storm clouds and silver linings

It’s funny how sometimes the worst situations can actually bring out the best in the world around you; how sometimes an unexpectedly positive  aftermath of the most unsettling or upsetting of events can almost make you glad the dreadful thing happened. This week was one of those weeks. It started with a very sick kitty indeed, making a stop at a £200 set of new locks via a pickpocket before the final destination of renewed faith in humanity…

With our usual excellent planning skills Mr RDP and I accidentally adopted a rescue kitten in the same week we moved in to our new flat. Much deliberation was had over what to name him – I favour silly names like ‘Pumpkin’, Mr Darcy’ or ‘Schmetterling’. Mr RDP likes unlikely human names, such as ‘Steve’, ‘Bruce’ or ‘Rob’. We toyed for a Yiddish word for a while – perhaps ‘Dybbuk’ or ‘Lokshen’;  but finally settled on ‘Manny’. For Mr RDP that means he’s named after a character from his favourite computer game, Grim Fandango. For me he’s named after Manny from Black Books. This means that I constantly say things to him like “did you eat all my bees?” and “you’re a LONELY soldier”.

Mr RDP has never had a pet before, and so having a small furry monster around the place is a whole new experience. I had numerous pets as a child – as a small dinosaur I lived in the West Country where my parents ran a B&B. At one point we had a dog, three cats, a hamster and numerous goldfish. I went through goldfish at a rapid pace because, well, three cats. When my parents divorced mum and I kept two of the cats – one a clawless toothless softhearted old lady called Mungo, who had been a somewhat untraditional wedding present to my parents, the other a younger scrappy character called Sooty, an unwise 4th birthday present to me. Both sadly were put down when I was a teenager due to a series of unfortunate events and I’d not wanted to own a pet since; partly due to trauma avoidance,  partly because they require more care and attention and money than I was prepared to give, and mostly because I am horribly allergic to all furry animals. I build up a tolerance to specific animals if I am around them often, but it takes weeks of sneezing and sniffling and red eyes and itchyness. However, Mr RDP had fallen in love at first sight with the-furmonster-subsequently-known-as-Manny so despite all my “are you sure? It’s a big responsibility…” type concerns, the kitten moved in to the new flat on the same day as us.

Within 2 weeks of the three of us taking up residence together, Manny fell ill. Having been an absolute terror, running all over the place and eating everything in sight (apart from cucumber, which is thus far the only thing that he won’t try to eat), when  we came home from work to find him curled up in a sad little ball, shrinking from our touch and refusing even Cat Crack (aka Dreamies) we knew something was seriously wrong . The vet was concerned at his presentation and high temperature and admitted him for an overnight stay so he could go on an antibiotic drip. Poor little furball. On the way home in the car I realised I was desperately worried, and that I’d fallen in love with the little monster despite my own better judgement. How do cats do that?
They are basically furry little psychopaths who are only nice to us because we give them food. And yet we love them.

Fortunately he was fine and recovered overnight, so when I got the call from the Vet the next day that I could pick him up at 5 I arranged to leave work early and rushed home to get the cat box and hopped on the train – Mr RDP being once again away for the weekend (how does he always manage to time being away when Things Go Wrong?)

Mr RDP had suggested I get a cab home, but I figured the train journey was so easy – only a 5 minute walk at either end – that I would SAVE MONEY by just getting the train. Remeber that, ladies and gentlemen. I was trying to SAVE MONEY. When I got off the train near our flat and went to touch out with my Osytercard I experienced that feeling. You know the one – like a horrible cold dead hand slowly encircling your heart and giving it a slow and delibrate squeeze. The feeling you get when you realise  your wallet is no longer in your bag. Your wallet containing your Osytercard. All of your cash. Your bank card. and your HOUSE KEYS. Then that feeling when you can’t quite feel your arms or feet or knees when you realise that not only do you not have your house keys, but that you have absolutely no way of getting into your house, because your other half is away. And you’ve not got around to giving a locally living friend a spare set of keys, despite talking about it for weeks. Fortunately, I’d taken my phone out of my wallet to take a photograph of the cat to send to MR RDP, so at least I had that and so poor Mr RDP received an hysterical phonecall from the Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate who was standing in the middle of a street in East London with a cat in a box,  no money and no way to get into the flat for the next two days.

Mr RDP gave me the audio equivalent of a couple of slaps to the face to snap me out of my panicked hysterics and told me to find somewhere warm to settle while he called the locksmith. Stumbling along the street I passed a new coffee shop and more or less fell through the doorway.

The owners of the café fed me. I was given tea, cake, sandwiches. Manny stole most of the cake – so at least I knew he was feeling better. They offered their wireless password and their phone so I could call the police and cancel my cards. They gave me a tissue to sob into and let me sit in the cafe for an hour while waiting for the locksmith even though they knew I couldn’t pay them anything. They even offered to lend me money and made sure I had somewhere safe to go for the night. I started sobbing all over again at their kindness.

Once the locksmith arrived I discovered that Mr RDP and I had originally bought very good locks indeed. With a spate of burglaries in our local area recently, it’s good to know that it took a professional locksmith well over an hour to break into the flat. Of course with a spate of burglaries in the local area recently, a guy noisily breaking into a flat for an hour attracts rather a lot of attention. I was deeply embarrassed. I felt like I was wearing a sign that said HI. YES. WE’VE JUST MOVED IN. SORRY CHAPS. THERE GOES THE NEIGHBOURHOOD. Several neighbours all around me came out to see what the noise was and I apologised profusely to every one of them. And yet, none of them were cross or annoyed by the noise – just concerned for this tearful cold girl, alone in the street with a cat in a box.

I was given a card for a builder by the man opposite so we could get a better front door. A chap down the road with a lovely big dog had a long chat with the cat. I was offered tea by several of them which I initially refused out of embarrassment until one neighbour  insisted that I mustn’t stand out on the street and ushered me into her house while the locksmith carried on breaking into ours. Thus I found myself in my neighbour’s flat with a mug of peppermint tea in my hand, watching Kung Fu Panda with her son.

The next day I called the train station as recommended by the police – they had my purse. It had been a gift, and means a great deal to me, so to have it back in my hands was a relief.  The station staff let me travel on the train for free to collect it, as I had no means to pay for the journey. The purse itself had been emptied of most things of monetary value (except for my Costa Coffee card with £8 on it. HAH opportunistic scumbag, you may take my keys but you’ll never take my soy latte) but bank and oyster cards are replaceable, and our locks were already replaced. The station staff had found the purse on the floor, someone clearly having nabbed it, taken what they could and thrown the purse itself away. I went into my bank where the staff were exceptional, allowing me to take cash out over the counter having verified my account information with the phone banking people. With enough money to get by until a new bank card arrived, I bought a small bunch of flowers and popped into the coffee shop that had rescued me the day before.

The owner was so touched by what I considered a small gestures compared to the kindness they’d shown me the day before. Her reaction had me in tears again as I walked away. “You didn’t need to say thank you” she told me. “We’re neighbours. That is what neighbours do. They help each other. You would do the same for me if I were in need”.

London has a bad reputation when it comes to community spirit. Apparently no one speaks to each other. You mustn’t make eye contact on the tube. Or in lifts. Or on the streets. In fact, just avoid eye contact at all times, with everyone.  Apparently no one knows their neighbours names. When I first moved to London friends said they could tell I grew up in the countryside because I still said “thank you” to bus drivers and started conversations with shop assistants.

I am not sure that it is true that Londoners are so unfriendly. With the day to day routine perhaps Londoners aren’t generally that friendly, or open or welcoming. But at times of stress or trouble London can be at it’s best – as demonstrated by the aftermath of the London Riots’  ‘broom army’.

While a stressful (and expensive) experience, it has reminded me, a  West Country girl at heart, that a smile and a kind word can go much further than you realise. I am determined to pay it back – and forward – for my community by trying to be a good neighbour. I am going to start by making sure I take everyone I know to that little coffee shop on the corner, and by putting a thank you card thorough my neighbour’s door. Strong communities start with small kindnesses.



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