Let’s talk about our cat

A few months ago I discovered a cat had been a huge asset to someone with MND and wanted one myself.  So we got Charlie.

He was a rescue cat, just over a year old and had had to given up due to a child’s exzema.  He was also neutered. We looked at other cats there.  Most were sleeping but Charlie was very good at selling himself.  I wrote about our slightly clandestine approach to make sure we got him here. He is definitely a people cat.  He likes to be with us as much as possible.

We got Charlie a bed in case he wanted to hide away.  He has never used it.  Hiding away isn’t something that appeals to him.  People do though.  I think I can show you a photo of our cat two days after we got him.  I think you can say Charlie was relaxed.

One of my sisters in law suggested writing about Charlie.  Of course it won’t just be about him.  I wrote about serious stuff last time but this is really light relief.  Alas we don’t think our cat is very clever.  But he does have enormous fun inside the house trying to leap up and catch leaves blowing outside.  He makes up for it by being very sweet natured.  Most of the time.  He is with me as I don’t torment him.

We have a piano downstairs and Charlie has had a few accidents as he slithers off the lid.  He hasn’t yet mastered that trying to trot across a slope doesn’t work.  Especially when it is smooth and shiny.

I like the fact that it doesn’t matter to Charlie that I can’t talk and spend most of the time with folded kitchen tissue in my mouth.  He still makes use of my lap frequently.  And he is lovely and warm as I get cold recently.

I don’t remember the first cat my family had which is a bit sad.  He was called Vodka and I am told he was very clever indeed.  He used to be able to turn a tap on to get a drink. Next we had Rupert who wasn’t as clever but very sweet.

He used to meet us at the bottom of the drive when my brother and I got off the bus from primary school.  We had a gorgeous quite big Springer Spaniel called Rowan at the same time.  Rupert, as a kitten, would lurk on verges and leap on to one of Rowan’s long ears.  It can’t have been nice but Rowan would carry on walking.  It paid off in the future as Rowan would lie on a stump and Rupert would bring him mice and small creatures for his delectation.

Next we got Dusty, named by my youngest brother.  He was also sweet.  However I was away from home for most of his life so didn’t know him so well.  And now we have Charlie.  We didn’t get him as a kitten.  But he was the perfect cat for us.So what if he is quite thick.

A lot has changed since my last blog post.  I now have a rather snazzy pillow lift.  Do watch the video with that link.  We have it on our king size bed. I know a lot of people don’t like them but it works for me.  Sadly I am tall so tend to slide down the bed a bit.  We have an interesting board and pillow combination at the bottom of the bed to stop my feet poking out from under the covers.  Although I start the night with my feet against the pillow.  I end up with squished feet by morning.  My OT arranged for the pillow lift.

One day soon I will trot round the house and show you all the stuff my lovely OT, Janice, has arranged.  I have a surprising amount despite being steady on my feet.

The biggest change has nothing to do with the OT.  I can swallow but my tongue is very weak and I struggle to move food back.  For two weeks now I have been fed ensure 2cal and water through my PEG.  I can barely manage anything else.  The best thing is I have five a day and am gaining weight.  Yippee.  Thank goodness I got my PEG early.  I don’t want to give up food totally yet so I am hunting for something I can eat.  There must be something.  I just need to find it.

I get the ensure 2cal 3 times a day and it is gravity fed.  You can have a pump overnight and a dietician suggested I could just give up two hours every morning.  No chance.  It suits me as it is just now.

Now let’s appreciate our cat again.  He has taken to hiding ready to bounce.  He is especially fond of feet.  So the next photo shows Charlie trying to hide under a rug.  My husband thinks he will trip me up one day.  I think it is unlikely so do watch this space.  Charlie isn’t that good at hiding!  It would have helped if I had managed to reduce the photo.

I don’t give my husband, David, as much credit as I should.  It is difficult to describe how much he does.  He is always on the look out for things to help me.  I know have a much bigger phone as he reckons it will help.  I think it does.  But there is so much help he offers so I am going to finish with an appropriate song for him.  The Best by Tina Turner.  I looked at a lot of videos and Tina Turner always has very short skirts.  Well, dresses even.  I never wore short skirts even when I was young!



The Ghosts of Christmas Past

This was going to be posted just before Christmas but it has migrated to today instead.

Over the past few days I have been thinking about Christmases in my past.  There have been so many happy Christmas experiences.

Those happy experiences don’t necessarily include the Christmas when my brother persuaded my parents that we would like jointly was something called ‘Raving Bonkers’.  This was too expensive for one of us but ideal for two.  You may be unaware of this toy but it involved two robots boxing each other.

Raving Bonkers

We were given it.  My brother was thrilled.  I wasn’t.  Luckily that year a kind relation also gave me ‘The Miss World Game’.  This was incredibly girlie and, truth be told, not very good but my uncle endearingly player it with me for hours.  That was unbelievably kind of him.

What is the real overriding Christmas memory for you?  I think of all the Christmas lunches through the years and all the people who have shared the celebrations with us but are no longer here.  These may be the ghosts of Christmas past but it is a surprisingly happy festive thought.  There have been so many wonderful shared Christmases.

I think of the lovely old people my parents would invite to share our Christmas meal when I was a child.  My paternal grandfather would come for Sunday lunch every week from the time my step grandmother died until his own death seven years later so it was taken for granted that he would be there to share the turkey.  My maternal grandparents lived until 2002 and 2006 so I was privileged to know them well for many years.  They would come to stay with my parents for two or three weeks every Christmas and New Year.  That was always exciting for us but I suspect pretty hard work for my parents.

Then there were the waifs and strays.  Admittedly they weren’t really that but they were old people my parents knew who would have been on their own at Christmas if they hadn’t come to us.  There always seemed to be a couple of them who would arrive for Christmas lunch while we were growing up, dressed in their best bib and tucker.  It is the abiding memory of my childhood from this time of year.

Of course those old people are now long gone and several years ago I started being the one cooking Christmas lunch.  But the old people live on in my memory.  That is even more true of the more recent Christmas guests.  My maternal grandparents I have already mentioned.  My father-in-law died in 2002 and my mother-in-law in 2011.  My father, who I have written about before here died in 2013.  These were all people I knew well and loved.

So is it sad to look back on my own ghosts of Christmas past?  No, it isn’t.  There was so much warmth and love around every Christmas, and there still is.  I love seeing all the old photographs of happy, smiling people that crop up in our photograph albums beaming over pudding as they model paper crowns.  This year I have felt a pang of sadness for some of the people who are gone but I also feel incredibly grateful that I knew them.  I was 38 when my maternal grandmother did.  That was an amazing privilege.  My children got to know both of my maternal grandparents which is fantastic.  And while my husband never knew any of his grandparents my children will always remember my father and my mother-in-law and my older child remembers my father-in-law too.  What a fantastic thing.

I do hope you had a wonderful Christmas.



What makes you happy?

Just stop for a moment and think about what makes you happy.  It is something I have been doing a lot this week.

So, here are a few of the things that make me happy: snuggling down with a good book, the excitement of someone achieving something for the first time, a sudden and unexpected sight of beauty, a really enjoyable film, play, meal or any other experience.  I could go on and on.

My friends and family make me happy but that is an underlying feeling of happiness rather than a sudden happy bubble.

I have been trying to decide if different things made me happy when I was younger and, on the whole, I don’t think they did.  I still loved a good book, wonderful experiences and the excitement of others.  And that is really exciting.  I really don’t want to reach an age where I no longer find happiness in all sorts of places.

Some things have changed since I was younger.  I was extremely shy as a child and would find it comforting and a source of happiness if we went out as a family and I could pass largely unnoticed and fade into the background.  It would have made life a struggle to have remained that way.  But what about other memories?

Everyone seems to have a few unhappy memories tucked away.  Words that would have been better left unsaid and experiences we would rather not have had.  I don’t mean the big things like bereavement but the little things we will always remember.  I can still vividly remember my dismay as I stood at a bus stop in London in my very early twenties.  The man behind me in the queue stood so close to me that I could feel something hard pressing against me.  Yuck.  That is quite a mild unpleasant memory and yet I remember it vividly to this day.

What about the happy memories?  I have so many of those, from my wedding day to an hysterical game of Pictionary played with family on Boxing Day.  So many Christmases provide treasured memories, including the one when my young son put twiglets on his Christmas list.  Wikipedia twiglets description.  He was given a large glass jar filled with them so we played a family game of guess the number in the jar.  When my brother lost he performed his version of the Andy Stewart classic ‘Donald where’s your troosers’ as a forfeit, to much hilarity.  It is definitely still a treasured memory.  There were four generations of us there that day, and not everyone there is still with us, but it is a wonderful memory all the same.  I have so many memories to treasure.

Donald Where’s Your Troosers sung by Andy Stewart

Please stop for a moment and think about some of your own happiest memories.  It is all too easy to think about sad times when we look back.  But what about thinking about happy times instead for a bit.  Although there are things I see that make me happy, my happiest memories all involve other people.  See if yours do too.  People really are essential to our happiness.  But how fantastic to think we can contribute to the happiness of others as well.

I have just read an article by Miriam Akhtar.  She is a positive psychologist who believes that we can train ourselves to be happier.  That makes perfect sense to me.  If we take the time to really enjoy positive experiences, appreciate good things that happen to us and focus on the things that are good in our lives rather than those that are bad then of course we are going to feel happier than someone who does the opposite.

A lot of people don’t have to make a conscious effort to look on the bright side.  But I am sure we all know people who are like little walking grey clouds and are nearly always gloomy.  I like to think it really is possible to train yourself to be happier even if you are a little grey cloud.  If we have the basic essentials of life then we must also have positive things we can think about, even if they are just happy memories to start with.  I love the idea of happy muscles that can be trained.  Who wants to be a bundle of gloom anyway?

Two songs accentuating the positive to make us all feel better:

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Accentuate the Positive

Are you torn?

Do you remember the song Torn between two lovers by Mary MacGregor? 

Are you now wondering what I am going to write about?  Well, not lovers I am afraid.  But definitely being torn between two things.

I really want to talk about being torn between two generations.  I may not be, but many of my friends are.  My mother is fit and healthy and all I need do to help is to be available to give advice when it is asked for.  I don’t need to provide financial support and my mother is in no way an invalid.  So you may be wondering why I am thinking about being torn between generations at all.

Last week I met up with an old friend.  We have known each other since we were at school together so the old reflects the number of years we have been friends rather than our own ages.  Really we are both middle aged.  My mother lives 500 miles from me and was staying with us for Christmas, thrilled to be here and loving going for long walks.  My friend’s parents moved closer to her around ten years ago.  Her mother has dementia and was due to have an above the knee amputation shortly due to a severe leg problem.  Our positions are not remotely comparable.  Yet when I asked my friend if she had any suggestions for my next blog post she suggested being torn between two generations.  And she was right.

I can look back on a time when my children were young, my parents were fit and healthy, and most of my friends also had small children.  We would try to avoid talking solely about our children having realised how boring that can be.  Sometimes it was a losing battle.  There were lots of helpful books about babies and toddlers and what to expect.  I even had some baby and toddler cookbooks.  There were magazines aimed at parents of young children full of useful tips and stories.  I read jolly books about being a parent too.  My personal favourite amongst this last group was ‘How not to be a perfect mother’ by Libby Purves.

Now it is two decades later and things have changed.  When I meet with friends we suddenly find ourselves talking about our parents more than our children.  Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, heart disease, fragility and vulnerability.  These are all words that trip easily off our tongues these days as we do all we can to help our parents.  I know more about nursing homes now than I could ever have imagined twenty years ago.

This time there are no helpful magazines or books.  There are books on life with a parent with a specific problem, usually dementia, but no manuals to help with what to expect as parents age.  And while children grow stronger and more self-sufficient our parents are likely to become weaker and less able to cope.  And we can’t know when this will start to happen.  Perhaps it never will.  My grandmother died very suddenly of a heart attack and stroke and there was no slow deterioration to cope with.

I asked my mother if she had ever felt torn between two generations.  She hadn’t.  And nor did she ever have overwhelming responsibility for vulnerable parents.  My mother was, admittedly, extraordinarily fortunate.  She was 61 when her mother died and 65 when her father did.  Few of us are fortunate enough to have both parents live for so many decades of our own lives and in good health for the whole of the first 60 years of our lives.  When my grandmother died my grandparents had been married for very nearly 65 years.  Just fantastic.


I can’t help thinking that the fact that we are living longer has a lot to do with the concerns so many of my friends have for their parents, despite my mother’s experience.  As longevity increases so does the risk of debilitating illness in later years.  Often we live many miles from our parents and may have children still of school age when our parents are also a cause for concern.  It really is possible to feel completely torn between two generations and worried that you are not giving either enough attention.

Whether or not that is you, do take a moment to stop and think.  Focus on the good things in life and the good times you shared with your parents.  I know it can be hard.  I have mentioned before how much I miss my father.  I still feel tears pricking at my eyes as I remember that he is gone.  But there are also masses of wonderful memories to look back on.  My mother told some fantastic stories of her own childhood while she was here.  We should all be able to do that.

When you feel really torn it can seem as if all is doom and gloom.  But think how much more you know now than when you were younger.  When I was a child I used to long to meet a chain smoker.  I thought that was someone who could blow lots of smoke rings joined together to form a chain.  I really do know a lot more now.  And I have some wonderful memories to treasure.  I bet you do too.