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Of Family, Friends and Felines

Of Family, Friends and Felines

The saga of the three weeks preceding our relocation to Kent has been shared with many of you, but you’ll forgive me if I revisit it briefly to set the scene for our further adventures.

Two bike incidents on one Sunday resulted in an ankle ligament injury for me and a broken right wrist for Archie. With a week to go before our farewell charity concert, don’t you think it reasonable that when Archie phoned to tell me his news from the hospital, my first query was ‘Will you be able to play in the concert?’ A plaintive repetition of, ‘I’ve broken my wrist,’ suggested I’d misjudged my response. The concert problem was soon sorted with the arrival, in shining armour, of our friend and pianist-extraordinaire, Graeme McNaught, who galloped straight up to the piano and proceeded to canter through the four works for two-pianos and various song accompaniments – and a couple of piano solos – as if it were a gentle warm up before a day of dragon slaying.

It was only as the following week unfolded that the full import of our situation dawned on us. On the Monday, we decided to pack our music books which filled a wall cupboard of a dozen shelves. Archie, on his two fine legs, strode downstairs to gather up the flat-pack boxes for me, with my two fine hands, to tape together. We smile smugly at each other. ‘Easy,’ we say, ‘what a team we are.’

Music books are heavy. ‘Careful, Archie. You’ll never manage to lift that pile down with your left hand only, and I can’t stand up to help you.’ Bach, Bartok and Beethoven jostle for floor space as my words go unheeded. Hmmm, so much for team work. We work our way down the cupboard. Neither of us can lift or tape the full boxes. They stand like jagged rocks on the sanded floor of the music room. And there they stay till some of Archie’s family come by to assist.

So between family and friends, our loft is emptied, our shelves are bared, our boxes are filled. Bags stand ready to go to charity shops. Ah, yes… ‘go to’… simple words… but how to ‘go to’? We can’t drive. We do have four working limbs between us but they are operated by two different heads, and there is only space for one head behind the steering wheel. Our ill-fated bikes fester in the garage and our family and friends once more assist. Even so, Eastwood Mearns taxi drivers are splashing out on art treasures and city breaks as they beat a track back and forth to Oakley Drive.

We were quite a few days into our life with taxis when the most significant consequence of our state struck us. How will we get to our new house in Kent? Easy, I hear you say, there is such a thing as public transport, you know. The whole world doesn’t travel by taxi. You’re right, of course, but do you have an equally simple solution as to how to transport four cats and one elderly dog?

Creative juices drooled and splashed onto our heaps of boxes as we exercised ourselves as to how to overcome this latest obstacle. Son, Tim, phoned to discuss arrangements for a wedding they were flying to Glasgow for during the weekend of our removal. We chewed over the problem with him and suddenly it was solved! A quick call to put Tim on our car insurance, a ‘little’ surcharge to easyJet to swap Tim’s name to mine and all looked rosy. Tim would drive Archie plus menagerie down on Sunday while I would fly with Kim and the boys that evening.

The removal company had phoned to ask if they could start emptying the house on Thursday instead of Saturday as they had a cancellation. Better and better, we thought, as we’re having to leave a day early to fit in with Tim. And it was! Except perhaps that we weren’t as ready as we would have been for what to tell the men not to take. The plague of locusts swarming over ancient Egypt could not have been more devastating in their removal of every obstacle in their path. Before you could say pantechnicon, the cat food, dog food, black bin bags, cleaning materials, a set of drawers, which-we-weren’t-planning-to-take-but-which-we-had-yet-to-empty-of-our-documents, were buried deep in the welter of our belongings in the depths of the van. The removers’ final, and most spectacular, achievement was to pick up a large vase, filled with water and the wilting remains of many flowers, place it in the bulging vehicle – and drive off straightaway.

*****

Now the cast of our play increases and the plot takes some unexpected twists. In parallel with our move, others of the family are having their own dramas. On Saturday morning, as our removal men are once again swarming over 2 Oakley Drive, my phone rings – no, not the house phone, silly – that was long ago devoured and incarcerated. It’s Miriam, who has Tim, Kim, Benji (age 5) and Luke (age 1) staying overnight before the wedding which is saving our bacon.

‘How are the removal men doing?’ she queries.

‘Very well,’ I grit, clutching tenaciously at a black bag of refuse which I don’t want to find delivered to our new home in Kent.

‘I don’t suppose Archie’s shirts are still there, by any chance? It looks as if Tim hasn’t brought a shirt to go with his kilt for the wedding.’

I direct Miriam to direct Tim to Man’s World and put down the phone, only to pick it up again to our son, Lewis.

‘How are the removal men doing,’ he queries.

‘Very well,’ I growl, just realising that we are going to have to ask the neighbours if we can borrow two spoons so that we can finish off the ice cream we’d left in the freezer for a post-removal-men treat.

‘I don’t suppose you have a plumber’s number? The shower in the flat is not working and the tenants are complaining.’

I direct Lewis to Miriam to direct Lewis to a plumber.

And now, the house is empty (except for our four cats who will be collected by us in the morning. Sanday is staying with a friend for the night) and we are on our way to have a meal with friends, after which a taxi will bear us, with the few personal belongings we have managed to retain, to Miriam’s house for our final night in Glasgow. On the short walk to our friends’ house my phone rings.

‘How are the removal men doing,’ Tim queries.

‘Very well,’ I trill, ‘it’s all finished, the house is cleaned and we are on our way to visit friends for a meal before sleeping at Miriam’s.’

‘Ah, about that,’ he says tentatively, ‘we’re wondering about a change of plan. You know we were due to stay here at the wedding venue tonight but Luke has been throwing up ever since we got here. He’s used up all the clothes we brought for him and we are sharing bathroom facilities. So we thought it might be better to come back to Miriam’s flat tonight. What do you think?’

I direct Tim to Miriam to direct us as to where to sleep.

It all works out fine actually. Miriam is singing at a gig in Edinburgh and won’t be back until the wee small hours. She nobly directs us to her bed and will take the couch herself for what’s left of the night. We enjoy a delicious meal with fine company, the wedding party returns around midnight, the small boys are consigned to bed, the sick-spattered garments are stuffed in the washing machine, and the adults take their well-earned rest.

And Sunday is a new day! We have a lovely relaxed morning with the family in Miriam’s flat. Luke is still being sick and, though he hotly denies it, Benji has been sick on the duvet in the night. Such is the exhaustion of his parents that they turn the duvet round and go back to sleep.

Then it is time to collect up the cats and head south. Sanday will be picked up en route for the south. Archie, Tim and I breeze into Oakley Drive. The cats have had no breakfast so they should be waiting eagerly for our arrival and easy to pack into their baskets. Nell and Ebony are flopped on the bare floor, Oscar disappears through the cat flap as soon as we open the door; of Dickens there’s nary a whisker to be seen. I won’t dwell on the task of ‘popping’ the two cats into their baskets. It was achieved; all I’ll say is the bite is healing well. The more challenging part of the story is about how to pop two cats into their baskets when the cats are not there to be popped.

As our spirits drooped, we invoked Plan B. Tim went back to Miriam’s flat to eat and rest before the long drive and we sat for one last time in our sun-drenched, rose-filled garden and waited… and waited… and waited. We knew Dickens and Oscar were around. We saw them on roofs, under bushes, over fences but they kept a canny distance from us. As the clock ticked on, Plan C was hastily formed. We would leave with the two snarling, yowling baskets we had. We would set the cat flap so that when the other two cats finally came in to the house, that would be that. Miriam would come later that day and retrieve them.

Tim and Archie set off for Essex where we were to stay for four days until we could get access to the new house. This was the part of the whole operation which we had anticipated would be the most challenging as the need for the cats to have a swift journey had to be balanced with the dog’s to have plenty of stops. In the event, the two humans had a pleasant day, regaled by a dramatisation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Maybe the animals were also enthralled by Douglas Adams; they settled down quickly and made no complaint. Glad you had a good trip, guys.

Meanwhile, Kim, Benji, Luke and I set off for the airport. Just a little flight, and two adults to manage two small boys – all in a day’s mothering really. Kim managed the big beast of a hire car with the practised air of the seasoned Hong Kong driver she is. We pooled our strength to woman-handle the massive case and other luggage onto a trolley, and strode off with good humour on the hike to the check-in desk. Benji was towed along on his wonderful Trunki, without which we could not have coped.

It was just as we were standing in the check-in queue that I drop my bombshell. ‘I don’t suppose I’ll need my a passport, I say casually, ‘I don’t have it with me’.

Kim reassures ‘Your driver’s license will do,’ she says.

I don’t need to respond in words. My face says all. Now it’s our turn to check in and Kim steps forward with our boarding passes. I muddle about behind her with the massive case. It’s not often one is relieved to be told that one’s case exceeds the allowance. Hastily we repack it, stuffing things willy-nilly into our hand luggage as Luke weeps and clings to his mother’s legs while his Granny ineffectually tries to prise him off. Kim locates the £1 coin needed to swing the case up on the scales and we’re good to go. She scurries back over and checks in the case. It seems that two children and one Granny have all been covered by Kim’s passport and an overweight case.

Everyone knows the misery of the trek to security and the bag check, but through it all my heart is light. Even if I am stopped at the gate, at least I’ll have got them on the flight. Hopefully a good Samaritan will appear to help them at Stansted. At the flight gate, all is bustle, and adults with children have already been called. When the stewardess sees us arriving, she rushes forward to process us quickly to get us and our buggy on board. And now our trusty young accomplices spring into action with Benji darting on and off the seat where he has been told to wait, and Luke using all the mighty weapons available to a one-year old. Over the stramash, I smilingly ask what form of ID might I need. The stewardess smiles back. ‘As long as you have a printed boarding pass, that will do tonight,’ she says. We grab our boys and glide through the gate before she changes her mind.

Our luck has turned, our flight is over, our luggage is on a trolley, with Benji perched on top like a little king. We are making our way to the Blue car park. Not even the right-listing trolley dampens our spirits as we lurch along the pathway. Then Kim stops. ‘I think the car park ticket is in the pocket of Tim’s trousers’.

‘In the case?’ I ask casually.

‘No, on the M6 on the person who owns them.’

We find an emergency phone and are reassured that the car registration number will be sufficient to let us out. We bound along in the dark – it is now around 10.30pm – and finally locate the car. Kim presses the remote on the fob… but there is no responding cheery flash from the car, no sound of doors clicking open in welcome. Remembering how it was back in the day, I suggest she tries to open the door with a key. It works, but it is clear that not even a wing and a prayer are going to get us home. Not without the assistance of the AA. And so, while the boys obligingly sleep, we sit and discuss the casting of the film we will create based on our weekend. It’s only an hour before a cheery man comes, charges up the battery, and instructs Kim to drive home like a rally driver. It is 12.45am when Tim and Archie haul the luggage and sleeping boys into the house.

*****

Around the time that the boys were employing their diversion tactics at the airport, Miriam was bundling Dickens and Oscar into their little prisons before taking them to her house to await further instructions. Miriam’s cat, Jasper, welcomed the two guests with open paws to his humble home. Sadly, Dickens (his own brother, though they had not met for 9 years) returned fair with foul and had to be banished to solitary confinement.

Texts flash back and forth between Essex and Glasgow as we put our heads together to come up with a plan for getting the cats to England. Archie is ruled out of court as he can’t carry two cat baskets. Shall we go for Plan D (I take a train back to Glasgow and bring them down), or Plan E (Miriam does the same but in reverse) or Plan F (we meet halfway at a suitable handover point)?

We settle on Plan G which takes place two days later when the temperature in London is 34 degrees – the hottest June day for 40 years. The same friend who had boarded Sanday overnight brings the two cats by train to London. We travel in to London, meet her, fill her up with diet coke, put her on the next train back to Glasgow and, bearing a cat each, trudge off back to Essex – but not before Archie manages to get his Kindle stolen. As they bedded down with the other two cats in Tim’s garage that night, I wonder if Dickens and Oscar reflected on the consequences of their lack of cooperation. Instead of one comfy car journey with in-car entertainment, their journey south went by way of two taxis, one Pendolino train, two tube trains and one local train. Have they learned anything? I doubt it.

*****

The day of the move dawned fair. We’d thought of so many things which could go wrong on this day (and on the showing of the past three weeks, lots we hadn’t thought of too). Anticipating a feline revolt when we suggested to the cats that they should once again spend the day in their baskets, we approached Tim and Kim’s garage early in the day, armed with determination, Miriam’s advice to catch each cat by the scruff of the neck, and thick gloves. It was done in a trice.

Before 9am, the removal men had swapped one of our upright pianos for K&T’s digital one to be taken with us to Kent. We had been told we could get access to the house at 12 noon but first our money had to be sent from our Glasgow solicitor to our London solicitor and then on to our vendor’s solicitor – all before noon! We expected the worst. Kim, with Luke, drove our car with us with cats from Essex to Kent in a mere 40 minutes. Miraculously, all movement of money, people and chattels dovetailed, son Chris drove Kim, with Luke, back to Essex, and returned with Sanday. We had arrived and the sun was shining just as you all told us it would.

*****

Maybe you haven’t read this whole saga. I don’t blame you. Much of it makes doleful reading. However, the real point of the tale is, not to point out the foolhardiness of moving house, or to tell you that we’ve changed our minds. It is to say how wonderful our friends and family have been at every turn. Mind you, we’d rather not have had to put them to the test.

All three grandchildren and animals have checked things out and are very happy with what they found. Here, Rose and Sanday compare notes.

Esther Cohen