Tango’s tale

Cats are aloof, they say. Cats are dignified, they say. So tell me, any of you, has anyone ever seen a cat quite like this one?

If you know me – or at least my blog – very well, then you will have met Bouncer. Pictured above is his brother.

What prompted me to suddenly give Tango a bit of screen time was something actually quite sobering. Earlier this week, with little warning, he took ill rather dramatically. Having vomited copiously in at least two rooms, my mum and sister found him in a state of collapse. While the picture above indicates, not entirely incorrectly, that collapse is a normal state for him, he was rushed to the vets, put on a drip and kept in overnight.

Meanwhile, we were told he probably had something wrong with his heart. I inwardly accepted that this blog post was going to be something between an obituary and a eulogy.

To get a diagnosis, he had to be taken to a feline heart specialist in Derbyshire. Two car journeys, a heart scan, and a three-digit-long fee later, it turned out there was nothing wrong with his heart. So much for that.

Tango’s defining trait has always been his docility. At least one of the vets described him as “such a dude”, and at no point during his x-ray at the vets, or heart scan in Derbyshire, did anyone feel the need to anaesthetise him. For him, there seems to be a very fine line between illness-induced lethargy and normal behaviour. He barely woke when, as an animal care student in my teens, I had to give him a physical health-check for an assignment. I think he was a bit disconcerted when I started flexing his legs, but I was finished before he even got around to reacting.

We went on holiday a few years ago and left the cats in the care of one of my stepbrothers who, at one point, rang Mum and John, because he was worried about Tango. Needless to say, we had to reassure him that no, nothing was wrong with Tango, and yes, lying with his legs in the air and rarely waking up is perfectly healthy behaviour. For him.

For such a placid cat, he is a bit funny about late-neutered males. He hated Basil, my late grandmother’s cat, on sight. While Basil bullied Bouncer relentlessly, Tango pursued Basil with a Mr Hyde persona if he so much as looked at him; it was as if, for every blow Basil gave Bouncer, Tango would dole out two. When George kept turning up in our garden as a stray, it looked like he was in for similar treatment. Now, give or take the occasional fur-flying squabble where collars go pinging off, they seem to have come to a truce. In fact, George is fascinated by him, and doesn’t seem to understand that, while bottom sniffing has its perks, Tango doesn’t share his enthusiasm for it.

Now he and Bouncer are 13 1/2, having joined our household when they could still fit in one hand. Tango may be the soppiest cat I’ve ever met, but I’ll say this for him: in his own way, he’s stoical. He may be inclined to roll off beds in his sleep, he may panic if your keys rattle too loudly. But, as the brother who drew the short straw healthwise, he continues to be his usual trusting self throughout eczema medicine, eyedrops, and at one point a cone collar, being forced upon him. And while we’ve all been losing sleep over the thought of losing him, he has dealt with the ordeal with his usual unconditional trust and affection. Couldn’t we all learn from that?

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Our New Wine family

“I don’t know what to expect from these meetings…I’m on the outside, wishing I knew someone closely, but not feeling comfortable enough to say anything…”

Ten months ago, I wrote myself a letter. I was at my course’s church, surrounded by other Christian interns, and we had been asked to write to our end-of-year selves. Two days ago, these letters were returned to us, and we were asked to take time to reflect on how far we’d come.

I was enrolled on the weekly New Wine Discipleship course as part of the internship I’m doing at a Christian bookshop. And if I’m honest, there were times when I thought I’d never find my feet there. Everyone was getting to know each other. No-one else had to calm down in another room when asked to write and perform a talk. We were all advised to “go deeper” with each other in conversation, and quite frankly, this terrified me.

In situations like this, you can either go running back to safety, or you can push yourself forward. So when I tried to act sociable and relaxed, or remember people’s names, or make a beeline for anyone I now recognised, that’s what I was doing.

I don’t know how I’ve gone from that stage, to thinking about how much I’m going to miss it, but I have. Each Monday session has been draining, but we’ve done so much together. Our first weekend away. Our Christmas party. The Ukraine mission trip. Jennie and Jan’s wedding. And finally, to go out with a bang, our end-of-year graduation ceremony.

Our last day was the most uplifting and exhausting yet. After opening our letters, we all sat in a circle with someone in the centre, while everyone else voiced words of encouragement and special memories. A real reminder of how we value each other.

But what could anyone say about me, the quiet one who always needs help? Let’s say I was humbled by how many things my friends appreciate about me.

Once half the group had stopped crying, we moved on to Jess’ game. In two teams, we each had to decode clues about where in the city we should go to, take a group selfie once there, receive the next clue, and so on. I don’t know why we had to run everywhere, but when my team decided to race, I started at the back, and out-ran all of them. Just saying.

And onto the most important part, the graduation ceremony! While we were hitting the town, Jess had prepared our paper graduation hats and certificates. Once we were assembled, she even dedicated a short speech to each of us before presenting us with our certificates. A true ceremony if ever there was one!

To end the festivities, we had drinks and a meal at a local tapas bar. Thinking about it, having a cocktail on an empty stomach and zero energy probably wasn’t my wisest choice. I shifted between feeling increasingly sociable, and overly anxious. And lightheaded. But hey, tripping over a downward step, and talking about my feelings to the next person* who would listen proved entertaining, if nothing else.

At this point, I’m going over my preferred word count to conclude with a personal shout out to everyone!

To Ruth B, my first friend on the course who looked out for me from day one, and who always goes the extra mile for the group

To Wole, whose God centred enthusiasm is unmatched, and whose random singing had us all in stitches

To Matt, a good worship leader who can start and finish any theological debate

To Ruth G, who I commute with, discuss the course with, and also happily be alone together with

*To Mary, who translated in Ukraine even though it wasn’t easy, and who let me chatter aimlessly about how I shouldn’t have had that cocktail

To Elijah, who also translated, and helped me navigate Ukrainian cafes

To Jan, who trod the Christian bookshop path before me so we could compare experiences

To Miya, who, in Ukraine, listened to me complaining about how useless I sometimes felt

To Jake, who, like me, started off in super-introvert mode, but is actually pretty fun to watch at a wedding disco

To Alex, whose sense of humour is equally questionable and brilliant

To Cameron, who made a good second-in-command in Ukraine

To Nathan, always the cool head in any tricky theological discussion

To Isaac, who frequently gives positive feedback on this blog

And of course, our leaders: David, who got us through the first tricky term, Jess, mother hen and vicar-to-be, and Simon, who led us through Ukraine and made sure I didn’t get lost. Hats off to everyone!

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DISCLAIMER: the photo belongs to Jess, not me

 

Ode to Jennie – marriage, madness, and much more

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At a wedding, you hear all manner of speeches. And I never did get to give my “intern of the bride” speech. So here it is.

After 10 months of messing around in a shop together, on Saturday 1st July I got to celebrate the marriage of one of my dearest, craziest friends Jennie, and fellow New Wine course member Jan*. It was fun, it was heartfelt, and it was an event that my colleagues predicted from the moment Jan became the intern at the bookshop where we work. Well, that’s what they say. Jennie hotly denies it.

Anyway. My first memory of Jennie, assistant manager extraordinaire, was at my interview last August, as Jan’s potential successor. Picture it: the bookshop’s back office, papers and packaging everywhere, and me, dutifully answering every question my now-boss was firing at me. Jennie, meanwhile, was sitting to one side silently judging me. If she had a beard, I bet she would have been stroking it.

Weeks later, and the dynamics in our relationship had changed enough to be able to communicate “difficult customer alert!” with just one glance. We bonded over our love of to-do lists, and it wasn’t long before the ones she wrote for me included “squash the world in a garlic press” or “High five yourself and then the nearest apple.” And when our conversations got too weird, we mastered the ability to stop whenever a customer came in, and resume without missing a beat once the shop was empty.

For all Jennie’s quirks, the main reason we’ve become so close is that we never felt under pressure to befriend each other. I mean, we’re super introverts. We don’t thrive under high social demands. Although I did rely on her to show me how things were done, other than that, we happily kept our heads down until we were comfortable enough to talk properly. I’d say that was a major breakthrough.

And somehow, we just connected. I love it when that happens. She has shown infinite patience with me, by the way, no matter how many times I screw up because I thought I knew what to do. Wedding preparation has been stressful for her, but throughout it all, she has remained kind, funny, and brilliant at everything she does.

She has also very generously given me a say in certain aspects of the wedding. I have to say, I think my suggestion of a giant, hollow chocolate orange as a carriage was a stroke of genius, even if she did say I’d be the one pulling it. And her hen do: 9.30am – 5pm, in a Christian bookshop, selling books, eating biscuits, and winding each other up.

And now the wedding has come and gone. Apart from anything, it was fun! It was another bonding experience with the other New Wine interns, and we had a lot of laughs playing air guitar in time to some good old disco music. I feel honoured to have attended, and know that they will have a wonderful, long life together. Jan is friendly and funny, and it has also been a pleasure to get to know him along with the other interns.

Now, in just a few weeks, they are moving to Mattersey, Nottinghamshire. Jan will be going to Bible college. Jennie will have a new job. I’ll be twiddling my thumbs in a shop where no-one sneaks up behind me, then laughs when I scream. Or finds endless good things to say about me no matter how wrong I prove them.

Jennie, thank you for a great year. Keep on doing amazing things in life!

 

 

*Think German, and pronounce the J as a Y. Please. He gets sick of being mistaken for a woman.

 

To John: a very happy, hot, and sunny Father’s day

As usual on a Sunday, I am trying to come up with witty, informative reading material that really captures my chosen subject. Unfortunately, it’s so hot, I’m struggling to think of anything remotely clever. Fortunately, my chosen subject has reassured me that he is not remotely clever. Introducing: husband to my mother, father to my stepbrothers*…my stepfather John!

When John first turned up in our lives, we were a single parent family – Mum, five year old me, one year old sister Rhian – living on benefits. My father, for all his apparently fine qualities, had not come up trumps, my earliest memories comprising me and my pregnant mother hiding in her locked bedroom after a particularly nasty fight.

A year on, and we were on a single parents week at a Christian holiday/retreat centre. I don’t remember much about those early stages, except that this man who Mum met during the week kept visiting. And sleeping in our living room. It’s been 19 years, and in retrospect, moving in with him was probably a hint that he was here to stay. Or we were.

I’ve told John several times that of all the dads I’ve had, he’s definitely in the top 50 per cent. He fits all the basic “dad” criteria to a tee. He makes predictable jokes. He makes them again. He sings out of tune. Over the years, he’s helped me and my sister with revision, job applications, and unwanted bits of food. Or food that he mistook for being unwanted. And, despite his earlier assurances, he’s actually pretty clever.

Plus, he’s had a role in many a family anecdote. Like when, pre-marriage, he took six year old me and two year old Rhian to the smallpox museum. Picture it: photos of hideously scarred, dying children everywhere, and a video all about a disease that killed everyone. Mum knew it hadn’t been a success when we came back white as a sheet, and unable to finish our dinner. It seems that John’s stepdad potential could only go up from there.

And of course, bedtime reading. It was John who got me reading people stories as well as animal ones, when he said he was going to read a surprise book. He did a good job of hiding the cover as well; I only got a split-second glimpse of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone before he started reading.

During my sister’s Enid Blyton phase, he had a real knack (or was it need?) when it came to livening up tales of pious schoolgirls with zany French teachers. Not satisfied with his old trick of inserting funny words, he had to give each character a badly-portrayed accent. Welsh? Afro-American? Dalek? You name it.

Yep, John is very much dad material. And I fully appreciate what he’s done for us. I’ve often thought it must take dedication to take on someone else’s kids and help raise them as your own. So I want to raise a glass to all dedicated fathers, and specifically those who take on the role, no matter how late in their children’s lives. Who better to teach me how to quickly predict a dad joke?

 

 

*one of whom features here

 

To Mum: surprise!

You know that awkward moment when you’re struggling to write a surprise blog post, but the person you usually ask for advice is the central character of said post? Yeah. It’s hard, isn’t it? So without further ado, let me introduce…you guessed it, my mother!

For starters, my mum has many names to choose from, the most common ones being Helen, Hez, Hezza, and, according to her Sainsbury’s reward cards, Melen* (my personal favourite). She spent her teen years at ballet school, then worked for several more years in Taiwan, where she met my father. Now back in England and married to my stepdad, she teaches Pilates and is training to be a counsellor. Long story short.

One of Mum’s many achievements in life is to produce two children who look nothing like her. Given this fact, and my father’s shenanigans with other women, I have asked her if she’s sure I’m not some other woman’s child. For some reason, she keeps insisting I’m hers, and refuses to believe otherwise. Almost as if my logic is flawed…

She also never tires of talking about what a huge baby I was, often completely at random. Having recently had my 24th birthday, this subject has been particularly high on the agenda. But given that I’d forget if it was mentioned on anything less than a daily basis, this is probably character building for me.

To this day, Mum still has a collection of letters I posted under her door as a small child. Such as “Dear Mummy, are you sorry that I hurt my knee?” And “Dear Mummy, I am sorry that the book got broken. Maybe we can fix it somehow.” And this classic from Year 1 at school: “My mummy is nice and kind and pretty and firm when me and my sister are bad. Sometimes my sister is bad, but I am good most of the time.” I always was destined to be a writer…

Apparently one of the perks of being a mother is the thrill of embarrassing your children. Personally I don’t buy the excuse that it’s revenge for every time your kids publicly embarrass you. But then her favourite weapon is stories of all those times. She also likes trying to be cool with words like “lol”, “lmao”, “grooveh” and “in with da kids”. Which she does to drive my sister crazy “just for the lolz.”

But for all her eccentricities, my mum fits all the important mum criteria. Throughout divorce, living on benefits, school struggles, Grannie dying, and the trials and tribulations of growing up, she has been there. Loved me and my sister. Fed us properly. Given us a good life. And never let us down. Well, unless you count the time she wasn’t sorry I hurt my knee.

Melen Mum, I will just say this for you. I love you. Oh, and happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

 

*Whoever created those cards must have looked at her signature, wondered to themselves whether the first letter was an H or an M, and decided that “Melen” was the most likely option.

My Grandfather, a Kind Old Man

You know those nagging regrets that won’t leave you alone? Anything from wanting to change something about the past to eating out and wishing you’d had dessert – or hadn’t. Relatable as these regrets are (!!!), what I was really thinking of was not blogging about Grannie before she died. Which brings me onto the topic of this post which I’ve been planning for months. Surprise, Grandad, this one’s for you!

My earliest memory of my grandfather was of how tickly his moustache felt whenever he kissed me. Not being a fan of tickly things on my bare skin, I would, rather formally for a child, politely ask “On the head, Grandad.” To this day, this is our main catchprase whenever Grandad is around. Messages from him to me often end in “xx (on the head)” – for an example, just look through the comments on my previous posts.

Another neat little phrase that hasn’t grown old started out as a compliment I gave him when I was little. Mum thinks it’s ironic that I summarised him as a “kind old man,” when he was barely older than my stepdad is now. Details, details. I clearly saw him as a good-hearted and fun grandfather, and he was. When he looked after my sister and I (pre-school and early primary school age, respectively) when Mum went to hospital, I have vague memories of him playing a joke on my sister that involved a very realistic, shiny plastic banana and a bunch of real ones. Interestingly, she remembers this better than he does. When our mum and stepdad were on their honeymoon, we went for a photo shoot in our bridesmaid dresses. Why did we look so happy? Grandad was standing behind the photographer pulling faces.

Years went by, and Grannie and Grandad continued to be a strong influence in our lives. Then at the start of 2013, Grannie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Suddenly, contact became so much more important. Mum would be ringing regularly, or driving from Loughborough to Gloucestershire, while I had the surreal task of emailing Grannie about which pieces to play at her funeral. Throughout this, Grandad waited on Grannie hand and foot, unendingly patient and never asking for help.

This wasn’t the happiest time in any of our lives, but ironically I don’t think our family had ever been so united. And it was through this that we got to know Grandad even better. Since Grannie died, he has survived well with support from many sources, and has lived life to the full, be it moving into a new flat or doing marathon walks across Spain.

And now today is his birthday, and I have just completed his surprise birthday present. Happy birthday Grandad! xx (on the head).

Suri

As you can see from the above photo, we have a new family member. Because it felt strange saying I have three cats having still not met the third, I made a date to come straight home at the beginning of the reading week to meet the new arrival: Suri.

Like Lionel, Suri is a former Redgate resident. Apparently there is some controversy over her history, but long story short, she is three, and had previously suffered from cat flu and abscesses before she was given the all-clear. She still has bald patches on three out of four legs, but is none the worse for wear. The staff at Redgate depicted her as liking other cats. She shows Tango and Bouncer how much she loves them by hissing at them and swiping at them when they try to use the stairs. My family collected her on Sunday 15th February and last Monday I finally met her.

The main difference between her and the tabbies, aside from being a completely different colour, is how kitten-like she is. At 10 and three quarters, the boys are getting to that stage in life where they are well used to everything life has thrown at them. They have taken Suri’s arrival in their stride, and having seen Thomas, Lionel and Basil come and go, were probably thinking “Ok, what’s this one going to be like?”. I think we’ve all said how small she is compared to the tabbies, but then we say that about most cats we see! Even the vet said they are at least a quarter longer than the average cat. Mum can’t get over how tiny her paws* are compared to theirs, especially Tango’s – we think if he was a man, he would be a size 14.

Despite her previous health problems, Suri is a lively little thing and wants to be everywhere all the time. When I was there, she was all over the worktop, explored the crockery cupboard and even got into the cupboard where the kitchen knives are kept. Apparently this is normal and shouldn’t be discouraged – that said, I still drew the line at her investigating the cheese box. She loves her food apparently, but (unlike Thomas) knows not to expect it at 5am. She has outdoor access, but seems to approach the outdoors like a newly-released prisoner. So far, 10 seconds at a time is more than enough for her.

It’s hard not to feel like I’m missing out, as this is the first time I haven’t been fully involved in the arrival of a new cat. I do miss having cats, and often worry that the tabbies will forget about me. Having spent so many years running to me when called, Bouncer always gets excited when I come back, however long it has been. Tango, on the other hand, is so docile it doesn’t make much difference whether he remembers you or not. Despite being more timid that Bouncer, he does seem less wary of Suri. Then again he was the only cat who could ever stand up to Basil, by developing a Jekyll and Hyde persona. Clearly we underestimate him.

Changing the subject, I am once again trying a new approach to blogging. The best way to make a blog more successful is to write about a recurring topic. So I was thinking about writing more about special needs based subjects, including posts based on my online Demon articles, such as the last post. I’ll probably write either once a week or every other week and alternate between special needs posts and the usual ramblings about my life. I might also add in the odd bit of creative writing. I always worry I’ll run out of topics, but if I can write about a cat I have only met once, I can’t be doing too badly.

And just so they don’t feel left out, here are the tabbies at their best:

*Suri’s paws, that is. Mum doesn’t have any paws.