The Litter Eases In

One morning last week, I was walking to work early. I glanced at a house as I was passing, and I saw something that made me smile broadly. It almost made me laugh out loud, there on the empty, frosty street.

“I must write a little post about that,” I said and then promptly forgot about it.

Until I was walking home from work on Friday evening, and I caught up to Patricia at the pedestrian lights, also making her way home from work. As we walked up the street together, Patricia suddenly laughed out loud. We were passing the same house that I had passed the week before. She had glanced into the same window that I had glanced into, and she had expressed her delight.

What could be inside of a living room window to bring such shared delight? Nothing earth-shattering. Nothing of any great import, in the overall scheme of things.

Just a cat.

A few years ago, a young family up the end of our street kept some cats around and didn’t worry too much about things like mating and kittens. Although I’m not sure, I would guess that a fair quantity of litters emerged and that those kittens were distributed throughout the area via good will and word of mouth. The family have moved on now and somebody else is in the house but the physical reminders of their stay are still an everyday part of life in our neighbourhood. I guess some of those kittens didn’t get successfully distributed to accepting and enthusiastic homes. I guess they simply stayed around the street, picking up their scraps of kindnesses wherever they could and sheltering in whatever coal bunker has its door left ajar on any given night.

The cats are distinctive, primarily white but with black smudges in various configurations around their bodies. I think this colouring is sometimes known as ‘Two Tone.’ There are theories about how the black pigment forms in the womb over time and the earlier born litters will be whiter and the later born will have more black on them. The colour spreads from the spine which is why most two-tone cat’s bellies are white. I don’t think this 'cooking in the womb' thing is entirely correct. I think it’s more a ‘Genetic Soup’ thing going on but it’s still a nice thought – that the kittens are cooking up their colourings while gestating gently in their Mum’s belly.

Of the litters that emerged from the end of the street (I can’t prove any of this, of course) there now remains four fully grown cats who inhabit our neighbourhood. I would say they are each now about four or five years old and they may have all come from the same litter or they may not. Regardless, they are all variations on the aforementioned black and white Two-Tone model.

The first is white with a fair measure of nicely placed black patches, including one over one eye. She is called Puddy and, inasmuch as she is anyone’s, she is now our cat. I have written about her fairly extensively in these pages over the past few years. If you put ‘Cat’ in the search box on this page, you’ll find lots of stuff. She sleeps in our hall most nights, in her cosy basket, where she has food, water and litter tray to hand… sorry, paw. She stays over less in the Summer nights. There are adventures to be had then and she will always be, in her heart, an outdoor cat. In the evenings, she will often sits in an armchair and watch telly with us. She seemed to quite enjoy the recent machinations of The Traitors.

I call the second cat Wiggy because he has a prominent black patch smack-bam on the top of his head, which makes him look like a Marx Brothers character. But Wiggy is no joke. He is a rough tough Alpha Male tomcat, lean and mean and eternally scowling and slinking around. I’ve written a little about him too. Put his name in the search box and he’ll come up.

The third cat is called Snowy, but only by me. Entirely white, a ghost-cat, rarely seen. She inhabits the street one up from ours and is clearly a sibling of some sort. When glimpsed, she seems healthy and lithe, doing okay.

Then there is the fourth cat. No name. Mostly white but with a little black around the head area. Anecdotally more affectionate than the others, who are a bit wild and stand-offish (though Patricia gets to stroke Puddy every day – I never have and I know I never will). He lives up around a house we used to live in before we got this one. Prowling the streets, carving out a survival strategy in the great suburban outdoors.

This last of the four cats is the reason why I smiled and why Patricia laughed as we passed a house down the road – the house that we used to live in before we got this one.

When we looked in, we saw this fourth cat. He was cosied-up in a deep cushioned basket, three feet from a warm stove. He was looking out at us and clearly contemplating his next snooze.

It was funny, sweet, and cheering because it clearly indicated one thing. The litter, fated to live on the streets, were easing their way in, as cats always seem to do. One into our house, now treasured and enjoyed there and now, some years later, another sibling doing the exact same thing to our neighbours as Puddy did to us. Smuggling his way into their hearts.

First the window cill, then a box outside, then a nice shelter in the shed, then the front hall, then the back hall and then, finally, the basket by the fire with water and vittles to hand.

We smiled because our neighbours are now being played just as we were played. They are becoming parents to the stray cat. Their fate is sealed now, I reckon. The cat is in.

But the smiles are not a facetious, wait-and-see-what trouble-you’ll-have-from-now-on kind of a smile. Not at all. The reasons for the smiles are twofold, I think. Firstly, they say to our neighbours that this is a positive thing for them, that they will have some fun with it.

And secondly, our smiles are saying, well done, mostly white cat.

You made it.

Daylight Assault

I had a number of long drives last week. Friday’s one seemed particularly treacherous. There was ice and snow and very low temperatures, but it wasn’t any of these things that brought the main hazard. They were bad but not too bad. The roads were gritted and, so long as you were happy to roll along without pushing things too hard, you were generally going to get there all right.

No, the ice and snow were fine.

It was the glorious sunshine that was the killer.

On an early-morning drive, as with every other place in the world, the sun comes up in the east and sails across the sky until it goes down again somewhere over in the west. The extremity of these two points is considerably reduced in the depth of winter but one thing remains pretty constant: the sun will come from the south at noon. So, if you’re driving south in a fairly straight line, you can try to take some comfort that the sun won’t shine straight in on you until close to midday. And it will be pretty high in the sky by then.

And, of course, you would be completely false in this comfort-taking.

Because no road runs straight from north to south. Roads bend and curve. They veer to the east and they veer to the west on their relentless journey south. And when they veer west, the sun is on your left and everything is cool. But when the road veers east, then the road can align with the early morning sun, sometimes briefly, sometimes for an extended run. And that’s when things can get a little messy. That’s when shit can happen.

Several factors were at work on Friday’s early morning drive south. There was ice and snow still around and, as I said, they weren’t so bad on their own. But they were bright and reflective, as was the shiny blacktop of the two-lane motorway. The sky was a cloudless and translucent blue. The roads were gritted and the cars and trucks on the road were throwing mud and tiny debris onto the windscreen of their comrade vehicles. Finally, and perhaps crucially, the temperature outside was three below and, unless you were driving some fancy-ass Mercedes, that meant your windscreen washers were probably frozen.

So, picture it, you’re driving along, south, south, south, and your windscreen is smeared and grotty, so you try the washers again but they’re still frozen. You can see the tiny ice sculpture on the spout on the bonnet. It’s fine, though. You can see your way ahead, well enough and, now and again, a tiny smattering of moisture lands from somewhere and gives you just enough to squeak the wipers across and clear a little of the smear away.

All is okay.

But then, slowly, the two lanes ease to the left in a gentle curve and slowly, inexorably, the road turns towards the sun.

The sun is low in the sky, having just recently risen and it is exaggeratedly intense in the winter air. The road aligns with the sun, and, in that moment, the windscreen of the car becomes an opaque wall of brightness. Nothing can be seen.

The action is clear. Hazards on, fog lights on, slow to a crawl as quickly as humanly possible and pray to something that the car behind doesn’t simply careen into your rear. Now you can just make out the car in front and you keep a distance that will allow you to stop if he or she crashes into the car in front.

Up ahead, out of the glare, two cars are stopped on the hard shoulder. Damaged and spun 180 degrees and facing back home rather wistfully. People are out of their cars, looking okay. Cars crawl by in the outside lane, glad it’s not them.

The road turns, turns until it is southward again, the sun once more relegated to the left side window, where it cannot do any harm. But soon, the road will turn again, as all roads do. The sun will come back around. The deadly game will be played again.

A stop in the hard shoulder. A hack at the spouts of the windscreen washers to knock the icebergs off. A shine of the windscreen with a cloth. And a bottle of costly mineral water dispensed into the washer tank under the hood, the warmth of which finally gets the mechanism working again. An expensive solution, perhaps, but better than a whiplash and a car turned prematurely for home. Or worse… so much worse.

A moral for this story? Your guess is as good as mine. Beware the sun, perhaps. Don’t drive any faster than you can see.

Perhaps the best thing is to borrow one from good old ‘Hill Street Blues.’

“Let’s be careful out there.”

And leave it at that.

Viewing Intentions that Never Really Come to Pass

It’s a bit of a shame to start the year with a filler post like this one will probably be, but here we are. Events conspire, a lovely family evening out last night, a computer that, this morning, hums, stalls, and refuses to co-operate, a house full of Christmas decorations that really have to come down. The result is a level of apathy that leads the lazier part of my mind to say, ‘Leave it for today, Ken. Just stick up an old post and it’ll be easer next week.’ But that won’t do. It’s the start of a new year in everything, including blog posts, and either I’m going to do it or I’m not and starting the year without saying anything at all is sending a negative message to the brain.

And we can’t have that, can we? Down with negative messages to the brain.

So, here I am, among the lingering detritus of Christmas past, tapping into a patently un-co-operative laptop. Not in the hope that I will produce anything worthwhile but rather in the hope that I will produce anything at all and, as a result of that, next week may be better.

Trolling my mind to see that I might fill the next ten paragraphs with, I think of the double edition of the Radio Times. This hallowed document, so anticipated and so carefully consulted over the season, currently lies at the top of the green recycling bin out at the front of the house. An item that was a revered portent of the holiday to come is now only so much pulp. This reminds me of a post I wrote sometime around the middle of last year about sun loungers by holiday pools. How valued they are at 10.00 am compared with how unheeded and unwanted they are by four-thirty. Things can lose their value and potency really quickly sometimes.

But that’s not the point, if there is indeed to be a point. We did that one last year and, doubtless, we will do it again in some other form before December comes around again.

No, the point is about all the things that I intend to do over the ten-day Christmas break and how very few of them I find I have actually done when I look back on a lethargic Sunday morning like this. This could be explored in any aspect of the Christmas season, long walks, deep thought, cheese-eating or, indeed, writing. But the neatest area for examination is, as usual, telly-watching.

This, I tell myself, will be the time when I will catch up on all the films I missed over the past year. I arm myself with some temporary subscriptions to streaming services and consider all the delights that will be enjoyed.


Except, deep in my heart, I always know in advance this will not be the way it all turns out. The guys, home for the holidays, and generally in the room with us, are not really into serious movie-watching. One or two is fine, but that’s pretty much the limit. And I’ve done this enough times now, to know how it will pan out. And that is how it did turn out. Despite my own personalised intentions, the season has come and gone without very many new movies having been caught up on. Instead, telly-watching has been a ‘common-denominator’ affair comprising mainly of quiz shows and Taskmaster episodes saved up from the last series. Jools’ Hootenanny takes up New Year’s Eve very nicely and the other evenings are mixtures of Gogglebox episodes summarising the year, University Challenge Christmas Specials, Only Connect, and Morecambe and Wise repeats.

There are two things to say about this.

The first is, I love it. It’s the perfect way for us to do some Christmas viewing. Who wants to be embedded in the middle of some dull movie anyway? The quizzes interact with us as we try to keep up with the quizzers and sometimes succeed. All in all, my lack of new movies is the best unfulfilled promise in the whole world and roll on next year when, circumstances permitting, we may all have the pleasure of doing it again.

The second thing – less important – is how I deal with the time when I am left alone with the telly and how I use this time. This generally occurs early to mid-morning, as I’m a fairly early riser where others are not. Here is the moment when I can catch up on some French movie delight. I’ve got the time, I’ve got the technology, let’s go! Except… nah!

What actually happens is that I flick around and land on whatever ancient movie the terrestrial channels happen to showing at that moment. I dip into things I have seen hundreds of times before. This year, for instance, one nine am rendezvous had me deep into The Towering Inferno, reflecting how Steve McQueen had gotten the meatier role. He was constantly leaping from one horrible scenario to the next. In one notable moment, he held onto a brave firefighter by his fingertips while a helicopter lowered the detached scenic lift they were on, slowly to the ground. After they were down, McQueen pumped the guy’s hand twice, like he had won the office raffle, then hopped straight  into a waiting red estate car and off to the next disaster. Incidentally, When that helicopter dropped him on the roof of that lift, how did it get close enough to the building to get him on there without the rotor blades shattering on the walls? Also, it was cruel in the extreme that poor con-man Fred Astaire magically found true love, moments before the lady who was the object of his affections fell solidly to her doom.

My Fair Lady (aged poorly), The Poseidon Adventure (belligerent), Willy Wonka (great first 30 mins), Fiddler on the Roof (downer), Bridge on the River Kwai (wide widescreen), An Affair to Remember (ends abruptly). These are the type of films, or part of films that make up my Christmas viewing. The promised new releases will be seen in small doses through the coming year. Twelve months behind everyone else but who cares?

The upshot of it all is this. The things I do when I inevitably fail to do the things I thought I’d do at Christmas. Well… they are the very best things of all.