Monday, 17 November 2014

#NaNoWriMo - Chapter 4 ends, and Chapter 5 begins

We had to say goodbye to Sasha this year. She was doing very well, only going a little bit grey, but she was still as active and healthy as usual. In all the 16 years we’d had her she was the healthiest of all of the pets. Close to Christmas last year she stopped eating properly and was drinking a lot. The vet suspected her kidneys, it turned out that she had a liver infection. She was put on antibiotics, but my family was told that if they don’t work, nothing will. When I visited my parents over Christmas I was shocked at how she looked. She was naturally thin, anyway, due to her Siamese heritage. For the first time ever she looked fragile. She’d obviously lost weight, 2 kilos of weight, which on a cat her size was a lot. Mom and Jamie weren’t sure that she would manage to fight off the infection. She took to begging at the dinner table, suddenly always hungry. She had never done that before. It was quite annoying. She had the most grating meow I’ve ever heard in a cat, and she had no qualms in placing her front legs on our legs, reaching up and begging right up into our faces. Not even Tia did that as a puppy. While it was annoying it was also quite sad to see. She was obviously not right and we all held our breath to see how the next couple of weeks went.

At her next trip to the vet they were told that she had fought off the infection. She was doing all right and seemed like she was perfectly fine again. A couple of months later, though, it was clear that she wasn’t fine. She got ill again and seemed to be doing worse. Jamie went to my parents and told them that he thinks it’s time to let her go. She was taken to the vet and put down. For the first time in 16 years he didn’t have her snuggling up to him as he went to sleep.

It’s weird to have a pet in your life for so long and then suddenly not. It’s even stranger when you’re a visitor to the house and no longer a resident yourself. Whenever I go home now I expect her to appear. A black shadow looks like her out the corner of my eye. I go to sleep, expecting to be woken up with her staring at me. As black as the darkness I’d often wake up to find two eyes just looking at me. As soon as my eyes were opened, she would then proceed to beg for attention. One night, when I was housesitting for my parents, I was smacked awake at 2am by Sasha. She was sitting on my chest and had decided that she wanted some attention right this minute. My mother will never hear her snoring as she sleeps under her bed. She hated the dog flap, always waiting in the front garden when she wanted to be let in, rushing to the door when you opened it and meowing a thanks as she rushed past. I miss Pimms. I didn’t miss Mischief and Tom quite so much as we barely got to know them. But Sasha has definitely left a bit of a hole in the family. I know that Jamie misses her and always will.

I’m just very glad I managed to get a good photo of her before we said goodbye. As she was completely black, apart from a little beard under her chin, she never came up very well with a normal digital camera. I took my camera home last Christmas, determined to get a good picture just in case. I got quite a few nice ones, but the one that I most treasure was taken by Jamie. She stares to one side, looking vaguely indignant at having her photograph taken, her throat still showing the shaved part from her blood tests. I’ve got it printed onto Citi-Block mount. It’s currently standing upright on my wardrobe, waiting for Christmas. I just hope Jamie likes it.

Chapter 5

I have a very large family. A family that is unusually close for its size. Whereas most people might see their cousins once in a while, we saw them several times a year. In fact, one set of cousins I saw every weekend. My mother was the second youngest of 5, my father the eldest of 6. My grandmother was the eldest of 12. Dad and Jamie went on a trip together to South Africa before Jamie started school. Everywhere they went my father would greet someone and tell Jamie that that was X his brother/nephew/uncle/cousin etc. One day they were sitting at the beach and Jamie asked Dad how he seemed to know everyone. He told Jamie that we have a very big family. Looking up he saw someone running on the beach and told Jamie that he knows that man over there. Jamie didn’t believe him, thinking that my Dad was kidding around. He was promptly introduced to our second cousin Adrian. It honestly seems pretty much everyone in Cape Town is related to my family in some way. My cousin (Dad’s side) got married a few years ago to a cousin (Mom’s side). Some friends of the family who also immigrated to the UK are related to me through my mother’s side. It’s strange and complicated. It’s probably because my family and friends of the family are Catholic in a predominantly Protestant country. Whatever it is, it’s a bit disconcerting.

I am the eldest of 13 grandchildren on my father’s side, and the eldest of 7 on my mothers. It’s probably why I like to be the boss and like to order people around. It’s also probably why I became a master manipulator. I learnt how to legitimately get sweets from my cousins from a young age. You can’t just steal them because they’ll tell on you or cry. Then you’ll get into trouble. No, you have to get them to give the sweets to you. I discovered that if I pretended to be ill when we were playing with Alistair’s doctor set, they’d try and give me pretend medicine. I’d tell them that that wouldn’t work, I won’t get better with that. They’d ask me how they could help, how they could make me better. I’d point to whatever was in their hands and tell them that would help. I’d then proceed to get a couple of Smarties or whatever. No one cottoned on to what I was doing. I utilised this skill well when Jamie was younger. I’d insist that I needed to taste every bag of crisps or sweets that he had first, to see if it was poisonous. It got to the stage where he’d bring the bag to me to test. He’d be eating a McFlurry or other dessert and I’d ask him if he were getting full. He’d tell me he wasn’t, but a few spoons later would say he was and hand the rest of the dessert to me.

Oh, how I miss those days.

I’ve mentioned my mother’s family before, briefly. Her relationship with her family has always been very complicated due to her childhood. She grew up in a house with a mother that refused to throw away anything, just in case it became useful in the future. If anything had been needed once, she kept it just in case. For instance my uncle once needed a wine cork for school one day. From that moment on all corks were kept. Because of her hording the house was full. Their living room was huge, but all there was space for was an area that could fit their baby grand piano, two sofa’s, a dining room table and a TV. I realise that sounds pretty big, but that was a third or less of the actual living room space. The rest of the space was covered in rubbish, taller than I was. You could enter the kitchen either through the living room or through a small passageway that lead from near the front door back to the kitchen. While my grandparents were alive you couldn’t get through there. It was piled from the floor to the ceiling with stuff. I wasn’t really aware of it, to my childhood eyes it was a treasure trove, full of possibility. It must have been hell for my mother to live in. Actually, I know it was.

She’s told me about her childhood, and I know she wouldn’t mind me sharing, because I’ve asked her if it’s ok. One example of how she had to live was their bathing situation. Once a week a bath was run. My grandfather would get in the water first, followed by my uncle Tony, the eldest boy, then by my other uncles Terry and David, then the girls, my aunt Clair (actually the eldest, but men came first in that household), my mother and finally my grandmother. All in the same bath water. No fresh water could be run, not even to warm up the water. That would be considered a waste of money. My grandmother also had the theory that if you had baths too often you would scrub of your skin. Clothes were rarely, if ever, washed. My mother, therefore, smelled none too pleasant. At school the boys would dare each other to chase her and try and kiss her. She had rather unpleasant nicknames. At lunchtimes she would try to wash her underwear in the sink.

While there was no physical abuse that went on, the emotional abuse still affects my mother today. My grandmother didn’t trust her children. When they were sent to the shop to get something, she knew just how much change was expected. Should the price go up, she wouldn’t believe the child until she marched them there and checked herself. I don’t know half of what my mother went through, but one story that has always shocked me is one my mother tells about when she was 14. She went on holiday with my other grandparents. During that time she had a grumbly appendix and had to be treated for it. Right up to the day she died my grandmother believed my mother had pretended to go on holiday to have a secret abortion. It didn’t matter that my mother was a 14 year old virgin, or that it was on her medical records as her having a grumbly appendix. My grandmother did not believe her.

My mother’s father was English. He and his parents emigrated soon after the Second World War. He still had certain very English habits from his childhood. For instance, every Sunday they would sit down to a Sunday roast cooked by him. Even though my mother’s relationship with my grandparents was complicated to say the least, she never stopped us from seeing them. I learnt to swim in their swimming pool. I would feed the chameleon at the bottom of their garden. Their house and grounds, neglected though they were, were a wonderful place for a child to explore. Or so I thought. It was probably more than likely a serious health hazard, which explains why I was rarely left to my own devices. Most Sunday’s we would join them for a Sunday lunch. My grandmother would give us liquorice from the cupboard as Grandpa made the dinner. He made the best cheese sauce. To this day I can’t replicate that taste, although it’s possible that my memory romanticise it. We’d go and sit down, the adults would get a glass of wine and I would go and get my glass from the cupboard. It was the size of a tot glass, but in the shape of a beer keg. In would go my wine and I was taught that wine should be sipped slowly, never drunk quickly. I must have been quite young to be enjoying a tipple, but I honestly believe that the reason I’ve never gotten drunk, or felt the need to get drunk is because I’ve always seen alcohol as something to be enjoyed, not something to be experienced. I'll always remember Grandpa telling me how to drink wine properly.

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