As I start to re-establish the old routines after my recent time out, we have returned from yet another work trip north. We make the journey to Aberdeen each month, sometimes together, sometimes apart and those 350 miles feel a long way from home. For me, our Aberdeen weeks feel a huge compromise in the Yorkshire life we have chosen, although it is always good to catch up with friends and colleagues. D, as ever, takes a more pragmatic view and I know really that he is right – it is our jobs with Aberdeen organisations that enable us to have this life at all. If I did not make that journey each month, I would not have the benefit of working from home the rest of the time and D would undoubtedly have to commute further than his current 20 minute drive. My head knows this, but my heart is sad at having to travel away from our cats, our garden and the home that has come to mean so much to both of us.
At least if we go together, the journey up feels more like an adventure. We chat in the car, sing along to old and much-loved tunes and I work on my latest crochet project until I need to take my turn at the wheel. The journey home is more tiring and less like a party – we travel on a Friday after a full day at work, reaching home late into the night and sometime even the early hours of Saturday. We wonder as we reach the village what has changed over the week – is the house OK, have our plants flourished, will the cats have gained or lost weight?
The garden usually survives without us. We really need to devise an irrigation system for the summer months – something I am sure D will turn his mind to in time for next year. The cats, too, manage seemingly quite happy to stay indoors and submit to the care of our lovely pet sitter. She lives in the village and strolls round twice a day to feed them and talk to them. She says they are always very chilled while we are away, not asking to go out, chatting to her about their day (although I have my doubts about this – I think the “chat” is more likely to mean “where have you been, we are starving!”) However, there is no doubt that, when we return, they are glad to see us. As we push open the door, bringing in only the basics from the car, we usually see two grey and white ghostly figures appearing to greet us in the darkness. Bleary-eyed, as they had already settled for the night, one on the landing at the top of the stairs, the other often from the living room. Once they have fully woken and they have said hello, they have two things on their minds. Firstly, they need to assure us in no uncertain terms that the pet sitter hasn’t fed them all week so could they have a snack now please, and then they want to go outside. We oblige them with the snack, in the vain hope that they may allow us to sleep in the next morning, but they have to wait to go out.
Eventually, we get to bed and they come with us for a much-needed cuddle. We never sleep well on our first night back. The Princess abandons her regal demeanour in her enthusiasm to welcome us home, settling either on my chest or on my pillow, purring loudly and head-butting my nose every so often. “I’ve really, really missed you and I love you very much”, she tells me fervently – hourly through the night. When the weather turns a little colder, she demands to get under the covers between us so that she can reassure herself throughout the night that we are still there.
The Calamity Cat snuggles in next to me, firmly sitting on my arm so that she can groom me and then, as she sleep, she wriggles ever closer, slowly pushing me further across the bed so that she can have more space. Eventually, though, she will disappear and we are sometimes woken by her soulful cry at the bottom of the stairs as she calls for us, unsure of where we are and fearful that we have left her once more. We go downstairs, pick her up and bring her to bed with us, just for the cycle to start again. She may do this for several nights when we first come back until she is reassured that we aren’t disappearing again – at least until the next time.
The weekend is always a process of readjustment for us all – a chance for the four of us to explore the garden and check on its progress in our absence (the cats are always keen to make sure it hasn’t been taken over while they have been inside). Indoors, I feel the need to potter, re-establishing my connection to the house and making it ours again, so that we can fall back into our usual routines until the next time we need to go away. And, while I know leaving next month will be a wrench all over again, I am grateful for the opportunity to appreciate our home and surroundings afresh when we return.