A story of survival

There’s a gang of feral cats live around our apartment block. The amazing thing about these cats, other than cats are amazing anyway, is that many of them survived hurricane Irma’s 200mph winds and after the storm passed most of them appeared back in the gardens.

My wife and I have names for all these cats. Their leader is One Lug, because, well, he’s only got one lug. Old, gnarled, and always causing trouble, One Lug’s fur is predominantly white with patches of tan, ginger and black thrown in to add to his character. How he lost his ear, I don’t know but as he’s a marauding Tom, and we think the father of most of the feral cats, the chances are it was ripped off in battle over a female.

Among the other ragtag feline population is Bandit. Bandit is beautiful. She’s tiny, and has all the characteristics and coloring of a Siamese but her most striking features are two circles of darker fir, one around each eye, which gives her the look of Zorro or, a bandit. Bandit gave birth to kittens but only the cheeky black and white one seems to have survived, and it follows her everywhere even though it’s no longer suckling. Bandit is the best mum, and if you believe cats can love, then she really loves and protects her kitten, especially from the advances of One Lug. Bandit’s kitten is known simply as Kitten.

Another kitten that survived the tempest is The Ginger Clown. In any group, human or animal, there’s always one who plays the fool and cats are no different, in fact they are experts at it. Ginger likes to play dead in the parking lot and twice I’ve gone to pick up his little corpse only to have him leap up and bound away. I swear he laughs when he does this and that his gang of mates, hiding and watching from among the debris, cheer him on knowing I’ve had to walk down three flights of stairs to reach him.

Rusty Head, a tortoise shell, has developed a bad limp. I don’t think her leg is broken, perhaps she’s cut her paw. Lord knows, there’s enough broken glass strewn around to do serious harm, or she might have been attacked by a dog. Dog’s and humans are the only things that the cats fear, although old One Lug seems to fear nothing.

El Pirata, a large black and white cat, doesn’t mix much with the others preferring to live on the margins of society. He might be biding his time, waiting for One Lug to die, or leave, so that he can move in and take over. Then again, maybe he’s just very shy, or he’s been bullied, or he’s a deep thinker, a philosopher cat. At least he’s not a total outcast like some.

The real outcasts live in the gardens next door. These are cats that once had a forever home with humans and, for whatever reason, are no longer wanted. Perhaps their humans died or had human babies, or bought a dog or their kids grew tired of their feline Christmas present and threw it out. After the storm, many of the outcasts wandered about bewildered not knowing what to do or how to feed themselves in the harsh world of the street. Some still wore a collar bearing the name given to them by their humans: Fluffy, Patches, Socks and the like.

I wrote this story two years ago and some of the same cats are still with us. I have even seen Bandit a couple of times. A prolific breeder, I think she’s been trapped, spayed and released, which is good news. Alas, I think old One Lug has crossed the Rainbow Bridge where, no doubt, he’s chasing females, fighting, yowling, and causing mayhem.

cats in the rain - copy - Copy
Illustration by Ellie den Hartog from the children’s book  Moggie and Buster and the Farm of Horrors



While my wife was away visiting her family in England, I bought her an automatic washing machine. “So what?” you say, but our path to becoming modern dobey-wallahs has been a long and wet one.

For a start, for 25 years we lived on a series of small sailboats, living four of those years on a 6.7m sloop with sitting headroom only. Laundry was done in various ways. At sea, we towed bedding behind the boat on a rope, which got the sheets super clean. The night we forgot they were there and a shark shredded them put a stop to that. In port, we washed them in a bucket (we couldn’t afford the launderette).  Our boat had no toilet and so we had two buckets, one in which we did the laundry, and one in which we did … everything else. Once, when we lost a bucket overboard, the remaining bucket became multipurpose. Something we never discussed with our guests when spreading a clean tablecloth before sitting them down to dinner.

In the West Indies, we washed our clothes in rivers and streams and beat them on rocks to get them clean. So-much-fresh-water!

Eventually I found work and rediscovered the joys of the launderette, which always seemed to have a bar nearby, or in some cases a bar attached to them.

Then the sad day arrived when we moved ashore and my wife refused outright to do the laundry in the sink or a bucket. All my protestations about how our mums used to do it – in a galvanized tub with a posser – fell on deaf ears and so I found myself in the local appliance store looking for the shortest way out.

I managed to convince my wife that the rudimentary plumbing in our rented apartment made no provisions for an expensive automatic washing machine but look, I said, there’s a lovely (cheap) twin tub. If I really struggled, I bet I could plumb that in.

She looked at me, well, actually, she looked right through me, but I had sort of committed to buying her a machine and while her fingers loving caressed the nobs and dials of a top-of-the-line Samsung automatic (almost breaking my heart), I paid the deposit on the twin tub and fled.

The machine was delivered and followed us from apartment to apartment for 20 years. I even bought a transformer in order to use it when we moved from a country that used 110 volts to one that used 220.

The only trouble we ever had with that machine was when it swallowed a pair of my underpants and I had to take it apart and rescue them from beneath the spinner drum, and the day clothes became tangled in the lid tearing it off and hurling it at my wife like a killer Frisbee.

But, oh boy, was that machine labor intensive. Fill the washer, wash. Empty the washer, refill and rinse. Put clothes in to spin and run like hell as it bounced around the room trying to kill you because the spinner was out of balance.

While my wife was in England, I sort of let the washing build up until I had no clean clothes, no clean bedding, no clean towels, in fact I was down to sleeping on the floor and wandering around naked, covering my bits with my hands when I walked past the window or someone came to the door. I could not go out, I had become prisoner to a huge pile of festering washing that I swear pulsated and moved around at night.

Eventually, shoveling it to one side and digging down, I uncovered the twin tub and began the mammoth task of fill, wash, repeat, spin, wash, rinse, repeat … ad nauseam.

The next day, dressed in clean clothes smelling of poorly rinsed laundry detergent, I purchased an automatic washing machine as a surprise for my wife.

I waited until she was home so that we could christen it together.

We loaded it up,  brought chairs and beers, pressed the button and and sat watching it go round.


I scored so many points, I’m now thinking of buying her a television.

It’s fruity. No, it’s earthy.

Do you know anything about wine? I mean really know about it so that when the waiter opens a bottle at table and offers you the cork and then a sip, you have the faintest idea what is going on?

I don’t. For one thing, my nose doesn’t work so instead of sniffing the cork I might has well blow my nose on it. Then there’s the taste test. The creative pour that, when done right, ends with a sexy little twist of the bottle as the neck is raised from the glass.

I like this bit because it means I’m getting into the wine, but learned years ago that shouting “Cor … Winner!” and banging the table with my fist before gulping it down in one is generally frowned upon.  So is crossing your eyes, grabbing your throat with both hands, making gurgling noises and falling backwards off your chair … All things I did in my youth (and yes, my date still married me).


Don’t get me wrong, although I know very little about wine other than how to drink it, I do enjoy the ritual of the wine tasting. And I do it, not only because it’s expected of me but it respects the waiter or waitress who, in the past, have seen all the boorish tricks pulled by morons like me and have usually done so with patience and a smile.  Waiting table is a job I couldn’t do because the wine bottle would end up where the sun don’t shine the second I met my doppelganger in full cry.

Now we’ve established I’m not a wine snob but a wine slob, it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to charge me $35 for the same plonk, label and all, I bought from my local supermarket for $4.25 last week, as happens in some establishments.

At my favorite St. Martin restaurant, we always ask for the same Italian wine, Valpolicella, and are usually served by our regular waitress. Her approach never varies and is an integral and enjoyable part of our evening. She brings the wine and, depending on who placed the order, man or woman, shows them the bottle and points to the label. She then he pulls the cork and sniffs it. If all’s well, she pours a drop, it is sampled, we ooh and aah with appreciation, and away we go.

To have fun, watch other diners going through the wine ritual. You’ll see everyone from the self-proclaimed expert who desperately wants to gargle with it and spit it out to the ‘pour it and be gone’ type who impatiently waves away the waiter  like a troublesome fly and would be better off chugging supersized diet coke at Burger King.


Only once have I ever sent back a bottle of wine. This particular red had the consistency of 3OW engine oil and smelled like a corpse flower. Being English, and having complained and then profusely apologized, I felt guilty all night.