The Thing Is with Steve Canavan - January 30, 2014

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale

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I gained a new found respect for Florence Nightingale this week.

Florence, to remind those readers not around at the time of the Crimean war, became a national hero in the 1850s for selflessly tending to wounded soldiers (bizarrely, she was also a whizz at mathematics and is credited with developing the pie chart – now there’s a fact to impress your children with).

She was said to be a kind and caring nurse whose priority was making sure her patients were in comfort and had everything they needed.

But I daresay even Saint Flo might have uttered the odd expletive or two had she been in my house at the weekend.

Mrs Canavan had a funny turn on Sunday you see and complained of feeling sick.

This was a bit annoying because I had my day planned out – cheese, ham and pickle toastie at Greasy Bob’s cafe down the road (£2.75, and there’s at least three dog hair’s thrown in) and then the footie on TV at 1pm.

Initially I thought Mrs C was exaggerating. She often does that. For instance she complains I am lazy and she does everything around the house but this isn’t true – she only has to do the cooking, washing, dusting, hoovering, cleaning, polishing and ironing. I do the rest.

It was only when I heard a frail voice shout from the bedroom ‘can you get me a bucket?’ that I realised things were serious.

They were. She spent the next three hours being violently sick.

Now call me a kill-joy but I’ve never much liked vomit, yet Mrs Canavan, and women in general I find, like you to be there when they do it. ‘Can you hold my hair back?’ she asked between heaves.

The answer I wanted to give was ‘not a chance – you’re being sick and I’m coming nowhere near you’, but of course I had to do as she said.

And so it was that I found myself, last Sunday, watching someone eject a horrific-smelling green liquid from their mouth into a bucket that we normally use to keep the recycling in.

At first, in the early stages of the illness, I was fairly sympathetic. I even put the sound on mute as I watched Chelsea v Stoke, calling upstairs every so often ‘are you OK sweetheart?’

Most times she answered ‘not really, can you come and sit with me for a while?’ But Chelsea had just gone one-up and I’d opened a packet of Jaffa Cakes to go with my freshly made coffee so, as I tried later to explain to her, there was no way I could leave my seat on the couch and check how she was.

She remained in bed for the rest of the day and in my defence, when the footie had finished, I mopped her brow with a damp cloth, emptied the recycling bucket of vomit on several occasions, and even went to Sainsbury’s to buy lemonade. This was on the advice of my mother, who I often think missed her true calling as a top doctor.

“Being sick is she?” said my mum on the phone. “What she needs is boiled lemonade. It calms your stomach. She’ll be right as rain after 10 minutes. It’s never failed.”

On this occasion it did. Quite spectacularly. Mrs C took a mouthful, went an odd colour, then once again emptied the contents of her stomach into the bucket.

As the day wore on I’m ashamed to say I got less and less patient with the invalid, as demonstrated by the moment, about 7pm, when she shouted from the bedroom that she’d quite like a fresh glass of water. I uttered an expletive, though in my defence All Star Celebrity Family Fortunes had just started.

Which is why I salute Florence and the thousands of others who look after someone else. You need the patience of a saint to do it. I’m definitely not a saint.

Yes, another story about cats, I know, but please bear with me...

The following comes with a warning: if you’re a cat lover, or you work for the RSPCA, or you’re in the middle of your tea, don’t read on.

It involves someone eating a cat. A living cat.

Thankfully this didn’t happen recently. Indeed it took place more than 200 years ago, before society realised cats weren’t supposed to be a light snack but should instead be kept as household pets, where they could destroy furniture by incessantly scratching it or perch in litter trays but for reasons unknown hang their bottoms slightly over the edge so their faeces lands on the kitchen floor instead.

But back to the nutter who ate the cat.

I learned about it courtesy of a website called History Weird, which, as the title suggests, is full of fascinatingly odd events from years gone by.

The cat incident happened in 1777, when a fella in Yorkshire (had to be Yorkshire didn’t it?) claimed to know someone who would do the deed. A neighbour disputed this and the two had a five-guinea wager.

The challenge took place at the summer fair in Beverley when the Yorkshire man arrived with a local shepherd, who, according to press reports, was “a raw-boned fellow, about 40”.

He was given a black Tomcat, which had been “chosen for being the largest in the neighbourhood” and without so much as a ‘my that’s a big cat’, began gobbling away.

Now quite how you eat a live cat I’m not sure. I once tried to put flea drops on my cat Percy and he clawed me so hard I required 148 stitches to my upper arm and was in hospital on a drip for five days.

God knows what would have happened had I tried to eat him. I’d probably be in an induced coma.

The report from the time read: “He took hold of its four legs with one hand, and closing its mouth with the other, he killed him by biting his head to pieces. And in less than a quarter of an hour devoured every part of the cat.

“The man who laid the wager gave the performer two guineas for doing it, and the shepherd appeared perfectly satisfied with the reward… (He) walked about the fair the whole afternoon and seemed neither sick nor sorry.”

Now there’s a bedtime story for the kids...