Sunday, 21 July 2019

Me and my motor vehicles

I will never again drive a car. Well, I may if I absolutely need to, but I'd prefer not to, because recently I haven't felt confident driving. My vision is deteriorating, even though my optician says I can still drive legally. I sometimes panic when I drive to unfamiliar places. I remember clearly that driving was once relaxing and a pleasure. Now it is a source of anxiety.

In any case, I will never again own a car. I wish I could say that I am doing it for ecological reasons, but I must be honest: it just so happens. I am in the process of further displacement, and it is a good moment to get rid of the car.

Owning a car was unimaginable when I was young. I remember dreaming that I was driving, like other people dream that they are flying. Cars were beyond reach for most people when and where I grew up, but when I was in my early twenties, they became more affordable so my parents decided it was time to buy one and therefore get a driver licence. They suggested I should take driving lessons together with them. I asked my father: “Will you let me borrow your car every now and then?” and he said, without hesitation: “Of course not”, and that decided it. What's the point of having a licence if you can never hope to own a car?

My mother crashed the very first time she went driving in her own and never sat in a driver seat afterwards. My father was a nervous driver; he would talk to himself all the time, planning to take over or change lanes.

In Sweden, I didn't start taking driving lessons at once because there were so many things I had to master first. When I did start, I was hopeless. My instructor would say: “You think too much. Stop thinking, just do it”. I failed my driving test four times because I had panic attacks and did really stupid things. The fifth time, my instructor's wife… no, I probably shouldn't say what she did. The day after we went to the USA, I drove an automatic car and knew I would never want a manual stick. I can do it, but why torture yourself when life can be much easier? All my cars since then have been automatic.

By the way, it was unusual for a family in Sweden to have two cars, but my husband was much for equality. Two offices, two computers, two cars.

All my cars were used, but in good shape. I drove a lot at one time, teaching and lecturing in far away places. I drove to work because it was convenient. We were not too ecologically minded then. I had lots of visitors whom I liked to show Sweden. Every winter we drove to the mountains for skiing.

When I had my Fulbright in Amherst, Massachusetts, I first thought I wouldn't need a car – I lived two blocks from the campus. But it being the USA, you needed a car to get your groceries, and you needed a car to get anywhere you had to, and there were so many places and people around Amherst I wanted to visit. So it took me whole four days to get a car, a little Ford. It gave me the freedom I needed. I drove it to Boston and New York and Philadelphia and all the way up to New Brunswick in Canada. I drove it to Bradley airport every time I flew to a conference. I sold it when my time in Amherst was over – it had served me well.

Then I had a series of SAABs in Sweden; we kept to the principle of trading cars as soon as they started costing too much in repairs. I had cars of fancy colours – I think one was eucalyptus. The car had names, usually based on the licence plates. DVK was Dvořák, MPS was Mopsa, UNB was Unbegaun. Obviously, some were male and some female.

One car was stolen under very strange circumstances. Our oldest son borrowed it when they were expecting a baby, and when it happened, they parked the car in the hospital parking lot. I was in Finland with another car, and when I came back, it turned out that the car at the hospital had been stolen by an elegantly clothed woman in her forties who crashed it and walked away. I was called to a police station for interrogation. The female police officer tried to make me confess to the following scenario: I returned from Finland on a ferry having been drinking all night, drove the car home, took myself to hospital at the opposite side of the city in some manner, did not go up to see my newborn grandson, took the parked car, smashed it, walked away and taught a class within the next hour. The mystery was never solved.

In California I had a Lumina, but for our cross-continent road trip we drove an Oldsmobile that got smashed in Yellowstone, and we had to sell it very cheap somewhere close to JFK where we were taking a flight back to Sweden.

More SAABs. One perished in a bad accident with my daughter involved. She called us thinking we would be angry. I was of course anxious about whether she was ok. A car is just a thing.

My current car, my very last one, my faithful friend, is fifteen years old – it's the longest I've owned a car. My husband drove it over from Sweden, and we had to change the panel and the head lights for driving on the wrong side. There are only two disadvantageous situations when driving a continental car in the UK: getting into a parking lot and merging into a motorway. Everything else you get used to quickly. Although sometimes you get funny looks from people who see that the driver seat is empty.

I haven't driven a lot here, mostly to work, but also on some longer excursions to Norfolk and Kent. After annual service I ask the garage people whether the car is still doing fine, and it is.

But the time had come. The question is: who wants a continental car in the UK? Answer: someone used to driving a continental car, particularly an automatic one.

I must admit: I should have done all this earlier, but there have been many other things I had to do. I thought I had full control over annual service, tax and insurance, but I missed the tax by two weeks because the reminder went to my old address. Since I am selling the car, the easiest option was not to renew the tax, which is as complicated as everything else in the UK because it goes back to some obscure 13th-century law. So my four-wheeled friend is now SORNed which means taken off the road. It also turned out that an important paper was missing, necessary to transfer the car to the new owner. I don't think I have ever seen this paper. But because of that 13th-century law I cannot simply go online, fill the form and print it out. I had to call and order it, and it will be sent by post. The nice lady on the phone told me that my car was untaxed. I assured her I was aware of it. She warned me I shouldn't drive an untaxed car. I promised her I wouldn't.

So when I move away from Cambridge in just a few days I will be leaving behind a faithful servant that came with me from Sweden and has been such a good companion. It is a minor loss among all my other disasters, but still I cannot help feeling a bit sad.


Monday, 8 July 2019

Growing up Jewish in Antwerp

This past week I taught children's literature summer school. It is in itself an exciting experience that deserves a separate blog post, but I want to write about a particular part of it that I enjoyed very much.

After my last year's experiment with a walking seminar, the summer school convenor asked whether they could borrow the idea and organise some for their participants. I agreed to lead one of the walks, and because I was to teach fairy tales and fantasy, I expected my walk to have something to do with one or both of these topics. However, I was assigned a walk titled “Growing up Jewish in Antwerp”. I am always open to learning something new, and it was totally new to me that Antwerp has the fourth largest Jewish community in the world outside Israel, after New York, London and Paris.

I did my homework, reading two chapters provided from an autobiography depicting life in a contemporary Jewish family – far away from my lived experience, as far away as a fairy-tale world. I also read some stuff on Jewish history in Antwerp specifically – otherwise I am relatively well familiar with the history of Jews in Europe. I was not asked to design the itinerary, and I had a local student as a guide. But based on my Hadrian's wall experience, I prepared some questions and activities.

I knew nothing about my walking companions, nor about their previous knowledge or interests. But they were obviously curious enough to choose this walk rather than “Chocolate” or “Children as consumers”. They were very young; I felt ancient in their company. They didn't know much, so I felt that with my patchy knowledge I was an expert. I quickly decided to play it by ear. I told them that, contrary to the instructions given to other walkers, we would start walking in silence, just using all our senses: looking, listening, smelling, touching (eventually even tasting as you will see). I don't know what I myself had expected, but turning from a busy central street full of shoppers into a quiet, almost empty street of diamond shops was like going through a portal into a different world (a bit of fantasy after all). As the first exercise, I asked my walkers to share what they had noticed, and it was, not surprisingly, clothes – and we discussed how clothes are used to signal identity, which can both protect, emphasise belonging and expose. We read a plaque on the Portuguese synagogue, bizarrely squeezed between high-rises of steel and glass, in memory of victims of terrorism in 1981. We reflected on the fact that persecution of Jews is not an issue of the distant past. I asked whether they had noticed that the entrance to the street had a barrier and security cameras.

We walked on, meeting women wearing wigs and boys wearing sidelocks. One boy hopping off a school bus quickly replaced his kippah with a baseball cap, changing, or at least shifting identity.

We reached Kleinblatt, the famous Jewish bakery, and bought some blueberry buns. Now was the time to taste! But it was also time for a written exercise. My companions had not expected it at all. We could not find a bench so we sat on the grass in the middle of a heavily trafficked boulevard. I told them to switch off their senses – except the taste of the bun – and write a short text: a journal entry, a postcard home, a tourist ad, a police report, a poem; from an outsider perspective reflecting their first impression of the space and place we had just traversed.

I also wrote a piece:

        This is where I could have been.
        This is where I am…
        in another universe.

I was quite emotional. I told them they could share if they wanted, but didn't have to. They were happy to share. We moved on, and I asked them to try to perceive the environment as if they were insiders, young people growing up Jewish in Antwerp. We passed the Romi-Goldmuntz synagogue. We stopped by the Holocaust monument. I asked them to imagine how, as young Jewish people today, they would constantly hear stories of ancestors who perished during Shoah.

We did another writing exercise, from an insider perspective, and they admitted that they found it difficult. My piece was:

I wish when my daughter grows up she will go far, far away. I wish I could have, but I followed my parents' wishes. I don't want her to follow my wishes. I want her to make wishes of her own.

By then it was almost dinner time, and I suggested having a meal in a place that was on our itinerary, Beni Falafel. Another multisensory experience. We summarised our walk briefly. They said again that the written assignments were unexpected and enjoyable. It made me happy.

My own summary was, once again, that embodied learning is beneficial, that students are surprised when encountering it, but find it fruitful. Of course I also reflected on what I had seen – and I don't think I had seen anything really like this, apart from Jerusalem, not even in New York. What does it actually mean, growing up Jewish in Antwerp? 

Blueberry buns at Kleinblatt bakery. Photo: Krzysztof Maciej Rybak

Sunday, 23 June 2019

My very last

A lot of things happening in my life now are happening for the very last time. To anticipate irrelevant reactions: I am not in any way upset about it, I am just stating a fact.

I gave my last lectures already in the previous term. I did my last PhD examination in April. This coming week, I will have last supervisions with my masters students. I will do my very last grading in July.

I attended the last Evensong and the last formal dinner. I attended the last guest lecture and the last end-of-year celebration. I attended the last college Governing Body meeting and Fellows' dinner. I attended a set of last supervisors' dinners. I have one last committee meeting on Monday.

Then I will have my last Long Vacation. Typically, Long Vacation means research time. Now, I will indeed have a vacation. I will be vacating my office.

Now is my last chance to do some things I have enjoyed in Cambridge. I have already missed the last chance to go to Evensong at King's Chapel – they only do it in term time. Maybe I should go to Fitzwilliam Museum one last time. Maybe I should go to my favourite garden, Clare Fellows' garden, one last time. Maybe I should go to Anglesey Abbey one last time. Maybe I should go to Ely one last time.

Actually, maybe I should go to London and see Rosetta Stone one last time. Or the Great Bed of Ware. Or a musical.

I have already taken the last chance to go to the Orkney Islands (I will write about it separately). I have definitely missed my last chances to go to Skye, Lake District, Durham and other places that have been on my list for years. Don't tell me I can come back – you know very well that I won't.

I have the last chance to visit some friends with whom I have for ever and ever said: ”We must get together one of these days”. There are very few days remaining. Just a handful of days.

I have the last chance to go to restaurants and tea rooms where I haven't been.

There are many things I will never do. I will never go punting (other than with a guide), or attend a May Ball or a dinner at Trinity.

I have bought my last bottle of shampoo, my last box of tea, my last bottle of cooking oil. I have just received my last railcard.

I have my last hairdresser appointment, my last dentist appointment, my last gym sessions.

It may all sound rather depressing unless you think that afterwards, everything, absolutely everything will be my first. 

Last walk along the guided busway?

Sunday, 17 March 2019


When we moved to Cambridge almost eleven years ago, we had no clear sense of how long eleven years are. To begin with, we even considered keeping our house and renting it out until we came back. We didn't contemplate that a lot can change in eleven years.

When we had settled in the house which I felt was the first and only home I truly loved, I thought I would like to stay there forever. Cambridge is a wonderful place, physically and intellectually, and when people asked whether we planned to go “home” after my retirement, we replied, no we planned “to stay home”.

Everything changed with the referendum when it initially felt that we might not even be allowed to stay, and later that we probably didn't want to stay in a country that didn't want us. Yet for various reasons we didn't necessarily want to move back to Sweden, so we discussed other options: an EU country with a pleasant climate, good health care and low living costs.

But all these deliberations are irrelevant now, and all decisions are governed by totally different forces. When I left Milton, I hoped that subsequent decisions were not too urgent, that I would have time to think, recuperate, calibrate. But for a number of reasons things moved on much quicker than I could predict, and even before the house sale commenced I had to consider my options. Even if it had been financially viable, I was confident that I didn't want to live on my own in the house where so many happy hours were spent. The house was too big for two and far, far too big for one. Selling the house and buying something closer to town? Not with Cambridge house prices. Selling the house and buying a smaller one in a village further away? But here the crucial question of networks came in.

If you live in a village, you are dependent either on a car or on public transport. The latter isn't always reliable. Our Milton bus doesn't run on Sundays. I don't know how many more years I can drive. I have already stopped driving in the dark. My optician says I am fine for now, but how much longer? Thus, in the near future, isolated in a village.

Hearing this argument, my colleagues said: But you have so many friends here! True, I have friends, some closer than other; but most of my connections are work-related. As long as I come to the office every day, chat to colleagues and students, have lunch in college, occasionally go out for a drink or dinner, I am part of a community. But how often do I see friends outside work? Admittedly, I have become better in taking initiatives since I moved to Gatehouse: I suggest lunches, teas, walks, concerts and movies. Still, I probably meet my two closest friends once a month, and the rest more seldom, some as seldom as once a year. It's inevitable: people are busy, they have families, interests, obligations, and even if I make a point of coming over from my hypothetical village as often as possible, how often can I realistically count on meeting up with someone? In two-three years all students who know me will be gone. That leaves a limited circle of potential lunch companions. And how many will take the trouble to come and visit me in my village?

But surely I can come to events in my old workplace: lectures, seminars, conferences, open days..? Yes, I certainly can, but do I necessarily want to? I would hate to become a prop who turns up at events, to everyone's irritation, just to remind the world of their existence. Frankly, I am done with academic life. I want to do other stuff.

And certainly I can do other stuff in my hypothetical village. When people ask me what I plan to do after retirement, I have a long list that I have already shared here once. It hasn't changed much.

The past six months have shown that I enjoy solitude and would probably feel fine. And yet there is an emotional reason that has eventually tipped the scales. I believe I would feel more lonely in a place where I once was happy.

So after long and painful argument with myself, I have decided, and the decision felt like liberation. After all, I have children and grandchildren, and although, as I always claim, we have been seeing each other more during these past eleven years than when we lived in the same city, they might want to meet up every now and then. I have friends in Stockholm, with whom I keep in touch on social media. If I meet one a week, it will take me at least a year to reconnect with them all. I can even make new friends through my new networks, such as miniature making.

I will be able to do all the stuff I have been planning to do – except falconry which is banned in Sweden. I may find other things I want to do. I will most likely not have a proper garden, but I have just discovered that there is such a thing as balcony gardening, and it's big! There is scope for imagination, as Anne of Green Gables would say.

The nice thing about these future plans is that I can always come back to Cambridge for a while. And friends who want to see me will have to find time to do so.

 Balcony gardening: an option

Saturday, 9 March 2019

In memoriam Alida Allison

Alidinka, my dear friend! In the past fifteen years we kept saying that we must meet soon, and now it is too late.

We first met all those many years ago in San Diego when I was there for the IRSCL board meeting. Then I came to San Diego again on a weird grant: go anywhere you want and teach. Colleagues were not at all upset when I offered to teach their classes for them. I stayed with Alida during one of my two visits, and at that time I was looking for somewhere to go on my large three-year research grant. Alida took me to talk to her department head, and that's how I ended up in San Diego for two years.

Alida was a wonderful colleague and friend, always full of ideas. Every Tuesday after work we went bowling. Every first Sunday of the month we went out for dim sum. She took us to Coronado which at that time was still open for sumptuous brunches. She took us to Jewish delis.

Once she took me to a conference in Los Angeles. We shared a motel room. In the morning, I saw her sleeping on the floor in the bathroom, cuddled in her duvet. What's happened, Alidinka? “You snore”.

Alidinka was my special name for her, a Russian diminutive, just as she always called me Mashele.

In 2001 we were both invited to China, which was in tough competition the weirdest trip I ever made. We were invited by a provincial publisher who had just started a series of translated children's novels by Andersen Medal winners. At the launch, they wanted Alida to speak about American winners and me about Swedish winners. We decided to take a couple of extra days in Beijing, and the publisher arranged for us to stay at their province's residence which turned out to be a dilapidated palace in the middle of a slum, just around the corner from the Forbidden City. After several attempts we managed to shake off our hosts and explored the city on our own. Alida had a small travel grant which enabled us to take a taxi whenever we were too exhausted by heat and pollution. Alida spoke Cantonese, which wasn't very helpful, but we quickly became friends with people in the slums from whom we bought suspicious food. We met my Chinese translator, and we gave talks at two universities where professors spoke no English, but students did. We ordered pretty clothes in a fabric store, to be custom-tailored by the time we were to leave. All on Alida's grant.

After some days of freedom in the slums, we were moved to a posh international hotel where a bottle of water cost ten times as much as in the slum shops. We met more exciting people.

After the conference, we didn't have time to go to Shanghai, like the other delegates, but we went to Chengde (not to be confused with Chengdu), what we thought was a small town, but turned out to be a three-million city. We were dispatched on a train with a special carriage for foreigners that we had all to ourselves. We also had to stay at a fancy hotel for foreigners, and still Alida's grant covered it. We explored the gardens. We went to the twelve temples. It wasn't possible for our hosts in Beijing to arrange return travel so we had to go to the railway station in Chengde. Nobody spoke English. Alida's Chinese was inadequate. We ended up on a slow train – seven hours rather than two – crammed with locals many of whom had probably never seen long-noses before. Everybody on the train came to stare at us, and many offered us dumplings and fruit. Alida was uncomfortable; I was amused.

Soon after, we left California, and if I am not mistaken that was the last time I saw Alida, although I returned to San Diego on several occasions. We stayed in touch via social media. I know she went back to China again and again, maintaining strong ties with all friends we had made. I know she was hugely appreciated.

And all the time we were saying: We must meet soon.

I miss you.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Objects and things

Decluttering seems to be a new religion. I am in support because I am a passionate anti-consumerist and find it painful to watch or read about people spending thousands of pounds, dollars or whatever on items they don't really need or want, and giving gifts for the sake of giving a gift.

It may be strange coming from someone with a background in a culture where everything was in short supply or simply non-existent, from toilet paper to ball-point pens to tights to baking powder to T-shirts to books, and where every item, obtained through unimaginable effort was cherished and passed on and mended over and over again. To own something generally desirable, whether a pack of chewing gum or a tape recorder, was a matter of status. If you were privileged to travel abroad you were expected to bring presents to family, friends and colleagues; and even from domestic holidays you would bring souvenirs. A chocolate wrap or a bottle label would make a welcome gift.

When I moved to Sweden and gained access to unlimited supply of anything, my lust for purposeful or purposeless objects could not be fully satisfied for a very simple reason: money. In Russia, if you were lucky to know someone who knew someone who sold book shelves or wall sconces or wall-to-wall carpets on the black market at ridiculous prices, all your friends would contribute, and you would pay them back some time when you could. Capitalism doesn't work like that.

We had Russian friends visiting in neverending lines, and all of them brought presents, because that's what you did. Some were nice, some were ugly, but all were given with love. It is hard to get rid of objects given to you with love, but every now and then your home begins to feel like a dump. We decluttered before we moved to California in 1999, then decluttered again when we came back. After my mother-in-law died, I inherited a lot of nice stuff, which interestingly enough made me declutter more, because the nice stuff made my old less-nice stuff too conspicuous.

Obviously, we decluttered massively when we moved to Cambridge. The children were given a chance to choose what they wanted, and they didn't want much because by then they all had their own households and had perhaps even started decluttering themselves. I remember selling dozens of rather valuable objects to an antique dealer for almost nothing, just to get rid of it. Everything else went to charity shops that probably sent half to recycling. Every now and then I remember an object with some regret, but immediately change my mind: why would I need that gigantic cut-glass drinking horn?

Now that I am forced to mass-declutter again, I wonder how all this stuff has accumulated again. It was only last year that – I thought – I gave away everything I didn't use. And I regularly take bags of stuff to charity shops.

There is one major flaw in this article. It does not distinguish between mess and clutter. If you come home and there are clothes all over the floor and dirty dishes in the sink, it's not clutter, it's mess. The anxiety reasons stated in the article are relevant for mess. There are two simple ways to deal with mess: you ignore it or you tidy up (or better still, don't allow it to pile up). I am not a supertidy person, but I wouldn't be able to live with a mess.This is why I have Gatehouse rules

Clutter is something different, and only point 3 in the list of advice deals with it. The rest is dealing with mess on a day to day basis. 

In dealing with clutter, it is important to differentiate between objects and things. Thing theory – yes, it's a thing! - claims that objects only become things when they are filled with significance, with immaterial value. Sometimes we say “of sentimental value” meaning that an object is more than an object: it is a memory, a souvenir in the original meaning of the word; also something that makes you glad. Few of us are privileged to be exclusively surrounded with objects that make us glad, but in decluttering it should be the guiding principle: only keep objects that make you glad, objects that have become things. They will not necessarily be the prettiest of your possessions, or the most expensive, or the most desirable. They will not necessarily be gifts from your closest friends. For some reason, I will never part with a wooden bench from my mother-in-law's home, or a banal dream-catcher I got from a children's author, or a miniature Japanese garden I impulse-bought at a spa.

Decluttering is good for your mind, declutter prophets say. What they don't say (because they are, unlike me, good citizens and know that the capitalist wheels must turn) is: stop buying. Don't be tempted by trinkets. Don't be tempted by objects that you will never use and that will never become things.

That said: who knows what object might suddenly become a thing? 

Some of my favourite things 

Saturday, 2 February 2019


It took me a very long time to finish this post, because of all the recent changes in my life this one hurts most.

Mortality is a deep issue to contemplate, and when a pet dies, grief is no less than with a loved human, and guilt probably stronger. I wrote about it when Miso died, and every time Facebook shows me a picture of happy and healthy Miso, I want to cry. Miranda died a year ago, quite unexpectedly and quickly, so hopefully she only suffered a short time. 

I know it sounds horrible, but even before I was told that Miranda would not make it, I started looking on cat shelter sites. And when I saw the twins, my heart melted. Sobbing, I called the shelter, and after a thorough inspection, we were approved as suitable staff (you know: dog have owners, cats have staff). And even before we got them home, we decided that their names were Castor and Pollux, Dioscuri, the celestial twins.

We had never had two cats, and we had never had kittens. Dioscuri had been captured from a pack of stray cats and had been in a foster home for a few months. They had only been adoptable for a couple of days when I saw them – it was just meant to be.

They were very shy. The first week we were told to keep them in just one room with access to food and sand. I hung blankets over chairs, and they hid under them, only coming out for short moments to play. I made toys for them. They liked my toys better than the toys I bought. By the end of the week they would allow me to touch them. Castor was bolder than Pollux. 

By and by we opened more space for them, and they were fascinated by the large glass door leading to the garden, and also by ventilation form which, I suppose, plenty of interesting information arrived. When we allowed them in the bedroom, they immediately started sleeping by my feet. How did stray cats know that they should sleep in their human's bed? 

And then came the disaster. One morning I opened the glass door before giving them breakfast, expecting them to go out cautiously and return to their bowls. No way! Within seconds they vanished, and they didn't come back. I must have been off balance for something else because my reaction was inadequate. I went hysterical. I don't remember when I cried that hard. I hated the whole world, starting with myself. I felt worthless and defeated.

When I pulled myself together a bit, I posted in local facebook groups, and someone told me that they had possibly seen one of the cats. I printed posters and put them on telephone poles and by the entrance to the country park. I went around calling. I came back home and cried a bit more. The glass door was open, the bowls just by it. It was February and very cold outside. It was getting dark. I sat in an armchair by the open glass door. I could not read or do anything. I could not eat.

Of course they came back eventually, first Castor, then an hour later Pollux. I didn't let them out for another week, but sooner or later they had to go out and then go and come as they pleased. Young, inquisitive cats with plenty of exciting things to discover and explore. They turned out to be skillful hunters. They would stay away for hours, but always came to sleep in my bed. In the dusk, they got particularly playful, staging mock fights. They were the source of much joy. Just telling someone about them made me smile. 

When I moved to Gatehouse, I had to leave them behind. First, pets are not allowed on campus. But even if they were, it is impossible to keep cats who are used to freedom in a tiny flat. I wouldn't be able to let them go out because of the traffic.

I started asking around, but nobody seemed to want or knew someone who might want two lovely cats. Every time I thought about them I started crying. I could not bring myself to call the cat shelter, so a friend did it for me, while I wasn't just sobbing, I was weeping. The shelter said they didn't have space and would get back.

Each time I had to go back to Milton, the cats would come and want a cuddle. My heart was permanently broken.

Then – a miracle I had been hoping for. A new home! A good home. Someone who would give them all care and love they needed. My heart was still broken, but at least I knew that my wonderful twins would have a good life.  

The first time their new staff came to collect them, I didn't manage to catch them both, because of a misunderstanding. Two weeks later, I sat there with two unhappy cats in a basket, crying floods again. The new staff spoke to them gently. I felt better.

Do you want to hear the rest of the story? No, you don't. It is not a story with a happy ending.