Archive for Family & friends

We are engaged (and it’s love, not money!)

Richard and I are very touched by the kind messages we’ve received since we told friends about our engagement. It just seemed right to have that certainty in our lives at a rather uncertain time. Setting a date and a venue will have to wait til after the election!

Rich has been at my side through the highs and lows of the last five years, with his unique mix of modesty, good humour, common sense and loyalty. Kind, funny, and high-powered in his own job, he is incredibly supportive to me in my career (despite the fact that politics is not something he’d ever had much time for before we met). I’m a very lucky woman.

One thing that has NOT motivated us is the Tories’ ludicrous marriage tax break idea. The closer you examine it, the worse it looks. It wouldn’t help couples where both work. It wouldn’t help married woman abandoned by their partners – but it would help their philandering husbands on marriages number 2, 3, 4 or more.

You get married because you love each other and want to be together for ever. Not because of a tax break.

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Farewell Percy

As friends already know, my much-loved cat Percy was taken ill late on Monday night and died early on Tuesday morning.

He had been very ill in December, and had a heart condition diagnosed then. His lifestyle changed, from being free range to being a house cat, on daily medication, ever since; and our excellent vet at Canonbury Vets had warned us that it was only a matter of time before Percy passed on.

In the middle of Monday night, we rushed him over to the 24 hour vets’ practice at Elizabeth Street (the journey was a nightmare, our minicab driver got lost and I had to direct him using googlemaps on my BlackBerry) but there was nothing to be done except let Percy go; and at about 3am he went to sleep as I held him. The vet could not have been kinder or more sensitive; and although Richard and I were very sad to say good bye to Percy it was absolutely the right thing to do. He was old and poorly and his time had come.

Percy was a great character. He was striking in appearance, pure white, with odd eyes, one blue and one green; and although in recent years he had become very affectionate, in his youth he could be quite aggressive, especially with people he did not know.

He even got into the gossip column of the then local paper (the Highbury & Islington Express) for biting Cllr Dave Barnes at a Liberal Democrat social event I hosted in Barnsbury back in the late 1990s. As Dave then embarked on a scenic route through several other political parties (including both Labour and Conservative plus a few others, some of them his own invention) it has been suggested that Percy was showing good judgement: I can’t possibly comment.

In the last couple of years, since I’ve been working from home, Percy and I have had a happy routine; he would come into my office when it was time for lunch, or a tea break, and nudge me until I led the way to the kitchen.

He was not one for boundaries in terms of food. He loved parmesan cheese sprinkled on top of his biscuits. When we first had Percy, the vet warned us not to over feed him and to stick to special food, because of his delicate kitten digestion. That held true until the time my then husband Paul left a chicken madras unattended: and came back to find a large portion of it gone, and a tiny kitten with red sauce all over his whiskers! Richard and I got used to ensuring that Percy was fed first – and then still having to ignore his imploring looks and nudges as we ate our own meals.

Percy would sit on top of the big old TV, often draping one paw elegantly over the screen. He would play with the landline phone cable, change TV channels by wrestling with the remote, and would also regularly climb onto one of our laptops – sometimes with unintended consequences, like the time he managed to reset my screen at right angles.

Although he was a largely silent cat, I shall miss his chirrup of greeting when he landed on the bed with cold paws after some nighttime excursion. And of course his famously loud purr, like a Geiger counter.

Percy came to us as a kitten in Barnsbury back in 1996 and had been with me ever since, through house moves, changes of job, and other upheavals. He was a dear old fellow and I shall miss him a lot. RIP Percy.

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RIP little Ash

IMG_0611We’re mourning little Ash our chinchilla.

Chinchillas are unusual pets, I’d never seen one let alone held and played with one before I met Richard. He has had chinchillas for years, including rescue chinchillas like Ash. They are delightful animals, literally bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with mischevious sweet natures, and amazingly soft fur.

Ash came to Richard indirectly. An older couple had bought him on impulse in a pet shop, but then found that they could not look after him, particularly as they had two boisterous spaniels. Their vet knew Richard was a bit of a chinchilla expert, and put him in touch. Rich was happy to give their pet (then called ‘Basil’) a new home and a new

When Richard moved in with me, Ash came too; the spare room became officially Richard’s study, but effectively Ash’s room, with the largest chin cage money could buy. It’s sad to see it empty now.

IMG_0600 Although Ash was originally Richard’s pet, I loved him too. Working from home meant I could spend time with him in the day, when Percy the cat (we kept them firmly apart) was asleep downstairs or out in the garden.

Ash was always full of personality and very lively – and would chew anything in sight. My watch strap still has the toothmarks as evidence! He loved fruit and nuts, especially whole almonds, as treats, and demolished the cardboard tubes from kitchen roll. A favourite plaything was a shoelace tied from the top of the cage, tough enough for him to enjoy chewing for days on end. A regular treat was a dust bath, in special super-fine sand. He would sit in the sandbox and then suddenly spin around at great speed, a furry blur sending the dust flying; we enjoyed watching him almost as much as he enjoyed his dustbath.

We knew Ash was poorly when he suddenly lost his desire to play. Rich suspected tooth problems; the vet confirmed it. Chinchillas, like all rodents, have constantly growing teeth that they need to erode: hence all the chewing. If the teeth grow straight, they wear each other down. But if the teeth grow out of line – or get looser with age – then you get problems.

Ash’s back teeth were causing him pain, putting him off food and play. He had a dental operation, under general anaesthetic, which treated his teeth. But Ash never recovered his spirits or his appetite. Towards the end, we were syringe feeding him baby food and special nutrients. It gave me very mixed feelings. On the one hand it was a sweet bonding experience to hold him and feed him; but on the other it was very sad to see him so frail and dependent. He wasn’t thriving and he began to lose his beautiful fur.

In the end the vet advised us that there was no prospect of recovery, although we could keep Ash alive longer on a drip feed – no life for such a lively animal. So Richard took the sad but brave decision to let him go.

We will miss the ‘wee fellow’ very much. RIP little Ash.

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McNulty put to shame

I’d not realised quite what a heroic figure my cousin Simon is.

When we were all children, as the oldest and cleverest cousin, he was the one who made us all laugh with his commentary on slide shows of holiday photos (we’re talking family gatherings 70s style) and patiently let smaller relatives chase him about.

Our grandfather was from Finsbury and our grandmother from Holloway, but they later moved out to the Harrow area, and now Simon lives in Harrow too.

He works in Westminster, like local MP Tony McNulty. Unlike Mr McNulty, he commutes in and out every day. Like Mr McNulty, Simon has parents who also live in the Harrow area. But, unlike Mr McNulty, Simon claims no public money for their home.

Mr McNulty’s office insists that he has done nothing wrong. I hadn’t realised that the daily journey from central London to Harrow was so long and traumatic that it entitled MPs to a second homes allowance. But what moves me even more than Simon’s heroism is his modesty. When asked about his extraordinary journey, he simply says that thousands do the same every day.

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Percy`s girlfriend

Percy has acquired a girlfriend – or could have if he was interested.

For the last week or so, a very pretty cat, with lots of fluffy caramel coloured hair and big blue eyes, has been sitting on our garden wall wailing amorously. She’s sweet and affectionate to humans too, so our attempts to shoo her away have been rather half-hearted and totally unsuccessful.

You think my fat old cat would be flattered. Sadly Percy has always been more inclined to make war than love (if it was a tomcat spoiling for a fight, he’d be out there like a shot) and has reacted to her attentions by retreating indoors and curling up on the bed – alone.

So much for the joys of spring!

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Phones not flowers

I’ve just been on the phone to an old friend about a mutual friend in hospital.

Me: How is she, is she ready for visits? If not I’ll send some flowers.

O.F.: Why not phone her?

Me: Phone her?

O.F.: Yes, she’s got her phone, you’re allowed them in hospital these days you know. But no flowers, they’re not allowed.

Me: no flowers?

O.F.: Yes, phones not flowers: it’s the modern way.

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Chocs away

I’ve just had the last of a lovely box of Charbonnel et Walker chocs, a present from Rich.

They were a great gift. The chocs are all delicious, a perfect daily treat. The packaging is very simple so you get more, not less, than you expect. Best of all, the plain white box came with a big red ribbon.

Percy has adopted it as his own: he loves to chase it, wrestle it, and drag it round the flat. It makes him look like a very portly rhythmic gymnast. Most unfair, since he’s not eaten any of the chocs himself.

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