Living Inside a Tom & Jerry Cartoon

Grandad, did you really have a dormouse as a flat mate when you lived in Italy?”

“You’ve been talking to your grandmother!”

What was his name?”

“We never found out what sex it was so we called him ’ghiro’ which is the Italian for dormouse. The two cats had names. Alice and Julius Caesar.”

Do you think it was wise to introduce a dormouse to a house with two cats?”

“You have to realize that l was not in charge. I was the lodger in many ways. When l got to Milan, l needed digs and l could not afford the rent for a place of mine own. My language tutor introduced me to some of the radical chic of Milan and they thought l would be a useful curiosity. Their friends would be impressed. There was little movement of people in those early days of the Common Market.”

Radical chic, grandad. Explanation please but the short version.”

“Radical chic means simply rich kids playing at being bohemian, dressing badly, eating badly and looking like they have no money when in fact their backgrounds are minted. Nicoletta and Franco were the children of two different famous journalists that married young and their parents thought it would be nice if they did not live with them. So Nicoletta’s parents moved out and left Nicoletta’s brother and the two cats with the young marrieds. Their friend, Alberto lived there weekdays as he was a student studying to become a vet. The house was a scene of parties. It became a tip really. Radical chic didn’t believe in tidying and cleanliness. There were occasional illegal substances etcetera. The parents had to employ their cleaner to come and make the place look less like a squat. ”

Surely, grandad the vet student would know that a dormouse should not live in the city.”

“He was like me, a lodger. Neither of us was consulted.”

So how did you get the dormouse?”

“Well, the two young marrieds had a weekend retreat in the mountains above Lake Lugano which the parents let them use for their own pleasure and most weekends they would go up there to get away from the city. And it was there that Franco or Nicoletta or both of them came upon an orphan dormouse and felt they ought to do something for it.”

Like bringing it to the city? Really, grandad?”

“I wasn’t there. I would have said something as would have the vet student.”

And the cats?”

“I would have thought that they would have sounded a warning note. The problem with the radical chic is that they think everyone and everything should be able to get on. You know, make love not war. They were very young and idealistic and felt they could not abandon the tiny creature. And autumn was coming.”

So, granddad, the dormouse came to the centre of Milan?”

“Sixth floor flat opposite the central station. In fairness, it had a patio up there.”

Did he have a cage then?”

‘The radical chic don’t do the mundane and in the centre of Milan opposite the station there were no pet supply shops. So they shrugged their shoulders and put him in the vestibule.”

In the dark, among the coats?”

“The vestibule was between the hall and the living room and had glass frosted doors so it was not dark.”

Odd place, granddad.”

“Not really as Alberto, our vet had a camp bed in there and he dossed down there Monday to Friday.”

So they thought the dormouse would be all right with a vet student?”

“Alberto looked after him. The dormouse lived in the pocket of an old coat that hung in the vestibule. Alberto would feed him grapes and things.”

And the cats, grandad?”

“At first, everything was okay. After all, the vestibule had doors and they were closed after Alberto went off to the university. We took turns to take grapes into the dormouse. People at work didn’t believe me when l told them we had a dormouse. They assumed l’d mistranslated some other domestic animal name. I had to take a picture of him to prove l was not mad.”

Well, l’m not surprised, grandad. I mean. Why would anyone have a dormouse in the middle of Milan. Didn’t they have the equivalent of the RSPCA in Milan?”

“I was young and in a foreign country. Anyway, we even had dormouse evenings. Friends would come to see him or her. They didn’t believe us when we said we had a dormouse. Ghiro put on weight. Nicoletta insisted no one smoke in the vestibule.”

Decent of her.”

“She did care for him in her own way.”

So how long did this go on, grandad?”

“Well the cats found out that actually the doors to the vestibule were far from secure. A cat could lean on one of the doors and it would open.”

Oh my god!”

“Life soon became like a Tom and Jerry cartoon and the door in dormouse became redundant so to speak.”

Did you call him Jerry then? At least he would have had a name?”

“We should have, I suppose. We felt more than a UN peace-keeping army. The cats always gave the game away. If you watched the cats, then you knew where ghiro was.”

So what did you do to protect Jerry. I shall call him that, grandad.”

‘Both Franco and Nicoletta realized that ghiro needed protection. The cats were not allowed in their bedroom so they decided that he should live with him there.”

So did they buy a cage for him?”

“They didn’t need to. They had real hessian as wallpaper and an old mandolin hung on the wall. It was stringless and ghiro made it into his home. We would go in there and knock on the mandolin. A little whiskery face would appear at the opening and we would offer him a grape and he would disappear back into the instrument.”

Did you not think Jerry should be returned to the wild?”

“There was some discussion, but he’d been brought into the city in early autumn and they felt he would not survive on his own.”

Don’t dormice hibernate? He couldn’t have got any sleep in a house with two cats?”

“Look, we all tried to protect him as best as we could. Even the cleaning lady, a short largish lady from the south called Rosa did her best. She would keep an eye on the cats as she cleaned. If they came near the vestibule or the couple’s room she would smack them with a brush. Even your grandmother and Rosa rescued ghiro one day.”

Granny said that one morning she went into the family bathroom to put some dirty linen in the laundry basket, she heard an animal sneeze and she found it in the toilet bowl. She said she called Rosa and they both feared it was a sewer rat but they both realized it was ghiro. Rosa got a ladle and fished him out and your grandmother dried him with a hair dryer.”

“Yes that’s true.”

Poor creature.”

“Your grandmother and I tried our best to keep him alive.”

Did you love him?”

“Love is difficult. Your grandmother likes to cuddle animals but ghiro was scared of everyone by then, but we were impressed by him. He seemed like a survivor. He nearly made it to the spring when we were going to return him to the mountains.”

The next chapter doesn’t sound hopeful, grandad?”

“No. Your grandmother and l couldn’t be there all the time and one weekend we went away and we assumed the others would be around but they weren’t. We returned home to a crime scene.”

Did you give him a decent burial?”

“Too much concrete, brick and asphalt in the city centre.”

So you put him out with the rubbish?”

“He would have been a health hazard. So yes.”

Not your finest hour, grandad?”

“I did my best with the hand l was dealt. The radical chic often reject common sense as being too bourgeois.”

Whatever, grandad!”


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