Tuesday, 29 April 2014

London, London, Oxford - and a wild cat

Courtyard at Kellogg, Rewell House

Since that last entry about Domenico Iannaco's Galahad I have been away three days out of five and feeling a little under the weather.

After the CLPE judging in London on Wednesday I returned to London again on Thursday for the launch of Ágnes Lehóczky's new book, Carilloneur, at the Hungarian Cultural Centre. I felt I had to be there because Ági is not only an ex-student but a fellow Hungarian, by now an old friend and a fascinating writer of prose poems. I am pretty sure that her earliest prose poems were born out of her love for Ágnes Nemes Nagy, and she did after all write the first English book-length study of Nemes Nagy, but she has since progressed to a kind of dialogic exploration of the way places are superimposed like palimpsests, in what might be considered a version of psychogeography but less to do with self location than with history and memory. I was to be one of the three introducers to the evening.

It's quite a long journey down - about three hours from door to door each way - and I wasn't feeling quite well (I had been suffering a seasonal, possibly allergic cough for a couple of weeks and had slept badly). I was rough when I started and was worse on the way home where, first, I met poet and literary agent,  Isobel Dixon, travelling from London to Cambridge so we chatted a little, then, on the Cambridge-Wymondham leg, bumped into Tamsin Flower returning from a performance-and-critics meeting at a theatre in Cambridge, so it was all talk and cough again, arriving home some time after midnight. These meetings are a pleasure but if they hadn't happened I would have happily dozed off.

By the time Friday came round I was more exhausted than I had been for a while and, sleeping badly again, spent the morning in bed. I was worrying about the teaching and reading I was due to do on Monday in Oxford at Kellogg College where I am invited once a year by the MSt course in Creative Writing. The visit involves two three-hour workshops and a reading where the whole event, including questions and talk, is about an hour long, involving therefore some seven hours of public voice as well as the charms of conversation. This time the day was in danger of becoming a very long coughing fit.

Normally I would travel by train (about 5 hours each way): out on Sunday, returning on Tuesday morning after breakfast. but partly because I was run down, and partly (indeed chiefly) because I suddenly realised I couldn't get back in time for a blood test  I had absent-mindedly set up as first part of a general check-up on Tuesday morning, I asked to change the accommodation booking to just one night in a twin-room in college, which kindly Becca Rue at Kellogg managed to do, and I asked Clarissa to come with me. Saint that she is, she agreed so that we could drive home - or rather she could drive home - after the reading at night and be back in time for me to attend the surgery.  Friday sleep was good.

With this in mind I wrote a litle on Saturday and read all the pre-work for Monday (about thirty pieces), making notes on every poem,  then, after another decent sleep, we drove over to Oxford on Sunday.

Sunday night was bad for sleep again but once Monday arrived I was fine as usual. The two classes were a great pleasure, and the reading in the evening, with a lot of new poems, was as enthusiastically-received as I have ever known, the applause long and loud. I meet old friends there: Clare Morgan, Jane Draycott, Amal Chatterjee, Jamie McKendrick, Patrick McGuinness, Jon Stallworthy and others. The students were great.  We had a drink afterwards and talked a little then set off.


Just before we set out from home a strange, disorientating and traumatic event occurred. While I was closing one of the two back doors of the house, Clarissa was at the other, getting the cats into place, separating them. The little one, Lily, ran out through the cat flap just when she shouldn't have and Clarissa fell, banging her head. As she cried out the other cat, Pearl, leapt on her back and started frenziedly attacking her back and arm, leaving deep bloody gouges and bruises though we did not yet know that. All I heard was a cry then two or three other shrill cries that sounded as though the cats were fighting. But the cries were Clarissa. When I rushed in she was on her knees and still out of breath. But she said she was all right, quickly pulled herself together and we set out. I drove most of the day till navigation was required then Clarissa took over. Everything was fine and calm. About four hours there

It was only when we got to Oxford that we discovered how deep the gouges were. Blood had soaked through her sleeve and her back. They were worryingly deep and I was concerned about tetanus or some other infection so urged her to go to a doctor. We asked in college and the suggestion was that she should drive over to the A&E at Radcliffe Hospital which was supposed to be not too bad in the middle of a Monday. So I got on with the teaching and coughing and she drove over to the hospital where she waited three hours before being seen and told that there was nothing to worry about, though the wounds did shock the doctor. From there she went on to meet her sister, Hilary, returning to Kellogg in time for evening meal and the reading. Home drive at night on clear roads is an hour shorter.

She has since been to the local surgery where she was given a booster tetanus jab just in case, and I have had my blood test and something new for the cough. It seems to be helping. Tomorrow I am home but on Thursday in London again. On Friday I read in Norwich. The following week the health-check up then a flight to Boston USA for two nights.

Meanwhile, what to do about the cat?...


Gwil W said...

George your wife has my sympathy. April last year two cats managed to crack some of my ribs. They were neighbourhood cats which had sneaked in our house through an open window and then refused to leave. Needless to say I chased them and fell. I was out of action for 2 weeks. And then 4 weeks going with sticks. I think if it was me those cats would have to go. And the sooner the better. You can't reason with cats.

puthwuth said...

As I know from experience, the realisation they are about to be put in The Box can cause cats to do all manner of crazy things. Sorry to hear of this violent outburst, but hope a hastily arranged behavioural psychology talking-to can be used to shame the miscreant into suitably abject remorse.

George S said...

There wasn't going to be a box, Puthwuth. Not a box in sight. Our complicated arrangements are due to the fact that Pearl, the big cat, is constantly seeking food (vet told us to keep the meals down a little as she quickly balloons) while little Lily never finishes hers but keeps coming back for snacks. If both dishes were in the same room Pearl would take Lily's food the moment she left it. We can however shut Pearl inside a double room with a catflap to outside then let Lily have the run of the rest of the house. But cats being what they are Lily sometimes chooses to run out just as we'd like to separate them. A neighbour generally comes in to feed them when we're away for a night or two, though we have a couple of those time-set boxes that flip open at particular times as back-up.

The relationship between Pearl or Alpha Cat and Lily (distinctly Beta Cat) is never cuddly. Pearl tolerates Lily except when Lily is in playful mood or when Pearl herself is in a bad mood which is most of the time. Lily needs to use a tray because Pearl dominates the small borders in the yard.

Pearl is generally frowstier than Lily, who is a darling, though neither likes being picked up. When Lily panics, which is every time someone calls, she scampers off to hide. Pearl has rarely panicked till now (if indeed it was panic).

Pearl covers territory outside day and night. Lily never ventures beyond the yard.

Both come from feral stock, both from the same cattery, Pearl being a few months older.

It's hard to know what to do. We have often enough thought of giving Pearl to a friend with more garden or near a field so she could be happy and that Lily might feel less bullied. This has, I think, resolved us to offer Pearl either to a farm or to a cattery along with a donation.

We have never had to do this before, but the attack was frightening and quite serious. We have very small grandchildren who could be badly hurt.

Lily will be fine by herself and, I strongly suspect, a lot less likely to scamper off into hidden corners. She is no problem at all and a lovely presence, Gwilym.

We have had cats for over forty years and they have all been different personalities, but we have had no contrast like between these two.

Pearl will not be shamed into abject remorse. She will do what she constantly does, i.e. mutter under her breath, give out a stifled yelplet of complaint, and flick out an occasional claw.

I rarely do that myself.

Mark Granier said...

Sorry to hear that George and I hope Clarissa isn't too shaken. We've been a cat family for almost as long as yourself and it's always intriguing how different their personalities are. I started to give them decidedly human names decades ago (Claire, Paul, Hilary, Rosie, Toby, etc.) perhaps partly because of this. I've been scratched of course, as have we all, but never anything like the attack you mention.

friv 3 said...

Agnes Lehoczky's, Carilloneur, at the Hungarian Cultural Center. Your participation by what it has and be sure that everything is good.