Unravelling Mr’s Mystery – part two of Mystery Cat


I couldn’t believe we had just inherited a cat and that his last owner had three others,but simply did not care enough about him to encourage him to stay.  So I returned to my neighbour’s house several times to check they really meant it. They never changed their minds, but they told me more of his history.

Mr had been born in their house of two equally large and hairy parents.  Initially, he had been a playful, affectionate cat, but as the family grew, and he experienced several changes he became withdrawn, even aggressive. (Oh good!)

The family have moved about a lot.  Firstly to Northumberland, where Mr was involved in a car accident, resulting in a chipped canine tooth and damage to his claw.  This claw got so bad, it was eventually amputated.  The family then moved to Spain, taking Mr (aka Simba) with them.  He found country life did not suit him because the local farmer shot at him, thankfully missing.  I guess the idea was to scare him away for some reason.

He then came back to England where the family had the new baby and invested in another kitten, who seriously challenged Mr Simba within the house.  So Mr decided to move into the garden, returning to his house for food every third day or so.  All the neighbours knew him because he also tried his luck in their kitchens, requesting food and menacing their cats. He was frequently chased away.  We think he lived a hobo’s life for nearly one year.

Why he chose to move in with us and the new kittens; who knows.  Perhaps he thought he could gain dominance whilst they were still so young.  Perhaps he knew he was onto a good thing.

Mostly, he slept and ate.  Sometimes he disappeared for a day, but never longer than 24 hours.  He learned to play with the kittens.  His huge bulky frame gambling down the garden like an elephant, tumbling headlong into a kitten, who was bowled over in the rush.  The kittens thought it normal!

He joined in with them when there was a string to chase.  As he weighed over 8kg, he crashed through the undergrowth, somersaulting onto the string and grasping the tiny thing tightly in his massive claws.  Just for comparison a full grown domestic short hair cat should weigh 5-7 kg.

When he was poorly he was a great hypochondriac.  Many was the time we took him down to the vet, only to be told there was nothing wrong with him.  So when recently he took himself down the garden and sat in the rain, refusing food, we knew he was ill. The only other time he had been truly ill, it had been a urinary infection and £500 vet fee, nearly a year ago. My daughter was house sitting.  Her only task (apart from looking after her own family etc) was look after the cats.  She took him over the road to the vets.

£750

Bladder the size of a football.  Hospitalisation.  But all failed as within two days of our arriving back from our travels, I just knew he was still really ill.  The vet said we could try drugs for a few months and more hospitalisation, but there was more than a chance it would not work.

So this is my salute to Mr.  The cat who decided for himself.  Despite the fact that every time you touched him, drifts of fur flew through the air; that he dropped twigs and dirt over the carpet when he scratched or shook himself; that he continued to hassle local residents by wandering into their kitchens, he had many outstanding features.

He welcomed you by sitting at the front gate, rolling in dirt baths to bring in more mess. He showed us that he loved us by learning to play.  John loved him, and he does not like cats much.  He was incredibly laid back with us,  very easy going.  And now he is gone.

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The Mystery Cat


The first time I met him, he was sitting by my windowsill, staring out into my garden.  He seemed quite confident for one who had not been invited in. It’s in my nature to think the best of everyone, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt, and thought he must have just lost his way – ending up in my house.  With no great ceremony, I picked him up and took him back to the garden.

Then I looked at our two cats.  Why had they not noticed this intruder?

They were both about 18 years old.  One of them blind and deaf, the other still able to work out when it was tea time, but neither had felt up to challenging this enormous grey cat.

We did  not see him again for ages.  Not until the aged pair were in their last weeks.  Then suddenly he turned up regularly, snatching their uneaten food and departing at leisure unless he was spotted.

When my two tabbies had given their all, and passed on, I was momentarily uncertain what to do with their remaining catfood.  That’s  how it all started, I guess.

Soon we found him sitting by our pond, watching the fish, on a regular basis.  Like a fool, he seemed the perfect solution to the leftover food.  He never stayed for long, rarely wanted to come in, now the old cats had gone, but always brought with him a few twigs or leaves woven into his coat.

I took to brushing him and he soon became glossy but the matted quality of his fur, meant several arguments between the two of us as to how long he was prepared to put up with a grooming session.  At times he would lie on his back and kick hard with his back feet:  then you had to beware, or carry his badge of a long scratch along an arm!

Sometimes he wanted to sit on an armchair, but only if we left the door to the garden open.  As soon as it closed he stood up and demanded an exit.  For weeks on end he failed to turn up at all.  I missed my old cats; the house seemed empty without them, but this massive grey cat neither belonged nor settled with us.

“It’s no good,” I said, “I want more cats.”  I phoned round and found two kittens, brought them home straight away, even though we had builders in and it was hardly the best time for little kittens.

Just as soon as the kittens came home, the big grey turned up again. More determined this time, confident to prowl through the house, stay for longer.  The cat with no name was so dignified, so aloof that we began to call him ‘Mr’: short, of course, for Mr Cat. “This is crazy,” I moaned to John, “I didn’t want three cats.  He must belong to someone…”

So we made notices, asked around.  Everyone seemed to know who I was talking about.  He’d been seen in lots of people’s gardens, but no one knew where he came from.  An idea struck:  maybe he had a mircochip. Just over the road is a vet who could check.

Sure enough, the chip revealed he lived just around the corner from us.  We knocked; no answer.  We tried the next day and the next, until after a week, I despaired.

“One last try, Mr.” Bingo!

His name was Simba, he lived with three other cats and a baby of about 2 years (and a couple with an 11 year old)  He did not like the baby, who rode him like a horse.  He did not like the third cat who had joined the family in the past year.  I could have him if I liked.

Outraged, I came home.  I could have him if I liked?  Didn’t they care? That’s how Mr joined our family.  Clearly he felt at home when other cats were around.  I wish you could have seen him when he first realised we had the kittens.  One was asleep in John’s lap and Mr came in, barging in to sit in prime position, he simply didn’t notice the little ball of fur, until he sniffed and sniffed and nosed the kitten into movement.  The ensuing hiss was incredibly alarming, although no fur was ruffled, our nerves were!

Mr made friends with the builders, all of whom greeted him each morning.  After the hissing incident, and knowing his sudden rage, if we so much as stroked him the wrong way, we decided to separate him from the kittens initially.  Mr still disappeared for a day at a time, but now always turned up for tea!

So that was it!  Three cats!

Home at last – 20th April 2012


We arrived back in Heathrow at 6 in the morning. The eight hour flight to Singapore gave us a stopover of just 90 mins before continuing on our way for the 12 hour flight back home. It always feels like living in a manufactured environment, flying!

Food looks and tastes strange, people mess with your natural rhythm by turning down the lights for extraordinary lengths of time, but you hardly seem to sleep at all. A whir of films flicker in front of your eyes but you can only concentrate on a superficial level and end up watching rubbish, simply to pass the time.

After a while you find you must have been asleep, because suddenly you have woken with a stiff neck and the realization that there is still another 6 hours to sit still.

Then you land and experience the joy of rescuing your luggage from the carousel, and making your way to your final destination.

Home!

My younger daughter, her husband and son have been looking after our house for 6 months and greet us. Our grandchild is now 19 months old. We have kept up a relationship via Skype, regularly dropping in around his breakfast time. To my delight and amazement, he recognizes us instantly. With one second to dip behind mum’s legs in shyness, he quickly recovers his cool and bounds about. We have bought him toys, jigsaws, T-shirts. As we open our suitcases to retrieve these, he is emboldened but always asks if he can dig about in the case for the next thing of interest.

What a change in 6 months: he has several key words and a great sense of humor. He love playing with the IPad and is highly proficient at it, choosing quickly his favourite programs and taking photos of himself using its camera.

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While we were in Sydney we saw this statue outside the cathedral. It amused us because it looks as if the child has an IPad!

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It doesn’t seem like our house! Although most things are as we left them, it feels alien. I hesitate when I want to turn on the oven: how does it work? How mad is that?

The three cats make themselves known to us again. One, the largest and oldest, has just come back from the vet, costing £750 with a urinary infection. His story will become the focus of my next few blogs.

It’s cold, it’s raining. Having so many people to talk with tires me!! I’ve been used to the exclusive conversations with John. Not turn taking! My older daughter comes over too. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing them. But there seems so much to say on all sides. Somehow the essence of our conversation becomes distilled to such pithy sound bites they lose their quality and context. All these wonderful places I’ve seen jostle with newsy items about work, children, social gossip, other members of the family who have spoken with my daughters while we were away.

My white beaches are fading fast!
My azure sea is greying!
Within four days, I feel overwhelmed by the normalness of it all.

This can’t happen!

Thank goodness we have already planned to sail in the Greek islands in a month’s time. The thought of that might help.

Meanwhile, I devote a lot of time to reacquainting myself with my grandson and reorienting myself to this house. It seems huge after the little motel rooms and cabins. There also seems a lot of housework in the normal course of the day. With so many people in the house, the washing up, laundry and tidying increases ten fold. The advantage to traveling is that you move away from mess and into a nice new environment each few days.

As my blogging friend, Ronda says, “breathe and release”!

Can’t believe it – Tuesday 17th April 2012


So that’s it then!
The last full day of traveling.
Six months on the road, what an adventure.
When I started out, I didn’t even know what a blog was. Now it feels like part of my existence to write about my day.
The plan, initially was to record what I do, so that, when I am really old and may have Alzheimer’s, someone can read this back to me.
Forward planning, I call it!
So many new activities, sights, places, flowers, animals, birds…memories!

And, today it is raining! The shops are full of plum, amber, chocolate and russets to compliment autumn, and I am about to go back to Spring. This will be my longest summer ever! Three back to back.

We hang round much of the morning, waiting for the rain to ease. It is no hardship, I have loads of blogs to catch up on. Finally, we brave it, walking down the pavements to the Strand. Here we began our journey in October, forcing ourselves to have lunch when our body clocks shouted for sleep after the 24 hour flight. Then, as today we ordered Turkish Raisin Bread and Cappachino.

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We make our way through familiar streets and shops, commenting on changes occasionally. The New South Wales art gallery is just by the botanic gardens. We had noticed it in December. We enjoyed the galleries in Brisbane and in Melbourne.
There’s a wonderful floor of aboriginal art, none of which you can photograph. But a great collection of bark painting, of traditional stories and some modern takes in a naive style which is very appealing with bright colours and bold strokes.
Picasso, Rubens, Constable, Van Gogh, and hundreds of other artists are represented here. Yet I did not feel the thrill of their collection. Sadly it was rather trying to cover the range of styles and periods, in some way, instead of finding the best examples of each artist. That sounds very stuck up, and I really don’t know much about art! Anyway, we had a brilliant time, wandering through and pointing out our likes and dislikes.

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On the way home, a spider caught our eye.

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Funny thing about spiders: in England we say “if you want to live and thrive, let the spider run alive”, I bet they don’t say that in Australia. Poisonous things!
In the apartment, we begin the tedious process of throwing out. We need to get our baggage weight down, and we have so many clothes which are more or less worn to shreds. After the first bout, John took a plastic bag of old clothes and began sidling up to bins to pop a pair of sock here and trousers there, until we found a wheelie bin that would hold the whole bag. Good job too! It felt worse than seeing people sidle up to bins and take out things to keep!
Now we start the thinning process again, debating taking home parcel tape, shampoo, olive oil and the like.
The fridge was next. All the vegetables were amassed and cooked into a meal that heaped high on the 12 inch dinner plate. John is frugal by nature, and hates to see waste, so it was no problem for him to eat all his!
And here I am!
Only the flight to go.
When I get home, back in London. I want to re-read the page, “how travel enlightened my view on retirement.”
It has…
I need to add to it.

I guess I need the next stage of the plan now.
Moving house!
I’m still not at all decided if that should be blog worthy. If you have an opinion, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading me.

Final drive to Sydney – Monday 16th April 2012


Funny, how things turn out when you’re traveling! We use our IPad to plot the route, wherever it might be. Googlemaps usually gives us one or two choices in route and off we go. So it was today, but suddenly I saw a sign “Pacific Ocean Drive”. I remember before we even started to travel and I was browsing the net to see what we might find in Australia. This drive came up with its own website. An image stuck in my head of a road clinging to cliff face, over the ocean. I want to do that, I thought.

“Turn right here!”
So we increase our journey length by about one hour but…
Much of the drive steers you through seaside towns, which makes for slow going. Much of the drive has no obvious relevance to a coastal drive at all. Frequently we are maneuvered back onto Princes Highway for a spell but…
Just past Woolangong, the drive takes a spectacular turn for the better: lots of coastal driving and then…
The road swoops around the massive perpendicular cliffs, hugging its side and hanging over the ocean, just like the photo. It’s impossible to stop for a while (roadworks, would you believe!) but, when we did, you could look back…

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Just beside us is a field, atop the cliff, where hang-gliders and para gliders land and take off.

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From here the road takes a totally different character as it plunges into National Park forest, twisting and turning.
Then, without warning we are in suburban Sydney and a new style of driving is required. Oh, but this is second nature to me. It’s just like London, crammed with traffic, traffic lights, roundabouts, lane changes…yes, this feels like home already.
It was a good drive: a kind of tribute to the many beaches, seascapes, forests and wild bush we have seen over the last six months.
The car is dropped back, the apartment, which is lovely, is found and we unpack, like professional travelers. Unpacking is also second nature now!

It’s wonderful to have a top of range bathroom, large white fluffy towels, table lamps, nice smells, a balcony with a view of the CBD.

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I have arranged to meet an ex-colleague, who had taken the post as deputy in my school as a maternity cover, and had proved very talented both as a teacher and a leader. I meet his new partner and we enjoy a drink and meal together, exchanging gossip of how our school is faring without us!

Back in our apartment, we luxuriate in our new space. It’s so clean and modern!

Leaving paradise? – Sunday 15th April 2012


Last time to go to the beach.
Six months traveling, finding what life can be like as a ‘retired person’.
Learning to be just me, not just a headteacher.
This must be one of the best ‘last’ days anyone could have.

We took a picnic to Greenfield beach. It’s just to the side of Hyams Beach, at Jervis Bay. A lovely deep beach, surrounded by trees, not a house in sight, a small stream running by its side. The sand is brilliant white and fine as Hyams. Fine sand that is so easily brushed from the skin, and, when dry, it squeaks as you walk along it. There is very little seaweed in the water, next to none on the beach itself. We head to the clear water, blue, bright and incredibly calm. The rhythmic sound of filigree white waves against white sand. It’s beautiful!
Someone has made a structure of branches stuck in the sand: a shelter of dry leaves creates sufficient shade to allow us to spend hours in the heat.
Without sun glasses it is nearly impossible to see along the beach. It’s so bright! It’s a paradise or an advert. The water is pristine, when someone swims through a wave you can see right through the water before they emerge.
It’s impossible to resist swimming in the clear, cool water. Unlike most seas, the water does not cloy your skin; it feels fresh.

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Over and over again we talk around how lucky we are, how much we have grown through our travels, how much we have enjoyed each others company. Well, that’s good! We will be spending a lot more time together!

I lie on the beach, soaking up the warmth and wonder…why am I going home? Could I do this every day? Possibly. But friends and family…I need them too.
And variety. I am notorious for becoming bored quickly!

Eventually, the sun sets behind the trees and shadows cover the beach. Damn these tropical days when night comes at 6 pm, I’ll never get used to that. As we stroll back to the car, I turn for one last look, searing the image into my mind to remember on cold, sad days.

Too many beaches to choose from – Saturday 14th April 2012


Overnight, the sky has clouded, but the heat remains. We are no quicker getting out of bed, still recovering from our travels. Suddenly, I remember the couple we met on Bondi beach in October 2011 when we began our journey. They had been travelling for three months through Vietnam, Thailand and were on their way to meet their son in New Zealand. “Don’t do what we did,” they advised, “staying only one night over and over is so tiring!”. Damn right!
Still we are up by 10.30 and ready for action, of sorts.
I’d like to see the end of Jervis Bay peninsula so we drive past Hyams Beach to find a pay booth for Jervis Bay National Park, $10.
It is so similar to Wilson’s Promontory where we went with my Melbourne friend: beautiful, wild and full of beaches. We begin with Cave Beach, (yes, it had a cave!): half a mile of buttermilk sand, which brushes off like talcum powder. John rushes off to the sea, leaping through the waves. There are boogie boards and surfers in the sea, but I reckon the surfers were beginners because the waves were not that strong.
There is little sunshine, but it is warm enough to lie for an hour, people watching. We also walk the length of the beach and find crab sand ball patterns like we did in Northern Queensland. We nearly forget that we wanted to explore all the beaches.
Off to Green Patch, such a sweet beach with a stream down one side and greenish sea. We explore Jervis Village briefly, mostly related to the marine corps I think. Then there is Murrey beach and, suddenly we have run out of daylight. If only this was UK. Our summer days last until 9pm! Here we have darkness by 6 on a dull day!

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We have run out of food, so drive the 30km to Nowar, the nearest big supermarket and buy up.. What to eat tonight? Pre-cooked chook! It’s a Tudor feast with no vegetables just roasted chicken and some bread, all the better of not having to do any cooking myself.

Watching the world go by – Friday13th April 2012


We are so much better for a good night’s sleep and the kind of morning that allows a leisurely breakfast in bed and lots of reading. Wifi connections are appalling here, so we abandon our frustration at not being in touch with friends and family, and not being able to catch up with blogging.
It’s colder inside the ‘budget bungalow’ than outside. So we walk all of 10m to the river front, sit on the wooden chairs, drink coffee, and lemonade and read and talk. There are birds to watch too.
Terns dive frequently into the rising tidal river, the oyster catcher has procured an excellent patch of shellfish, which he picks over as fresh water drenches them, pelicans fly majestically overhead, three cormorants sit and idle the time with us, each on their own jetty piles.
Along with the tide comes paddle boards and canoes but by high tide all seems very still. We bask in the sunshine, peaceful and not traveling anywhere!

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Only when the late afternoon shadows envelope our spot by the jetty do we finally move. Out through the town and along the sandy beach. Not quite white here! As we wander further and further from one beach to another we discuss the most apt descriptive title: buttermilk, says John, no, say I, more like white bone china clay.

Perfect! Relaxing, warm. John and I have come to enhance our relationship in so many ways through this long journey. Peace…

The whitest sand in the world – Thursday 12th April 2012


Just a 2 hour journey today. After weeks of traveling relentlessly towards Sydney, we are going to stop for a few days and enjoy ourselves. Jervis Bay was recommended by our friends in Melbourne, but we have seen it rated as on of the top ten “whitest sandy beaches in the world”. Who could we not want to come?

We have two hours before we are able to book into our ‘budget bungalow’. After the past few cabins in holiday parks, I am beginning to get an eerie feeling that the title of this is not good. There were beautiful photos of bungalow 1 and Waterfront Bungalow, but only a stark ‘older kitchen in budget bungalow’ photo. Still it is considerably less expensive than the others and brilliantly located as absolute waterfront on the river.

First we head off to Hyams Beach. This is said to be the beach with the whitest sand, according to the tourist books and Internet. We look at the smaller section first, to the left of the main beach. Yes, the sand is white, but seaweed covers much of the beach and the grain of the sand is slightly course. I feel irritated with myself for having such high expectations.

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John insists he has not warmed up yet from the cold of yesterday, which had actually been warmer than the day before. He stubbornly sits on the beach with his jumper on. My concept of tropical beach has difficulty coping with this.
We move onto the larger Hyams Beach. This lives up to my imagination. The sand is talcum fine, and brilliant white. It is truly hard to see without sunglasses. The water contrasts beautifully with the white. Even John is warmed by the view and his jumper magically disappears. We sit in awe of the beauty that surrounds us, envious of those in the sea; we have swim wear lodged in the murky bottom of our cases back in the car.

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Eventually, we quit the beach for an impromptu lunch of hummus and bread from the food bag out the boot of the car.
Finally, at two o’clock, we arrive at Husskison at the budget bungalow. The setting is just as I wished for, grassy, well kept with a long wooden jetty protruding into the estuary. Two wood chairs and a small table invite us to take coffee and admire the view.
We spend the late afternoon wandering round the town. They too have a sandy beach, where we have brought our swimwear and simply soak up the sun, until the evening shadows force us to return home.
But the bungalow itself is, also, as expected. The kitchen is large with two modern yet already aged sofas and a smell of unkempt, unloved cupboards. The bedrooms are good enough and we set to making it comfortable. The best bit is the verandah, where we bask in the evening sun and eat our meal.
Best of all though, we are staying here a while. Four nights to recover, to relax, to get to one the area better.

Last one night stand – Wednesday 11th April 2012


One week to go!!
Next Wednesday we take the plane back to London and its the end of 6 months travel.
Today is also, thankfully the last pit-stop we make on our drive from Adelaide to Sydney: our last one night stand!

There’s a change in energy within us: less narrowness in vision. We are no longer just pushing on, we allow ourselves to enjoy it all again.

Tilba Tilba attracts us with a signpost offering a “National Trust Village” and a cheese factory. We love cheese. Cheese therefore becomes our lunch, a cheese platter of various flavours: olive, chilli, cracked pepper. Then we explore the village around the corner. Nearly every residence has turned itself into a shop with cafe. Offering leather good, jewelry, clothes, it makes an interesting stop. We buy some glass rings for our daughters.

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Mosquito Bay did not draw us with its name! However I had heard about the Jervis Bay Marine Park and I did notice that sign. Where we stopped was clearly a favourite fishing beach, with houses overlooking the bay.
“That’s the kind of house we need to buy in England,” we agree. Whether we could ever find the like, I have no idea.

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Our cabin in Clyde View Holiday Park is slightly more modern than last night, but still has a spartan air. The best thing about it is the location: absolute beach front! It’s a strange sand, fine silt pretending to be golden sand, but the firm quality makes it very good to walk along. We walk its length, and return via the town of Batehaven: a simple row of shops, several caravan parks and a feature of a rather run down looking bird and wildlife park.