Marvels of Middle Age

Recently I found myself walking through town on my way back from a gardening job, just marching along swinging my arms and enjoying the fine autumn weather. This may sound like no big deal and certainly nothing worth blogging about – but on a personal level it’s miraculous, because this simple pleasure was often beyond me.

In recent years it was physically impossible: I’d become so crippled by osteoarthritis that eighteen months ago I’d have been crawling along with my stick, being overtaken by spry seventy-somethings; whereas now, thanks to my marvellous new titanium hip, I’m back to my habitual route-march pace and relish every single pain-free step.

But that wasn’t what made me grin wryly as I strode along; no, I’d just remembered that as a painfully self-conscious older child, teenager and young adult, marching so freely was equally out of the question. It was mainly a matter of hands – what to do with them, I mean. I was fine if I had a dog to walk, or something to carry, or the strap of a satchel or bag over my shoulder to hang onto. Failing that, stuffing them in my pockets usually sufficed – unless I was wearing my motorcycle jacket, that is. Its pockets were so high that my elbows would stick out as if I were playing, ‘I’m a Little Teapot,’ and so tight that I could only get my fingers inside them anyway – it looked too ludicrous. So it was sheer torture to walk round to my biker boyfriend’s house in it… I had to at least carry my crash helmet or find something else to tote with me, because without some manual purpose I felt like a shambling leather-clad ape. And even when I’d achieved my walking ideal, (one hand stuck deep in a pocket and the other occupied with carrying), I loathed entering glass-fronted buildings – being hyper-conscious of my gait, I found the sight of my approaching reflection quite excruciating.

So I felt rather sorry for my younger self as I savoured one of the great compensations of middle age: no longer giving a stuff about lots of stuff, like trying to look ‘cool,’ or what I think other people might be thinking of me. Yes, there I was striding through town, not only careless of my mud-spattered work-trousers and shabby old trainers, but blatantly sporting a fluorescent yellow high-vis coat AND gaily swinging my empty hands – I might as well have been waving a placard and shouting, ‘Look at me!’ Oh, what a delicious little triumph – that ghastly self-consciousness of youth has disappeared, and it’s bloody marvellous.

Henry Wowler has a Hissy-fit

Once upon a time, a long, long time (well, 18 months) ago, The Cigarette was the siren-song that lured Hubcap back to the house from wherever he happened to be. Yes, whatever time I chose to come down from the office for a fag-break, the minute I began rolling it he was guaranteed to turn up: on early/late lunch, to get changed/clean his teeth before a doctor/ dentist appointment, to pick up/drop off gear and have an unscheduled cuppa or loo-break while he was at it, or because he’d finished the day’s jobs/was rained off/had randomly decided to knock off early or take a half-holiday – thus obliging me to either wait for the fag until he cleared off again, or have it outdoors, or sit uncomfortably at the end of the kitchen, blowing smoke out of the window. I kid you not – it was like some weird psychic whistle calling him home.

But now I’ve given up (by and large), the lure has changed to Henry Wowler’s tea-time. No matter at what point in the cat-son’s permitted feeding window (any time after 3.30 pm; or 3 pm, at a push; or even 2.30, if his demands become too unbearably annoying) he wakes and decides that he’s hungry, the minute I dish his food out Hubcap’s van is sure to roll up – whereupon the trauma starts.

Mr Wowler dines in the kitchen, you see, not far from the back door – and like any cat, he dislikes being disturbed while he’s eating. Unfortunately, Henry finds Daddy-cat extremely disturbing – sometimes by his mere existence and proximity, especially when he’s dressed in his boiler-suit and big clumpy work-boots, which are clearly very dangerous for cats. Then there’s the noise factor as heavy feet tramp up and down the garden path unloading gear from the van to the shed, passing a bare metre away from Henry’s bowl; and the ultimate horror of the back door opening and shutting, often repeatedly depending on what needs bringing into the house – firewood, coal, shopping, armloads of soggy clothing etc – before Hubcap is finally finished and can divest himself of the scary work-wear and sit down for his own meal.

If Henry’s really hungry, he might dare to snatch a few mouthfuls while this is going on, tensed to spring away at any moment should the door open; but sometimes it’s simply too much for a cat to cope with. Like yesterday, for instance, when I was making dinner and (surprise surprise) the arrival of a soft pressure against my calf and a long orange tail curling round my leg coincided almost to the second with the sound of an engine drawing near. I dished Henry’s food out as he dashed into the living room, then followed to give him a reassuring stroke and encourage him to eat before Hubcap came in. He duly jumped down from the armchair only to halt dithering in the doorway, caught between the sounds of trundling lawnmower wheels and clumping boots ahead, and Mummy-cat’s urging from behind.

I should’ve known better. Henry Wowler does not like being told what to do; and when he’s in a Mood he does not like people dogging his paw-steps and invading his personal space. And of course, now he was in a Mood, baulked of the pleasure of stuffing his face in peace by his horrible, inconsiderate cat-parents. ‘Ssssssssss!’ he said to me crossly, ‘Wrow-row-row-row-row,’ then turned tail and fled upstairs.

None of my previous cats have ever hissed the way Henry does. But being a cat of decided character and voluble expression, the Sound of Extreme Wrath and Displeasure is quite a common part of his vocabulary; and he usually gets away with it with me, although Daddy-cat objects and has been known to swat his little ginger bum for using bad language. And I let it go this time because I felt quite sorry for the little chap – not to mention impressed by the admirable clarity with which he made his feelings known.

(For any reader concerned by Mr Wowler’s hungry plight, the story does end well – within half an hour he’d managed to fill his belly and curl up on Mummy-cat’s lap, and we all lived happily ever after – or at least until I had to get up and go for a pee…)

Superstore Superhell

I’m a supermarket fascist (hereafter ‘SF’). There, I’ve said it. The purgatory of the weekly shop has the power to transform me in seconds from my usual, easy-going, good-humoured (hah!) self into an intolerant, clench-jawed, white-knuckled Sweary Mary, chanting my mantra, ‘Ihatethisbloodyplace Ihatethisbloodyplace’ under my breath as I battle through the bovine hordes (sorry, I mean my fellow-shoppers). So I thought I’d share with you my Top Tips for making the supermarket experience as hellish as possible for SFs like me:

1. Get the stance right. Gob hanging open, slouched with elbows on the trolley handle and moving at Dead March pace (preferably two abreast with a mate to prevent overtaking). Simple, but with amazing power to infuriate – you can practically hear the SFs thinking, ‘For God’s sake stand up straight and get a bloody move on.’

2. Don’t look where you’re going. Cultivating the spatial awareness of a chemical toilet is as satisfying as driving a car blindfold. Suddenly change direction, make random emergency stops, broadside your trolley across the aisle and enjoy the clash and muted swearing as SFs cannon into each other behind you. Or ram them – never underestimate the bruising and gouging power of the average supermarket trolley – extra points if you succeed in drawing blood (easier in summer when the SFs are out in shorts and sandals).

3. Take baby. Never leave your partner at home babysitting and do the shopping alone. The ear-splitting, ultrasonic squeals of over-excited infants, the deafening tantrums of toddlers denied their blue fizzy pop, sugar-coated choc-dipped novelty cereal or other E-number-enriched tooth-decayers liven the place up no end.

4. Better still, take the whole family. A herd of hyperactive 8-year-olds constantly demanding, ‘CanIhave canIhave’, a couple of slack-jawed teens plugged into IPods and Blackberries, Gran on her mobility scooter, a lost-looking Grand-dad to stand in the way… fun for all, and guaranteed to send the SFs blood-pressure soaring. (For best results, stoke the youngsters up well on PopTarts and blue fizzy pop before you come out).

5. Congregate. Supermarkets are the perfect place to meet your chums and catch up on the latest gossip. Pick a busy aisle (bread and fruit/veg are reliable choices), or better still, the doorway, and settle down for a nice long natter. Remember to broadside those trolleys!

6. Buy clothes. Kit out your entire family for a fortnight’s holiday and pay for it all at the grocery checkouts, never the clothing department. Watch smugly as the assistant carefully de-hangers, folds and bags every item while the tutting, eye-rolling queue of SFs builds behind you.

7. Hang on to your cash. Never, but NEVER get your purse/wallet ready while the previous shopper goes through the till. Wait until all your goods are bagged than pat yourself down, search every compartment of your handbag then ‘realise’ you left it in one of the carriers… but you can’t remember which. Fumble through every bag of shopping, smiling apologetically at the long line of red-faced SFs just itching to bitch-slap you.

8. Prolong the agony. Have a nice chat with the checkout assistant while you dither about loading and re-arranging bags in your trolley, then move off VERY SLOWLY.

Following these few simple rules will greatly enhance your shopping experience, especially if you drive an an SF to tears, heart attack or fit of apoplexy. Guidance for supermarket employees will follow in a future blog.