I was in the Hexham branch of Marks and Spencer’s shortly before Christmas, a regular port of call for Mum and me. It’s one of the growing number of places where Mum has a solid fan base, like Saccha’s at the Lane Head. She was busy in the granola aisle – I expect you didn’t realise that such a small branch of M & S boasts a granola aisle, but believe me it does, and Mum can spend a good half hour there pondering over what flavour to have for breakfast. I was leaning against the wall just below the “ethical farming” posters, studying my mobile phone, when I was approached by a friendly sales assistant. I recognised her as being one of my mother’s devotees. Devotees of my mother are rarely, if ever, devotees of me as well, it’s quite impossible, like adoring Margaret Thatcher and Harold Wilson both at the same time. This dear sweet old lady is back in the shop again, she’s so gorgeous, but she’s got this horrible bad-tempered daughter…
Anyway, the devotee said to me, “That’s a nice phone you’ve got, I’ve lost the charger for mine, but I don’t miss it much, never bother with it really. Are you on Facebook there?”
“Yes I am, but not my Facebook – actually it belongs to the cat. You see our cat has a Facebook account, and as a matter of fact she was on BBC Newcastle this morning, Alfie Joey had to apologise to her on air. He said something about animals not understanding Christmas and so the cat tweeted in and Alfie had to say he was sorry.” The lady checked carefully around our immediate surroundings, possibly seeking out my carer.
“You mean the cat sent in a Tweet?”
“From whose account?”
“Well her own, obviously.”
I could tell she didn’t believe me, and so I unwisely decided to offer further evidence. “She’s quite famous you see, she even has her own calendar, it’s the 2016 Elsie Linsell calendar.”
“Right. Do excuse me, the tills look busy so I’d better be getting on.”
It sounds fantastic I know, but the thing is, we DO have a famous cat. She IS on Facebook, she DOES have her own calendar, and she did indeed get a mention on BBC Newcastle – two mentions on two different days in fact, so whilst it all sounds a tadge implausible, I’m telling the truth!
The first cat to acquire me was Thomas. I was driving home from a night shift in Cramlington one Bank Holiday Monday morning down the A1. Looking ahead I saw a bundle in the nearside lane, there was an articulated truck in front of me, and it pulled aside to avoid running over this apparently dead black cat. I did the same, and the dead black cat cowered, so I pulled off at the next exit and went back. My aim was to get the cat off the road and I expected to be scratched to bits, but he snuggled into me and purred. It turned out he’d suffered a collapsed lung and multiple breaks down one paw. It seemed to me that the best thing to do was to have him put to sleep, which is exactly what I did do – twenty two years later. Thomas gave us dead mice, live rats, and a neighbour’s budgie (Percy Oliver). We paid for torn tails, ripped ears, swollen paws, and bleeding noses, all the outcome of Tom’s enthusiastic, but nonetheless incompetent endeavours to defend his territory from other felines. We were also the recipients of endless cuddles, purrs, love and affection.
This brings me back to Elsie. We’ve had many cats, generally acquired as rescued animals when they were already quite old, so subsequently their time with us has been shorter. We’d never had a kitten, and we got it into our heads that just once, and only once, we would really like one. My friend Kath worked for the Cat Protection League, and she had a cat in mind for us. A black and white kitten, abandoned at birth by her mother (we don’t know why) and discovered a few hours later by a farmer. She went to be looked after and bottle fed by Maureen Franklyn, who runs New Beginnings Cat Re-homing in Gateshead. A CPL representative called out to check that Heather and I would make suitable parents, and we were told that we could have the kitten as soon as she was old enough to leave Maureen. Happily for me, Maureen lived on my beat, so I was a regular visitor and got to know Elsie from when she was very small. She was called Lucy then, but we already had a Lucy, and Heather decreed that being black and white she must be re-christened with an NUFC themed name. I drew the line at Shearer, but suggested, as a compromise, we call her Elsie after Lady Elsie Robson.
Elsie came home to us when she was about ten weeks old, and Heather and I were simply besotted. When the time came to have her spayed we were so distraught that both of us had to take the day off. On Elsie’s first birthday we posted a photograph to Facebook of her when she was a day old, a sickly little grub half the size of Maureen’s palm, and then added a contemporary picture. Everyone loved it; the CPL saw it and ‘shared’, so as a joke we gave Elsie her own Facebook account, which she zealously maintains, bemoaning her rough lot in life, the unbelievable stupidity of her parents (Heather and I) and constantly, and I might add very successfully, persuading her scores of Facebook followers to send her Dreamies through the post. We’ve grown accustomed to being introduced to strangers as, “Elsie Linsell’s parents,” and we’re frequently asked how the whole thing started. Now you know.
Heather’s been in the doghouse over Facebook recently (what else). Seven or eight years ago I received a Christmas card from a friend whom I rarely see. In it she said, “I will not be sending anymore Christmas cards after this year, I’m going to give the money to charity instead. I hope you agree.” It was the first time I’d ever seen this. Mum received a card from the same friend which included the same message. What could I possibly not agree with? Except that I didn’t, and neither did Mum, but on to that in a minute. I do think it’s silly to send a card to your live-in partner, office colleagues, or Aunty Mary two doors down, but it’s nice to receive hand written missives from friends and relations residing afar (so long as it’s not one of those bloody round robins).
One or two of our Facebook friends posted similar not sending cards/giving to charity comments on their FB pages, and Heather suggested that perhaps the real reason was that they just couldn’t be bothered to write them. This elicited several shirty responses. On checking carefully, we discovered that the post hadn’t in fact been added by one or two FB friends, it was more like thirty or forty. You could, of course, decide not to have a Christmas dinner, miss out on the office party, or do without a Christmas tree, which is after all pretty useless, and give the saved money to charity instead. This would constitute a wish to help, to bring advantages to others, even though it would result in disadvantages to ourselves. Not writing Christmas cards though, where is the altruism in that? The chore is a pain in the posterior, so here we have a win win situation if ever there was one, regardless of whether you give the money to charity or spend it on gin – no disadvantages as far as I can see. Of course no one should be forced to send cards, I’m not suggesting that at all, but why not come clean like Heather? I quote, “I don’t write Christmas cards and I never will because I can’t be a****.” Neither do I have a problem with a note I was sent last month saying, “We are not sending cards anymore because we can’t afford the postage.”
However if you ARE considering giving your Christmas card money to a worthy cause, you might consider the aforementioned New Beginnings Cat Re-homing 🙂
I hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas, and I’d like to thank the teachers and staff of Emmaville and St. Agnes Primary schools in Crawcrook for inviting me along to their nativity plays, and in the case of St. Agnes a most enjoyable production of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! Thank you, I had a wonderful time and it was great to meet you all. My next school engagement is a kind invitation from Charles Thorp to attend the opening ceremony of thier new STEM building next week. Can’t wait!