Cat out of the bag as decorators move in

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 September, 1997, 12:00am

So the rubbish collector was boycotting my black bags, the cat was in an advanced stage of trauma, and the past six years of my life were in an unguarded pile of cardboard boxes, labelled 'miscellaneous', in the middle of the road.

There was a point when, in the miserable midst of moving apartments, I just wanted to get a cab to the airport, and a ticket to a country that housed none of my belongings. If the passport had not been somewhere under 'miscellaneous' I could be in Nepal now, and all that carefully accumulated 'stuff' I seem to need to surround myself with could be heading for landfills.

Everything was smooth, so smooth, until the moving company arrived, and I put the two cats in the bathroom. But someone opened the door and one - Basil - sped out, into the newly empty bedroom, panicked at the unfamiliar, and flung herself towards the open window. I caught her and we were both trembling. After going into the agent's office to speed the return of the deposit, I returned to the flat, now efficiently unfurnished, to pick up two cats.

Only one was there. My penance was to walk up and down 17 storeys calling out 'Chilli, Chilli', wondering how she had escaped, what I was going to do about the moving van arriving at my new home in two hours and why I hadn't called her something a little less, well, silly.

Half an hour later I was back in the empty flat resorting to the dubious comforts of nicotine. Between sad puffs, I was miserably re-telling myself the Vacated Building Sites Myth of Discovery Bay (which tells of dogs left by construction site guards, now wild and rather livid at the attempts by Ag and Fish to catch them, which will tear a cat apart like a Christmas cracker) when out popped a triumphant head from the kitchen unit and disappeared again down a hole she had clearly prepared earlier. Just at that point the contractors moved in with their paint pots ready to daub a coat of barley white over the bicycle scrape marks: anywhere else but Hong Kong it would take days to get a decorator, these boys were there within minutes of my scheduled departure.

I got the Hong Kong equivalent of 'don't worry love, we'll mend this later' as they enthusiastically ripped the bottom out of the unit to find quivering cat in space big enough for quivering mouse.

Chilli was rather pleased with herself after that, and, once the cat basket convoy had arrived, adapted well to the new place. Basil, on the other hand, became psychotic. She sat in a corner looking at the wall for hours, not moving except for a little inner shake now and then to remind me that she was traumatised rather than stuffed.

As if I weren't feeling guilty enough, my rubbish bags were returned to my front door, and a tiny old man appeared from behind them, like a cross leprechaun, showing me his weak arms and complaining about my cruelty to pensioners. More guilt, though assuaged this time by a few suitably red-tinted notes and a promise to put out the bags two at a time.

So now, with piles of debris slowly eroding within my domestic inner sanctum, it is time to settle into the new neighbourhood. OK, there are a few wrinkles.

If a television can be a wrinkle, mine is. I had always just imagined TV just being there, to be switched on or not as an expression of moral or aesthetic choice. But there is no signal, and even an expensive aerial might be blocked by another building being busily added to the Mid-Levels skyline as I type.

And the main doorbell from the street is less a doorbell than a button to nowhere. When friends have to phone in from the property agent across the road, it is an amusing little inconvenience but, when it comes to letting air-conditioning fitters in (two weekends so far and the new air-conditioner is still a table), it becomes a saga.

But, once I've sorted out the supply cut-off notices from both water and electricity, who is doing the heavy breathing down the phone at three in the morning, and found my driving licence from the box labelled 'kitchen', I think I may begin to like it here.

Kevin Kwong is on holiday