I am sitting here quivering like an arrow that has just struck home, and I can only hope that my husband is proud of me.
I made my way up to the barn pretty early this morning, to tackle some preparative work for Andreas (the Duracell battery builder) before he was due to pootle in on his scooter at eight o’clock. He needed some old rendering work on a wall roughed up before he could tile it, so I was chipping away at it with a small pick at around seven.
Because I was out so early in my eagerness to ready the thing for him, I didn’t actually manage to grab my habitual first mug of coffee before my departure, so I was very ready for some caffeine by around half-ten as Andreas was pausing to devour his bocadillo.
As I came back down the drive towards the house, I could hear mewing from Josh, the all-white Persian cat with no front claws that came into the flock at the beginning of last year. This is nothing new – all three cats whinge constantly for food, no matter the time of day or the elapsed period since their last snack. So I ignored him.
Andreas finished work at half-past one today, because he has a wedding to attend this evening, so I packed up concurrently to give myself some time to tackle the mundane everyday household necessities before John arrives tomorrow.
Alarm bells rang when I heard that Josh was still mewing; more so when I recognised a different note in the sounds – more tired and scared than “feed me now! (again)”.
So I toured the house calling for him, unable to pinpoint the source of his cries, until I went to the front terrace and looked back.
Two little white ears were poking up between a couple of the large solar panels on the roof. This part of the roof is steep – it was designed with a 45º pitch in order to maximise the efficiency of the eight solar panels up there that supply all our yearly hot water and the underfloor heating in winter.
He was obviously stuck somehow, and had been so, by a quick reckoning, for well in excess of three hours, with the relentless sun beating down on him and with no shade.
I ran from the front of the house through the garden area at the side and then up the drive. I clambered around the fencing and onto the bank behind the house, and from there onto the back roof. This roof is of much gentler incline, and I scrambled to the ridge without problem.
Peering over, I could see Josh lying low down between two panels and panting madly. I called him and he tried to make his way up to me, but his absence of claws rendered it impossible on the precipitous slope and he slid back . I couldn’t see any way of climbing onto the front roof myself – the gap between the panels would be too small for me to feel comfortable or to get a purchase, and the degree of inclination also felt much less than safe.
I scrambled back down the rear roof and onto the bank, then back to ground level to search out the long ladders.
These were, of course, nowhere to be found. It’s a bit like a living nightmare – running around looking urgently in all the usual places for something essential and remaining empty-handed. Meanwhile, the panic mounts – I am imagining Josh being slow-roasted on the roof, parched, hallucinatory.
Having exhausted all avenues of possibility at the house, I ran like something demented back up to the barn, having (amazingly) remembered to grab the keys on my way. It took some five minutes to locate the ladders I needed, and I grabbed them and half-jogged, half-walked back to the house with them. Double ladders, some three metres long, are not the easiest of things to carry in haste.
I threw them up against the front of the house alongside the newly added open air conservatory there, extended them to around five metres and ascended.
From the top, I could see Josh was about two metres to my left, over the conservatory, the framework of which would not be sufficiently strong to take my weight. It seemed as though I was never going to be able to get any closer to him. I called him again from this new point, and he peered round at me and struggled, but had wedged himself between the panels such that he couldn’t turn. I think also that without claws he was feeling too vulnerable on the steep surface even to attempt to move.
My options were limited to one, really. I needed to scrambled up from the ladder onto the edge of the roof and grab the bottom rail of the solar panels, about a metre above me, and crawl sideways with my knees in the grooves between rows of tiles, proceeding hand-over-hand along the solar panel edge, clinging on for dear life.
My knees were sending plenty of unhappy signals to my brain regarding their pain as they were scrunched into the grooves, and my hands were feeling as though I was hanging on to knife blades. It took five sidesteps to reach Josh, and I didn’t dare look down. Despite my flippancy when I described breaking into my own house during the power cut after the San Marcos fiesta (Falling Rain) I am pretty afraid of heights and I suffer badly from the strangulated gut syndrome when faced with them, especially if I am at the top of them with a whole lot of nothing below except the ground some distance off.
Anyway, having reached Josh I then had to face the problem of prising him away from his temporary haven, to which he was attached like a Scotsman to a five pound note, while still managing to hold on myself. So, rearranging my hold so that I felt I had the best grip with my right (and strongest) hand, I released my left-hand grip, snaked out and grabbed Josh by the scruff of his neck, and hoisted him rapidly in an arc and onto my right shoulder.
He scrabbled frantically but managed to curl himself around my neck to obtain the best purchase, by this time crying somewhat louder than before directly into my left ear.
So far, so … far. The next stage of the rescue involved me retracing my five-stage crablike knee steps back to the ladder, again holding on to and moving hand-over-hand along the base of the solar panels, but this time with six kilos of very frightened cat around my neck.
Then came the hard part.
As any child, adult or animal will vouch, it is always easier getting up than down. So I’m clinging to the panels and easing myself backwards to locate the rungs of the ladder with my right foot. All well and good, except that at this point the ladder rocked a little. I needed to reach a lower rung. So I eased myself down a little further, with my hands and my left knee screaming at me, until I felt the necessary rung and noted, to my immense relief, that it felt steady.
The only good thing at this stage was that Josh had been rendered mute with fear, so my eardrum was saved.
At this point, the shaking kicked in. A bit of a failure as a natural response, you’d think it would wait until I reached solid ground, as opposed to raising its head while I was still clinging tenuously to both ladder top and cat. Nonetheless, I managed the slow descent in one piece.
Josh, the ungrateful little toad, decided to part company with me on the second rung from the ground. But I snatched him up again, to bring him inside so that I could check him over.
Fearful of him having overheated, I dumped him unceremoniously into a bowl of cool water, which, rather unsurprisingly, did not go down well. I then offered him water to drink, but he declined, so I was obliged to make him up some milk with added sugar and salt to make sure he was not dehydrated.
He is now curled up in the shade under a table in the conservatory, and I have finally stopped shaking.
Perhaps I need to ask John to requisition an old decommissioned turntable ladder pump from the Brigade to bring here, just for me?