Monthly Archives: April 2016


I’m so sad about Victoria Wood’s death. She was one of my idols, and I went to see her perform live three times, the first back in the early eighties when we were both a lot younger, where, from my precious stalls seat, an unbreakable connection was made.

I laughed that night. So much.  Till my sides properly ached. And continued to do so, along with millions of others, at – and this is really quite something, when you think about it – everything she subsequently wrote or did. She just drew people in, didn’t she? With her talent. With her person. With some magical quality that is probably impossible to define, yet almost all of us instantly recognise. You saw (you will continue to see) any trailer with Victoria Wood in it, and you were drawn in, like a moth to a flame.

That’s a rare thing. And, God, Sixty two is no age to die, is it? Yet her flame has been snuffed, even so. Along with what feels like a tidal wave of others. It’s been a bad year, this, for death, has it not? Only April yet death is so much on our collective mind. As it would be, because we’ve already lost so many.

I’ve joked on social media. I should really find a new set of friends. Adolescents – no, pubescents, just to extend the safety margin. Just so that slew of depressing posts is no more.  Shiny, happy friends, who’d be wide eyed, unlined, and untroubled. Victoria who? Ronnie who? David who? (David WHAT?). Alan who? Sorry – Motorhead? That’s a band, right? Sorry, no.

The future for the living tends to loom in that way. My mum, eighty five, eighty six in a matter of weeks now, goes to funerals as often as I go to Waitrose.

“How’s your day been?”

“Oh, not too bad. Went to art class, then a funeral.” (When she starts going as often as I go to Lidl I’ll be on to the Queen, because she’ll obviously be due her telegram.)

And its not just all the death, it’s all the illness. This creaks and that leaks, and it really presses the point home when my sister, when we’re chatting about a forthcoming holiday, quips, “I’m so excited I’m going to have to find a Tenalady!”

Though, amusingly, my other sister, who lives in California, had to ask what she meant, because she doesn’t even know what a Tenalady is. Mind you, that’s not just about international branding. She’s not had kids. I think kindest to leave her in her ignorance. Or perhaps head to YouTube, where it would doubtless be the work of moments to find some sparkling piece of comedy on precisely that subject by who else but the irreplaceable Victoria Wood?

I hate to bang on, because I don’t want to spoil your breakfast. But sixty two. It keeps haunting me. It’s no age to die,  is it? Yet so many, famous or otherwise, all cherished, all missed, are snatched from us before either they or we are ready.

Which is why I’m mindful of my maternal grandfather, who I never met, much less  knew, because he died in his forties, just after the end of the war. In his case, via a brain haemorrhage, caused – or so goes the family lore – by hitting his head on a Belisha beacon while walking down the street with my mum, and pointing out that there were oranges in the greengrocers.

My mum was twelve, and she still cries to think of all she missed with him, but, more happily, has spent a lifetime reminding us of his wisdom. One mantra – live for today, and bugger tomorrow – has always been the go-to line in discussions with my bank manager. And though he shouldn’t agree, and has been called upon to help me out of many resultant financial scrapes, I can see in his eyes that he does.

And the other one is my grandad’s version of a poem:

‘I shall pass through this world just once.

Any good thing, therefore, that I can do, let me do it now,

For I shall not pass this way again.’

As a child, I’ll admit, I found those few lines somewhat daunting. Those few lines from a granddad, never known, but much missed.  Like Victoria Wood, taken much too soon.

But, sad that death makes me, increasingly I realise that contemplating our own is the only way to truly live.

RIP.

First published in The Western Mail Weekend Magazine, April 23rd 2016

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Oh, lord – my cats are being bullied. Which I appreciate might not be the most important piece of news you’ve heard this week, what with political tsunamis, rock musicians in the dock, and the tragedy of Lady Linda’s untimely death. (RIP)

Back at Barrett-Lee Towers, however (as I shouldn’t really describe it, as we’re blessed with just the one chimney stack, which is sub-let to a family of jackdaws) the issue of the cat-bullying has reached crisis point.

It’s an un-neutered tom – as you’d probably guess. A kind of tabby-tortoiseshell hybrid, but with a smidge of Bengal tiger/petty criminal/gnarly home-boy thrown in. And when our eyes meet, I know exactly what he’s thinking. He’s thinking he’s O’Malley, off the Aristocats, that’s what he’s thinking.   ‘Yo, mutha – beat it. Get outta my frigging face.’ (Except, being an alley cat, he wouldn’t use the word ‘frigging’.) He thinks he’s hard, but actually he’s just the feline equivalent of a pimply seventeen year old, driving like a moron in his mum’s old KA, thinking he’s sub-zero because he’s got his baseball cap on back to front, his windows rolled down, and Pillock FM turned to the max. That he’s a cat with some serious cojones.

Not that I’m blowing this out of proportion, you understand. But this invasion, for us as a family, is virgin territory. Well, I say virgin territory – strictly speaking it’s OUR territory, and he has no business rocking up, cocking his scabby tail and spraying his stinking cat-Hi Karate all around the place. Actually, scrub that. More generic supermarket-brand Lynx.

But that’s small beer, to be honest, because I’ve seen what he gets up to. Yowling. Lots of that. Proper blood-curling yowling. And going ‘rarrrrrrr!’ and getting his claws out. And generally harrying poor terrified Harvey (who is, of course, cojones-free, because we’re RESPONSIBLE cat-owners) till he’s a panting, quivering jelly. And for what? (Because there’s no room at THIS inn, buddy boy.) So he can stage a bloody coup on OUR Lola. (Who is also neutered, incidentally, so yah boo sucks to YOU.)

Funny business, being a cat owner, for all sorts of reasons. There’s the slavery aspect, obviously, and the pitying looks you get from dog owners, and that constant undercurrent of – let’s be honest – snidery.

Because there’s always someone, isn’t there? Someone who pities you for being such a ridiculous dolt. Get with the programme, they sneer, because YOUR CAT DOES NOT LOVE YOU!! They just know where their bread’s buttered and the pickings are richest. And where there’s strokes, because a stroked cat is a happy cat, obviously. And, no, since you ask, we are not prostituting ourselves. Stroking cats is right up there with Prozac.

Be that as it may (and this seems as good a point as any to point out that if you read my book Able Seacat Simon – which, yes, is still available on a high street near you – you will be rid of such tragic cynicism, and quite possibly cry). We DO love our cats, and we’re pretty sure they love us too, not least because little Harvey was rescued from a skip and Lola from a life among the dustbins of Merthyr Tydfil.

So be clear. No-one messes with our moggies. But what exactly do you do about a large marauding feline, which has an absence of common decency re respecting boundaries and personal space? I don’t think he’s a stray. Much too fit-looking and cocky. He walks the walk of a cat that’s been GIVEN no boundaries. Honestly. Some parents today. He has the look of a cat with a sense of entitlement. Who’s been hand-reared on lightly poached Albacore tuna and has his own shearling fleece at the end of someone’s bed. But he is collarless as well as shameless and, though I suspect he might be micro-chipped, the chances of me catching him – let alone frogmarching him to the vets and asking to have his chip read – are something approaching 0.0000000%.

And even if I managed it, what then? Can you imagine the conversation? “Your cat’s being horrible to my cats.” “And your point is? He’s a cat! What the **** d’you expect me to do about it? Put him on a leash?” (And, yes, in my mind’s eye, this chippy cat-mummy is OBVIOUSLY Vi Kray.)

So what to do?

Type ‘my cats are being terrorised’ into a search engine, that’s what.

And so to Mumset. A LOT more of which next week…

 

First published in the Western Mail Weekend magazine, April 16th 2016

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