Benjamin and the Frog. Hmmm… Sounds like a children’s story doesn’t it? Well it isn’t, having recovered from a really sleepless night and an exciting day in The Out, I thought I would tell you all about my meeting with poet, Benjamin Zephaniah at Blackfriars Arts Centre in Boston, and a meeting with a little frog the night before.

I was very excited that I was going to read my poetry to Benjamin Zephaniah. He is someone Colin and I worshipped from afar in the 1980s, those heady days of alternative cabaret and comedy. Tadpole and Co majored in disasters set to jazz and poetry, such as Herculaneum and the Titanic. These were surprisingly popular considering they were in very bad taste. Those days in the mid-eighties were brief but happy times brought to a premature end by the surge in interest in samba bands and the desertion of our percussionist, Richard Bett, aka Riccardo Thunderfingers. He was the only man I have ever met who was capable of sustaining a rhythm on congas whilst simultaneously being thousands of people going down with a ship or getting buried by volcanic ash.

Yes, we certainly did some crazy back stuff then. We performed music and poetry in gigs and literature festivals from Hastings to Edinburgh. Some of it was even quite good but it was the comedic disasters that earned us our Yorkshire bookings, courtesy of Wild Willie, and the opportunity to share the stage with such worthies as Henry Normal and Jo Brand. We never performed with Ben, but he was “Up there!” and when the opportunity came to meet him at Boston, read some serious poetry and discuss it we leaped at the chance.

The night before recording the interview I couldn’t sleep. I was nervous, excited and in that terrible place where the more you try to sleep the less likely it is to come. Add to that an annoying tune that kept running through my head courtesy of an advert on TV… you get the picture. Eventually I must have dozed off and about three thirty to four in the morning I was woken by a cat coughing. Now, when said cat is a Himalayan and there is a history of heart murmurs in the breed you worry, so I got up to check on him.

He seemed fine, but was scrabbling around his water bowl. Then he pounced on a blanket I had hanging over a box full of stuff I really ought to sort through, donate, throw away… you know the sort of thing. I lifted the blanket and in the semi-darkness of my Pusheen nightlight, I saw what looked like a pile of poop.
“Urgh”, I said, turning the main light on, but it wasn’t poop, it was a frog! We have an empty vegetable container we use for trapping and releasing flies so I grabbed it quickly and, with the aid of a piece of card, I easily caught the sleepy looking frog.

By this time Colin was up and about and wandered into the bathroom.
“You wouldn’t believe what I just caught in my bed room,” I said.
“Just a minute,” he grumbled.
He must have been half asleep because the surprise of finding a frog in the house didn’t register. Nor did he offer to do the gentlemanly thing and put it out for me. So here I was, standing in my nightie and slippers in the twilight before dawn, trying to unlock the front door while Froggie got more and more excited and jumped up and down in his box. He was released to the water feature by the pond (I know frogs hide in there). I was surprised that he made no attempt to escape after the first hop. I guess he is a very laid back frog and in my experience frogs are not scared of people.

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Now, I have no idea how a frog came to be in my bedroom, nor do I have any idea how long he was in residence. All I know is that he certainly seemed settled under the blanket and that one of the cat water bowls showed signs of dust-bunnies and what I assumed was a frog poop right in the middle. Cue vigorous cat bowl scrubbing and changing of water… I then went back to bed and caught about three hours sleep before I had to get up for an early start and our journey to Boston where we were due to read poems and discuss immigration, Pilgrim Fathers and Boston amongst other things.

I suppose I was a bit ring-eyed and stupid for my interview with Ben. It took me a long time to relax and come out of my shell, but he is a lovely, genuine man and seemed interested in my poems and Colin’s too. When it was all over the three of us chatted for a little while about the eighties, alternative cabaret and the parallel universes we seemed to exist in. Somehow we never shared the stage with Benjamin Zephaniah back then. Hopefully when the programme comes out, we will finally get that wish.

We took two elderly Persian cats to the vet yesterday. It was meant to be one, but the other developed a limp. The adventure began with a taxi ride courtesy of a driver who is allergic to animals. As we ordered the taxi and said there would be a cat involved we were a bit surprised that they sent a driver with an allergy. So off we set, windows open, sincerely hoping that the driver would not develop itchy eczema, uncontrollable sneezleums or even anaphylactic shock. I told him that as Persians didn’t affect my animal allergies he would probably be OK. He told me he would have to sleep tonight with his toes outside the blankets and get cold feet otherwise they would get so itchy they would bleed. My nose started to itch dreadfully. I hadn’t the heart to suggest that it might just be the car air freshener at fault. It was pedal to the metal over the flyover and through the traffic. A race against symptoms. Thought for the day, I really must get my driving licence corrected, have the B’Ed removed, and buy a new car for the cats’ sake if not ours. Anyway we did arrive in one piece and the driver was still alive and symptom free.

Cue arrival at the vets. A longish wait with various sad looking dogs, one of whom could not stand straight and had his head permanently twisted to the side. Eventually we got to see the lovely lady vet rather than the handsome gentleman who appeared to be on dog duty. Cat number one has a nasty ear infection apparently. What we thought was a skin problem is not that simple. She has been scratching her little head raw so we face a week of twice daily ear drops and she has a cone head. She can sleep with it on but walks backwards and has to have it removed for medication and, of course, food. Elizabethan collars were not designed for flat faced Persians. If we hold the bowl for her she can eat, otherwise it’s not possible, so as she often spends the night grazing on kibbles she was very hungry this morning. We are investing in a soft collar as she has to wear it for a week and the looks we get from her would shame even the Marquis de Sade.

CROCI Protective Collar, 9.5 cm, Soft Green

Cat two’s limp is not good either but as he is on steroids for gastritis he was not given a painkiller. Although we witnessed him in a fight with an Amazon box (the box won), our vet seems to think it may be arthritis rather than injury and he is to “be quiet and rest.” He is ignoring doctor’s orders of course and is presently walking around shouting. I told her that the steroids were no longer particularly effective anyway and that perhaps we should wean him off them if he needs pain relief. The Nutri-vit Plus paste we have been giving him for a midday treat seems to be just as effective. She looked at me with big wide eyes and said: “He needs to rest and not play with empty boxes.” My thoughts? “So do we all!”

Today’s post is the first for a long while and may be the longest thing I have written in weeks. At the moment I am listening to my new rescue Persian Babooshka chirping at the birds in our sunny garden. Her former mum is a victim of terminal cancer and she, barely more than a kitten, was busted out of kitty jail only two weeks ago. Already, in true tortie fashion, she is asserting her rights as a would be Head Cat.

Meanwhile here I am, grateful that I can see and appreciate the beauty all around me. It is now seven days since my eye operation and it is still a little sore but the clarity of this new world is amazing. For the first time in my life my distance vision is near perfect. I will need reading glasses for reading and writing, this I know, and the glare from computers and the TV is troubling – but what an advance from where I was last week.

I will not dwell on the unfairness of cataracts at a younger age than normal because if all goes well with this – and with my second operation – I am being given the chance of near perfect vision to enjoy the world while I still have the desire and strength to experience it too. Who knows why I have them anyway? I have always suffered from sensitivity to light so they may be due to a surfeit of sunlight as a child in the tropics or more likely they are an inheritance from my father whose genes I seem to have manifested so far in health matters as in much more. Whatever the cause, the slow, frightening and inevitable dimming of sight has been dramatically reversed and the world I see is staggering in its beauty.

Equally staggering is the list of messages in my Goodreads inbox. I have been so out of touch since my mother’s passing in September and in fact caring for her had put things like doctor, dentist and optician well onto the back burner. I was overdue a little “Me Time” after the funeral, the flat and the paperwork had been sorted. Today was the first time I had attempted to read anything on my Kindle and I managed four chapters before soreness set in. I have some off-the-shelf readers I bought yesterday but my guess is that I will need to ask about computer spectacles after the second eye has healed. In the meantime I will take it one day at a time, enjoy the walking even though I must still wear an eyeshield when out and slowly get back to doing the things I love; the musical arranging, composing, the half finished second novel and adding a tribute to my mother to a second edition of The Tenderness of Mountains. All in good time, of course, meanwhile I have cats to feed, fresh air to breathe and today (now I have reading glasses) there are books to read and review, thank God.