The House of the Fat Cat

Sunday morning and I am 9275 kms away from where I was supposed to be. For this I acknowledge the assistance of Covid 19 & the Indian government without whom none of this would have been possible. On the day I collected my Visa and was booking my flight for Goa the Indian government barred all new entry into the country for foreigners – though they managed to take my £100+ fee first.

Keen to be out of England I started searching for other locations to park myself for a month or two, each time I thought I had found somewhere that looked perfect then the government of that country would close down borders. It was becoming clear that if I didn’t leave the UK quickly I wouldn’t be getting out for quite a while, so I booked a flight to the Canary Islands, thinking this far flung corner, technically still part of Europe but no more than a hundred or so miles off the coast of Western Africa would make a better home to sit out Coronavirus. 

I find an old colonial house in the centre of the Capital Santa Cruz where I book a room. The property is owned by a German chap who’s an Actor, he sports a grey goatee and has the air of the traveller about him, so I’m comfortable with that. He rents rooms in the rambling old building he bought eight years ago and has thankfully done little in the way of modernisation. The entrance is through two heavy front doors, a large brass knocker gains you access, Lucia the partner of the Boss answers the door, she is the one who effectively runs the place. She shows me round & explains how everything works. As she is doing so the real boss of the house comes to introduce himself. Cesare, the Cat, a beast of truly epic proportions. 


He sits and looks me up and down, then stares intently at me for a while flicking his tail. Once his curiosity is satiated he picks up his ample frame and waddles off imperiously. Lucia says she is very worried about him getting onto the street, so I am given the clearest of instructions on how to get in and out of the building without letting Cesare out.

I wonder how Cesare got to be so big, if he has been overfed & if being cooped up all day in the house has done this to him, will I go the same way? 

On the ground floor there’s an atrium sitting room open to the sky, a bunch of sofas and a tiled floor, on the two upstairs floors bedrooms off a central hall & roof terraces on each with panoramic views over the City, sea & hills behind. All the walls of the house could be in a World of Interiors magazine, pastel paint that peels in a shabby chic hippy kind of way.

By Saturday the Spanish government had imposed a lockdown & the atrium had become a gathering point for the other six guests staying in the property. We settle in for a rather jolly evening, a young couple from Italy, a Czech couple of the same age & then a German guy & his partner from Venezuela who are more my age. We share wine & beer & food, we tell stories to each other, where we come from and why we are here, where we hope to go next. All this happens not in spite of the virus but in a way because of it, there’s the feeling that we are all metaphorically and in a literal sense in the same place, not divided by our countries of origin or languages or ages, but instead united by something more important and more fundamental. And there we stay in each others company into the wee hours until all that remains are empty bottles and a few crumbs on plates.

Sunday morning & I need to buy in some food, the news is of upgraded lockdown state, with instructions issued that people should only be leaving their homes to buy food or to go to a pharmacy or bank. I step out on to the pavements after eleven a.m. despite being in a City of more than 200,000 it’s a ghost town. The occasional pedestrian walking a dog, or a car passing every once in a while, but these are the only signs of life. All the shops are closed, I walk up and down one street after another looking for an open store. In one road sheets of newspaper are whipped along the pavement like tumbleweed, its the eeriest of feelings. Eventually I find a little corner shop, the shelves are fairly empty, but I manage to find enough in the way of supplies to fill my backpack. My shopping for essentials includes a bottle of wine & some beer, plus two packs of tobacco, then coffee. After these staples I add canned goods, pasta and stuff I can eat. 

As I head back to my rooms I see a small crowd of people outside what I assume is a shopfront. I go to check it out, there may be something useful for my larder, above the doorway the sign Pompas Funebres – it’s a funeral parlour. I turn round and head the other way. 

On my way back the City continues to be empty of people, there’s no sound of traffic, or of people, how strange it feels, and then I realise that there is sound after all, birds are singing. Maybe they were always there, but now with the traffic of people silenced out have come the birds and all of them are singing. The birdsong is only silenced by a police car passing with a loud speaker blaring instructions to invisible residents. I don’t speak Spanish, but then I don’t need to. I know what they are saying.

By late afternoon the atrium is busy again with guests, the Czech couple had tried to leave during the day, but got to the airport to find that their flight was cancelled, the Italian boy sits on the sofa somewhat morose, he’s been looking for work for a while without success, today he finally decided to give up. He consoles himself with a glass of gin. The House Meister speaks to us all and tells us that we should avoid trying to travel anywhere, if we are in the streets it’s quite possible we will be stopped by the Cops & asked why we are not indoors, that we should have a good reason to give them, he recommends we say we are going to the bank or to the food store. Afterwards there’s a rather sombre atmosphere, the reality of lockdown is hitting home.

Then the sound of applause & cheering erupts from outside the house, we head out into the street through the big wooden front doors, look up and down the road as people stand on their balconies clapping and cheering. This act of solidarity lightens the mood like sunshine after clouds and we return to the atrium, that evening we raise our glasses to being locked down in The House of the Fat Cat. I drink rather pleasant Spanish red wine whilst musing on the inevitability that I and my fellow housemates are all going to get to know Cesare rather well.  

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