When I go downstairs to distribute Rice Krispies and Weetabix, the bloodied torso of a thrush is laid across the bottom stair. The hall floor is carpeted with a layer of soft, downy feathers. A trail of bigger, spiny, speckled ones - each one with a fatty knob where it was ripped from the flesh - leads to the head, beak gaping with dark, congealed blood.
The kids sit moodily on the stairs in their pyjamas, twin fangs of snot hanging from their noses, while I fetch dustpan, brush, Dettox, hoover. The kitten - nine months old, leggy, nonchalant, delighted - sits on the stair above, licking her lips.
"We mustn't be angry with her," says Jacob, who watches Animal Hospital every Thursday and Trials of Life on Sundays and is going to run an animal sanctuary when he grows up. "It's just in her nature." So we all congratulate the kitten and the corpse is wrapped in newspaper and placed in the dustbin.
Consuela, our cleaner, arrives at 10.30, about an hour late, picks up two pints of milk off the doorstep and bursts into tears. "My son," she sobs. "He bad to my nice daughter-in-law ... I don't know what do."
Consuela is a middle-aged Colombian - a sunny, gentle, hard-working person who barely speaks English. She's come every Friday morning for the past 18 months and I would love to know her better but, as it is, we can barely communicate.
"They have baby," she explains, allowing an intriguing glimpse into her life - I'd no idea she was a grandmother. "Little girl. Rosa."
"Oh Consuela, I'm sorry." I touch her arms in their stiff brown mac; shyly attempt a hug. She smells of London air and cigarettes and cleaning fluids.
She tells me she's had to change her locks to keep her son out. "I love him, but very bad person - cannot enter my house," she sniffs, hanging her coat where she always insists upon putting it, on a bucket hook at the top of our dark cellar steps. "He very wild man ... I don't know ... cannot change."
I make her some coffee. "Look, you don't have to work if you're feeling bad," I tell her. "If you feel so upset and want to go home and" - I have to make this very clear - "I'll pay you anyway."
But she crinkles her nose in scorn, "No, no, I work - is good in your house. I forget." She puts on PVC slippers, piles dishes into the sink ("Your Colombian's been chipping the vases again," Jonathan will mutter later) and proceeds to re-hoover the scene of the kitten's carnage.
An hour later, I walk up to the Tube. A man in rags stands on Clapham Common near Holy Trinity Church shouting at the empty concrete paddling pool. "Look what you've done!" he bellows. "Look at you now! Happy, are you?" Rubbish carousels soundlessly in the wind.
The Northern Line's empty, pallid, hot. Stale air, stale upholstery, an odour of burnt rubber and beer. The elderly woman next to me wears black nylon gloves whose fingertips are too long for her and a lime green chiffon headscarf and make-up stippled like poster paint. Above her head, there's a flesh-pink advert about personal itching and how to stop it fast.
Further along, two blonde nurses read Hello! Opposite, there's a blue, pierced man - with several studs through the gristle of his nose. His shaven scalp is bruised with so many veins that seem to flow and pool in his bright blue eyes. Tattoos and denim - nervous, ceaseless fingers.
At Oval he stands and, just before the doors hiss open, says, "'Scuse me, are you a nurse?" to one of the blondes.
When she nods, he asks her a question about some drug whose name I don't catch. She mumbles something and, satisfied, he gets off the train. Both nurses return to Hello! as if nothing had happened.
Arriving too early for my appointment, I sit in a dark-green French cafe with newspapers on wooden sticks so unwieldy you can't read them unless you move everything - salt, pepper, crisp sachets of sugar - off the table.
Just along from me, a curly-haired man in a rollneck sweater is talking to a skinny fuchsia-lipped girl. Her chin-on-hand gaze is conscientious but she's thinking about something else. I decide they're not lovers - he's the boss and he quite fancies her but he fancies himself more. "Jeremy and myself ... need to sit down and make a conscious decision ... the company ... will affect the next strata, ie you and Sue ... I will not have that ..."
A mobile phone crouches obediently next to his cappuccino and, now and then, he shoots furtive glances into the mirror above the padded green banquette. I decide he is not unlike our kitten, though lacking her appealing, leggy nonchalance.
"Have you finished with that?" asks a bearded man, indicating the paper I gave up on long ago. I relinquish it gladly.
An hour and a half later, I emerge from Clapham Common underground and spot Consuela going the other way, on the opposite side of the road. I begin to wave, but she's already passed me. She clutches a battered plastic carrier bag and her mac is belted and her face shut, her jaw clenched tight against the black October wind.Reuse content