Sunday, 4 December 2016

It all started with a black cat.

It all started with a black cat. A black cat that had disappeared from my landlady’s house 2 years previously, and then miraculously reappeared the night I came to stay.

Pip, the Airbnb owner, had been telling me about her missing cat because I’d noticed a cat flap in the kitchen. Her beloved moggie had just upped and left one day. She was convinced nothing sinister had happened because a few people had spotted it from time to time, up a tree or in their back garden, so she just hoped that one day it would get sick of its extended holiday and come back to her. Fast forward to 2am.

I had been trying to get comfy in yet another strange bed, tossing and turning, getting the pillows just right, when I realised I needed the loo. I blindly fumbled my way across the room, trying to remember the layout of the place, and opened the door, taking a tentative step forward as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. My foot landed on something soft and squidgy, which immediately let out a blood-curdling high-pitched meowl, and a shadowy black blob shot down the hall. I, meanwhile, jumped two feet in the air, let out a startled cry, lurched forward, banged my head on the bathroom door and almost fell down the stairs. I had just righted myself when Pip came out of her bedroom. She flipped on the hall light, and ignoring me completely, dropped to the ground with an ecstatic groan, scooping the furry blob into her arms and burying her face in it. It was her black cat, returned from wherever it had been partying for 2 years, in time to try and kill me. Pip was looking at me as if I had performed a miracle, telling me I was her lucky charm, how amazing this was, how she would never ever forget this night. And so it turns out, nor would I.

I’m glad Pip thought I was her lucky charm because it certainly wasn’t reciprocated. Her black cat triggered a series of events for me that have yet to end. I have never been superstitious of black cats crossing my path before but this bloody creature has, subsequently, made me touch wood, cross my fingers, pick up pennies and avoid ladders and umbrellas completely! You see, most people believe bad luck comes in three’s…. I’m now up to ten, in the space of ten days.

1. My computer
The following evening when I got back from work, I walked into Pip’s kitchen and the black cat was upon me, purring like a tractor engine, winding itself through my legs and trying to jump on my lap as I was eating my supper. The thing would not leave me alone. I stupidly stroked it a few times and then even more stupidly touched my face. As people allergic to cats well know, this is a rather silly thing to do because the moment the cat dander touches your skin, you itch, and then after the itching, your eyes might swell up. Yay. I extracted myself from the cat and went up to the bedroom just as my eyes were going a bit puffy. I turned on my Mac laptop and watched in squinty horror as the screen went dark and an unhappy face appeared. Oh dear. I looked at it for a few seconds and the unhappy face changed to a Do not Enter sign. Shit. But I didn’t panic, I like to think I’m quite nifty with a Mac so I did all the things you can do to reboot the system, launched a problem sorting page, did an internal check etc. but still, every time I restarted it, the unhappy face returned. Time to call Apple.

Long story short, Apple told me, in no uncertain terms, that my computer was buggered. I would need to take it to a genius bar in-store, and they would be able to restore my hard drive from my back-up. I did have a back-up drive didn’t I? I’m sure you think I’m about to say I didn’t, but have faith lovely people, I did have a back-up drive and I had actually backed up my whole system and all my work, files, photos, music etc. only a few days before. All I needed to do was take my laptop and my external hard drive to the store and they would do the rest.

To explain what happened next, I need to use the analogy that my laptop and my back-up are like the Queen and Prince Charles. They never fly on the same plane in case it crashes because then the heir to throne is lost along with the current monarch. Not good. So my laptop is the Queen and my external hard drive is Prince Charles. In this analogy, the plane crashes.

2. The break-in
The next day I drove to London with my precious cargo of laptop and back-up drive in my car. I was meeting my friend in Islington to see the ballet so I drove through London and managed, miraculously, to find a parking space right opposite the theatre. I had packed my computer and back-up at the bottom of an overnight bag and then had hidden the whole thing under the passenger seat, on the advice of Apple, I hasten to add. When I explained the age of my car to them, they were worried the cold of the boot might damage my Mac further, so suggested I keep it inside. I hesitated for a nano-second as I got out of the car, realising it wasn’t exactly sensible leaving my laptop and back-up together, but also knowing that the appearance of my car would put off the majority of passers-by. I love my car but I’m possibly the only one that does. She is over 30 years old, is covered in scratches and dents, looks like an 80’s mini cab and has a coat hanger for an aerial. Inside the car was an old sleeping bag, a trillion empty coffee cups, bags of rubbish, my crutches, several old coats, scarves and a dirty towel. To be honest it looked like I slept in the car rather than drove it around, so I didn’t for one second think this was an appealing target compared to the Mercedes and Volvos parked around me. Wrong.

My friend and I were in an ebullient mood after the ballet and planned on driving back to her flat in Notting Hill and having a little booze-up in her local pub. As we approached the car, my friend commented on the mess inside and I was about to defend my gorgeous Gigi (aka The Golden Goddess, aka my car), when I realised the window had been smashed, all the seats had been pulled forward, everything had been dragged through from the boot and yes, you guessed it, my overnight bag had been stolen from underneath the passenger seat. Nooooo!!!

The Police came very quickly and were brilliant. I had begun to be slightly hysterical as I remembered exactly what had been on the computer. And then more hysterical when I realised all the stuff on my back-up, my Prince Charles, had gone too. There was a chance some of it was on iCloud but I couldn’t be sure. CCTV was called and were sorry to announce that that particular street camera was not working. Forensics were called but at the last minute they were diverted to a stabbing. Even though it was a busy street and opposite a busy theatre, not one person had seen anything! The police wrote down as many stolen items as I could remember in my shocked state and my friend even went looking around the nearby streets, convinced the thieves would have taken the computer and chucked the rest of it. But no, nothing was found. I immediately launched the tracking device on my iPhone and was able to write the burglars a message. As soon as they attempted to turn on my laptop, they would read the following;
Dear burglars, if you are reading this, the Police and I have already traced your location. Oh, and by the way, you have stolen a Mac that doesn’t actually work. Haha!

3. The dead car
The police left and my friend and I decided that a stiff drink was now even more essential so we cleared away most of the broken glass, put everything else in the boot (ironic) and started the car. The car wouldn’t start. It was completely dead. I knew what must have happened... the burglars had smashed the window, triggering the immobiliser, and if you don’t turn the immobiliser off within 5 minutes, the whole system locks up. I mean it’s clever because it deters people from actually stealing the car, but now I couldn’t bloody drive it myself. I was hysterical again for a moment before I called the AA. They said they were terribly sorry for what had happened and would try and get there within the hour. An hour!!! I exclaimed. But we’ll freeze to death and I’ve just been robbed... please, you can’t leave us here alone, so late at night, in this terribly rough neighbourhood (in my mind, Islington was now a dangerous ghetto). My dramatic and embarrassingly pathetic female plea seemed to do the trick and the AA man was with us within 10 minutes. He fixed the immobiliser and wrapped sticky plastic around the smashed window so we wouldn’t freeze, and we finally headed back to West London. But of course, by this time the bloody pubs were closed. Typical.

4. No insurance
Even though I had the tracking device activated on my computer, modern thieves aren’t that stupid. They haven’t turned on my Mac and they probably never will. I imagine it’s already in Africa or Asia where it will be wiped and sold on. My back-up is gone as are over 3,000 photos, all my design work and portfolio, and worst of all, my writing. My novel, my unposted blogs, my travel stories, my journal. In seconds, 20 years of my life disappeared. Even a 2 hour conversation with the Apple support team could only get a few photos back. Nothing else. Apparently iCloud doesn’t always work. Bad luck they said. Macs are clever little buggers but don’t rely on the sodding cloud. You can always rely on Prince Charles, of course, just never let him leave the house.

I rang my car insurance and guess what? Electronic items such as computers, phones and cameras aren’t covered by most policies. We then checked my father’s home insurance (as that is where I have been living on and off for the last year) and we stupidly and with ridiculous honesty, told them the bag had been under the passenger seat and not in the boot. Sorry we don’t cover items stolen from inside the car, they said, we only pay out if they are locked in the glove compartment or the boot. Bugger! Even my parent’s cleaning lady, who is an ex copper, told us to lie to the insurance people but it was too late, it was done. I started to tot up everything that was missing. How much money I would need to replace everything. The Mac and back-up alone were about £1600, but then I began to list the perfume, make-up, skin creams, the Nike trainers and cashmere jumper, the stupidly overpriced moleskin notebooks, my expensive cotton pyjamas. I may not look it half the time, but I realised I have rather expensive taste. As I underlined the figure of £2,400, I came to the conclusion that lying to insurance companies is a much better way to go.

5. The boiler
A few days later, with broken car window fixed and many friends and work colleagues coming to my rescue to try and get as much of my portfolio, writing and life back, I was in London, once again, but this time I was in my Balham flat going through the inventory with my tenants on their last day. They have been the best tenants and I would have kept them on except for the fact that I have decided to leave London for good, sell my Balham flat and relocate to Somerset. Everything is going swimmingly. An offer has been made on the flat, and after the slightly stressful middle bit with estate agent and solicitors and endless paperwork, we are merely days away from completing (crossed fingers, touch wood). But as I stood chatting to my tenant in the kitchen, I realised how bloody cold the flat was without all their stuff in it, so I went to put the heating on. Hmmm, that’s strange, it’s not starting up as normal. I checked everything, asked the tenants if they’d twiddled or done anything strange, turned it off and on, and eventually it clicked and began to work. A few numbers and letters flashed up on the little warning screen but nothing to worry about eh?

As it was going to be one of my last days in the flat, and possibly Balham, I decided to treat myself to breakfast in the best Australian cafĂ© in London called Milk (Aussies really have breakfast down to an art form). After scoffing poached eggs, crispy pancetta, sourdough toast, avocado salsa, burnt butter hollandaise and a few latte’s, I returned to the flat. Stone cold. Hmm. I switched a few things off and on again, turned the power off at the mains, checked the fuses in the wall and the plug, checked the thermostat, but nothing was happening. I had only that morning told the estate agent that I would be happy to show the new buyers round and explain how everything worked, but now the bloody boiler wasn’t actually working. Panic! A quick ring to British Gas and luckily they can come round on Monday and take a look. Please, please, please... let it be something minor (crossed fingers, touch wood).

6. The bed
An hour later I had a screwdriver in hand and was attempting to dismantle my old wooden bed. My friend was coming with a rented van to move the last few big pieces of my furniture out of the flat so I was trying to be helpful and have everything ready for him. I heard a weird creak as I undid one of the big supporting bolts and as I bent down to look what had happened, my door buzzed. I let my friend and his mate in and they helped me with the last few bed screws. Suddenly, as they lifted the bed away from the wall, we heard a loud crack and both side panels split in two. We all just looked at it, completely dumfounded, not entirely sure how it had happened, but one thing was clear, the bed was destroyed. My tenants had been seconds away from landing on the floor so God knows what they’d been up to! But at this point, there was no reason to be dismayed. When so many crap things happen in the space of a few days, you have to laugh don’t you? On the plus side, there was one less thing to load into the van!

7. The parking ticket
My friend and I had finally emptied the flat and filled the van when one of my old neighbours, a large lolloping character called Sag who also has the unfortunate affliction of being wall-eyed, dragged himself over to where we were standing and said, “You’ve got a parking ticket.” As neither my friend nor I knew exactly which one of us he was looking at, we both looked at our windscreens. Of course, it was mine that had the violation. I ripped it from the windscreen using every swear word I knew, and looked at the explanation for the penalty charge. It said I was parked without clearly displaying a valid parking permit. We all looked at my windscreen, and there, dangling from my front mirror, was my bright pink parking permit. Only a blind traffic warden could not have spotted it. I was furious and screwed it up and threw it on the ground, immediately picking it up again and smoothing it out on the car bonnet… I’m not that much of a rebel. Sag looked at me, I think, and helpfully suggested that I don’t pay it. “Of course I’m not bloody paying it,” I shouted, “They’re all bloody idiots. ID-EE-OTS!!!” I looked around furtively, just in case a warden was lurking somewhere, and let out a loud guttural growl. £105 fine for parking legally in my own parking space. Honestly, could this day get any worse?

8. The traffic jam

We headed out of London at 3pm, me in my car and my friend in his van behind me. It was a pretty good time to set off… early enough to escape both the rush hour and the 4x4 mums picking up their kids from school. We got onto the motorway and were only about an hour from my parent’s house when my friend rang my mobile to tell me we might hit a bit of a delay because of an accident he’d heard reported on local radio. No worries I thought... it won’t be too bad. At 7:30pm, my friend called my mobile again, sounding as if he was about to commit Hari Kari. Can we please stop and get some sustenance, he begged, we’ve been stuck for over 3 hours and by the sounds of it we aren’t going anywhere soon. There are two car crashes, one car fire and the ambulance that was called out has just crashed into the back of a lorry. You couldn’t make it up! We snail-paced it to the next motorway service station and both got out of our vehicles as if we were made of stiff board. We creaked to the main entrance and disappeared to the loo, meeting up again minutes later at the food area. I have never ever wanted junk food more in my life. Fried chicken, burger? I was literally drooling as I approached KFC and was about to place my order when the whole place went black. Power cut.

9. The black out
After about 30 seconds of pitch black and a few gasps and screams, the emergency lighting came on. A sinister glow took over the building as silhouetted people began to sit closer to each other and hold their bags a little tighter. I simply rolled my eyes and looked over at my friend in the adjacent burger queue. He raised one eyebrows as if to say, “Is this really happening?” I nodded back. I placed my order and 4 young spotty-faced teenagers looked up at me from behind the counter, as if they had only just noticed me standing there. “We can’t serve you, the computers don’t work” he said glumly, staring at the screen as it began to reboot. “Why don’t I get some food, while it’s still hot, and then you can come and get me when they computers are back up, and I can pay?” I suggested. They stared at me open-mouthed, their little noughties brains not computing this at all. “We can’t give you free food!” one of the girls said, tutting. I explained that I wasn’t asking for free food, I was simply trying to get something to eat before it all went stone cold. “I spose we could take cash if you have the exact change!” The first boy mumbled as the others looked at him aghast. “I don’t have any cash” I said, “Well, not enough anyway.” And that was the end of that conversation. They returned to look at the blank screen as if the world had ended.

My friend and I managed to club together enough change and buy some reduced-price prawn sandwiches. We could only pray that the prawns weren’t so old that we would be the next culprit of my run of bad luck and soon be doubled over and squitty as we sat in the remaining traffic jam. We finally got to my parent’s house around 8:30pm. It was freezing cold and dark and my friend and I were completely exhausted. My poor parents who had been all snug in the house, came out to help unload the van, and between us, we managed to get everything into the summerhouse… and the garage. I had been storing my things in my parent’s summerhouse for the last year. It wasn’t supposed to have been that long, the plan was for me to find a new home after a few months and move out, but I had changed plans halfway through the year and so needed to keep all my things at their house for a bit longer. With the addition of these last final bits of furniture, I had outgrown the summerhouse and was now entering into a completely prohibited area of my parent’s property... the garage. My father’s man-cave, his sacred space, his workshop, his escape. It was now the new home of my sofa bed and my chest of drawers. Eeek, sorry Daddy.

10. My eye
The following day, after a fitful sleep, I drove up to London again. I had been having a few problems with itchy eyes, blurry eyes and generally a bit crap eyes so I had to go to Moorfield’s Eye Hospital to see the specialist. After a few minutes, some tests, photographs and an exam, the specialist told me I had over-enthusiastic sebaceous eye glands, that were blocking my tear ducts, and that I would have to milk them. Excuse me? Yes, milk them. I don’t know how this happened or how long it’s been going on but I have never had a more extraordinary 10 minutes. Watching this very important man demonstrate eye milking will remain with me for the rest of my days. It seems improbable too, in this particularly awful annus horribilis (that is not a rude bottom ailment for those that don’t know Latin, by the way), I have cried a lot. My tear ducts seem to be in perfect working order but hey, who am I to question a specialist!

I am hoping that this is it. Ten things in ten days must be pushing the boundaries of bad luck for one person surely? But to be on the safe side, if anyone has a spare rabbit’s foot, a four-leaf clover or a horseshoe, then please send them my way. I’m easy to find, just follow the trail of disasters and you will discover me locked in a padded room until the God’s of doom decide to pick on someone else!