There is a sort of epilogue to yesterday’s post about names, a chance meeting coming home from taking Finbar for his trot yesterday. We were rounding the corner by the library just opposite the market, Finbar surging ahead, dead keen to be getting back to his comfy chair, when he pulled up short, nose to nose with the most enormous, Rotweiller, a head the size of a calf’s and slavver dripping from its chops.

Finbar backed up, the beast followed, I tensed up. It had a muzzle dangling round its bull neck like a necklace, but wasn’t on a lead. It lurched at Finbar who skittered to one side as the Rot’s owner appeared, beer can in hand, and shouted at his pet.

“Leave it, Pâquerette!”

If you don’t know what a Pâquerette is, here’s a pic of one. Sweet.


The naming of animals and other parts

Since the Horace episode, when the Colissimo parcels delivery service exhorted me to name the parcel I was expecting before they would let me be privy to its whereabouts, I have been thinking quite a lot about names. There was a time when names were quite straightforward; there was the Bible for Protestants and the saints’ calendar for Catholics.

Times though have changed, and it is now permissible to burden a child with any assortment of consonants and vowels that sound attractive or at least original to someone’s ear, the only hard and fast rule being that you must use the Roman alphabet.

When I was in the maternity hospital with my first child, there was a rather surreal episode when the official from the town hall came round to register the new babies. The girl I shared a room with was Chinese origin and didn’t speak any French. The whole family was brought in to get the baby’s name sorted out. The official explained to one of the female family members who was delegated as spokeswoman, that he needed to know the child’s name. The baby’s auntie told him—a name about three minutes long in Chinese. He shook his head and asked her to write it down. She did. In Chinese. He asked her to write it in French. After a long time and a group effort, she produced the three-minute long name in Roman letters. The official wanted to know where the first names ended and the family name began. Nobody understood what he meant. There was another long confabulation after which another name was added at the beginning, that the proud father pronounced with a beaming smile, “Gwendolyn”.

Gwendolyn struck me as a rather off beat name for a child who was going to be brought up in an exclusively Chinese-speaking household, but the official from the town hall thought it was a splendid name. To my mind, Horace is a perfectly reasonable name for a cat that is, let’s be honest, horrible. I’ve known of cats called Maureen and Desmond, Mickey and Caledonia, and dogs called Rosie, Myrtle, and Jason. All perfectly honourable names for pets and people.

In France though, people don’t usually give their pets names like…names. They call them after edibles : Chocolate, Liquorice, Nougat, Cinnamon and Cookie. I even know a dog called Sandwich. There are an awful lot of dogs with names that supposedly reflect their character that translate roughly as Yob or Hooligan, Villain or Crook. A brown dog of our acquaintance bought as a Dachshund but which has grown four normal length legs is called, appropriately enough, Joker. There are a lot of very strange names around too: next door has a tomcat called Isis, Finbar has a friend called Virus, and there’s one that he avoids called Tonsillitis. A friend has a new puppy called Lampshade (The breeder chose it, and my friend hasn’t thought it weird enough to change), and we also know a Golden Retriever called Cube, a rather sad and inappropriate name in my opinion.

The names we have given our own animals, of course are eminently suitable. Jackson, the Siamese, Finbar the dog, Branwell and Raymond the tabby cats, and Trixie who is unclassifiable and has never really qualified for a normal name. The Little Cat is just that. However, many people consider pets’ names that fall outside the Biscuit and Goulash category to be extraordinary. When I wanted to change a password for Internet access from a string of letters and digits to something more manageable, I tried to use Raymond. It wouldn’t work and I couldn’t reset it, so I had to go through an operator. She asked me for the password that wouldn’t work. I told her, Raymond. There was a distinct hesitation.
Operator: Raymond ?
Me: That’s right.
Operator: Most people use the name of a pet, not a…person.
Me: Raymond is the cat’s name.
Another hesitation.
Operator: You called your cat Raymond?
Me: That’s right. Is that a problem?
Third hesitation followed by a sigh.
Operator: No, you can call your cat what you like, I suppose. It’s just…I have an uncle called Raymond.

I was glad I hadn’t asked to use Branwell.

Happy to be (almost) French

This lovely story was published in (Je Suis) Charlie Hebdo, and one of the journalists on the national radio thought it worthy of broadcasting this morning, though I don’t know which day the incident occurred. It’s an example of some streak in the French psyche that I find appealing.

It was in one of the Paris suburbs in the early hours of the morning, a teenage couple on a scooter was involved in an accident with a lorry. Both kids were in a desperate state when the emergency services arrived. The article describes the gestures of the team as they assessed the damage and began the stressful job of keeping the couple alive. Suddenly, a window was opened in a nearby apartment and music flowed out into the silence as someone began to play the piano. The medics listened, worked without speaking so as not to miss a note. Their movements calmed, they became more optimistic. As they carried the two teenagers to the ambulance, the music slowed and faded, ending on a majestic chord. The window closed, and the ambulance left.
The two kids are now out of danger, and as the reporter said, free to live and love and crash their scooter again. He went on to thank the anonymous pianist who would otherwise never know how the soothing music of her/his playing helped to save two lives.

I’m not French and never will be, but this is the kind of story that makes me think I’m really quite lucky to be almost French.

Time for a cat story

We had a minor cat drama last night. At 11.30pm youngest daughter comes down to our room to tell us that the Little Cat, known as Nina to some, Ploddy to others, and Mongolita to one unkind brute, has jumped out through the roof window and is fighting with Otto the big unloved Turkish Van cat.

When we go back upstairs to look, there’s no sign of Little Cat or Otto but there’s a whole string of moggies at the edge of the roof staring down into the street. Daughter runs downstairs in a panic, but there’s nothing in the street except the usual. Meanwhile the sound of a cat fight starts up again but a couple of roofs away. All we can do is leave the window open and hope she finds her way back.

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Little Cat is the sweetest little cat ever. But she has several issues. We found her abandoned in the street outside when she was about six months old, emaciated, full of worms and with a ruptured bowel. She couldn’t walk properly and kept falling over because the extreme intestinal problems and malnutrition had affected her brain.


In time, after two operations and intensive deworming, the intestinal stuff was sorted out, but she still has no sense of balance and falls over for no reason. She will always be nutty as a fruitcake, will never walk normally and will always thud about like a small elephant. Branwell, who is three times her size is wary of her. When she plays, she plays to win, and she beats him up mercilessly. The great wimp squeaks like a small rodent and hides under a bed when she gets it into her tiny little head to hurtle, around like a furry meteorite, knocking over everything in her path. The other day she sent a full laundry basket bowling down the stairs and into the door at the bottom.


Needless to say she isn’t allowed out. She’s fallen out of a second floor window twice with no ill effects, but if she wandered off and fell off a wall or a roof we might never get her back.


I had a bad night, woken several times by nothing, just listening for the sound of her clopping across the ceiling. She wasn’t back when husband got up at five. I had just dropped off into an anxious sleep when I was woken by an almighty crash on the veranda roof. I knew it was her. Before I had time to get out of bed she had barged her way through the shutters and flopped through our window ready for her breakfast. Her tail was all bushed up and she had a few stray tufts of loose hair. Other than that, nobody would have known she’d spent all night out on the tiles fighting, and had just dropped two floors from the roof. Talk about drunks.

A parcel named Horace

The news you’ve all been waiting for—Horace was delivered without complications on Monday. I wasn’t required to sign so I couldn’t say what was written on the delivery man’s docket. I never received the alert to tell me when the post was considering delivering Horace, nor the one to be sent the day before to warn me to block the whole morning so as to be at home when the doorbell rang. What I did receive though was the alert I’d already scratched from the list of propositions: a message to let me know that:

“Your parcel, Horace, has been delivered.”

I hadn’t seen the utility of that particular attentive detail. I was sorta aware he’d been delivered since I was the one who like opened the door and without me or my next of kin, the postier couldn’t have delivered the parcel…

This, by the way, is Horace. The real, live (well…) furry one.

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Horace cloud bathing

Fine-looking animal, isn’t he? He lies next to this chimney in the sun. Or in the gloom as this morning when there was no sun. He doesn’t give a toss. This is next-door’s roof as seen from our bathroom window. Our bathroom which is actually windowless at the moment since Finbar tried to leap through it after a cat (Branwell) waiting to come in.

The height of the roof has been cunningly designed to give cats easy access to our place. A small leap even a geriatric or bone idle (Horace) cat can manage no problem. Beneath the window is a handy ledge, cunningly designed to give cats easy access to our bedroom window in the event that the bathroom window is closed. This is often the case at night.

Our roof has its share of feline residents too. We have installed roof windows to give them easy access to the bedrooms on the second floor. They tend not to come in intentionally, but occasionally drop through when their curiosity makes them lean over too far. There’s a broom on the landing to chase them downstairs  and out through the front door. I don’t need to describe what happens when they meet Finbar on the stairs.

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Victor’s Little Sister
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Manfred, fireworks, and a boy called Oliver

This is a true story. I’ve thought about that summer often over the last thirty years and I still recall vividly the terrible feeling of panic, the hellish special effects, and those pale eyes.

I was twenty-one, my sisters were coming up to twenty, eighteen, and almost seventeen. It was the end of the school/university year and we were all at home. I had just had the first big bust up with my boyfriend, first sister had just jacked in her stint training to be a nurse, second sister was about to embark on a course at a swanky London art school, and youngest sister was slowly but surely turning into a subversive. Tensions and adolescent angst were running reasonably high.
Second sister and I were going to spend July 14th in France to see the celebrations and take my mind off…things. The other two were looking for jobs. For some reason, in the lull between working and travelling, we decided to have a go at a séance. Don’t ask me why. While being a fully paid up sceptic, I’ve always preferred to give that kind of thing a wide berth. Anyway, we did. We cut out letters and arranged them in a circle on the dining table with a glass in the middle. Nothing fancy, no ‘atmosphere’, left the electric light on and the tv going in the corner.
The glass started to move as soon as we put our fingertips on it. We replaced the glass with an orange—the orange moved too. It worked as long as at least two people touched it, any two.
It was fun at first, sort of exciting. Then the sister I was going to France with started asking the usual sort of questions, and we started getting comprehensible answers. ‘It’ claimed to be a German called Manfred, a Panzer tank driver who was killed in WWII. The question and answer sessions were a bit laborious as the sister putting the questions has a flippant turn of mind and wasn’t taking it seriously. The rest of us were too uneasy to ask anything.
We did this over several evenings. Sometimes ‘Manfred’ didn’t turn up. We used to play Schumann’s Manfred Overture for him but I’m not sure he was particularly musical as it didn’t make much difference. Manfred seemed like a reasonable enough bloke, said he’d been married with two children and he was sorry for all the fathers with families he’d killed. He wasn’t your typical angry vindictive spirit so we kept on ‘contacting’ him. Then one evening he let us know he was aware two of us were going to France, and to be careful. He kept repeating it, said he didn’t want anything to happen to us, but we had to watch out in France. There was someone who wanted to harm us, someone called Oliver. He seemed to get quite distressed and almost hysterical. That was the last time we got him. The airwaves went dead and we stopped trying. It was time for our trip anyway.

So, we went over to Dieppe, a little town we already knew and liked, arriving on the 13th. The evening of the 14th, they told us in the hotel, there would be dancing in the street more or less everywhere, and not to miss the fireworks. It started late, there were street orchestras in every little square, and we had a whale of a time. My sister and I got separated—she was dancing with one guy, I was waltzed off by another. I still remember his face, tanned, light brown curly hair and big, pale, blue-green eyes.
He started with the usual chat, practicing his English. Then he went suddenly serious and said, “I’m going to tell you something that will frighten you.”
I didn’t say anything, just cast about looking for my sister. He pushed his face with his big pale eyes right up to me and said, “My name is Oliver.”
I remember jabbering something about it being Olivier in French, and he just shook his head and grinned. “It’s Oliver. I told you you’d be frightened.”
You bet I bloody was! I turned and ran. Somewhere, the firework display had started, and the flashes in the sky splashed eerie light across the faces in the street. Firecrackers went off all around us making everyone shriek. The noise from the fireworks and the band was deafening, the lights flashed and the narrow streets leading into the square were full of shadows. I charged about like a mad thing, yelling out my sister’s name, barging into people who waltzed into my way and trying to avoid the gangs of kids chucking firecrackers about. Oliver just watched. I caught sight of him through the crowd, grinning.
I found my sister, grabbed her by the arm and told her I’d just met Oliver. She didn’t ask “Oliver who?” just ran. We charged off down a dark street, completely disoriented and without a clue where we were in relation to the hotel which was out of town, almost in the countryside. It took us an age to get back, lock the door and stop trembling. Twice over the next couple of days, I saw Oliver hanging around in front of the hotel. I spotted him a couple of times sitting on the terrace of the nearest café too. The third morning, he was in the café of our hotel, leaning on the football table. We left.

When we got home, the first thing my sister did was get out the cut-out letters and the water glass and ask Manfred if he had any more little nuggets to impart. Nothing. We never heard from him again, and I have never had anything to do with prying into the supernatural again.

Branwell: the cat who came in from the cold

Some of you who I know from Face Book might remember me mentioning Branwell, and you have no doubt been having sleepless night wondering how he’s doing. For those of you who haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about, Branwell is one of the many moggies that hang around our secluded little backwater. About ten of the locals (cats), all black, white and ugly belong to the neighbour. The rest are wild. We used to get a lot of visitors, cats that obviously had a perfectly good home somewhere, but just liked slumming it with the neighbour’s mean gang. The nice cats don’t come round anymore, too many third generation wild cats for their liking I suspect.

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Branwell though is a lost moggy, possibly the apple of some distraught pensioner’s eye; possibly some little girl has cried herself to sleep many a night over her lost pussy cat. Branwell purrs and sits on your lap, rolling in ecstasy. He’s a big neutered tom and very soft and easy going. He even hung around with Otto who is not the easiest of cats to get on with. Anyway, husband took one look at Branwell and said that if he wanted a home he could have one.

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I call him Branwell because I think he looks like a Branwell. The name hasn’t stuck though. Son insists on calling him Cromwell, and the girls call him by a variety of names: Branston, Brandon, Brownwell, Bromley (?) with Brommie or Brownie for short. Not much chance of him every responding to his name.
Finbar is not happy about us adopting another cat. Nor, must it be said, are the other cats. Finbar just can’t stop himself chasing cats (except Trixie) and generally, cats don’t appreciate his attention. So we are on constant cat patrol/dog alert, to cries of: “Where’s Branwell? Finbar needs the toilet. Can he come downstairs?”

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The funny Little Cat goes into paroxysms of fury when she sees him. She used to be very friendly towards other cats until the Mean One fell through the skylight and chased her all round the top floor. I had to corner the wretched creature in the toilet and chase it out into the garden with a broom.

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Trixie just hates everything indiscriminately. She growls and slaps if Branwell gets too close, lies across doorways to stop him getting past, lounges on windowsills to stop him getting back into the house, the usual sort of unfriendly gestures. Like lying on Finbar’s blanket if Branwell looks as though he might be tempted to test it.

To date there has been no bloodshed. Branwell can stay as long as he can stand it. At least it has to be better than sharing a chicken coop with Otto.