Like most people I got back from chemo drained but fizzed up and almost elated because of the steroids.
Pamela uploaded some images onto my blog. I couldn’t follow what she was doing as I was too far gone and chemo has aged my brain by about ninety years.
With a last bit of energy I accompanied her to the tube. On the way out I saw a black and white cat on my front garden. She had round staring eyes and looked a bit stringy and frantic. When I got home the cat was crouched inside my old coal hole. I gave her some food and water, she seemed to be very thirsty, and put a blanket and some newspaper in for her.
In the morning I took her out some breakfast and saw a tiny head beside her own in the gloom – one grimy black and white kitten about eight days old looking quite content. I started to run about, the way they used to do in The Lucy Show, when a baby was going to be born, when they’d all shout, “boil some water!”
At about 11am, redoubtable Roz, from Hounslow Animal Rescue arrived with an old wooden trap and started perching on the steps outside my door attached to the end of a thin blue chord, hoping to lure the mother in. At the sight of all this activity she did a bunk over the wall.
By 4pm when there was still no sign of her Roz decided to take the kitten to the local vet and returned with an automatic trap.
I sat by the trap for two hours until I had to rest before the arrival of one of my private English students.
A friend messaged me to say that a cat being born on your premises is good luck. A very good omen.
Mira arrived at 7pm, also with round, staring eyes and looking a bit frantic – this is because she is starting a course of post-graduate teacher training in Further Education (FE). This used to be a PGCE certificate with world renown, but has recently been renamed CELTA, an acronym not known to anyone at all.
As I know from when I took a qualification and did some college teaching, FE is the last bastion of radical education – mixed ability, all inclusive, more an ideology than a method of education.
“We are not allowed to do any dictation,” she told me, “as it is considered old fashioned.”
We reminisced about old dictation tests in school, which were always deadly difficult and often quite a laugh. “They are not allowed to read round the class,” She said. “No reading of their own work in case they mispronounce things and feel embarrassed, and you must only use words that they know already.”
We reminisced again about the time when many children and students treasured big words like gob-stoppers, and embarrassment was an essential part of education, always a hovering threat.
She has been given a chair with five wheels and says she just has to “float” around the class room on this, because on no account must she rise above the students.
“Because looking down on them from above is patronising,” she says doubtfully. “I just have to float.”
Handing out sheets to the students she is not allowed to say, “next, we will do this.”
“I must not give any orders,” she says in her gentle very un-authoritarian voice.
“To explain, you don’t say, “now were are going to listen to a tape,” you just play it and avoid all instructions – it seems to me, how shall I put it, un-natural?”
During my time learning to be an FE provider, I won’t say teacher, in 2007 we had lessons on what we could and could not say. “Brain-storm” was banned in case if offended epileptics. We had to watch out for the dreaded stereo-typing which one hand-out said had directly caused The Holocaust, and remember to use correct body language at all times.
From what Mira said things seem to have progressed even further, with teachers are finally being turned into voiceless “facilitators.” I ponder again the painful paradox that in the headlong pursuit of “education” as a kind of essential product, like fridges and washing machines, we seem to have become less educated.
It reminded me of a Polish friend of mine who came here with a school age child and said to me, “Jane, what age do children here start to learn?”
“We are not allowed to use capital letters when writing on the white board,” she went on unhappily, “in case they offend certain nationalities.”
Anti-capitalistic nations presumably, but there aren’t many of those left, except in the minds of FE educationalists of course, who permanently live in a combination of Berkeley University and Paris c 1968. That is putting it kindly of course. I suspect that some of them yearn for a kind of intellectual year zero.
In the middle of this I heard the automatic trap door drop down. Mother cat had returned, nearly ten hours after leaving her kitten.
The next day, Friday, I felt my energy level go down. Roz reappeared to take mother off to join her son at the vet’s. I received messages from my Japanese friend Kayoko saying she wanted to come round. I texted her not to come, as I needed to sleep. An hour later she arrived with her smiling friend Itchiko, from the mysterious, tropical
As I opened the door I heard a high fluting note like a bird, but ignored it as my heart sank, I really didn’t want to see anyone. I just wanted to sleep. They came in bringing me a flourish of pink lilies, roses, carnations and a water-melon. I felt apologetic for my reticence and we sat in the garden chomping through the melon, discussing the different ways they eat it in
Itchiko said she wanted to learn how to draw as she’d never done it. I gave her a notebook and a couple of soft pencils. She began sketching me. This was a good cop out as it meant I could sit glumly silent. I didn’t expect much but when I saw it I was astonished at how good it was, a likeness and sensitive lines.
As ever, the Japanese are full of surprises, such strangely talented people. I remember seeing a documentary about some old people from
Kayoko said, “But why is it that English people can’t draw?”
I don’t know. I love questions from foreigners about the English as they are so startling and I can never answer them. Even without chemo I am like a ninety year old in the confusion and bewilderment with which I view my country now.
The next day I decided to go to Maggie’s for a party. I had planned this for some time bought some biscuits and kept the invite on my desk. While I was writing I heard a high piping sound, like a bird, and dashed out of the flat. There were still three kittens in the coal hole, buried under the newspapers.
I began to tear about again, looking for something to put them in. I had nothing but an vast old wine box. I put them in on top of a dirty old fleece that had been hanging in the hall for years. Maisie appeared and looked bemused. She is not herself either at the moment and will soon have to go to the dreaded vet's, dreaded because of the extraordinary cost.
After calling Roz, who was busy as ever saving strays, I decided to drive to the Hounslow Animal Rescue centre, park and walk with the box, up the
The vet nurse said they were up towards Hammersmith so I began walking that way, on and on. Then realised that I must have gone too far and turned around. I asked people, some directed me, but the box got very heavy and I felt sweat pouring down under my headscarf.
Eventually I met a young couple who offered to carry the box and we arrived at the vet’s just as it closed. I saw the kittens re-established with their mother who licked them happily, unaware that they’d been lost for two days. No sign of the first kitten who would have to get used to no longer being an only child.
Leaving the vet’s I could not tell which way to go – where was my car? No idea. The Chemo-brain strikes again, and I now know what it must be like to be demented.
I phoned Roz and she gave me directions back to my own flat, thinking I was in the car. “No, no I’m on foot!” I heard myself screaming. It's a horrible sensation, a feeling of being completely lost. When I spotted a bit of the Chiswick High Road which I could identify I felt the relief of a swimmer who has nearly drowned in a gulley and suddenly finds a bit of beach to crawl up.
Safely back in my car bathed in a clammy film of sweat I gave up the idea of going to Maggie’s, or anywhere. At home I checked the coal hole again, silence, and switched the phone off. Four cats born on the premises – now that can’t be bad.