mumsnetBack along, my family and I swapped a house for a three-acre field in Devon and a leaky caravan where we lived off-grid for two years. Sadly, we failed to get the planning permission we needed to stay. We are now back within four walls, with a proper loo and everything in a cottage in Dartmoor. So this is now a blog about living ethically amid a fabulous landscape with our home educated kids while we adjust to being 'normal' - for a while... and what we plan to do with our land next

Sunday, 14 July 2013

When the cat's away

I have become reunited with taps and electricity sockets - and space - oh my goodness, glorious glorious space.

We are living in an ancient cob cottage in a lovely village below one of the most fabulous landscapes in Britain. There are parts of Dartmoor that are heart-stoppingly pretty, but we are living on the north side of the moor where the scenery is more spectacular - huge, granite-topped tors dotted with trees whose branches are caught in freeze frame pointing in the direction of the wind. It is so breathtaking, I still laugh out loud when I turn a corner and see Cosdon hill rising up before me.

So, yes, we have landed on our feet somewhat - after months of an increasingly desperate search for somewhere to live. More of which will come in another post.

But for now, we are in and sort of settled and I am still finding immense pleasure in the concept of running water. In fact, it was all going so well that I felt it was all a bit too good to be true. And so fate intervened to bring us back down to earth and engineered a cat to go missing.

Much of the struggle to find a suitable property revolved around the dog and cats. Especially the cats. They have lived all their lives pretty much in fields and we wanted somewhere that they would be happy and also not too close to any main roads.

We moved them over early on and they settled in very quickly adopting their usual routine of lounging around on people's beds during the day and spending the night waking me to tell me they required letting out or to noisily consume a mouse on the bedroom floor.

But about 10 days ago, Oscar didn't come home. And he hasn't returned since.

I have always affected a resigned tolerance of the cats. The children and I have developed a little psychological game where I am disparaging about the cats and they are rude about the dog. 'Why don't we just buy some poison instead?' I am heard to intone frequently while perusing the cat food aisle in the supermarket. And I make it my duty to point out their shortcomings as many times a day as possible.

The children in turn refer to the dog as the 'smelly fat pig' - and with some justification. She is, in truth, a little portly and when she lies on her side does bear more than a passing resemblance to a black sow. And she has a whiff about her that I find deeply comforting but Gully refers to as a 'stink'.

I am, as you can probably tell, one of those owners who is completely soppy about their dog. 'Look at those ears!' I coo. 'They must have been made in a special ear shop that specialises in perfect ears.'

I haven't quite reached the level of a friend whose previous nanny had knitted him a jumper that matched his large black and white dog. He was the news editor of a fabulous but slightly chaotic press agency I worked for. Liking dogs enormously was part of the job description. Ted was, and is, one of the most brilliant journalists I have ever met. He could simultaneously file a report about a kerb-crawling vicar from notes taken in court while flicking through the latest edition of Your Dog, to which he often sent pictures of his hound, Siva. She (for she was a she) was a magnificent shaggy beast who slept noisily in the corner of the office. She would awake for titbits, which she took with a ferocity suggesting she had never been fed. I will forever remember the look on the face of Geoff Lakeman, the Man from the Mirror, as he examined his fingers having  inadvisedly handed her half an unwanted pasty.

I am, in fact, pretty soppy about any dog and I never could see the point of cats - they always seemed to me, observing my sister's, to be a one-way street - appearing only at meal times with a persistence bordering on loutishness. The saying goes: A dog says, 'you pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, and you love me - you must be God'. A cat says, 'you pet me, you feed me, you shelter me, and you love me - I must be God.' And that pretty well sums up the difference between the two.

Oscar, when he was almost cute
But for all that, I have secretly become very fond of the cats. They are little works of art - so poised and neat and supremely built for purpose. Good engineering, I always think, is when beauty meets functionality - and cats do that in spades. So despite the cracks about poison and winter fur hats, I find I am really upset about Oscar's disappearance. I've put 'missing' posters everywhere and have been touched by how kind people in the village have been. Every night I walk around the village boundaries calling him and then stand in the garden shaking his bag of food. I invariably come back in with a wet face - and all because of a stupid cat - goodness knows how people with missing children or partners cope.

Neither can I bring myself to be rude about our remaining cat - Oscar's sister, Tanny, which means things have indeed come to a pretty pass. Still, if he ever does come back, I can fill my boots - and maybe I really might treat myself to a furry cat-shaped winter hat.

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