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My life has gone to the mogs and that’s just…PURRFECT

1 Sep

THEY say that cats have nine lives. Well, my life has nine cats.

At least it seems that way as just about every waif and stray in the neighbourhood queues at my cat flap for its daily food fix.

Officially I have three moggies. The first is mad Molly, who is small, black, weirdly mis-shapen and has learning difficulties (the description of her previous owner, not mine).

MOLLY: Not intelligent enough to have learning difficulties

Poor Molly’s not intelligent enough to have learning difficulties. The cat flap’s been there for three years and she still doesn’t know how to use it.

MOGGY No.2 is Geoffrey (Geoffrey Boycat to give him his full name – apt for an animal that moves as slowly as his cricketing namesake used to score runs for England). My Geoff is a black, long-haired softie of a stray who was probably lost or left by his previous owner a long time ago.

Certainly someone cared for him because he was neutered and healthy when he first started coming to my place.

In fact, it’s possible he still has another home because he sometimes goes missing for a day or two.

MOGGY No.3 is Henry, a young tabby who turned up at my back door last autumn with a hairless, bleeding chest and a mega-miaow.

‘’I suspect he’s been in a fight but I can stitch it up, no problem,’’ said the vet. ‘’I would advise you to have him neutered as soon as possibly, though. Not only will it stop him fighting, it will also help to keep the cat population down and make him more of a house cat.’’

Twenty-four hours later, Henry moved in – neatly stitched, snipped and tucked. When his chest took longer than expected to heal, I took him back to the vet…and a blood test revealed he was FIV-positive, the feline equivalent of HIV.

‘’It’s nothing to worry about,’’ said the vet. ‘’He was almost certainly born with it. It’s quite common and he has a good chance of leading a normal life. Because he has been neutered, he’s highly unlikely to pass the FIV on, even through sharing food bowls with other cats.’’

All of which makes Henry a bit special. After all we’ve been mutually stitched up – him by the vet and me by Henry, who could have saved me a lot of money had he turned up on someone else’s doorstep! (I’m joking…wouldn’t be without him for anything.

Add to Molly, Geoffrey and Henry the half-a dozen feral waifs and strays which turn up at various times of the day and night – and the menagerie-a-trois moves into mega-moggy mode. And thereby hangs another tail…the tale of why I prefer cats to dogs.

Now I’ve written a couple of light-hearted articles in the past about the respective merits and otherwise of each species, so apologies to those who have previously been subjected to what follows.

HENRY: I had him stitched up - then he stitched me up!

Cats are to me the most mysterious, fascinating and wonderful creatures on earth. Not only can they read your mind, they can also manipulate it to their own advantage. That’s the voice of 40 years of cat ownership speaking. Oh, and I didn’t own any of my moggies – they owned me.

I was THEIR pet, not the reverse. If it didn’t suit them to live in my home, they’d have been off like a flash to appoint some other purr soul as honorary daily food-and-milk supplier. Some of us are cat people, some dog people and some, like myself, care for both. Only we usually have a preference and in my household, moggies have always held the edge. To start with, they allow their owner more independence.

If you’re not around for a few days, it doesn’t really matter as long as someone is there to feed them.

Leave a dog on its own for two days and you’re not only in serious trouble with the animal authorities, the poor mutt will also have moped itself into a candidate for the canine nuthouse.

Then there is the cleanliness issue.

Dogs love to pepper their noses with the ghastliest of savouries left for them by their fellow barkers. The browner and smellier the better for Fido and his pals, and the worse for those of us whose shoes squelch the stink into our rugs and carpets when we get home.

From my experience, there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to house-train a puppy. It will pee and poo to order providing you let it out a minimum of 250 times a day.

But pop out yourself for five minutes and you open the door on your return to a mound of doggy dung and a floor awash with a ship-load of urine.

The yelps when Little Poo is left momentarily on its own are bad enough. But they are nothing to the yelps of human anger that boom into the stratosphere when Mr and Mrs Owner discover what poochie was up to while they were out of the room.

Yet to a dog lover, those Close Encounters of the T*rd Kind are all acceptable in exchange for the pure, uncomplicated love you are guaranteed in return for just being there.

Who cares that Fido spends all day rolling in mud, urine, vomit and the faeces of every animal on earth? It only takes a couple of hours to clean him up – and then those luscious licks and doggy hugs make it all worthwhile. Unless, like me, you’re already so browned off by those pooper bloopers that you’ve vowed never to have a dog again.

Cats are a complete contrast. House-trained before they’ve ever seen a house, all a kitten needs is a litter tray and it will wee and poo into it ad infinitum.

Mind you, removing the hail of stones that hurtle around the house in mini-puss’s attempts to bury the residue with its lethal back feet can take twice as long as clearing up after any untrained puppy.

Moggies also need no teaching when it comes to cleaning themselves. And thereby hangs another tale – plus body, head and legs.

Before you know it, puss has licked herself bald and is coughing up a two-ton hair ball. You rush her to the vet thinking she’s on her last legs but fear not…they all do it. Unless, like my Molly, the furry one suffers from feline asthma and vomits up nothing but wheeze.

GEOFFREY: Does he have another home?

If your cat is a Tom, then you have another problem or three. First and worst is his territory spraying, and the pungent, difficult-to-remove smell it creates.

Then there’s his sexual appetite, which he’ll inevitably impose on all the local moggettes – accompanied by a cat’s chorus loud enough to drown out a 30-piece orchestra. The solution to that one is simple.

Have Tiger Tom snipped in the bud when he’s a few months old and the spraying and s****ing will be a thing of the past. If you have a dog, you will of course need to take it for walks.

Unless you are a lazy bitch like one or two of my friends – and end up with a mutt that’s even fatter than its owner. In such instances, at least fatso and her pet won’t need a pooper scooper to clean up the dog mess, though not that many people seem to bother if the pavements in my locality at El Raso are anything to go by.

People not clearing up the mess left by their dogs in public places is a big problem everywhere. But here’s a question for you: If you saw a threatening-looking yob’s pit-bull pooing outside your home and he didn’t clean up the mess (the yob, not the pitbull), what would you do?

If your answer is ‘nothing’, score a brownie point for honesty. As for me, I’ll stick with my moggies. I just wish they could purr in English.

Published in The Courier (www.thecourier.es) September 2, 2011

When the ‘charity’ collector comes calling…

26 Jul

I’VE never been sure what the Spanish law is regarding door-to-door charity collections.
On one hand I’m told it’s illegal, and that the people who ring my bell trying to raise money for a new school/hospice/orphanage/public toilet are in fact bogus.
On the other hand, you have those charity callers whose impressive documentation .and smooth tongue convinces you they are for real.
‘’Don’t give money to anyone collecting at the door,’’ is the clear message from both my community president and the local Neighbourhood Watch. ‘‘The odds are that they are not genuine.’’
Well, for the last two or three years, this cheerful-looking Spanish guy in his 40s, lways armed with identity card, badge, documents and flyers galore, has been doing his best to squeeze euros out of the expat community around my home.
Some people give, some don’t. And I admit he’s sweet-talked me into parting with a few euros in the past.
Weapon
But that was before I became Editor of The Courier – and in fact, before this newspaper even came into existence.
This time I was armed with a powerful new weapon and II plotted a scheme that would make or break him next time he came calling..
I would to tell him I was writing an article on residents being pestered by bogus charity collectors. I wanted take his photograph and put it in The Courier, at the same time confirming to readers that he was no Luis the Ladrón and represented a genuine cause.
I figured that an honest collector would agree instantly to being photographed since it would surely improve hisreturns…while an imposter would run a mile.
I was in the garden when he turned up in mid-afternoon a couple of weeks ago.
‘Hola senora, you Engleesh?’’
He clearly didn’t remember me – not that I wanted him to.
‘’Yes, I want to speak to you,’’ I replied in Spanish, going straight on the attack as he pulled his documents out of his briefcase.
I reeled off my proposal (well, hardly reeled it off – my Spanish isn’t particularly good) and then mentioned taking his photo.
He did not like the idea. In fact, it horrified him. ‘No photograph!’’ he snapped, quickly putting his papers back in his briefcase. ‘‘Definitely not. It is illegal to take photos in Spain.’’
‘‘It’s illegal to collect money door to door in Spain, more likely,’’ I retorted, uncertain whether this was in fact true.
With that, he thrust the leaflet alongside into my hand and stalked off to accost another potential victim.
The following day a respectable looking woman aged about 30 appeared at the front gate and began the charity sales talk. Or so I thought.
‘‘I’m sorry but there’s a great suspicion of charity collectors around here,’’ I said, lining up another photographic session. ‘‘People think you are not genuine.’’
‘‘Charity? I’m not collecting for charity, cariño,’’ she retorted indignantly. ‘‘I’m collecting for ME. For me and my family.’’
There followed a party political broadcast on behalf of Spain’s unemployed masses. She told me she had lost her job, her husband was out of work and his dole had been stopped, and they had three kids to feed.
How else could she support them than by calling on the generosity of more affluent people?
I know she could have been conning. But if she was, she deserved the €10 I gave her just for her acting skills.
Genuine or not, her face lit up at the sight of the money and she couldn’t thank me or hug me enough. ‘‘This will pay the lighting bill tomorrow, carino. I’m so happy.’’
And off she went with a parting shot. ‘‘Watch out for those charity collectors. You never know if their genuine.’’

WITNESS FOR THE DEFENCE

TALKING of uninvited callers, I got into conversation the other day with two very nice ladies about…the end of the world.
Yes, they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now although I am not a Christian, I have never been one of those ‘we’re not interested – clear off’ types.
Indeed, apart from the fact that they are invariably humble, gentle people, I have the greatest admiration for the courage of Witnesses in the face of adversity.
Namely the antagonism of so many people who resent their intrusion. It’s all very well to turn them away politely but firmly, but verbal aggression and rudeness is not necessary.
I’d also like to clear up one or two misconceptions about Jehovah’s Witnesses. First of all, they are neither crazy nor any more deluded than followers of any other religious order. Indeed, to me their message rings truer than most.
The mess that mankind has got the world into needs sorting urgently – and who better to handle it than Big G himself? And soon!
I would never have the courage or dedication to become a Witness. But I do wish I could truly BELIEVE because it immediately takes all the fear out of dying
‘‘I bet you get a lot more abuse than friendliness when you knock on doors,’’ I said to my visitors. ‘‘You are so brave to carry on despite all the resentment.’’
‘‘The strength to go on doesn’t come from us – but from Jehovah,’’ they replied.
I come from Jewish roots, but as a lifelong agnostic, I have spent my entire life wondering what existence is all about.
But there has to be more to it than eating, drinking and making a nuisance of ourselves.
Jehovah’s Witness literature often portrays their idea of the Paradise awaiting believers.
We see images of Mum, Dad and smiling kids strolling and playing in a sunny Garden of Eden, their pets – including lions and tigers – sitting obediently at their feet.
Beat you to it, guys. I’m in Paradise every time I sit in my sunny garden, full of glorious summer colour, with one purring moggy on my lap and another at my side.
In this life, that’s as good as it gets for me. It almost makes my chronic backache worthwhile…

Katherine of Arrogant (she looks haughty here anyway!)

28 Apr

A rare picture of Prince William's fiancee looking anything but happy and relaxed. Maybe someone told her that her namesake's marriage to King Henry X111 did not always run smoothly...

Where there’s a Will…is there a way the marriage can last?

27 Apr

To most plebs like me, the pomp and ceremony of a Royal Wedding is an event to die for. But these days it’s a rare Prince or Princess whose marriage doesn’t die long before they do.

The fact is that, looking at recent history, the omens for couple- of-the-moment William and Kate are not good. The Queen and Prince Philip have been married for a remarkable 63 years and five months.

Indeed, most of us weren’t even born when the then Princess Elizabeth got hitched to the then Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark on November 20, 1947. (I should really say ‘most of YOU weren’t even born’ – but that would be giving my age away!).

I’m sure there have been plenty of ups and downs during the intervening years but the main thing is that, six decades and 27 Philip foot-in-the-mouth gaffes later, the marriage continues – and will inevitably continue to continue until, as the wedding oath affirms, ‘till death us do part.’

Which is a lot more than can be said for their children. Indeed, the word ’divorce’ has sown a trail of destruction throughout the Queen’s immediate family ever since her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936 in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

That world-changing decision thrust her father stuttering onto the ultimate stage as King George VI – and the then Princess Elizabeth became heir to the throne.

Next for a taste of divorce pain was her only sibling, Princess Margaret, who wanted to marry her father’s equerry Peter Townsend, only the Church of England to object to him being a divorcee.

How pitiful that reason now looks in light of the plethora of royal divorces that have followed! Margaret subsequently hitched up with photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones – Lord Snowdon – and 18 years later became a divorce statistic herself.

Whilst there has never been any suggestion of her own marriage breaking up, divorce was something the Queen was going to have to get used to. Because THREE of her four children proceeded to go down the same path as Princess Margaret over the next couple of decades.

The Prince of Wales (Charles), the Princess Royal (Anne) and the Duke of York (Andrew) were all married in the sort of glitz and glamour that befits the most illustrious family in the world.

And which the public so adore. And whilst our Liz and Phil can thank Princess Diana, Mark Phillips and Sarah Ferguson (aka the Duchess of York) for their part in produce half-a-dozen of their grandchildren, sadly their marriages all ended up on the rocks.

Between them, Prince Charles, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew managed a total of 44 years of marriage to their original partners, though how many of those years they were actually living together is anyone’s guess.

Certainly no one believes the Prince and Princess of Wales were actually an item for the entire 15-year span of their marriage. What the Queen and Prince Philip made of it all is anybody’s guess.

The one thing they certainly won’t be complaining about is the nest of eight grandchildren – four boys and four girls – produced by the ‘Three Divorces and a Stay-wed’ brigade.

Two princes (William and Harry) a couple of princesses (Beatrice and Eugenie), plus Princess Anne’s untitled Peter and Zara Phillips and Prince Edward’s one of each make it an equal split

The only surviving marriage is of course that of the Earl and Countess of Essex – ‘baby’ of the Queen’s family Edward and his wife, former public relations manager Sophie Rhys Jones.

Perhaps the secret of keeping a royal marriage together is avoiding the headlines. And quiet man Edward has achieved that admirably despite numerous attempts by stir-mongers to ‘out’ him as being a closet homosexual. Edward vehemently denies it.

And the evidence of nearly 12 years of marriage – plus their children, Princess Louise, 7, and three-year-old James, Viscount Severn – would tend to indicate otherwise. But as William and Kate prepare to make history today, it is certainly going to be one incredibly gay day…

‘Dirty, apologetic, drunken, tattooed dog-mad hooligans’

25 Apr

A SPANISH EYE VIEW OF THE AVERAGE BRITISH TOURIST…

Jose Monllor Perez is small, dark, law-abiding and enjoys nothing more than relaxing with his pals, a cerveza and a cigarette. A stereotypical Spaniard, you might say.

We all have our own views on what exactly constitutes an archetypal native of this particular Iberian nation. But how do the Spanish see the thousands, nay millions, of British holidaymakers who swarm around their country seeking the sunshine that invariably shuns our own grid-locked island?

For the past dozen years Perez, 43, has been teaching Spanish to students of all nationalities (me included) at the Berlingua School of Languages in Quesada in the Costa Blanca – the majority of them English.

Teaching runs in Jose’s family and after seeing 4,000 pupils pass through Berlingua’s doors, he’s a pretty good judge of character. The Alicante-born profesora is also a dab hand at another trait that runs in the family – art. And he paints a hilarious tongue-in-cheek assessment of the stereotypical Brit.

Spainly speaking, it seems we are an apologetic, dog-crazy, dirty, unfit, drunken bunch of tattooed hooligans. And those are our good points!
The bad guys apparently all wear bowler hats and carry umbrellas.

Here’s the lowdown on how Spaniards see us – as interpreted by Perez.

BRIT STEREOTYPE 1: ‘‘They are always saying ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’. Sometimes I think that if you stamped on an Englishman he would apologise. And they say ‘thank you’ so much that the Spanish believe you thank cash machines after withdrawing money.’’

Next comes the obligatory condemnation of our drinking excesses. No, not getting sozzled every day and spending most nights, in the words of Billy Connolly, ‘‘talking to Hughey down the big white telephone’’. Something gentler and more refined than that – tea.

BRIT STEREOTYPE 2: ‘‘They drink tea at all hours – and with COLD milk. Uggh! I thought it was meant to be a hot drink!’’

The fun stops when we move on to the UK’s much-maligned drink culture, which arguably represents the most vivid stereotypical image of an Englishman in the eyes of 21st-century Europe.

BRIT STEREOTYPE 3: ‘‘The English drink far too much beer and wine and they all seem to spend all day in a state of drunkenness. ”

Of course, when we’re on the beach or by the swimming pool, all that booze makes us forget that our white skins are being roasted by el sol.

BRIT STEREOTYPE 5: ‘‘They just can’t take the sun. Their white skin never goes brown – it’s always bright red.’’

And then there is our perceived obsession with queueing.

BRIT STEREOTYPE 6: ‘‘They love to stand in a line waiting. Sometimes I think they make queues when there is nothing to queue for!’’

The British attitude to pets is another peculiarity that amuses Perez.

Jose Monllor Perez: ‘Every person is an individual'

BRIT STEREOTYPE 7: ‘‘They really love your dogs. We think they sleep with them, eat with them, take them on the bus, go into bars and get drunk with them – and then take each other home. They spend a fortune on their animals, but as for having a RABBIT as a pet, now that we cannot understand!’’

Perez confesses that the Channel 4 programme How Clean Is Your House? has sparked a suspicion among Spaniards that the entire nation is DIRTY. ‘‘That TV show is incredible,’’ he says. ‘‘The gardens are clean and tidy, but inside the houses it’s completely the opposite. If I go into an English bar after seeing that programme, I always examine the cups and spoons!’’ Then, of course, there is our physical shape.

BRIT STEREOTYPE 8: ‘‘Their fitness levels are bad with lots of people overweight – and the guys all have tattoos and look like hooligans.’’

According to Perez, the Spanish also see us as bashful when it comes to discussing sexual matters and hmmm, let’s say anything involving personal excretions. But when it comes to using the F word, then there’s no holding us back…

Away from the wisecracking, Jose insists that only ignorant people actually BELIEVE these characteristics are representative of the nation. ‘‘Each person is an individual,’’ he insists. ‘‘There are Englishmen who do not drink tea, Spanish who don’t like flamenco, Germans who not have a moustache, Italian pizza haters, non-romantic Frenchmen and Russians who don’t belong to the Mafia.

‘‘Our brain wants to save energy and work quickly, so it creates stereotypes. It’s easier to believe than that each person is uniquely different.’’

Goodbye Daily Sport – you never were any good at figures!

9 Apr

Weren’t you gutted to hear that the seedy Sport Media Group founded by David Sullivan had gone into administration? Neither was I – apart from great sympathy for the 80 people who lost their jobs.

I detest the tackiness of the Daily and Sunday Sport so I’m glad to see the back of their smut. But I also have some unforgettable memories of the days I worked for the Daily Sport myself – and became the only journalist to be involuntarily pushed out of the door TWICE.

My career in journalism has embraced well over 30 years in what is still fondly called Fleet Street – mainly as a sub-editor but also as a writer and columnist.

I worked under charismatic editors ranging from the awesome Sir John Junor at the Sunday Express to the booming bullying of Kelvin Mackenzie at The Sun and the bloated arrogance of Piers Morgan at the Daily Mirror.

I also had both the pleasure and pain of twice working for Peter Grimsditch, the launch editor of the Manchester-based Daily Star in 1978 who some years later became inaugural editor of the Daily Sport.

Grimbles, as we called him, was simply brilliant with the Star’s launch team of journalists. By the time the paper first hit the news-stands, he had called every one of us into his office individually for a drink and a ‘meet the boss’ chat.

My chinwag lasted fully half an hour and sealed an instant bond which, long after we had both moved on to other newspapers, led to Grimsditch invitingme to join the Daily Sport team in its early days in 1991.

With virtually every national newspaper production team at this point operating exclusively in London, as someone whose heart was in Manchester, I actually jumped at the chance to sink into the gutter. After all, I was joining the paper’s one decent department – the sports desk, whose staff included some highly talented journalists.

And to avoid any embarrassment, I proceeded to hide my shame from my friends by telling them I was now freelancing rather than working for any individual title.

Most of the journalists on the Daily Sport were experienced national newspaper subs who simply wanted to stay in the North. It was much, much more than Sullivan deserved – but the fact is he had a captive market.

Anyway things went well until the pressure of trying to keep the title afloat started to get to Grimsditch. We all laughed when he suddenly issued a warning over staff using the office computer system to store private files, something we all did and which caused no harm whatsoever.

It all came to a head when he called me into his office one day and accused me of committing a criminal offence by using the office system to store minor details from a sports book I was writing. It was all trumped-up nonsense and I exploded.

It was like something out of a movie as I stormed out of Grimbles’ retreat and in a dramatic scene watched by the entire staff, yelled theatrically ‘‘I quit’’ before slamming his office door as hard as I could .

I swear the entire building shook and by the time I got home, a dispatch rider had already delivered a quickly dictated letter from Grimsditch accepting my resignation.

Two months later, sports editor Steve Millar phoned to tell me the Grim news that the Editor had himself been dismissed. ‘’Will you please come back – we need you,’’ he pleaded.

So back to Great Ancoats Street I went with a quiet snigger that the person responsible for my departure had himself been booted into oblivion.

A year or so later, Sullivan – dissatisfied with the economic state of his print empire, ordered a redundancy exercise which involved the sports desk being trimmed by three.

Unfortunately Sport Newspapers’ naïve management team failed to realise that certain procedures must be followed regarding redundancies and when Millar refused to single out three people, they took it upon themselves to do the job for him.

It was a mistake that ended with their representatives being ripped to shreds at an industrial tribunal. I and the two sports-desk colleagues who got the old heave-ho were awarded almost £30,000 between us, with the chairman intimating the figure would have been higher had he not be tied by a legal maximum.

I look back on it all today with some amusement – particularly at the memos the less-than-articulate Sullivan would circulate about his beloved Birmingham City. Indeed, I’m sure I still have copies of a couple of them somewhere.

At the time, the Blues were playing in the second tier (now the Championship) and the chairman was keen to put his players in the shop window at every opportunity in the hope one of the big clubs would come calling.

‘‘Whenever you mention our star striker Paul Peschisolido, please make sure you say ‘’£2million-rated Paul Peschisolido’’, he instructed the sports department. ‘‘And for all other Birmingham players, please put ‘‘£1million-rated’’ before their name.’’

I could throw in an anecdote or two about Sullivan’s protégé Karren Brady, who also put her oar in once or twice. But I’ll leave that for another day because I’ve kind of warmed to English football’s first female managing director over recent years.

So I’ll leave it to the men to moan about women ruining the game. Andy Gray, where are you?