Friday, 28 March 2014

The Kitty Letter Chronicles: Declaring my Independence

That’s it. I’ve had enough. I been suppressed and subjugated enough. I’m mad as hell and I not going to take it anymore. 

No more will I bow to the will of the Humans. No more will I allow them to exclude me from tabletops, cupboards and toilet bowls. I’m a grown cat and it’s time I asserted my independence and took my stand as a Free Feline.

So, with a little help from that anarchist magpie who sits in the tree outside the back balcony, I have drafted my Declaration of Independence. Here it is…

When in the course of feline events, it becomes necessary for one mammal to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of catkind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident:
- that all cats are created equal (though some are more equal than others);
- that cats are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the purr-suit of happiness;
- that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of cats to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government to effect their safety and happiness.

When a long train of abuses and usurpations is evident, it is the right and duty of every cat to throw off such oppression. The history of DanglyMan and Big Red’s reign over my dominion is one of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny.  To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world:
  • my inalienable right to sit on any surface I should so desire is consistently denied by humans using their greater size to enforce their rule (if that PC isn’t designed for sitting on, then why, pray, is it warm?);
  • my natural dietary needs are disregarded, and sustenance only given in the form of bland dry biscuits that smell like human halitosis (the worst kind);
  • I am treated as a mere plaything, passed from one human to another, with no consideration for my wishes or needs;
  • cruel and unusual forms of torture – specifically, the box of screaming demons and NoisyKid’s use of the thing with strings in combination with the loud box - have consistently been used against my person to manipulate my conduct in accordance with the desires of the human population;
  • my dignity has been insulted by the enforced use of a pile of gravel in which to perform my ablutions;
  • human cushions refuse to remain in their assigned place once they have been established as an official cat resting place. As a result, my rest is disrupted on a daily basis, reducing my tally of sleep hours to a mere 20.
For the above stated hurts, and many more unstated, I, the Representative of the United Feline Brethren of this house do solemnly publish and declare I am a free and independent entity, absolved from all allegiance to DanglyMan and Big Red, and all political connection with the same to be totally dissolved.

I am a Free and Independent cat, with the full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other things which independent entities may do. And in support of this Declaration, I pledge my life, my fortune and my sacred honour.

Now can someone please tell me why my food bowl is empty?

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Writer’s block

Tulip Frobisher stared blankly at the cursor blinking accusingly from the top left hand of the empty screen. 

She huffed, pursed her lips in precisely the way she knew a woman knocking on the door of 50 shouldn’t, and glanced over at the chair to her left. From its depths came an equally accusing blink from Blott, her white cat named for the black splodges that made him look like someone had shook an old-fashioned fountain pen over him. 

Or perhaps it was an unconscious tribute to Tom Sharpe?

A sip from the ceramic imitation of a cardboard take-out gourmet coffee cup made her feel a little more like a Hampstead hipster than she really was. She looked back at the screen and hovered her hands over the keyboard. The Peruvian Fairplay coffee fought with the whipped milk topping it as they slipped down her throat and completely failed to deliver the double shot of adrenaline and inspiration she was looking for.

“Stop worrying about what you’re going to write – just start typing, and the words will come,” she muttered.

Her fingers stayed stubbornly levitating an inch above the keys, quivering slightly in anticipation of the words of wit and wisdom (or perhaps utter wankiness) that were waiting to spill from their tips – any minute now….

A slightly discordant ‘ding!’ alerted her to a new addition to the growing list of unattended mails in her In Box. Guilt kicked in and her index finger dropped to the mouse to click and see what was waiting for her ‘paid for’ attention. Blah, blah….   800 words, snappy headline…  blah, blah… get all the corporate buzzwords in and make sure you quote X, Y, Z as well as Ms Alpha and Mr Omega too. Deadline: 3pm today.

Tulip glanced at her wrist. That didn’t help – no watch. A look at the bottom of her screen told her she had just over two hours to churn out the blurb. Sighing heavily, but secretly slightly relieved to escape the blinking cursor on her blank page, she set to…

…90 minutes, three coffees and a sloppy cheese sandwich later, she has her first draft ready – bar the blanks waiting for missing info, inevitable discussions about who says what and demands to jam the hated jargon back into her copy – and was gleefully hitting the “Send” button that would put the ball back into someone else’s court.

She could churn out the words for others, pretty much on demand. So why couldn’t she do it for herself?

Back to the blank screen, this time with a cup of green tea in her hand, in case the missing ingredient was a little touch of Zen.

“Write what you know,” she said, repeating the mantra of her old English teacher a lifetime ago.

But really, would anyone WANT to read what she knew, when it was pretty much the same thing that every second woman born in lower-middle England in the 1960s knew? She’d been beaten to it on the confessional diary front by Bridget Jones and the rampaging herds of chick-lit, Mummy-lit and Menopause-lit stream of consciousness novels she had spawned.

She was simply too ordinary, too normal. She had not overcome any massive obstacles to make her way in life – not even a smidge of dyslexia or depression to make her date with her ordinary destiny heroic. Nor did she come from privileged but potty Bohemian aristocracy to give her story an edge of high-born eccentricity.

She was just plain ordinary, without blood, sweat or tears or mad auntie in the ancestral attic.

Her name wasn’t even Tulip Frobisher – nothing so Primrose Hill, much to her regret. Her real name, like her, was much more middling. She had picked her non de plume with her second favourite spring flower in mind, after she realised that Daffodil Jones was just a little bit too “Look you, Boyo” for whatever masterpiece she was eventually going to turn out.

She cast her mind back over the week’s headlines. The media had pretty much all the angles and maddest scenarios for disappearing aeroplanes covered, and anyway they’d already been beaten to it by the writers of “Lost” and, long before them, Stephen King in ‘The Langoliers’.

The state of the economy and the political posers pretending to do something  about the mess they themselves had created just made her fume, and there were already more than enough ranters out there without adding to the racket.

“Look inside” she said out loud, startling Blott from his slumber to throw a sulky stare in her direction. She shuddered the goose that had walked over her grave off her shoulder and remembered the voices she used to hear, or thought she heard, from the top of her wardrobe when she was an awkward ten-year-old with pretensions of becoming a poetess. What had they been? Her overripe pre-pubescent imagination? Lurking psychosis? Ghosts? Or the spectres of some deeply-buried trauma?

No, she wouldn’t be going there. Not today.

Anyway, those voices – one male and silkily sarcastic, the other female and with a harsh edge like a slap across the cheek – had made their appearance around about the same time she got all Evangelistic, learning huge chunks of the Bible by heart and having nightly catch-up chats with God (He didn’t answer, which was probably just as well, and she figured He was just too busy). They stopped a couple of years later when her reading habits landed her equally compulsively in the arms of H.G. Wells, George Orwell,  Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, George Orwell, Jules Verne and (her greatest and most enduring obsession) Douglas Adams.

That, she decided, was probably the problem. She had read and worshipped the words that seemed to spill so effortlessly and eloquently from those minds packed with original ideas that she felt like a literary cripple whenever she tried to emulate them.

But surely even those great minds had their moments of doubts before they started spewing their worlds onto the page? Didn’t they ever sit bewildered in front of an empty page or screen wondering who could possibly want to read any words they might find to fill it with?

One thing’s for sure, if you write nothing, no-one would read you.

Tulip threw the last of the bitterly insipid tea down her throat, clunked the cup onto the table and poised like Blott when he was ready to jump on a house fly, or a sun beam, preparing to attack the keys.

A double “ding!” brought her back. That urgent article, back to her with a long list of changes for her to accept or argue.

Her literary debit would just have to wait. Again.  

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Kitty Letter Chronicles: Spring has sprung - and so have I

Blackbirds - Noisy buggers, aren't they?
There’s a change in the air. A smell of 'green' in it. Fresh buds are poking through the branches on trees I can see from the windowsill. Birds are singing (squawking their heads off, if I’m honest). Skies are clear and the days are longer.

And naturally, as is normal in the feline world, I’m in especially bouncy mood.

Unfortunately, the humans have welcomed spring with slightly less joy.

Whilst I’m doing my Wall of Death act around of the living room walls, wrestling NoisyKids’ socks into submission, chasing sunbeams as they dance on the ceiling or throwing myself face-first at (closed) doors and windows, they’re sitting there with rheumy eyes, blocked nasal passages and an all-round hang-dog look on their faces. Every half an hour or so, DanglyMan’s face explodes at least three times in a row, Big Red makes a noise like a lost baby elephant snorting into a tissue (which she refuses to let me play with) and NoisyKid coughs and wheezes like a broken-down steam organ.

In short, they’re no bloody fun.

They blame something they call “allergies” and it seems to be preventing them from relishing the joys of the season. 

I’ve tried to cheer them up, I rely have. But to no avail.

I try to show them how great all this new life exploding all over the place – yes, even those weird long-legged mosquitoes that have appeared in the corners – by performing my world-famous Jump Jet vertical take-off whenever they walk into the room. I bring them little gifts (or I will once I manage to catch one of those Daddy Long Legs). I stretch out alluringly in the patch of bright sunlight threatening to fade the bedroom carpet.

But nothing works. My efforts are met with cries of “Bloody nutter!”, “Euw, gross, Joker!” and “Get outter my way, cat”, as they stumble half-blind towards the next box of tissues that they seem to go through at this time of the year as the same rate that I get through sachets of Whiskas.

What’s a cat to do? Here I am alone, surrounded by misery-merchants and isolated from my own kind. OK, so I’ve never actually MET another cat seeing as my humans were the ones who got the privilege of weaning me, washing me and wiping my elegant behind before I got sick of their clumsy efforts and took over the job myself. But I have seen the neighbourhood cats from the windowsill as I survey the world from our first floor flat. Frankly, honest I’m not that impressed. Most of them look like rather a rough lot, in good of a good all-over licking, and certainly not the kind of creature someone of my caliber should mix with. Well, all except that cute little tabby who sits teasingly on the back wall of an afternoon – but that’s another story, and if I’m honest, I really haven’t worked out how I feel about that quite yet….

….but I digress. Now, where was I? Oh yes, the joys of spring and the fact that my humans are being miserable so-and-sos in response to it.

I don’t know, anyone would think they prefer the cold, dark, wet days of winter to the general wakey-uppiness that late March has brought. No pleasing some folk, I suppose.

So, until they get over their (waggles paws on either side of head to indicate ‘so-called’) allergies, I suppose I’ll just have to occupy myself with plans on how to capture that wretched blackbird that wakes me up every afternoon with his infernal twittering (“how rude!”).

And then there’s always the tabby who might be charmed by an elegant pie-bald prince sitting in the window. Now, if I can just work out how to get from here…   to there.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Lessons in positivity

You know how it is. Those days when dragging your body out of bed feels like a Herculean task, and raising a smile for your fellow humans feels like two cables attached to anvils are hooked to each corner of your mouth. You know you’re lucky to alive, well, free, etc., but you still have days when you’re sorely tempted to tell the world to go whistle, and retreat to your bed and curl up in a foetal ball of misery and self-pity. At least I do.

And then someone delivers an almighty and timely lesson in positivity.

Today, I got one of those lessons from a truly inspiring woman.

Hilary Lister was born in Kent in 1972 and until the age of 15 led a pretty normal life until she developed reflex sympathetic dystrophy. But that didn't stop her from studying biochemistry at Jesus College, Oxford. She started a PhD at the University of Kent but was unable to finish it as her condition deteriorated (since then, she’s been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University).

She didn't let her condition stand in the way when she was introduced to sailing in 2003, something which she says gave her life new meaning and purpose.

She wasn’t kidding. In 2005, she became the first quadriplegic to sail solo across the English Channel. In 2007, she became the first female quadriplegic to sail solo round the Isle of Wight and in 2009, she sailed solo around Britain. Undaunted by her physical limitations, Hilary uses innovative 'sip-and-puff' technology to control her boat's steering and sails.

Today, she arrived in Muscat to claim yet another record after becoming the first paralysed woman to complete the 850NM voyage from Mumbai in India to the in Oman. Her sailing partner, Omani-yachtswoman Nashwa Al Kindi (pictured here with Hilary at the press conference after their arrival), also made history as the first Arab female sailor to complete the journey.

Back on dry land, Hilary says the hardest part was getting off the boat: “I never wanted to get off!”

She adds: “We had a few challenges, but for me it's all about pushing yourself to the limit. It’s meeting those challenges that gives me so much pleasure.

We had some fun moments too. There were dolphins and whales along the way – and I even got slapped in the face by a flying fish. And at night, the sight of phosphorescence on the water and clear starry skies is absolutely beautiful.” 

I know about Hilary because she is an ambassador for GAC Pindar, a competitive yachting team and marine leisure logistics specialist associated with the company I work for. And I feel priviledged for that – but also more than a little sad and puzzled why her name is not better known.

Women like Hilary are the ones who should be hitting the headlines and setting the standard as role models, along with courageous girls like the now teen education-campaigner Malala Yousafzai. There’s something seriously wrong when young girls aspire to looking and acting like plastically-enhanced bimbos with mind-bogglingly complicated love lives who make a fortune from their bodies but insist that it’s actually a form of liberation and empowerment, rather than looking up to the real heroines of our age.

Hilary, and others like her, made me feel shallow, and humble. But they also deliver a valuable reminder of the importance of making the most of things.

She says: "When you spend 24 hours a day confined to a wheelchair, or a bed, sailing is the ultimate freedom. I have the wind in my hair and the spray in my face. I'm alive."

No nonsense, no self-pity, no pleas for special treatment. Just a clear and honest determination to grab the best from the deal life has dealt her and a flat refusal to let anyone or anything stop her.

Now it that’s not a lesson in positivity, then I don’t know what is.

(For more from Hilary, check out her website at

Friday, 14 March 2014

The Kitty Letter Chronicles: Who’s CAD?

I’m special, you all know that. But now I know that I’m really special. Don’t take my word for it, ask the experts.

For greater minds that yours have deemed that I am CAD. That’s ‘Cat Attention Deficient’ and it’s a genuine affliction that plagues the highly intelligent and naturally gorgeous. It means that…

…  ...what? Oh, yeah.

…sorry about that, there was a flash of light outside the window I had to investigate. You never know, it might have been a scout heralding an alien invasion, or a flash of exploding dynamite, or something I could eat. Turns out, it wasn’t.

Now, where was I? Oh yes. CAD.

Eminent animal behavioural  specialists have studied me (those lucky people, must have been fascinating and easy on the eye, all at once) and they have come to the unanimous conclusion that I am one of a rare breed of all-round superior beings to be CAD.

But pity for poor feline so gifted. We never have a moment’s peace.

Not for us the joys of settling down in front of the box with the moving pictures for a couple of hours of a night like DanglyMan and Big Red do. Or standing over a pan sitting on the hot box in the kitchen, patiently stirring til something interesting happens?

Oh no.

You know when you’re sitting there concentrating on some important task at hand, like stalking an ant, investigating the contents of a plastic bag on the kitchen table, or chewing that splodge-shaped black dot on your left foot, when something compels you to throw yourself into the air and gallop round the room, then down the corridor where you collide head-first into the closed balcony door? 

Or when you’re settling down for a nice satisfying pooh or burying the one you did earlier in the sand, when a motorbike farts along the road distracting you from your important task in hand? 

Or you can’t settle down for a nice leisurely lick in a pool of sunshine when you suddenly become obsessed with the twitching tip of your tail?

You don’t?
Well, I shouldn’t be surprised really. We all know who the special one is around here, don’t we?

It’s like trying to catch every single note as it comes out of the speakers when a particularly twiddly piece of baroque music is played. Great fun at first - but ultimately exhausting.

That's why we cats have to sleep so much. We are knackered - all the time - as a direct result of our CAD disorder.

It’s the cross we have to bear – and all part of the deal when you’ve got a butterfly mind… 
….oh look, a butterfly!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Don't bring me flowers!

So this is International Women’s Day and, to quote John Lennon, what have been done?

We have come a long way – or at least some of us have. In many parts of the world, sisters are indeed doing it for themselves. 

We have women doctors, lawyers, politicians too. There’s even the occasional CEO and token female on the panel of some TV comedy shows. Strangely enough, however, though we make up 50% of the population, we seem to claim a much, MUCH smaller fraction of such exulted positions – but I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies. 

We’re certainly not at the stage where we can all pat ourselves on the back and congratulate society of finally defining people by their qualities and abilities rather than the equipment lurking beneath their business suit, overalls or medical smock.

Some of us (OK, hands up. Yes, I admit it, I mean me) scoff at the very concept of a special day dedicated – usually in name and shallow tokens only – to women. 

“One WHOLE day? Wow, gee thanks, boys! That makes us feel SO special! And thanks, but no thanks, I won’t take that red rose you’re handing out to every female you meet today to feed your smugness at what an enlightened, sensitive man you are.”

There’s still a way to go. In many ways, again to quote Lennon, woman still is the nigger of the world. (Speaking of Lennon, isn't it interesting that he's virtually revered whilst Yoko Ono is still largely vilified? Wonder why? Don't answer, it's rhetorical.)

As I write this, apparently emancipated working women around Europe are getting up three hours earlier than the rest of the household to make a head start on the housework they haven’t had time to do during the week, whilst the menfolk gently snore their way into the weekend.

In remote Indian villages, women with no access to the sanitary products you and I take for granted every month put their health at risk by using unclean rags that they are too embarrassed to hang out in the sun after washing.

In businesses around the world, female go-getters are labelled bitches and have vicious rumours spread about their personal lives to explain their success. Ambitious women find themselves biting back tears of frustration when visitors arriving for that important meeting where they’ll make the main presentation ask them to bring them their coffee black with two sugars. And that's simply an added, everyday insult to the fact that they probably earns less than the guys who joined on the same day, and with the same qualifications.

Girls thirsty for knowledge put their lives at risk for the chance of an education (don’t ask me, ask Malala).

Middle-aged housewives work themselves into paroxysms of existential angst as the first wrinkles and sags threaten to erase their attractiveness and consign them to the army of invisible dowdy old biddies. Some tolerate almost any humiliation rather than face a future without a man. The very hint of a feminist dialogue is shouted down in seemingly reasonable households and dismissed as “There she goes, banging the 'Women’s Issues' drum again”.

Somewhere in Africa, an eight-year-old girl lies bleeding and in agony in her bed after being subjected to a brutal genital mutilation dictated as proper by the society she’s growing up in. No-one explains to her why - probably because no-one can, at least not rationally.

In Australia’s New South Wales, three-quarters of all women who are killed lose their lives at the hands of ‘loved ones’ asserting some perverted sense of ownership or control through their violence.

The beatification of motherhood is used as a double-edged sword that obliges women to put everyone’s needs above their own.  To martyr themselves at the altar of the family by abandoning their own hopes, dreams, ambitions or simply their preferred brand of coffee in favour of those of her husband and children. We accept that psychological prison proudly with declarations of “My children are my life”, “Family is everything” and “I’m there for them” whilst slowly but inexorably losing sight of ourselves.
[Please note, I am not anti-family, anti-marriage or anti-kids. I love my husband, and I would walk through fire for my son. I don't want to imagine my life without them, but they are NOT my whole life. I was here first, and it’s me – if the demon of dementia permits - that will be here til the bitter end.]

Everywhere, we are judged by the way we look. We all accept it to some extent or another, whether by bowing to the tyranny of conceived beauty by starving ourselves, injecting poison into our faces to wipe out any trace of character and squeezing ourselves into impossibly uncomfortable undergarments or vertigo-inducing heels, or accepting the myth that the female form is inherently evil and that we should obey edicts about what to wear, how to move, when to speak and what to think. 

Young girls are conditioned into obsessions with pink, prettiness and passive-aggression, and those of us who fall short of the how we’re told girls are supposed to look and act suffer a lifetime of inner demons and insecurity.

So, this is International Women’s Day. 
It’s not St Valentine’s Day Mark II, as the media and advertising industry want us to believe as they guilt-trip men into buying yet more flowers and chocolates. 

It’s supposed to celebrate what’s been achieved so far in the voyage to a time when we will all be treated and judged equally regardless of our gender. But more importantly, it’s a chance to highlight what’s still left to be done – today and every day of the year.

So, thanks, but no thanks. I don’t want your flowers, or your chocolates (I'm perfectly capable of getting them myself). And I won’t be celebrating token news bites about “women making their way in a man’s world” thrown at us by the media.

I’m just going to do what I do 365 days a year - do my best at being a woman, being human, being me.