Sunday, 20 July 2008

On the trail of squirrels and pigeons

Balu outside

Stop the presses: Balu actually woke up and got up, during daylight hours! This is progress, after weeks of cowering and hiding in bed, only appearing after dark and for meals since flying into Britain in June.

I'm sure it won't happen again any time soon, but he did get the chance to go for a stroll in the front garden, meet one of the neighbours (yes, it is a cat on a lead), then after a good sniff round, he flopped down in front of the gate, right where there's a gap that the cheeky squirrels use to come and go from one garden to another. Balu has never actually met a squirrel mind you, but he's probably worked it out, because they're forever skipping past, just inches from the house. They must be half tame to get that close. Or they live here! And Balu has probably seen them when he's been watching from the windowsill during nocturnal hours.

What's the chance he flopped down in that spot for no reason whatsoever? Or just to sunbathe? Possibly and it was a rare day when he could have. Still ...  He was a dab hand at catching canaries & bunnies in Tenerife, but we won't be encouraging squirrel hunting (too high in cholesterol?), nor pigeon perturbing, which is what I think really caught his eye! So he got some new balls instead (I mean the plastic type, for playing football) and a fake mouse that he tossed around until we all got tired.

Balu also got the run of the house while mother was out and, strangely enough, though he explored everywhere, he didn't try to destroy anything. He was so quiet that, in the end, I had to go see where he'd gone and, of course, found him lounging happily on the roof of mother's dolls house: THE place that is absolutely verboten to cats! (Well, along with 1001 other places, which - constantly meeting closed doors - can't be helping them feel at home.)

Of course, cats immediately go for THE place they're not supposed to!

The real irony is that, only the day before, I'd said I doubted the cats would ever settle enough to stop this hiding in bed all day lark (I still have my doubts that they'll come out of hiding regularly and, I'm certain they'll never be settled and confident enough to go outside alone). Balu did go straight back to bed after breakfast - like every day for the last few weeks - and, just as he was slinking under the covers, I commented that I "used to have cats", i.e. not just lumps in a bed. Mid-day he got up and stayed up all day. Contrary puss!

Sunday morning: He was back to bed the moment he'd eaten some food and had hissed at me once and tried to run off to the bedroom to hide, no less than three times during breakfast. But, amazingly, both cats were out of bed, lounging at opposite ends of the sunny windowsill when I woke up. Both dashed to the kitchen, shouting loudly for food as soon as I moved. Yes that's normal behaviour for cats in general and was for them before, but they haven't done that here before  as timidness had gotten their tongues.

We shall see if he graces us with another appearance later, though it probably won't be for a while, because the snoring sounds are getting pretty loud again!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Does not compute

Here we go with the mother-related gripe of the day: this afternoon she went for a CT (computed tomography) scan, which, when she told me about it - only yesterday - in one of her blind panics (because she didn't understand what it was), she told me she was worried about being "closed in, inside a tube."

Since I happened to have had a CT scan a few years ago in Tenerife, I told her that it wasn't a tube, it was like a big donut you pass through (see) and wasn't at all horrible or enclosed. She continued to contradict me, as ever.

When she came home today, she announced that it was nowhere near as bad as she had imagined, so I said, lightly, "See, I told you it wasn't a tube."

"Oh, I never said it was a tube. I knew it wasn't", she snapped back, curtly.

Transpires she read a leaflet, AFTER she'd spoken to me (obviously, it agreed with what I'd told her.) She wasn't about to listen to a what I told her though and she could not bring herself to admit that I had informed her correctly.

No, she just stormed off, stage whispering about how dreadful I am.

Before you go putting this down to old age, which would be exceedingly easy to do, this is a carbon copy of a situation that occurred in 1973 (when I was 16 and she was only 49), when she was going to have a hysterectomy.

Being of the generation that didn't talk about "those things", I was sure she had absolutely no idea what this would mean and knew I was right, because she had worked herself up into a right frenzy of panic over it, mostly in fear of all sorts of weird assumptions. Never occurred to her to ask for facts.

Clearly, nobody in the health service considered the need to explain such minute details to anyone, so I tried. Well, could you leave someone to panic?

And for my trouble, she attacked me with nasty accusations, because only a "tart" could possibly know anything about it. Oh, so they only educate "tarts" in schools, or the pages of Cosmopolitan, do they? And, I wasn't believed.

Some people just won't be helped, obviously.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Right to food

Sometimes, if I see them, I'll buy kiwi fruit. Actually, only about a dozen times in my entire life and once only since I've been in the UK, only because they were selling 'em cheap on the market. I don't obsess over them, I don't have to buy them every time I go out and I don't specifically ask for or need them.

Yesterday, mother did some shopping (she'd asked me if she should get some kiwis and I'd said that only if she sees them, like there's no specific need, don't search for them, etc.) So she comes home, announces that they didn't have any kiwi fruit (like the world was ending, or somehow I'd die without them) and, then produces a bag, saying "... so I brought you pears instead."

Only she knows - and she has remembered it when I was with her in a shop recently - that I don't like pears. I detest them.

So I have pears I don't like, or no fruit. 

But she only bought two pears and won't be shopping again until Monday. Two fruits, for two people, for four days. It ain't exactly five-a-day, is it?

El PanHaving been used to having amazing fresh wholemeal bread delivered daily in Tenerife, I'm "spoilt" and finding the cheap, sliced crap that my mother usually buys is, well, I'd rather eat wet paper. Actually, wet paper probably has more nutritional value.

Her belief is that her chemical-laden (you could taste it), manufactured muck is "healthy". Well, it's brown, init? Could be died brown, I guess.

Anyway, finally, last week she deigned to purchase a fair to middling quality granary baguette. Now, I won't say I was in raptures over it, but it was clearly the best one is going to find around here, so I enthusiastically indicated my approval. Yesterday, she was supposedly picking up something of that ilk again. What does she get? More horrible, cheap, paper-maché sliced bread.

So I have bread I don't like, or no bread.

She didn't buy anything that I can put on or between it, mind you.

Despite the labels, the price and the colour of the carton all being different, she also managed to come back with the wrong soya milk too.

And I have to put up with it, or go without.

It really takes some doing to get it all wrong.

The price of juice went up, so she bought some manufactured cordial type thing that tasted like, well, exactly what it was: sugar with flavourings.

Still, it "complimented" the ghastly plastic-boil-in-the-bag fish dinner.

For Sunday dinner, we have ONE (count it) small chicken breast between us.

And not a fresh vegetable of any type in the house at all. Not. Even. One.

Such small things, I know, but I have nothing else; no treats, no pleasures, cannot go out anywhere, cannot change them, cannot buy alternatives. So I'm faced with vomit inducing flavours I cannot hide, because there is nothing else in the house to hide them with, or I can just be even more hungry.

This really was the final straw, on top of everything else ... So I came to my room and cried and cried and cried, because I just couldn't stop crying.

Being menopausal doesn't help, being depressed (with good reason, I think), doesn't either. Nevertheless, I tried to cry quietly, but she won't even let me have any privacy in this room, so, when she discovered me crying (I haven't told her why), she said I'd better stop it or - this was said as a threat - she'll "get a doctor" to me, who, according to her, will lock me up.

Well, I look forward to the improvement in the menu and living standards!

Only somewhat tongue in cheek, I'm certainly not getting the ...

"Right to adequate food is a human right, inherent in all people, to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensures a physical and mental, individual and collective fulfilling and dignified life free of fear."

The cultural traditions to which this consumer (me) belongs, are ones where food is made from genuine edible, unadulterated things. Any hope?

Pets on a plane

Pets on a plane

Well, I know that this blog has been turning into a right old Gripe site (it was always intended to be my personal sounding off board), but today since, apparently, I feel like defending the rights of everyone, I feel the need to rant - yes again - as I'm once more absolutely incensed upon reading the story of Gayle and Mick Curtis' dogs getting "lost" on a flight back from Tenerife. The story is that baggage handlers "forgot" to take them off the aircraft, so the dogs went back to Tenerife again and had to be sent back to the UK again ... Geez, I thought bringing my cats on one flight from Tenerife was The Longest Day (bad enough, thank you, at about 14 hours, door-to-door.) 

But, how will these dogs - one is quite old, it seems - react to such a dreadful 24 hour experience? My thoughts go out to Mr & Mrs Curtis, who must indeed, have been beside themselves with worry when this happened. Of course, I shudder to think ... this could have been me. I'm relieved, but I refuse to be "grateful" that my cats arrived, first try, because that's the least one should expect, not incompetence, for which no apology can ever be adequate.

As I have already documented that, even after a month, my cats are still not settling and are still behaving peculiarly after their trip. Now, I know there are a lot of contributing factors, but the major one has to be the flight and the way that current UK legislation makes it all more traumatic than it need be.

Our Tenereife vet, where they stayed prior to flying, is marvelous and the cats had stayed there, without me and without any problems before.

Likewise, I have 110% confidence in the shipping agent I used.

Yet, I don't really buy the "bungling baggage handlers" excuse, because baggage handlers are too convenient to point the blame at and, in any case, staff are only as good as what you pay them for or train them to do.

What I do have a MAJOR issue with are the draconian British rules on bringing pets to the UK, which only half-heartedly adopted the Pet Passport or Pet Travel Scheme scheme. The UK has retained so many unnecessary restrictions - that other countries don't impose - and those are the root of the problem.

As one comment here points out:
"... even though the United Kingdom is in the EU, they have different animal import laws than other Western European countries (much more strict and inflexible, to the point that I strongly, strongly, strongly urge you NOT to fly through the UK with your pets)."
Obviously, I had intended to NEVER have to come to this country ever again in my entire life, with or without animals, but I didn't get a choice in that. What I had contemplated doing and wish I had attempted now (and would urge anyone else to research carefully), is as this Wikipedia article outlines:
"The UK restricts incoming flights to only ship animals as cargo. A cheaper alternative around this aberration in the rules is to fly to some other European city, such as Paris or Amsterdam, and then travel to the UK by rail or ferry instead, which do not have this restriction."
This paranoid restriction helps to create the situation where Thomas Cook Airlines, is, as far as I can tell, the only carrier "approved" and, certainly the only choice offered to fly animal cargo from Tenerife to the UK.

No competition is always likely to encourage complacency, I feel.

Both the Curtis' dogs and I and my cats flew with Thomas Cook. Theirs came into Manchester and we came into Gatwick (these were the only two choices of airport too, again because of the excessive British restrictions.)

Also, as this issue is dealt with by Customs and, as those of you who have been to the Canary Islands on holiday will know, that the Canary Islands are NOT counted as part of the EU for Duty Free (customs) purposes - meaning you can only bring in the lower allowances of booze, fags, gifts, etc.
... well, so it is when "importing" your pets into the UK. From Spain, they'd be coming from inside the EU. From Tenerife, they are counted as coming from OUTSIDE the EU (despite, we know, Tenerife is in Spain). More paperwork, more restrictions (that seem to negate the viability of "Plan B" above.)

My friend and I had trouble finding the Animal Aircare people at Gatwick, but the bloke who handed the cats back to me was jovial and seemed pleasant enough. I think I'm a fair judge of characters, so I'm certain there was no problem there, but he commented that Kitty had been hissing at him.
She was probably upset then. So it appears she got upset somewhere after leaving the agent in Tenerife and before the Gatwick animal cargo handlers.

The flight itself is traumatic enough, but though it does not "prove" anything, when you put the two cases together, well ... two different sets of handlers, two different airports, one common airline though. And it makes you wonder exactly what does go on while the pet owner is not present.

If the UK did not insist on making animals go as cargo in the aircraft hold, then my cats would not have had to have travelled separately from me (and I might have been able to mitigate our problems, by being there as a familiar face, as reassurance). If Mr & Mrs Curtis had been able to travel with their dogs, what's the chance of them being forgotten? Yeah, NIL. Obviously.

As my wonderful vet in Tenerife had said, the UK has had to go from imposing 6 months' quarantine, to allowing animals straight into the country and they just can't let go: they have to do something to justify jobs for civil servants.

I'm sure the government was under a lot of pressure from quarantine kennel owners, for whom this new scheme must have meant a big drop in revenue too, which is "tough shit", because it is not necessary and is not in the animals' interest, which is all that counts at the end of the day.

The other folk these restrictions seem to benefit are the many companies who now specialize in the complicated mess of importing animals into the UK. What's the betting that these previously ran quarantine kennels?

Animal legislation purports "to raise the standards of welfare" in this country, but the UK does not seem to be interested in animal welfare any more:

Renowned animal behaviourist, Dr Roger Mugford, quoting Gandhi, has said, "Judge a nation by how it treats its animals". He was speaking about the government being responsible for the death of one dog a week under another draconian law: the Dangerous Dogs Act and went on to say, "Britain undermines its claim to being a civilised society, and certainly has lost its reputation as being a nation of animal lovers." Oh, how I agree.

Spain has a crap record with pets and I saw some horrible things there, but what I am seeing and hearing in Britain's attitude to pets since I've arrived back here - these laws seem to be encouraging others to treat dog owners with absolute zero tolerance; like outcasts; like the new smokers - indicates that today, Britain can no longer claim to be any better. 

Because of age, health, cost and, rather than put her through this, or any similar ordeal, I had to make the very difficult decision to have my dog put to sleep. She was the best friend I've ever had, she was my guardian, she was the cats' surrogate mother and spent more than a dozen years "superglued" to my side 24/7. You cannot know how hard this was - and still is - for me.

One of the supposed benefits of the Pets Passport scheme was going to be the reduction in costs, but it still cost £1,500 just to bring two cats to the UK (we got a discount for putting them in one box too), plus the cost of tests, rabies injections, chips, various treatments, a two night stay in the 5 star vet hotel, plus many inconveniences that should not have been necessary.

Other Europeans are able to just take their animals with them, and back, on holidays. A friend of mine from Finland flew back to Finland (way back in 1993) with her cat in a carrier basket as "hand luggage" inside the plane with her. I know this for a fact, because I took them to the airport to check in (and administered calming medication to the cat myself in the airport loo.)

What we experienced to the UK - in these supposedly enlightened times 15 years later - still does not even come close to the aims of the Pets Passport scheme to "allow animals to travel easily between member countries."

Furthermore, I think our two cases show that, for the welfare of animals and to continue protecting against the spread of rabies (because the more expensive, difficult and unpleasant it is, the more people will smuggle instead. One of the reasons why the Pet passport scheme was started was because the previous, strict quarantine rules were shown to encourage people to smuggle pets into the UK, which increased the risk of rabies entering the country), the time has come for the UK to drop these draconian rules.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Pussies Progress

A progress report on the Canarian "expatriate" moggies now living in Blighty: They don't like the bloody weather any more than I do and spend all day long, curled up tightly under a thick duvet, appearing only when the sun goes down for the odd meal. I've tried peeling them off the bed, but they just slink right back up under the covers and Velcro themselves back into place again. The lumps in the bed are hardly discernible and, if it weren't for the odd sound of snoring from the floofy one, you'd could almost forget that they're there.

That isn't really a problem on it's own, because it's perfectly normal for cats to sleep for around 16 hours a day, but they're not just sleeping, they're also still hiding from everything. Their general behaviour is not normal (for them), they aren't eating and drinking as they should be doing and they're showing absolutely no signs of settling in. And, if they're showing no signs of relaxing and settling after a month, then I think one has to accept that they may never do so.

Well, I know I will never do so, so I shouldn't be surprised really.

Fluffy (Balu) did seem to be making some progress, but then suddenly, for no specific reason that I can make out, became timid and scared, running and hiding from every other strange noise, person and thing. He's been cowering, belly slinking on the floor and even hisses at me, none of which he had EVER done before in all his 7 years. He became so uncomfortable with it, walks in the garden got suspended.

Yesterday, I tried taking Kitty out for a stroll in the garden in the morning, which was going fine, until my mother came towards her. Kitty took fright, tried to take flight, got caught up in her harness, then started hissing, spitting and flailing. With some difficulty, I was able to subdue Kitty and rush her back inside the house again, but not before she'd lacerated my hands. Kitty's gouged through the tip of one of my fingers so deeply it probably needed a stitch, which gives you an idea of how jumpy and scared they are.

Cats spend all day hiding, coming out just long enough to eat. Even then I mostly have to take them to the dish and they'll run away from it and go back into hiding again, immediately, if there's even the slightest noise.

These two cats, I bottle fed (with much help from the dog) from when they were 2-3 weeks old. Balu spent his first weeks sleeping inside my T-shirt, he spent the next 7 years kissing and cuddling me and generally being a fungus. Now he doesn't want to do any of that. As a friend said, he has no-one else to blame (except me) for the horrid move and the current situation he doesn't like. And I feel like I've lost "my baby" (on top of everything else.)

Monday, 7 July 2008

My mother and other madness

Having come back to the UK, because I really had no option, I've intimated to friends that things are much worse than I envisaged - and I was expecting it to be really, really awful. Now I've had a few weeks to assess the situation, I can only conclude that my mother is no longer mentally capacitated (if she ever was.) Partly, I need to rant for my own psychological well being, but secondly, I'll take suggestions on how to deal with this impossible situation.

In public, she does a wonderful job of disseminating. Ask anyone who's met her: she's perfectly amiable. This makes it look like I'm making stuff up. She's told everyone she wished I would come to England, or that she couldn't wait for me to arrive, but now I'm here and in private, the story is very different.

She also appears convinced - i.e. has convinced herself, by nothing more than "wishful thinking" (or fantasy) - that I'm here simply by my own choice.

With the best will in the world, the problem is not one I can just ignore, nor decide not to let it bother me, because it impacts on every single thing one needs to do on a day to day basis, both large and - particularly - small.

That means it has a constant, nagging quality, akin to Chinese torture.

To begin, let's just take the latest example, concerning food: Last week, we managed to place an order and have some large and heavy groceries delivered by Tesco. This was a bloody miracle, because previously, she'd come up with 1001 reasons why we could not do that. Given that there is a delivery charge, however, this is only viable once a month or so for non-perishables. We couldn't have them frequently deliver fresh produce.

Getting out to buy fresh food is a real problem though. Because of exorbitant bus fares, delivery is cheaper than if I went to the shops so she'd already decided that I am not to go shopping, because she has a free bus pass.

However, a combination of poor quality; all the fruit and vegetables here seem to be already overripe and things will not keep, even in the fridge, for more than a couple of days - things kept better and longer in my fridge in Tenerife's heat, which leads me to conclude that the approx. 25 year old fridge is passed it too - means we can only buy for a couple of days at a time.

Or, her answer: buy everything in packets and frozen.

She gobbles packaged cakes, biscuits and sweets (while maintaining that she can't eat large meals.) That's her problem, of course, but she refuses to eat (and therefore buy) healthy food that I can eat. Her bird-like portions are not enough. I'm also lucky to get one piece of fruit a day, so my system is "blocked", but I'm so hungry, I'm dizzy and shaking half the time. Today, however, she wanted me to go shopping too, because she wants me to check an item in-store before we do another online order next month. There's no hurry for it. In fact, I can probably check it online (given more time to do so), or by phone, but I'd said I would go, if the weather permitted.

This morning was cold and raining - remember I've come from 16 years in a sub-tropical climate, I suffer all the symptoms of fibromyalgia and only have summer clothes with me because of the baggage limit, so I believe I said that as a wise precaution, not a silly whim - but no, none of that matters.

She wanted her own way and by golly, she was going to have her tantrum.

So, this morning she provoked a carbon copy of a venomous argument that we'd already had once a couple of weeks ago. Almost everything (healthy food) I eat, she deigns to be too expensive, or claims (unfounded) doesn't agree with her, so there seems little point in her standing at the door of my room, demanding in curt phrases and in an antagonistic, snarky tone, "And?", "What else then?", etc., for me to tell her what to buy, because whatever I say, she'll have an argument against it.

Just to give you an example of the impossible logic one is up against, she simply won't hear that things like fishfingers are not healthy, real food. Those, she "compliments" as being really nice, whilst a stew I made with all absolutely fresh, healthy ingredients, was (deliberately) criticized. The fishfingers were in the freezer already, with coatings so orange and glowing they look like they were made in the Sellafield nuclear reactor. If you gave those to kids, they'd be hyper for weeks! As soon as I ate some, my stomach blew up, painfully. The rest of the packet should go in the bin, in my opinion, but she won't hear of it: they must be used up.

And today, she gleefully - with a wild look, an evil cackle and glowing eyes of a madwoman - announced "Oh good, they'll make you nice and ill."

Another prime example: she has "Smash" potato in the cupboard and she defends it, pouting and shouting, saying it's made from "real potato". She absolutely refuses to accept that there is any difference, nutritionally or otherwise, between this powdered, processed and packaged, obesity provoking junk and the muddy things you dig up from fields.

The freezer is laden with other gross things in a bag pretending to be ready-to-roast potatoes. She thinks frozen vegetables are perfectly adequate too. Well, yes, some are acceptable, but not as one's only source.

She will buy what she damn well likes (she announced) - and I will continue to be hungry and unwell as a consequence (which she appears not to believe and disregards anyway) - but, instead of acceding to my request that she drop the subject before it turned into an argument, she just kept pushing the issue, defending her junk food choices and when that didn't work, insulting me, then starts telling me my behaviour needs to change, puts on her "superior, holier than thou voice" and booms for me to "get down the doctor then."

I'd have gladly walked away, but I couldn't, because she was in my room and, no matter what I said, would not leave and had to have "the last word".

Eventually she did storm off (still indignant that she was the injured party), then she just had to come back to dig the knife in again and, finally went out off to the shops, childishly, without saying a word; not that she was going, nor goodbye nor anything (not that I wanted her to by that point.)

The other day, she was cackling with her madwoman face on, telling me to get out of her house and go back to ... The irony was that she had wound herself up so much, she couldn't even remember where it was that I'd lived previously.

She wanted to be "left alone to die".

(You don't detect just a little melodrama here?)

Then she cackled even more saying that "they" can take her house, because then - even more evil looks and crazy cackling - she'd be glad I'd be left with nothing. And, at this point, quite rightly, you're asking yourself what the hell I've done to surely deserve such deliberate, nasty, venomously cruel treatment - from my own mother too. So am I and I know I can only give you my side of the story, but I promise you that I've never done anything so bad as to merit this.

And this is how it goes on, day after day.