Last night was Twelfth Night, officially the last night of Christmas, when the decorations are taken down and, the last blow out meal is eaten, before we get down to the grisly business of surviving the cold and sunless days of January and February. I like the idea of decorating a real tree, particularly that the idea comes from those shaggy tribesmen that Russell Crowe massacres in the opening scenes of ‘Gladiator’.
In our household we wait until the following Sunday which is quite often also the Epiphany. Not for religious reasons, simply because it’s the end of the holidays and back to school the next day. Rather than ending the ‘festive season’ in a frantic tearing of wrapping paper and the destruction of fancy packaging, followed by the rush to ebay to sell the unwanted gifts, the rituals of packing away the decorations for another year, eating the last of the chocolates and burning the tree are all satisfyingly symbolic.
In France we also have the traditional galette des rois, a frangipane pastry eaten at the Epiphany, just to mark the end of Christmas. The galette contains a porcelaine figurine, traditionally one of the crib people, but nowadays just as likely to be a Disney character. We have quite a motley crew in our collection that ranges from Pluto to the baby Jesus, via wild ducks and unidentified beings carrying sinister-looking sacks. They are probably all made in China which explains the slightly off-beat appearance.
Having lit the fire for the winter solstice, we’re sitting tight now until Imbolc, next fire festival when the snowdrops should be out.
Before we moved to Bordeaux we lived in a rural area, in a small medieval town surrounded by fields and forest. In the nine years we lived in the land that time forgot, we never met a single stray animal. When Jackson our beautiful, exasperating Siamese died we never thought of replacing him so we lived without pets. We had red squirrels in our garden, and fallow deer and wild boar would invade the gardens outside the ramparts.
In fact, with my hands full with five young children, pets was the last bead on my rosary. It was only when we moved into the centre of quite a large town, that the waifs and strays started to wander in.
The first was Raymond, a beautiful silver tabby, as svelt and elegant as a show cat.
On September 16th 2007 I heard a cat wailing outside. When I finally went to look, there he was, sitting in the middle of the street shouting for somebody to notice him. At the sound of the window opening, he jumped to his feet, long stripy tail held high and bounced straight into the house. Without waiting to be invited, he made for an armchair, curled up in it and went to sleep.
Raymond turned out to be a terrible bruiser and spent most of his time picking fights with the local wildlife. Each time I made an appointment with the vet to have him neutered, in the hope that the little operation would stop his gallop, he would mysteriously disappear for a few days.
On September 16th 2008, Raymond went off on patrol and never came back. It was two months before we admitted he wasn’t coming back. By that time, Trixie had taken up residence.
Trixie followed two of the children home from school. She was waiting for them (so they claimed) outside the mosque of all places. She trotted behind them across the main road, wagging her tail and shrieking. When I saw her I was sure she was pregnant. She turned out not to be. Just fat. She was four months old and already had a weight problem. She is noisy, has never been known to either purr or sit on anybody’s lap, and she lives to eat. But she’s a good cat, no trouble, as long as the flow of Friskies doesn’t dry up.
The next cat came from the cat shelter, adopted by our eldest daughter. She named him Moomin, I can’t imagine why. He is a beautiful animal, a Russian Blue, slender, sleek and silent.
Being used to very vocal cats, Moomin is an enigma. Jackson talked all the time, and Trixie has quite range of different noices, not all cat-like, that make us think she spent her formative months with a dog. That and the tail wagging. Raymond was always mouthing off at the neighbours, but Moomin is silent as the grave. Friendly enough, just not very communicative.
We didn’t intend to add to the list, but when they turn up on the doorstep there’s not much you can do, is there? A couple of months ago, we found a tiny scrap of thing crouched in a corner by the front door. I tried to turn a blind eye, hoping the people next door would find it. Of course it was only a matter of time before one of our children came in with a ‘Look what I found outside!”
She was miserably thin, full of vermin and worms. Her skin was flaking and her thin fur was coming off in clumps. The vet has patched all that up, but she can’t do anything about the brain damage. She has no sense of balance and falls over if you stroke her too hard. She’s fallen out of the window twice, and regularly rolls downstairs. When she walks she plods, and when she runs about, from the floor below you’d swear a horse was galloping overhead. And she’s afraid of nothing. When the dog jumps at her she just sits and stares at him, which gives him the willies.
The children have called her Nina, though I call her Funny Feet. She’s tiny and extremely affectionate, and purrs like a motor, and I don’t regret for one minute taking her in. I just keep my fingers crossed that the next heartless bastard among our neighbours who dumps his unwanted kittens in the street doesn’t do it in front of my door.