, and the disadvantages that disability attracts in this society. Don't let ageism cloud that perception.

And I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to an unlikely contributor to the cause of disabled people - the late Benny Hill. Benny Hill had two long-standing relationships with disabled women, whom he would visit and treat as well as he could:

"paying for a chauffeur-driven car to bring them down to London, taking in lunch at the Savoy and an afternoon matinee at the theatre, or the cinema if there was a new James Bond film."

Any rich man could do that, but,

"He would visit restaurants in advance to check wheelchair access and establish whether the ladies' toilet could be reached without stairs."¹

How many able-bodied people let alone young men, would even think about those details, preserving his guests' dignity?

¹Mark Lewisohn: Funny Peculiar: The true story of Benny Hill, London, 2002

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Rant of a Born-again Luddite

I wish someone who is more "au fait" with technology than me would explain to me why industrial designers are as a rule so useless.

By industrial designers, I mean of course, not the basic engineers as such but the people who decide the final form of those necessary items like washing-machines, kettles, cars, and the like.

For example I have a washing-machine. It is a Zanussi, which is a very good make. It is reasonably priced, well-made, reliable, long-lasting, and has a good after-sales service. It is the second of its line in my house. The first generation had a number of annoying design faults. For example, the machine was not programmed to switch itself off when its cycle was completed. You would go off to do some gardening or something, and come back to find all done but the little red light still glowing, which meant another wait while the safety delay kept the door locked after you had manually turned it off. Secondly, the spin cycles only applied automatically to certain programmes. The lighter washes, such as woollies, ended with a drum full of water and you had to manually turn to the spin cycle. So when you forgot, and turned the machine off, when you opened the door a cataract of water would pour out because there was also no safety sensor to tell the machine that it was still full. Thirdly, the drain in the bottom, to catch items like fluff, safety pins, disintegrated kleenex, or curtain hooks, was so built that you had to twist the holder sideways and draw it out horizontally, thus tipping any dirty water retained on to the floor.

That machine served me well for fifteen years, and when I replaced it I went for another Zanussi. The manufacturors had rectified each of the design faults listed above, due to customer feedback they said proudly. I give them credit for that - but why did they sell a model with such obvious glitches to start with? Didn't anybody in the workshop ever try to empty the drain trap? Or realise what happens if the door can be opened when the drum is full of water?

I have a little Goblin cylinder vacuum-cleaner. It's about 20 years old and still going strong. For some reason, it has been made to that it is weighted to one side, and naturally falls on to that side when you are moving it around. And the designer has put the on/off switch on that side so that the cleaner switches itself off three or four times every time I use it, as the switch is compressed by the weight of the cylinder.

I wonder if, in a later model, the makers put the switch in a less vulnerable position "due to customer feedback"? And did no-one in the laboratory ever try to use the cleaner so that they would have noticed how it behaved?

And why are the majority of household items, particularly kitchen items, made with acrylic snap-on plastic clips and switches? Acrylic plastic denatures relatively quickly, so the item is rendered useless because it can't be closed or turned off/on once the clip or switch has broken off.

What is the use of clear acrylic for heavy-duty kitchen items? It is so soft it scratches immediately, and bang goes the attractive see-through look.

Why are food-processors and vegetable mincing-peeling-slicing gadgets built so that they take twice as long to assemble, and then disassemble and clean, than they do to process the food in the first place?

I have a yoghurt-maker. It is not dishwasher or boiling-water safe. Any housewife knows, that with dairy produce you MUST be able to thoroughly sterilise the equipment. Hand-hot washes are NOT enough.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Template problem

I am going to have to change the template of this blog. I really like it, such a soothing colour, but I cannot work out how to put links to other people's blogs into the sidebar, and I need to be able to do that before May 1st Blogging against Disablism Day.

If any kind blogger who has experience of this template can advise me before then, I would be most grateful. Otherwise, I'll switch to one of those which has a ready-made Edit-Me section.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Female Diogenes

My parents came to adulthood before the Second World War, so the values they transmitted to me were very much of that society. And totally unlike the morality which holds sway today.

No, I am not talking about sex.

For one thing, it was a given that, if you were the odd one out in any situation, you would be the one to make any necessary adjustments or sacrifices. Unlike today, where the individual is brought up to believe that, if necessary, the whole of society must shove over in order to grant his whim.

Consideration for others was also a given. Not making a row at night, when others need to sleep; stepping aside in doorways, and holding doors open. These don't come easy to the young, who are naturally preoccupied with themselves, but we were taught.

It was also a given that, if you wanted anything, you were expected to earn it. Then came the notion, in the Thatcher years, that "whatever you want, is yours by right if you have the balls to take it." Fine - but I do not see any mention in there of considering the rights of any other person, such as a prior owner or occupant, of the thing you want. In fact, nowadays, merely wanting something seems to confer, to the immature mind, the right to have it, and sod anyone else's rights. It is a baby's natural solopsism, but parents used to have the authority to disabuse the infant of such presumption before its first birthday.

I think society is the worse for abandoning these principles, because it is the weak who suffer. We are supposed to be a civilised race, not indulging in jungle warfare, and the macho posturing of those who parrot about the "real world" makes me sick.

Okay, now let's talk about sex.

The sexual morality of those days was repellent. My mother's generation believed devoutly that (a) men only want one thing (b) they want it so badly they'll marry you to get it (oh yeah?) (c) once they've had it without a wedding-ring, not only will they leave you flat, they'll put the word round all their friends that you are "easy". So you bartered your virginity for a wedding-ring, which even in those days was not a ticket for life.

Boys, on the other hand, seem to have been taught that any trick was permissible to seduce a girl, because if she "gave in" it was all her fault for being "impure" and they had no further responsibility towards her. Wives were property, and their place was in the kitchen or flat on their back. No man could be expected to take on another man's child.

Then in the Sixties came what was known as the New Morality, or Permissive Society. Somebody (who? Big Brother? The Queen?) had to give permission for sexual activity outside marriage. Agony columns in women's magazines peddled the lie that it was "all right", that is, not immoral, only if you were "truly in love". So ensured the maximum suffering.

Am I glad that poisonous rubbish has gone. I prefer the honest paganism of today.

Now please visit this site
and support a very worthy cause on May 1st!