“A bit fresh” & a few house pics

“A bit fresh.”  That’s how the weather might be described today.  I’ve never heard anyone actually admit that it’s cold here.

But c’mon.  We’re creatures who evolved from warm climes, aren’t we?    Wet cold will kill you.  Which is definitely how it feels today.

It’s mid-June and barely 50 degrees.  Wet.  So cold that I’ve been back from “the shops” as they say, for an hour, and am sitting here in my North Face hat, trying to get warm again.

Mid-June afternoon. Please send multiple parkas.

I think I might finally be getting something about British culture and weather, though.   In the US, wearing skimpy clothes in freezing cold weather is considered silly and unwise.  The precedent to getting sick, which is a waste.  But here, enduring the cold is a badge.  I’ve heard many boast about how little they need to wear in warmer places, while others are donning coats and hats.  C. firmly believes, too, that one should keep the house as cold as possible to avoid any sort of unhealthy familiarity with temperatures above about sixty.

I’ve also heard the phrase “feel the benefit.”  I.e. don’t wear your coat on the train, where it’s warmer.  If you do, you won’t “feel the benefit” when you get into the cold.

Call me a wimp.  Call me decadent, etc., but I don’t want to be cold, shivery, or sneezy.  I enjoy warmth and the sun, and am not afraid of admitting it.  I do, however, enjoy a non-wet cold.  Icy cold, and snow.  It’s sobering.  It wakes you up.  Of course snow is gorgeous too.  I can appreciate a nice, polar ten below day.  But not wet cold.  There’s something about it that instantly makes me feel like I’m going to die, which is perhaps a life-enhancing feature of the human brain, but might be best switched off in England.

What I have heard locals admit is that the weather can be “a bit fresh.”   This, to me, feels like saying that the Sahara is “a bit sandy.”   But this is the closest I’ve ever come to witnessing a weather complaint.

I’m trying to remember what it’s like in Virginia right now, 100 degrees and climbing, when one simply cannot do anything out of doors.  That’s a killer too.  I remember trying to take a walk on one of my last evenings there, and it was like trying to swim in a Jacuzzi wearing four wool sweaters.  Just awful.

I thought I’d also share a few pictures of my neighborhood.   Even the houses look like they could use some chicken soup today.

There’s often a wide variety in how people keep up with exteriors around here.  There are piles of empty glass beer bottles in the windows of the unpainted house.  Very ghosty.

Sometimes I struggle to keep my spirits up when it’s so dreary.  I miss trees, flowers, green.  On the other hand, we did get our carpet in, and it looks quite nice:

The lounge. We put new curtains up--pics coming....

So lounge=living room.  This space is considered quite large, even though it feels a bit small to me.  More pics to come.  Estate agent was supposed to take pics tomorrow for their website, but he had to reschedule, so our deadline for getting things tidy and clearing out massive piles of clutter has been moved up.  A blessing in that there’s no pressure now, but a curse in that I probably won’t get very much done with it today without the pressure.

Murphy is very excited about the carpet.  The ping-pong balls he loves glide across the floor now in the most enticing way, and usually by nighttime he’s ready to curl up with us on the duvet.  He always goes out when C. leaves before 6 in the morning, even when it’s cold and rainy.   He scratches at the door at very odd times, like the crack of dawn and 10:30 p.m., as if he has a scheduled appointment in the alley.  I don’t know how he stays warm, he’s so small, and always comes in wet.   Do British cats have oily fur, like ducks?

Murphy’s favorite spot is right on top of C.’s feet.  C. had originally banned Murphy from the bedroom, and then just from the bed, and then from his side, so of course that’s the one place he always targets.  How do they know these things?

Pets at Home

For whatever reason, I like to ponder the names of businesses, especially if they’re new to me.  So of course I have a lot of new material here.  Monday we drove by a pub named “The Joyful Whippet,” which prompted a twenty minute discussion on A) what adjectives would appropriately describe a whippet (lithe, sleek, gaunt), and B) which dog breeds are actually “joyful” (terriers, labs).    C. says I’m over-thinking things, which is absolutely absurd.

The other day I noticed the Pets at Home store, which is like a US PetSmart.  One of those big box strip mall stores that has everything from lizard dens to gerbil water beds.  Well, actually you might have to special order those but they probably wouldn’t blink twice if you asked.


Pets at Home.

Pets at Home.

Pets…at home.

As a person who’s spent over twenty years obsessing over the right word, phrase or sentence, the Pets at Home campaign drives me absolutely insane.  Every time we drive by the store, I’m dying to know what they were thinking.  Pets at Home.  Why, for the love of all things furry, “at home”?  Is this opposed to one’s Pets on the Train?  Pets in one’s office cubicle?   The pets you keep in a locker at the train station, or maybe in your grandma’s basement?  How about the pets at your favorite restaurant or at the gym?   No–what’s great about this store is that it caters to all your needs for your Pets at Home.  Whew!  So glad someone finally realized there was a market for this.   Definitely need a different litter box for my pets at home than for my pets that I keep at the dentist’s office.  Pets…at Home!   Brilliant!

(And don’t even tell me that I have too much time on my hands.  Noted, of course.  But I would be on the exact same rampage if I were crazy busy.  Trust me.)

The Importance of Being Murphy

Murphy the cat’s been with us now for three months and he’s become a bona fide member of the family.  I miss him on days when I travel into London, he’s such a bright and spirited young kitty.  Although I still miss Toby (my beloved cat back in the States who has now has a wonderful new auntie/second mommy Joanne), I know he’s in the best hands ever and recently I heard he’s traveling to Joanne’s mom’s farmhouse where he’s made friends with a new kitty and even a dachshund.  Toby loves dogs, so I’m thrilled with this news.

The Toby.


"Are these working for me?"

Meanwhile, in British cat news, Murph is now officially Murphy Moyle-McCarthy as he just got microchipped, fixed, and dosed with the first round of feline leukemia vaccination.  Whew.  For a cat who wasn’t “allowed to stay,” (original dictate from the man of the house) he’s now got us paying till the cows come home.   We even got pet insurance today from Tesco (supermarket) for about seven pounds a month.

The tricky part of having a Murph (also known as Smurf, or Smurphus) in the house is the window situation.  Europe isn’t into screens, which looks nice, but when your cat decides it would be fun to duck out the second story, slippery ledge with his newly-trimmed claws, this is not good.  As he came to us as a stray, having spent who knows how much time living outside, it would be impossible to keep him in.  I’m a very cautious outdoor-kitty person, and my cats have usually stayed in, but here things are different.  Almost all the cats go outside and around here, where things are quite dense, so their territory is vertical instead of horizontal.  They hang out on the rooftops of the sheds and tops of garages and additions, sunbathing and stalking their way across fence tops.

Murphy as Jason Bourne

They don’t really roam as much, I don’t think, although you do see Lost Cat flyers up just as much as you do in the States.   Murphy’s lightning-fast too, and when he wants out, he’s slipping out.

So.  The other day I was looking outside for him and he wasn’t coming when I called like he usually does.  Finally I went back inside, and happened to see him, from the spare bedroom window, sliding around on the nearby office window ledge.  Narrow ledge.  Very high ledge over nothing but stone.  Of course I thought about C.’s sister’s cat, who just had to have knee surgery to the tune of 800 pounds.  (That’s almost $1,500.00 boys and girls.)   For some reason, I’d never even thought of cats having knees, let alone knee problems that required surgery.    The vet said it could have been dislocated during a drop from a rooftop.

Anyway, back to the cat on the ledge tale–I decided to open the window, if I could, as some swivel in.  But by the time I got to the window, I heard a loud THUMP.  I was terrified to look.  That did not sound alright.   I looked out the window and didn’t even see Murphy on the stone.  When I went outside, there he was, like “Hey, what’s up?”  all swirly-tailed and perky, as if he hadn’t just crashed to the ground.


So far there haven’t been any battles with any of the ten million other cats in the neighborhood, but Murphy did enforce his new territorial reign on another cat who’s been perched on the back shed since I got here, known as black and white kitty.  (As opposed to Fat Head, whose story is also here.)

This roof ain't big enough for the both of us.

Murphy manages to shove black and white kitty off despite being one-third the size.

And STAY off! Note black and white kitty's ears to bottom left of Murph.

Fortunately, when we went away in February for a weekend, our neighbor Rafael came by and hung out with the Murph so he didn’t get too lonely.   Rafael, who’s Polish with a wry sense of humor, said, on returning the key, “Yes, everything went fine but I was very disappointed in Murphy.”   Rafael looked grave.  Oh no, I thought, Murphy scratched Rafael or made a mess.

“He didn’t play fetch with me.”

Rafael did seem genuinely disappointed.  I think we’d hyped Murphy’s skills a bit too much.  We were the parents with the “My kid’s on the honor roll” bumper stickers except ours said “Our cat plays fetch with a brown glove!”

Murphy is awesome, but he’s not a lap kitty and doesn’t always come sit on the couch when you’re watching a movie.  He absolutely hates being picked up and will cry like you’re about to pull out his whiskers.  One of his favorite things is to ambush our legs as we walk up the stairs, poking his head out from in between the white slats.  He naps on a yellow, circle IKEA bath mat that I placed at the top of the stairs.  From his perch, he can keep an eye on the place, and make sure no one shady gets in.  Scrappy police officer Murphy.   I wouldn’t mess with him.

Black Kitty Luck Harem

We have a very exciting kitty drama enfolding this spring. In January, on the night when Murphy strolled in, C. and I were petting* him and looked over to the cracked-open door to see a ginormous, black cat head peering in at us ever so cautiously. All we saw was the fluffy head, and it seemed so large and complete, with such huge green eyes, that I couldn’t even imagine anything attached to the head. The head was enough.

Knowing how many stray cats are around here—I must have seen at least a dozen just by our house alone—I imagined a long trail of cats behind this peering kitty, in a The King, The Mice, and the Cheese kind of way.

“Don’t let that cat in,” I said to C., and he shut the door. I felt terrible not letting the large black cat participate in the cat lady cat party, but had the feeling that if we let him in, well, you know the story (see above). Before you know it we’d have two thousand cats in here.

I haven’t seen that kitty since, but last night C. said he saw him at the window. Murphy was perched, looking out from behind the curtains, and they seemed to be having some sort of communication.

I told C. that if he came around again, I was going to feed him and see what happened. Black cats are good luck here, so why not have a whole heap of them living with us? Well, ok, maybe just two.

So. Today it’s gorgeous out, and Murphy’s in the garden, sniffing things. I come back inside and who do I see jumping up on the fence but Mr. FatHead himself? Now this is exciting.

I go outside, and now Murph and FatHead are having a kitty stand-off, Murph’s tail huge and bushy. FatHead is such a cool-looking cat, husky and all velvety black with grassy green eyes. He sits in the corner of the garden looking at me at Murph, who is about one-tenth his size. He’s almost yawning, he seems so bored at Murph’s supposed threats. Clearly he’s been through this before.

I bring Murphy back inside so that I can see if FatHead will let me say hi to him, but he’s too shy. He flees back over the fence and disappears. Later, while I’m sitting by the window, he returns, and looks me right in the eye while he sprays on a bag of potting soil. Well. So much for the black kitty luck harem.

*Apparently, in England one strokes a cat and pets a dog. I can’t bring myself to use “stroke” as a verb after singing that Billy Squier song eight hundred billion times in fifth grade.


I’ve really been in a funk the last week about the Tucson shooting and Jared Loughner. Everyone knows the mental health system is a mess in the US, and I thought that it might feel a bit easier being over here, that it might not look as bad, but it actually looks worse. Not being in the thick of it all the time makes things seem even more dire. From here the US looks like one big giant mess–the kids at home for the weekend while the parents are away. Luckily, someone came to cheer me up and we’ve had a guest in our home for the last two weeks:

The Murphy.

This little black kitty was hanging out by our front door two weeks ago, and he was so friendly that we were able to pet him, which is a first for our neighborhood. I’ve been trying to befriend cats here for six months, completely acting the part of the crazy cat lady, calling to scrappy alley cats who’ve disappeared under a car, while people inch away on the pavement. C. usually stares into the distance with a tolerant yet mildly vexed expression, waiting for the display to be over.

Anyway, I fed the cat some tuna since he seemed a bit hungry but not starving or anything, and his coat was in pretty good shape. Someone had taken care of him, but he wasn’t wearing a collar and didn’t appear to be neutered. As there are so many outdoor cats around, though, we left for the grocery store. When we returned, black kitty was still there. As we were bringing our bags in, he just walked through the door and started scoping things out inside. He seemed to like the look of things, and we hung out with him for a while. C. looked sort of nervous though, and wanted to put the cat out for the night. He opened the door, and after a while, the kitty walked out. But two hours later, quite late, he was back, crying and scratching at the door. It was cold, windy, and raining, and I couldn’t take his cries, so I let him back in and tried to set up a bed in the downstairs bathroom. He screamed when I shut the door, so I decided he’d sleep in the spare bedroom, and I’d sleep in there, but he started coughing–really loud and raspy like a sick pterodactyl. Needing to get a few hours of sleep, I finally gave up the ghost and opened the door to see if he’d go back out in the early morning. He did, but was back in a few hours, and I let him in again.

C. and I took him to the vet’s to see if he was microchipped, and he wasn’t. No cat like him in their Lost Cat book, and nothing online on the Lostmycat.org site. Nothing in the local cat charity window either, where people put flyers of their lost cats, or on the pet store bulletin.

So. We got a litter box and decided he would stay with us for a bit, at least until his cough got better. He was small and didn’t seem like he wanted to be outside.

After a few days he was calm enough to sleep upstairs in the carpeted hallway, since C. is mildly allergic and can’t have cats on the duvet. He’s been a wonderful companion this week sitting on my lap and keeping me company. Right now he’s leaping around with an elastic hair-tie, which I’ve found are a cat’s greatest joy. They can pick them up and toss them in the air, bat them and carry them all over. He’s been playing with it now for about a half hour, which is like a month in cat time.

We had a tough time naming him, but are going with Murphy. Other names considered: Marmite, Leadbelly, Pitch, Matte, and Oskar. We realize that someone may still claim him, but for now we’re happy to have the guest and I’m thrilled to have cat company again. (Miss you so much, Toby.)

Today I got a scare when passing a house nearby when I saw a flyer they’d put up with a picture of a black cat. Fortunately, when I stopped by later to inquire they said he had a white bib, and Murphy’s completely black. Plus, the other cat’s only been gone for a week. So. They do choose their owners, don’t they, much more so than the other way around. Having been restored to the happy status of Cat Mom, and with the sun coming out this week, England feels a little more than just where some of my stuff is and more like a place that could be a nomad’s home, for now.

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