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Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Year of the Grad


"Adbh-duse be, dere's ur boil-ehs?" I ask.

"Boilers sir ? Second aisle, heating services" the assistant answers, somewhat warily.

"Doh, doh..." I am suddenly extremely angry, and I can tell, not only by the expression on the assistant's face, but also by the strange sensations in my left cheek that I am changing colour with the rapidity of a cuttle-fish in heat, flashing alternately bright red then pale green "DOH....Bant to buy a DOYLET...excuse me..."

A flurry of paper tissue flies out of every pocket, the warehouse spins impressively and an explosive sneeze brings me to a low crouch. When, and only when, I am satisfied that there will be no more sneezes, I force the mass of sodden ex-tree back into every pocket that isnt already full of wet tissue, and slowly unbend like a Maori warrior at the end of his haka. The assistant is no-where to be seen. I suddenly need the toilet so I run to customer services, past the "out of order" sign on the mens toilet and grab a cubicle, undoing my pants as I enter. The toilet is completely devoid of water. This is what I believe is known as a connundrum. In an act of stupidity that proves Douglas' theories regarding 'matter out of place' I reassemble my garb, leave the men's washroom and enter the women's. Frantically I fling myself into the appropriate space.

What to do after presents another connundrum, because now, I am 'matter out of place' and this is England. I can hear that a party has entered and is hovering outside the cubicle next to mine loudly shouting at a tearful child to hurry up. I decide to act, so I brazenly open the door and wash my hands. The 'lady' with child looks at me, outraged, so I offer " 'ext oor's doken, and I bad do ...". She shoots me a disbelieving look, so I dry hands quickly and leave, wondering whether that evening she'll tell her partner about this, possibly in the bathroom they share as they are getting ready for bed.

All of which is a long way of describing that at the moment, the lurgy that affected RHB last week has now hit your author with, if anything, double the intensity. After three days, I started forgetting what "normal" is, and it was only in a mood of defiance and utter boredom on day four and a half that I irresponsibly (in terms of spreading this to other people) decided to venture out at all. At first, the illness was convenient, co-inciding with a need to write 10,000 words on matters academical by 18th January. The days went well - I would write most of the day, happily sniffling to myself, with a close eye on the clock, then as the time approached that RHB was due home I would prepare a soothing cold remedy, keeping an even closer ear on the sound of the front door opening. As it opened, I would hurl myself into the bedroom, dive under the covers and try to look as sick as possible,pathetically sipping my remedy, all in the vain hope of extending RHB's notoriously short "zone of proximal sympathy". Needless to say, it didnt work, and even more, by day four I was completely bored with me being ill, but I had at least finished 3000 words.

Having said all that, no matter how much I enjoy writing, it does tend to involve ideas. Ideas, like cats, are troublesome things - they sleep most of the time, hardly stirring, and infinitely capable of looking after themselves as long as you dont disturb them. But, if you do (foolishly) start playing with them, they get incredibly excited, and like cats, they just will not leave you alone. They prowl round and round the room, rumbling softly, rubbing themselves against your legs and generally getting underfoot. Unlike dogs though, cats (and ideas) are not obedient, they are unpredictable - just as you think you understand the game, they skittishly shoot off at a tangent, then stop suddenly to give themselves a good groom. There's no "down boy" with ideas. Or cats. So I find the best idea is to just leave them alone every now and then, ignore them completely and they'll settle down. That is my excuse for needing an excursion to buy a toilet, and is also the longest preamble even I have ever written to what I originally meant to write in this post. So I have, in an almost unprecedented act, edited this post, gone back to the start, and entered "PART ONE" so you can come back to "PART TWO" on another occasion.

PART TWO.How we got the cats.....

The original idea behind this entry was to bring you a series of seasonal-ish feelgood stories, bearing in mind that if we humans had any sense at all, we would do what this season is really for which is to hunker down under a big pile of fur, swap a few tales and not emerge until Spring. This story is mostly, in the spirit of the season, a way of saying "Thanks" to Ethan and Sue.

The Year of the Grad, by our measurement of time, is that great period that lasted somewhere between two and a half and three calendar years when we were in London, Ontario and was the height of our friendship with CCP and Toly's previous owner, J Culham. [Incidentally, Toly, JC's former cat now resides happily with JC's mum on gthe great Northern Plains and JC herself has two new cats.] The reason this period of our lives was The Year of the Grad was that despite its other shortcomings, London, at the time, boasted the best University bar in the world - the GRAD pub.

Not because of decor, or ales, and certainly not because of the food. And not because of the crap bar bands that would occasionally play rubbish CW, but possibly because of layout. Also the habits of the staff who were in post tended towards the social. THere was also a converge of practices within departments such that quite a few departments actively encouraged collaboration, not only within, but also across departments. So Mel Goodale and others formed the Group on Action and Perception in psychology, and the Physics department was grouped into a spectacularly successful(according to them) world leading group on fluids. The result was that at the Grad pub, on Friday nights, the oak table effect was in full force as people gathered to enthusiastically discuss ideas, life and hockey. There were also, in a very academic fashion, huge amounts of hormones flying round the room. The essential component of any fundamentally good human experience ie sex, was present in full force.

Six on Friday would find the grad pub packed with brains, all happily jostling at the bar (there were a lot of English people there), and once served, groups would cram themselves in to the rows of refectory style tables arranged across the room. The place got pretty crowded, dividing lines between groups would be blurred, and given the transitory nature of academia, new people were always coming or going, so after a few pints it was not unusual to find yourself talking to a maths guy in the mistaken belief he was a clinical psychologist. RHB, naturally, would often join in conversations with other groups, introducing herself and all of our group and inviting them out to dinner, which is why, when I watched Liverpool's 2005 triumph in Istanbul at the Grad pub, I was with a group consisting of a Moroccan chemist, a Brazilian-Japanese technology guy, two Dutch historians and about seven physicists, including German Martin. These were good times.

During the Year of the Grad, Sue, Nel's cousin and occasional reader of these missives, came to visit, along with Ethan, her seven year old boy. At the time of Sue's visit, I mostly had to work, which was unfortunate, but every evening, Ethan and I would go to the local park and kick a soccer ball around. As for days out, well South West Ontario is not the most interesting place for visitors - it is flat and practically featureless. The nearby Great Lakes look like any other crappy seaside and there's no history that hasnt disappeared under highways or shopping malls, so a degree of inventiveness was required to come up with really things to do. Ethan had, after all, travelled a huge distance and we wanted him to have fun. We went to Niagara, a small forest and did a lot of driving.

One day, we decided to go to a corn maze in a nearby farm. The maize was fun and the farm even better, because the farmers were young and wanted to show us (me and Ethan) their tractors. Next to the entrance of the maze was a huge falling down barn. We raced off into the maze and had great fun getting totally lost, and my memory, which is of course perfect, tells me that me and Ethan teamed up and won, completing the maze in record time. What actually happened was that I wandered out dead last, having found only two of the fourteen markers. RHB was waiting for me

"You have to come look in the barn". She was smiling.

It took me a second to accommodate to the gloom of the barn, but when I did, there was movement everywhere. Over huge haystacks, under machines, climbing on stable dividers and crawling out of sacks were twenty three kittens, pouncing, fighting and chasing. It is debatable who's eyes were wider - the kittens or my companions. The farmer joined us.

"Arent they cute?" she asked needlessly "I really want to keep them, but...we just cant look after them all. So...."

Ethan can be described in many ways. Energetic, boyish, friendly, grown up for his age, football crazy, but one thing Ethan can never be described as is 'stupid'. He glanced quickly at Sue, and RHB, and asked ".....'so' what? What happens if you cant look after them all". His eyes were wide, but maybe also, as can be observed if you examine even the most 'innocent' child very carefully, slightly calculating. He used the same eyes to glance again at RHB. Her eyes were bright.

On the drive home, lists of 'Who could take the cats?' began to be drawn up. There was no question that we would take two, although six was the initial number proposed. A few days later, Ethan and Sue's visit ended. Over the next few weeks, this search for homes for the moggies grew into a campaign, with Nel, and Jo, the farmer (with whom she wasby now of course, firm friends) exchanging e-mails, and suggestions. Two weeks later we picked up Calli and Tosh in one small cat carrier and drove them home. We put the cats in a quiet room to let them settle down and headed for the internet, googling "How to Look Afer cats". The advice was to keep them in a small quiet area until they got used to their new home, so we dutifully spent the next week watching the cats escape from every quiet area we constructed and run behind the couch. They got their shots that week, but pretty soon were playing furiously. By the end of the week we needed a drink.

At the Grad pub, I bumped into Ommi, one of the physics gang.

"How's it going?" I asked, glad to see a friendly face.

He sniffed noisily and he was pronouncing all his constanants as "b" or "D". "Oh,ok, dust bot these alledies, dou know.."

"That sucks" I said, "...hayfever?"

"Nah" said Ommi " My bife dot this e-bail brom dumdere about all these dad cads bat beed bescuing and bot wod d'out belling be... bind of as subise. But I'b allergic. 's a real bain. I hade bats. WB'here are dou buys sibbing?"

1 comment:

Sue said...

You're welcome, Sue xx