Cat Tray v Blue Sky

Cat tray with obliging fake cat. With thanks to Stephanie who gave me the cat.

Tray with obliging stand in cat. With thanks to Stephanie who gave it to us.

Put your hand over the side of the boat / What do you feel?” Kate Bush, “The Coral Room

Warnings: Grief, cat tray as metaphor, & potentially graphic descriptions of feline behaviour.

Unlike Kate, I can’t hear my mother singing. Not just now, at least. But I get it, Kate, I really do, about the damage that time can do, and inevitably does, to us all.

What do we do when grief & mental health bite? I don’t mean a few bramble scratch sized upsets, but those times when the jungle just keeps on shredding us, over and over again. I’m talking gut-wrenching despair: the kind that results in snot, and sobs, and one hell of a headache. When you want your mother, even though you know a) oh yeah, adult now, b) she’s long dead, and c) what the hell could she have done, anyway?

Mom on VJ Day, 1945

Mom on VJ Day, 1945

Emotions can be messy, troubling, and often ugly. How do we hold out for the beauty, the joy, that our rational hearts know existed, are still there, and will happen again? For those moments of pleasure?

Faced with early stage breast cancer, I didn’t exactly sail through, but all things considered, it was pretty smooth. But possible job loss, that bites to the bone.

Even the Good Doctor is overtaken by events sometimes

Even the Good Doctor is overtaken by events sometimes

If you’ve ever had a cat, you’ve probably had a cat tray in your house. Cleaning them has never been my favourite chore, especially when we had multiple felines.

It can get messy in there.

Generally, cats bury their shit. I’ve known at least one that sometimes hung about in the tray, especially when we had a covered one. I think it was Thomas “The Rhymer” Cat, who was as sweet as he was thick, and bizarrely brave for such a wee scrap of a lad cat.

Cat on a wall, hey bop shoo

Not sky staring, just looking: Thomas at work

Sometimes it seems like all I do with my mental health problems is bury my shit, then sit in the shitty cat tray, and stare up at the sky.

But the shit’s still there. And I’m not shoveling it.

Just now, the shite I have to deal with includes a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) form; collecting contact numbers, on account of stupidly losing my phone; a bit of back pain, and possible job loss.

Writing this helped me understand that it isn’t just a question of whether I’ll soon be standing in the dole queue at 57, bipolar, and with multiple ward admissions in my messy past. Beyond all that, it’s about loss. Once more it’s about grief.

About love.

Despite feeling I don’t and never will fit in, my work colleagues have become part of my extended family. My work place, another home.

“There is no loss without love”

Sometimes, I talk to clients about mindfulness. Because I’m simple, I keep it simple: concentrate on the here, and the now. Much as I love Doctor Who, and time travel, I know it’s not possible to go back, and change history. It’s done. Likewise the future, although it can be scary, and can to a certain extent be planned for, isn’t here yet.

It’s a question of acceptance. And accepting a situation, as I keep reminding them, and myself, does not necessarily mean liking it.

"As if those Leopard People weren't bad enough," the Doctor sighed.

“As if those Leopard People weren’t bad enough,” the Doctor sighed.

Maybe I’ll lose that extended family, that second home. Maybe I won’t. All I can do is appreciate what I have, whilst I have it.

For now, I’ll try looking at the sky, and not sitting on speculative shit.

Time will tell, it usually does” – the Seventh Doctor

Just another kitchen sink drama

Just another kitchen sink drama

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30 Years Amongst the Brits

Meeting oneself can be unsettling

Meeting oneself can be unsettling

Thirty years ago today, I was walking through Heathrow Airport, when I saw a policeman, and thought to myself, They really do wear those hats.

Does Eng-a-land swing like a pendulum do? Do bobbies on bikes ride two by two? And do the children have rosy cheeks? The answers are a) sometimes, b) not that I’ve noticed, and c) no more than the US did, as best I recall.

It’s been awhile.

I married a T-Rex fan, so my own England, Yorkshire, and Doncaster, tend to bop, and boogie.

Thirty years is a long time: longer than the 27 I spent in my home country of America. I’ve been a British citizen for over five years, and hope to have a UK passport soon (crosses fingers, and spits in the appropriate manner, and place).

I’m celebrating by writing this blog, having a cream tea for breakfast, and using the china mug which my lovely husband gave me. Later, there will be beer, at the Doncaster Brewery Tap (1), where I sometimes read at the “Well Spoken!” open mic nights. Yesterday, there was fishcake, and chips. All terribly British, with the exception of the timing of the jam and cream scones.

Perhaps I’ll start a trend. It could happen.

Scones with cream, jam, and blueberries: I say!

Scones with cream, jam, and blueberries: I say!

2016 has been an interesting year: admission to the ward (again) for my mental health (again); early stage breast cancer, and now there’s a big, chuffing question mark hanging over my job.

I love what I do: it’s extremely worthwhile, if sometimes emotionally and/or physically tiring. Also, I don’t fancy queuing in the local job centre with the three strikes of being in my late 50s, bipolar, and having recently been on the ward.

Right or wrong, the uncertainty around my work is proving much more difficult to cope with than cancer is/was. Perhaps it’s because the latter seems much more straightforward: have this op; undergo so many sessions of radiotherapy, take this med for five years, etc, etc. As for work, who knows?

Yesterday was another T-bird day (2). This time, though, I was able to remind myself the reason I’m here. It isn’t my job, our house, or even my friends, much as I love them. It isn’t the inspiration that the people, landscapes, and places give my writing, much as I appreciate it.

It’s you, love. It’s always you: through the loving times, the daft times, and the difficult ones alike.

Always, you.

A couple of bairns: 1980s

A couple of bairns: 1980s

(1) Do feel free to join me. There may be Morris Men!
(2) Fun fun fun til her daddy takes the T-bird away.

Posted in Immigrant Me, Nostalgia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

On the House (Part 2)

Pub sign, York

Pub sign, York

Part 2 of some Sunday fiction for you, from my alternative version of Doncaster; click here for Part 1

“Elizabeth’s taken in a cat?” Harry interrupted. “George hates animals, always has, ever since the school guinea pig bit him, when we were six.”

“I think she got it just to piss off Dad. It’s only thing she’s ever done to stand up to him – that, and give our Betty some money so she could marry Peter.”

Harry looked at Gary Sanders, then at his mate Tim. Then the landlord took a clean glass from under the bar, and filled it from a pump that said ‘Sentient Stoat’, and had a picture of a brown, furry creature with a fag hanging from its mouth. Harry didn’t say anything as he placed the pint glass in front of Gary. The latter’s face was a puzzle.

“No spit, honest,” said Harry.

“Or bullet?” Gary asked, looking at Tim.

“No bullets. If someone shoots you, or your dad, it won’t be me. I don’t like guns. I prefer using sturdy Russian novels, or the collected works of Conan-Doyle.”

Tomato shelfie: York

Tomato shelfie: York

Downing his pint, Gary noticed the collection of hard backed books which stood on the shelf above the bar.

“But what if someone gets to the complete Shakespeare before you?” he asked.

Tim pointed to a yellow rucksack, which was sitting on the bar next to him.

“Three notebooks, a pencil case full of pens, the collected works of Rudyard Kipling, and a hardback of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’. Enough wallop to make a powerful impression on almost anyone.”

“You’re a good bloke, Tim,” said Gary.

“Thanks. But think on what I said: you may be the image of your dad,” Tim paused, as he took in Gary’s receding, close-cut hair; and his short, stocky body, “but you don’t have to be him. My eldest, for example, prefers the prose of Tolkein to his poetry, and drinks dry white wine. Never had a single drop of beer, our Terry.”

“Hard to imagine,” said Gary, as a smile twitched at the corners of his mouth. “Although JRR’s prose is quite poetic at times.”

Harry grinned. He poured another pint of Stoat, and passed it to Gary.

“I’m driving,” he said.

“So leave your car,” said Tim.

Not a car: Doncaster Tourist Information Centre

Not a car: Doncaster Tourist Information Centre

Gary hesitated. As he did, Harry passed him a whiskey chaser.

“Leave your car,” Tim repeated.

Gary drank the beer in three quick gulps, then threw back the chaser.

“Careful,” said Tim, and, “Another … please,” said Gary, putting a tenner on the bar.

Harry shook his head. Gary crammed the ten pound note into a charity tin which read “Firefly”.

“Thanks,” said Harry, putting another pint, and chaser, on the bar. “Drink the Stoat stout more slowly this time, though, lad.”

“Savour the flavour,” Tim agreed.

“Looks like I’m definitely leaving the car,” said Gary.

“You could leave it all,” said Tim.


“Car … your dad’s business… your dad, of course. Mum, too, if you need to. The job lot.”

“My fiancee?” asked Gary.

He began to laugh, then giggle, then sob. Eventually Gary’s sobs turned into an extended swear fest that could have turned the sky – now black, and studded with stars – blue again.

Twilight over Doncaster

Twilight over Doncaster

This time, when the cat landed on the bar next to him, Gary barely flinched, though he did stop swearing.

“Everything all right, Jake?” Harry asked.

The cat unflattened his ears., but didn’t stop lashing his tail.

“It is now,” said Jake, as he glared at Gary in the way only a cat can glare. “I could sue you for damage to my ear drums.”

“Sorrry,” Gary mumbled into his pint.

“Oh and the inspector said to say that if you need any help, I can bite him whilst Tim here holds him down.”

Jake turned back to Gary, and smiled a smile which showed virtually all his teeth. “Unless you need him arresting, in which case I’ll go get the inspector.”

A face only cat lovers could love

A face only cat lovers could love

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Harry the landlord said. “But thanks for the offer.”

Tim looked across the tap room toward the small table which held an empty bowl of milk, and two whiskey tumblers.

“Where is Thwaite?” he asked, referring to cat sergeant’s superior officer.

“Janice rang, so he made his excuses, and left,” the cat replied, referring to Thwaite’s girlfriend. “He’s not gone far, yet. I’m sorry I can’t clear the table, Harry,” Jake added.

“No worries,” Harry replied. “And we’re good here. See you again tomorrow?”

Jake blinked.

“We’re off to Ohio in the morning. Sweetheart Springs police want to talk to us both about feline integration and the Donny constabulary.”

“Different,” Tim commented. “Let us know what the beer’s like.”

The cat made his goodbyes, jumped down from the bar, and went out the door of the “Bird & Baby”. His black and white tail was still twitching slightly.

Once the cat had gone, Harry turned back to Gary.

“Do you love her?” Harry asked, referring to the latter’s fiancee.

Gary smiled, slowly drank his pint, and chaser, then said, “She calls me tubby in front of her mates, and only says please when she wants me to do something for her, or give her something.”

“So why marry her?”

Gary laughed. It was sound lacking in humour. He finished his third pint, and put £20 in the Firefly tin, then said, “She’s rich, or will be someday. Soon, at the rate ‘er dad chain smokes. He – her dad – has a chain of electrical shops. My dad fancies a merger: his shops, her dad’s shops.”

Gary looked down at his shot glass, and said, “It’s like I’m some kind of bull, and my father found me a prize cow to go out to stud with. For the sake of a dozen bloody electrical stores, and a few thousand quid. Oh for – “

Gary hiccuped. “Maybe I should have eaten my tea, instead of drinking it.”

2000-02-01 12.18.14

The Lovers, Waterdale, Doncaster

Part 3 of 3 will be published on this blog next Sunday, 20th August. If you enjoyed this story, please buy an e-book of “Koi Carpe Diem: Five Tales of Paws, Claws, and Mystery”, featuring Inspector Thwaite and Sgt. Jake, or contact me for a signed paperback, featuring artwork by Tom Brown. For more on Jake and Thwaite’s adventures in Ohio, click here.

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On the House

Pub sign, Durham

Pub sign, Durham

Part 1 of some Sunday fiction for you, from my alternative version of Doncaster

“You’re a right arrogant cuss, Gary Sanders, coming in ‘ere, throwing your money about like there’s no tomorrow,” the landlord said. “Which there may not be, unless you get out – now. ”

Up til then, it was a quiet Sunday evening at “The Bird & Baby” pub. It was April, and the students which usually filled the tap room were in their rooms at nearby Doncaster University, studying for their exams. Quiz night wasn’t due to start for another hour or so: neither the kitchen staff, scouts’, nor porters’ team had turned up yet.

The only other punters in that night were a large bloke in his late 50s who was propping up the bar, and nursing a pint of Guinness; and a middle-aged man with grey hair, who was sharing a small table with a black-and-white cat.

The Bird’s landlord looked at Gary, then looked at the glass pint glass he was drying. Then he spat in it, and set it on the age-darkened, oak bar.

“What’ll you have?” the landlord asked Gary. “It’s on the house.”

“I’ll report you to health and safety,” Gary replied. “And it’s Bertram-Saunders.”

“Bertram-Saunders, my Aunt Nelly,” the landlord said. “Your Dad’s Georgie Sanders – Bert were his dad’s middle name. So don’t you come in ‘ere, throwing your fancy fake hyphens about. Anyway, your dad’s banned from Baby. I thought you knew that.”

Gary flinched as the cat appeared from seemingly nowhere, and jumped up on the bar, landing on the beer towel. The cat blinked briefly at the man at the bar, then turned to the landlord, and asked, “What’s the roast today?”

Smug, or happy? You decide.

Smug, or happy? You decide.

“Beef. Sorry, Jake, you just missed it. I can make up a couple of cold sarnies for you and the inspector, if you like. One wholemeal with English mustard, one beef, no bread?”

The cat nodded, then started coughing. Three two pound coins appeared on the bar.

“I’ll add it to Thwaite’s bill,” the landlord winked at the cat, as though sharing a private joke. Or not so private, as the man at the bar smiled.

“Thanks,” said the cat, who swallowed the coins, then jumped off the bar, and padded over to his companion.

The landlord turned away from the bar, and shouted, “Val! Can you make up some roast beef sandwiches for Thwaite and Jake, love?”

He turned back to Gary Sanders, who was looking pale under his tan. “Did you say ‘inspector’?”

The man who was standing next to Gary smiled again, and the landlord replied, “That’s right. Chief Inspector Thwaite, and his Sergeant, Jake. They come in here most Sundays: well, Thwaite does. Jake, not so much.”

Gary swallowed, then said, “I’m not my dad. Just because he’s barred, doesn’t mean I am.”

Not just barred, it's York bar(red)

Not just barred, it’s York bar(red)

Then he flushed, as the landlord made another deposit of spittle in the pint pot. “Anyway, what gives you the right to ban my father from your crappy old pub?”

“This,” said the landlord, pointing to the sign above the bar, which said that Harold Langdon was licensed to sell beers, wine, and spirits under the 2003 Licensing Act. “Because it’s my crappy pub. Now bugger off, unless you still want that free pint of Smiths.”

Harry the landlord grinned, showing good dental work, which glinted at the fact that the Bird & Baby was doing good trade, despite the lack of patronage from the Sanders’ family.

“I’ll bring my dad round,” Gary threatened.

“Barred,” said the bloke standing next to him at the bar. He was a big, grey-haired bloke, and was nursing a pint. He had been following the conversation between Gary and the landlord with quiet interest.

“I’ll get Ken Sykes round,” said Gary.

“Sykesy was nobbut a bully when he was in short trousers,” Harry replied, “and Tim here,” Harry indicated the big bloke, “gave him a right kickin’.”

“We were both four at the time,” Tim reminded Harry.

“Sykesy cried, didn’t he?” Harry said. “Cried like a little baby.”

“He was four years’ old,” Tim repeated.

“Well, he’s a big bloke now,” said Gary. “Bigger and younger than you,” he added, looking at Tim.

“And?” said Tim, who was six foot two, and weighed just over 17 stone.

“Bigger’n you, Granddad,” said Gary, who was 28, while Tim and Harry were both 63.

Two seconds later, Gary’s face was up close and personal with the bar, and both his arms were being held against his back by Tim, who leaned against him.

“Listen to me, lad,” Tim said, as he breathed beer-breath into Gary’s left ear. “Are you listening?”

Gary whimpered.

“Ken Sykes was a bully, he’s nowt but a bully now, and he’ll like as not die a bully. He’s also a bully who I can whip, because what he has on me in weight, I’ve got more than him in brain cells.”

“Smartest lad in our class, Tim were,” Harry said.

“So how come you’re a bouncer, if you’re so smart?” Gary tried to sneer, but it’s difficult to be sarcastic when your face is pressed against a bar.

“Beer ‘n food on the house, plus my mind’s free to write poetry, and watch ‘Jeremy Kyle’ every morning, before pub opens. Lot of poetic inspiration to be had from our Jeremy, plus I can sort my socks whilst I watch.”

Poetry in Sheffield: "What if" by Andrew Motion

Poetry in Sheffield: “What if” by Andrew Motion

“Poetry? Really?” Gary tried to say, but gurgled instead, due to the pressure on his throat.

Tim rearranged Gary slightly, so that the younger man could breath, and speak, with a bit more ease.

“Yes, really,” said Tim, who had excellent hearing, as well as a flair for rhyme and metre, and a taste for Guinness, and Sunday dinners. “And you know who was in our class at school, besides Harry, and Ken, and me? Your Dad, that’s who.”

Once again placing his mouth against Gary’s ear, Tim said, “Georgie Sanders came into this world with nowt. He may have a stack of legal and illegal businesses now, but he’ll leave this world with nowt, save a shroud, some spit in his eye, and maybe a bullet or two in his back.”

Like a bored cat playing with a mouse, Tim stepped back from Gary, then shoved the younger man back, hard, against the bar.

Plays with mouses: August 2016

Plays with Mousies: August 2016

“You’re in the hands of a poet, all right,” said Harry admiringly, as he polished some more beer glasses. “Many the times I’ve seen Tim apply the complete works of Shakespeare to a particularly obnoxious drunk’s backside.”

“That’s only if they’re a bit obnoxious,” said Tim. “If they’re really nasty, I like to take Boswell’s “Life of Johnson” to their johnson.”

Gary muttered something, then said, “I didn’t ask for him to be my dad.”

“No, you didn’t, lad. But you’re coming up to 30 now – plenty of time to make a break, and strike out on your own.”

Tim released his prey, leaving the younger man gasping.

“Bet your dad wasn’t a right prick,” Gary choked out, as he coughed, then rubbed his neck.

“No, he were a nice bloke, my dad. And a drunk. Harry’s dad, he had to bar my dad from the Baby.”

“Kept throwing up in gents,” said Harry. “Mum got tired of having to mop up every time Tim’s dad went for a piss.”

“Anyway,” Tim continued, “you didn’t just spring out of your dad’s head, like Athena. What about your mum? She was in our class, too. Sweetest tempered lass I’ve ever met, besides my missus.”

“Mum doesn’t care about me,” said Gary. “All she really cares about is my brother Michael, and her stupid cat.”

Gary glanced quickly toward the table where Inspector Thwaite and Sergeant Jake Cat had finished their sandwiches, and were enjoying a quiet drink. Jake didn’t turn around, though his tail fluffed out til it resembled that of a black-and-white fox.

Cat with Carpe

Cat with Carpe

Part 2 will be published on this blog next Sunday, 13th August. If you enjoyed this story, please buy an e-book of “Koi Carpe Diem: Five Tales of Paws, Claws, and Mystery”, featuring Inspector Thwaite and Sgt. Jake, or contact me for a signed paperback, featuring artwork by Tom Brown.

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Stigma & Spock: Sheffield Pride 2016

Ooo, blue, my hair's gone blue: (l to r) Anthony, me, ....

Blue, blue, my hair’s gone blue: (l to r) Anthony, me, & George

Warnings for: rainbows, poutine, an owl bag, & a giant chicken

Each Pride I attend – yesterday was my fourth – brings something new: knowledge, locations, people, even food. To be present as the LGBT community struts its stuff is a wonderful, dare I say fabulous, experience.

Always, though, there are the communities within communities. Sadly, the LGBT one has more than its fair share of people who are also part of the community of human beings with mental health problems. Yes, it’s that nasty old nemesis, stigma, once again.

Stigma happens, stigma matters, yet we humans can, and do, move beyond it. Stigma is the core of the Time to Change message, and change is its goal.

Old fart moment coming up: I’m closer to 60 than 50, and the amount of social change I’ve seen in my lifetime so far is truly breathtaking. Yes, we have a long way to go to the Star Trekian goal of the original, multicultural Enterprise crew, where the all-to-human Kirk describes the half-Vulcan Spock as his “brother”.

Peace & long life: Spock on a mug

Peace & long life: Spock on a mug


And yet to have lived vicariously through aparthiad and then the presidency of Nelson Mandela in South Africa; to see more. and more black actors in major television and film roles in the States (1); cancer going from “the big C” of my childhood, to something which can easily be talked about; the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland …

… you get my drift. Yesterday, whilst watching several older, same sex couples walking around Sheffield Pride, I thought about how recently such relationships were classified as a crime. And I found myself thinking, “What’s the big deal?

Truly, why all the fuss? Why should anyone care if Gary and Peter, or Sue and Barbara, want to be together? Why is that a problem, as long as they care about each other? Why should that be seen as different than Gary and Sue, or Peter and Barbara?

Likewise, as long as they can and do get help, why should anyone care that the person sitting, working, or living alongside them, has mental health problems?

Mental health problem? Or a question of perspective?

Mental health problem? Or a question of perspective?

Help is out there. And yet, because of that old devil stigma, many people delay getting it, often with terrible, sometimes tragic, consequences. Consequences which knock on to the lives of their family, friends, and colleagues.

One of the most distressing conversations I had yesterday about mental health, and its horrific consequences, was in the queue for some poutine. A Canadian classic, I’m tempted to describe poutine in British terms as “cheesy chips with gravy”, but that doesn’t do it justice. Whilst queuing, I got to talking to someone about a young man who took his own life. Sadly, it was one of those all too familiar situations where the first his loved ones knew there were problems was when they learned he was dead.

Death as the consequence of stigma – of the inability, for whatever reason, to tell someone, anyone, how they were feeling. A young life ended far too early.

My first Poutine 30 07 16

My first poutine

Spock, of course. would question stigma of all kinds. How, he would ask, is it logical to treat people differently because they have health problems, or because their sexuality differs from that of the majority of the population? Despite how far we’ve come in the human tendency to put people in boxes labeled “them” and “us”, we’re still far from logical, indeed far from as loving as we all have the potential to be.

Owl bag (centre) wants to be something much, much bigger. Bless

Owl bag (centre) wants to be something much, much bigger. Bless

To succeed in love, like work, like pretty much everything in life, comes down to communication. If we don’t tell other people what we’re feeling, what we’re thinking (2), then how can they possibly know what’s going on? This is the essence of Time to Change: talking naturally, with friends and family as well as mental health professionals, about how we are. How we feel.

As Spock would say, it’s only logical to change.

A lovely bloke, with a great pledge

A lovely bloke, with a great pledge

(1) The first time I saw a black actor (Denzel Washington, I think) play the lead in a film which did not refer to his race, I was thrilled and stunned.
(2) I realise that there are thoughts – eg, an unsolicited comment such as “That dress looks awful on you!” – which are better off not shared.

Posted in Labels, mental health, Time to Change | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments