Always alert to culinary possibility in unlikely places, the dog shimmied under the bed in the starfish position and emerged triumphant wearing a halo of dust-balls and a gumdrop impaled on a fang.
I’m hyper aware of the date because of Christmas, a column deadline, and being stuck in a war zone for another two days.
Let me explain. I’m house-sitting this week for some dear friends who offered me the expansiveness of a much larger living space and sea views in exchange for watering the garden and feeding (and loving) the household cat. This sounded so wonderful that I lept at the idea without properly thinking it through.
And, I’ve certainly been enjoying the big double bed and the cotton sheets. I’ve enjoyed observing the infinite variations in the colour of sea and sky from the sunporch at the front of the house. When it’s been hot, the back porch has been a shady refuge, the sun filtered through swaying fronds of bamboo. I love the wooden floors and the corrugated-iron wall in the bathroom. There, I’ve been able to indulge myself with a shower which is wildly generous compared to the one at home. I’ve indulged in shampoos scented with lavender and lime and coconut, and lemon-flavoured toothpaste. I’ve been browsing the pile of Guardian Weeklys next to the loo, and the book of Buddhist readings - one for every day of the year.
I’ve been spoiled for choice in the kitchen too with regular tea as well as lemon-grass tea, chai latte, and raw apple juice with ginger and honey. In the fridge there’s plenty of chocolate, my favourite mayo and vegetables galore. All in all, it’s a lovely place to be. Everywhere in the house there’s evidence of lives lived thoughtfully, and abiding connections to people and place. The walls are full of pictures. The shelves are full of books.
Incidentally, there are also dust mice and gum-drops under the bed. It was the dog, not I, who made this curiously reassuring discovery on the very first night of our residence. Always alert to culinary possibility in unlikely places, she shimmied under the bed in the starfish position and emerged triumphant wearing a halo of dust-balls and a gumdrop impaled on a fang. As an aside, I have to confess that my tolerance for my Jack Russell’s inner Labrador is wearing thin. When I came home this week to find that she’d eaten a box of gift-wrapped Belgian chocolates, I found myself wondering briefly what would be more tolerable - the cost of a midnight veterinary call-out or the grief of the dog’s death by chocolate.
But back to the subject. What has transformed a holiday idyll in a house with views and comfy beds, into exile in a war zone? It’s all my own fault. It was madness to take a dog with me into a feline-centric house and expect all to remain quiet on the Western Front. To make matters worse, I’m not really a cat person and this particular cat and I hardly know each other.
Trying to ensure the physical and psychological welfare of cat and dog residing at the same residential address has been a nightmare. I’ve had to be border patrol and Médecins Sans Frontières to keep the peace while dishing out loving kindness on both sides of the Maginot Line. I’ve also been acting like a lock-keeper on a very busy canal: opening and closing doors in various combinations so the house is always divided into separate cat-only and dog-only zones and each animal has unmolested access to its own food and water bowls.
It was probably battle-fatigue that caused my only blunder. The cat was roosting unseen under the coffee table in Zone One, when I allowed the dog egress from Zone Two. The cat immediately metamorphosed into an arch-backed fiend in black fur and the dog shrank into a timorous, though vocal, wee beastie. I took the dog off for a walk to give her time to recover. When we returned the cat had vanished but I have no doubt she has us under surveillance from some secure redoubt high on the slopes above the house.
Seeking some recovery space for myself after the drama, I headed to the bathroom, the only dog-free, cat-free place in the house. I took up the book of Buddhist teachings and turned to the reading for the day.
“Remember the clear light” it said “the pure bright shining light of your own nature.” I left the bathroom heartened by this piece of wisdom from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. I felt better knowing that although it feels darn awkward, the dog, the cat and I are all just living in the pure bright shining light of our own natures. Happy New Year. May the force be with you.