Friday, 17 May 2019

I'd like to thank... (Part One)

I've lived in Cairo for almost four years. It seems incredible to me that this much time has passed. Sometimes, when I'm going about my daily life, I stop and think "how the f**k did that happen?" Well, the truth is that without certain things, I would probably have been gone within the first six months. I found moving to Egypt unbelievably traumatic, and I think it's taken me most of the last four years to get used to it. So, in no particular order (or rather the order they pop into my mind), I would like to thank:

View from the Rooftop Bar, our favourite watering hole
Pussy Whisperer (PW) and his wife, Chilly Girl (CG). If you're (not unnaturally) wondering where these names came from, this blog post has the answer. I met PW when I joined the writing group, Cairo Write Stuff. In fact, he persuaded me to come, when the whole enterprise of leaving the apartment by myself and finding my way there seemed completely daunting. Out of that meeting I have gained benefits beyond price. As well as PW I met other people who have become good friends, in fact most of my social life revolves around these people. I have discovered that I can write stuff that other people want to read. I have had articles published. I have been TRENDING on Egyptian Streets with my article about Uber and white taxis. On top of all that, I have, as Sundae Bean would say, hit the friendship jackpot with PW and CG.  

Talking of Uber, they get a bad press, but they saved my life in Cairo. I mean this seriously. I'm too scared to drive here, the taxis can be scary (see above article) and I live about 10 minutes walk from the main road where I could get a taxi. This might not seem a lot, but when it's over 40 degrees and you're prone to heat exhaustion, it's a long way. I have gone all over Cairo in Ubers, and whilst they have their issues, I am enormously grateful that they gave me my independence. That's not to say I don't have to yell "f*****g" slow down!!!!" on a weekly basis.

WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook and Messenger, but especially WhatsApp. I was crippled with homesickness when I first moved here. In fact, I still am from time to time. Homesick for my friends and family, homesick for Britain, homesick, believe it or not, for rain and cold. Until I moved to Egypt, my answer to the question "would you rather be too hot or too cold?" was, too hot. I have been living a lie! The answer is, undoubtedly, too cold. I have spent a good proportion of the last four years too hot. I truly hate it. Anyway, I digress. The point is that I missed everything. Thanks to my smart phone, messaging apps and Facebook, Britain was only a text away. My parents sent me photographs of the local area and my dog (who, I might add, was living a life of riley as far as I can see). I spent hours WhatsApping my friends. I could call people on Viber. I could feel part of people's lives on Facebook. As well as keeping in touch with people in the UK, Facebook has also been a key part of developing my life in Egypt. It's how we keep in touch, share events and arrange to meet up. It's also how I found various activities, such as Art Therapy. I've also joined a number of groups for expats which have been helpful. To be fair, I've probably left just as many (Women Married to Egyptian Men was a particular low). In all the criticism of Facebook (justified for the most part, I agree), I think some of its benefits have been forgotten. 

There are so many people and things I have to thank, that I'm going to have to split this blog into two, not least because I'm going out with the above mentioned PW later. One has to have priorities! So I'll finish this part by thanking Expat Nest who are an e-counselling service for expats. One counsellor in particular, who knows who she is. Let me tell you, intercultural relationships are HARD. Without her support, I wouldn't still be in Egypt and I definitely wouldn't be married. It's been a real slog at times, made harder by the difficulties I faced with homesickness, culture shock and heat exhaustion. I have told my counsellor things that no-one else knows, and it's been such a comfort to know that I have the space where I can do that. I realise I'm waxing lyrical a bit, but it's made such a massive difference to my life. 

I'll go off and live that life now. Look out for Part Two.


Monday, 19 November 2018

And for this gift I feel blessed

I'm into my fourth year in Cairo. Like most Cairo residents, including Egyptians, I have a love/hate relationship with the city. It is completely chaotic. The traffic is legendary, for good reason. It is, unquestionably, the worst traffic I have ever experienced in my life. On a good day it's awful; on a bad day it would make you lose the will to live if you weren't constantly worried that you were about to literally lose the actual ability to live. I'm too scared to drive in Cairo because frankly, sometimes it's terrifying being a passenger in the back, never mind the front. I've been in three accidents where other cars have driven into the car I was in. Before I moved to Egypt I'd had two such accidents in my whole life. Some Egyptians drive like maniacs and there's very little to stop them.

Cairo has a severe litter problem. There are piles of it everywhere. Cairo is a truly incredible city, but you can't see it for piles of rubbish. I first visited 20 years ago, it wasn't like this. I don't really know what happened. The absolute worst is the road in Giza that goes out to the Pyramids; on a journey to the last remaining wonder of the world, there are Pyramid sized piles of rubbish, with sheep, goats, street dogs and cats feeding on it. It doesn't give me much confidence in the quality of the meat, to be honest.
The litter problem

There's the smog. I can see it lying over the city when I come down the hill in the morning from Mokattam on my way to work. Seventh worst in the world apparently, although it depends which data source you use. Sometimes the smog is augmented by sand storms; sometimes by the dust from the fields burning. And I'm breathing this stuff in!

Egyptians are noisy. They know this about themselves and admit to it freely. They even complain about themselves being noisy. My husband's default volume level is several notches above mine, and when he's annoyed (which is most of the time) or arguing with someone (the rest of the time) he can be heard three streets away. Well he would be able to if everyone else wasn't conducting their business at the same volume. When I ask him who he was shouting at, he says indignantly "I wasn't shouting!" Believe me, my love, you were. Then there's the car horns, the street dogs barking, the gas cannister guys banging their cannisters to attract your attention in case you want one (or if you don't). We also have what were called rag and bone men in Britain, who pay for things you want to get rid of. They drive through the streets on a surprisingly frequent basis yelling "bekyaaaaaaaa!!!", again to make sure you know they're there whether you need them or not.

Being an obvious foreigner, I attract attention. Shop owners, delivery drivers, small boys, passing pedestrians have all, at one time or another, shouted "welcome in Egypt!" Every single time I want to say "I think you mean welcome TO Egypt!". I did once and he looked at me completely blankly. Talking of being foreign, there is the tendency of some Egyptians to try to fleece you because you're foreign. That's annoying.

Sometimes it feels like you're taking your life in your hands merely by stepping out of your front door. Most pavements are in a right state, so it's run the risk of breaking your ankle, or walking in the road and be knocked over by a moped or a tuk tuk or an angry taxi driver. Most taxi drivers seem to be angry. I think it's Uber. And as for crossing the road! I admit there is a knack to it, but even then I often still wait until Egyptians are crossing and scuttle across with them. When accidents do happen, it's a trauma finding healthcare because the healthcare system is still a mystery to me. Finding a good doctor is more difficult than it should be and more by luck than design. I have travelled all over Cairo to see various different doctors.

And yet. There's something about Cairo that grabs you when you're not looking and says you WILL love me, even if I give you a million reasons to hate me. The street dog who comes to say hello, just because it wants to. Driving from the office to Sheikh Zayed and seeing the Pyramids, and thinking bloody hell, I live in the city where the pyramids are! Driving along the corniche at night and seeing the lights from all the boats reflect on the Nile. A sunset felucca ride. A friend of mine said recently that one of the best things about Cairo is that you can do really cool stuff for not much money, and she was right.
View from a felucca

It's a city of contrasts and contradictions, a genuine 24 hour city. Full of tiny art galleries and traditional coffee shops. The best koshary in the city is served in a restaurant I wouldn't set foot in back in Britain. You can get anything delivered any time of the day or night, which believe me is not necessarily a good thing. Especially when there are shops that only serve dessert. There are so many places that most tourists never go and yet tell you more about Egyptian culture and history than any trip to the Pyramids - the Street of the Tentmakers. The Umm Kulthoum museum. The Nileometer. And so many more. It would take more than the time I've got left to see them all.

And then there are Egyptians. I have met so many extraordinary people in this city. My friend the tour guide who is one of the most intelligent and knowledgeable people I have ever met. The vet who spends all his spare time and money neutering street animals. The woman who helps him by running an NGO, organising trap/neuter/release programmes, and in her spare time raises money at garage sales. Another vet who has 16 cats, all rescued. The people who run shelters against all odds. An ex colleague who persuaded the British Council to hold an orphans' Iftar during Ramadan. There are so many more people I feel truly privileged to have met, and now count as friends. Egyptians are mostly warm, friendly and funny. They love their food and they love a party. Of course there are also Egyptians who are cruel, dishonest and unpleasant. This isn't Shangri La, but in truth, where is?

Last weekend I went with my closest friends to see a Nirvana tribute band. There are also tribute bands for Pink Floyd (seen them twice), Radiohead and The Doors. There are probably others. We sat in a tiny art centre and café and watched a 16 year old Egyptian Kurt Cobain. And mostly they were pretty good, although the whole experience was surreal.

Kurt Cobain
Then we went to a trendy bar on the 19th floor of a bank building and drank cocktails with a spectacular view down the Nile.
View from the 19th floor bar

I live in a city that is crazy, chaotic, terrifying (mostly while trying to cross the road), noisy, dusty and polluted. It's also the most alive and vibrant city I have ever been to, never mind lived in. It's full of surprises. I will never be bored living here. Dear Cairo, my city, my home. You have taught me more about life, love and myself than I ever could have envisaged. And for this gift I feel blessed.
New Cairo

Sunday, 8 July 2018

New chapters

Hello, dear blog readers. It's already halfway through the year and I haven't posted a single blog with any news, other than the fact that it's hot in Cairo. Which, to be honest, is hardly news. So I think it's time to catch you all up with what's going on over here in the furnace.

Well, the big news is that after two and a half years at the British Council, I am moving to another job in two weeks. I have loved working at the BC, especially the people, who are one of the best teams I have ever worked with. But sometimes an opportunity comes up that is impossible to turn down. If I believe anything in life, it's in the power of education to transform individuals and societies. I'm sorry to say that in the past, there hasn't been enough investment in the Egyptian education system, which is part of the reason there are so many international schools. The Egyptian government, however, are addressing this and applied for a loan from the World Bank. It was approved. $500m dollars!!! What does all this have to do with me? Well, I am starting a new job with Imagine Education, who developed Teachers First, which is "an innovative programme that transforms the lives of students by changing the professional behaviour of teachers". It's part of what the World Bank loan will be used for. I will be Operations Director, Egypt. I can't begin to convey how excited I am about the opportunity to be involved in this project. I will be really sad to leave the BC, but this is so in line with my values and beliefs that I have to take the leap.

Collage (happy childhood memory)
Apart from that, it's been mostly work. The May/June exam session was...rather challenging to say the least. Still, it was my last exam session. Thankfully. Outside work I'm starting my Arabic lessons again, hopefully I'll keep it up this time. I'm still going to my writers' group and I've also started an art therapy class which is meant to be really good for stress. I must say I really enjoyed it, and I do a good line in giant mutant flowers, as you'll see from the oil pastel picture. I've also got involved in an NGO called EVAC, who run a Trap, Neuter, Release programme for local free running animals (street dogs and cats in other words). I believe strongly that this is one of the few things that is genuinely making a sustainable difference to the welfare of the street animals in Cairo. You'll likely hear more about this as I get further involved.

Oil pastels
We have a friend living with us at the moment. One of the many strings to her bow is that she's a coach. She said we should have a session to discuss all our projects and activities, to try and get some momentum. My problem is that I have so many ideas that I don't know what to focus on, involving travel, animals, volunteering work, being greener, being healthier... so our Creative Think Tank was perfect. Aside from my new job, obviously, I've picked a couple of things. We'll see how it goes. Too many interests, too little time. On top of all that we've got five cats in the house.

So that's about it for the time being. I'll check in again after I start my new job and let you all know how it's going.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Is it that time already?

I wrote this article about time a while ago, but never put it on my blog because I hoped it would be published somewhere else. It never was, so here it is. We still don't have WiFi. 

We were arguing about time. “You’re three hours late!” I yelled. “You said you’d be home at six, I was worried!” My Egyptian husband looked at me blankly. “What do you mean I’m late? I’ve arrived, so how can I be late?” I must admit this ended the argument, because I couldn’t help laughing at the ridiculousness of this remark. The problem is that it was only ridiculous to me. To my husband, it made perfect sense. Our life together over the last two years has been littered with many similar exchanges.

I expected to encounter many cultural differences when I moved from the UK to Cairo to be with my husband, but I was totally unprepared for the completely different way we think about time. I have had a lot of difficulty adjusting to the cultural differences, so to help with this I have a counselor who specializes in expats. I was moaning to her during one of my sessions about the time thing, and feeling that my husband didn’t care enough about me to get home when he said he would. She pointed out that it was nothing to do with caring or respect, just a different way of thinking about time. What? You mean there’s more than one way of thinking about time? Well yes, it turns out there is, and they’re called monochronic and polychronic cultures.

No idea what I’m talking about? Well, let me explain. Northern Europe, the United States and Canada are monochronic cultures. The Arab countries of the Middle East, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa are polychronic cultures. A monochronic culture sees time as linear and divided into fixed elements; lateness and interruptions are frowned upon. In polychronic cultures, time is seen as flexible and nobody worries too much about lateness and interruptions.

Some cultures are more monochronic than others, and of course the same applies to polychronic cultures. Switzerland, the land of super accurate, high-quality timepieces, is at one end of the monochronic scale, whereas the UK – not so much. One only has to look at the definition of a train being late. In Switzerland, if a train arrives one second after its scheduled arrival time, it’s late. In Britain, a train has to be more than 10 minutes late before it appears in any statistics about the number of trains that were late that month. Unfortunately for me, Britain might be less monochronic than Switzerland, but Egypt is about as polychronic as you can get. But what does all this mean? I’m pretty sure you already know if, like me, you’re from a monochronic culture and you're living in a polychronic culture.

I’ve lived in Egypt for two years. We still don’t have WiFi. This is because our apartment is a new build, and there are “not enough lines in the box” for us to have a landline, so Egypt Telecom has to make a new box. When my sister, brother and I were children, we frequently went with our parents to one or other of our grandparents’ houses. It always seemed like we were driving for an unbelievably boring eternity, with the three of us on the back seat and the dog on the parcel shelf.

Inevitably, we were constantly asking “…are we nearly there yet? Are we nearly there yet? Are we nearly theeeeeeeeeere yeeeeeeeeeeeet?”, getting increasingly whiny as the journey progressed. I have no idea how my parents coped. This WiFi situation is causing me to regress back to that time. I keep asking my husband, “When will we get WiFi? When will we get WiFi? When will we get WiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiFiiiiiiiiiiiiiii………?” And the truth is, he has no idea. But instead of this situation driving him mad, as it does me, he just accepts it because “…that’s how things work here.” I have absolutely no idea what “making a new box” entails, but I suspect that if this was British Telecom, it wouldn’t take two years (and counting), and I would know exactly what date and time (give or take a few hours) it would be fixed.

So, back to my husband. I love him dearly, and frankly, given that he’s from a seriously polychronic culture, it’s just as well. We’ve had so many arguments about what time he’ll be home that I’ve given up asking, because whatever time he says, it definitely won’t be then. To begin with, I actually took him at his word because he was so convincing, but of course, this is because he genuinely believes that he will be home at that time. Sometimes he surprises me by coming home earlier than he said he would, but this is massively outweighed by the times he has come home hours later, or on a few occasions, not at all. The funny thing about this is that I’m not in the least concerned about what he might have been up to because I know, broadly speaking, what he’s been up to – talking, smoking and drinking tea. And maybe conducting a little bit of business. Things happen during his working day and he has to call this person, go to meet that person, and drop into that place before he comes home.

By complete coincidence, I was invited to a talk by Rana Nejem, a Jordanian who has written a book called When in the Arab World, which is about how to deal with Arab cultures for non-Arabs. The talk was fascinating, and I thought, here is my opportunity to get to the bottom of this mysterious time issue, because it has become clear to me that it’s more than punctuality or lateness or interrupting people. She answered that polychronic cultures care more about relationships than they do about time. I’m paraphrasing here I admit, but I have to confess that this answer took me aback somewhat, as it probably would anybody from a monochronic culture. In fact, the monochronic friend who came with me commented that she had bristled at that point.

I have two issues with this. Firstly,
the implication that monochronic cultures care more about time than relationships. For me and most of my monochronic friends, this is absolutely not true. Secondly, I would hope that my husband’s relationship with me is pretty high up on his list of important relationships – second only to his children in fact. So how come I’m the one who loses out most when the day gets extended and extended and extended by more tea, cigarettes and talking, and our time together is constantly interrupted by phone calls because he can't not answer the phone? He asked me recently if I wanted to go out for dinner. I said no, and he was offended. "Why not?" He asked. "Will you put your phones on silent and only talk to me?" "You know I can't do that". “Well, in that case, I'd rather stay at home and get a takeaway. At least I can watch a film or read my book while you spend the entire time on the phone, instead of me sitting there like a lemon eating my dinner whilst listening to one side of a conversation in a language I mostly don't understand.” We got a takeaway.

I’m pretty certain that the answer is much more complex than time versus relationships, and yet whenever I read about this subject I come across this concept that polychronic cultures care more about relationships than monochronic cultures. This simplistic explanation of a complicated cultural difference does a disservice to all cultures, and results in judgmental behavior from both cultures. I have heard many expats from monochronic cultures criticize Egyptians for their timekeeping; if living with my husband has taught me anything, it is that neither is better than the other. It’s a different way of thinking, and taking a bit of time to understand that goes a long way to avoiding insanity.

In the meantime, my husband asked me to wake him up at 8.00pm. I’ll do that on the dot of 8.00pm (or maybe 8.07 because I’m British and not Swiss), then he’ll go back to sleep for another couple of hours because the person he wanted to speak to at 8.00pm won’t mind if he’s a couple of hours late, because he's Egyptian too.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Hot in the city

It rained in Cairo a couple of weeks ago; real, proper rain that lasted for hours and caused complete chaos across the city. This happens so rarely that Egyptians don’t cope with it at all. It’s a bit like heavy snow in the UK – comparisons are made with Switzerland and there are press articles about it all being the government's fault. Usually in the Daily Express. It just goes to show, you can move 4000 miles away and get more or less the same crap in the press. 

It got me thinking about the weather though, and my own personal reactions to it here in Egypt, compared with when I lived in Britain. For twenty-eight years I lived in Manchester, the rain capital of Britain. It was no coincidence that the bulk of the cotton industry in Britain set itself up in the North West of England; cotton production needs damp, and there’s plenty of it here. I never left my house without my umbrella. I never once felt the need to go outside and run about in the rain. But living in this city of heat and dust, that’s exactly what I did when it started lashing down. I went to the roof of the hotel and ran round in a big loop until I was completely drenched. I held my face up to feel the raindrops, and let it run down my back. I jumped in the puddles and almost ruined my shoes. The hotel staff and guests thought this was hilarious but I didn’t care. 

Just before the rain storm we had a heatwave which caused my spirits to plummet. I find the summer here almost unbearable. I was doing some research and discovered that if you have had a previous incident of heat stroke, this makes you more susceptible to it. Those of you who have known me along time will remember that I did a sponsored cycle in Jordan many years ago and got the worst sun stroke and heat stroke ever. This probably explains why I’m so prone to it now. On top of that, I’ve had skin cancer three times, so spending any time in the sun is a complete no-no.

Yes, before you say it, living in one of the hottest, sunniest countries in the world is possibly not the most sensible choice. But my husband is Egyptian and can’t leave his children so here I am.

People ask me frequently how I cope with the heat. Well, I don’t. Yesterday was 39 degrees and I didn’t go outside. There was also minor sand storm which makes my eyes water and covers everything with dust. So I stayed indoors with the air conditioning. Saying that, this year has been much better than last, so far. I can’t describe how lovely Cairo is in the Spring, especially after rain. The sky is bluer, the air is clearer and everything looks fresh. Later in the year though the temperature will go up to over 40 and the minute I step outside I’ll be drenched in sweat, I’ll feel my scalp prickling and lightheadedness will come over me. That’s when I rush from the house to the air conditioned car and from the car to the office. It takes five minutes in the heat for heat exhaustion to set in, and less than that in the sun to get burnt. 

So how do I cope? I take rehydration sachets daily. Anyone who tells you just to drink more water – it’s not enough. If, like me, you sweat gallons (I know, gross! Sorry) then you have to replace salts as well. I slather myself in factor 50 at all times. I stay indoors in the air conditioning. I get fed up with the number of people who tell me to get used to it and if I stay out longer each time I’ll acclimatise. I’ve been here three years and am not even remotely close to acclimatising, and I’m sick of unsolicited advice from people who don’t live in my body. If I don’t take these precautions I don’t just feel hot, I feel ill. I’m dizzy, lightheaded, headachy, nauseous and exhausted. It drains the life out of me and I feel like a wrung out dish tag for days. I can barely get out of bed. Looking at the funny side I’ve had some ridiculous advice, including not taking rehydration sachets because they’re “not natural” (?); staying in the sun “until I’m a bit pink because that means I’ve got enough vitamin D”; leaving all the windows open to keep cool (because the heat doesn’t come in the windows apparently); and many others.

What I have got better at is recognising the signs earlier. Taking rehydration salts sooner and just keeping out of the heat. I’m also lucky at work that my colleagues put up with the glacial temperatures I keep in the office. They can put more clothes on but there’s a limit to how much I can take off! 

This seems like a long moan for which I apologise, it’s a symptom of my dread of the approaching summer, the lack of understanding (and sometimes belief) in how bad it actually is for me, and months getting no fresh air. 

So here’s a message for dear, rainy Manchester. I didn’t appreciate you when I lived there, the rain, the cold, the clouds. I miss the lush grass and the trees and the flowers. I miss how green everything is. But most of all I miss being able to go outside for more than 5 minutes without getting heatstroke.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

The Cat Angels of Cairo

My name is Mishmish. I’m a cat. I thought I’d get that out of the way early on. This isn’t one of those stories where you find out at the end that the whole thing was from the cute dog’s point of view. Not that I’m not cute! I can assure you that I’m totally cute. The ladies love me so much I actually caught an STI, even though the vet had already chopped my balls off at that point (bastard). I’m also pretty sure that my blind eye gives me a winsome pirate look. 

But I’m not here to talk about me, although I am in this story. When I was a baby, I ended up on 26th July Street with no mother and a hideous eye infection. I can’t remember how this happened. Some have suggested that maybe she abandoned me because I was the runt of the litter. I have pointed out many times, with a gentle paw, that it’s highly unlikely that I was ever the runt of the litter. I mean, seriously, look at me. I’m a bruiser.

So, anyway. There I was on 26th July Street and this woman picked me up and took me home. I think she was a bus driver because she said she worked for the bussy. It turned out that she hadn't got a clue what to do with me. Luckily a man and another woman turned up and she asked them if they knew what to do with a sick kitten. The woman pointed to the man and said that he was a pussy whisperer. I've no idea what this means but he knew how to look after me. Then Bussy Woman persuaded Pussy Whisperer to look after me while she was at work. 
Me in the hospital

Those days are a bit hazy, but I do remember being smacked round the head by some ginger bird called Scully when all I was trying to do was eat my dinner. There was also another crazy ginger chick, Ripley I think her name was, and this grumpy ginger geezer. This family must have a thing for gingers. No imagination, obviously. The grumpy one had some fancy Greek name that I can’t remember and obviously neither could they, because they called him Tolly. Another human lived there too. I liked her. She must have come from a cold place because she said it was chilly. It was ok there; the food was good (apart from the risk of head injuries) and I even got taken on a trip by the humans. We went to a barbecue at some bloke’s house. I was a bit pissed off though because they made me stay in a bedroom and I wasn’t allowed any barbecue. People kept coming in and saying how cute I was. Well, duh.

Crazy chicks Ripley and Scully
I found out later from my Uncle Chico (more on him later) that Pussy Whisperer and Chilly Girl do this quite a lot. Ripley, Scully and Tolly had all been adopted by them. In fact, apparently Ripley and Scully were really tiny because their mother had disappeared just like mine. Pussy Whisperer had to be their mother and wipe their arses with a wet wipe to get them to wee. I’m sure I was far too developed to need that. God I hope so, anyway. The indignity doesn't bear thinking about. 

When I didn’t need constant feeding any more I stayed with Bussy Woman. Then, one day, another woman came and took me to another house. There was a cat there who turned out to be my Uncle Chico. He told me that Bussy Woman was going away, and this new woman had rescued me from a horrible fate. He wouldn’t say any more, except that Pussy Whisperer had persuaded the new woman to take me. Why she would need persuading is a mystery though, given my pirate charms and my penchant for clinging to her leg and biting it affectionately. Still, I wasn’t sure about this place to begin with; the woman was a ginger and Uncle Chico was a ginger! Jeez, I thought. Is there no escape from gingers? I settled in pretty quick though. Uncle Chico could be a cantankerous old git but I did love him.

Uncle Chico

I'd been there a few months when my sister Shams came. Someone had thrown her into the street. I wasn’t surprised to be honest. She’s pathetic. She never bites or scratches, and she rolls over in a way that’s truly nauseating but she thinks is cute. We get on fine now though. It was Shams who told me that Pussy Whisperer and Chilly Girl run some kind of cat hospital thing. Apparently after me there were three more kittens whose mother had died trying to feed them. They found them a new home. Probably because they weren’t ginger. Then they looked after another kitten who had been picked up by a friend of theirs. She had just moved to some other place, so they took in this Boomer chick while she was waiting for her jabs. I’ve had these jab things. What’s that about? Bloody painful. I’ve heard since that Boomer has turned out a bit of a nutter.

My cute tummy
Then a terrible thing happened. My Uncle Chico went away and never came back. Shams told me that he’d got really sick and then he’d died. I was worried about our human but Shams said it was ok because Pussy Whisperer had been with her when he’d died. I was glad about that because she’s ok, our human. Except when she yells at me when I give her a right hook. Well, honestly. I know my tummy is cute, but I’m a boy for God’s sake! Leave the tummy alone.

Me and Shams
Our human got another kitten but I didn’t get to see him. He was in the hospital for a while too, but he'd had a traumatic start in life. He didn’t make it. Then these other two kittens showed up. A black one and a white one. I was so mad I whacked Shams over the head. Then suddenly the black one was gone. Shams said she was sick too. How does she know this stuff? I think she listens at doors and then when our human catches her she does the roly poly thing and of course she gets let off. I never get let off with anything.
Anyway the black one came back. She'd been to the hospital too! She was better though and now she’s fighting fit. Literally. In fact, she reminds me of that crazy Ripley from the hospital place. Still, the four of us have a great laugh playing zoomies round the flat. We have competitions to see who can knock the most stuff off tables.

Polly, the latest hospital resident
I overheard our human saying the other day that there’s another kitten in the hospital! And the humans have to do the thing with the wet wipe again! These people must be cat angels. I’ve counted up all the cats and I think there must have been 12 in the hospital, including me, because I heard Ripley and Scully had a sister but she died because she was too small to survive.

But here’s the worst thing. This bloke came over the other day to hang a picture or something. I wasn’t really paying attention because I was grappling with his leg. But then our human said “that’s Mishmish” and he looked round for another cat. “But he’s not ginger!” The bloke said. “Mishmish is a name for ginger cats!” I froze in horror. I’ve been given a name for GINGER CATS!!! My life is ruined.

Dedicated to the Cat Angels, Pussy Whisperer and Chilly Girl, with love and admiration.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017


This is the story of the first time I was sexually harassed. It was 37 years ago, when I was 15. Like most 15 year old girls, I wanted my own money. We lived in a rural area, so jobs weren’t thick on the ground. I can’t remember how I found out about the cleaning job with Mr Manson; I think maybe my Dad knew someone who knew someone. I went to see him with my Dad. It was agreed. I would work as a cleaner on Saturday mornings in Mr Manson’s house for £1 an hour. It was good money.

Every Saturday morning, my Dad drove me to his house and picked me up three hours later. The work wasn’t difficult. A bit of washing up, dusting and hoovering. To my 15 year old perspective, Mr Manson was an incredibly old guy, although with hindsight I think he was only about 60 – eight years older than I am now. Nonetheless, he was still 45 years older than me. When I had finished whatever had to be done, I made myself and Mr Manson a cup of tea, which we drank in his old-person living room.

A few weeks into the job, I had made the tea and we were chatting. I never really liked him, but at that age I couldn’t put a name to the feeling. He asked me if I like fun. I think I need to say at this point that I was a naïve 15 year old, my upbringing had been sheltered and largely in rural areas. Fun to me meant going to the local disco for a dance, or hanging out with my friends. So I answered yes, I do like fun. What kind of fun do you like? He asked. I told him my innocent 15 year old girl pursuits. Oh no, he said. I meant fun in bed. Sex. Do you like fun in bed? Because I can give it to you.

Even now, 37 years later, the feelings of fear, revulsion and disgust are as strong as they were then. I leapt up, grabbed my bag and ran towards the door. Have I offended you in some way? He asked. I didn’t answer. I ran out of the house and down the road. I'm thankful with hindsight that he wasn’t a strong man, otherwise I’m really not sure where this would have ended.

I met my Dad coming up the road in the car to pick me up. I was completely distraught, so much so that to begin with he couldn’t work out what I was saying – I was sobbing so much I couldn’t get the words out. When we got home, he sat me down, handed me a glass, and said drink this now. It was vodka. I drank it. My first experience of sexual harassment turned out to be my first alcoholic drink as well.

I calmed down enough to tell him what had happened. We had family friends staying that weekend, and everyone else was out. My Dad was like a cat on a hot tin roof. The minute my Mum and the rest of the family got back, he was out of the house like a champagne cork. I found out later he had gone back to Mr Manson’s house and threatened him through the window. Mr Manson wouldn’t come out.

I now know, 37 years later, that Mr Manson had a profound and lifelong impact on me. He shattered my innocence. He showed me a world that was not safe, where I had to protect myself. I would never be that innocent 15 year old girl again; even now I look back at my 15 year old self and feel overwhelmed with sorrow for what I lost that day.

My Mum and Dad were truly wonderful. I was entirely believed. There was not a miniscule hint of victim blaming. They did their best to help me get over it. My Mum even let me get my ears pierced a year early. In the post Jimmy Saville era, the police would have been involved, but it was different then. I did get over it in that I carried on with my day to day life. My Dad found me another job as a waitress in a hotel. I went to school, passed my exams, went to university. I never really did get over it though. The memory of this event is as clear today as the day it happened.

A few weeks later, my Dad came in and said, I’ve got something for you. He handed me £3. What’s this? I said. Your pay from Mr Manson, he said. Apparently, he’d met him in the paper shop. I don’t know the detail of what happened, other than Mr Manson handed over the £3. I don’t know what my Dad said, but knowing him as I do, I can guess.  I suspect Mr Manson never visited the paper shop again.
Me too.