On the Naming – & Reading – of Cats

You can call me what you like, it doesn't mean I'll show up.

You can call me what you like, it doesn’t mean I’ll show up.

The naming of cats is a difficult matter …” – TS Eliot

This is Al, aka The Cat Who Came to Dinner. So inevitably, today’s song is this one. No cat references, but lots of Al ones. I love most of Paul Simon’s work, and whilst I’m not a big Chevy Chase fan, I think he’s fab in this video.

Around a dozen cats have padded and slept through my life so far: I’m hoping many more will mew, purr, and yes, occasionally barf in my home, and garden. (1) That’s not counting friends’ cats, or the cat who lives near my work, and likes to say hello whenever I pop to the shop, or the pillar box.

The black and white cat pictured below is the late, great Jake, from whom the name Sgt Jake Cat comes from. Jake’s original name evolved considerably from a ridiculously long and indeed ridiculous name, to Jake, though his Sunday name was Jacob.

Big cat, big heart, big personality

Big cat, big heart, big personality

Thomas the cat: Brave, and sunny natured, if a bit thick.

Thomas the cat: Brave, and sunny natured, if a bit thick.

Speaking of names, at a recent writers’ group, I read a bit from my current work in progress, “A Yorkshireman in Ohio”. In it, I referred to the fictional Jake as “Sgt Cat”. This resulted in a somewhat surreal discussion about cat surnames.

Talking of cats, here are my top five favourite cat books:

  • Close Encounters of the Furred Kind” – Tom Cox (non fiction / humour) More than just a cat book, this, and Tom Cox’s previous book, “The Good, the Bad, and the Furry” are funny, beautifully written, and touching. The final section of “Close Encounters of the Furred Kind”, about a homeless cat named George, contains some of the most moving writing I have ever read. Highly recommended. I interviewed Tom on “Book It!” earlier this year. It was such a pleasure, as was going to see him in Sheffield this summer. I can go a bit fangirl when discussing his books, so I’ll move on to the next book.

    Tom Cox at Sheffield, August 2016

    Tom Cox, August 2016

  • The Door Into Summer” – Robert A Heinlein (sci fi) This is a lovely book for cat and science fiction fans alike. Published in 1957, I first came across it as a teenager, and loved it. It’s about time travel, cats, and love, in almost equal measures. Heinlein went a bit strange later on (2), but when he was good, he was very, very good.
  • The Silent Miaow” – Paul Gallico (non fiction) Beautifully written, with beautiful photographs by Suzanne Szasz. Sadly I don’t own a copy, perhaps I need to correct this. By the author who wrote the touching, and evocative, “Snow Goose“.
  • It’s Like This, Cat” – Emily Cheney Neville (children’s lit) I have fond, if hazy, memories of this one. I have a feeling it’s one of those books I borrowed time after time from my local library. This was a Newbery Medal winner in 1963. I suspect it would be classified as Young Adult (YA) if it was published today.
  • Why Cats Paint” – Heather Busch & Burton Silver (humour) One of the strangest books I’ve ever owned, read, and loved. I think my copy was a gift from Mum. Subtitled “A Theory of Feline Aesthetics”, it features beautiful photographs of cats, er, painting, as well as commentary on how and why the cats approach their artistic works. Includes cat tray art.Happy reading! Remember, winter is coming: it’s an ideal to curl up with a book, and, if you’re fortunate, a cat on your knee, or lap
    Bookless at bedtime: Al

    Bookless at bedtime: Al

    (1) I’m not a fan of barf, but sick and hairballs are part of the price you pay if you share close quarters with a cat.
    (2) “Number of the Beast”, anyone?

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Enough Adulting Already: Cancer & Me

What do you do with some drunken Cybermen?

What do you do with some drunken Cybermen?

Another day, another check up: per usual, at the hospital where I spent my first few stays on psych ward. The ward relocated years ago to a separate, purpose built location, but a shiver still goes down my bipolar spine whenever I walk through those hospital halls.

Doctor (no, not Who, not yet): “Has your nipple always been inverted?” Me: “Oddly enough, for someone with breast cancer, I haven’t thought about my nipples a great deal. Except for when it turned turquoise, that is.”

A beautiful blue sky: York, Sept 2016

A beautiful blue sky: York, Sept 2016

Good news: no appointments for three months, unless I get called in for the bone scan results which should have been ready, but weren’t. Bad news: well, there’s that debatable nipple, and something which – based on the pamphlet which came with the Spockin’ medication, for Spock’s sake – we thought was a side effect, but wasn’t. Or maybe it was. Either way, it looks like I may be seeing a gynecologist, something I rate slightly above touring an abattoir, or a shooting range.

I do realise things could be so much worse. I had radiotherapy, not chemo, and day surgery, not a mastectomy. Still, this year has included a stay on the ward; early stage breast cancer; death of a friend, and job uncertainty.

And there’s still three and a bit months left to go. Yippee!

When did “adult” become a verb? Normally I’m a right fogy when it comes to rewriting the English language: eg, I still insist on “all right”, because “alright” just isn’t right, right?

I’m making an exception here, though. Because, enough with the adulting, already.

Why has 2016 decided that it must always rain on me? Well, me and Travis. Unlike him, I’m pretty sure My Shite Year has nothing to do with a touch of mendacity when I was 17.

So I’m sprinkling my adulting with a generous peppering of sheer childishness. Such as semi-regular purchases of The Doctor Who Adventures Magazine, complete with free toys, such as an unnaturally thin Dalek, a couple of drunken Cybermen, and a set of “Rory’s Story Cubes” (1).

And then, there’s the writing. I recently finished my latest Sherlock Jones story, “The Geek Interventionist”, featuring the return of one of my favourite characters, the Hound of the Basingstokes. (2) A week or so earlier, I finished another long short story, “When Stoats Go Wrong”. Writing is a great way of not adulting whilst adulting at the same time. Because, if you’re lucky / persistent / talented / all the above, writing fiction is the best way ever to be paid for playing.

Sooner or later, this cancer is going to get me. I can feel it in my relatively recently scanned bones. I think it will be much later, rather than sooner. Even if my bones are wrong, death is certain, whilst what I do with my remaining time is comparatively optional.

I may as well enjoy my playtime whilst and how I can.

Memorial, St Martin's Church, York

Memorial, St Martin’s Church, York

(1) I don’t remember Rory was particularly given to tale telling. I imagine he’s copped for the cubes due to rhyme, rather than any particular reason.
(2) “Sherlock Jones and the Hound of the Basingstokes” is one of the stories in my short story collection, “Koi Carpe Diem“. “Sherlock Jones & the Geek Interventionist” is in the forthcoming sequel, “A Yorkshireman in Ohio”.

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Eye Corners

Someone doesn't like what he's seen

Someone doesn’t like what he’s seen

Some short fiction for you

My ophthalmologist is worried. So is the lass at Spectaculars, and one of the lads on my darts team. And the DVLA. Or they would be, if I told them.

I’m not going to. I can’t do my job if I can’t drive, and anyway, it’s only a learner’s permit. They don’t need to know, do they? They’re already uptight about the pills – the ones that make me drowsy. The ones I stopped taking, three months’ ago.

I didn’t go into details at Spectaculars. In fact, given the dodgy pair of specs they sold me last time – the ones that fell off my face whilst I was walking across the North Bridge, to a darts match at the Three Horse Shoes – I wasn’t going to say anything at all.

But there’s this lass who works there. Emily, she’s called. She’s been working there since before I bought those dodgy specs, and I’ve been finding reasons to pop in, and talk to her, ever since.

I’m working up to asking her out. Well, I was, up to when I started seeing the shadows.

They’re not actually that creepy, you know. Simon on my darts team – he, and the ophthalmologist, are the only ones I told – that was the first thing he asked.

You ever seen them in the library? Simon asked. Simon is a big Doctor Who fan, and is totally obsessed with River Song, and the actress who plays her.

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

Doctor who?

I’m not a big Doctor Who fan, but I do like to read, as does Simon. The rest of the team are great darts players, but I’ve never seen them reading anything more complicated than page 3 of the Sun.

The shadows aren’t creepy, I told Si.

I didn’t tell Si that they’re unnerving. Simon’s a great one for semantics, so he would have picked me up on that: the difference between “creepy,” and “unnerving”.

To me, “creepy” means disgusting, or disturbing: like a dream about UKIP, or an unexpected brown envelope on your mat, or a neighbour who always plays the same Rammstein song, at the same time – say, 3 am – every single night. Or day, as Simon – ever the pedant – would say.

I’m going to stop, now. Because those shadows, in the corners of my eyes? They’re getting closer. Closer than they’ve ever been before. And, this time, they’ve brought their mates. And their cousins. And their mothers-in-law.

It’s unnerving.

Unnerved of Doncaster

Unnerved of Doncaster

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.

The sequel collection, “A Yorkshireman in Ohio”, is out soon, initially in an e-book, then in print, as well.

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Delay, Light & Dark: World Suicide Prevention Day

Here be dragon

Here be dragon

A wise friend once told me that even the most negative of character traits can be helpful, in the right circumstances. Take, for example, procrastination. Also known, by those of us who use spellcheckers a lot, as delay.

Today  (10 September) is World Suicide Prevention Day, as per the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) As anyone who has tried or considered killing themselves, been bereaved by suicide, or worked in mental health would tell you, every day is suicide prevention day. So is every minute.

Here be dragon ...

Here be another dragon

As someone who has tried to kill herself, and nearly succeeded, when it comes to feeling suicidal, delay can be good.

Want to die? Thought of a way to do it? Then hold on, and wait. Delay taking any kind of action long enough to think of what, for you, is at least one good reason to keep going, if only for awhile. Delay long enough to contact a friend, lover (ex even, depending on your relationship with them), relative, mental health worker, and/or helpline. Delay long enough to do something positive for yourself, such as have a drink of water or a cuppa, a meal, a bath, get dressed, watch a DVD or a clip of something you love. To rant out loud, over the phone to that friend, or on paper.

Crest of a dragon: St Pancras Hotel, London

Crest of a dragon: St Pancras Hotel, London

Delay, until you can get help, create your own help, or the mood passes. It doesn’t have to pass entirely. Just enough to keep going, to stay alive. It’s perfectly possible to spend comparatively long periods of time wanting to die, without actually doing anything about it.

How do I know this? Because I’ve done it. Because I’ve lived that way, off and on, for over a decade, now.

If the above sounds like a place of total despair, it’s not. Because whilst I wanted to die, I wasn’t dead. “Where’s there life, there’s hope” – cheesy sounding, yet, like a lot of cheesy stuff, true.

Yet delay, so helpful to the person doing the despairing, isn’t when it comes to everyone else. If someone you care about seems hopeless, flat, emotionless, etc., don’t delay, do something. And no, I don’t mean get straight on to the ambulance service – unless your friend is actively suicidal, of course.

Usually, however, the first step is to talk. Just talk. Encourage them to do the same. Even if they react in anger, and walk away, keep talking.

Because what’s the worst thing that can happen, if you keep talking? Keep asking questions? Your friend may shout at you. But if you don’t – if you give up, or delay having that conversation – who will?

If you’ve lost a friend to suicide, and later said, “I didn’t realise”, then please, do not go down a road of guilt, blame, and the like. That’s not what this blog is about. And, sadly, suicidal people often do keep their feelings, and intentions, to themselves.

Why do we – the despairing, and suicidal – do this? That’s the subject of another blog, another time.

For now, if you’re worried about someone, please, talk to them, now. If you yourself are feeling suicidal, please, delay taking any action. And please, talk to someone. Friend, helpline, even your pet: initially, at least, it doesn’t really matter.

It’s always time to talk, it’s always time to change. And yes, there’s always hope. Even when, like faith, it’s no bigger than a mustard seed.

If you’re feeling suicidal, and you live in the UK, please click here for more information from the NHS. In the US, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Helpline.

Many dragons: Leeds Market, 2016

Many dragons: Leeds Market, 2016

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On the House (Part 3 of 3)

The Salutation Inn, Doncaster

The Salutation Inn, Doncaster

Part 3 of some Sunday fiction for you, set in the “Bird & Baby” pub, in my alternative version of Doncaster; click here for Part 1, & here for Part 2

Gary reached across the bar of the “Baby” to put £10 in the Firefly tin, but Harry the landlord stopped him.

“A few quid’ll be fine, lad. You’ll need that tenner for your taxi home.”

After dropping a few pound coins in the charity box, Gary drank a fifth pint, politely refused a chaser, then said, “Home? To a girlfriend who doesn’t love me, or a Dad who dislikes me, and a mum who prefers some old moggie to her eldest son?”

He paused, then looked quickly, and nervously, round the tap room.

“Jake went home awhile ago,” Tim the bouncer said, referring to the black-and-white cat who was a sergeant with the Doncaster Constabulary.

Cats can be right teapots at times.

Cats can be right teapots at times.

“You could go to your new home,” suggested Tim, who, despite having spent hours at the bar, had barely touched his own pint.

“New home?” Gary slurred. He reached for his throat, found his tie, pulled it off, then threw it in the direction of the stragglers from the quiz night.

One of them – a scout from the nearby university – caught it, shouted “Goal!”, then went back to her own, rather noisy, conversation.

“What new home might that be?” Gary asked. “’And where?”

“Where do you fancy?” asked Tim.

Gary paused, then said, “Filey. Always fancied the look of Filey.”

“We used to go to Filey sometimes, when I were a nipper,” said Harry. “Dead boring. Nowt ever happened.”

“Exactly,” said Gary. He smiled. It was a genuine smile, this time. “No girlfriend gabbling in my ear, no dad yelling at me, or our Michael, or that flippin’ cat, or arguing with Pete, or … you know what? Pete may be a bit of an arse, but he’s the only one I’ve ever known to stand up to Dad.”

Harry poured himself a shandy.

“Here’s to Filey.”

“Filey!” said Tim.

The three men clicked glasses, and drank to the small, North Yorkshire seaside town.

To be beside the seaside: Bridlington, Sept 2015

To be beside the seaside: Bridlington, Sept 2015

Gary sipped his sixth pint. “Course, I can’t really move to Filey.”

Tim pulled out a mobile, tapped at it for a minute or so, then showed the screen to Gary.

“If you can get a lift to station, there’s the 22:47 to Scarborough. If you book a B & B whilst you’re on the train – don’t sleep on station, whatever you do – you can catch a bus to Filey in morning. Best book it with cash, rather than your card.”

“Because?”

“Harder for your dad to figure out where you’ve gone. Or your girlfriend. Does he know how you feel about Filey?”

“Or your girlfriend?” Harry added.

Gary shook his head. There was a dreamy expression in his blue eyes which was only partly down to beer, and whiskey.

“No. Reckon I’ve kept that part of myself hidden for quite a few years now.”

“Including from yourself?” Tim asked quietly.

Gary smiled, and looked at Tim’s rucksack, which was full of books, pens, and notebooks.

“Reading really does broaden the mind, eh, Tim?”

The bouncer smiled in turn, but didn’t say anything as Gary emptied his pockets, then stuffed most of the contents into his briefcase. Then he handed it to Harry, and said, “It’s probably not your thing, Harry, or Tim’s, but – ”

“I”ll find it a home,” Harry promised.

Time to go home: St Pancras Station

Time to go home: St Pancras Station

Gary shook the two older men’s hands, and looked at his watch. “Thanks.”

“For the beer?” said Harry.

“That’s right. The beer.”

Gary felt a gentle tap on his left arm. Tim the bouncer was holding out a slim volume of Keats, which he had taken down from the shelf over the bar.

“To protect myself?” Gary joked, referring to their earlier conversation. “Don’t I need something sturdier, like the collected work of Dickens, or maybe an anthology of war poets?”

“It’s for your mind, not your body,” Tim replied.

Gary looked at Tim, then at Harry, who grinned.

“It’s on the house,” the landlord said.

Newton measures up: British Library gardens, August 2016

Newton measures up: British Library gardens, August 2016

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.

The sequel collection, “A Yorkshireman in Ohio”, is out soon, initially in an e-book, then in print, as well.

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