Friday, 31 January 2014

The Kitty Letter Chronicles: Mewsic to my ears

I don’t think I’ll ever understand you humans. What IS this obsession you have with constant noise? If it’s your seemingly endless chatter (don’t you EVER shut up?) or the noise pollution pouring out of the box with the pictures in the corner, it’s that collection of screeches, scratches, plonking and bangs you lot seem to so attached to.

Music, you call it.

Being a respectable, well brought-up cat, I won’t tell you what I call it.

For my sins – though to be honest I really can’t recall doing anything THAT bad – I live in what Big Red and DanglyMan call a ‘musical household’.  And that means that I spend much of my time hiding under the duvet or sofa covers with my paws stuffed into my delicate ears, trying to drown the din out.

If it was just the picture box, or the noise-maker that sits under it, I’d probably just blink, bury myself deeper beneath the cushions and seek refuge in a little cat chanting and meditation (pprrrrrrrrr).

But no. Fate has landed me the cruel blow of giving me a family intent on making their own particular brand of audio torture. Every day, NoisyKid scratches at the strings on his noise boxes or going plinky-plonk on the table with black and white top. He even brings in old humans to show him how to scratch or go plinkety-plonk EVEN more (though I must like the Plinky-Plonky teacher does have a particularly comfortable lap).

And whenever I hear the “the band” and “rehearsal” mentioned in conversation, I know I should make myself scarce. Experience has taught me that this heralds the descent of at least four other EVEN noisier kids, who will do maul me, pull my tail, laugh at my gymnastics and add insult to injury by screeching, scratching and plonking ALL TOGETHER in a bid to explode my delicate ear drums.  

Now I know that you lot are at a disadvantage. Your ears are little more than useless flaps of skin stuck (bizarrely) on the sides of your heads. I’ve done the research and I know that you can only ear up to an upper register of about 20,000 cycles per second (at best), compared to the 50,000 my kind pick up on. Frankly, your ears are about as fit for purpose as a child’s paddling pool is for climbing Mount Everest. So, I do appreciate that it’s gonna take the audio equivalent of a being patted on the head by a silk scarf wrapped round a lead brick to get through to your inner vortex, but purrrr-lease, spare a thought for us less aurally-disadvantaged can’t you?

Whenever NoisyKid makes the buzzy box on the floor explode with decibels, DanglyMan starts picking at the wooden thing with the strings or Big Red starts squawking as she faffs about in the room with the hot cupboard (when she SHOULD be feeding me), it hurts! It hurts like a dormouse hurts when an elephant gives it a foot massage. Or like a (particularly stupid) sparrow who’s make its nest in a rocket silo hurts when the countdown ends and the engines fire up.

No-one can accuse me of not trying to humour you lot, or join in your perverse idea of ‘fun’. I try to get into the groove, and sneakily deliver a lesson in harmonic acceptability. But my cool cat offerings of scat and improv jazz, as I dance daintily on the plonky-plonk thing are only met with howls of outrage and a whack to the hindquarters (if they can catch me).

But never let it be said that Joker Felinious Cat is a quitter. I shall persevere. And who knows, one of these days, you monkeys might just get the message.

To start with, here are a few songs or artists which ARE acceptable:
·         Rossini’s Cat Duet;
·         anything by Mews (though you lot do insist of spelling it wrong – Muse indeed!);
·         Everybody wants to be a cat (well, duh, tell us something we don’t know);
·         The Cat (mais, naturellement) from Saen Sans’ Carnival of the Animals;
·         Love Cats by the Cure;
·         Stray Cat Blues or anything by the Stray Cats;
·         Purrfect Day;
actually, the list is endless. Check it out for yourselves, you lazy sods.  


But, for the love of catkind, please never, EVER play Pink Floyd’s Dogs of War, anything by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band or (shudder)….   Who let the dogs out?

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Drama Queen

I love a bit of drama in my life.

Not the manic swinging from crisis to meltdown, or the ‘What now!?’ series of events that can make real life look like an overblown run of a particularly unbelievable soap opera. No, I can definitely do without that. That relentless ‘never a dull moment’ vibe makes me pine for a lifetime of dull moments.

But I must admit that I’m rather partial to a little touch of the theatrical.

The way I’m built, the way I move and my total inability to stay upright in heels or simper successfully mean that I simply can’t DO cute or sexy (even if I wanted to). But standing at 5ft 10 and possessing a purposeful stride, a pale complexion and eyes that spark when I get worked up about something means that I CAN do theatrical.

I rather relish the fact that – as a friend once said, much to my consternation at the time – I “fill the room” when I walk in the door. I quite enjoy the quizzical looks from Greek housewives on the train to work as they eye my shocking auburn short ‘do’ and the slightly Boho kind of clothes I wish I had more of. And I love the fact that I can rock a bright red lipstick without feeling slutty.

Don’t go imagining that every day involves a careful selection of clothes, accessories and attitude to be stepped into before I pop into the supermarket for yet another box of the cereal my teen son gets through like a rampant flesh-eating virus, or some – ahem – ‘unmentionable necessaries’ because I’ve lost count of the days of the month again. No, more than likely I’ll be a make-up free, flustered collection of jeans, the cleanest t-shirt I could find, flushed cheeks and comfy shoes scuttering down the aisles as I try to get the shopping experience over as quickly as possible.

But there are times when I like to create a whole ‘persona dramatae’ when I prepare for the day ahead. It might be an oversized, burgundy-barneted version of a Hogwarts teacher in my full-length, sweeping deep indigo dress with pockets in the most unlikely of places, teamed with boots, an owl pendant and several tons of eyeliner. Or the nearest someone my shape will ever get to gender-bending with a a black trouser suit and tie (stolen from the Ovver Arf’s collection) worn with a fitted t-shirt instead of a classic white shirt, a kitten flick on my eyes and a slash of scarlet on my lips. And with each outfit I wear on my ‘drama days’, there’s a whole back-story (sometimes even a script) running through my head as I buy a sliced loaf or grab a coffee on my way to the office.

I suppose it’s an extension of the dressing up games we used to play as kids, raiding Mum’s make-up drawer, abusing her wigs (it WAS the early ‘70s) and pretending we were Victorian explorers, warrior queens or the first female Galactic President (I bet Mum would have been surprised at what her classic collection inspired in us back then).

Then, like now, it was a little bit of escapism into the parallel universe in which we were invincible, impossible to ignore and always at the centre of attention.

Maybe my love for the theatrical has something to do with the early contact we came into with some of London’s 1970s loveys thanks to the fact that Auntie Peggy (our irascible step-grandmother) had built an accounting business of making sure that thespians’ hard-earned cash actually stuck around for long enough for the tax man to grab his share. As kids, we were treated to West End pantos and then taken backstage to meet the stars in their dressing rooms – or at least the ones on Peggy’s books. And from the tender age of about ten or so, my kid sister and I were tolerated by actors at her client parties where we developed hopeless crushes on charming agents and accidentally snubbed stars who assumed we knew they were theatrical royalty.  It all felt SO glamourous, grown-up and brighter than real life.

Having sad that, I’m pretty sure I’d be an appalling actor. Despite my love of story-telling and my colourful collection of poorly-hidden insecurities, I think my sense of ‘self’ (or as some might say, rampaging egomania) is a little too overdeveloped for me to be able to adapt an entire personality like changing my coat. I admire those who can. And I virtually worship the ground trodden by those who do it REALLY well.

Even now, as I try to ignore the big 5-0 waving at me from the far end of this year, I fantasise about getting raucously and entertainingly blotto with the likes of Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham-Carter, Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandan and Emma Thompson (perhaps with a side order of Colin Farrell and Benedict Cumberbatch thrown in for decorative value).  

I know it’s not going to happen – especially as I’m stuck here in the impoverished outer reaches of Europe, but a girl can dream, can’t she? And she can dress up too. In fact, I think we should do much more of it than our responsible inner adults want to let us. For the sake of our sanity, you understand.

And right now, as I sit here burbling away at my keyboard, I may look like a pathetic attempt at the 21st century answer to Bridget Jones in my sad-looking sweats, saggy fake Uggs and chipped indigo nail varnish, but in my head I’m an international woman of action, planning my next coup d’etat behind closed doors with a band of admiring revolutionaries who are all secretly in love with me.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Just ’cos I’ve got breasts doesn’t mean my brain doesn’t work

I’ve got something to get off my chest, and I’m warning you now that it may involve some breast-beating (“Ouch!”).

This week, I learned that a Japanese lingerie manufacturer is developing bra with a front clasp that only unhooks when 'true love' is detected by a sensor in the left cup which monitors heart rate and other vital signs. Only when the right combination of racing pulse, increased circulation, etc. is detected will a special app on your mobile undo your bustenhalter and release the twins for your Prince Charming to play with.

Now, given how elusive true love tends to be, I foresee countless ladies sitting around getting grubbier and grubbier as days, weeks, months or even years go by as they wait – entrapped in their bras - for Mr Right to finally turn up (apparently, the occasional spot of purely lust-driven, love-free rumpy-pumpy is only for boys and wanton strumpets).

I’m guessing that this is an evolution of the same technology used for the bras I heard about a couple of months ago that will give an alert (a beep? a pre-recorded scolding from WeightWatchers? a small electric shock? who knows?) when you’re about to devour the contents of your fridge.

It seems that the scientists behind these amazing developments just want to help us ‘ladies’, as we are clearly prevented by the lumps of gland tissue stuck onto our chests from having our own thoughts, opinions or urges. That’s why we need our underwear to tell us that we should only have sex with someone we really REALLY love (like good little Sunday School girls), or chastise us whenever we’re about to exceed our 1,000 calories the Daily Mail permits us per day.

Yeah. Right.

I think you can probably guess what I think of the developers of this delightful new innovation (undoubtedly male, and most likely of the variety who spend more time in research labs and surfing porn on the internet than they do in actual physical contact with anything resembling real female human-type beings).

I wonder if they’d feel the same way about the male equivalent – say, a jockstrap that will only allow their trouser flies to open when increased blood circulation is detected in a certain organ? But hold on, that won’t work. If it catches on we’ll see armies of men wondering around with their shop windows wide open all the time. Lemme think. How about special Y-fronts that deliver a sharp but harmless electric shock whenever their trouser snake stirs when their fairytale princess is not around? (Yes, THAT’s more like it!).

I know that our unique assets are an emotional minefield for some men. There are so many mixed messages associated with them – nurturing, maternal, teasing, titillating, shameful, sexy, even comic in a ‘Carry On’ kind of way. But really, I think it’s time to get thee to a therapist and get over your hooter complex, don’t you boys?

I feel it’s my duty to bring to the attention of those poor, deluded technoheads – and a few of their fellow menfolk too – a few simple (but perhaps shocking) truths.

Boys, sorry to break this to you, but there’s more to us than our knockers. Mine are part of me, just like my eyes, my knees, my oddly lobeless ears and that mole on my chin. Like all those other features, they don’t define me, nor are they an entity all on their own. They come as part of a package – one that includes a brain that I like to use, opinions I like to air and a low tolerance for stupid.

Shocking truth No.2 for the boys: We don’t wait around wistfully staring out of the window, braiding our hair and sweetly humming “One day my prince will come”  like a Disney princess (let’s face it, having to wait for any man to come is usually the last of our problems!). This is the 21st century and most of us have learned long ago that it’s better to just go out and get on with our lives – with or without a man.

Shocking truth No.3: Even if we are hanging around for our prince to turn up on a white charger, a black Harvey Davidson or the Number 9 bus... he probably isn’t you.
     
And anyone who thinks we need something else in our bras along with our lady lumps and all that fussy lace, poking wires and superfluous padding, to tell us what to think, feel or do is a much bigger boob than anything that can be stuffed into a D cup.




Friday, 24 January 2014

The Kitty Letter Chronicles: Fitness, the feline way

Every evening, I watch in wonder as Big Red comes  in from wherever it is she disappears to in the mornings, dumps her bags and changes into the sweaty-smelly things draped over the bedroom radiator, then heads out the door again only to return an hour or so later red-faced, shiny, and smellier than ever. I think it’s something to do with getting into shape – though why anyone would want to be the shape she is, is beyond me.

She’s clearly not a keen observer of cat behaviour. Dim she may be, if she paid a little more attention to me - as any good subject should - she’d have realised by now the secret of my sleek, slim and oh-so-elegant physique.

I’m talking about cat yoga. Not the clumsy, chanting, two-legged version I see some of your kind attempting on the box with the moving pictures in the corner (by the way, what IS the deal with the soundtracks of tinkly bells, birdsong – most distracting – or ocean waves when you decide to try and get bendy and stretchy?).

No, I’m talking about the real thing. The genuine article, first developed by my forefathers as they serenely prowled the scented gardens of the Far East while Buddha was still trying to work out his take on life all those years ago.

Seeing as you’re such a loyal band, I shall share some of those secrets with you. But please bear in mind that you're at a disadvantage, so don’t get your hopes too high.

First and foremost, you need to find your place of stillness. Mine is usually on Red’s purple dressing gown, after I’ve dragged it off the bed into the patch of afternoon sun on the floor.

Next comes the state of stillness – and that’s when the first big challenge arises for you anatomically-challenged oafs. You just don’t seem to be able to do the whole ‘breathing’ thing right, do you? It’s not just a case of “In (two, three), Out (two, three)”, you know. You’ve got to synchronise the in-and-out with that special vibration of your larynx and epiglottis. Only then can you achieve a state of enlightenment and serenity from which to start twisting your limbs and doing you thing. I’m reliably informed that what you lot call “purring” releases special cat-hormones that enhance tranquility and kill pain – so that’s handy if you stretch just that little bit too much.

But first, a nap…

…on waking, start as you mean to go on by adopting the ‘(Surprised) Rising Lion’ position. Sit up straight, front paws on the floor in front of you, look straight ahead with eyes wide, jaws fully open, tongue extended, teeth exposed and ears back. Hold…… two, three - and snap shut, and shake. Not only does this shake off your slumbers, that display of your pearly whites should serve as a timely reminder that whilst you may be the epitome of elegant equilibrium, you’re not gonna take any nonsense from anyone.

Now, down to business. As you’re all beginners – and not likely to progress much beyond that – I’ll just give you the basics. Bear in mind that some of the names you lot assign to some positions (frankly insulting in some cases – ‘Extended Puppy’, hurumph!) have reverted to their correct, feline original.

Downward-facing queen (invitational) – Standing on all fours, jack-knife your body and stick your backside in the air, with legs and upper body straightened to form a perfect inverted V when viewed from the side. To perform this position correctly, the tail must be pointing like an exclamation mark up at the ceiling. Hold for a count of ten (is there anything AFTER ten?) and then progress to…

Upward-facing queen – Lower your body so you are lying flat on the ground, then push your upper torso upwards, supported by your front legs planted on the ground at shoulder level. Lift the head so you are looking forwards and slightly upwards, blinking in acknowledgement at the army of idiots watching you. Hold for ten.

Cobra – An extension of the upward-facing queen, but with the stretch extended so your back is arched inwards and your head thrown back with mouth wide open and tongue out.

Extended kitten – A variation of the downward-facing queen with similar invitational properties. Bum in the air, chest to the ground, front legs extended in front of you, head down. Hold for ten, or until a noise alerts you to adopt….

The hunter prepares – From the extended kitten, draw front paws into the chest, lift the head to look straight ahead at the source of the noise. Waggle backside to aid proper focus on the prey. Hold and waggle for ten seconds (unless distracted) before jumping up to assume…

Advanced cat (or ‘Attack dodo’) – On all fours, legs at full stretch, arch the back as far as possible upwards, tail fully extended towards the ceiling. All hairs on your body - and especially your tail - must also stand on end. Transition, if necessary, to…

Startled crab – From the advanced cat, walk rapidly sideways and backwards away from the source of the sound.

When the peril has passed, adopt the child’s position – Face down on the floor, all four legs tucked under, tail curled around the body. Hold until fully relaxed before moving on to…

Ocelot’s ablutions – Sitting on your haunches, raise one leg to point straight up with the other extended in front. Bend to lick the extended leg, belly, various nether regions. No need to count on this one (it can get quite tantric at times, and last for hours). When finished, switch legs and repeat.
(Note: this position can ONLY be executed with the help of advanced purring techniques.) 


Archer’s bow – Lying on your side, stretch your body and tail to full length and arch backwards to create a perfect semi-circle. Legs also to be stretched along the same line. Hold for ten, or however long feels good, then roll over to adopt…

Happy kitten – On your back, with legs relaxed but pointing upwards, expose your belly and look imploring at the nearest human. Continue until they respond with a tummy-rub, as which point, rapidly transition to…

The claw – Grab the tummy-tickling hand with all fours paws, nails extended, with a slight kick of the haunches, if desired. Grasp the nearest knuckle with your teeth. Hold until forcibly removed by human, or until you get bored.

Sphinx – After being extricated from the human’s hand, act like nothing has happened and adopt an aloof expression of serene indifference, lie on your stomach with back legs tucked under you, front paws neatly in front of your chest and head up, facing forward. Blink repeatedly (it makes the watching humans think your communicating with them – you’re not, but there’s no harm in making them feel special, is there?).

A perfectly executed example of 'the doughnut'.
Finally, the most important position of all, and my personal favorite: the doughnut. Tuck your head in and curl your body into a perfect circle, enfolding it with your tail. Breathe, relax, purr and……   zzzzzzzzz
  

Naiow-maste!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Life Bilingual: Kissing with confidence

When you uproot your life and transplant it somewhere other than where you've grown up, you know you’re going to probably have to learn a new lingo. So, you diligently sign up for classes, or buy the books, in preparation for your total immersion in a sea of words you don’t know.
But how many of us transplants gave a moment’s thought to learning the body language of the place we're moving to?
         
Experts disagree on the extent to which body language – or non-verbal communication if you want to get scientific – contributes to what we ‘say’. Estimates rate from about 65% to as high as a staggering 93%. No matter which you choose to believe, the fact that the actual words we use only contribute 35% (tops) makes you want to stop paying those tuition fees and chuck away the phrase books.

It didn’t take me long to understand the role of body language when I first arrived in Greece nearly 25 years ago. A loud, passionate bunch taken as a whole, Greeks can seem pretty intimidating when you first arrive. You get off the plane at Athens airport or the ship at Piraeus port and all around you are people waving arms, rolling eyes, and shouting at a rate of knots. Moustaches (male and female) quiver, faces turn a delicate shade of magenta. Any minute, you expect to see daggers drawn and blood spilt. And then, they roar with laughter and embrace like brothers.

Once I realised I hadn’t inadvertently walked in on the start of new civil war, I saw that I was probably going to fit in OK. By the relatively reserved standards of England, I have rather ‘loud’ body language. When I get my teeth into a subject, my hands flutter by face, fingers jab, arms flap, eyes bulge and teeth are occasionally bared. My dear old dad used to say that if anyone wanted to shut me up, all they’d need to do would be to tie me to a chair.

So, for me, mastering the basics of Greek body language was actually much easier than getting to grips with the convoluted grammar, use of three genders and spiky alphabet of its words.  I even quickly came to understand the seemingly counter-intuitive upwards head nod (sometimes accompanied by a 'tut' of the tongue) that actually means “No”, “No way!” or “Over my dead body” depending on its depth and vehemence.

But, what I STILL struggle with – especially when stepping away from Greek soil – is the whole kissing thing.

Most of us Brits are brought up to be a little stingy with our kisses. Apart from the erotic variety, we usually just deliver little pecks of affection on dry closed lips or the cheek of our family and closest friends. Really good chums might get a hug. And British blokes are horribly ill at ease with the very idea of kissing or being kissed by another man, no matter how well they may know each other.  

In Greece, it’s a completely different kettle of kisses. Lips are pressed to faces in a double-sided greeting for almost everyone you come across. Mwah-mwah, it goes for friends, acquaintances, families, distant never-met relatives-in-law, work colleagues....  you name it. Believe me, I was in serious need of a chap stick after the seemingly endless line of well-wishers at my marriage to Ovver Arf all those years ago!

OK, so you probably shouldn’t pucker up when you see your boss or bank manager (though you may have to metaphorically kiss some other cheeks), but you get the picture. Greeks kiss. A lot.

These days, so do I.

That’s fine, I suppose. Shows that I’ve assimilated into Greek society and that I’m not a stereotypical, stand-offish ‘kryokoli Anglida’. The double-cheek twin peck is now second nature to me.

The problem comes when I head abroad – either back to the UK for a family visit, or (worse) when on a business trip, which usually means Dubai or Singapore where such an intimate and invasive display is certainly NOT the norm.

My family seem to have come to terms with the change of my kissing etiquette, though I think some still find it odd that I now give them a peck on the cheek rather than a dry sexless kiss on closed lips (strangely, most Greeks limit mouth-to-mouth contact to lovers, small children and pets).

Yes, I’ve seen the fleeting look of surprise, bemusement, shock, even horror, flashing across the faces of people I know only vaguely as I home in on them and plant a smackeroo. Sadly, it usually only registers once I’ve done the deed – by which time it is too late, and too embarrassing, to take it back or explain myself.

So if you are reading this and nodding your head in recognition as you recall that time I traumatised you with an overly-effusive greeting, please forgive me.

I maybe bilingual these days, but can I help it that my body isn’t?

Friday, 17 January 2014

Right to reply: A cat’s tale

Miaow!! Grrrr. Harumph.

It has come to my attention that a certain someone (she of the hair the kind of red that could only come out of a box) has been bad-mouthing me, my kind and feline fabulousness in general. All in the supposed interests of entertaining a bunch of people not even in the same room as her.

Time to set the record straight, methinks.

First of all, let me introduce myself (Tails up! Sniff the air. Come on, turn round).
Joker’s the name. All round fluffy gorgeousness is the game. That, and being an international cat of action - so long as you count being squawked at by the humans in two different languages qualifies as ‘international’.

As you may have learned yesterday, it’s been a few months ago since I joined Big Red, he of the dangly bits and their equally large and dangly offspring, Noisy Kid, who insists on scratching his collection of oddly-shaped contraptions with strings every single day. However, what Big Red failed to mention when tapping away at the black box thing with a window on it was that like so many unrecognised saviours before me, I came with a mission.

(‘And what is that mission, o great Joker,’ I hear you cry. Don’t I?)

Simple. I came to make their lives richer, to give them purpose, even unconditional love (sometimes expressed in ways they just don’t get). If you like, I give them a reason to get up in the morning (something they occasionally need to be reminded of with a gentle nip of the nose sticking up from beneath their bed covers).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s a chore. There are definitely perks for me. I mean, I do LIKE humans. They’re endlessly entertaining, always good for a laugh.

But really, that not terribly bright, are they? Half the time, I don’t think they even know how funny they are being with their odd little rituals and constant surprise at being leapt upon. Didn’t one of their more enlightened specimens once say that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result? Well, by that definition, they’re all (and please pardon my French here) BARKING mad!

Really people, even you lot have some odd expression about cats and curiosity. So why all the raised eyebrows when I want to check out what lives in all those caves in the house, or what exactly it is you do in the special room with the water?

I’ve been conducting extensive research for some time now but I’ve yet to get to the bottom (pun unintended) of it. From what I can make out, it seems to have a dual purpose – combining a daily ritual rain dance with their everyday needs to (ahem) relieve themselves. And yet, there’s not a dirt-tray in sight.

I must say, however, that they seem to be happy to provide the materials for a bit of creativity with rolls of paper just waiting to be rearranged in new and meaningful ways, and cables just asking for a Dadaistic touch (for obvious reasons, I’m no fan of BowHaus). But they never seem to appreciate the results when the muse takes me.

What can I say? I’m surrounded by Philistines - they just don’t know art when they see it.  They say that all great artists are misunderstood in their own time, so I suppose if nothing else, I am part of a noble tradition. Or perhaps, their taste is for the more visceral? If so, I’m hoping I’ll be able to win them around in the summer when we make that promised trip to the country, by broadening my horizons with installation art involving assorted bugs, birds and furry things.

They just don’t understand my sensitive artistic nature – especially Dangly Man, who insists on bring out the box of screaming monsters that want to suck out my soul every time I decide to spread some of the sand joy on the kitchen floor. Lucky for me I can run about a zillion times faster than him – and I know all the best hiding places.

Goodness me, all this ‘xplaining is tiring work – specially when tapped out with paws whilst keeping watch for huffy humans who still haven’t got the message that I CAN and WILL go wherever I darned well like.

Hang on, I need a stretch (remind me some time to tell you about the benefits of cat yoga), and a yawn (open, hold and… snap!).

That’s better.

Right, where was I? Oh yes, telling you how tiring it is being me. Speaking of which, Dangly seems to be meditating in the armchair. But really folks, let’s face it, he’s not the most spiritual of creatures. Think I’m gonna have to go and give him a hand.

Right, nose-to-nose in case he’s forgotten to breathe. Check. In fact, he appears to….  rumbling. Curiouser and curiouser. Odd things they do when they close their eyes. Oh well, better stay with him to make sure all’s well.

Just. Let. Me. Get comfortable.

Now on duty, curled up to attention so I monitor Dangly’s heartbeat. I’ll have to get back to you lot later. Duty calls, you understand.

Prrrrrrrrrrr.  ZZzzzzzzzzzzz.


Thursday, 16 January 2014

You know you’re a cat person when….

Meet Joker.

He first came into our lives when my tender-hearted Ovver Arf found him abandoned in a rubbish skip on the last day of our summer escape to the In-Laws’ house half an hour’s drive from the city. 

I learned the news when Nikos (for such is the name of the tender-hearted one) turned up at the beach, looked at me sheepishly and bent to whisper in my ear "We've got a kitten".
(Incidentally, ladies and gents, this is the man who swore we'd never get another pet unless it was a Great Dane.)

When I first met Joker, he was not more than three days old. A scrawny, mewling, shaking mass of limbs paddling the empty air trying to make contact with something that wasn’t there, sporting the remnant of an umbilical cord still hanging from his belly. He was blind, scare and scrappy as hell.

….Fast forward four months and he’s now a sleek, smug curtain climber who preys on ankles, toes, fingers and the occasional nose, not to mention any kind of electric cable. A psychotic furball who can jump three times his own height from a standing position, like a feline Harrier jet, or spend 26 hours a day sleeping - depending on how the mood takes him. In short, your average household cat.

Me and the Ovver Arf both grew up with cats, and we had one of our own – the inimitable Max, the world’s laziest ginger tom – some years back. But Joker is a whole different kettle of cat food. Or maybe we had fallen out of the ways of the Cat People? Joker put that right.

And what have we learned? We learned that, with a cat in the house….
*  every shower you take is watched with great interest from the edge of tub, and followed by a personal ankle-licking service to remove every droplet;
*  iPod earphones have the life expectancy of the average fruit fly;
*  you’ll never pee (or pooh) alone;
*  tights are not an option;
*  everything you do, or own, is deemed to be for your furry friend’s entertainment;
*  fingers and toes are teething aids;
*  shopping bags are to be sat in;
*  then wrapped around necks before hurtling round the house in a frantic attempt to remove them (admittedly, this is more of a problem when the bag still contains three tins of tomatoes, a carton of milk and a head of broccoli);
*  as are all cupboards, including (especially) the one holding the kitchen rubbish;
*  the toilet bowl is a source of endless fascination, and hydration (despite the full bowl in the kitchen, which usually serves the purpose of a personal paddling pool); 
*  crashes in the night are no longer greeted with fear, but an exasperated sigh of “Now what’s he done?”;
*  every surface that can be leapt up onto, will be;
*  you develop the art of carefully sidling into the comfy armchair without disturbing its curled up occupant (the thought of simply turfing it out doesn’t occur);
*  you develop a tolerance to hard stares;
*  you worry if more than three hours pass without hearing the sound of a miniature pneumatic drill making its way up the hall;
*  dried turds make delightful balls for playing kitty soccer on the kitchen floor;
*  hours spent searching high and low for “the bloody cat” are pointless. Give up - you'll probably be greeted with a contented blink and smug cat-grin when you open the bathroom cabinet for a fresh bar of soap;
*  your arms and legs acquire an trendy new “distressed” look;
*  interesting new documents in a strange language appear overnight on your laptop;
*  you’re happy to be licked, for hours on end, even in the company of relative strangers;
*  the feel of sandpaper against your cheek makes you feel loved;
*  you wonder what it’s like to have a tail;
*  something feels very wrong if you wake up in the middle of the night and there’s NOT a weight on your chest (accompanied by a steady blink of gold-green eyes and quick rasping lick of ownership).

They’re bloody-minded, egotistical, contrary, cussed, lazy, manic, mad, indifferent, demanding, aggressive, and more. Many claim they’re God’s mistake or the revengeful creation of a fallen angel. But those of us who love them, do so in spite of that all.

Or perhaps because of it?

Friday, 10 January 2014

Tea: A love song

Oh tea, how do I love thee?
Like a flower loves a bee.
You're what makes me
human in the morning.

Only a cup of char 
is even up to par
to take my mind far 
from war and global warming.

Just give me a kettle
and I'll summon my mettle
to make divine dried leaves boiled in water
(or I'm not my mother's daughter).

Some crave cat crap coffee
to make them happy,
or flavoured syrups and milk all afrothy.
But not me.

In teaspoons Prufrock measured his life.
And like any good wife
I'll boil you up a cuppa 
whenever you ask, my dear old mukka.

And if they take me away
or to some Desert Island I stray,
only one thing I pray
- let there be tea.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Incubus

Frustrated and furious at myself for failing to keep up my personal (read unpaid) writing, I have decided to try to kick start the muse with some of the entries from a handy little book called ‘The Daily Writer’ by Fred White. This first attempt was inspired – if it deserves that word – by an assignment to describe in detail being in a scary place. And for me, there is nothing more frightening than a wholly familiar setting under sinister circumstances.
So, here goes nothing….

Clack! My eyes snap open like a discarded Tiny Tears doll disturbed during a rummage through the attic. And like a forgotten plaything, I see nothing. Pure pitch black as I stare into the night.

I can hear the soft, loose-lipped precursors of snores from Nick as he sinks deeper into sleep next to me, and the clicks and creaks of the flat as it settles into the small hours. A whooshing in the pipes signals the flushing of a toilet in a distant apartment.

Another sound sets my nerves tingling like fire. A footstep and a low cough - far too close for comfort - outside the balcony door. I want to react but my body refuses. I’m frozen, unable even to swivel my eyes towards the door, or raise a hand to shake the sleeping, gently grunting body next me. I try to speak. Nothing.

It feels like I’m been pinned to the bed by a large, black dog sitting on my chest, robbing me of speech, movement and the ability to react. My brain goes into overdrive, splitting into two separate streams of consciousness. The rational thread knows this is sleep paralysis, the state that gave birth to countless accounts throughout history of night-time visitations by ghosts, devilish imps, aliens and other forms of incubus. The other, primal stream just wants to thrash out and scream like a cornered beast – but can’t.

I struggle to hold on to logic, to beat the primitive instinctive self that is battling to take over, and do something about the presence I can sense just a couple of metres away from me, from the man I love and our precious child in the bedroom next door.

Shapes loom out of the darkness as my vision adjusts to the midnight light of the gloom, but the closed balcony doors hide any sight of the intruder. My ragged breath shudders as I try to force my body into movement. To do something. Anything but just lie there helpless.

Panic threatens to cloud everything with the red mist of fear as a click is followed by a sharp whispering swish as the balcony door opens. With what feels like a super-human effort, I take a juggering gasp and squeeze my vocal chords into action to shout or scream to scare off the intruder, or at least alert my sleeping boys.

Instead of the Amazonian battle shriek worthy of Queen Boudicea I was hoping for, an incoherent wordless jumble of moaned consonants tumble through my lips. I sound like John Hurt in ‘The Elephant Man’. There are no words, but it’s enough to rouse the sleeping beauty beside me. He reaches out to me, but by the time his hand reaches out to me, blind panic has taken a hold of me and the touch I feel comes to me as a thrust from our imagined intruder. Survival instinct kicks in and I hit out, landing an impressive thwack smack in the middle of Nick’s chest.
He chokes in surprise and pain, and the light clicks on. Miraculously, my body starts listening to the commands I’m sending it and the panic mist clears. I swivel round to face the balcony door, fully expecting to see a slavering demonic presence dripping saliva and brimstone, but all I see is the sad little pile of my clothes where I dropped them in a fit of ‘can’t-be-arsed’ before heading for bed.

Nick is nursing his chest, looking at me in stunned disbelief. Outside, a dog barks and someone slams a car door. Normality returns, but it takes til morning for my heart to return to its rightful place from the base of my throat where it has been beating like a trapped sparrow that’s flown into the bedroom.


My incubus has fled, but my memory endures – as does the spreading bruise on Nick’s chest.