Thursday, 31 January 2013


I couldn't sleep last night so I thought I'd get back out of bed and write a little blog post but then, once I was up and sitting in front of the computer, I realised I had nothing to say, so here's the story of Maisie instead.

Maisie was born on 24 March 2011 along with her brother, William. Their Mum was killed in a car accident when they were both only three weeks old so I brought them home to live with us on a temporary basis, until they were old enough to be adopted by a family of their own. 

They weren't weaned when they first came to live with us so I had to bottle feed them every few hours until they started eating solids but they were both very healthy, lively kittens and great fun. 

Woody was furious with me, of course, and spent many an evening berating me for the chaos they caused in the house whilst simultaenously trying to fish them out of his briefcase or peel them from his shoulders or the top of his head. 

When I think about it, they seemed to have a  fascination for perching on top of his head. It was hilarious to watch although, naturally, I always maintained a blank expression as I removed their tiny razor claws from his scalp and set them back down on the floor. 

Having extra cats around the house played havoc with my asthma and so, when the kittens were twelve weeks old, I wrote a blog post to try to find them a new family. We were inundated with replies from lots of lovely people who wanted to take them but at the last minute, despite my wheezy lungs and Woody's claims that we couldn't cope with so many cats running amok in the house, we both got too upset at the thought of losing them and they ended up staying with us.  I remember that I had to spend a full weekend writing very sheepish emails to everyone to explain and apologise for wasting their time.

During the times that Maisie wasn't on Woody's head, she'd usually be in my study, engaged in a battle of wills with me as I firmly removed her from my piles of paperwork and she returned with equal determination, to climb back up and scatter the newly sorted piles of papers again. 

She's such a tenacious little tyke that she eventually wore me down and we finally reached a compromise when I gave her a dedicated corner of my desk and a cushion of her own to prevent her trying to sit on my work. This became her favoured spot and she still spends most days 'supervising' me from her cosy seat and chirruping her annoyance if I take a phonecall which disturbs her valuable napping time. 

The 'kittens' are almost two years old now and I'm so glad they stayed with us. They both have their own weird little catty ways but Maisie, in particular, has been a real comfort to me since Woody died

For starters, both Maisie and her brother are very, very talkative. In fact, over all the years I've owned cats or been around cats, Maisie is definitely the most chatty cat I've ever come across. She literally never shuts up so the house is never quiet because we're always having 'conversations'. If I'm on the phone or too busy to chat with her, she has deep conversations with one of the many felt mice which are scattered around every room in the house. 

She's also good entertainment because, like most cats, she's quite unhinged and a real character. I don't allow any of the cats anywhere near the bedrooms or the kitchen work surfaces (for obvious reasons) and they all know they're not allowed to climb on the benches, yet I often come downstairs to find this fool has slept in the fruitbowl. Don't worry, this isn't a very healthy house so there's never any fruit in there. 

She's rather a victim of her own fur and I have to brush her at least once each day. If you catch her when she's just 'had her hair done', she can really look quite beautiful...

But then, at other times, she's nothing but a tatty mess...

But whatever state she's in, I love her dearly and I'm glad that she lives here. 

She's quite a sensitive little soul and I think she was more affected by Woody getting sick than any of the others seemed to be. She used to like to play in the back garden but since Woody died, I can't get her to leave the house at all. She's made herself completely agoraphobic for some strange reason. Cats eh? Who knows what goes on in their weird little catty brains? 

Yesterday, in an ill conceived attempt at rehabilitation, I carried her outside into the garden. I (foolishly) thought that if she was in my arms, then being outside might feel a little easier for her. Sadly, it wasn't the case. She went into a frenzy; scratching at my arms and shoulders, desperately trying to get down, until eventually, she wiggled free and made a harum scarum dash back to the conservatory door. 

Unfortunately, it was a particularly blustery day (approximately 9.2 on the bin-o-meter) and she's so light and fluffy that her fur filled up with wind and acted as a sail. I could do nothing but stand by helplessly as she blew off across the lawn like tumbleweed in a tornado. 

I couldn't stop myself from laughing but then she bounced off the garden fence and I felt terribly guilty. Poor Maisie. She's been following me around the house ever since with this baleful expression on her face. She certainly knows how to tug at a heartstring...

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Never Forget

I walk past this postcard every day. It's pinned to the side of our fridge in the kitchen.

It always catches my eye and I usually stop to read it because I distinctly remember the day that we bought it at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  It's somewhat more poignant today because it's International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking sixty eight years since the liberation of the camp. 

If you've ever visited the concentration camps, then your memories are probably just as powerful as mine.  From my initial sighting of the railtrack which leads into Auschwitz, to the first time I walked beneath that iconic sign over the entrance to the camp itself - Arbeit Macht Frei / Work Makes You Free - I felt so small and insignificant. 


It's an incredibly sobering experience to stand in one of those gas chambers and look up to the opening in the roof where the pellets of Zyklon B would have been thrown down by the soldiers. I could almost taste the panic rising up within me as I imagined the people below; naked, bewildered and clinging to their loved ones for support and warmth without really knowing what was about to happen to them. Then afterwards, as we left the chamber, walking past the furnaces where the dead prisoners were thrown after the gas had done it's work and trying to imagine how the remaining prisoners must have felt as they were ordered into the chamber to remove their bodies. 

It really is an incredibly difficult place to visit but absolutely worthwhile and I'd recommend it to anyone. We were there during a particularly cold January and I was freezing, even with my super warm, down-filled, winter coat.  It's impossible to imagine how hard life must have been for the prisoners who lived there and who had no choice but to endure inadequate prison uniforms and bare feet most of the time.

The focus of this blog post however, is not so much about Auschwitz as about gratitude.  Apart from anything else, thousands of books, articles, blogs, etc., have already been written about the concentration camps and usually by people who are far more intelligent, articulate and knowledgable than I could ever hope to be so I'm not going to write much more on the subject. I bought that postcard to remind me of the time I visited Auschwitz and to remind me how fortunate I am and I do want to share one or two personal thoughts with you about that. 

I have a little routine which I try to follow each night and which I find keeps me on the right track, even though I'm not always brilliant at sticking to it. I usually lie in bed and go through a sort of mental review of my day, checking that I haven't caused harm or offence to anyone, even inadvertantly, and if so, making a mental commitment to rectify it at the first opportunity. 

I also try to think about things that I'm grateful for. Yes, I do know how cheesy that sounds but I've felt quite grim since Woody died and sometimes, when I'm feeling particularly low, the very act of making a list of all the good things in my life can focus my mind toward a more positive outlook and in turn, I usually feel better. Honestly, I promise it works. Why not try it yourself when you're next feeling a little bit low?

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to share my gratitude list today. I'm going to bed now and as I lie there, reviewing my day and waiting for sleep to take over, I'm also going to think about my visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau and these are the things that I'll be feeling grateful for...

That I was born at the time I was born and in the country I was born. 
That I was raised within a culture of democracy.
That there are laws in place to protect and preserve the society in which I live.
That, within reason, I have the freedom to say, do and go whatever/wherever I choose.
That I have amazing, inspirational people around me.
That I have never known how it feels to be told who I am permitted to speak to or speak of.
That I have never known how it feels to be told what I am permitted to read or watch on TV. 
That I have access to medical care when I'm sick. 
That I have food, water and a roof over my head.

I never want to forget this list.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Coffee and Tears at the Mothership

I'm in Starbucks. I'm crying again. Who knows why this time? 

Maybe I should just stop coming in here? I always end up in tears.

Maybe it's because I got news of another death this morning? Heart attack as opposed to cancer this time. It's nice to have a bit of variety, don't you think? Cancer has become quite stale in our house now. 

Maybe it's because I'm tired of all the arguments. Everything degenerates into a disagreement sooner or later (or sooner AND later) and I've got no energy left for it anymore. Maybe I'm crying because I can feel my very soul being sapped away and I can't do anything to stop it? 

Maybe it's because I just spent twenty quid on a pedicure, only to put my boots back on & feel the (supposedly dry) varnish immediately clump it's way through the fabric of my socks? Maybe it's because I know the only way I'll be able to remove those socks at home later is to saw off my toes? 

Maybe I'm crying because I feel guilty? Because it's snowing heavily and I've left my cats out to freeze their furry little backsides off in the garden?

Maybe it's because I lost my favourite hat somewhere today? It was on my head when I left the house this morning and now it isn't. I have no idea where it went between then and now but it was my very best, toasty warm 'ocho soles' hat from Bolivia and now it's gone. 

Or maybe it's just because I'm wandering the streets looking like a hobo on account of the lack of clean clothes/failure to get anywhere near my frozen up washing machine? 

Or maybe I've simply had enough? 

I know it's terribly undignified to have a public meltdown but would it be ok if I just walked into the sea and never turned back? Could one of you go round to my garden and chisel my frozen cats off the step for me please? I swear they're no bother if you just keep them warm and fed. Honestly. 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The little things...

I haven't done any laundry since mid December. Why? Well I'll tell you, shall I?

For some reason, the washing machine is in that little house thing at the bottom of my garden; not in my kitchen or utility room where it would usually be, in a sensible person's house. 

The door to that house in the garden has been swollen and stuck fast since December because of all the wet weather. Now it's actually frozen solid and I've just virtually pulled the handle off trying to force my way in. 

"But Jules!" I hear you cry, "Aren't these just first world problems? It's not as if you have to take that laundry down to the river and beat it off a stone. Why not just visit the launderette?"

Well first of all, as we're not living in 1970, I don't even think there are launderettes any more. Are there? How does one find such a thing in 2013?

Secondly, even if there was a launderette, I can't lug all of my filthy stuff to it because I have no car! I'd strap it all to a mule if only I had such a thing but I only have cats and they're USELESS at carrying huge bags of laundry.

I've also broken my gate altogether now, the shower has stopped working, the cats have mangled one of the conservatory sofas by using it as a scratch post (even though their scratch post is actually in the conservatory) and, much like SkyNet, the electronic equipment in this house is becoming self aware. 

Woody used to look after all of the IT stuff in here because I'm rubbish at it. Now that Woody isn't here, I can't get anything to work properly. Everything seems to be developing a mind of it's own. My own iPad has me over a barrel!

I know I'm a whinger and they had it much worse in the war blah, blah, etc., but honestly, it's little things like this that will tip me over the edge one day soon. 

If I ever crack and throw myself under a Metro train I want you all to make sure the news reports are clear and accurate. Don't let them print any nonsense about me being unstable on account of being recently bereaved. Make sure everyone knows that my own house turned against me. Make it clear that I died from a combination of grammar rage and stress caused by unfulfilled domestic chores!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Samye Ling

I've just returned home from the most relaxing weekend up at Samye Ling

I've stayed there a few times now, mostly to participate in various courses but occasionally, just to get away from everything and recharge my batteries. It's a Tibetan Buddhist Centre and, although I'm not particularly religious, it's a really peaceful place to spend a few days if you have a lot going on and you just want some time out to think and reflect. 

There are no TV sets or radios up there and it's a blackspot for mobile phones so there are no calls or emails to interrupt valuable thinking time. It's also quite useful to have a break away from Twitter, Facebook and the likes. 

The last time I was up there was approximately six months ago and they were still working on the courtyard in front of the temple. It's all finished now and they've made a really good job of it. 

There are some nice walks around the area or if you don't want to stretch your legs quite that much, there's still plenty to see by just wandering around in the grounds of the centre. 

A word of warning though - watch out for the peacocks. They really are beautiful but they have a sharp peck and a fearsome reputation for attacking their own reflections in the cars parked on the site. 

I was there with my friend, Jude, and we took a little wander along the river on Saturday. It was a beautiful day; fresh and crisp with the winter sun shining down on us as we wandered along, chatting and enjoying the fresh air. I took these pictures with my iPhone camera, which doesn't usually give the best result, but I was still quite pleased with them.

I also joined the Nuns as they went to light candles for world peace. I'm not sure how effective my candle was in the grand scheme of things but it certainly did me good to stop thinking about myself for a little while and concentrate on someone else's problems. 

Maybe that's the whole point? Maybe there actually would be world peace if we all stopped focusing on our own little bubbles and thought about how we could help someone else instead? Woah! Deep huh?

I was participating in a meditation course this weekend and I did actually find it quite useful. I'd like to try to develop my own practice over this coming year and I can definitely see there are benefits to be gained from doing so. Life seems far too busy these days and recent events have left me feeling very much adrift so the idea of being able to focus and centre my own thinking, rather than being at the mercy of the trials and tribulations of life, is very appealing to me right now. 

At the moment, I seem to spend a fair bit of my time reminiscing about the past or planning my future. I suppose it's quite natural to do this at times, particularly after experiencing a big life event, as I have done lately, but nevertheless, I'm left with a sensation of not really 'living in the present' and that can be quite a problem for someone like me. 

It's not that it's necessary to take a course to rectify it but I find these sessions quite productive and apart from anything else, they're enjoyable. There's a course on 'Mindfulness' starting in June this year which one or two friends have taken part in previously and which is supposed to be very good so I'm thinking of enrolling for that too.

It's not that I'm seeking any religious intervention but I'm always open to an opportunity to enhance the spiritual aspect of life which, for me, is an entirely different thing altogether. In fact, even without enrolling for a course, there's something quite spiritual about spending time at Samye Ling anyway and I'll certainly be doing more of it in future. I know Jude and I have decided to spend a long weekend up there at least twice a year wherever possible and I'm looking forward to that.

As we left on Sunday, the snow was falling quite heavily and there was a good covering over the gardens and path leading into Samye Ling. It really was very pretty and I couldn't resist getting out of the car to take one or two last pictures...