I can’t sleep in Mildred’s daughters freaky doll-infested room. I toss and turn, convinced the dolls are turning their freaky little heads as soon as I shut my eyes. I’ve been trying to ignore it, but I desperately need the loo so I gather my courage and venture out to find the bathroom. I open the bedroom door and step out onto a furry rug, except it’s not a furry rug, it’s a fat cat. Fat cat squeals and I shove my fist into my mouth to stop myself screaming out, as Mildred (the lady who runs this so-called B&B for those that haven’t been following) scares me more than the freaky dolls. Fat cat and I stare each other down, then he looks past me into our room and I know he’s planning to make a bee-line for Andy, who is cat-allergic. “Sod off you little git!” I hiss through gritted teeth, whilst waving my arm wildly. Finally fat cat slopes off, unfazed if not a bit bruised from taking my weight, and I’m able to return to my wee-mission. I can hear Mildred snoring loudly through the wall. Thankfully fat cat’s squeal didn’t wake her. I tiptoe past her door and open what I think is the bathroom door. But it’s not, it’s a cupboard full of stuff that comes tumbling out onto my face “Oh for **** sake!” I attempt to shove things back in but Mildred’s room goes quiet so I freeze … the snoring starts again. I exhale, and shove I-don’t-know-what back in at lightning speed and lean against the door. I feel like I’m in a National Lampoon film. I want to go home, I want my bed, I want a wee, I want my mum, and I want a cigarette.
I continue to the next door. It’s the bathroom. I walk in and am immediately hit by the unmistakable stench of cat shit. The bathroom is tiny. There is a toilet (facing the door) the sink is next to it, and in the corner is a shower cubicle. Then directly in front of the shower cubicle is a large litter tray, a litter tray big enough to house three cats, which is piled high with cat turds.
“Shiiiiiiit ” I retch into the toilet. When I’m over the initial shock of the smell I wee as fast as I can, whilst keeping one hand fixed firmly over my mouth and nose and I rush back to my room. As soon as I get back in, Andy wakes from a peaceful sleep and decides he needs a wee. Now I could prepare him for the carnage that awaits him outside of that door, but I don’t. I don’t think it would be fair to rob him of the experience, so instead I sit and listen to him retrace my footsteps … I even hear a “oh for ***** sake!” …. yea it was mean, but it was worth it. The dolls made me do it.
The next morning I wake early. I can hear Mildred moving about. Good – surely she will have moved the litter tray by now. I poke my head around the door. She must be in the kitchen. I grab my towel and head to the shower and recoil in horror, again. Not only is the little tray still there, it also contains two new fresh turds. So while there’s nothing more refreshing than showering in the scent of fresh cat-turds, I decide to make this the quickest shower in history, but of course it was never going to be that easy. I strip and stand looking at the shower. I don’t know how to get in it. There is a step, then there’s the litter tray (which is BIG) and placed directly in front of the shower door so I have to step over it all of it to get into the shower. I’d like to say I look as graceful as Ms Zeta-Jones weaving through lasers in Entrapment, but that would be a lie. It was a horrible palava and I dry heaved throughout the whole ordeal. When I go back to the bedroom Andy asks if she’s moved the litter tray. “Yea … it’s a really nice shower!” I just can’t help myself. He pads off.
Once we were en route to our next songwriting session I call Emily again and tell her about the litter tray, I also say I’d be happy to use my own money to fund accommodation elsewhere. “Ok leave it with me, go to your session and it will all be sorted later, I promise. I’ll call you after the session.”
Andy and I breathe a sign of relief as we head to our second day of songwriting with David Eriksen. David is such a lovely guy. He has a great studio and has worked with a spectrum of artists including Clay Aiken and Sheryl Crow. We write a great pop song – and while it isn’t necessarily me, it would be a great song for another artist. We have a few drinks with Eric after the session and make our way back in good spirits, which were to be short-lived, because when we arrive back at the poo-filled cat house, Mildred is waiting at the door for us … and she has a face like thunder.
“Er Hi Mildred … is everything OK?”
Mildred is mad. Her nostrils are flaring, her face is red and the full force of her anger is directed at us. Something has happened in our absence and I won’t lie … I’m afraid.
“YOU DON’T LIKE MY HOME??? YOU DON’T LIKE MY CATS??? IT IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU!??”
Mildred’s booming voice is becoming increasingly louder and Andy appears to have frozen open-mouthed on the spot. I suspect he’s going to be no help whatsoever as toe-curling situations like this usually send him underground. I grab the bull (Mildred) by the horns.
“OK now calm down and tell me what has happened??” I usher Mildred into her house. I sit her down in her chair and take a seat on the footstool beside her. Andy shuffles in and sits awkwardly on the other armchair. “Why would you think we don’t like your house?”
OK now to be fair we all know that due to the last 48 hours there is quite a bit of truth to what Mildred has just accused us of, but how does she know that? Oh wait … oh Emily you didn’t. I know exactly what is coming next …
“THE LONDON LADY!! SHE CALLED!! SHE SAID YOU DO NOT LIKE MY HOME BECAUSE OF MY MOGGIES AND MY LITTER TRAY!! WELL YOU’LL BE PLEASED TO KNOW I’VE MOVED THE LITTER TRAY AND MY MOGGIES ARE NOW IN THE GARDEN, AND THEY ARE VERY, VERY COLD!!”
I want the earth to swallow me. Rather than finding us somewhere else to stay Emily has called Mildred and just told her to clean away the litter tray. I look at Mildred’s face, she’s not angry at all, she’s just really hurt. I look around at her little home … at her trinkets, at the photograph of her husband, her children, and I feel ashamed. Mildred is twisting her hanky around her fingers, her eyes are glistening and the tall formidable woman we met just a couple of days ago now appears to be much smaller. I take her hand and say “Mildred, we do like your house, and we do like your cats … very much so. I think there has been a mistake. You see, I told the London lady that we may need to find lodging elsewhere simply because Andy is so allergic to cats!” and as if on cue Andy let’s out an almighty sneeze that makes us all jump … I turn back to Mildred “It has nothing to do with your lovely home, you’ve been a fantastic host Mildred, truly.”
Mildred is dabbing her eyes “Really?? you both like it here?” Her voice is small and she smiles.
“Yes of course, very much so Mildred” Andy chimes in, mid nose-blow.
I hesitate before I continue because I know the allergy tablets aren’t having any affect on Andy whatsoever but I know it’s the only thing we can do to soothe the upset we’ve caused …. “but Andy is fine now as he has some allergy tablets so if it’s ok with you we’d love to stay another night or two, if you don’t mind of course?”
Mildred clasps her hand to her bosom “Oh yes! please do, we would love to have you wouldn’t we pussycats?” she calls out to the three shivering cats who are standing motionless outside, staring directly at Andy through the patio glass window. With that she pats my hand and says “You let the moggies in and I’ll make us some warm milk yes?”
“Oh yes please, that would be lovely.”
As Mildred trots off into her little kitchen I open the back door and the three shell-shocked cats stagger into the room. Within a matter of seconds they have arranged themselves snugly around Andy’s form; one on his lap, one wrapped around his feet and the other perched on the back of the armchair attempting to bury it’s face into Andy’s big mop of hair. I look at Andy and feel awful: his eyes are red, his nose is running, but he just smiles. “Ah it’s ok” he says “… it was the right call.”
We spend the rest of the evening holed up in Mildred’s cosy little living room. She tells us about her children, who are all grown and living in various places around the country. Her youngest is still away at university and seldom comes home, but Mildred keeps her room the same regardless. She misses her husband – and chats away to his photograph that sits on the table beside her. She knits for her grandchildren, but since she never actually sees them the vast mountain of knitted goods just keeps growing in the basket beside her. “Oh my kids are just busy, I know … but I have my pussycats, and my guests!” She beams, patting my hand.
We stay with Mildred for another two nights before heading back to the UK where I have a session lined up with a producer I’m just going to call Bushy … it’s also probably time I ‘fessed up to another one of my poisons that had quite an impact on me and my music, in more ways that one.
Cat photograph by Jon Pickup