Thursday, 21 February 2013

Three things (which may or may not be beautiful)

My friend Clare has been blogging since before I really knew what a blog was. I'd listen to her talk of websites and page views and I'd nod, smile and look impressed, then say to my husband in private: "is it like an online diary then?".

Bless me.

But her blog Three Beautiful Things has fans (yes, actual fans) all over the world. People love its simplicity and its honesty. She simply spots three things each day which make her smile and writes about them. But she does it religiously and she hasn't missed a day in nearly nine years. Oh, apart from while she was on her honeymoon and the day she gave birth - she had guests stand in for her then.

Unlike Clare though, I find it pretty hard to find beauty in everyday life. Do you know what I think is beautiful? Peace, quiet, wild places far away from other people. Unfortunately, having a two-year-old daughter, peace is something I rarely get.

So it's a far harder exercise than you'd think, spotting three happy moments in your day. But luckily I chose a particular weekend when my family had given me the most precious gift a stressed-out mother can ever get. A weekend without said family.

So I spent the day in glorious solitude, with just my thoughts, the TV, some squeaky guinea pigs and a lazy tabby cat for company. And I went about the task of looking out for happy-making stuff.

This is what I came up with.

My daughter on the phone.

My husband has woken up at his mum's house and phoned to check on me. He's only halfway through the second sentence when he's interrupted by a chirruping not-quite-three-year-old - who wants to speak down the phone to her mummy. I'm astounded by how high-pitched she sounds on the phone and flabbergasted by how grown-up our conversation is. "We're going to the beeeeeeeach now," she says. "We're going to see the stones. And the sand. And the seeeeeeeeea."

The smell of cat fur in the sun.

I'm trying to change the bed sheets and my cat does something he hasn't done for a very long time. He jumps on the bed and attacks the sheets every time I move them. This was his forte in his youth but lately he's just been mainly sleeping and avoiding 'the human child' which nobody even consulted him about before conceiving. Luckily for me he forgets he's being vicious halfway through and falls asleep on the half-made bed. I scoop him up like a rotund, furry baby and transfer him to my daughter's bed so I can get on with my chores. He considers whacking me for this act of cruelty but then realises the sun is shining on her bed. He snuggles down and as the black fur on his back warms up in the sun, he smells all... warm catty.

The letter.

There's a letter sitting on top of the radio looking all inconspicuous but bringing with it a huge change in our lives. Like most people I hate change and hanker after it in equal measure and to see it sitting there, all white and crisp and new, the letter is everything I dread and everything I know I need. I want to burn it and frame it all at the same time.

So there you have it.

While there's no doubt this must be a good exercise - both for your writing skills and for your mental health - the thing I've really learned from pretending to be Clare for a day is that she must have the self-discipline of a Zen master.

I took notes down for this on Sunday and it took me until Thursday to get round to blogging about it. Life gets so in the way of things like this. I don't know how she does it every day.

Find Clare, her awesome self-discipline and her beautiful things at

Friday, 8 February 2013

My cat is more famous than me

Padstow is nine years old and last week he finally found fame. Briefly.

It has been said that Padstow has a weight problem. How rude.

Your cat being more famous than you are is a problem that writer Tom Cox, author of Under The Paw and Talk To The Tail, knows all too well. He's carved out a nice little niche for himself with his witty, moving and cleverly-written books about living with up to six cats at a time. One of his clutch of felines, a 17-year-old black cat called The Bear, even has his own Twitter account - @MYSADCAT. But then The Bear has lived a rather eventful life (he was abandoned by the side of a motorway as a kitten, that's not a great start) and has now essentially retired to Norfolk to... well, mainly to look a bit sad.

Tom Cox's cat The Bear can be found at @MYSADCAT on Twitter

My cat Padstow, on the other hand, has lived a relatively uneventful life. In his nine years he's hardly saved any babies from burning hospitals. Other than a brief bromance with the 'sensitive' male cat that used to live nextdoor-but-one and the time he faked being so stressed by the new kitten we'd adopted that he and the vet conspired to get said kitten fobbed off onto my parents, he's had a quiet life.

Mind you, that said, he was about nine months old when he found us and all we know from his kittenhood was that he was living in the carpark of a YMCA centre and regularly breaking in to attend lessons for unemployed teenagers and scoff bits of their sandwiches. Before that, who knows? Maybe he was born in the circus and ran away because he was scared of clowns.

But last week Padstow the cat found the kind of fame an overweight, selfish, beautiful yet often rather grotty, middle-aged moggy can only dream about. He was famous on the internet. For a day.

Tom Cox tweets regular photos of The Bear pondering various things that make him sad (the closure of local libraries, the bad manners of his peer group, the astronomic ticket prices of various old rock bands, Watership Down). But I also noticed a trend. People were tweeting him back pictures of THEIR cats, often photographed 'reading' one of Tom's books.

And so I took this picture of Padstow and tweeted it to @MYSADCAT.

Yes, he is starting to yawn but doesn't he look as though he's laughing? Tom kindly retweeted to his 400 followers. Then this (below) popped up on my Facebook timeline. He'd put the photo on Facebook too  on his page Under The Paw, which has 29 THOUSAND followers - that's a LOT of cat obsessives. And that's thousands of people all over the world looking at a picture of MY cat.

Suddenly people were retweeting and favouriting my cat. I got a Tweet from a woman in Indiana saying how talented Padstow is. Another from a stranger saying he should have an agent. Hundreds of likes flooded in for the photo on Facebook. People were chuckling at their desks about the cat laughing at a book about cats. What the hell?

Padstow took his new-found fame in a typical Padstow kind of way, however. He's a naturally lazy cat and likes to spend at least 85% of his day kipping. He continued to snooze for the rest of the day and dreamed about what he might have for dinner that night - raw chicken breast chopped very finely hopefully. Then he briefly attacked the living room rug (what is it about that rug that aggravates him so?) and went out for a walk around the neighbourhood.

I'd like to think he was recognised by passers-by in the street. The "famous Laughing Cat off the internet". Only in my imaginary 'Padstow-gets-recognised-by-fans' fantasy he isn't sniffing fox piss and doesn't have at least one dead baby slug crusted into his fur.

You can buy Talk To The Tail (and Under The Paw should be nearby too) from Amazon at the link below. If you've ever owned a cat, I really do recommend you read them.