The Coronavirus pandemic has wrought havoc everywhere. Like everyone else, I faced the challenges in my own particular way and being locked up in London for months changed how I saw both myself and others. Here is a very personal account.
Although I shared confinement with my wife, Rohan, I still felt vulnerable. Whatever I did, however I protected myself, part of me always felt at risk of being ill or worse! The virus was everywhere and ready to pounce, and no doubt would have delighted in making its home in a man of 78 with mild asthma. In response to feeling continually threatened, much of my day was dominated by fear, anxiety and suspicion, laced with moments of hypochondriasis. In so many ways the atmosphere in London was painfully oppressive.
Faced with all this, both Rohan and I longed to escape and in Brittany we had an empty cottage and its large garden that beckoned; moreover, staying in the cottage over the summer would hardly be new. For the past ten or so years – in fact, since we both retired – it has been our home from late May till early October. What’s more, the cottage was in a corner of France that had seen no cases of Covid-19, let alone a related death.
For months, strict restrictions in France and the UK meant travelling to Tréguennec was impossible, but eventually the regulations were eased and on July 1st we left. After a twelve-hour journey, mainly by train, we arrived in our Tréguennec cottage exhausted, happy and very relieved. In one day we had been transported to somewhere that was threat-free. Yes, the virus was treated with respect as, in response to the government’s requirements, people wore masks in shops and restaurants, and forewent hand-shakes and kisses, but the atmosphere was relaxed and within next to no time, my months of oppression evaporated. Freed from one set of feelings, I was soon absorbed by another. This time the feelings were not horrific but full of warmth; not related to a virus and other human beings but to a tiny kitten
Several weeks before we left London a French friend who had popped in to check on our Tréguennec garden, phoned to tell us how she had been startled in the raspberry bed by a very protective – in fact aggressive – feral cat guarding a litter of newborn kittens.
When we arrived we found no trace of the feral family, but that soon changed. From nowhere one kitten appeared sitting on top of a pile of wood. Then, one by one three more were counted, each a different colour. The largest and the one on the wood was black and assertive, next came one slightly smaller who was tabby and less pushy, the third was grey and even smaller, and finally there was the runt, a tiny, emaciated, frightened ginger kitten who looked ill.. All had been abandoned and although their mother made the occasional appearance she otherwise seemed uninterested.
We started leaving saucers of food out on the top of a low wall next to a water butt and all would eat save the sickly little one. Then, over one night, they disappeared. We assumed their mother had moved them on. Well, not all of them, it transpired that she had left behind the tiny ginger kitten who we later called Minou; feral cats have a way of doing that.
I was cutting back some brambles near a dense thicket when I heard a very loud ‘miaow’. Then it occurred again, and again once more and I ‘miaowed’ back. I put out a saucer of milk in the usual place and a very thirsty Minou arrived and drank.
From then on, three times a day I have put out kitten food and milk, each time preceded by the same ‘miaow’ conversations across a thicket wall. Sometimes he starts the conversation, sometimes it is me, but ultimately he appears, eats and drinks. And after the meal he always washes himself – first his front paws then his face.
Going down to talk – just the two of us – to discover if he is still there and then to watch him feed is such a treat (see illustration). Although he is still wary – he is, after all feral – he is now a healthy-looking, ten-week-old kitten who will soon be ready to leave; either returning to his mother or living wild and alone, or becoming a tamed pet – who knows?
I know that the atmosphere in the UK is easing, but our escape at the start of July from the pandemic oppression of our London home to the freedom and wholesome life of our cottage in Tréguennec was a wonderful tonic. I suspect that my close relationship with Minou was born out of that lockdown awfulness, and that being together has benefitted us both as it helped each of us get over difficult times.
The illustration shows a photo of a wary but healthy-looking Minou eating by the water butt
For helping me write this blog I would like to thank Sarah, Rohan and Vivien.