The Consequences of Wild Nights

Well this all began last Thursday night, when Mr Litlove went out on the tiles in London with his old school buddies. A great time was had by all, and naturally Mr Litlove was home rather late. I don’t know about you, but I find it almost impossible to go to sleep whilst waiting for one of the home party to get in, and in any case I had news. In fact, due to the miracle that is the smartphone, Mr Litlove knew it already and it was equally the first thing he told me once he stepped across the threshold: his grandmother was slowly fading.

This is undeniably sad, but his grandmother had enjoyed 96 years of splendid life and was already anticipating the ‘great reunion’ that she believed lay ahead of her. This should tell you something about the wonderful spirit which had kept her buoyantly alive for so long. In her shoes, I’d be calculating my chances of landing in some celestial dormitory with a bunch of people I’d hoped never to clap eyes on again. So anyway, we chewed this over for a while and finally got to bed in the small hours. Mr Litlove was restless in the night – apparently there’s nothing like a lavish meal for making you hungry a few hours later – and so by the time we reached morning, we all felt a bit the worse for wear.

During the day and into that Friday night we were experiencing the wild winds that had plagued the rest of the country. We lay in bed listening to them buffeting the sides of the house and howling through the trees. This is becoming a regular occurrence at this time of year: the year before last we had our television aerial fixed; last year we rebuilt the garden fence with steel posts inside it, and so we went to sleep joking about having a good night – there was surely nothing left to fall over or fly loose. And so we were quite unprepared when the phone began ringing at some ungodly hour.

My first thought was that surely my mother-in-law wasn’t ringing us to say that Mr Litlove’s grandmother had died? Surely she wouldn’t have told us now? Years ago when I was pregnant with our son and Mr Litlove was working away half the week in Leicester, his car had been stolen, joy ridden, and left to burn. For some reason, the police rang my mother-in-law in the small hours, who utterly forbade them from contacting me and risking some measure of shock. Instead I heard the news mid-morning from Mr Litlove, who had spent a long time trawling the streets in his vicinity wondering how come he couldn’t seem to recall where he’d parked his car – until the police finally caught up with him.

Mr Litlove was obviously having some trouble wading to the shores of consciousness and reaching the phone that is on his side of the bed. When he got there I heard him groan and start stabbing at the buttons on the phone. It was a recorded message from the company that runs the security system at his office, alerting him to a possible intruder. Except of course, the security system is hopelessly neurotic and rings us reguarly in heavy rain, or thunder and lightning, or sometimes for no obvious reason at all. The wind shrieked outside and Mr Litlove returned to bed. About fifteen minutes later, his office mobile phone started ringing; the next link in the security chain. When this happened for the third time towards 3am, expletives were exchanged. I’m sure experiments in torture have been conducted along similar lines. Mr Litlove had to get up at 6am to go rowing, and he said that by then he was quite glad. I had fallen asleep towards dawn and woke with that drugged feeling you get when your deep sleep comes too little too late.

When Mr Litlove returned from rowing, we regarded one another blearily.

‘Let’s do nothing today,’ I suggested.

‘I’ve got to take the cat to the vet,’ said Mr Litlove. ‘Then that’s it for me.’

The cat. Whom I find harder to love as he gets older. Imagine a querulous and demanding elderly relative who gazes with worshipful eyes on the master of the house and treats you like a servant girl on a Mississipi plantation: this is our current ménage à trois. Well, over Christmas I had noticed that Harvey seemed to be scratching more than usual. He has allergies (to what we are not sure) that we usually notice as small granular lumps in his fur. Even though he was already taking his steroids, this was one gritty cat we had on our hands. Worse, the relentless licking made him smell truly revolting. I thought he should go to the vet, but Mr Litlove did not. He thought the grit was scabbing and that the steroids were doing their work. By the end of the second holiday week, he was changing his mind, and then finally he had booked an appointment.

When he returned from the vet he rushed in saying: ‘You were right. You were right. You were right,’ without any provocation. This alarming use of the most conciliatory card in the marital deck made me realise I would not like what was coming.

‘It’s good news and bad news,’ said Mr Litlove. ‘He’s got fleas.’

‘How can he possibly have fleas?’ I asked, instantly feeling itchy.

It turns out that our village is the epicentre for an outbreak of Darwinian fleas who have learned to embrace central heating and resist certain kinds of flea repellent. We have been through fleas once before, 20 years ago in fact, when we were living in the cottage with our previous cat, Boris. I had a vivid image of Mr Litlove’s bare feet on the carpet with a sort of haze in the air around them, which on closer inspection turned out to be a zillion insects leaping for joy at the sight of human transportation. Fleas are awful. They are to soft furnishings what a nuclear accident is to the surrounding landscape. Endless attempts at clear-up operations in the awareness that the extent of the damage will only become apparent many months later. And this is to say nothing of the political fallout.

I looked at the cat, who did not wish to meet my eye and account for the company he had been keeping. I looked at my husband, who did not wish to meet my eye and account for the extra ten days of flea-egg-shedding that our cat had used to the max. Instead, we began on the housework, vacuuming and spraying every surface the cat had covered, washing all our linen and the clothes we’d been wearing over the past few weeks. I went out to buy some new pillows and pillowcases and when I returned, my mother-in-law had rung to say that Mr Litlove’s grandmother had indeed passed over during the night while our phones had rung so futilely. It was a little spooky.

I wondered what the good news was that Mr Litlove had brought back from the vet? I think he believed the good news was learning I’d been right (while under the circumstances….) but we do now have a cleaner house than usual, and I like to think of Mr Litlove’s grandmother enjoying her triumphant reunion with her husband, with her eldest son, with her parents and her brothers and sisters, with her many friends, and the full unbroken night’s sleep we had last night was wonderful.


34 thoughts on “The Consequences of Wild Nights

  1. That’s quite a week – I felt I needed a lie down after finishing your post and all I’d had to do was read it. I hope Mr Litlove isn’t too distraught and much sympathy with the aging cat situation. My 20-year-old (we think) becomes needier every day but still purrs loudly once on my lap and so, I suspect, will be with us for some time to come.

    • There used to be a poster that was very popular when I was a teenager of a creature sleeping slumped in a tree with the caption underneath: ‘I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several gang up on me at once.’ It was a bit like that! Ach solidarity with the elderly cat – 20 is a very ripe age to have reached! And thank you, Mr Litlove is okay – it was all expected and he has many fond memories.

  2. Your post has exhausted me! All I can say is thank goodness you didn’t go to see Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown as well. The horror that is the production would have tipped you over the itchy edge.

  3. Goodness! I remember my one (hideous) experience of fleas staying with friends during a hot summer where the floorboards were being pulled up and the dog was constantly scratching. I learned to hate the creatures (despite being vegetarian) and I don’t envy you this experience. But I’m glad you finally got a good night’s sleep… (and I think that cat definitely has to go!)

    • Oh fleas in a hot summer are about as bad as it gets (though it’s okay, I think you’d need an awful lot of them to make a meal!). As for our cat, today he keeps being sick – the last time he just managed to get his head through the cat flap first. Very Brideshead Revisited…… 😦

  4. What a highly consequential Wild Night. I would love to read a comic novel if you ever wrote one – the detail of observation paired with the warmth in your writing would be a winner.

  5. We have the Darwinian fleas here too…and like you none for around 20 years. We’re also going to Canada, which has nothing to do with fleas, but in one of the areas the guidebook said ‘the mosquitoes are the size of hummingbirds’ (!)So the fleas have obviously heard about this and, not to be outdone,have decided to start on their evolution. Say to Mr Litlove that I send my commiserations re his grandmother please.x

    • Mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds!! Yikes! You’ll need a tennis racket as much as a can of repellent! And indeed, if fleas have become competitive, we’re in big trouble. 🙂 Mr Litlove says thank you and how exciting to be going to Canada – you must tell me all about it.

  6. This was inordinately entertaining, and incidentally made me feel much better about the fact that I regularly say to my extremely needy old clingy gray ghost cat, “I will miss you someday, and probably sooner than I think, but–right now, I kind of hate you.”

    • Oh I am so glad you said that. When I was writing this post, I did think of you and your cats and assumed an unbroken stream of affection for them. Which most certainly does not happen here. Today he keeps being sick, which is not exactly endearing, either, sorry though I am for him.

  7. Litlove, oh my sympathies on the flea situation and the loss of grandmother in law.

    I fortunately live in a Canadian city with picayune mosquitoes. For the traveler, watch out for horse flies.

  8. Funny post!
    I heard the wind was wild in the UK. It was just a litte windy here but nothing bad.
    Our cats never had fleas so far. I think we were lucky. My late dog once had and it was no fun. Normally they don’t bite humans. Normally . . . Horribly itchy bites I can tell you.

    • We’ve had a lot of high winds lately – more last night, but thankfully no damage done in my village as far as I can see. I believe it’s due to the Gulf Stream heading south (but I could be wrong!). Yes I can imagine a dog with fleas is pretty awful – even more surface area to cover than a cat!

  9. So sorry about Mr. Litlove’s grandmother. There’s a bit of comfort when they tell you they are ready. When my grandma died at 98 two years ago she told us she was tired and ready to go then a few hours later she did. I hope when my turn comes I can be so calm about it.

    As for the fleas, I feel for you. I’m allergic to flea bites and one year when I was away at college the family dog got fleas bad. I was home for a week for Christmas and when I went back to school my legs from the knees down were covered in ugly red fleabites. I hope you’ve gotten on top of them!

    • Wouldn’t it be great to be ready? I call that civilised. And 98 is an amazing age to reach. As for the fleabites- ouch! You poor thing! As it turns out, our cat is allergic to fleas (yes, it wins a prize of some sort, I should think), and so even more sympathetic than I am!

  10. I love your description of the cat as an elderly relative so much I just read it out loud to Eleanor and Ron.
    Much sympathy to you for Mr. L’s grandmother.
    Fleas are awful. I go around combing the cats, washing bedding and vacuuming for weeks afterwards. There’s a kind here that have gotten resistant to one kind of drops I usually buy, so I had to start buying a second kind from the vet, and it also has heartworm medicine in it. I don’t tend to like a drug that has a dual purpose, for cats or humans.

    • Oh Jeanne, that reminds me of a story we were told by a vet a few years back about people trying to claim antibiotics for their pets from the local doctors’ surgery, medicines being cheaper for humans than animals. We couldn’t help but imagine someone arriving at their GPs saying ‘Well, I’m off my food and my nose is very dry; I think I’ve got a touch of distemper and by the way, I’ve been neutered, if that’s relevant.’ We have been caught in the exact same way with the drops we used to use, and oh yes, the cleaning continues. Thank you for the sympathy – we need it!

  11. Yiu should start writing some columns for the Sunday magazines, your take on life is much funnier than their pretentious meanderings about terribly upper middle class fretting about absolutely nothing and their horrid families.

    • Oh thank you so much – you may incidentally have made my father’s day. He is often telling me the same thing and I would be delighted to, if I knew how to arrange it!

  12. What a night. I’m so sorry for your loss — peaceful and inevitable though it is — and sorry for your fleas, as well, which are neither peaceful nor inevitable! Take care!

    • Thank you, that’s so kind. I do think that the fleas and Mr L’s grandmother are on two ends of some kind of scale, though I’m not sure what it is! You may have hit the nail on the head. 🙂

  13. Good lord, how exhausting. I can’t function on a broken night’s sleep, so I feel for you both. And ugh, fleas. One of the great benefits of having hard surfaces throughout is that there it’s harder for the horrible things to survive and an easier clean up operation when the cats do get them.

    • Oh I’m glad it’s not just me. I really am not good without sleep. And suddenly I see the reason for hard wood flooring throughout a house. I thought it was attractive but chilly – and now the light dawns!

  14. You have my sympathy, litlove. Some years ago I moved to an apartment in an old Victorian that had been chopped into 3 units; the neighbor next to me worked at a pet store and had several pets. She moved out the month I moved in; the fleas she left behind starved until they found me. (The doormats?) I’ll never forget the first morning I saw some teensy-tiny thing flick off my bare ankle, then began noticing more of the little exoskeletal bastards. (I caught one and pinched it with my nails. It was hard, and it hopped away!) And the bites.

    The landlady had cleaned the empty unit’s carpet and found the damnable fleas thick around her socks. (Why hadn’t she warned me?) She kept telling me about the fleas on her, as if that was all that mattered. We were off to a rocky start, which didn’t get better when the roof leaked into my bedroom.

    I have to say though, that as a human companion to a geriatric old German Shepherd on his last legs, Harvey has my sympathy, too. Good luck, litlove!

  15. My sympathies too for the loss of Mr litlove’s grandmother, although may we all enjoy such a long and happy life.

    As for Harvey, he sounds a hideous old reprobate and if he’s not too gritty I’d be turning him into a matching his’n’hers pair of winter mittens in the near future. Or muttering loud threats to that effect.

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