Tag Archives: #bestfriend

Friends, Fire, Food etc.

Last Christmas my best friend (The Wife) and I decided to embark upon an Aussie Road Trip; a classic journey across the South of Australia from Melbourne to Adelaide to Sydney. It was in keeping with our seasonal tradition of leaving the festivities far behind us and embarking on an adventure instead, and this one certainly embraced some of Australia’s epic quirkiness.

Friends

We met up from our distant bases in Melbourne, a city I never quite manage to explore. We drank wine, caught up on all our news, consumed glorious Mexican food and giant cocktails and met up with a mutual friend neither of us had seen for years at the Stables Café at Como House:http://www.thestablesofcomo.com.au/#!home/mainPage It is always nice to see old friends and it’s even nicer to know that when you see them you can pick up where you left off as though it were only days rather than years since you saw them last. While there was near enough a decade of catching up to do with our Melbourne friend it was a very pleasant afternoon where conversation and laughter flowed easily. Time passed all too quickly and before we knew it was time to go our separate ways and start our road trip.

Melbourne to Adelaide is a 750 km drive, which we completed in a day, in order to visit one of the wife’s friends from her time in the US. We managed the trip in about eight hours, with plenty of stops and little difficulty. Our biggest problem was the sat nav, promptly nicknamed The Bitch, who would insist on taking us the long way round when we wanted an alternative route. As neither of us are strangers to maps we sometimes navigated from the road atlas I’d bought and she really couldn’t cope. Long stretches of entertainment arose from watching her recalculate the route, time and again, only for us to ignore her.

We stayed in Moanah, a beach suburb to the east of Adelaide, and spent a chilled out day visiting the beach in the morning then hitting the near-by Maclaren Vale in the afternoon, visiting a few of the cellar doors along the way. Our favourite by far was Chapel Hill Winery: http://www.chapelhillwine.com.au/ It provided us with a couple of very nice Rose (and we don’t like Rose) and a beautiful red that we managed to save until the last night of our trip. We even managed fish and chips on the beach that evening although the Wife and I privately agreed that British fish and chips are better! It was a very sociable and relaxing time, gaining a little glimpse of a happy Aussie family lifestyle, a far cry from our usual routines and very much needed by us both.

Fire

I’d watched fire reports on the TV while waiting for The Wife to arrive in Melbourne so I was aware of the situation South Australia was facing. Months of hot weather (we’d just missed a heat wave in Melbourne), tinder dry forests and lightening storms are typical fire hazards at that time of year. But on checking our route I was relived to see that the fires were north of us, so we were going to be able to follow our plan.

Having enjoyed the hospitality of friends The Wife and I set off on our adventure proper. We were heading East again, back towards Melbourne but via The Great Ocean Road: http://www.visitvictoria.com/Regions/great-ocean-road This was a second visit for both of us – on separate occasions – but as we’d seen different things we took great pleasure in stopping off and showing one another the features we remembered: the Giant Koala and Crab roadside attractions, Umberston Sinkhole at Mt. Gambier, and discover sights neither of us had seen before, like the Blue Lake and the Land Rover on a pole in the middle of nowhere! Christmas Eve was spent sight seeing the iconic views along the Great Ocean Road and stopping at every viewpoint for cheeky selfies, wearing hers and hers Christmas T-Shirts, simply because it was funny. It was a very hot and exhausting day and we pushed on to Lorne little realising that the road was closing behind us due to massive bush fires caused by lighting strikes in the Great Ottoway National Park above us. We innocently enjoyed a lovely Greek meal at a restaurant just across the road from our hotel: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ipsos-Restaurant/772249959543934 and turned in, sun exhausted, ready for a relaxed, beachy Christmas Day.

The day dawned normally enough. We wandered down to the beach and breakfasted in the shade watching families laugh and play and swim in typical Aussie Christmas Day fashion. When we got too hot we returned to the hotel and chilled out. Our plan was to lunch on some good cheese, bread and olives we’d purchased on the road, drink some Mclaren Vale fizz we’d purchased for the occasion, and when it was cooler, head back to the beach to watch the full moon rise. We were not completely oblivious to the plight of the people back along the coast from us. When getting coffee that morning we had overheard locals discussing fires in the vicinity but had not appreciated just how close they were. At lunch we’d commented on a huge smoke cloud towering above us. Then, as we lounged in the shade that afternoon, recovering from our delicious, boozy lunch a helicopter landed in the grounds of the hotel. A man, who looked like a journalist, was met by staff, and ran inside. The helicopter waited, and so did we. By and by the hotel manager approached us and other guests and announced that Lorne was now under recommended evacuation as the fires were very close. The Wife and I were both far too under the influence to drive so, as the hotel was actually the local evacuation point anyway, we elected to stay. If the worst came to the worst we were to cross 500m to the beach and sit in the ocean to keep safe, which was kinda our plan in the first place.

All joking aside, this was a serious situation and a great many people lost their homes as a result of the fires. We were well cared for by the remaining hotel staff, with a free dinner thrown in for all those who had stayed, or who had evacuated from the further reaches of the town. We joined an Australian couple who seemed to attract this kind of drama on a regular basis, judging by the stories they told us of other holidays that had involved natural disasters. We drank, we laughed, we tried not to imagine the worst. The staff briefed us on what would happen if the direction of the wind changed and we had to evacuate over night. We retired to bed, wet towels and air con at the ready.

Much to The Wife’s annoyance I slept like a log that night. She slept fitfully and put the air con on when the room started to smell smoky. The worst did not happen but when we checked out we saw people asleep on sofas and a very worn out looking staff. The weather was grey and damp and the road was open so we set off again, relived that the fires had not reached us and sorry for all those affected by the disaster. As we departed we were told we’d experienced a typical Aussie Christmas – not the BBQ on the beach and the outdoor lifestyle but the on going threats of drought, fire and loss.

Fairy Penguins

Phillip Island, to the East of Melbourne, was our next destination. Specifically, the Penguin Parade, having booked a guided safari to see cute little fairy penguins return to their burrows in the evening. http://www.visitphillipisland.com/ Having arrived early afternoon we whiled away the time with a leisurely lunch on Churchill Island, visiting the koala sanctuary and Cowes beach before heading off to join the safari at dusk. We had front row seats on the beach to watch nervous groups of penguins run the gauntlet of gulls and kangaroos on the beach to find their well-worn paths home. We then followed the boardwalks, watching them scuttle along, almost blindly, as their homing instincts are remarkably faulty; listening to the youngsters squawk and twitter as they waited for their parents. It was adorable, and far too brief an experience.

Food

One of the main focuses of this trip was food. Frankly, no get together with The Wife is complete unless food and drink is involved. My larder is rather restricted in Indonesia and I was looking forward to enjoying wine and cheese and more familiar, western dishes that I can’t get in Surabaya. From Mexican in Melbourne to massive Thai inhalation in Mt. Gambier, http://www.wildginger.com.au/ cellar door visits and stop offs at cheese emporiums and random towns for lunch, we managed a great variety of epicurean delights.

Our next significant destination was Beechworth, an historic little village in the heart of the Victorian wine and cheese region. We stayed at the Foxgloves Bed and Breakfast, http://www.foxgloves.com.au/ hosted by the formidable Sheila, a South African émigré with a sharp wit and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the area. Her husband John also made the most amazing cakes, to be consumed with afternoon tea on the quiet, bee filled terrace. The house was artfully adorned with curios from the abundant shops in the area and breakfast brought all the guests together to enjoy a huge feast around a round table, liberally oiled with excellent conversation.

Beechworth is a little like the picture perfect village of Sandford in Hot Fuzz; superficially a lovely little community concealing a hotbed of gossip and scandal (if Sheila was to be believed) but it does have some excellent boutiques and foodie havens. We enjoyed craft beer and pizza at https://bridgeroadbrewers.com.au/pizzeria-bar/ wine, cheese, olives, honey and loads more during our stay, loading up on supplies for New Year while we were at it. [In homage to our Aussie friends and love of Aussie movies we even bought cherries in Bonny Doon along the way.] We ate, drank and chilled to our hearts content.

The final meal worthy of note was in Katoomba, where we spent New Year’s Eve. http://www.bluemts.com.au/info/towns/katoomba/ Having visited the Three Sisters and gazed across the Blue Mountains we were, of course, in search of our next meal. It came in the form of delicious Malaysian cuisine at the Unique Patisserie: https://www.facebook.com/UniquePatisserie It was so good we ate there two nights in a row, and I also indulged in huge, hedgehog shaped meringues, the likes of which I haven’t enjoyed in years.

New Year came in with a whimper (I believe I was actually asleep), we acknowledged it with more fizz and cheese and that was it, our journey was done. The Wife had to return to Hong Kong and I was off to discover the delights of Perth.

It was an adventure filled with friends, fire, fairy penguins, food and, most importantly, fun!

 

 

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Kidulthood

I was recently introduced to a new term that may describe my passion for life: kidulthood. Apparently it refers to the generation of adults who have not given up childish things but embrace their inner kid on an adult level. It does not mean they are Peter Pans who refuse to grow up. Oh no. It covers the generation, my generation, who love Harry Potter, watch every Pixar film without, or with, accompanying children and who aren’t afraid to wear childhood cartoon favourites on their tee-shirts and accessories.

We are (mostly) responsible, intelligent adults, who are still able to see the wonder and beauty of the world with a child’s eyes, and an adult’s intellect. We have not forgotten what it is like to be free to enjoy ourselves and have got beyond caring what anyone else thinks of our childlike ways. We geek-out over stuff (although I prefer to call it fan-girling) and can appreciate things on many different levels.

Take my recent trip to Disneyland Hong Kong as an example. It was my first Disney experience and, at over 40 and with no children in tow, I was slightly worried that there wouldn’t be that much for me to do except enjoy the ‘experience’.  However, having arrived on a train with Micky shaped windows, I was already bouncing with anticipation like an overgrown Tigger before we’d even got through the gate. I Dick Van Dyke danced down the avenue to the various Disney themes that were playing and positively lit-up when I saw the castle at the end of Main Street. I ran between rides and insisted that we did several ‘again, again’. There was no resistance from my accompanying kidult who sported a fetching pair of Minnie ears with princess crown for most of the day.

Space Mountain and the Runaway Mine Cars were good rollercoasters that satisfied the thrill seeker in me while Micky’s PhilharMagic and Mystic Manor left me wide-eyed in wonder at the magic of it all. I was conflicted by It’s a Small World when I couldn’t work out whether it was cute or really, really racist and didn’t rate it as highly as other attractions but the highlight of the day had to be my purchase of cotton candy on a rainbow flashing glow-stick. Apparently, my face was a picture and my tongue was blue!

Yet it wasn’t just about being ‘at play’. I truly appreciated the way Disneyland was presented. It might just be ‘Disney’ to the traditionalists and kill-joys but Disney do Disney really, really well. The combination of traditional fairytale Disney and popular Pixar worked brilliantly, although the adult in both of us missed Oscar winning Up! from the line up, which lead to a very grown-up debate about which films appeal more to adults than children in the Pixar back catalogue. Also, the Lion King show in the theatre-in-the-round was a fantastic piece of performance art, the Paint the Night light parade was better than any other carnival I’ve been to and the Disney in the Stars fireworks were just like the ones in the all the Disney opening credits. As a child I’d be awestruck, as a parent I’d be happy, as a kidult I was both!

To round an exhausting and exciting day off I purchased a Tigger cuddly toy, with additional Roo, to represent the kidult in me and satisfy my growing need to cuddle a cat every now and then. Kidulthood? I think so!

Cat Tails

Ally’s Tale

The naming of cats

It started with my desire to have a black cat named Jolson. I had liked the name and had not appreciated until much later the politically incorrect connotations it could have had. Luckily, my new kitten was not a big voiced creature, in fact he was virtually silent; Jolson would never have suited him. So I switched it to Al, Jolson’s first name, but then again a single syllable cat name never works either, when calling them they need to have a cadence that Al didn’t have but which Alley, as in Alley Cat, did. So I named him Alley. A bad pun. But ultimately Ally’s christening was also a spelling mistake. The name I wrote down for the vet was akin with a friend rather than a stray and when I realized my error I knew that it was the most appropriate name I could ever have given him. My ally, my comrade, my friend; just him and me against the world.

In the style of TS Elliot this was not his only title. Other nicknames developed such as Ali G (is it because I is black?) GG, AG, Jaunty Boy, Gumpy Cat, Baby Bear and several more. But always, deep down, he was Ally.

He became my companion by accident. I was visiting a friend whose cat had had kittens a few months before. She was complaining that she was unable to get rid of the final two kittens; a black male and a black and white female with a hernia. I had warned her that I wasn’t interested in getting a kitten. I was newly released into the world with a job and a disposable income and the last thing I wanted was to be tied down with responsibility. I certainly didn’t want a cat with health problems and a kitten with a hernia would be a 24 hour a day commitment, something I couldn’t give with my new teaching job and newly found freedom. I hadn’t considered a boy, I’d only ever owned female pets and a boy, so I thought, would just wander, fight and give me a headache.

My friend popped Ally into my bedroom the morning I was leaving. He arrived next to me, played with my toes and generally presented himself as so adorable that two hours later I was travelling home with him from Kent to Essex. That was probably the only time I heard him cry and even then it wasn’t for very long or very loudly.

It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Probably one of the most important relationships of my adult life and certainly a unique one. Unconditional love, from both parties, a deep understanding that did not require words and contentment with each other’s company that I will never experience again. He was my best friend, my greatest love and my loyal companion from beginning to end.

My silent cat filled a room with his presence. His luminous eyes were his best feature and ultimately his doom. Whatever I did I was watched, accompanied or supervised by a quiet authority I didn’t even recognize until it was gone. I spent 18 years learning to listen for the little noises he did make. Towards the end it was the cry he made before being sick and the tap of his claws on the floor but when he was a kitten it was the thunder of his paws as he galloped around the flat at 100 mph breaking things, the swing of the cat flap or the thump of his paws on the patio doors announcing his arrival and desire to be let in or out. Now, my home feels empty, and very quiet, as I get used to not listening for those things any more.

Kittenhood

As a kitten I discovered his love of leaping. A favourite toy was a fabric dice attached to elastic and tied to the telephone shelf. I drew the dice back, called his attention to it and then let go to watch his tiny body freefall through the air and pounce upon the dice. He and I could play this game for hours and he could leap in any direction with out hesitation. At the height of his skills he was leaping level with the shelf, a good 3 feet from the floor. I fear I honed his hunting skills and paid the price with all the birds he brought home later.

He also brought me worms. They were his first gift as a hunter and I remember finding them dried and shriveled under the inflatable mattress I was using at the time whilst awaiting the arrival of my new double bed.

When I was sick with chicken pox he brought me a frog. Such a thoughtful gift! I woke from a feverish sleep to the screaming of a small child. Groggily I looked around to see Ally intently watching the bookcase, slipping his paw behind it and producing the distressed cry of a child. Reality dawned. I had heard frogs scream before and my heart sank. I can’t cope with anything that scuttles, slithers or hops. So, at the height of my illness in the middle of the night I unloaded my bookcase and built a wall between me and the frog while attempting to ‘shoo’ it out of the back door. Ally was shut in the hallway and indignant that his gift was being much maligned. Eventually I got a pint glass and a piece of card and encased the terrified frog safely away from me. I then proceeded to do a girly run with it to the bottom of the garden, release it and run back in locking the door and the cat flap so that Ally could not repeat his offering. He was unimpressed by my ingratitude. He had only brought me the gift because I was unable to cuddle him. The heat (it was a warm May) and the severity of my chicken pox made it impossible for me to have him near me without itching badly, so he tried to show me love in the only other way he knew how.

Another time he brought me someone’s half carved roast and left it for me in the garden because it was too big to fit through the cat flap. We will never speak of it again!

He was a pest in many ways! Constantly walking with muddy paws on my marking, tripping me over whenever I tried to walk anywhere around the house, waking me up with his face in mine at some ungodly hour when he sensed I was surfacing from deep sleep and therefore should be awake to feed him. When he had the operation on his eye towards the end of his life he even head butted me with his cone early in the morning to ensure I was awake and aware of his needs.

This invasion of my pillow comes from an early habit that I could not have changed even if I’d wanted to.

My flat in Southend was very, very cold both in summer and winter and had an old and noisy boiler that could only be controlled manually from a cupboard in my bedroom. So I didn’t switch it on much at night. In addition, the back door was also in my bedroom and the flat did not have double glazing so drafts were common place. Ally and I kept each other warm by curling up in bed under hundreds of blankets with him curled around my head, his chin resting on my ear, purring me to sleep while achieving the most comfortable position on the bed for him. I still believe the reason I stay still in bed is because I never wanted to disturb him when he was sleeping. As time passed and I moved into places with decent heating he would still curl up on the pillow next to me and purr me to sleep, until he was banned from the bedroom by my partner of the time.

Not only did he sleep everywhere, he also trod on everything. Computers, phones, TV remotes, what ever lay in the way to me and my lap. He often risked a shove by attempting to commute over Jaye’s lap to get to me. Not a clever move but a highly amusing one!

He wasn’t Jaye’s biggest fan, nor vice versa, but each tolerated the other because they knew I loved them both. Ally got the raw deal though having been banned from the bedroom and the kitchen and often being removed from the furniture after many years of being free to do as he pleased. I often think that was a mistake on my part and I should have been more loyal to him.

Another adorable feature of his was his dog-like loyalty. He would walk at heel with me, come to me when I called even if he was mid cat-fight and when younger would dance for his dinner. He was even known to sit with his tongue out after washing, almost as if he had forgotten it was there, and he would let me tickle it! O2 have a campaign encouraging people to ‘be more dog’ which features cats doing dog-like things but I don’t think Ally could be ‘more-dog’ if he tried. He chose to be as dog-like as he wished.

When we lived in Aylesbury he would accompany me as far as the edge of the estate on the evenings when I chose to walk to the pub. He would wait in the bushes and then trot out to meet me on my return, walking at heel, or if distracted, coming when I called and patted my leg! My neighbours must have thought I was mad. Indeed, I was the mad cat woman of Aylesbury!

The Mad Cat Woman of Aylesbury

When I first moved to Aylesbury Ally and I lived in an upstairs flat. This meant shutting my previously outdoors alley cat in for 7 solid months. He coped admirably, never even attempting to escape, and developing the entertaining game of upstairs ping-pong where I stood at the bottom of the stairs in goal and he sat at the top and batted ping-pong balls down to me or interrupted my backspin attempts by fishing them out of my reach!

When I purchased my house he tolerated two moves in two weeks with no ill effects, until I landed the greatest indignity of all upon him: a new kitten!

I had obtained Shelly in much the same way I had gotten him. A friend had kittens he couldn’t get rid of so he got me to come and have a look, and I fell in love.

I moved Shelly in the same day as I got the keys and brought Ally along the following day. When I let Ally out of the cat box he was so interested in this new and larger blue space that he completely ignored her. This tiny ball of tortoiseshell fluff backed and advanced at him while he checked out the patio doors and practiced asking to go out in his customary style. He trotted past her as she waved her paw at him and went up stairs. She followed, a step at a time as her legs were much shorter than his. By the time she reached the top he’d turned around and was ready to come back down. As she tottered to go after him he stuck out his paw and swept her feet out from underneath her resulting in Shelley’s first trip down stairs being just that, a head over heels flat spin to the bottom. Ally then proceeded to investigate the second floor while Shelly sat dazed and confused at the bottom of the stairs. It was love at first sight on her part but sadly unrequited on his.

He tolerated Shelly but about a month later I added insult to injury by allowing my brother and his black kitten Salem to move in too. This was a step too far and Ally started to spend more time out and away. For the first time in a long time he started to wander and would disappear for days. On one occasion he’d been gone for about 2 days and I’d been wandering the estate calling him. I eventually found him sitting on a grass bank in an area we didn’t really frequent. I called him, he clocked me but he didn’t come when I called. I had to get closer to check it was him. It was, but he wasn’t playing. Eventually I was able to pick him up and tried to carry him home but he sunk his claws into me and resisted all the way. Something had spooked him and the presence of the dustmen that day made him increasingly nervous. I got him home, shut him in for a few days, fed him and spoilt him. He recovered himself and remained my cat but he would often disappear just long enough to worry me and keep me on my toes.

He had found an appropriate form of revenge that he continued to use until he died. By the end I was worried if he was gone longer than 10 minutes and he knew it, and played on it.

Feed me!

The arrival of the kittens also lead to a slackening of the feeding rules. Cats had always had a place to eat when I was growing up but when my brother Don lived with us Ally was fed wherever he was found so that he didn’t have to suffer the indignity of sharing with the babies. This often meant he was fed on the top of the inbuilt shelves in the second bedroom, a hiding place that the youngsters couldn’t get to for the first few months of their stay. Recently, Ally had the set place on the mat in the kitchen and Shelly was fed wherever I found her to keep them apart. Ally had grown grumpy and greedy and although Shelly is a fat little thing she always deferred to him when it came to food. It had got to a point where he bullied her off her plate and consumed the lot before bringing it back up again, so I kept them apart to give Shelly a chance!

Ally was a great one for human food too. It is said that whatever you feed a kitten in early life is something they always come back to. Ally was given Chinese as a kitten before I adopted him so whenever I had a take-away I found myself sharing it with him. I also shared soup; all my fish including smoked salmon; gammon, any other meat at all really especially if it came with sauce or gravy; cheese, omelet and my cereal bowl remains. If Mummy had it then Ally had it too.

Scientific research has learnt that many male cats are left-pawed and Ally was no exception, but I used to call it his ‘possessive paw’. At first, it was this paw that would draw the cereal bowl towards him once I had given him permission to have the remains and this paw that drew my hand to his mouth if it contained treats or delights. As he got older it was the paw patted my face when we cuddled and that got stuck out to catch my clothes if I passed him by without greeting, something I was not allowed to do.

When he broke his hip the veterinary staff reported that he would stick this paw out of his cage and catch at them too, a habit that, luckily, they found endearing.

In the week that has passed since I had him put to sleep I have come to realize that he was a terrific pest. I sleep better and later without him, I don’t get tripped up every thirty seconds, my marking is quicker and less hairy, I don’t have to open the door for him every couple of minutes for hours at a time, I get to eat my dinner without interruption or a possessive paw hooking my plate out from under me. I know I encouraged this behavior by allowing it but he was such a force of nature I never really considered any of the things he did as being any trouble, in fact they were all endearing and the reason I loved him so much.

I have shared so much history with Ally that I am sometimes amazed. I was a young, naïve girl when I got him and a middle-aged, and far more worldly-wise woman when he left. He shared half of my life with me up until this point. He was there when I got promotion, moved my life from one side of London to the other, when Dad died, when I met (and lost) Jaye, when I was sick and healthy, he even waited for me when I went away to Australia for three months and still purred when I came back. He wiped away many a tear with his tail and caused me much merriment in his time on this earth. His purr alone was enough to make things seem much better than they were before and to hold him, cuddle him, carry him on my shoulders or in my arms like a baby was a method of relaxation many people will never benefit from. I loved him far more than Jaye and while I knew that (and so did Jaye) it was a purer, less complicated type of love than human relationships develop. And I miss him…enormously.