Friday, 30 October 2015

Sipping Limoncello in Sorrento

Italy 2

We had planned to stop in some lovely part of Naples for breakfast, but it was not to be.
By the time we'd crawled through the melee of me-first mopeds and cars that constitute the morning rush hour, Napoli, that 'beautiful woman in a dirty dress' had lost her allure and we just wanted to hit the road south.
When Vesuvius eventually loomed up reassuringly on our left hand side, we breathed a sigh of relief and sent Angelica back to bed.

It was only the second day of our trip, but I have to say that, as a travelling companion, Angelica was proving to be quite trying.
For one thing, she had real issues with authority and despite stiff words from the In-Charge and pleas from me, she simply refused to do what she was told. She would not go on the motorway. Any motorway.
I can only think that the drive out of Rome had been too much for her nerves.
With which I sympathise. I still have no idea which road it was that she opted for out of Rome, but it was a crap decision.

The In-Charge had settled for the middle lane on that epic route (normally a wise move), but each of the three lanes travelled as fast as each other, the speed limit appeared to be a suggestion only, and we spent most of the journey being cut up from both sides simultaneously.
All at 138kph.

At one point, a hearse screamed past us and disappeared from sight.
I think that was the point when Angelica buried herself under the bedclothes.

Poor Angelica. It was all too much

But eventually we did get down to Castellammare di Stabia, and finally began to feel excited.
It was built up and busy and urban and, well - messy - but once we'd negotiated the mopeds, the cars, the trucks and the little put-puts - not to mention the endless pedestrians in the road - at least there were tantalising views of the sea, and boats and cafes, and all in glorious sun-baked technicolour.

Marina near the Fincantieri boat yard

We stopped for a coffee near the Fincantieri boatyard, because boats make us thing of #1 Son , but when we asked for food they looked rather taken aback. Lunch, they intimated, would not be ready for quite some time.
We didn't want lunch. We were still waiting for breakfast.

Things were looking up

In France, if there isn't a Boulangerie, you're probably lost, but Panificios didn't seem quite so thick on the ground, but perhaps it was just our untrained eyes. Eventually, on the outskirts of San Agnello we spotted a cake shop, screamed to a stop and ran in.
It was glorious.

People were standing at the counter with tiny cups of very thick, very black coffee in one hand, and hot, light, crispy, sugar-dusted doughnuts in the other.
They were utterly delicious. So were the petit fours and strawberry tarts and filled cornetti.
We didn't try everything, but they all looked delicious. The cakes in the fridge were like abstract works of art - I couldn't possibly have eaten them.

The cakes in the fridge were like abstract works of art

Wild strawberry tarts

And no prizes for guessing the nation's favourite breakfast!

The In-Charge spotted gigantic pots of Nutella stacked high

And so to the joys of Sorrento.
Small wonder so many people go there. It is just one picture postcard after another.

Cliff top hotels and houses in Sorrento

One picture postcard after another

We spent hours walking round the lanes of the old town, window shopping, Prosecco-stopping (although the In-Charge prefers beer), sipping Limoncello in cafes where they have been making it for generations (I couldn't believe how delicious the melon version was) and just relaxing. I bought postcards and a present or two. We saw a bride on the way to her wedding, and in the town centre another wedding party, and wondered idly if either were locals. The second lot turned out to be Brits - you'd know a Cockney accent anywhere.

A bride on the way to her wedding

Brits getting hitched in Sorrento

We passed a funeral too.
Funerals are a real barometer of any country. You can tell a lot about a people by the way they deal with death. This funeral was fairly explicit.

Making a statement

Definitely not going out quietly

By late afternoon we thought Angelica would have recovered her poise, after a relaxing day in the glove box.
We headed into the mountains behind Sorrento, and asked her to guide us to our B&B. It was a simple enough request, but she did that spiteful game she plays, of only displaying a handful of alphabet letters, none of which are the ones you want, so I knew she was still sulking.
She took us to a lane off the vertiginous mountain road, past several houses, through a lemon grove and into someone's front garden. There was a fence roping off the vegetable garden, no one at home, and not enough room to turn the car. Needless to say, nothing was on level ground, seeing as we were on a mountain-side and all.
Nice one, Angelica.
I closed my eyes with visions of having to reverse for several perilous miles and let the In-Charge get us out. He likes a challenge and heights don't really phase him, despite what he says.

Up against the wire

After that Angelica said she had no idea where our wretched B&B was and refused to take us anywhere else, so we stopped various people and asked the way.
As our original 3 words of Italian had now increased to 5 (we had learned 'doughnut' and 'stamp' in the course of the day) this should have been easier than it proved, but neither word seemed relevant in the conversation, and the hinterland of Sorrento, not surprisingly, isn't big into English.

We paused in the next village for a medicinal Prosecco/beer, but the place was deserted apart from a gorgeous woman re-opening the village shop for the evening, so we ate ice creams sitting on the church steps instead. It was 37 degrees.
We did eventually find our lodging, although our hostess wasn't at home. After much searching for a key, her sister let us into the apartment. The lime green toilet paper gave me a bit of a funny turn, but we dumped our stuff and headed back down the mountain for dinner.

Definitely not a design award winner

Sorrento was just as beautiful by night as it had been all day.
Incredibly we saw the newly wedded bride and her sposo as we arrived in town.

The newly-weds

To our amazement, we found a place to park near the centre of town, bought a ticket from the machine and then set off.
Everyone was on the strut, or shopping, but we were hungry.
Down one tiny side street in the old town, a sweet old chap was closing up his private garage for the night, but not before I'd spotted a favourite Italian icon.
And in the original colour!

I'd quite like to have taken it home, by Ryanair charge a fortune of excess baggage

The launch of the Cinquecento

We had a long, leisurely meal outside under the stars, watching the world go by and debating where we'd go the next day. Eventually, after another wander around the town, a bit of shopping and more Prosecco, we headed back to the car, only to find that ours was the only vehicle in the now pedestrianised street, and that we had a parking ticket.
Oh joy.

All was probably explained on the ticket machine, but - had we even looked - 'doughnut' and 'stamp'  wouldn't have been a lot of help.
I thought I heard Angelica sniggering in the glove box, but maybe it was just the In-Charge swearing as he turned the engine on.

The reward was worth it though.
Going in to the police station the next morning to settle up before leaving town, we found an incredibly fat policeman and a photograph that covered one entire wall.
Only in Italy.

The one and only Sofia Loren

You might also like Part 1 of our travels in Italy: See Naples and Die
Part 3: Amalfi: The Road More Travelled
Part 4: Tango-ing to Messina
And the last part: Sicily: Hot on the Heels of Montalbano

Monday, 26 October 2015

See Naples and Die

Italy 1

It doesn't really seem possible, but it's a month ago today that we returned from Italy.
We came home to blue skies and balmy stillness and have been cocooned in blissful warmth ever since. It has elongated our holiday beyond all imagining, and - according to our local postmaster, 'broken the back of winter'. I hope he's right.
But our weather extension came to a sudden end last week and today, the Hallowe'en Bank Holiday (an annual surprise I have to confess) the unremitting mizzle has not even tempted me outdoors.
It did rain in Italy - twice I believe - thunder, lightning, the whole shebang, but it had the decency to do so in the depths of the night and, by dawn, was merely a hazy memory.
In Italy, during the hours of daylight, the sun shone and it was 35 degrees.

I'm not familiar with Italy.
We are such Francophiles that if we ever get the chance to go anywhere, we just head for France the way a toddler heads for its mother. But ever since Inspector Montalbano graced our screens, the In-Charge and I (along with millions of others) have been longing to visit Sicily.
We didn't have a huge amount of time to plan this getaway, as the In-Charge was away himself for almost a  month, with #1 Son at the end of the summer, and I was in the UK visiting the folks. When we did get down to it, the flights to Sicily were so expensive that we ended up flying to Rome and hiring a car instead.
I know that's completely illogical, as Rome is nowhere near Sicily, but there you go.
I think the deciding factor was that I have always wanted to visit the Amalfi coast, but perhaps we didn't give enough consideration to the fact that we only had 11 days...

Luckily this wasn't the car we hired. We'd have been even more terrified of pranging it

Surprisingly, we were sensible enough to rule out even glancing at Rome. You could spend 11 days and not see all of Rome.
We just threw our stuff into the car and headed south. The car was not the Cinquecento we had requested, but maybe that wasn't such a bad thing as the In-Charge is over six feet tall.

We headed south to Naples, full of old, narrow alleys, cars, mopeds and pedestrians who insisted on walking in the road

I now know that the old adage 'See Naples and die' refers to the improbability of anyone surviving the traffic in the city. I've often wondered. If another car doesn't wipe you out first, phalanxes of mopeds almost certainly will. Everyone - and that means everyone, wants to be in the place occupied by your car at any given moment.
It was mental, and laurel wreaths etc etc go to the In-Charge for a) not abandoning the car and walking away b) not hitting another vehicle, c) not killing any of the endless pedestrians who insisted on walking in the roadway, and d) not getting out and throttling any of the other bolshy drivers.
It was, we were to discover, a fitting baptism, as the rest of Italy was just as bad.

Just an average morning

Angelica, our sat nav, did rouse herself sufficiently to find our lodging. It was an apartment in some long-ago palazzo, that we'd booked at the last minute on Airbnb.
It was our first time using Airbnb. I wouldn't rate it highly, the apartment, but it was OK, and, having missed an entire night's sleep through daft flight times, we were so tired we didn't really care. But 92 steps up to the top floor weren't quite in my game plan. Still, it was really quiet, and we both slept like the dead.

The lovely covered stairways in the palazzo courtyard

A shop in the alley

Another old palazzo in a nearby street, now used as a museum and offices

The rubbish-collectors appeared to be on strike in Naples, and the area we stayed in was rough to say the least, so even without the traffic, I'd have been ready to leave Naples or die by the next morning.
Fortunately, we were heading straight for the Amalfi coast that day, so we were up and out of the apartment pretty early, although not out of the city for a good while. We'd paid to park the car in a private garage for the night (you'd have done the same) and the In-Charge had to wait while they moved about 96 other vehicles to get ours out before he could drive away.
Waiting inside the beautiful, solid doorway of our palazzo in the neighbouring alleyway, I had plenty of time to wonder if they'd sold the car during the night and he was trying to argue the toss, all - of course - in the 3 words of Italian at his command.
I also had time to look around the huge interior courtyard of the palazzo.
There were some motorbikes parked in front of a shrine to the Virgin Mary, They reminded me of Stanley Spencer's fabulous painting, The Travoys.

Motorbikes in front of the shrine reminded me of Spencer's Travoys

Stanley Spencer's painting Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing Station

But eventually the In-Charge turned up with our car and we did several tours of downtown Naples in the morning rush hour while Angelica had a cup of coffee, did her nails and rooted around for an up-to-date map and I tried to stay calm. .
She seemed to know less about Italy than we did. And even less Italian, while her accent was - quite frankly - shocking.
Oh joy!
It didn't bode well.

The doorway into the old palazzo

You might also like: Sipping Limoncello in Sorrento, part 2 of our travels in Italy
Part 3: Amalfi: The Road More Travelled
Part 4: Tango-ing to Messina
And the last part: Sicily: Hot on the Heels of Montalbano

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

A Funeral

This morning I was at the funeral of a friend's husband who died, very suddenly, last Friday.
I don't know how many times I woke up last night, her face in my mind, her loss heavy on me, like too many blankets.

The funeral might have been sooner, possibly, but their beautiful younger son was abroad with his school, and had to be fetched home. A shocking and tragic way for his exchange trip to end and I wonder if either he or his mother will ever want to visit that country again for the associations it must now have.
A whole group of us were there, together, this morning, amongst the packed congregation, to do what little we could to show our love and support for them all.

I felt very conscious of what a tiny thing it is, to be physically there for someone in their loss. How can the presence of another person alleviate your suffering? How lucky I am, not to know first-hand, but I can't help but wonder if, like a wounded animal, you'd rather hide away, curled up in solitary darkness, and howl until the whole infinity of space registers your distress, your fury.
Perhaps that comes later. Perhaps shock, like a local anaesthetic, protects you from yourself for a short while.
But what steel it must take to enter the church yourself, however loving your friends - knowing that the savaged, raw innards of your heart are on public display, on such public display.
It was humbling to see the dignity and courage my friend and her family showed this morning.

And this afternoon it has started to rain.
I think it is what, in literature, is called pathetic fallacy.
We have been cocooned in warmth, sunshine and stillness for the entire month since we returned from Italy. Living in a bubble, almost as if we were still on holiday, living in a borrowed world. A world made robust by sun, sea and mountains, new vistas, old culture.

This morning I also learned that the plane my son was travelling on, returning to Europe from a job in Florida, had to make an emergency landing before reaching its destination. They waited, anxiously no doubt, while technicians flocked to make whatever was wrong safe again.
How strong everything seems, all the elements of our individual worlds; endlessly tensile. But in reality, how fragile it all is. 

The In-Charge is outside splitting logs. I can hear the steady, rhythmic thud and crack as the axe bites into each round.
A satisfyingly physical occupation, the rain at his back.
Perhaps that's what I should be doing.
Instead I'm looking alternately at a screen and out at the grey, wet autumn afternoon, a fire spitting half-heartedly in the stove beside me.
I'm not really seeing any of them.
Mostly I'm seeing my friend's pale face as I hugged her, composed around her grief, her eyes clear and calm, her eyelids still flushed with midnight tears.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

A Gold Medal at Bloom for WB Yeats

BLOOM - The Final!

When you get behind with something, it becomes ever harder to spur yourself into catching up.
I seem to be suffering quite badly this year with un-catch-up-ability.
My garden has gone to rack and ruin, my house looks like Miss Haversham's, and my blog feels largely abandoned.

But recently I had an email from Bloom, asking if I'd like to submit a design for next year's Show. All this year's designers will have received one. I don't think I would, but it made me realise I've never even got as far as posting that my garden won a Gold Medal at this year's Show.
I was thrilled. Stunned, but thrilled.
And to think I nearly wasn't present for the awards!
It was only because Niall, whose garden bordered mine, said, as we downed tools on the last day: 'So - that's it then! See you at 8am on Wednesday!'
In my naievity, I'd been thinking: 'At last, the garden's finished! A lie-in before Press Day arrives!'
But thanks to Niall, I was on parade bright and early, and present to receive my award.

My Gold Medal, still sitting on the dresser amidst the dusty china

And I even made it onto the national news, and TV, and radio, and newspapers, and magazines...

A few of the newspaper and magazine cuttings, inc Sligo Now, The Irish Independent, The Irish Times and The Weekender

It was a lovely few days, the Show itself.
Not least because my brother, the Mad Cyclist from Edinburgh, and my sister from Suffolk came over to see it for themselves, which involved both of them getting on planes - and planes, as we all know, mean hassle and expense. (Wonder Brother was, alas, in Portugal - thoughtless boy!)
The In-Charge and Surfer Son came too. It didn't involve a plane ride, but proved far more problematic than either of my siblings' journeys. The treacherous Silver Beast decided that not enough attention was being paid to her, plus she had not been invited to accompany me to Dublin, so she trashed her alternator and broke down before they reached the county border. The poor menfolk had to re-group, borrow a car from dear DodoWoman and start their journey all over again.
Not amusing.
But it was lovely to see them all, and they all loved the garden.

The Irish President and Sabina, his wife, visited on Opening Day, and I presented them with a WB Yeats rose. Mrs Higgins told me how delighted they were with it, she said Michael D has planted a rose garden and this will be its centre-piece. As he is a Yeats scholar, I can believe that it will be.

The Irish President, Michael D, and Sabina visit my garden. In his speech to open Bloom 2015 (of which he is Patron), the President said that my garden had inspired him the most. Praise indeed!

Various other dignitaries came to visit - including the British Ambassador to Ireland and his wife who turned out to be old friends from London from another lifetime. Goodness, what a bubble I live in these days! I had no idea they were living in Dublin, and are so important!
Maud Gonne and WB Yeats himself were fleetingly spotted in the garden at one point, and over the days of the Show, other people came and sang, or recited poetry, and it was all very beatifully done.

Maud Gonne and Yeats. Poor Yeats, the most casual observer could have told him that his suit was in vain

The Orpheus Choir sang for us - their recital included The Lake Isle of Innisfree

More singers in the garden

Famous Irish poet Pat Boran recites The Lake Isle of Innisfree to the President and Mrs Higgins. Michael D could easily have recited it to us, no one would know Yeats better.

Gary Graham brings Leo Varadkar, Irish Minister for Health, to visit my garden

I remembered to ask the President to sign my garden visitor's book, but I totally forgot to ask Jane and Dominic, the British Ambassador, or Leo Varadkar, the Irish Minister for Health, or anyone of the others.
Ah well...

Happy memories.
Looking back, I think I was so engrossed in building the garden, I hadn't taken the actual Show end of things on board really. And truth to tell, I was pretty tired by the time it opened.

Too busy building the garden to think about the Show. Seamus was mad enough to let me loose on the digger...

I certainly hadn't thought about the medals, or not until Seamus said something about the judges one day.
I was appalled. How could I have overlooked something as fundamental as judges?  I've been to Chelsea and Bloom often enough...
By the week before the Show, the atmosphere in the show gardens was taughtening every day. Everyone except muggins was focused.
To be fair, I'd been asked to do the garden because of Yeats 2015, I hadn't set out to win a medal. But by the end of May, everyone around me was starting to get a touch of exam-fever, which is very contagious, whether you like it or not.
On the last day of the build, the Bear called me over.
He pointed a finger into my face and I knew he had something serious to say. I felt like a school kid caught on the hop. He didn't beat about the bush.
'Are you happy with your garden?' he asked.
I thought about it for a moment.
'Yes,' I said. It was the truth. The garden was, I suddenly realised, exactly as I'd planned it in my head.
'Then f**k everything else,' he said.
It was the best advice he could have given me. I went back to my B&B, climbed into bed and slept like a baby.

Opening Day started early with a Gold Medal

So winning a Gold Medal was like some huge bonus, and even better was the judges' return visit. Several of them had just flown over from the Chelsea Flower Show in London, which runs the week before Bloom. On their initial visit (when I had two minutes to explain any aspect of my design I wanted to), they told me they'd been asked not to patronise Bloom by marking any differently from how they'd have marked the gardens at Chelsea.
At the time, it made the palms of my hands clammy and my stomach go into spasm. Not having considered the goal posts at all, it didn't really help to have them suddenly illuminated in neon.

When they came back for the follow-up visit after the medals (a less nerve-racking affair), one of them was kind enough to say: 'We haven't really got anything to say to you. Your attention to detail is incredible. You've created a piece of theatre. It's wonderful.'
And, as they were leaving, another one turned back. 'I just wanted you to know,' she said, 'that the judges decision was unanimous.'

To me, their comments were even better than the Gold Medal itself.
And so was the response from the public. My garden had been in the media in the run up to Bloom, and had received lots of good publicity, but I hadn't expected to look out from my 'lair' - the pagoda tent Bloom provides next to your plot - and see crowds standing 5-deep trying to see into the garden, with, every now and again, a friend or acquaintance pushing through to come and say hello.
It was amazing to receive such a warm and wonderful reception.
I think it was the only thing that kept me upright.
I was so tired, I could have crawled into Yeats' little cabin and slept for the entire 5 days.

Yeats' cabin with the Mary Cronin's Cloths of Heaven forming a sun-shield outside the front door, his 9 bean rows and bee hive hidden on the right and his wild 'lawn' and apple tree hidden on the left. My pagoda in the background

An overview of the garden from the front corner

Martha Quinn's fabulous sculpture 'The Waters and the Wild' - forming a 21st century window into Yeats' imagination

Looking towards the little path leading down to the lake. On the table the In-Charge's lovely drawing of Lissadell

The path down to the Lough Gill, Nik Purdey's mural forms the backdrop

Colin Scott's amazing White Birds - ceramic sculptures 'flying' amongst the trees on the lake shore

But by mid-June I was totally exhausted.
The decision was taken, around the time of the Show, to move my Yeats Garden back to Sligo.
It was great to know that, after just 5 days on show, the garden wasn't going to be 'binned', so I was delighted, but it wasn't so brilliant having to start from scratch, re-work the design and build it all over again. It was like having to re-do a maths exam.
But by some miracle we managed it and had it ready for Yeats' 150th birthday, 13 June, when - joy of joys! - Joanna Lumley came to open it.

The garden re-designed for Sligo. It now lives beside the Model Arts Centre on The Mall

Joanna Lumley opening my garden in Sligo. What a star she is!  Pic courtesy of Val Robus

What more can you say about someone who is already adored the world over?
Only one thing springs to mind, really.
She was Absolutely Fabulous.
She loved my garden. And I did remember to ask her to sign my Bloom Visitor's Book!
Of course, I gave her a WB Yeats rose as well.

Joanna's lovely message in the visitor's book, underneath the signature of Yeats' grand daughter.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Farewell, My Lovely

Pixie learning about cuddles

Long years ago, I was the Editor of a magazine here in the North West, Editor being a euphemistic term as I wrote 90% of the content and most of the ads.
The magazine's office moved from here to there and back again. In 2009 it occupied the ground floor of an old house in Sligo town, its back rooms overlooking a wilderness that might once have been a small garden, and a shed - crammed to the gunnels - that might have been a garage. The wall at the back of the garden was new, 15 feet high, screening off the ring road/N4. There was no access out from the back garden.

On my first day I walked into the dark and dismal kitchen to put the kettle on and found a container of dog food. Uneasily I waved it at Simon, the office manager.
'There's a kitten,' he said apologetically. 'In the garden.'
When I asked how old the kitten was he made a vague gesture with his hands showing something about 6 inches (15cm) long.
My heart sank.
At the first available opportunity I walked round to Tesco and bought kitten milk and food and disposed of the dog biscuits.
'Sorry,' Simon said. 'I don't know anything about cats.'
All the greater blessings on him for caring in that case.

On top of the wall, catching the last rays of sun in her bat-like ears

Simon would go out and leave the milk and kitten food for her, and - much later - we'd find the empty bowls with leaves or litter pulled over to hide them.
'She got something wrong with her eyes,' Simon said. Her mother had left, or died, and so had her siblings. Inevitably I started to feel more anxious about her every day.
'We've got enough cats,' the In-Charge said - rather over-emphatically, I felt., when I shared my concerns.
Anyway his warnings were superfluous. I never saw the kitten.
She was far too shy to come out if 'people' were around. I just caught a fleeting glimpse now and again of a grey, nondescript little creature with runny eyes, but that was it.

She trusted Simon though, and I brought him a ping pong ball to try and entice her out to play. I couldn't bear the loneliness of her. You can't stop kittens playing, normally, but this one never appeared.
Little by little it worked, and he'd sit on a chair and throw it after she'd had her milk. It took her awhile to realise what was going on, but soon she started to run after it, but her eyes were a mess, and I noticed - from the office window - that she could only clock the ball if it moved quite slowly.
It broke my heart that she was so frightened she hid all day in the back of the filthy, dark, crammed shed, with no company and no comfort, becoming more terrified every day as her sight diminished.
One day Simon said he'd seen her sitting in the front window of the derelict house next door, peering out.
I have never been able to pass that window since without thinking of her - locked in and solitary.
Like someone condemned.

Ludicrous Pixie. A favourite position

Easter was looming, and the In-Charge was planning to go to the UK to visit #1 son whose birthday coincided with the bank holiday weekend. I was caught up with the magazine schedule.
Secretly, I made a plan.
'Start picking her up,' I said to Simon. 'When she's near, pick her up and put her straight down again, so she gets used to being handled.'
He looked like I'd asked him to tame a tiger.
'We have to get her to a vet!' I explained desperately. 'The sooner the better, and the bank holiday weekend is D-Day!'

Amazingly it worked.  Pixie - as we had named her - didn't savage him, and every day it was easier to lift her under her plumping little tummy. As soon as the In-Charge had departed, I whisked in to Sligo with the cat basket, Simon enticed her out and into the basket she went.

Even more ludicrous Pixie. Another favourite position

In some ways, that's when the troubles really began.
She went crazy on the long journey home, terrified - frantically trying to escape and screaming the whole way. Her poorly eyes - battered against the wire cage - started to bleed.
Somehow I gritted my teeth and held on, but by the time I'd transferred her into the big 'hospital' cage at home (no mean feat), I knew it wasn't going to be as simple as a quick visit to the vet the next day. I called instead and they gave me antibiotics for her. They said it was almost certainly cat flu and that the prognosis for her eyes wasn't good, with such a long-standing infection.

She lived in the corner of the kitchen, as many other animals have done before and since. Where they are warm, can see and be seen, but feel quite safe from all the other creatures who also live here.
Every day I would lift the lid of the cage and put my hand in to stroke her gently.
She never tried to attack, but every day she dived under the litter in her tray trying to hide rather than be touched.
It broke my heart. I started to wonder if this would be the first cat to defeat me.
I rang the vet again. 'I'm sure she's in pain,' I said. 'Can I give her the dog's pain killer?' I still had some of my beloved Juno's arthritis pain relief in the cupboard.
The vet stressed, and stressed again how little I was to give this tiny scrap - 'Otherwise you will kill her,' she said. She's German and doesn't beat around the bush.

The best way to catch birds, she decided, was lying in wait in the bird bath...

I measured the infinitesimal amount onto some tinned sardine, put the dish in the cage and went away.
When I came back, Pixie was lying flat on her stomach, her chin stretched out on the blanket and two legs sticking out each side, like a cartoon cat. She was out for the count.
She was still like that when I went to bed.
I gulped, checked her breathing and left her to it.

However, when I came down the next morning, she was sitting up in her bed, and when I lifted the lid and reached in carefully to stroke her, she purred and pushed her head up under my hand.
Five minutes later, she was sitting in my lap, purring ecstatically, and she's spent a very considerable amount of time doing just that ever since.
I think it was the first time since her mother had left, months before, that she had slept properly, with no anxiety and no pain. The poor darling, she must have been exhausted.

Most of her life was spent sleeping after she came to us

'I see we've got another cat,' the In-Charge said tonelessly when he returned.
That was, as I recall, the end of that conversation.

Sadly, her eyes didn't recover. She was totally blind in one and had perhaps 40% vision through the scar tissue in the other, so only about 25% overall. 'She'll be fine,' the vet said. 'She just won't climb.'
Oh really?
I came home one day to find her on the roof of our two storey shed, walking along the ridge, and her favourite place to sit in the early days was on top of the courtyard wall in the last of the evening sun, having shimmied up the wooden ladder in Popsicle's wake to get there.
But she never caught birds, although she was beside herself with pride the day she caught a fly.

Peruvian Pixie

She was a quiet little cat. 'Your baby,' the In-Charge always called her. She didn't bother anyone, and she didn't upset me by catching the birds. She loved being cuddled and slept in the back kitchen. Because of her sight we didn't shut her out at night with the others, unless she particularly wanted to go. Every morning she would weave around my ankles and when I said 'Are you rolling for cuddles?' she'd tuck her head down onto the floor and roll over so I could rub her tummy. It was a daft little ritual, but it started both our days with a smile.

On that first morning, when I let her out of the cage, she went off and explored the garden.
I let her go. She would have been about 7 months old by then, tiny, but not a baby any more.
I remember feeling sick when she didn't come back, but I just waited for one hour, two hours... and eventually her little face peered round the corner of the courtyard. I don't know who was more relieved.
She loved the garden and the orchard, and the courtyard, where she could lie in the sun all summer. In the winter she appropriated the little basket underneath the wood burning stove in the kitchen, where she'd bake herself for hours on end.

Sunbathing in the orchard

Until yesterday.
She didn't seem well in the morning. She was breathing rather quickly, although I couldn't see what was wrong. We've been away, and I thought she looked a bit thinner when we got back, but nothing to worry about, and our sweet friend Clare, who'd looked after everyone, hadn't said anything was amiss.
I was out during the day, and in the evening I had to go and find her which is unusual. She was lying outside on a bag of gravel. I brought her in an put her in her bed. She wasn't interested in her supper, and I could hear her breathing - it sounded a bit bubbly.
I gave her some rescue remedy and decided that I'd call the vet today, even though it is Sunday.
But by 10 o'clock last night, I knew I couldn't wait that long.
It's 40 minutes to the vets from our house. She was waiting for me when I arrived and I could tell by her face that it wasn't good news, as soon as she saw Pixie. 'I'm glad you rang,' was all she said.

There wasn't anything she could do. She gave her a sedative to take the pain away and something to ease her breathing, and then she made her a hot water bottle and we wrapped her in a blanket while we talked over all the possibilities, but the awful truth was that she was dying, by painful degrees - and neither of us knew why.
There aren't any poisons that we know about around our property. It's possible that she had some tumour or something going on inside, but basically she seemed to be suffering from some sort of pulmonary thrombosis. There was blood in the spittle bubbling from her mouth, and it was agonising listening to her breathing. She was very cold, as well - the blood was leaving her extremities and flooding her lungs.

It had all happened so quickly and I couldn't bear to let her carry on in such distress and pain.
I held her in my hands. It was the least and the most I could do for her.
And I cried.

You'd recognise those bat-ears anywhere

Just 6 years we've had her.
It's not long, in the scheme of things. But it was such a happy 6 years for her.
Sweet little Pixie. She was my baby 6 days after I first knew about her.
As my mother has often said, animals leave a bigger space behind than they occupy in life.
Pixie took up so little room.
I will miss those little blind eyes, looking at me in total trust.
I'll miss her rolling for cuddles every morning.
I'll just miss her.

Christmas Pixie