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Alan Stays At Home

I am a gentleman of semi-leisure.

For the last month or so I have been working part time. I turn up to the office for two weeks and then I stay at home for two weeks. Then back to the office for two more weeks. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

When I announced this, everybody got very worried.

"What will you do? How will you occupy your time? You'll get bored."

Well actually, no I won't. There's been heaps going on…

The first Monday of my first fortnight off dawned wet and miserable, just like every day in Wellington for the last six months. I snuggled and luxuriated in the warmth and comfort of my bed and thought about all the people who were going off to work, out in the cold, wet weather.

Eventually, once the streets were nicely aired, I got up and staggered off to the bathroom, yawning and scratching the while. A day of idleness beckoned. I showered and decided not to shave, a decision I have made every day for the last thirty years. I cleaned my teeth. A filling fell out and went clatter into the wash basin. Bugger!

Sharp edges of broken tooth rasped across the inside of my cheek. There was absolutely no doubt how I would be spending my day. I looked up "Dentists" in the yellow pages and sat down with the phone.

"We can fit you in next week."

"Sorry – we don't have any free appointments for the next month."

"There might be a free appointment in December 2010."

"We aren't taking new patients at the moment."

"You want what? An appointment for treatment? Ha, ha, ha, he, he, he. Oh dear, I haven't heard anything so funny for years!"

Considering how expensive dental treatment is, I was amazed at the number of people who seemed to have nothing better to do than visit the dentist. Most of Wellington, it appeared was over-supplied with money and couldn't think of anything better to do with it than to donate it to a dentist in return for several hours of extreme unpleasantness.

"We've just had a cancellation. Can you get here by 11.15?"

"Indeed I can, " I said, and headed for the bus.

The waiting room was empty. I reported to the lady behind the desk. She gave me a form to fill in. "The dentist won't be long," she said.

There was a computer in the waiting room. FREE JETSTREAM FOR DENTAL PATIENTS proclaimed a nicely printed notice on the monitor. I checked my email. I hadn't got any. I looked at the list of recently visited sites in case any of the other patients had been whiling away the time with pornography. No such luck.

"The dentist will see you now."

I gave the lady my completed form and went into the torture chamber.

Several subjective hours later I staggered home with a numb jaw and a light wallet. I also had an appointment for a check up on the first day of my next fortnight off and the gloomy possibility of more fillings on the horizon. Two weeks on, two weeks off was starting to seem much less attractive than once it had. Never mind – today was only Monday, I had lots of free days left before I would have to go back to work.

The next day dawned wet and miserable again. My bed was warm and snug and shaving seemed far too much of an effort. I resolved not to bother. Nobody would ever notice. Anyway – I don't own any shaving equipment and nobody had seen fit to give me any for a wedding present. Wedding present. The phrase reminded of something. Oh yes…

Robin and I, having got married in foreign parts (well, Australia) decided that we would hold a wedding reception in New Zealand for all our friends who couldn't make it to Australia. Annette, our Best Woman, went hunting for venues.

"The Dog and Bone," she said. "It's a pub on Lambton Quay. They'll let us have the downstairs bar. It's got a huge plasma screen and it has English beers on tap. And more whiskeys than you can shake a distillery at. Talk to Preston."

I rang Preston who proved to be eager to help and quite thrilled at the romantic notion of having a wedding reception to celebrate an Australian wedding. We arranged to meet.

"Can I bring a DVD player with me?" I asked. "So we can test out the plasma screen. We want to play a DVD of the wedding ceremony."

"Of course," he said. And so I did.

We plugged cables into the plasma screen and the DVD player. The screen remained embarrassingly blank. We pushed buttons and plugged more cables into other orifices. The two devices refused point blank to talk to each other and continued to live smugly separate lives.

"I'll talk to the people we bought the screen from," said Preston. "Can I keep the DVD player for a while?"

"Of course," I said and went home.

Over the next few days Preston spoke to many people about his plasma screen. Experts came and scratched their heads at it.

"Should be quite straightforward squire," they said, one and all. And one and all they were wrong. Complex manuals were consulted. Wiring diagrams were downloaded from Japanese web sites. Video engineers were flown in at vast expense from all over the globe. Many cups of tea were drunk and a goat was sacrificed.

Eventually a special set of cables was obtained. Success! We had a DVD player and our New Zealand wedding reception went ahead as planned.

I spent the rest of my fortnight at home alternating between visiting Preston to swear at the plasma screen and visiting my sick cat to encourage him to get better. There was scarcely time to shave. So I didn't.

You may recall that a few months ago Porgy The Cat broke his back leg and had to have the ball removed from his hip joint. He never really recovered from that operation and remained extremely reluctant to walk. He also became very antisocial, refusing to be picked up and cuddled. All he wanted to do was hide under cupboards. He didn't want to walk and when I tried to force him to, he hissed at me and once he tried to bite me. This was most unlike Porgy who has always been a placid, good natured cat.

I took him back to the vet. A thorough examination revealed that his other back leg was also broken and the operation to remove his ball joint had to be done all over again. It is unclear as to whether or not he broke both legs at the same time (and we only spotted the first, worst break at the time) or if he broke the other leg at a later stage. Either way it was clear that the second break had been there for quite some considerable time. The poor animal must have been in horrible pain for weeks, or possibly months. No wonder he wanted to hide himself away.

"Look on the bright side," said the vet. "He's run out of back legs now. It can't happen again."

After this second operation Porgy was very fragile and very sick. I didn't really know how to look after him. Harpo The Fluff Monster, our other extraordinarily bouncy cat, would pay no attention to Porgy's fragile state. He would only want to play. The thought of the damage he could do to Porgy by trying to play bouncy games with him gave me nightmares.

So Porgy went to Purrville to recuperate.

Purrville is the cattery just up the road and Porgy has had holidays there before. The owners, Dianne and Robert, are old friends of his and for the last month Porgy has been slowly recovering in the safe environment there.

At the beginning, he could barely walk. He limped slowly from his bed to his food bowl and then limped slowly back to his bed again. His hindquarters looked thin and fragile and the newly operated upon leg hung at an unnatural angle, occasionally crossing over the other, stronger leg as he limped along.

Slowly he grew in strength and gained more control over his leg. He walked a little further every day. He started to take an interest in things again. When Robin and I visited him he would sit up in his bed and ask for a pat and he would purr and rub his face over our hands. Eventually there came a day when he heard our voices at the door, and he got up and limped towards us to say hello. That was a good day.

Then there was the day that I saw him chase a moth. The moth ran away, and it ran faster than Porgy. Oh dear! Porgy still had a long way to go.

After a month, at the beginning of my second fortnight off work, Porgy came home.

"Hello," said Harpo, bouncing up to him. "Want to play a game?"

"Not just now," said Porgy. "Maybe later."

"I've got a catnip mouse and a stuffed snake that crackles and a blue rat!"

"No thanks," said Porgy. "Not just now."

Harpo lost interest and went to chase a ping pong ball.

Bess, Porgy's sister, sniffed him all over from head to tail. She paid particular attention to his weak leg. Then they touched noses and Bess went outside.

We made Porgy comfortable, locked Harpo out of the room, and went to bed. The next day, Porgy was still asleep in his box – he hadn't changed position all night. But sitting close to him, where he could easily see it when he woke up, was a dead rat. Bess had brought him a welcome home present; a get well soon rat.

Last night, as I write this, Porgy voluntarily went outside for the first time in nearly five months. He sat and looked at the back door. He tried to get out of the cat flap, but he could quite make it. He sat down and looked at the door again.

"Maiow," he said. "Mwaaa!"

I opened the door. He looked out at the world for a couple of minutes. Then he limped outside and, keeping very close to the house, walked slowly round the corner. Then he sat down to rest for a while. Then he walked a little further and sat down again. He progressed slowly, exploring as he went, smelling the night smells and giving every evidence of enjoying himself. Eventually he reached the front door and asked for it to be opened. I let him back into the house and he walked to his bed and flopped down, exhausted. He went to sleep with a little smile on his face.

And so did Robin and I.

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