Like the First and the Second Concubines in a Chinese palace, the cat and I maintain a cool and uneasy respect for one another

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Harriet, our dignified and conscientiously gentle tabby, is sick. For four days she hasn't eaten, nor moved from our bed except to sip from the bath - when someone's in it. "She likes a nice hot drink which tastes of us," explains Jacob, six, with comforting logic.

Harriet's status in our house is unshakable. Jonathan has had her longer than he's had me. Like the First and the Second Concubines in a Chinese palace, she and I maintain a cool and uneasy respect for one another. There she is - tolerant, middle-aged, supportive, but quietly certain of her supremacy.

The vet can't say what's wrong, apart from a very high temperature, but he shows me The Smart Way to administer pills. One person holds her shoulders firmly, the other clamps open her jaw, drops the pill to the back of her throat, then pokes a finger down and knocks it past the point of no return.

"Trouble is," confides the vet, "my own cats don't know I'm a vet - they think I'm just a silly man with a white coat so they won't let me do it to them."

But the First Concubine is compliant. It is a measure of her good character that she purrs not only as the pink pill is rammed past her epiglottis, but also when the thermometer goes in. She's that sort of a cat.

"Try tempting her with some fresh fish," the vet advises, so later that day the house reeks of simmering cod.

Harriet stays firmly on the bed.

"Will she die?" asks Jacob, more in interest than fear. The ultimate death of our pets is an oft-discussed subject - a worry-bead with which I allay my bigger fears.

"Who knows?" I reply, temporarily gripped by John Major's resignation on the six o'clock news.

Later, I go to have some acupuncture for my bad back. The acupuncturist says I should try a Bach Flower Remedy. "I'm sure you're an Impatiens type," she says. "Do you eat fast?"

"Very."

"Do you find it hard to relax, not because you're tense, but because you're excited?"

"Absolutely."

"And do you gabble, because there are always several ideas in your head at once?"

"Yes, oh yes, yes, yes."

It's wonderful to confirm what I've known all along: I'm not tense at all, just over-excited, uncontrollably keen.

I'm to have four drops, six times a day.

Back home, Harriet's still on the bed. We chuck her pill down, thinking bitterly of all those wasted hours in the past, crushing and inserting pills in bits of fish only to find them spewed out on the kitchen floor.

Raphael, three, has a new pair of cymbals. The box says they are "ideal for encouraging early exploration of rhythm and sound". The First Concubine - who hasn't read the box - leaves the bed with a look of disgust on her face. I ask Raphael - who needs no encouraging in the rhythm and sound department - to take the cymbals downstairs and, when he refuses, I confiscate them. He kicks me hard on the shin.

"That's a nasty bruise," says Jacqui, who waxes my legs, the following day.

"One of my kids did it."

"Or maybe you just bumped into something?"

"Oh, no," I correct her. "My little boy kicked me."

"Well, I'm sure he didn't mean it."

"Bloody did."

Ill-at-ease with the subject of violent under-fives, Jacqui proceeds to describe a client who has recently undergone body piercing. "A whacking great ring," she says.

"And do you know where it is - ?"

I flip through a mental chart of the possible bits and pieces. "I don't want to know."

"She says it rubs against her leggings," continues Jacqui, oblivious.

Feeling more faint than excited, I get back to find that Harriet has eaten some Laughing Cow cheese and a piece of cake.

"A piece of cake?"

"Well, patisserie. Chloe dropped it under the table."

We hold her down - this Marie Antoinette of feline invalids - and I Sampras another pill down, my aim perfect.

In the evening, we go to the school Promises Auction - bidding for "promises" donated by parents, all to raise money for the school. It's in the School Hall - trestle tables, quiche and crisps, moody saxophone music, wooden floors steeped with hot dinners and hymns. We sit on kid's chairs and giggle and - bidding suddenly an intoxicating game, money Monopoly-plentiful - we compete for bargains.

Among the promises on sale are: an evening's babysitting by "a popular Australian Nanny"; a wine valuation; a couscous meal delivered to your door; a morning spent with the literary editor of the Spectator; four identical copies of The Book of Herbs; a homemade Chocolate Velvet Pie; and a video repair by the Headteacher's husband.

Jonathan - never one to say no to chocolate - bids feverishly for the pie and wins it, a snip at pounds 12.

Back home, shopped out, it's pill time again. Fiddling with the foil wrap, I drop the pill on the carpet and Harriet rushes straightaway to gobble it up. So much for technique.

In bed, I fall asleep instantly and dream about a Chocolate Velvet Pie made by someone who is, oddly, a combination of John Major and the vet, and served on a silver platter to Harriet.

"The trouble is," confides John, suddenly endearing in his surgical coat, "my own cats know I'm just a silly man and I can't cook."

The First Concubine isn't fooled either. She gives the pie a sniff and walks away - patting the yummy pink pills lodged in the folds of her kimono.

Julie Myerson's novel 'Sleepwalking' is published by Picador at pounds 4.99

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