Tyger Tyger, burning bright; In the forests of the night

Repair work and foster care

From studio to RSPCA

[...]                 A slim

line of high hills held out but all was water-colour,
the pure English medium, intended for sky, cloud,
and sea.
— George Szirtes, Death by Deluge


Scrawled on the back of an envelope containing an update about our adopted donkey, Shocks, in Sidmouth, U.K., my thoughts about the recent damage to our home-based studio:

The thing about the damage, really, was the waste. Things were there. Things had been kept. Things were operational. And then they were not. One big downpour so big our (clear) gutters and (small) outlets could not cope, and it overflowed, over the gutters, and through the roof, and down the walls, the internal walls. (We live in a row of joined single-storey terrace houses.) It rained indoors, and in a handful of moments, the water took all that was functional, and all that was memory, and made it waste. Pulp. Dead. (Like Ali Smith’s Winter.) Bin. What was the point of holding on to anything for it to be ruined?

In response to clearing up and making ourselves watertight (with larger outlets and downpipes befitting a house in the tropics, with spouts on rainheads and spreaders on the pipes that reset on the lid of the roof and veranda), we’ve also cleaned up a lot of what we did not need. Surplus stuff. Things for good use we’d squirrelled away, things of value that other people could have used. What was the point of it sitting in a box? Two Ikea bags and three plastic tubs worth, and a little more besides, have all gone to the nearest op-shop so that other people might sift through it and find what they are after or merely like. It seems better, lighter, now.

(In the middle of finding the floor, repairing and restoring, the chance to pull together a post and organise the digital world was let go, and for this reason a hello 2018, we’re ready, appears seventeen days in. The envelope has been opened, though the contents not yet read, and used to catch (and miss) a hairball (thank-you Lenni). This is the reality of not just the days of late, but all days, side by side with pets. This is working from home. In the background, the washing machine beeps complete (hurry up).)

It was brutal, the means to reach the end, but it happened, no rewind, and we have a workable space once more. Better still, we have ideas we wish to flesh out. Whilst it was not the summer holiday we’d longed for, sanding, puttying, patching, plastering, scraping, lugging, heaving, sifting, painting, scouring and soaping, staining, hammering, hauling, and dusting from early until late, we have done alright. Fairly well, out of the woods. Though it will be a little while until the patter of rain on the roof (is that outside or in?) is a pleasurable sound, this is a low hurdle to clear. We have a space back in which to work, a home in which to rest, and contented animals curled in near every corner. And within every archive box, wrapped in Twin Peaks tribute plastic, our belongings. Should we ever face the elements again, we’re as ready as we can be. With a full load of washing and nowhere to hang it. We are back where we started. No, that’s not quite true, you can’t go back to what was. We’re in a different, good, ready place. Familiar and dry. With (domestic) jobs waiting, and ideas to act out.


Soon we will also be ready to take in another little foster cat from the RSPCA. We have recently heard that the tiny Bengal, Tiger-Lily, who stayed with us for three-months last year, from September through until mid-December, has truly landed upon her little nimble paws. Thankfully, Tiger-Lily had just left our house before the disaster. As she struggled with the smallest of changes, we are grateful she didn’t have to experience the turmoil of an upturned safe nest. While Olive and Lenni enjoyed the new smells and ground (box city, furniture ramps) that came with the upheaval, and delighted in working together with us, watching us paint the floors, Lottie found it very unsettling. The change in her routine was stressful for her, so it would have been especially so for her Tiger shadow.

Looking after Tiger, seeing her slowly learn to groom herself, transforming from a matte-furred worried little thing into a striking, glossy-coated queen was a privilege. Through Lottie, she learned to trust us, and in turn, humans once more. She became less wary. Less jumpy. She became okay with our movement. Initially, she didn’t like when you walked about. Seated was fine, but as a looming, moving, lurching figure headed to the kitchen, that was too, too much. And so, during her stay with us, we learned to sing-song our slow advancement throughout the house. We sang to her in our happiest, highest notes. We sang en route to the kitchen, bathroom, just crossing the room, really.

If the studio water damage was an exercise in creating distance through letting go and seeing your place in the scheme of things, fostering too was not dissimilar. It afforded us the chance to see how we might appear to others and how we could modify our ways in order to communicate. We earned Tiger’s trust. And she gave it to us. She let Louise medicate her daily (with ointment in the ear, applied with a cotton bud, alternating from left to right each day), she let us pat her, and towards the end, you could lift her a little from the ground, creating a carpet hovercraft experience (complete with sound effects) when you needed to pop her to bed. We’d ‘zeezeezeezeezeezee’ as we skimmed the floor, shepherding her back to her room (our bathroom/laundry), her safe house for the night.

We tried to counterbalance her hard start to life by giving her a store of happy encounters, and now that our world is looking less chaotic, we’re ready to take on more. Space made, space filled, with temporary lodgers in need of a little TLC.

2018, skittering along, tails’ high once more.


The next RSPCA Foster Care information session at the Burwood East shelter is on Saturday the 20th of January, 2018.


“Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night;”
plucked from The Tyger, William Blake, 1794


Image credit: (detail of) Eugène Delacroix’s (1798–1863) Royal Tiger, 1829, Lithograph; second state of four