Posted in Family, Personal life

Enter The Snow Cat

The calico cat on a cushion
Making herself at home already

(New post about how a stray cat turned up in the first winter snow storm)

On the first day that the snow fell during this latest cold snap, snowbound at home and idly dabbling on my netbook, I spot a notice on a friend’s Facebook page:

Is anyone in Hawkesbury missing a cat? quite a small cat -white with patches of colour? He/she is very hungry (just devoured 2 tins of tuna), and sheltering in my next door neighbour’s open garage. Please ask around, the cat needs to go home xxx

Feeling skittish, as it’s my birthday, I post my reply without a moment’s hesitation:

 If no-one claims her, I could have a cat for my birthday! Just need to persuade Gordon….

I’ve been thinking for a long time that I’d like to have a cat again. It’s several years since my last one died, but I’ve made a deal with myself that I’ll only do so if one decides to acquire me – i.e. a stray turns up on my doorstep. Turning up on a neighbour’s doorstep (where there live two big dogs) is the next best thing.

The reason for my wavering is that one of my very best friends is allergic to cats. It was a consoling factor when my last cat died that this friend would be able to visit me at home without risking hospitalisation.

The calico cat and its new bed
The calico cat and the lesser-spotted little girl

A snowy day is a quiet day, even with my daughter home from school, which is closed due to the weather. I figure that temporarily hosting this cat while we track down its owner will produce a welcome source of entertainment for us both for the afternoon. With the SOS already doing the rounds on Facebook, it surely won’t be long before we’re able to witness a happy reunion for the cat and its owner.

Another neighbour, also on Facebook, calls to check whether I’m serious.

“It’s a lovely little white cat, Deb,” he says. “I’d have it, but my cat wouldn’t like it.”

I nod and my daughter beams. Moments later, he returns, bearing cat.

It is indeed a beautiful cat, and not just white. Its thick fur is a multitude of black and ginger blotches, against a white background. It looks as if it’s been made from leftover bits of other cats. Its black-rimmed amber eyes remind me of Cleopatra’s.  Google advises me that it’s a calico cat, which I’m pleased about. I’ve always wanted one of those, without actually knowing what that name meant.

Speaking of names – what to call it? There’s no collar , although the creature’s immaculate, dense fur and easy manner in our presence suggests that it’s domesticated.

“I think I’ll call it Dora, because it keeps Exploring,” decides Laura, as the cat flattens itself to creep beneath our kitchen counters.

Dorothy meets the Cowardly Lion, from The Wond...

Dora later elongates to Dorothy, without us making a conscious decision. Perhaps the name has been subliminally suggested by the postcard, propped up on the dresser, of Judy Garland’s famous ruby slippers from the film of the Wizard of Oz. Or maybe, like the Cowardly Lion, it’s just got lots on its way along the Yellow Brick Road (a nickname given, incidentally, to the part of the Cotswold Way that runs behind our village).

I confine Dorothy to the back of the house (kitchen, utility room, bathroom), while we gauge its grasp of housetraining. Our neighbour returns with cat food, bound to be needed later, even though he’s just fed it two tins of tuna before he brought it down. Dorothy had apparently eaten them voraciously. No wonder she’s looking plump.

I put down on a dish on the floor the bacon rind left over from breakfast. Whoosh! With the speed of the dirt in a Cillit Bang advert, it’s gone. Dorothy looks up hopefully from the empty dish. Moments later, a sachet of cat food is inside her.

“Mummy, why does Dorothy’s tummy keep twitching?” Laura asks.

Gingerly, if you’ll forgive the pun, I encircle the cat’s tummy with my hands. It’s solid. And moving.

A new scenario pops into my mind.

“I hope she’s not been dumped because she’s pregnant.”

It’s happened round here before: city-dwellers abandoning unwanted pregnant cats in the village, assuming the poor creature will find a new berth catching mice on a farm. Call me cynical, but I don’t believe the cats make it out here on their own, Dick Whittington style, setting off from home to in search of streets paved with Whiskas. And certainly not in snow.

Teaching the calico cat to read
“Meet my new best friend”

We make the cat a bed in a cardboard box and turn an old washing-up bowl into a litter tray filled with dirt from a discarded plant pot in the conservatory (there’s no digging up the garden under snow).  Laura, ever the bountiful hostess, makes it toys to play with and reads it stories as they lie on their tummies together on the floor. She wonders how long it would take her to teach it to read.

Meanwhile, cleaning out the litter tray, I’m beginning to remember the disadvantages of cat ownership. I take a picture and put it on Facebook with the message:

If you recognise this cat, please notify its owners and put them in touch with me to reclaim it

One week on, and Dorothy must surely be thinking “There’s no place like home.”

Posted in Family, Personal life

2012 – That’s SO Last Year!

Mo Farah, Olympic gold medallist at London 2012
Mo Farah, 2012 icon (Photo: Wikipedia)

When I first started thinking about the imminent arrival of 2013, I didn’t want 2012 to end. For so long, 2012 had been a year to look forward to, full of promise, from that day back in 2007 when London, my home city, was awarded the 2012 Olympics. 

Then a couple of years later the build-up to the Royal Diamond Jubilee began.  Although I wouldn’t describe myself as a royalist, I was excited at the prospect of living through historic events that people would talk about for generations to come, like VE Day or Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.  (I’m now rooting for the Queen to outlive her famous ancestor and set a new record that will be, by association, ours.)

2012 did not disappoint

These events created some very special memories for me. As the commentators said of the now legendary “Super Saturday” for British athletes, I will be proud to look back and say “I was there”.

Grandpa on his 80th birthday with a "Keep Calm You're Only 80" balloonNot all my favourite memories of 2012  relate to national events, but my other personally and locally momentous occasions, like the national ones, were planned and expected well in advance:

  • meeting my Canadian cousin’s daughter for the first time (I hadn’t seen her father since he was a child, in the 1970s)
  • a visit from my American schoolfriend’s daughter in July (I’d last seen her mother in the 1980s)
  • my father’s 80th birthday in September
  • the publication of my first book in October

As yet, 2013 will be more of a mystery tour. It feels odd to be on the threshold of a year of uncertainty, after a year of such precise planning and predictability.

It doesn’t help that I always find odd years disconcerting. 2012 always sounded like it was going to be neat and pleasing; 2013 just sounded messy and vaguely threatening.

But as it turned out, on New Year’s Day 2013 we awoke to blue skies and sunshine for the first time in weeks. This promising omen was echoed by a surge of optimism from my friends and family, cascading down my Facebook timeline and Twitter feed. Everyone seemed on great form and ready for another year of triumph

And all of a sudden, instead of being filled with foreboding as I take down the 2012  wall calendar and flip open the 2013 one in its place, I’m feeling excited and optimistic. It doesn’t matter any more that our national annus mirabilis has drifted quietly downstream into the history books. Starting to fill in my 2013 diary, I’m already at ease with writing the new year’s date – something that usually takes me months to get used to.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to be thinking to myself: “2012? That’s SO last year!”

Happy New Year and may 2013 bring you your heart’s desire.

Photograph of blue sky
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Posted in Family, Personal life

Goodbye Sun, Hello Fun

English: British version of the bugle call &qu...
“Sunset” – also known as “Retreat” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(A post about one of the virtues of dark winter nights – the excuse for the family to play board games and cards.)

Make the most of any late autumn sunshine, because now the clocks have gone back, we’re on the slippery slope towards the dark nights of the festive season.

“Sunshine – what sunshine?” I hear you cry. Optimist that I am, even I’ve given up on it this year. With uncharacteristic pessimism, I put my summer clothes into hibernation before the end of September. My cotton Union Jack maxi-dress, an investment in 2012’s patriotic occasions, never even made it out of the wardrobe over the summer. It was just too cold.

But I’m not letting our disappointing summer weather get me down. I know a way to ensure that no matter how sunless and cold the winter is, it will be a happy one in our household: I’ll hit the games cupboard.

A "whimsy" from a nautical-themed wo...
A “whimsy” from a wooden puzzle by Wentworth Wooden Jigsaws (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Situated next to the wood-burner in the middle of our living room is a huge stash of old-fashioned board games, playing cards and jigsaws. I have fond memories of learning such games from my beloved grandmother, so just the thought of a round of Scrabble gives me a warm glow, even if the wood-burner’s not alight. I love losing myself in a jigsaw (preferably a children’s one so it’s not too hard). I’m always astonished how, mid-puzzle, my subconscious takes over and I find myself slotting a piece into place before I’ve consciously realised that I’ve found the right place for it. Weird, but magical ly meditative.

My playing card collection is also a source of happy memories. I bring back packs with scenic views from places I’ve been on holiday, so sitting by my fireside, a game of Patience transports me to New York or Greece or Hong Kong. And sun.

So forget the wonders of the Wii . Never mind the excitement of the X-Box. Give me old –fashioned game technology any day and I’m happy. Cosy winter evenings, here I come!

This post was originally written for the Hawkesbury Parish News, October 2012.

Posted in Travel

A Funny Thing Happens When I Run: Introducing the Reverse Raindance

Me and my daughter in a summer fun runI’m a fair-weather runner. My running shoes hibernate in the wardrobe from November to February, to spare me from running in the worst of the winter weather. But with the wettest April since records began now segueing into an equally soggy May, there’s a slim chance of dodging raindrops on the run.

Or so you might think. But in the last few days, I’ve discovered I have a King Canute-like ability to turn the tide of imminent downpours, simply by donning my trainers and hitting the road.

Raindrops falling on water
Raindrops falling on water (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last Saturday, I was scheduled to take part in a four-mile fun run in the next village. On the preceding Thursday and Friday, the rain had been falling in torrents. I wondered whether I’d be better off in a swimsuit than a tracksuit. I carefully packed a raincape for the run and a complete change of clothing, expecting to peel off sopping kit as soon as I crossed the finish line.

I drove to the starting point, windscreen wipers on full speed, headlights on, careering through puddles half the width of the roads. The race had been limited to 30 entrants, for fear of overcrowding, but thanks to the weather, only three, apart from me, turned up. The other three looked very pleased to see me. I gulped. There was no turning back.

And yet, by the time we padded off up the hill at the start of our four-mile circuit, the rain had just about vanished. We plodded on companionably, enjoying the inimitable freshness that emanates from fields after heavy rain. The weather was cool but comfortable, and when we arrived back at the village hall, we were pleasantly warm – and dry. Yet on the drive home, I had to turn my windscreen wipers on again.

Français : Temps d'orage sur la Vézère, en Dor...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then last night, I went to join the local running club’s evening run. As I drove down the hill, steely grey clouds were hanging ominously over the clubhouse. It was drizzling as I parked the car. I took this to be an overture to a drenching. But once my run began, the same thing happened as on Saturday. The storm clouds held back; there was not a drop of precipitation. On the return leg, there was even a glimpse of the sun. But no sooner had I got home and kicked off my running shoes than great sheets of lightning began to fill the sky in the direction of where I’d been running. Thunder rumbled on for some time.

So I’m coming to the conclusion that my running has the effect of a reverse raindance. This could come in very handy.

Rain dance - NARA - 285623
Rain dance in Kansas, 1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, I realise that by going public with my new-found talent, I’m probably going to jinx it. (First rule of Reverse Raindance Club: Don’t Talk About Reverse Raindance Club.) Expect a follow-up post from me any time soon detailing how I’ve been struck by lightning on my latest run or had to swim home through a monsoon.

But I hope not, and just for selfish reasons. Think of the public good that I could do! This Wimbledon season, the British Lawn Tennis Club could hire me to run round the courts whenever the weather looks murky. If I sprint about Lords Cricket Ground now and again, rain need never stop play. And as to the London Olympics, well, let the sun shine.

Badminton Horse Trials logo

It’s a shame I didn’t discover this talent earlier. I live near the  Badminton Estate, where the most famous equestrian event in the world was meant to be taking place this weekend. For the first time in 25 years, it’s had to be cancelled because their land is waterlogged. If they’d just let me run around their course for a bit, I could have saved them the bother. But it’s just as well they didn’t ask me – I’m not sure I’m up to the jumps.

Some of my other posts about running:

Running In Wonderland (You Can Call Me Alice)       Keeping Up With My Sporty Daughter

And if you enjoy any of these posts, please consider sponsoring my Bristol 10K run later this month! I’m raising money for research into a cure for my daughter’s Type 1 Diabetes here. Thank you!

Posted in Personal life

How to Make A Weather Forecast More Meaningful

Cropped screenshot of Judy Garland from the tr...
"Oh, Toto, I sure wish I'd listened to the weather forecast!" (Image via Wikipedia)

“Are pirates real, Mummy?” my daughter asks out of the blue one day.

As a child I lay awake in fear at night worrying about Captain Hook, so I’m anxious to allay her fears.

“No, darling, they’re only in stories like Peter Pan.”

A few days later, the BBC Radio 4 lunchtime news scuppers my deception with a pirate attack off the coast of Somalia. Laura looks at me accusingly.

“Oh, but they’re not pirates like Captain Hook,” I try to reassure her. “And there aren’t any in this country, anyway.”

The trouble lies in the terms of reference. To Laura, all pirates have wooden legs, parrots and hook hands, not motor launches and polybags of heroin.

The same problem crops up with the weather forecast. One morning the radio alarm wakes us up with a report about a tornado in Birmingham.

“But you told me we don’t get tornados in this country!”

“Well, not big ones, like the one in The Wizard of Oz,” I explain. “In Birmingham, there won’t have been any cattle swept up into the sky or barns blown flat – it will just have seemed a bit windy.”

Despite my attempt at reassurance, Laura is on the lookout for flying houses all day.

These national reporters of news and weather have a lot to answer for. They bandy about terms that may make good radio but which mean very little to us normal human beings. And when they do come up with a clear, evocative description – such as the infamous “barbecue summer” that the weathermen have been promising us these last two years – their promises usually turn out to be false. (Or maybe weather forecasters like barbecuing on cold rainy days. I suppose it would minimise the risk of starting a forest fire.)

So for this autumn I’ve formulated some new definitions that are much more meaningful to those of us living in the Cotswolds. Not for me the Richter scale of earthquakes (I was disappointed to find a friend experiencing a 4.5 reported in Amsterdam did not feel the earth move). Nor the anthropomorphising of hurricanes. Calling the latest one Irene did nothing to make her more amendable to my American friends stockpiling groceries and bottled water in their cellars. No, I’ll be using terms of reference that relate directly to what I see when I look out of my cottage window.

First, there’s the Tetbury Wind Scale. Force 1: autumn leaves are becalmed on trees. Force 2: a breeze flaps them about a bit. Force 3: the leaves depart the tree before their time. Force 4: twigs are blown down too. Force 5: look out! Bigger sticks are falling from the sky. Force 6: wind enough to fell a whole branch. Force 7: and the rest of the tree as well – beware of them on the roads as you drive to work. Force 8: Uh oh! Westonbirt Arboretum’s had to close while they make it safe – but there could be some nice carved wooden souvenirs on sale next summer.

Then there’s the Gloucestershire Snow Scale. Force 1 and we all just think how pretty it is, especially on the fields and trees. Force 2: we can still go about our daily business provided we take it slowly. By Force 4, only the 4x4s can make it through the lanes. Force 8 and you’ll need to find a friendly farmer and borrow his tractor.

And then there’s my Cotswold Drystone Wall weather gauge. Force 1 means you’ll spot the odd little trickle of tiny stones after a mild frost, whereas Force 8 is an avalanche: whole walls tumbling down either side of every main road. This in turn is a harbinger of a spring spent admiring the day-to-day progress of the skilled and hardy stone wallers repairing it as you drive to work.

I just hope it’s not going to be another Pothole Winter.

(This post was originally written for the October 2011 edition of The Tetbury Advertiser.)