Wednesday, 27 May 2009


I seem to be winning.

The gaps between the sofa and the wall, and the sofa and the floor, are plugged with plumber's lagging hose (courtesy of J).

Stripe generally steers clear of the 'weakest link' corner where he could easily squeeze through our defences and cause merry havoc chewing behind the sofa.

Why does he stay away? I have Super Nanny to thank for that. Not only has she helped me through those dark, desperate toddler years (terrible twos? Bah! My own experience and a quick straw poll confirms the tantrumy-try-your-patience stage to run from approximately18 months to three and a half years), her techniques seem to work equally as well on pet rats.

As soon as Stripe goes near the illegal zone, I clap loudly (rats have sensitive hearing), say 'No!' firmly and put him in his cage for a few minutes of Time Out. Works a treat.

He also has some new chew toys in his cage and I am more vigilant when he's out playing. Although I've been finding it hard to keep an eye on him and watch Britain's Got Talent. Isn't it just compulsive viewing? Ella and I have been riveted.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

My Rat Baby

Photo credit:missy
Stripe has been with us for four weeks now and we all love him to bits.

I wanted to upload a photo but he won't stay still long enough, and when he's sleeping he's curled up into a small ball of fur in the corner of his cage which is cute to the naked eye but doesn't make for a good photo through the cage bars.

So, here's a photo of someone else's rat who looks a lot like Stripe.

Pet rats, or fancy rats as they're often called, make brilliant pets. They don't bite, they're as intelligent as dogs (Stripe already comes when you call his name), they can be litter trained and they are very low maintenance.

Ella does her teeth in the morning with him sitting on her shoulder, chattering his teeth and squeaking contentedly

I first had a rat, Rizzo, in my early twenties. He was a baby substitute. My hormones were going wild and I was aware that my hash dealing, thrash metaller boyfriend was unsuitable father material. Rizzo was something small and cute to lavish affection on whilst waiting for my situation to become more motherhood-friendly.

Fast forward a decade or so and Stripe is probably fulfilling the same function - baby substitute (J is not too sure he ever wants his own child). Stripe also has another role - sibling substitute for Ella. She even refers to him as 'my rat brother'. Bless.

Working from home, I let Stripe have free range of the sitting room. He's great fun to watch - inquisitive and intrepid he gets into, on, under and behind everything. He's currently sliding down the neck of my guitar. Rather tunefully I might add.

Stripe didn't come out to play much last night as he was relegated to the naughty corner. J and I had discovered rat nibbles in the sofa. The NEW sofa J spent hundreds of pounds on. It nearly caused a domestic.

Apparently, there are solutions. I can put cuttlefish bones, bird blocks and mineral blocks in his cage to chew on. I can spray Johnson's anti-peck on the sofa (marketed for birds but apparently works on rats) because it tastes horrible. I can also cover the sofa with thick throws when Stripe's out so he chews on those and not the sofa.

I will try all of these things, but I know that if a rat wants to do something there's no stopping him. Man vs rat is an age-old battle. Usually man only wins by using rat poison. Obviously not an option for us.

I am a big rat fan. Despite the chewing. Stripe is affectionate and fun. He likes strokes and cuddles. I can leave him in his palatial Freddy Savic if I need to go away for a weekend and know that he's perfectly content.

Stripe is a great pet. He's even muted the ticking of my biological clock. I'm sure J will agree a nibbled sofa is a small price to pay, considering he's been let off the hook. For the moment anyway.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Logs and Dogs

Thank you for all your kind comments. You've really helped to cheer me up :-)

I knew Ali since she was about 18. Over that decade, our friendship has ebbed and flowed but always against a steady background of love and respect. It's taken me a while to feel comfortable with the fact that we were on an ebb before she died. 

No arguments, no acrimony but some conscious distance because aspects of Ali's recent lifestyle shift weren't sitting easy with me. Her changed value set rankled me a little, she wasn't fully the Ali I knew and loved, and I thought a little time and space would smooth the edges of our relationship and I could throw myself back into being a loving friend in say three or six months when she was, well, a bit less hectic.

I ignored a few of her texts and voicemails over the past few months. Ummed and Ahhed over whether to invite her to my hen night - and didn't. Left our friendship in suspended animation for a while, knowing that she's always surrounded by friends, living life to the full and was unlikely to notice my temporary retreat.

I smiled at the news that she'd met someone special and, on my return from honeymoon, thought 'I really must call her, meet her new man, spend an evening with her on her bus (where she lived) and get me a dose of her positivity and warmth.' I was starting to miss her.

You can imagine how shocked, and how guilty, I felt when she died. What a waste. Of her life and of our friendship. Wasted time, wasted opportunities. I wished I'd known, I wished I'd seized the chance to create new memories of Ali in the six months where there was just a few ignored messages and some snatched news from mutual friends.

Ali was a free spirit. More recently, she embraced the traveller lifestyle and was known for her passion for open fires and dogs (logs and dogs!!) - at one point she was looking after eleven dogs & puppies. On a bus!! She used to be a gardener and worked without gloves because she loved the feel of the soil.

She was a ball of energy. So immediate. Famed for her wide, welcoming smile and her bounciness. She had been conceived at Stonehenge, and she had a kind of magic that you don't often get to experience. 

I know in my heart that if she's around she will forgive me my embarassment, my pettiness and just remember the love. She was all about love was Ali. 

I miss her. I wish I could have shared one more moment with her.

Ali will always be an inspiration. A beacon of light and unrelenting positivity. A call to grab life by the balls and do what you want NOW because that's what she did. Always. She had a short life, but a full life. I think she herself would have recognised that as her life faded from her.

As for the rest...when someone you love dies you eventually start to wonder if they still exist. Has she stopped like a clock that can no longer be wound? Or has her vital force left and gone on to some other plane? Somehow, you think if they could they would let you know, if they could reassure you in any way they would.

Thinking this, a few days before her funeral I fell asleep thinking of Ali and reaching out to her, asking her to give me a sign. Not in the manner of someone desperate and inconsolable. I was sad, yes, but also inquisitive. Ali had Shamanic beliefs. She saw all of existence as being animated both in the here-and-now and in the forever-after. If she could let any of us know she still existed then I am sure she would throw her full self into piercing the veil.

I dreamed of Ali that night. She was there, and she was communicating with me by text message. I was so frustrated in the morning because I couldn't remember the content of her text. All I could remember was me, in my dream, saying 'Ali, that's amazing. How did you manage to text from the dead?!'. Bollox to my memory.

At Ali's funeral, my friend Sarah showed me something both banal and amazing. I am sure there's a logical explanation for this. I'm not sure I really want to find it though. I like it how it occurs for me right now.

Sarah, who is notorious for being rather scatty and very late for everything, had also recently asked Ali for a sign. In a rather more considered way than me, she had lit some candles, held some rose quartz and had a good old chat to the ether - hoping Ali might hear. 

The next day she got a message in her phone calendar (a function she has never used and is unlikely to ever do so). It was for the day of Ali's funeral, at 8am (the time Sarah had to leave to catch the train in order to get there on time) and it just said 'A'.

8: A.

Sarah hadn't put it there - she doesn't even know how to work her phone's calendar. Unfortunately, she still managed to miss the funeral (a mix up with St Peter's Church in Didcot and the one she actually needed to be at - in North Moreton). But she was there for the wake - a fabulous, emotional gathering in a field by Ali's mum's house with drums, guitars and a huge log fire. Very Ali.

It's only in the last few days that I remembered something I've known for ages. That the figure eight lying on it's side is the symbol for infinity. Make of that what you will. I'm still undecided, but a large part of me is smiling and thinking 'clever Ali. Thank you!'