Sunday, March 29th 2015
When I awoke this morning, for a moment I didn’t know where I was. I floated for a few seconds in what seemed to be a non-geographical space, an unidentified place… somewhere. This lasted only a few seconds before I knew I was at home in bed with the big window of our bedroom dimly outlined by morning light seeping around the heavy curtains. Everything was familiar but there was something missing – the slight weight of a sleeping cat against my ankles. That would be the first job of the day, to bring Freya home.
The Eurostar had slid into St Pancras Station at 16:39 yesterday afternoon and a few minutes later we had boarded a number 73 bus to complete the journey home. We had spent the rest of the day at home, unpacking, uploading photos and unwinding. Today we would have to get back into the groove of our usual life.
Tigger said she would accompany me as far as Liverpool Street Station. If we left in good time, we could have breakfast there before I took the train to Chingford. Disruption to bus services owing to building work for the Crossrail project has had one benefit: on its altered route, the number 205 bus takes us from a stop a few yards from our front door to a stop just opposite the station. That is especially useful on the return trip when I am carrying a heavy cat in a basket.
Right next to the station is a Wetherspoons pub that opens in the morning to serve breakfast. That is where Tigger was hoping to go because they serve a full cooked vegetarian breakfast. Unfortunately, it turned out that on Sundays they opened too late for us so, instead, we went back across the road to the Polo 24-Hour Bar and had breakfast there. It is a tiny cafe and was quite busy but we managed to find a table.
I was going to take the 10:33 train to Chingford and by the time we had eaten and paid the bill, there was still about an hour to go. What should we do in the meantime? In the end, we took the lazy way out and went to Starbuck’s! It’s as good a place as any to spend a little time waiting as long as you choose your drink carefully. Some time ago Starbuck’s coffee changed for the worse – in my opinion, at least – and I therefore prefer to drink something else, usually hot chocolate. Unfortunately, the name is a misnomer: it is never actually hot. It’s lukewarm at best. I don’t know why this is so but it spoils what could be a pleasantly warming drink on a cold day.
At the appointed time, I went to catch my train, leaving Tigger in Starbuck’s where we would meet her on the way back. The Chingford train is a shuttle service that runs every 15 minutes. The train is usually composed of old rolling stock and there are no toilets on board as the entire journey takes less than half an hour and there are eight stops along the way. The sixth one is called Wood Street and when we arrive here I call the cattery which then sends a car to meet me at Chingford station. The time it takes for the train to travel from Wood Street to Chingford is about the same as it takes a car to run from the cattery to Chingford Station.
When the car arrives, either Freya is aboard or she is not. If she is not, it means that she is in a bad temper and in that case they prefer to not handle her lest she react violently. It’s hard for me imagine the affectionate, docile creature that I know being violent but the cattery people are honest folk who care about their charges and I therefore believe what they say. Today was such a day and so I packed myself as best I could into the passenger set of the Smart Car (unless you are less than average height, getting into a Smart Car feels like getting into a coffin a couple of sizes too small for you) and was ferried to the house.
I arrived at the cattery and found Freya curled up in a basket. When she saw me, she clicked at me. This has become her personal greeting to me, a sound like the gee-up tongue-click people make to horses. My previous cat would get into the basket of her own accord to go home but Freya doesn’t do this. She just lies there looking balefully around, perhaps to let me know how much she dislikes being there. I scooped her up and plonked her in the carrying cage. We squeezed into the Smart Car – and this time I had a cat basket on my lap – for the return to Chingford Station.
Unfortunately, a cat in a basket acts like a magnet for self-styled cat lovers. They have to come and poke their fingers between the bars, telling you how much they love cats and how many they have a home. Tell them they are making the cat nervous and they ignore you. They don’t listen or, if they do, tell you they “have a way with cats”. For this reason, I usually sit right at the back of the last carriage on the train because I have worked out that on this route, most people get on at the front and in the middle of the train. Today, however, I got into the front carriage to be near the exit at Liverpool Street. I assumed that on a Sunday, there wouldn’t be many people boarding the train.
At the second stop, some people entered our carriage and I soon noticed a woman sitting across from us. She was staring at Freya in between trying to make eye contact with me. After a few minutes, she came and sat next to me and from then on engaged in an endless dialogue about cats – how she loved them, how she had one, how pretty Freya was, etc – while poking her fingers into the cage and showing me photos of her own cat. If this attention had distressed Freya, I would have moved elsewhere or got off the train but Freya ignored the woman, apparently considering her no threat. At last, the intruder left the train and between Bethnal Green and Liverpool Street, we could relax and recover our aplomb.
At Liverpool Street Station we were reunited with Tigger and made our way to the bus stop where we caught a 205 for home.
When we arrive home, I always put the cage on the floor and open it, leaving Freya to come out of her own accord. She must know that she is home by the sight and smell of the place but even so she always hesitates. She looks around carefully, rather like a tank commander cautiously raising his head out of a tank turret, before finally jumping out and taking possession of her domain.