Monday, 30 June 2014

Hello and Goodbye(s)

It's 2 weeks to the day that I'll be leaving.

This weekend, I have been mainly sleep deprived and/or crying my eyes out.

In other words, I am slightly bricking it.

It must be natural to feel a bit emotional. After all, there is a lot at stake. No matter how well I've prepared myself for this (and I really have - I've put a lot on hold this year, knowing I was here temporarily) I am a bit taken aback at how I feel.

Let's start at the beginning. I don't think I've mentioned this previously, but soon after Benjy's untimely death at the beginning of the month, my parents brought home Louis:

...otherwise known as 'Suarez', due to his particular penchance for biting pretty much everything and anything.

He's a lovely little doglet, despite being both ginger and very nippy. He's getting bigger (and more naughty) every week.

I'm sad that I won't be there to see him grow up. He's brought a lot of happiness to my parents, so at least I can take some solace from that, probably.

That's the 'hello' of the week; the rest are all 'goodbyes'.

They're the main reason for the aforementioned sleep deprivation and tears.

On a lighthearted note, I begin with the SNES.

For the uninitiated (!!!) this stands for 'Super Nintendo Entertainment System'. The console was manufactured in the late 80s and is probably as old as me. We've had it since we were kids, and many happy hours have been well spent in its company.

Pictured - the source of much happiness and joy for the past 2 decades
I rehomed it when I moved in to my flat, and have intermittently been working on what became a 20-year challenge - to complete 'The Legend of Zelda - A Link to the Past'.

I swore I'd do it by the time I left for Israel. Unfortunately, other stuff got in the way and it hasn't happened. I relinquished the SNES to my brother, more of whom later. It has now become a 30 year challenge. He better not wipe my game.

As for the other goodbyes, a few of my friends, for various legitimate reasons, won't be coming to visit me. This is the last time I'll be seeing them until I visit next year.

I guess emigrants have to be realistic. Who knows what will happen ? It's much more difficult to keep in touch across time zones. Or sometimes, when people meet and grow close, over whatever time period, it's because the conditions are conducive to it - be they proximity, interests, work etc. Kept constant, these help a relationship grow. Change one small factor, it's much more difficult. A lot of the goodbyes this weekend were no exception.

My brother and sister-in-law to be also came down from Edinburgh this weekend to sort wedding stuff, including bridesmaid dresses. If you're interested, bridesmaid dress shopping, whilst borderline-asleep, is an exciting and even hallucinogenic experience. We found a nice dress which will look good on us all. I just hope I won't ruin this effect by gaining the infamous 'aliya-15'.

The next time I'll see them in person will be at their wedding. Since we've grown up, my bro and I have inevitably become less close. This is natural. Since he moved to the 'Burgh, I see him intermittently anyway. We both have our own lives, as happens when siblings grow up.

Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, or the daunting packing, or the whole weekend generally, but I've been in a bit of a state since I said goodbye earlier.

This is not helped by the packing process, which is such a traumatic experience - frustrating, space-invading and mostly futile - that I can really only bring myself to explain it through the medium of pictures.

Olim are permitted to bring 60kg of luggage spread across 3 bags, which sounds like a lot. Had I fulfilled my aliya plans back in 2010, or even 2012, I could've been fine with this. As it stands now, even after all of the chucking and donating, it's remarkably unrealistic.

At 5pm, I began, all purposeful-like. I set out my cases neatly, together with the packing I had already done:

Even Corny was having fun, and decided to join me in the endeavour: 

'So we're going on an adventure?'

 By 6.30 pm, after weighing each bag, only to find them significantly over the 20kg limit, I unpacked and started again:

Despite this being one of the cutest things I've seen, it helped very little practically and emotionally.

This too. 

Ok this at least helped to flatten the clothes. And fill them with cat hair. 

Corny soon got bored, and by 8.30pm, I had to start all over again. The 'packing' looked like this:

I despair. It's enough to make me regret the aliya decision in the first place.

Maybe I'll just stay.

Monday, 23 June 2014

The cat, the flat and the happy ray of sunshine

How quickly things can change!

Last week, I was practically cursing the heavens as everything was so awful and stressful. This week, however, I have only good things to report. I will itemise them, as I am feeling refreshed (despite the hayfever) and purposeful.

1. The Cat

Corny, as you may recall from the vitriol that was my last post, was due to be taken by a family when I left. They strung me along, inconvenienced me several times and later horrifically dumped us. At 10pm. Via text. Twats.

Heartbroken, I allowed myself to cry for a full ten minutes before stopping and being practical. I gathered a list of shelters and numbers, emailed the ones I could, posted to facebook and then wrote up a post expressing my disgust. The latter, while not really very useful, served two purposes - catharsis, and allowing people to read rather than ask. I didn't want to talk about it.

My friends were fantastic - messages of support and to see if I was ok, reposting my status - I'm so grateful.

Amazingly, some of the shelters got back to me that night - by that time, about 11-11.30pm - and asked for details and whether or not they'd have room for him. Obviously, leaving Corny in a shelter (he is a bit spoilt. I couldn't help it. He's just so cute and baby tiger-esque) was my last resort, but there I was. Or way past it.

I then remembered something that that horrible 'Cat Chat' lady told me - about a process of direct rehoming, where you essentially send details of your cat to the shelters nearest you who offer it and then they put you in touch with people looking to adopt.

The next day, at about 11pm, I got an email from Cats Protection Hendon, saying someone in West London had contacted them stating interest in rehoming an indoor cat about 5 years old. Could it be?

I emailed back expressing my thanks, and called the next day. The lady who answered is older, has had cats for years and is ready for a new one. It seemed her catchphrase is 'Awwww lovely!', as whatever I told her about my Corny was deemed exactly this. I quizzed her for about 20 minutes, trying to work out if she was right for Corny (What? At least I know I'm overprotective!). She has a vet on her road, and all the stuff a cat would ever want or need. I sent a quick description of Corny, his likes etc and some photos over to her carer and said I'd call back the next day once she'd seen them.

Although she said she'd take him while we were on the phone, I've been messed around once and hell, did I learn. Always secure a definite 'yes' at the beginning. No stringers here!

So the next day I called. She was very happy to hear from me, telling me she'd printed one of the pictures (I think it's the one where he's hiding in a box) and stuck it in her kitchen! She told me that she'll give him 'all the love and attention he deserves' so I think he's going to get on well there. I have a good feeling about this.

I explained that I want to spend as long with him as possible, which she said she understood completely, and we organised for me to drop him off at her on the Wednesday, 4 days before I leave.

I'm going to be an absolute state, but I am so deliriously happy that Corny has found a new home, and with someone that I feel pretty good about too.

2. The Flat

Tuesday was a highly eventful day it seemed. I rushed home from school to meet someone from a local estate agents, of whom my auntie had been singing high praises.

The estate agent chatted to me about various important things, took the pictures and put it on the website the next morning. That evening, I had 3 flat viewings. The next day, I had 3 flat viewings. The day after, I had 2.

In 3 days, I had 4 offers.

So now, I've found a tenant for my flat!

He seems a bit of a meshugana, but in a good way. he's an older gentleman, Iranian, a lecturer.

I think he'll take good care of the flat. While I was showing his female significant other (wife? girlfriend? I didn't want to ask) around the flat, he'd wandered over to the bookshelf, where I'd left out some stuff to take with me to Israel.

He was looking at the family picture from my brother's engagement party, then turned to me and said:

'Ah! I didn't know you were Iranian! Is this your father?' He points at my stepdad, 'Such an Iranian face!'

He went on: 'Is this your grandfather? Such an Iranian! Is that your sister? Ok she looks a bit more Arab, but ok, Iranian! Is that your mother?'
I nod. It is my mother, after all,
'Where's she from?'
I tell him she has Spanish-Portugese blood, which is true,
'Ah!' This pleased him. The he turned to me, in the picture and in real life.
'Then why are you so white?'

It's a question I ask myself every so often. Blue eyes, pale skin, about a foot taller than the women in the family, I must be some kind of genetic throwback from when my family were schlepping across Europe.

Now, I know how to deal with Middle Eastern men. Hell, I got mad skills when it comes to that. But in order to get what you want, you have to play along.

The next step was, of course, the coffee chat. So outside to the balcony we all went, drinking coffee and talking about the old country. I reverted back to the good old 'yes...but...' tactic I referred to a few posts back. I'm delighted to report that it worked a treat.

So, the next day, the Iranian put the deposit down. I called the estate agent and told him that if the tenant ever referred to me as 'that Iranian girl', he had to smile and play along.

'Don't worry,' he told me, 'I know the story. Sometimes I'm also Irish.'

The whole experience of the last week has knackered me out. But now these two things are sorted, topgether with some exciting developments otherwise, I am one happy ray of hayfevery sunshine.

To top it off, my school friend Amy, who made aliya a few years ago, is back in Blighty for a bit. So we met up and discussed everything - our lives, her aliya and plans, my aliya and plans - in a 7 hour convo.

It was wonderful to see her and reconnect, and also really informative.

It really was the best, most perfect end to an upturned week.

Now I just have to pack up the flat... and my 60 kg allowance. Eek!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Ballad of Corny Wallace

Let's begin this post with some small moment of positivity, because it's about to heavily rain shit straight after.

A good thing is that I have packed up half of my flat. I am operating what I'm calling a 'skeleton kitchen', which is actually not a kitchen catering to skeletons or the like, but a very pared down version of my glorious previous kitchen stock. All food must be eaten, all utensils packed away.

'I'm helping pack!'

And so now, with three and a half weeks to go until my aliya date, the heavens have opened and the bump I encountered last week has become a massive extended shit storm.

It's a whole new level; I can take tenants leading me on and letting me down. My beloved dog, who I personally hand-reared, suddenly and shockingly dying? It still hurts awfully, but at least I'm wading through it.

No, the straw which has finally broken this highly resilient camel's back is a broken promise of far more epic proportions.

When making aliya, I think it's necessary, as in life, to prepare for the worst at all junctures. To this end, I could potentially deal with it if my flat wasn't rented out.

As I've mentioned earlier, my cat, Corny Wallace, was due to be rehomed by a local family. They made a massive fuss about coming to visit him every week, schlepping along their child to meet him too. On her last visit, she declared him her 'best friend'. Corny, for his part, also seemed to be ok with her.

'I'm one sexy kitty'

So I was especially disgusted when I received a text - yes, A TEXT - from the father, saying they decided they wouldn't take Corny after all.

I'm leaving in 3 and a half weeks. Regardless of the emotional aspect (more of which in a minute), logistically this is a nightmare. I should have put Corny on the waiting list for the shelters in the area, but 2 months ago when I called up I was either told they were full or I was put off by a very blunt woman from Cat Chat ( a cat advice and rehoming charity), that most of these shelters kill the older cats. I quote her, 'He's old. He'll be for it. They'll find something wrong with him and he won't last very long.'

Did I mention I had already begun sniffling, my voice breaking when I started the phone call? This exclamation didn't really help. She then began quoting statistics and places I could google to back up her claims.

I know some people don't understand the attachment that we form to our pets. But here's the thing: as my dogs' vet told me when I asked him for advice, 'two pets gone in two months? You're brave.'

What I'm feeling isn't stress. I've moved house before, I've emigrated (at least for a year or two) before; if I have to get rid of more of my stuff to accommodate the packing allowance, so be it.

No, I am absolutely distraught, for several reasons.

Corny has had a strange and interesting life so far. He was raised in a family of 5 other cats by an ex-colleague of mine who, after 5ish years, suddenly decided that she had 'too many cats', and that Corny specifically had to go.

Cue me. I'd just moved to a new flat. I was having a horrible time at work. I was missing the dogs terribly and, going from a big, noisy family house to a silent one bed flat was pretty...terrifying.

So, with no prior knowledge of how to deal with cats, in came Corny.

'I arrived here in a bag. A Primark bag!'
We got on absolutely swimmingly. He is (and always will be) very loving, snuggly and purry, often all at the same time. The little guy's on my lap now, as I type, purring away. He was there for me, snuggling and mewing, during the bad times, or when I got home from work, and more of the same when I woke up. He sits on my lap for most meals (bad habit but, dammit, he's just so cute).

'Is this a bug I see before me?'

The real turning point in our relationship was when, during Succot, Corny became ill and spent the festival in hospital with a critical UTI. Something must have spooked him (gd knows what), and I'd walk up to meet him during my time off school for the festival and feed him.

At the time, in September, I thought I'd be making aliya in December. Seeing Corny all hooked up to machines, with a catheter in and a cone around his neck, I was distraught.

You see, I hadn't realised before, but Corny, despite being a generally amazing companion, has taught me so much about myself. I didn't know I was capable of taking care of and being wholly responsible for another living thing. I didn't know I could love anything that much, or feel anywhere near as awful as I did when he got ill. In other words, Corny helped me to become an adult.

I also feel guilty. At the time I took him in I was honestly trying to forget about making aliya, as it was plainly inconvenient, a childish folly. I tried to make a go of it here. I bought a flat. I took in Corny. I was receiving tempting job offers. I really thought I'd be giving him a home for life.

But...well, you know the story. Israel beckons. I've tried to bring him with but, as the ulpan won't allow pets, and the vet advises against it, I have no option.

But however bad a person I might be (as one troll on an internet advice forum decided to label me, multiple times and in various increasingly disgusting posts), I don't think Corny deserves this. Yes, he has a ridiculous name, but it's a part of his fluffy charm.

Maybe this is another test. Every week, when I light the candles to welcome in Shabbat I add my own prayer - for Israel, for family and friends etc...I've asked G-d so many times over the past 4 years to lead me and guide me. Finally, for once, I feel like I'm doing the right thing. But it's heartbreaking when these things happen. Seemingly all in one go. I hope it's the final test.

But still. A text message?

Did we just get dumped by text?

'This is my seat now. I'm feigning sleep so you get the picture.'

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Bump and the bookshelf

Well it's been a long week, for several reasons.

Despite the whole emigration thing, and all of the crazy stuff which that entails, I've had a lot to get done, at work and at home, and was fretting over packing up and also leaving Corny the cat behind. When I originally planned my aliya date, to coincide with the beginning of Ulpan (language immersion) and the end of the school year, it seemed like a great idea to finish work on the Friday and fly on the Sunday. I had a Barney Stinson-esque moment of ambition in 'Challenge accepted!' mode. Now, however, in a semi-comatose state, I'm wondering what the hell I was thinking.

To help matters further, after Benjy's sudden death last Sunday I've been having a lot of trouble sleeping. Don't get me wrong, I was absolutely exhausted - traumatic shocks/combined impending aliya do that to you! - but every time I closed my eyes, or let the distraction drop, I kept picturing him in various ways. As he was, snuggled up to me or running to greet me at the door at best. At worst, I could semi-clearly see the accident as it happened, at least from the information my parents would grant me.

But the most disturbing was a nightmare (even after I'd taken a sleeping pill to knock myself out and which did sweet FA) of his body going through the cremation process; his beautiful black curls burning up, alongside his eyes and ears...

But enough of depressing talk. This is a positive and exciting time for yours truly. If anything, the above has made me more resolute to go. It's the only thing driving me forward - the final realisation of a long-held dream.

In any life changing process or massive event, there is inevitably a bump somewhere along the way, where things appear to be going swimmingly and then BOOM! Something (or someone) swans along to screw it (and you) all up for no reason other than they get sick, sadistic pleasure from it. Or, you know, natural causes or bad planning.

For the past week, my flat has been on the market and I have been showing prospective tenants around. I became rather protective over my flat baby. Smiling through the tears (sometimes literally) while also sussing out the people potentially taking over your homestead is surprisingly draining. And repetitive.

Then came along the ones, at the point when I became disillusioned and wondering if I'd ever find them; the fabled people your mother hopes you'd meet, fall in love with, let your flat out to and live happily ever after with them covering the mortgage (before you decide to return home and live in the flat, of course, with nary a piece of damage and pristinely left boiler and plumbing systems).

They put a deposit down two days later and, for the first time since last Sunday, it felt like all was falling into place. I could relax a little bit and one thing had been scratched off my (slowly shrinking) list.

But then - disaster struck! Not 12 hours later, I received a call from my estate agents, informing me the couple were -

Moving to Holland.

Now, I understand the pull of living abroad (obviously!) others I wouldn't do it myself. And Holland is a wonderful country. But who gets a job offer at 8am? After they professed their undying love for my flat? After we shook hands on it and hugged?

We were all so happy, just a few short hours before. And now...they were soon to be gone.

I felt sick. I kept my phone around me in case they'd call, pleading for me to give the flat back to them, saying they'd acted in haste, and it was all a big mistake.

But, girls (and I guess some guys too?) reading this, you know how this ends.

There may be plenty more tenants in the sea, but dammit, they were pretty near perfect. We would have all had a happy life together.

But but but, as my mum advises, 'If that's the way they treat you before you're married - whoops, sorry, I mean, before they move in, what could they potentially be like after? Better to see the bad side beforehand.'

Wise woman, my mum. So, flattily single again, I wait.

As bumps go, it's fairly minor I suppose. On the plus side, here's a 'bookshelfie' before and after:

Before: A bookshelf. With books!
Yes, it doesn't look like much, especially considering I had to leave half of my books at my parents' when I moved out. But, half-packed and 3 massive boxes/rolly cases later:

Pictured: 3 massive boxes/rolly case and some books I accidentally nicked from my mum to return. Oops. 

TA DAAA! Clear...ish

...the job is done, minus some stuff I'm taking with me on aliyah.

So roll on, with 5ish weeks to go!

And, on the plus side, now that the anticipated bump is over, it should be plain sailing from here.

Please G-d. Fingers crossed!

And my flat was too good for those tenants anyway.

Cue Beyonce's 'Single ladies/'Survivor'. Yeah.

"If they liked it then we should've kept the deposit...'

Monday, 2 June 2014

In beloved memory of Benjy

Earlier today, whilst packing books and meeting prospective new parents for Corny the cat, I received a call from my mum. 

My parents had taken the dogs away for the weekend; Benjy had run free when they'd attempted to put his lead on, straight into the path of an oncoming car. 

My mum said it was instant and he wouldn't have known it was happening. He must have died on impact. 

It was obviously a shock to us all. I think more so because he was, as my brother and mum kept stressing, 'an accident waiting to happen'. I've lost count of the times that he's run straight out of the door, whenever it's been opened a mere smidgen, and the countless hours that my dad and I would drive around searching for him. In the end, he'd ultimately come trotting down the road, an hour or so later, as nonchalantly as if he'd been out for a casual stroll. 

That's why it's so awful to think he would go in this way. 

He'd always pulled through or escaped bad situations before. Only a few weeks ago, on another weekend excursion, he ran loose of his lead and decapitated a chicken on a nearby farm. It was the second time in as many years that he'd done this. 

Every time he had to go to the vet or was ill, it was always down to something he'd brought on himself. The last time I was living in Israel, my mum called to say that I shouldn't worry (I did), but that  Benjy had been admitted to a human hospital, suffering from 'dog flu'. Now, I'm no idiot, but I was willing to be gullible; a meta-search of terms related to 'dog flu' garnered no results. It transpired he had actually eaten a piece of rubber, and it was stuck somewhere in his digestive system. 

He managed to pull through then, and every other time. He was the best dog - loving, energetic, happy and highly intuitive. When I lived at home, he'd break into my bedroom every morning and night just to snuggle up to me in my single bed, which he inevitably found a way to claim wholly. I never minded. He would do the same whenever he'd sensed I'd had a bad day at school/uni/work; he'd sit with me when I was unwell; he'd be so incredibly, inexplicably happy to see me, even when I'd only left the house for a couple of minutes. 

Later, when I moved out and would return to my parents' home, he would be the first to greet me, as happy as if I was made of solid gold wrapped in chocolate. His eyes would bulge happily, his tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth, and he'd struggle to jump all over me, nuzzling me and bashing me with his waggling bum simultaneously. 

He'd stay that way for the rest of my visit. In quieter times, he'd remember a trick I'd trained him to do from our summer of puppy training together. I'd make my legs into a circle - when he was younger, he'd sit in the middle and try to climb up me; now he was bigger, he'd plonk himself down, trying to fit as best as possible. 

And the licking! He was the lickiest dog you'd ever seen. Everyone would get at least one lick, surely the happiest, most loving kiss in the world (at least from a dog). I would be lucky enough to be licked repeatedly. I didn't mind; in fact I used to look forward to it. 

He was the most beautiful puppy we'd ever seen (Dylan, our other dog, looked like a messed up rabbit, and we thought we'd been shortchanged by the breeders). I'll never forget those human eyes peering at us shyly from my mum's hands as she brought him home that first time. He was black and grey beneath all the fur, which would grow into a 'Jewfro' (he was a Jewish dawg) and make him look fatter than he truly was. On top of his shining black head was the white 'wishy spot' - a white streak that only enhanced his beauty. 

I can only half believe he's gone. There's a physical pain which won't shift, even after the paracetamol and ibuprofen. there's nothing tangible I can do to help it. I feel like the child I helped to raise has been cut down, far away from me. And there was absolutely nothing I could do to protect him from it. 

Regarding my impending aliya - I knew these sorts of things would happen eventually. You can never be there, when you live plane rides away, for the (please gd) best times and the (gd forbid) absolute worst. I will hopefully (naively) never know if it's better to be here, closer, than further away and feeling some distance. 

My mum's told me there is nothing I can do, and that I'm literally weeks away from an exciting new time in my life. But with so much change ( I haven't even touched on the saga of packing the bookshelf up, or the meeting with Corny's prospective parents) in the air, I hadn't anticipated something as awful and out of the blue as this. As selfish as it sounds, I'd assumed all of this would happen in the future, at a time I wouldn't have to deal with it all at once. 

I love you, Benjy. As the song that made you wince said, 'I will always love you'. You were the best thing to ever happen to me; the most loving, giving and supportive pet/additional younger brother I could wish for. 

You will always be my baby. My black beauty. My Benjita. 

You said goodbye before I had the chance to. At least you'd spared me that pain. 

England holds one less tie for me. You'll always be with me, though

I'm so grateful to have had you and known you for as long as I did. Through the pain, in the utmost loving memory.