Friday, April 25, 2014

The story of Mao

This is a story that’s close to my heart. In fact, so close to my heart that I hesitate even to tell it, in case I lose my grip on it and what it means to me. But I will tell it, because in many years I may need to be reminded.

This is the story of Mao, a beautiful cat who found our family when there were only four of us, and made himself a part of it. He was a Tonkinese cat, a noble and handsome boy who loved us from the very beginning. We took a little toy mouse with us on the day he chose us, and we waded into a house full of Tonkinese kittens who were running and jumping in all directions and all looked very much the same. We threw our toy mouse into the blur of kitten and out strode a sweet but self-assured bundle with the mouse in his mouth, straight to us.

I used to joke that he was the cat I’d wanted when I was single, when I would have been able to devote so much spare time to just sitting with him on my lap, but he didn’t seem to mind too much that my lap only became available long after dark, when the house fell strangely silent. And when another baby arrived, the lap stopped appearing altogether for a while, along with the silence.

He befriended our Labrador and they often shared a bed, unless Sunday was chased off and then Mao had it all to himself. We’d often see them running full-pelt around the  backyard, Sunday in front and Mao at his heels, tail in the air, then seconds later they’d come back the other way. It was hard to tell who was enjoying the chase more.

He was the Yul Brynner of the cat world, and I could see him in the role of the king in The King And I, all fancy pants and endearingly misguided ego, strutting about with his nose in the air but too lovable to resist. We all loved him, and he loved us back. So when he suddenly became very sick we were all worried. With good reason. Mao had acute kidney failure, and he spent six days at the vet, during which nobody was sure he was coming home. He did come home, and we loved him even more in the hope that it might fix the one thing I knew deep down could never really be fixed. He came good, with the help of daily injections of fluid and a special diet, and he was more loving than ever. He took to being carried around the house on my shoulders, and we walked him outside on a lead so he could get some sunshine. But it couldn’t last forever.

We said goodbye to Mao in early March, and I stayed with the girls, all of us weeping and me trying to console them, while Randal took him to the vet. He came home with the body of our beautiful Mao, who we buried in the backyard under all the flowers we could find. I told the girls that Mao was in cat heaven now, chasing little mice and sleeping in the sunshine, and he would never be sick again. Eventually we stopped crying, but I struggled for several days to come to terms with losing someone who’d become almost a part of me. The things we love most about our pets - their companionship, their apparent empathy, their unconditional love - are the same things that threaten to ruin us when we ultimately have to say goodbye to them.

But then I slowly realised that Mao will never really leave. He is in my heart, and in all our hearts, and I see him curled up there, purring and eternally content, whenever I miss him (which is almost always). And when Rosa, who is four, asks where Mao is now, I tell her he is in our hearts, and he will be there forever and always.

Next: The story of Violet

Saturday, April 12, 2014

On not falling into booby traps

The last time I went bra shopping I was on a mission. A mission that involved leaving behind my third soggy collection of maternity bras and replacing them with new brassieres, distinguishable by their glorious absence of clips and by their focus almost entirely on form, not function. I wanted my next bra to be beautiful, comfortable and flattering. I wanted to be able to put it on in the morning and not touch it or even think about it for the whole day. No itchy lace, no metal underwires and no wonderbras.

Ultimately I found the very bra for me, so perfect that I bought three in various colours. That was more than three years ago, and they have served me well up until about six months ago, when they started to lose their elasticity (much like my skin) and failed to fit properly (much like all my other clothes) while also looking very much the worse for wear (much like me, and all my other clothes).

So a couple of weeks ago I ventured back into the bra department of a certain store which is known for selling big labels at small prices and I must say I was flabbergasted. There were literally hundreds of bras in this place, all on sale and altogether comprising roughly half the world's supply of sponge. Seriously, one misdirected match and the whole place would have gone up like Cracker Night 1978.

I don't care if you want to hoist your tits up under your chin, double their size and create a cleavage that small animals can disappear into. I really don't. It's entirely your business. But surely we should have other options. There was not a single bra in this shop, at least not in my very modest (some would say small, others would say "Why do you need to buy a bra anyway?") size that did not have at least half an inch of padding. Even the teeny tiny training bras, which in my day consisted of two nylon triangles that joined at the front with a sliding hook, would not have looked out of place in certain street windows in Amsterdam.

What is going on? Not only have we deluded ourselves into thinking that our own assets are not good enough, we're conning our daughters into thinking that too, before they even have a chance to decide otherwise. It's taken me 41 years, but I'm at a point where I just want a bra that's comfortable, that says "I care just enough to not leave the house without a bra on", as opposed to "Give me one more throw cushion and I'm wearing a two-seater lounge".

We should take a stand. Maybe take all the abominable foam bras out there and burn 'em. No lighter fluid required.