Friday 30 January 2009


What a terrible word. I'm sure I didn't make it up. but absorbed it unconsciously from other blogs.

Anyway, it's not even true: yesterday was the 1st birthday of this benighted blog, so I suppose today is Sorryiforgotiversary.

What do you do on a blog's birthday then? Make some resolutions? (I will not split infinitives so often? I will stop obsessing about my cats? I will only post photos that are properly focused?) But, for someone so fond of a sudden enthusiasm that can drop off the radar without a moment's notice, keeping a blog going for a whole year seems like a major achievement to me. If I wasn't being virtuous (ie fat and determined not to buy any badly-needed new clothes till I'd dropped a dress size) I would make a celebratory cake, take a blurry photo of it, maybe with the cats, and post it here. And boldly go, for another year, perhaps....

Thursday 29 January 2009

C words

This was fun to do, and not so mind-blanking as some memes, which demand that you remember more than one interesting fact about yourself. As allocated by mountainear, I must:
  • Write about ten things I love that begin with a given letter - in my case C
  • Post the list on this blog
  • When people comment on my list, I must assign them a new letter, and so the game will continue.
Easy, I thought, grateful that I didn't get Z, and immediately threw together a long list, whittled it rapidly down to 12, and now, having removed cheese and cashew nuts, here are the chosen 10:

  • Children. Especially those under the age of 8, after which they know more than you. And especially under-8s with imagination and strong opinions; they leave me speechless with admiration. Or sometimes just speechless.
  • Cats come such a close second to children it's almost embarrassing. Tabbies with attitude, fluffy ones with pantaloons and a mincing high-heeled walk - aaah, the very meaning of life-affirming!
  • Cake. Both baking and devouring. Especially good old-fashioned plain cakes such as madeira or Victoria sponge, despite both transferring with ease to hip and thigh.
  • Chiropractic. Once I discovered this, and got over how weird and assaulting it can feel, my life and my back changed dramatically for the better.
  • Carrots. In almost any form, but especially cooked in a tightly sealed pan with only a little butter...... In a Hate List, I would have Carrot Root Fly.
  • Cryptic crosswords. Though not as much as when my mother, astonishingly good despite English not being her first language, was still here to ring up late on a Sunday to get through that last difficult corner. "What have you got for 19 down? Oh....of course!"
  • Camera (digital) and...
  • Computer. Both in daily use, although I remain the despair of the Lovely Son for getting worse with practice.
  • Candlelight. Not an option at home with the Wild Child while she remains a high speed omni-investigative kitten, but one of the reasons that Amsterdam is such a magical place at dusk, despite always sending you home with candlewax somewhere on your clothing.
  • Cashpoints. I am old enough to remember the days when banks intimidated customers by being grand, formal, miles apart, and only opening at the most unreasonable times. Now we can despair about our bank balances while standing in the public thoroughfare.

So, if you want a letter and a crack at this, feel free to comment!

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Gaslight and ghastliness

Since yesterday's post, I have been thinking a great deal about that childhood introduction to gaslight. My sister and I had gone to stay with my father's stepmother in a small Cumbrian village. This was sometime in the mid-1950s, but could have been a century earlier, if you ignored the electric light, which in any case did not extend to the row of three outside toilets, each with a diamond cut out of the wooden door to let light in. (Three toilets may seem excessive, but there had been a working bakery attached to the house, with staff requirements to be met. My modern sensibilities refuse to dwell on the lack of handwashing facilities,)

The local accent was so unfamiliar that we barely understood a word that was said to us, and the village seemed to be populated entirely by old men in caps, who stared openly at us, and might occasionally offer a peppermint drop from a paper bag. We felt, and were, completely alien.

We shared a large feather bed with a satin eiderdown, and the whole thing was so high that once
in our pyjamas we had to take running jumps at it from the bedroom door, often failing to vault in far enough, and slithering hilariously down to the floor again. That, and watching the trains that ran past the long garden, was the most amusement we had, as I recall. Grandma was a gruff, very large woman who wheezed, walking with great difficulty and two sticks, and perhaps if we had seen her more often, and got used to her, we wouldn't have found her quite so daunting. Or, if I'm honest, rather frightening. Poor Grandma; she would no doubt have been shocked to think of two small girls being scared of her, but we were perpetually on our best behaviour, and were probably seen as two rather dull children, with little life in us.

One evening I was taken over the road with her and introduced to Grandma's neighbours. With the distortion of time and more than a tinge of horror, my memory of that visit was of a dark cavernous kitchen, lit by one flaring gas lamp on the wall, and a group of people
sitting round the table, who smiled and nodded at us in the shadowy gloom. One of the women was plucking a goose, which lay limply across her knee, the feathers falling into a zinc bathtub beside her. The whole scene had an intense bad-dreamlike atmosphere, and could have been lifted from a 19th century engraving of domestic life, from one of Dickens' less cheerful scenes.

The next time the possibility of a visit to Grandma was raised, my sister and my father went together, and I was, most mysteriously, permitted to stay at home with my mother and the baby. The relief that this decision brought me remains as vivid in my memory as that first visit to a strange and incomprehensible world. Years later, visiting again, I found that it had lost some of its terrors, aided by the kindness of an aunt, now grown up and able to see that a paintbox and colouring book might occupy a child more happily than being marched round the village for inspection.

A few years ago, I drove past Grandma's old house, long sold up to strangers, and was struck again by its grimness, set on a featureless main street in a village blasted by wind, rain and economic depression. I recaptured instantly some of the feelings of the child I had been on my first visit, in knitted cardigan and ankle socks, who had endured what was supposed to be a happy holiday, instead accumulating memories that my mother would never have intended for me as she packed our little suitcase and sent us forth to the bosom of my father's family.

And peppermint drops? No, thank you (said very politely).....

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Green, dismal and depressing

Well, I recycle, I freecycle, I compost, I hardly ever waste food, I have stopped buying clothes that I won't wear, I walk rather than drive, and I'm so saintly and earnest about it all that I revolt even myself (and many others when they hear that I save cat hair for birds-nest material in Spring), but the one thing that is unbearable is having to change to energy-saving lightbulbs.

My home, always cosily-lit despite varying stages of dilapidation and disorder, is gradually acquiring a bleak, chilly, unwelcoming and, well, unhomely look as these new monsters take over. Changing lampshades doesn't work that well, telling myself that we'll all get used to them doesn't help that much, and rearranging furniture so that some of the cold, stingy, mean-spirited light actually reaches me when I'm reading doesn't encourage settling down on a winter's evening with a good book. A 100-watt-equivalent went up in the hall today, and had to be removed once it had lumbered up to full strength, because the hall, already too
pinched and narrow, was not improved by being lit like a shed. A lower-watt bulb on the first landing is grimly reminiscent of the gaslight which I saw once as a child, in my Cumbrian grandma's neighbours' house, and which impressed me enormously and lastingly as both ghastly and frightening.

I haven't read details of all the health concerns about these lightbulbs that are beginning to emerge; that would be altogether too depressing. The Lovely Son calls them Suicide Bulbs, and on dark, damp afternoons such as today's, I can wholeheartedly agree.
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Monday 26 January 2009

Knotty problem

Lottie is surprisingly un-prone to having tangled or matted fur, but recently she has had a series of small tight knots of fur on her chest, which are tricky and uncomfortable to have combed out.

During the night I discovered their origin. I woke to hear very loud purring from the kitten, accompanied by equally loud sucky-slurpy noises, as she nuzzled into her big sister's bosom. Poor patient Lottie - the demands of a kitten can be tiresome and rather over-optimistic, but she endures it all. Amusing and often delightful though Millie is at present, I think we will both be relieved when this little tot grows up into a sedate and dignified cat.

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Tired out

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Friday 23 January 2009

A gentle reminder

Ignoring the hugely inaccurate and gloomy weather forecast, I've done a lot of walking today. And that means a lot of thinking too, as I never remember to take my little radio or ipod - somehow it seems more than enough having to check that I have my keys, dog bags, house keys of whoever's cat I'm feeding, gloves, the right shoes (or just shoes, as in not my slippers), some tissues, sometimes an apple, and, of course, the dog. Today we had a brisk walk over to Lynn's house, fed and fussed over her lovely tabby, and came home again. The birdsong is developing a distinctly different tone, almost Springlike, and Jesmond Dene is about to have a massive facelift to improve the woodland, increase its diversity, and improve the sightlines on the paths, to help us all feel safer. That will be good, as the dog is not the kind of beast one automatically feels safer with, more the type who runs yelping dramatically in the opposite direction from any perceived threat.

Then pausing only to change my shoes, I told the team the usual whopper, "Stay there, I won't be long", and walked into town. I loathe going into town, and only do it when I have no alternative. I collected the specs that have had their 3rd set of lenses put in (the 1st lot kept popping out, and the 2nd lot seemed to have been made to someone else's prescription), had a little mooch about John Lewis, totally forgetting that I'd intended to have a look at the vacuum cleaners, and went off to the bus station office to ..... wait for it!..... hand in my application for a bus pass. A pensioner's bus pass. After a jolly conversation with the staff in their dreary office, of the usual "You don't look your age!" variety (thanks to my genes, not some special skincare regime - but
personally I would rather have had genetically-bequeathed longer legs) and hearing how one of them was waiting in dread to turn overnight into an aged person at 40, just like her dad did, I walked home again. The bus pass is unlikely to be used much, if ever, but it seems like a Good Thing to have handy, like umbrellas and flea spray. The sun shone, the students milled about talking nineteen to the dozen, the flower seller was there with her ancient knitted bonnet, and everything seemed bright and busy and rather cheerful.

Passing the Civic Centre, where I had worked for some years, and skulking slightly in case I was spotted, I watched hordes of staff pouring out of it in their lunch break. And how sharply it took me back! Trying to get everything done in a rushed foray into the city centre, including buying lunch to eat at one's desk, because the canteen menu, which often sounded adventurous, invariably yielded nasty school dinner-style food, queuing in M & S for something untroublesome for the evening meal, groaning at the queues in the post office, and landing back at work feeling distinctly unrefreshed, and dismayed at the number of voicemail messages that had accumulated on one's phone in the time away.

I walked for the remaining 20 minutes to home filled to overflowing with relief that I was no longer tied to a workplace regime. The team were all waiting for me, the dog at her neighbourhood watch spot in the bay window, the girls on their radiator beds, looking sleepy and pleased to see me. As I took off my boots, surrounded by a swirl of little animals, I could have wept with the sheer joy of being able to come and go when I pleased, to no longer dread Mondays, to take as long as I liked in shops and not feel resentful at precious minutes lost in queuing, and to be able to choose to go out walking, or stay at home with pets and slippers, exactly when I want. Retirement is wonderful, and I am so so lucky to be in it, bus pass and all.

Tuesday 20 January 2009

A great day

Inauguration Day, and I shall say nothing about it, as I've watched too much television, absorbed too much of other people's emotion and excitement, and now I am tired, and incapable of writing anything but the worst cliches. You have been spared.

The Lovely Son sent me this:

Sunday 18 January 2009

We've come a long way fast

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Saturday 17 January 2009

I'm a Kitten Owner: Get Me Out of Here!

The never-ending script:

Where are you? Get out. Get down. What are you doing in there? What happened? Oh dear. What's that? How did you get up there? No, not for you. Leave it/him/her alone. No. No. No! Go away. It's too early. Ow. No, not my ear. Let go. That's the dog's toy. Leave her alone, she'll thump you. Oh, see? Told you. Don't eat that.

Hello! You awake now? What? Hungry? Aaawww..... Good girl. Who's a sweetie? Look what I have for you. Want me to throw it? Again? Did she snap at you? Oh dear. Come and have a cuddle. Ow. OW! Look what Auntie (insert one of many names here) has brought for you. Ooh, aren't you clever! What a loud purr. Oh, back again? Busy bee! Come on, lovely girl, let's play.

And so on and so forth.....all day, every day. Yes, it's fun. Yes, it's exhausting. Lottie has adopted a long-suffering look, probably modelled on mine.

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Thursday 15 January 2009

Spoke too soon

It's been so dark all day, and so damp, with a nasty bleak wind blowing, that I can't help but feel that it's my fault.... sorry, folks.

But for real weather, and the impact on people, see Laurie's Three Dog Blog. And Shelagh writes to me from Toronto talking about 15-minute limits for exposed areas of the body before frostbite gets you. Maybe dark and damp isn't so bad.

Yet, yet...somehow I still feel slightly envious of all that snow - too much Calvin & Hobbes and those wonderful snowmen, I suspect.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

So cold, so hot, so wet, so what

Canadian friends complain about the snow and the terrifyingly low temperatures. Australian friends complain about the heat and occasionally the rain. For once, I am aware of, and thankful for, our temperate climate. Recently we have had clear, starry, moonlit nights, crisp, frosty, sparkling mornings, and it feels just like winter should be. Not like winters used to be, I grant you, when your teeth hurt if you breathed in through your mouth, and your hands lost all feeling as you walked to school, but cold and dry enough to know that it actually is winter, and not just some weird wet season. Maybe this Spring the greenfly might not appear in such vast numbers and the roses might have cause to rejoice. Meantime, there's still time for things to change. February can be tricky....but for now, come outside, the weather's lovely.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

All angles

They all look so uncomfortable, but they aren't, and Lottie and Millie are now inseparable.

We now have two radiator cat-beds, thanks to Auntie Lesley, although they don't do much for the decor or the radiant heat output. Lottie likes them both, and Millie likes whichever Lottie is lying in. The dog likes them too, so long as there isn't a kitten within tooth-and-claw's-reach of her.

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Sunday 11 January 2009

Possession is nine-tenths of the law....

Huh? What d'you mean, it's the kitten's bed? Mine now!
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Rummaging around today in a heap of papers, hastily tidied away for Christmas, I found this.

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It's B's little Christmas present. B is the delightful housemate of the Lovely Son, a sylph-like creature with a famously sweet tooth, a love of cake, and an enviable ability to consume high calorie treats without visible negative effect. Along with some home made shortbread, a copy of this book, which I use regularly, seemed like an encouraging sort of gift for her.

The Lovely Son took the wrapped presents home for her, and she seemed pleased, so I was puzzled to find the book still in my house today.

I spoke to the Lovely Son - could he look discreetly at what I had given B, and tell me just what it was? Turns out I'd wrapped an old Christmas Cooking recipe book that had been in use during the holidays.....
If B looks carefully, she might find the odd handwritten note in a margin, or some ingredient stains, and perhaps wonder why the Lovely Son's mother was sending her an obviously second-hand book and taking the trouble to gift-wrap and be-ribbon it.

Well, it was a busy time, with lots of books lying around waiting to be wrapped....But I do feel a bit old and dotty now.....

Saturday 10 January 2009

Wash day, cat style

If a cat could use a scrubbing brush and scouring powder instead of her own tongue on a small kitten, Lottie would have done so with Millie this morning. But, as an alternative to pouncing, pinning down and waiting for squeaky cries for mercy, ferocious washing has to be an improvement. And little Millie, who has been desperate for some cat-to-cat contact for a whole week now since leaving her mother and sister, endured that unkind wash and purred loudly like a mini-motorbike throughout.

Then she managed to wriggle free from her scary new big sister and ran away. Well, Lottie may well have had more sinister motives for scrubbing her as though she were a baking potato.....

There is more to life in this house than kitten-watching and vigilante-ism, I know, but none of it is as entertaining. Normal activity, and time with the rest of the crew, goes on while Millie has her long sleeps in preparation for her next onslaught on us all.
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Friday 9 January 2009

Life is good

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Thursday 8 January 2009

Giving the Death Stare

This was 2 days ago; Lottie was still unsure about Millie - was she food? Would anyone notice if she was quietly 'disappeared'? Would the death stare work?

Things have moved on since then, and I am hiding; typing this with the door firmly closed to keep out 2 cats who are sort of playing, although rampaging is a better term, in a way that is sometimes not quite kitten-friendly. The kitten seems undaunted by the occasional over-vigorous swipe, and charges on, ON! up, over, under, through. It's fun to watch, and just a bit alarming too. The furniture won't ever be the same again.

But, suddenly, this will happen:

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Tuesday 6 January 2009

Don't be fooled

Some rare moments of tranquillity. At other times, a high-speed stripey blur is mostly what you see.
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Sunday 4 January 2009

Thinking and waiting

Another milestone today in the slow and sometimes painful journey back to being fully well and whole again. Two years ago, I had almost a year of being off work through sickness, during which I had to face up honestly to the deep damage inflicted on me by my chosen career in child protection, which (though I say it myself) I had successfully pursued with passion and dedication, until my body called time on the long-established pattern of overwork and strain. The ensuing time, in between doctors' appointments and occupational health rituals, was spent dealing with unfathomably deep exhaustion, resting, walking, weeping a great deal, and coming to terms with what felt initially like devastating personal failure. In addition, I knew more than I would ever wish to, and was haunted by, horrific details of baby murders and extreme neglect, and it took a very long time for these memories and emotions to fade to manageable proportions.

But I also took the time for meditation and calmer introspection, reviewing the past 25 years in this most challenging and never-ending field
of work, and eventually accepted that I had reached a point where I had done what I could, and should allow myself to stop the self-criticism and blame. The service I left behind, with a very capable new deputy who could, despite her own anxiety, step into my vacant place and make it her own, was testament to my efforts in recent years to establish high and consistent standards that could stand firm without me. The world would not fall apart if I walked away and said it was time to look after myself for a while.

This was followed by a year of official early retirement, certainly not the path I had once envisaged for myself, during which I slowed down dramatically, walked a great deal under the trees of Jesmond Dene, started reading for pleasure again, and began to wonder what could or should fill the time that work had once so dominated. Blogging was surprisingly helpful, although I found that I couldn't write about the really personal and painful stuff, hence the bias towards trivia and domestic detail, and it held a mirror up to what I did with much of my time. And that was: not a lot. Which seemed to suit me nicely. In that not a lot of doing, there was a lot of being - with myself, with my animals, with friends, with my thoughts, and it has been remarkable in its healing effect. So, in 2009, there will be more of that, I think, and new and interesting things will creep in, I'm sure.

But today's milestone? Another healing experience, one that answers a need that goes back to my early childhood: to be surrounded by cats, those amazing, magical, comical, fascinating companions that I have so loved and enjoyed all my life. In response to this need, and to rescue poor old Kevin from the wilder demands to play inflicted on him by a determined young Lottie, who is in desperate need of a livelier playmate, we are to be joined this afternoon by Millie. Not much of a milestone, you might be thinking, but
after so many years of my old boys ageing and dying off, the homing of two young cats, full of life and energy and hopefully with many years ahead of them, seems like a statement that the bleak time has passed, and that hope, life, fun and enjoyment lie ahead. 2009 - the year of the kittens - what larks!

Saturday 3 January 2009

Happy New Year, kittens!

I hope you all had the most lovely Christmas and New Year, and that 2009 will be a happy and fulfilling year for you. And me too.

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