The kost of fixing Kitty

the cost of fixing kittyOur cat has been bitten by a fox. The wounds on his leg are weeping yellow pus and the skin around the teeth marks are receding like a sneer.

I’m at the vet with my daughter waiting to be told what the cost of fixing Kitty will be.

‘We found two fractures in his pelvis,’ says the vet with an Irish accent like brandy cream.

He points at an x-ray of our unconscious cat manspreading his thin, ghostly back legs.

‘You can see them. Here. And there.’

His fingers circle the fractures on the x-ray.

‘And what is that there?’ asks my daughter.

His kneecap is dislocating!

‘Oh. That. Yeah. That’s a dislocating kneecap.’

The vet begins to recite a long list of injuries to the cat as calmly as the clerk of a court reads out the charge sheet against a multiple murderer. I feel a wave of nausea sweep over me. The cat is uninsured. What will the final cost of fixing Kitty be?

Of course, I knew there’d be a price to pay, nothing comes free these days except the wallpaper at No 10.

But I was only expecting to fork out for a shot of antibiotics, the x-ray and a band-aid or two. £150? £250?

Unfortunately, my cat has enough injuries to script an entire series of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’.

I don’t admire myself for thinking this. But every time the vet moves to open his mouth, I hear a till ringing in reception and my bank account squealing like a pinched pig.

Behind the look of concern which I’ve nailed onto my face for the sake of my daughter, there’s a sour faced accountant in the banking department of my brain throwing his calculator out of the window and shouting: “I told you to get insurance, years ago, you dim-witted, dunderhead.”

‘A dislocating kneecap you say?’ I ask.

‘Two of them,’ replies the vet.

Two dislocating kneecaps.

Is that a cash register I hear?

Another two rings of the till, another two abacus beads sliding in the wrong direction.

I know the government has introduced legislation to recognise animals as sentient beings.

I know I should care about Kitty as much as I do my kids.

But at what point does my responsibility to finance a new pair of bionic kneecaps for the kitty end and my need to finance this summer’s tour of Italy’s vineyards begin?

‘I’m not worried about his kneecaps. I don’t need to operate on them,’ says the vet.

‘Praise be, Doctor,’ I mutter.

My undignified relief doesn’t pass by my daughter unnoticed.

‘I’ll pay, if that’s what’s worrying you,’ she says.

The vet looks at me. Parent shaming. He’s seen it before.

‘Maybe you could make a contribution which we could offset from any future inheritance?’ I say.

Suddenly, the vet peers at the x-ray as if he’s just seen an alien.

‘Oh. I hadn’t noticed that. Can you see that?’ he asks.

My wallet sags like a winded boxer in anticipation of another blow.

‘If you look just here you can see he’s got a fractured sternum, too.’

‘Poor cat,’ says my daughter.

‘Sores on his paws. Nobbled knees. Pelvic fractures and a shoddy sternum.  That’s like a Full House in Poker, right?’ I say.

What will the cost of fixing kitty be?

‘Dad!’ says my daughter. ‘This is serious.’

‘You’re telling me,’ I say. ‘This bill is going to put my retirement back by a decade.’

The vet straightens up and turns from the x-ray.

He’s well over six feet and looks down on me with kind patient eyes.

Like any half decent animal psychologist, he knows that at this moment in time I need a sedative to calm me down much more than the cat does.

‘The good news is that we don’t need to operate. On anything,’ he announces.

‘Brilliant’ says my daughter.

‘Two grand if we did,’ he says, looking me in the eye.

Barolo here I come,’ I say and do a jig while my inner accountant lifts his shirt over his face and runs around like he’s scored the winning goal at the World Cup Final.

‘The pelvis will heal itself?’ asks my daughter.

‘In a month. But you’ll need to keep him in a cage or restricted space, so he can’t jump on tables. And don’t let him go outside. He’s been hit by a car, poor thing.’

Winged by a car, he couldn’t escape the attention of a greedy fox as he limped home.

‘That fox must have thought: ‘That’s a very slow moving double cheese burger. I’ll have a go at that,’ I say.

‘A cheese burger? I don’t get your drift,’ says the vet.

‘The cat. It got hit by the car and couldn’t move fast and this fox saw it and thought metaphorically that cat is like a burger…

‘Ignore him,’ says my daughter as she eyes the floor of the surgery in embarrassment.

‘You’ll be wanting some anti-biotics before you go,’ says the vet in his Irish brogue.

‘No, thanks,’ I say. ‘But a glass of wine would be great if you’ve got one.’





Fathers and sons

I’m staring out of the window of my son’s fourth floor flat on the Exeter university campus. It’s the start of his second term.

Behind me, he is unpacking his suitcases and watering his cacti, which have somehow survived the Christmas season.

Below Exeter is submerged under fog. A few church spires hold their heads up above the damp mist, but the rest of the city is wrapped in a grey shroud.

I’ve turned my back on my son to stare out of the window because I’m desperately unfit. The lift was out of order and lugging myself and a bulging suitcase up four flights has done me in.

My chest is heaving like a lifeboat on a swelling sea and I’m refilling my aching lungs with sips of air like a hummingbird daintily sucks up pollen.

If he doesn’t  ask me to turn around i should be able to recover my breath and preserve my dignity as the Pater Familias.

‘Is that you?’ he asks.

‘Is what me?’

‘That sound like an old donkey with emphysema,’ he says.

‘Probably the pipes in your bathroom,’ I say. ‘The plumbing in student accommodation is notoriously noisy.’

Two rail cards beat as one

My wife suggested we travelled on the train together.

‘It’ll give you the chance to talk to each other,’ she said.

‘About what?’ I said, racking my brains for anything we would want to talk about that required me to spend Saturday travelling to and fro to Exeter on a train.

‘You know. Father and son things,’ she said.


‘No. Important things.’

‘Haven’t you told him about the birds and the bees, yet?’

My wife shakes her head.

‘This could be one of those moments when you could be there for him.’

‘You mean carry his bags up that hill?’

‘No. Show him you want to spend time with him as he takes another step towards independence.’

‘My dad never came to see me at university,’ I say. ‘I would have been appalled if he had even suggested it.’

‘And you always say your father never spent quality time with you. Well, this is a chance not to make the same mistake.’

When I was a student I stayed away from the parental nest as much as was financially possible. I practiced an early form of social distancing and was a non-homing Pidgeon who came back only when the clothes basket began to smell like an overhung partridge. Why would my son feel any differently?

However, it’s not often my wife says she thinks I could be useful in anyway whatsoever so I bury my doubts and book a return ticket to Exeter St. David’s with my son.

At his window (again)

‘Did you spot the shoe?’ asks my son.

He is standing next to me, pulling the window ajar. He’s an inch taller than me. When did that happen?

‘What shoe?’

‘That shoe.’

There’s a yellow running shoe lying upside down in a puddle on the roof opposite.

‘Why is it there?’

‘Dunno. It’s been there since I got here,’ he says.

A seagull lands next to the shoe and takes a peck or two at it before flying away disgusted by the taste of rotting rubber.

‘Probably someone having a laugh,’ I say.

‘Probably,’ he says.

My heartbeat is back to normal.

‘Do you want to do a tour of the campus? Some people do some mad stuff with their bedroom windows? Beer walls, cardboard Popes.’

‘Beer walls?’

‘That’s when you stack empty beer bottles in your window until you block out the sunlight.’

‘Ok. Let’s go,’ I say.

‘But be quiet out in the corridor. The rest of the flat is still asleep.’

He puts his index finger to his lips.

‘You can’t be serious. It’s lunchtime.’

‘This is early. Remember: no talking in the corridor.’

He posts a picture of himself onto his flat’s WhatsApp group so they know he’s returned and then we tip-toe downstairs.

Father and son on campus

We walk around the campus. This is the first time I’ve done this with him and although we don’t talk much it feels I’m part of his world if only for an hour or two. I wonder if I could put my arm around him but realise we’d both be horrified if I did.

We cross ourselves and genuflect as we pass the cardboard Popes and laugh at the windows walled up with empty beer bottles.

‘Even your cacti wouldn’t survive in a room like that.’

‘Can you imagine the smell?’ he says.

On the train home

An hour later I’m on the train to London. A brief hug at the station and he’s turned and is tramping back up the hill to his flat where his flatmates are crowded in the kitchen slurping cereal, as they prepared themselves for hard stint in the few hours of daylight still left.

Somerset slides by. It’s a flat watery place: barren trees, pig pens and winter hedge rows trimmed and sharp as steak knives.

Before Tiverton, the train stops alongside a junk yard where a handful of farmers and their boys are admiring old farm equipment running their hands along the rusted sides of the machinery as if the ageing tractors were pets.

Return of the Boomer

Back at home in London my wife is keen to know if we’ve had an epiphany of inter generational understanding.

‘How did you get on?’ she asks.

‘OK,’ I say. ‘He only called it home twice. Otherwise, it was fine.’


A version of this blog first appeared in the Chiswick Calendar


My dead father visits me

Dad slept like a dead man. Photo: Caitlin McCall

My dead father visits me now and again. He stands at the side of my bed and whispers: ‘I forgive you.’

That’s all.

‘I forgive you.’

Then he vanishes before I can ask him what the Hell he thinks he’s forgiving me for?

Things should be the other way round. He should be asking me for my forgiveness.

This morning is one of those moments when he’s decided to cross over the spectral plane to pay me a visit.

‘The cheek of it,’ I say to my wife. ‘Didn’t even have the money courage to hang around long enough to listen to my side of the story.’

‘He was never one for a long intimate chat,’ she says.

‘Just buggered off. Like the ghost in Hamlet. Just when I was about to tell him what I thought.’

‘How long did you go on drinking after I went to bed?’

‘For once could we just entertain the idea that something magical has happened to me rather than immediately question my sobriety?’

‘Ok. So, your father came back from beyond the grave. I believe you,’ she says.

‘It’s not impossible,’ I say.


A cold upbringing

An emotionless Mother, Eton, the army, and Jonny Walker Red Label turned my father whiskey sour by the time he reached his second marriage.

When my brother and I arrived in his late middle age his joie de vie was the local pub, not us.

On Saturday’s, in Richmond Park, my brother and I would plead with him to play hide and seek or play football with us, like other fathers seemed to do with their kids.

But he didn’t see games as part of his parental package.

‘I’m terribly tired, boys,’ he would say as he stretched himself out on the grass, legs together and arms crossed over his chest.

‘Why don’t you run around for a bit.’

‘What are you going to do, Daddy?’

‘Imagine that I’m dead.’


Sleeping like a corpse

‘How funny,’ says my wife. ‘He slept like that, too.’

‘Like what?’

‘Like he was laid out in a coffin. I’d walk past your parents’ bedroom and he’d be lying there still as death. Then he’d suddenly start talking to you but without moving or opening his eyes.’

‘Like a corpse in a horror movie?’

‘Exactly,’ she says.


Dad had a gallows sense of humour. As kids, he told us he slept on his back and with his arms folded across his chest because it would be easier for the undertaker to roll him off the bed into his coffin if he died in the night.

On other occasions, he’d tell us we should save on his funeral expenses by wrapping him in a bin liner and dumping him in a motorway lay-by.

‘One of the sturdy garden bin liners. And do it after dark or you’ll be charged with fly tipping.’

Gallows humour

It was hard to tell if he was serious. He was dry as a hardtack biscuit and his mouth was thin as a pencil line.

‘Perhaps that’s what he wants to forgive me for,’ I say.

‘I don’t get it?’ says my wife.

‘For not burying him on the motorway in a bin bag.’


President of the cynic’s club

During the week, Dad was the President of the Cynics & Sceptics Club.

No motive was too low for him not to believe someone somewhere was capable of embracing it.

His conversation turned into a caustic soda fountain if the ‘blood sucking’ Royal Family were mentioned.

When the BBC banned ‘God Save the Queen’ by the Sex Pistols he bought me the record so I could play the song at full volume to annoy my mother, who half admired the Royal Family.

She thought it was right to ban the song out of respect to the Queen and her Silver Jubilee.

‘She can’t help it boys,’ Dad would say. ‘It’s in her blood. Centuries of being told to tug your forelock takes its toll. It’s a form of Stockholm Syndrome.’


At weekends, cut loose from the drudgery of his work and the daily commute both of which ground him down, he would cheer up for a few hours.

We would laugh at his jokes and feel happy that he wasn’t drinking.

He would play us the ‘Goon Show’, worshipped Spike Milligan and sat with us listening to ‘Derek & Clive Live’, the drunken, foul-mouthed ramblings of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

‘I’ve had worse jobs than shoving lobsters up Joan Crawford’s arsehole,’ he told us referring to the most infamous sketch on the record.

But he never told us what that job was.


My son is home

My son is back from University where he is studying Italian and French.

My wife, who’s studying Italian too, thinks he speaks the language beautifully.

‘How do you know?’ I ask.

‘He’s been reading to me,’ she says.

‘Umberto Eco?’

‘The Panettone box,’ she says.

‘Wow. One term and he can read the a cake box?’

‘I’m just saying he has got a beautiful accent.’

When my daughter was one years old, my mother said she had ‘good hair’. Good? Morally? The comment symbolised the blind admiration grand parents have for their offspring. However, my father would never have said such a thing. He didn’t believe in compliments.

I pick up the panettone box and study it for a while and decided I should be more supportive father than my father.

‘There’s more text on here than I thought. The lad must be doing really well to read all this. Shall I go to the Italian deli and get him some more packets to practice on.’

Xmas with the mother-in-law

After three days at my mother-in-law’s house, my son tells me that when our cat dies, he and his sister are going to get tattoos of it.

‘Where?’ I ask.

‘On my arm,’ he replies.

‘When I die will you get a tattoo of me, too?’

‘Are you nuts,’ he says. ‘If I did that everytime I changed my shirt you’d be there staring at me.’

‘When you die we’re going to put you in a black bin liner and dump you in a motorway lay-by,’ says my daughter.

‘That sounds familiar,’ I say.

‘Yes,’ she says. ‘Grandpa told us it was a family tradition that all the men should be buried that way.’

‘Nice,’ says my son. ‘What’s your favourite motorway, dad?’


A version of this blog first appeared in the Chiswick Calendar.