Fourteenth Day of Advent: Henry Cat

I had wanted a pet ever since our dog died when I was about nine, but first parents and then husband weren’t keen. The mouse infestation proved the incentive husband needed to change his mind, and just over two years ago we adopted kittens, Henry and Percy. kittens1

From the start they were very different characters. Percy was an escape artist – as a tiny kitten, before he had had his vaccinations and was allowed outside, he managed to climb out of the bathroom window which I had left open a fraction, and scramble down the drain pipe. As soon as he was allowed out he would spend most of the day away from home, hunting and exploring. Then maybe two or three days at a time. Then he would only come home if it was raining. And for the last few months he hasn’t been home at all. I assume he is getting fed elsewhere, or has just adopted a totally feral lifestyle. We’ve done all the usual things to try and trace him, and he is microchipped, but to no avail. I just don’t think he was suited to a domestic cat lifestyle.

henry 1His brother Henry, by contrast, seems to think he is a dog. Certainly no-one has ever told him that cats are supposed to be independent. He is the most home-loving cat you can imagine. He isn’t supposed to go in the bedrooms as husband is slightly allergic to cats, and so I don’t want fur all over the beds. One evening when I was out, husband had gone into the bedroom and started ironing shirts. Henry miaowed outside the door for a while, cross at being left alone, but then subsided. A few minutes later he felt claws on his shoulder and a satisfied purring in his ear. Henry had gone downstairs, out of the catflap at the back, climbed over the wall and then up the drain pipe and in at the open bedroom window because he really didn’t like being left on his own.

If we go out at a time he wasn’t expecting we always come home to find him sitting in the hall waiting for us. henry 2

He is incredibly gentle and loving with Sophia, for which I am extremely grateful, and submits to all sorts of affectionately meant abuse. In fact he seems to welcome it, because he is well able to climb out of her way but rarely chooses too.

He tolerates his veterinary-approved, eye-wateringly expensive dry cat food, but his true love is Whiskas Chunks in Jelly. Opening a pouch of that brings him at a sprint from any corner of the house. He turns his little nose up at fresh chicken, salmon or sardines. He’s not even that partial t milk or cream. But Whiskas is his opium. He really should be on a TV advert for it.

He is satisfyingly cuddly, sometimes overly affectionate if I am trying to type or eat, and he is equally determined that all my attention should be firmly on him. If I have Anna on my knee for a story he will try and insinuate himself between us. He does henry 3relaxed and somnolent like you wouldn’t believe, and just watching him sleep can relax me.

The kittens came to live with us just after Anna started school, and the timing was incredibly fortuitous. At that point I’d had several miscarriages, and then had some tests which seemed to show it was unlikely I would ever be able to carry a healthy baby to term. My deep longing for a second baby seemed doomed to remain unfulfilled, and the house suddenly very empty with Anna out of it for six hours each day. The kittens, especially Henry, brought some life and warmth and cuddles when I most needed them, and they needed me which washenry4 hugely helpful.

I am a little sad that Percy has chosen not to live with us, but trying to make a fireside cat out of him always felt slightly like trying to keep a robin in a cage. But Henry is the most loved and loving of domestic cats, and I am so happy we have him.

The delights of being cosy

It’s now quarter to two in the afternoon, and hasn’t yet got properly light today. There’s been a constant drizzly rain and, according to my friends on the BBC Weather page, the temperature isn’t going to get above 5 degrees. This is a day when I am very glad to be able to stay indoors the entire time, with the exception of a couple of brief school-run forays.
fireplace

In a way I’m quite pleased that the weather has taken a turn for the worse. I’m about to give birth, so I don’t want any dramatically bad weather thank you very much; snow drifts, freezing fog and black ice can all stay well away, but the unnaturally warm weather we’ve had recently seems, well, unnatural. It feels like we’ve been cheated out of autumn really. There haven’t been any crisp frosty mornings, or excuses to scurry home quickly and curl up by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate (although I might have done this anyway). I haven’t even been upset that my enormous baby bump stops me fitting into my favourite jumpers, because I haven’t needed them.

The weather today, though, isn’t the kind that invites you to wrap up warm and go for a long invigorating walk. On the contrary, it positively begs you to get home, shut the door and ignore the world outside. I had a fairly long and boring list of jobs for today, luckily all home based, and I’ve been working my way through them whilst also indulging myself with some cosy, feel-good moments as well. So far these have included:

1) A long, long cuddle with one of the cats. Henry Catten is a confirmed lover of hearth and home. On a warm, summer’s day he might venture as far as a sunny spot on the patio, but he wouldn’t dream of leaving the house on a day like today. And, of course, if he’s home and I’m home, then he won’t be able to think of a single reason why I shouldn’t devote myself to him entirely.IMG_0002

2) Turning on the central heating at 11am. Normally if I’m at home all day I’m running around doing jobs, and so manage without heating until well into the afternoon. Today, though, I was feeling particularly self-indulgent, and so on it went. Luckily for both our gas bill and my environmental conscience, it was hardly on at all through October and November, so we’ve surely got some credits built up now.

3) A nap on the sofa. Well, I am very pregnant…

4) Beans on toast for lunch. Total comfort food.

To round things off, I’m contemplating turning on all the fairy lights and cranking up the Greatest Christmas Hits album while I try and get ahead of the game with some present wrapping, hot chocolate for two when Anna gets home from school, and possibly, just possibly, syrup sponge and custard for pudding this evening. Just to balance out the healthy stir-fry I have planned for a main course.on the third day of christmas cover

I hope you’re all able to indulge in a little cosiness as well. In a shameless plug, I will point out that my new novella, On the Third Day of Christmas is published today, and would arguably provide the perfect accompaniment to a cold, wet evening snuggled by the fire. You know it makes sense.

Yellow Shoes and Happiness

Today is one of the coldest, wettest, rainiest, windiest days in May I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. My garden path this morning looked exactly as it does in autumn – almost impassable with slippery wet leaves. The difference is that today they were green not brown.

Anna had an eagerly anticipated school trip – a visit to the local fire station, with a picnic lunch in the park en route. She set off cheerfully enough with her exactingly specified packed lunch (can you buy cheese and onion hula hoops, please Mummy, and can I have tomatoes sliced in my cheese sandwich but also separate cherry tomatoes as well?), but I seriously hope that the teachers had a wet weather contingency plan or there will be thirty very soggy Reception children to collect later. I am disproportionately annoyed with the weather for spoiling their treat, and am very much hoping that the chance to explore a fire station makes up for a ruined picnic.

The cattens are coming in soaked and shivering from the garden and leaving little muddy paw prints over everything, and the wetter they are, seemingly the more voracious their desire to leap onto my lap and be cuddled.

With all this wet weather misery, I could feel my spirits sinking, and decided that retail therapy was the only answer. I pottered down to the local shopping centre, dry enough under my voluminous raincoat hood, but decidedly unglamourous and with severely restricted side vision. Then I got my first little victory of the day. Boots were selling Cadbury’s Mini Eggs! This is a bit of a lifesaver for me, because in a weak, hormonally induced fit of chocolate craving a couple of weeks ago I ate Anna’s Mini Eggs. I thought, amongst the plethora of Easter goodies, she might not notice the absence of one little tube. How naïve of me. I promised to replace them, but then was confounded by the total absence of Easter confectionary from all the shops. I’m sure that previously crème eggs and mini eggs have had almost year-round availability, but suddenly, less than a week after Easter they’d all vanished. Every time Anna asked about them I had to prevaricate, and I was getting increasingly panic-stricken, wondering how many Smarties I would have to buy to make up for it. But then, suddenly Boots was my saviour. I bought a replacement tube for Anna, and a spare one (already consumed) for myself. Now all I have to do is resist eating those…

As well as mini eggs, I also treated myself to some Sanctuary body lotion – I’m assuming that at some point over the next few months the weather might be such that I’m willing to shed some of my myriad layers and expose bare flesh. Just in case that doesn’t happen, though, I also bought two pairs of black leggings, so with those and my trusty cardies, maybe a scarf or two, and perhaps my wellies, I can and will start wearing summer dresses even if the weather doesn’t improve.

yellow sandalMy final purchase, though, really was a triumph of hope and optimism. I bought some yellow sandals! The thing is, yellow is one of my absolute favourite colours, but I have pale skin and fair hair, and it really does me no favours at all. My husband isn’t too keen on incorporating a lot of yellow into our interior décor, although I’ve snuck a bit into Anna’s room, so I’ve always felt deprived of yellow in my life. Having a daughter who has inherited her father’s warm olive skin and dark eyes, therefore looking gorgeous in sunshine shades, has helped a little bit, but I still lacked any yellow of my very own.

I spotted these sandals in Clarks a few weeks ago, and have been mulling the purchase over. The pros were that they looked comfortable, and not too high, but did have a definite heel. My days of 3 or 4 inch stillettos definitely ended with the thin blue line on the pregnancy test nearly 6 years ago. Summer shoes now are generally Birkenstocks, ballet pumps or Converse, but last summer I did slightly crave a shoe which could look a little dressed up on the odd occasion I go out for dinner, but which I can still manage to walk in. I was a little concerned, though, that yellow shoes, however desirable wouldn’t actually go with anything.

However, after several weeks of thinking it over, I noticed today that they were £10 off, and available in my size, so I just went for it. And am pleased to report, after a morning of extensive research, that they go with lots of stuff. And, did I mention? They’re YELLOW!

So I defiantly spit in the face of rain and wind. I have yellow sandals, and mini eggs and I’m happy!

Only connect

“Only connect” is the epigraph of E.M. Forster’s novel Howards End. It’s also one of the very few quotes I can ever remember, so it is particularly pleasing when I can find a genuine reason for working it in, thereby contributing to my image as someone well-read and erudite. Ahem.

How we connect with others has been very much on my mind today. One of the only disadvantages of being a writer is that it can get lonely. My house suddenly feels very empty when husband has left for work, daughter is at school and the cats have gone off to do whatever cats do when they have a free morning. Today, however, I’ve enjoyed a wide variety of human interaction – some through social media, and some through far more traditional methods.

When I went for my usual walk after school drop-off I bumped into a friend taking her daughter to pre-school and we had a chat. When I got home a local handyman arrived to give me a quote for fitting a cat flap (the kitty cattens are now venturing out, but I’m constantly tensed for the sound of a plaintive miaow at the back door, and it’s driving me mad). I’d got his number from a leaflet pushed through our front door – old-school methodology here.

Then when trawling through the Facebook page for local parents, I spotted a child’s bike for sale for £10. It’s a bit shabby, but we’ve been having a huge debate as to whether it was worth buying Anna as bike yet, or if we should wait until she’s older. This means we can experiment at a reasonable cost. I messaged the seller, another local mum, and am popping round later to collect it.

I exchanged emails with a friend about arranging a meet-up when I’m in Liverpool in February.

And I’m now sitting in my local cafe, surrounded by noise and bustle and babies, exchanged greetings with several other people I know. When I’ve finished this blog post I’m going to phone a clown (as you do), to see if she’s available for a certain 5th birthday party which is fast approaching.

 

So maybe the life of a writer isn’t so isolated after all. Problem is though, the eagle-eyed amongst my readers will have spotted that there hasn’t actually been much writing going on today amidst all the connection…maybe the dilemma continues.

Hello Kittens

This is Day Five with our new kittens, Percy (black) and Henry (tabby) and I’m already forcibly reminded of those early days with a newborn baby, though with a few notable exceptions.kittens1

One similarity is the clearing up of poo. Thankfully Percy and Henry are pretty well trained, but their arrival chez nous was rather complicated by the fact that Percy had had a little accident in the cat carrier on the way here. He’s a very fluffy kitten, with quite long hair, and it took ten minutes of my friend holding him over the sink while I attacked him with baby wipes to get him clean. Possibly she was marginally less wriggly, and definitely less fluffy,  but it was very reminiscent of my husband and I trying to change our 8 week old daughter’s very dirty nappy in an old-fashioned train toilet with no changing table. The difference, of course, is that at 10 weeks old the kittens are litter trained bar the odd accident, and it took me three years to get my daughter to that stage.

Another similarity is the struggle to give medicine to a small animate being who doesn’t want to take it. We had to give our kittens three doses of worming medicine on three consecutive days. Day One I cheerfully grabbed a kitten, grabbed the syringe, and then realised I had no free hand with which to open mouth, and, in fact, that one hand was proving grossly inadequate to restrain a kitten who had clearly got the idea he wasn’t going to like this. We tried again when my husband got home, and dose one was (eventually) successfully given. Day Two was even more problematic. I stupidly let my husband toddle off to work at 7.30am, forgetting that he had an evening event and wouldn’t be home before 11pm (way after my bedtime), and the kittens hadn’t yet had their daily dose. I tried to draft Anna in to help me, but frankly (and, arguably, predictably) she was about as much use as a chocolate teapot, because every time the kitten wriggled she just let go. A cat-owning friend who also has children at Anna’s school volunteered (translation: was guilt-tripped) to come home with me to help, and embarrassingly she was the one who got scratched. I felt very bad. This morning, Day Three, husband tried to make good his escape with an airy ‘see you tonight, darling’, but I was ready for him. Deploying tactics similar to those used on the kittens I prevented him leaving until the third (and thankfully final) dose had been administered. It was him who got scratched today. Not by me, I hasten to add. I’ve now been advised by another cat-owning friend that wrapping a towel around is the best way to contain them, and I will definitely try that in future. On the cats, rather than my husband that is.Percy

The third similarity I’ve noticed is probably just me, but, as when Anna was a baby, I keep panicking that the kittens have stopped breathing. They’re still very small and so need a lot of sleep, and they seem to sleep so deeply, and breathe so shallowly that I start to panic, and find myself lying next to them, hand on back to try and feel breathing, or hear signs of life. I know. It is just me.

The final similarity is cost. Thankfully we have a free at the point of need NHS which takes care of a baby’s health needs, whereas kittens have to be expensively treated at the vet’s. However, medical care aside, one of the things I remember about being pregnant is that when someone tells you you need a piece of kit – cot, pram, sling, high chair, bouncy chair – without much questioning you simply hand over your credit card, only to result in shock-induced early labour when the bill finally comes through. Same with the kittens. The vet told me they needed flea treatment, worming, vaccinations, specially formulated kitten food etc etc, and it all seemed eminently reasonable. Until I saw the bottom line. Eek. A baby might actually be cheaper, at least I could breastfeed them.

Other similarities are more akin to looking after a toddler than a newborn – insatiable curiosity, determination to make a beeline for the one thing you don’t want them to have, manic jealousy of any animate or inanimate object they feel is getting too much of your attention. The kittens are constantly trying to bat my hands away from the laptop, just as Anna used to do.

The biggest difference is that you don’t have to get up several times a night to feed and comfort kittens. I was worried about leaving them on their own at night, but as my husband has a cat allergy and so we’re keeping them out of the bedroom, there wasn’t any real alternative. And they seem fine. They have the run of the kitchen and dining room, with their bed (as yet unslept in, they prefer our furniture of course), litter tray, food and water and seem perfectly happy with that. Henry

And they’re utterly adorable. They always sleep curled up together, which is incredibly endearing, and when they’re awake they either go completely crazy chasing each other’s tails, which is also very cute, or they’re mega affectionate, and climb on to my lap for cuddles and strokes, purring like mini steam engines. Last night I had what is perhaps the ultimate comfort experience as I sat, in my pyjamas, eating a bowl of homemade chilli, watching Great British Bake Off, with two sleeping kittens on my lap. Autumn evening bliss.