For The Sunday Salon
I’ve heard of Dog Borstal, but whatever does one do with a delinquent cat? Ever since we first had our two cats (the silliest creatures ever to sniff the planet) they have displayed radically different characters. Harvey is bold and daring and a terrible bully, but also the outgoing and affectionate one; Hilly is exquisitely pretty, shy and scared and needy, with what feeble and ineffectual brain capacity she had now crippled by the trauma of being her brother’s favourite victim. I caught them the other day with Harvey sitting on top of the kitchen chair, taking swipes with a lazy but accurate paw at whatever part of Hilly, a quivering wreck underneath it, might risk venturing forth in an attempt to escape. Harvey’s command of the English language is not limited to ‘teatime’ and ‘now’, whatever he might like to suggest and he knows exactly what I am saying when I scold him. But he saunters off, simmering lightly with resentment, like the more superior kind of adolescent. The times I find them, with Hilly backed up against a wall and Harvey menacing her! Now I can’t reach out a hand to Hilly, unless I am sitting down very quietly, without her assuming I’m attempting some idle torture. Mealtimes are particularly tricky as Harvey is a greedy guts and once he has finished his bowl will just snarl at his sister until she goes away. We tried to solve this by shutting Harvey in the downstairs toilet with his meal, but then I once forgot all about him being there for quite some time. Oops. My mother-in-law tells me that it is not possible for cats to overeat; that they only ask for what they need, but I notice a distinct propensity in Harvey to put on weight. I have often imagined him zipping himself into his cat suit and asking, does my bum look big in this? (answer: yes) If a meal is in the offing but is not arriving as fast as Harvey would like it to, he becomes a complete nuisance, leaping onto the desk or the table and clumsily shoving items off of it onto the floor. For those of you who recall the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, he is the very image of Steve Martin when he is pretending to be Michael Caine’s brother, the retarded Prince Ruprecht, who demonstrates his displeasure at being thwarted by leaning an elbow on the mantelpiece and casually tipping the ornaments off it, one after the other. So how do you train a cat to behave nicely? I have to confess that my husband indulges him rather and does not give him the stern lectures on his behavior that I do. Harvey adores my husband and lies in his lap making utterly shameless goo-goo eyes at him, and alas, my husband forgives him everything. Worse still, he points at the cat and says ‘You could learn something from this.’ I will not describe to you, dear bloggers, the look I give in return.
One nice thing that happened last week while I was away: I won a blog competition! This is a bit amazing as I’m not lucky with competitions generally, and certainly not ones where the winner is decided by means of a name pulled out of a hat. When I was a small child every single treat in my school was decided this way as it was supposedly just. It’s little wonder I became a swot in order to try to entice some feedback out of the educational authorities. Anyway, this competition was based on answering some questions and I want to send a big thank you to Bluestocking for the $25 Barnes and Noble gift card. Needless to say, I have already spent it. I wanted to order books I could only get in America, and so I ended up with Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs, another classic novel, The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington which has the look of Edith Wharton about it, and I was in the mood for a good family saga. Beyond that I know nothing of the author or the work. And finally a bargain hardback, Maeve Brennan, Homesick at the New Yorker, as I’ve become very intrigued by the history of the New Yorker since reading Joan Acocella and wanted to learn more about the people who wrote for it. I’m hoping the books will arrive after the middle of April. Whilst I’m confessing, I should add that I went shopping today with birthday book tokens (and a leftover Borders gift card from Christmas) and took advantage of the special offers on new paperback fiction in store to come home with: The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver (I’m hoping to blog next on We Need to Talk About Kevin), Mothernight by Sarah Stovell (which I’ve wanted to read for a while), The Spa Decameron by Fay Weldon (I like Weldon, and this series of related stories told by women together on a health farm is described as ‘Boccaccio on oestrogen’ and that made me laugh), The Rosetti Letter by Christi Phillips (one of those dual time narratives in which academics make historical breakthroughs that are sometimes disappointing but sort of irresistible in principle), The Keep by Jennifer Egan (gothic ghost story featuring Eastern European castle that its owners want to turn into a hotel) and The Dissident by Nell Freudenberger (caught my eye because it’s by a Granta best young American novelist and is all about a Chinese performance artist lodging as Visiting Scholar with a wealthy and dysfunctional L. A. family). So I’ll bet you’re wondering whether that tbr pile of mine is obscenely huge now? I assure you, it is.
Finally, another poem for you. This one is from Nobel prize winning Greek poet, George Seferis. I first heard of Seferis years ago when I went to a talk on him and came away much enamoured of the poems that were given to us on a photocopied handout. At the time I was working hard and suffering badly from chronic fatigue, and so I have absolutely no recollection as to why I was at this talk at all, and have retained not a word of the information imparted at it. What is even more intriguing to me is that when I shuffled through my papers and found the poem I was seeking, it did not strike me as anywhere near as interesting as it had back then. Reading it today, health very nearly regained, it strikes me as being an oddly accurate account of the disembodied, disassociated dream state that I lived in when I was ill. Naturally I would have been incapable of recognizing such a thing at the time, but it explains why the poem remained with me, despite the event itself disappearing into a black hole of fatigue.
I woke with this marble head in my hands;
it exhausts my elbows and I don’t know where to put it down.
It was falling into the dream as I was coming out of the dream
so our life became one and it will be very difficult for it to separate again.
I look at the eyes: neither open nor closed
I speak to the mouth which keeps trying to speak
I hold the cheeks which have broken through the skin.
That’s all I’m able to do.
My hands disappear and come towards me
The moral of the story? Don’t get chronic fatigue: keep life spacious, learn to protect yourself, try not to worry too much about other’s expectations, remember you don’t need to be perfect. That’s a good Sunday thought to end on.