A Tale of Two Kitties

Scratchy (left) and Itchy

(Originally published on my old blog in 2011)

I’ve got to warn you that this is a long blog, involving the death of my cat, Itchy, with a summing up of my awareness of the whole episode, now. It may be difficult for some of you to read…

I first met my kittens, Itchy and Scratchy, before they were named and before I ever considered that they’d be coming home with me, someday.

I was introduced to them, their siblings and their proud mother when a friend of a friend showed me them, all curled up together, in a bedside cabinet she’d taken the bottom drawer from in order to create a nest space.

There was plenty of purring from their mother, and the occasional, high-pitched ‘mew’ of squabbling for kitty-titty and milko. I looked in with a huge smile on my face and watched them all for a little while. Kittens are, of course, excellent.

As I am now – and I do realise I’m blowing my dating potential – I was living here at my mother’s house. I mentioned to her one evening, soon afterwards, that I’d seen the kittens and she gave a big ‘Aww’.

We’d had cats and dogs (and a menagerie of other lovely creatures) before, but at that time there were no pets. I didn’t consider that we’d be getting any more, as my Mum had often said: “No! We’re not getting any more pets!” It seemed a resounding resolve.

For some reason, when I told her the colours, she said that maybe it would be lucky to have two black cats around the house!

That was all I needed to know…

Six or seven weeks later, with the very enthusiastic support of my brother’s girlfriend at the time, I was sitting in her car with a cardboard box full of meows, driving our two new, ultra-cute friends to their new home. Her and my brother lived and worked at a hotel in the Lake District, but from her joy at seeing them, you’d think she was taking them off for herself.

One of the kittens was very curious and full of energy, pushing her head up through the closed box as we travelled, trying to get out. As much as I wanted to play, I guessed it would be quite dangerous and distracting to have a scurrying fluff-ball running around a car while it travelled at speed, so I had to restrain both myself and my new friend’s eagerness for a time longer. While she – as we soon discovered – was so bright-eyed and eager to see the world, her twin brother was much more timid and reserved, sitting quietly in the bottom of the box, looking quite lost.

When we got them home, the little girl quickly went off to explore the house, looking in every nook and cranny and probably piddling in a few of them, too. Meanwhile, her brother just looked around and shivered. He got a lot of cuddles and seemed to prefer that to going on adventures with his bold sister.

I’m not sure if it’s because my brother’s girlfriend was bossy or blonde that we gave her the honour of naming the kittens… but she did, and whereas I would have given them splendid, noble names, she degreed that they would be called… yes… Itchy and Scratchy.

Itchy was the boy and Scratchy, you’ve probably worked out, was the girl.

As Itchy found his courage and started his own expeditions around the house, the energy of teamwork with Scratchy began to shine. They were inseperable. They slept together, played together, fought together, ate together and even ran up my legs together when I was opening a can of pusso chunks. Forty tiny daggers in my thighs, but it always made me laugh, despite the blood loss.

Scratchy was quite an aloof, independent soul, compared to Itchy. She didn’t like being picked up and preferred to do her cat thing rather than hanging out with the humans, whereas Itchy was a complete hug monster. Within minutes of my mother getting home from work and sitting down on the couch, he’d be up on her and sitting inside her coat with her.

He’s sit on my chest and put his paws on my face, padding and purring, and he’d chew on my beard when I had one, his big eyes filled with perfect contentment.

As they grew and plucked up the bravery to leave the house by themselves, they went everywhere together. I’d go out in the night and hear two tinkling bells, but never be able to see them until they bounded out of the darkness at me for a stroke and the promise of din-dins.

I’d be sitting in the living room and the curtains would ruffle and soft thumps would announce their return. Whenever they didn’t immediately come into the room, and instead stayed behind the curtains, you could be almost guaranteed that closer investigation would result in the finding of plump earthworms, which both kitties would just stare at with gret curiosity.

They were beautiful… so full of love and life… a great team… perfect twins.

Thirteen years ago tonight… at around 10:50pm… that union was torn apart, along with my heart.

It was the height of Summer and after a long, perfect day, I put on my shoes (I already had the rest of my clothes on) and set out to the local garage/filling station, to buy some cigarette papers. It only takes a few minutes, there and back, down the path to the bottom of my village and across the main road.

When I turned onto the main road – which was and usually is very quiet at that time of night – I noticed two things…

There was a black cat on the grassy verge, at the side of the road. I didn’t know for sure it was one of mine, but my heart leapt, because the other thing was a large van heading fast around the bend, approaching us.

Both were too far away for me to do anything.

I hurried into a trot, moving onto the road, and as the van neared, my mind was willing: “Stay. Stay. Stay.” The cat was turned away and I way praying he’d move in the direction of the hedgerow, if anywhere.

Time seemed to slow down.

At the very, very last moment… where if he’d hesitated a fraction of a second longer, he would have been safe… he ran…

… out into the road…

… under the wheels…

I was already moving towards him in a dazed jog as the van came to a halt.

He was lying on the tarmac, kicking his back legs, still trying to get across the road, but moving nowhere, and even before I got close I knew he was seriously, seriously injured.

I knelt down beside him as he writhed and I put my hands on him. I didn’t know what to do.

I saw the collar. The sodium light had bleached the colour from it, but it was Itchy’s collar… glittery and frayed… and as he pushed with his back legs, there was that tinkling of the bell that always told me he was close by.

The driver of the van, a guy, had walked close. He asked, concerned: “Do you know whose cat it is?”

“He’s mine,” I said.

(Obviously, I must have been in shock during that reply, because… it’s an accepted fact that he was never mine but that I was, in fact, his…)

I picked him up and he was struggling, still trying to twist himself upright and get to the other side of the road.

To my absolute horror, I saw his injuries more clearly as I cradled him in my arms. His jaw had been broken and twisted and… nightmare… one of his eyes had been crushed out of the socket and was hanging.

I tried to put it back in as I carried him across the road and laid him on the grass beside the hedgerow, but it wouldn’t go. My hands were wet and tacky and in the sodium light it looked black, like oil, but the grim realisation was that it was blood.

I knew he was dying and I wanted him to die, then.

The driver of the van asked if there was anything he could do, or anyone he could phone, and I asked him if he had a plastic bag. He said he’d check the cab.

I put my hands around Itchy’s neck and readied to break it… to snap him out of the suffering and send him on his journey. His injuries were massive. I wanted to kill him… because I loved him so damn much.

I put pressure on and he let out a gargle which made me stop immediately… the crazy contradiction being that, though I was trying to bring his death, I didn’t for a moment want to hurt him.

The van growled behind me as it pulled away. The driver had taken the opportunity – while saying he’d look for something I could wrap my little guy in – to drive off.

Without the idling engine, it suddenly became very quite.

I knelt over Itchy. He was just lying there, breathing heavily. His shattered face was hidden from me.

He was letting go. No more struggling.

I stroked him and tried to comfort him as much as I could. I told him I loved him in whispers, my face close to his ear.

Then, it felt like the whole Universe fell into a deep silence to frame what happened next…

He began to purr.

It wasn’t a rasping or choking or anything of struggle…

It was a loud, rhythmic, contented purr.

Tears were dripping from my face onto him, and amidst the torture, it was a moment of beauty to hear that wonderful sound one last time.

He was off his tits on kitty endorphins and he knew I was there, loving him with all my heart until the very end.

And then the end came. The purring stopped. His chest stopped moving. He was gone.

It was such a beautiful night. With a clear sky, as it was then, it never gets dark at this time of year. There were stars out. It was so peaceful, but I’d shifted into some surreal phasing of reality and my heart was breaking.

I left him there for a few minutes and went to the shop, in a daze. Under the fluorescent lights, the tacky black on my hands, forearms and shirt was revealed as a dark red, already drying and flaking in places, but congealing in gelatinous drops elsewhere.

I got my cigarette papers as an afterthought, after asking for some carrier bags that I could use to transport Itchy’s body home in. I can’t remember what I said. There was concern, but no… it wasn’t my blood.

I got back home and took my bundle inside. My Mum was watching the TV and stood up when she saw I was carrying something that I shouldn’t have been.

“Itchy’s been killed,” I said. I broke down as I laid his cooling body on the kitchen floor.

It wasn’t right. It couldn’t possibly be true that my little guy was dead. I loved him far too much.

I don’t recall any more words from that night… just the sense of deep, awful sorrow.

I remember my relief when Scratchy came in through the living room window. She was a little barrel of kittens – absurdly large for her petite frame. She trotted over to me, sitting on the floor, and I told her about her brother, but she didn’t even sniff the body… it was as if there was no connection between the spirit of him that she loved and the shell that was lying there.

The sense of loss in the aftermath… of feeding her alone… one bowl… of hoping there was some mistake and he’d jump down behind the curtain with a big, juicy worm for me to rescue… every waking moment was unbearable.

Nine days later, she gave birth.

I’d prepared a ‘nest’ for her in the living room cabinet, taking out one of the lower draws and filling it with bedding.

She called me when she was ready, with a new, croaked meow, and I sat with her as she pushed out little kitten sausages and her instinct of care took over.

I was there for their very first breaths in this new world. Four beautiful, helpless, utterly adorable new friends, wrapped up in the love of their doting, very-surprised-looking, wonderful mother.

The poignant irony of the death and life, life and death cycle was not lost.

Two of those kittens were Titan and Orion, my boys, now. Their sisters, Bruiser and Piper, were adopted when they were a couple of years old.

Thirteen years on… Scratchy runs in from the garden, up the stairs and meows at me to let me know she’s safe and well. She always does it. I’m the first person she makes for when she gets back in the house.

I lie on my back, on my bed, and she sits on my chest and headbutts me with kitty love while I stroke her. She drools and puts her ear against my mouth as I whisper to her: “I love you.” Hehe. I do it lots and I mean it with my whole heart… think what you want.

I’m often reminded of Itchy, and though I cried writing this (of course), the pain that was once attached to his memory is no longer there. The love is, though, and that’s what bring the tears.

It took me years to come to terms with his death. I was traumatised and my mind must have ran that simulation thousands upon thousands of times, taking me back into the agony over and over again, knowing that whatever it showed me or how many alternative endings it could suggest, there was one certainty… I couldn’t do a thing to bring him back.

Combined with the other problems in allowed myself to believe I suffered from, I know that agony was heightened. I know I should have dealt with it and let go way sooner than I did, but my life has been just how it has been.

And yes… I know some people will be chortling at this story and thinking “It’s only a cat”… but he was my little guy and there was so much love there. He was a member of my family, not a peripheral ‘pet’ that was shooed and treated as an inconvenient burden on the weekly grocery budget. He was loved. He is loved. For those who don’t understand… well… I have compassion for you, all the same. 😉

I went into my mind, writing this story… but now I’m back here, right now, where I am. Any pain that I felt when I immersed myself in the past, to recount these events, is dissolved by the present moment. It is just thought and nothing to harm me in the moment I live in.

I would say this is the most traumatic incident in my life… you could argue that the passage of time has healed the wound, yet if I put my mind back there, it still brings an emotional response.

However, the only way I can feel that emotional response is if I actively put myself into that situation again, inside the mind and – apart from today – I’ve chosen not to do that.

Consider it this way… you know Bambi is a sad film, but unless you actually get the film out and watch it, you’re not going to cry about it, are you?

Wouldn’t it be madness if you were breaking down and weeping all the time because you had Bambi’s Mum being killed looping over and over in your head?

So, Itchy’s death doesn’t hurt me any more… unless I choose to load up that recording and watch it. The same is true for all events that I would have, in the past, considered hurtful.

I’m sure – unless I die first – that I have more experiences of close death to come, but I know that nothing will ever be as prolonged and tortuous as that experience.

I’ll honour the dead by living to the best of my ability, remembering them with love and letting go of the pain that I could only ever be inflicting on myself – those I would mourn would never want me to suffer.

Naughty Kittens!
Kitties Two
Titan, Scratchy & Orion
(P.S. If this resonated with you and you have the will and ability to contribute the price of a cup of coffee of some meaty yum-yums for my current pride of five beautiful kitties, donations would be most welcome through PayPal, at ‘Lesism@btinternet.com’. Anything would be greatly appreciated!)

Sheep. Boy. Love.

(Originally published on my old blog in 2011)

During one of the long, lazy summers of my youth, while the schools were on their extended break, I worked for a fortnight – along with my older brother – on my godmother’s farm. I think I would have been ten-years-old at the time, and, thinking about it now, I’m not sure that was entirely legal…  or at all safe… but I was young and I needed the money… for sweets.

On hindsight, it was a mostly ghastly job. If I wasn’t scooping up cow poo from the cattle sheds, or choking on the dust from lugging around hay bales, I was putting rubber rings around baby baa-lambs’ scrotums or chopping off their tails with a very sharp knife… at the time reassured that it didn’t hurt them at all, though that seems like complete twaddle as I write this.

There was a lot of death on that farm, but not a lot of care. I remember finding drowned kittens in a water trough, watching crows vaporise from the blast of a shotgun. It didn’t do much for my appreciation of farmers. Ronnie, who ran the place, was the sort of guy who would shoot your dog and not bat an eyelid. Farming was in his blood, though… that’s the life he’d lived, all his life, and as the farm had been passed down through the generations, he knew no different.

One day, Ronnie had us all – my brother and I, and two of my godmother’s boys who we were the best of mates with – jump in the tractor trailer, and he drove us up to one of the fields, telling us there was a lame sheep that he had to take to the vet… which was quite a surprise, because I would have assumed that he’d have preferred to have shot it, while cackling menacingly.

When we found her, we could see she was in a state. She must have caught her leg in a barbed wire fence, as the flesh had been ripped quite badly… and while struggling, she’d used her forehead to try to break free, leaving a nasty wound.

Ronnie tied her legs – so she couldn’t leap away, not that she looked as though she was in the condition to do so – and we loaded her into the trailer. Obviously, she was in a lot of pain and agitated, but my brother and I sat beside her and stroked her, giving her as much reassurance as we could offer. Before long, as we drove the few miles to the vet, she had calmed down… her breathing had slowed and she seemed very relaxed when we reached our destination.

We took her down from the trailer and into the vet’s, and – since Ronnie was obviously a very busy man and had things to shoot – headed back to the farm.

A year later…

… I was fishing in a stream in one of the farm’s fields, in a beautiful, mossy glade, far away from roads. It was just the countryside, a few grazing sheep, the sound of birds and me… never any fish. I was a completely rubbish fisherman.

I was just sitting on the bank, whiling the day away, when I was nudged in the back, nearly knocking me into the water.

I turned around and saw a sheep standing there, just looking at me…

… and she had a bald patch on her forehead, where there was a large, healed scar.

She’d remembered me! Those brief moments of care and attention the year previous must never have left her, and when she recognised me, she came over to say hello.

Maybe my brother and I were the first (and perhaps only) human beings who had ever treated her with love, rather than as a cash-crop?

She sat down beside me for a while as I continued not catching fish, then went back to the flock when Ronnie appeared in his tractor on the far side of the field at feeding time.

I never saw her again… but I smile when she crosses  my mind, though that’s tempered with a tinge of sadness, as I’ve never been vegetarian for more than a few months. She was no dumb animal. I saw her in pain, she responded to love, and she remembered me. It seems so callous that I’d still eat her kind, when I know how intelligent they are.

It’s time to make another life-change.

Update: 13th November, 2017 – Although I was veggie for a couple of years after this post, bastard bacon (mmm… bacon) lured me back to my carnivorous ways, but at the time of writing I’m vegetarian again and this is for life. And that includes no more bacon!

You may want to read this article, published on the BBC News site a week ago, showing that sheep can indeed recognise faces. But I’ve known this for a long time:

“Sheep Can Recognise Human Faces”


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Thank you!

The Lonely Ghost

Over the years – in my 20s and 30s mostly – I used to get work, as a kitchen porter, in remote hotels, under mountains and beside lakes and lochs. They were easy jobs to pick up: just a quick browse through Gumtree’s job section brought up dozens of vacancies. I’d send out a handful of good humoured applications and could pretty much guarantee there would be a job offer by noon the next day.

The fringe benefit of these jobs was that they were live-in. Back in my 20s, this was free, but later – due to some bullshit government directive – we’d get charged maybe £40-per-week, but it was still a great deal. You’d get your own room, generally, then meals on shift – and when you’re doing split shifts most days, that meant breakfast, lunch and dinner – and most places, especially the more remote ones, let you wander in on your days off and get something to eat when you needed it.

One of the jobs I took… I think it was early 2002 – 9/11 was still fresh in our thoughts, and that in itself was rather terrifying…

… but this job… the room I was given, at the top of a four-story building in Ambleside, Cumbria… it was strange from the very first night, before I started work at the hotel – about a mile away – the next morning.

It was the first time in a long time that I had to share a room, with an ex-Army guy in his late 30s. There was a huge curtain separating our sleeping areas, but it was still ‘awkward’. I don’t like sharing. I don’t get enraged by being ‘forced’ to share, but I like my own privacy – because, you know… single man… tiddy-winks…

Anyway, the first night… I just couldn’t sleep. I went to bed early, because I had to be up early, but I just lay there, most of the night, trying my best to let go and fall into dreams… but it just didn’t happen. I think I nodded off a few times, but I’d wake up and see from the led lights of my alarm clock that maybe five or ten minutes had passed.

It went on all night and by about 6am, I just got out of bed, to get ready for work. As tired as I was, I knew there was no point trying to snooze for another hour until the alarm clock went off.

My first day went really well; though, to be honest, on my first day at any new job, I must seem like some care in the community employment placement. I am a rather shy person, until I get to know people, so lots of new people to meet at the same time is a bit of a challenge. And I apologise a lot (too much) for things I shouldn’t apologise for… but when I’m asking the waiting staff for the third time where the motherloving ramekins go… well…

When the working day was over and walked back up the road on that winter’s night, I felt a great deal of relief… and there was a little magic in seeing the silhouettes of nearby mountains in the frosty, starry sky.

I was – as we say here in the UK – knackered by the time I got back to the staff accommodation, and I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep – chalking the previous night’s insomnia attack with the anxiety of starting this new job.

My room-mate was away, since he was having his days off (he’d been working a couple of weeks solid, with no R&R, until I arrived), so I had the place to myself. Yes, I may have had a gentleman’s handshake to celebrate my privacy, but all the better for tiring me out before I hit the sack… and then I went to bed.


… 11:15…

… 11:45…

… 12:05…

… 12:15…

It just wasn’t happening. Same as the night before. And, I swear, the day before I arrived at that place, when I was back ‘home’ at my Mum’s place, I was sleeping like a baby (not pooing myself or anything like that… and I know some babies just scream all the time… but… you know what I mean!)

I started to panic a bit when it got to around 3am, and also probably felt a bit whiney, because I knew – even if I got to sleep right then – four hours sleep was really not enough when I was doing a 10-hour split-shift.

Some of you may not have a high opinion of kitchen porters, but we work damn hard, and it really is true that we’re at the core of a good kitchen. If the pots and pans and plates and bowls and all that fucking cutlery (sorry – I had a flashback) aren’t scrubbed and washed and back in their places in good time, the rest of the machine starts to creak and slow down. We’re on our feet for all our shifts, getting sloshed with water, covered in grease and gunk, often getting jabbed by steak knives… and, because I’m 6’4” and these old hotels were built for Hobbits, I had the extra disadvantage of regularly concussing myself on low ceilings I hadn’t yet mentally mapped in order to duck.

When it got to 4am, I think I just got up and did some writing, because I knew I just wasn’t getting any sleep that night. Later, I got ready for work and headed in a little early so I could gorge on coffee and pretend I was awake for the rest of the day.

It went well. I got a better grip on where all the things went, so I wasn’t bumbling around so much, asking: “Where this go? Where this go, too? And this, chef?”

And I started to open up a bit and talk to people, which was cool, because when you’re working in a live-in situation, it really is the people that make the job – and I could already tell there were a lot of good folk there.

During my split shift, I dropped into the chemist and bought a packet of ‘Nytol’… over-the-counter diphenhydramine, which I’ve used before when battling previous bouts of insomnia.

That night… room-mate still away… I took a couple of tablets, saluted to the flag, then settled back, ready for the tablets to kick in, so I could get some very, very needed sleep.

… 12:03…

… 12:16…

… 12:40…

These damn tablets were clearly broken and I was a bit furious with Nytol, that night, to be quite honest.

When I got to about 2am, after taking another tablet, I just sat on my bed and cried. I was physically and mentally exhausted and I knew that I was going to be wrecked at work, the next day. I had no idea what was going on… like I said, I’d had times of insomnia before, but nothing as brutal as this, and Nytol has always knocked me out, before – at least for a little while.

I tried again. I used a few meditation tricks I knew, to block out my thoughts and invite the Sandman… but nope…

When I got to work in the morning, I was like a zombie. If any of you have ever gone any great length of time without sleep (perhaps if you were a 1990s raver and recreational drug user?), you’ll know how it starts messing with your mind.

One of the chefs I was just getting to know, a Scottish guy, noticed I was looking particularly rough and asked me what was up.

I told him, I just couldn’t get any sleep and I was really struggling – that it had been three nights in a row and I was starting to feel actual despair about it.

He asked me which room I was in, at the staff accommodation. I told him I was on the top floor – the shared room.

He said to me something like: “Ahhh! That’ll be the ghost, then!”

I was a bit puzzled, as you can imagine, but I asked him what he meant, and he said quite a few people had reported ‘things’ when they’d lived in the same room, and he was referencing over the years he’d worked there.

He told me: “Talk to it. And hey… get it a drink… get a bottle of something, open it and leave it out for it. Wish it good health and it’ll leave you alone.”

Bullshit, obviously… buuuuuut, I did pick up a bottle of beer to take back to the accommodation that night. It was the last night before my KP colleague returned (being that he had a clump of days off together, to make up for sacrificing them when the hotel needed him to work those two weeks without a break), so I sat on my bed and actually had a chat with ‘him’… I didn’t like to think of the ghostie as an ‘it’… even though I didn’t believe, of course…

I said I’d bought him a beer and I knew he probably couldn’t drink it, being a ghost (I didn’t make any spirits jokes!), but I hope he appreciated the sentiment.

I told him I was sad that he was here, and asked if there was anything I could do to help him move on?

I have to say, bullshit or not, I did actually get some sleep that night. Not a great deal, but I did sleep for maybe an hour or so before suddenly startling awake again… but the same, a few times, over the course of the night. I was asleep, too, when my alarm clock went off. I actually felt a real sense of joy – getting up and ready – that my zombie fugue has cleared. I may only have got four or so hours, but damn, I could work with that!

The bottle was there, still… and yeah, he hadn’t drank it… but maybe, just maybe, he’d liked the fact that someone had talked to him for once, and shared a drink with him?

I actually did thank him for helping me sleep. Bullshit, obviously, but – you know – this world has a lot of mystery to it, so… maybe?

Work was so much easier that day. I was getting used to the kitchen systems, getting faster, getting more confidence to talk to people, and I really liked them, too. The head chef was a really great guy, from Merseyside, and he had me cracking up so often. A head chef with a good sense of humour and a chilled attitude is a very rare thing in the catering industry, as any of you who have worked in the catering industry will likely attest to! I was starting to feel very lucky that I’d got the job there.

When my day was over and I got back to my room, I opened another bottle for Casper (I didn’t call him that, then) and then noticed something peculiar…

I had put my change, from various shopping transactions, on my bedside cabinet for the past few days of working there. I’d just drop it there.

But that night, all my change was in a stack, with largest coins at the bottom and five pence pieces on top – and the stack was about seven or eight inches high.

(Women Reader’s Voice: “If he says eight inches, it’s probably no more than five!”)

I looked behind the curtain to see if my room-mate was back, but I couldn’t see his bags. I’d wondered if he’d done it… maybe he had OCD and just couldn’t stand to see all that chaos on my table top?

I scooted down to the ground floor where a few of my other workmates were chilling out with French cigarettes and a Playstation 2. I asked them if the other KP had got back, yet, but they told me he’d phoned and said he couldn’t get back until morning.

Then, I worried that someone had been in my room. Not that I had a great deal of possessions with me, and none very valuable, but I was a bit pissed off that someone could do that. There was a solid lock on the door.

I didn’t relate it at all to Casper until I went back upstairs, opened his bottle and had a chat with him before I hit the hay, then got into bed.

I asked him if he’d done that?

No reply, thankfully, or I’d have freaked out big style.

I wished him goodnight, saying again – and as I did every night since being told about him – I hope there was some way I could help him move on.

Things were okay for a couple of weeks. I really settled in at work and I was starting to have a lot of fun. I wasn’t getting loads of sleep each night, but enough to get me through another day of kitchen portering.

I had three days off together, from the confluence of two weeks’ shift patterns, so I headed back to my Mum’s house for a couple of days, to see her and, of course, my beautiful kitties – Scratchy, Titan & Orion – who I always missed like a big sap whenever I was away from them.

The first night, I slept for 12-hours straight. Perfect sleep. Totally refreshed when I woke up. It was like a miracle. Perhaps it was just being back at ‘home’ and getting all that kitty love and big hugs from my little Mum, but whatever… it was so damn welcome.

The next night, too – eight hours or so, and that was all I needed then. I woke up invigorated and actually feeling very happy. Titan sang me the song of his people when I went downstairs, in the morning, and all was well in the world.

I returned to Ambleside later in the day, feeling much lighter and merrier. I reckoned I’d had a reset and maybe the past few weeks had just been the product of nervousness and getting used to this new world I was in.

That night, I opened the bottle for Casper, had a little chat (my KP colleague was downstairs, playing Grand Theft Auto III with the chefs) and wished him goodnight. I sent my regards to Spiderman and lay down to sleep.

… 11:40…

… 11:55…

… 12.10…

My flat-mate came up at about 2am and I was still awake. I was getting a little emotional, at that point. After sleeping so well the previous two nights, it was a real bummer to be having this insomnia issue again. My colleague seemed to get off to sleep very quickly, judging by the snores, though he had been injecting vodka for a good portion of the evening, it seemed.

It went on all night, again. By morning, I was shattered. I got back to work, after my mini-holiday, and I felt awful… really, really drained, but I got through the day.

That night… a bottle for Casper and a chat… I wished him well and asked him if he could help me sleep that night?

… 2:15…

… 2:35…

All night, the same.

The next night, the same.

I was really on edge by then… literally bursting into tears, at times (or did I use literally wrong there? Sod it!) I was having a hard time of things.

Then… that night… my room-mate was off again, so went back to wherever he went on his days off.

I left a bottle open for Casper and I was pretty much on the edge of despair. Bullshit or not, I asked him for his help, to get to sleep, like he had done before. I had a bit of a chat and wished him well, then got into bed, desperately hoping I could get a good night’s sleep.

… 12:35…

… 1:10…

… 1:25…


… there was a noise… something weird and not right… and I sat up in bed to see what it was.

A face appeared in the darkness. It was familiar but not at the same time… and it just looked at me for a while… then it came closer, just watching me.

All of a sudden, with a forlorn rage, it shouted at me:


The shock of his voice woke me up from the dream. Yep, I’d been asleep and I’d dreamt it.

But as I gathered my wits and looked around, in the darkness, I realised that I was actually sitting up… sitting on the edge of my bed, looking into the same pitch black that I had been, in the dream.

Now, I didn’t actually shit my pants, but I got a real feel of what that meant. I was, actually, petrified.

This. Was. Not. Right.

I put on all the lights I could. The room light, my bedside table lamp. I went out into the stairwell and turned the lights on there, too.

It was about 4am, so I couldn’t even head down to work for three more hours, but I wasn’t going to leave the flat, because it was dark and nobody would be around and, you know, there were actual fucking ghosts now, too.

I had my bags packed by 6am. Another night of total exhaustion, plus the single most terrifying event in my life (so far, at that point)… no, I couldn’t go on with this. Something was really, really wrong here, and I just couldn’t hack it any more.

At 7am, I shambled like a pack horse, with three heavy bags, down the road to work. I had a chat with the breakfast chef, then the duty manager, and gave my apologies, but said I was going to have to quit.

To say that they were pissed off with me was a bit of an understatement, because that meant they had no KP at all that day… but I was resolute. I honestly couldn’t have worked through that day, anyway, because I was so beaten down.

When I eventually got back home to my Mum’s place, I felt like an idiot. I mean, it was a great job – as kitchen portering jobs go – with great people, and, I think, if I’d just been able to get some damn sleep, I would have been just fine there.

And you know what, too? I felt really sad that I hadn’t been able to help Casper. Bullshit be damned… and I don’t know if any of that was real – because, like I said, I saw him in a dream… but waking up in the exact same position, sitting on my bed… that was bone-chilling. That was scary as fuck.

That night, back home in my comfy bed, with visits from my legendary kitties, I slept so peacefully, all night long.

Whatever happened at that place… it had simply never happened to me before, and I can tell you that it hasn’t happened to me since – in the fifteen years that have passed since I was there. I’ve had bought of insomnia, but nothing even remotely as bad as I did back in Ambleside.

And what’s more, when I have had problems sleeping, over the years, I didn’t have ghosts howling at me in the brief periods I nodded off.

This whole story really is true. I may have had to bridge a few gaps in my memory, but from the sleepless nights to the coins, to the face in my dream – it all went down like that.

All these years later… I don’t know. I don’t know if I believe in ghosts. I wonder if I was just having some manic episode, years before any of the people at the comfortable hospital told me I was bipolar? Had I been masking some deep anxiety of working at that place? I just don’t know…

… but sometimes, I think about Casper. I can still remember that cry, in my dream, as if it was last night… the fusion of anger and sorrow… and I wonder… is that poor bastard still trapped there?

Maybe I should try to arrange to go back there for a few more nights? Take him a few bottles of beer and tell him… “I do care about you. Really. And I’m sorry I took so long to get back and tell you this. Now, let’s have a few beers and go over a few ideas I’ve had. An exorcist? Were you a Catholic? Maybe I can look through the town’s records at the library and find out who you really are?”

If I was so lost as that, I’d want someone to find me, to show they cared… to help me through and point me in the right direction for home.

Wouldn’t you?

* * *

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Nanu Nanu #2

NaNoWriMo: if I haven’t mentioned it before, I have never completed a novel. Have I started one? Sure. Completed one? Uh …

If you’ve never done something before, ask someone who has done it for advice. Keep in mind you are an individual and might do things differently, but ask those other people and listen to what they have to say.

Today, I’m “asking” a couple of people who have completed novels, particularly within the span of a month, how they did it. I am an introvert, so I’m “asking” by not asking at all –the nice thing about writers is they write things down and leave them lying around for other people to find, like breadcrumbs and treasure maps and TVs that fell off the back of a truck. I will ask by reading. That’s why writers write, right? To be read? I am happy to oblige by reading their advice.

Other people’s stuff (with links to the originals):

Chuck Wendig. Recently discovered him, and I appreciate his conversational style and references to giant bunny costumes and working without pants –it’s obvious he gets real life.

What I got from Chuck: stop talking about working so much and actually do the work, have a plan, don’t edit as you go, have fun, write for yourself, use self care, and drink more coffee.

Ksenia Anske. For anyone who has met Ksenia, you know Ksenia don’t mess –this is a woman who channels carnivorous plants believably. Her advice is exactly what I would expect.

What I got from Ksenia: stop talking about working so much and actually do the work, don’t have a plan but do have a starting idea, don’t edit as you go, have fun, write for yourself (but get feedback from someone outside your own brain), use self care, and drink more coffee.

.    .    .

I’m detecting some themes, so I’ll stop with the two of them for the sake of blog brevity. I’m glad they both recommend more coffee –means I’m on the right track, at least in terms of the volume of my caffeine intake.

For me, personally, I’m noticing I’ll probably want to do the following: continue imbibing obscene amounts of coffee; continue writing for myself (a strength is that I can actually make myself laugh, even if no one else gets it –I’m like a five year old); make a plan (I’ve learned from past efforts I need one, because I’m naturally disorganized and prone to overthinking and distraction); go for walks in order to get bloodflow to the brain; stay off Twitter, set time limits for Twitter, or some combination thereof; and stop editing while I write. Those last two are going to hurt –I love the Twitter (my friends!) and I am compulsive as heck about every single little word. At least there’s coffee, so it’ll hurt faster!

For someone else, the list of considerations might be different –I would think so, since you’re not me. Maybe you’re naturally organized? Maybe you’re a tea drinker? I work best in the morning and early evening –maybe you work best at night? It’s all good. You would want to make your own mental list of things you’re already doing well and areas you maybe want to make some changes (and honestly will have to, if completing a novel during the month of November is something that’s important to you).

Then, on November 1st, we hit the ground running until we limp across the finish line with whatever crap we each come up with –remember, no editing yet! We could do this. It’s doable. I learned this by reading other people’s stuff.

Other good stuff from other people:

Kristen Lamb.

KM Weiland.

Dave Koster.

Emily Russel.

(Follow @AgnesBookbinder on Twitter… and check out her excellent blog, at: Agnes Bookbinder’s Blog) 

NaNoWriMo – Go!

(Guest blog by the incredible @AgnesBookbinder – JOIN US in our journey of novelation?)

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “But NaNoWriMo doesn’t start until next month?”

You’re not? Oh. My mistake.

But as long as I have you here …

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It is typically held in November every year, and I’ve never done it before. I’m thinking of trying it this year because I feel like it. I have a longer work I started over a year ago that I’ve been avoiding like the evening news these days (it’s so depressing …), and I’ve figured out that either a) I need to work on it or b) I need to move on. I typically write in short form, and I’ve completed and submitted quite a few of these shorter works. I’ve wanted to write something longer, but that hasn’t worked out so far –at least from the standpoint of writing it until it is done. Maybe NaNoWriMo will help?

I will not be signing up for the actual program, but I like the idea of working with other people who have the same goal. There’s something to be said for peer pressure –not of the variety where you dare each other to jump off a literal cliff, but one where you dare each other to jump off a figurative one. A novel is a bit of a pinnacle, Everest to the rolling hills of my typical blog posts and poems and short stories. To do that with other people who understand the nature of the challenge sounds like a good time all around.

So here we are in early October. I will be gathering information now to use in November. I am hoping to share what I find, as maybe it will be of some use to other people. If you have survived the process and have any tips, please do share them. I’ll likely be referencing bloggers and other writers who have already shared insight on the topic of writing during this process –there is nothing new under the sun, and I’m not going to reinvent the wheel (or mix my metaphors, apparently!).

Full disclosure: technically, you are supposed to start from zero. I’m not big on rules or formality, so I’m not. I am using that shapeless thing I started before. It’s mine, so I’m pretty sure I can do that, even if it is technically not allowed. My friend Les is also joining in and under the same circumstances. If you’d also like to do this, and feel like you need someone to give you permission, we have agreed to give you permission and you’re in good company. It’s better that a person feel like he or she can participate than not try because they’re not doing it “right” –no growth ever happens that way, so why not?

So ready …set …GO!

(Follow @AgnesBookbinder on Twitter… and check out her excellent blog, at: Agnes Bookbinder’s Blog) 

Living in the Moment

(Originally published on my old blog in 2011)

You’re third in line in the supermarket queue, and the person directly in front – a woman in her late twenties with slicked-back, oily hair, a screaming child and a look of near-psychosis in her eyes  – has a trolley piled high with groceries.

Looking down at your own hand basket, you have only a few items. It would take just a minute for the checkout assistant to serve you. A quick glance to your left and right and you see the other queues are longer, so there’s no point swapping. You consider asking the woman with the heaving trolley if you can just nip in front of her. It seems a reasonable request, especially since you’re in a hurry to be somewhere else.

Just as you open your mouth to speak, she glares at her child with unblinking eyes and whispers, with a clenched jaw: “The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!

You decide not to ask.

So you stand there… your new enemy and her demon offspring in front of you… and you’re getting increasingly frustrated by the unfairness of it all. I mean, what on earth is she doing, coming to a supermarket and buying so much stuff? And look at the processed crap she’s got in her basket! No wonder the child is hyperactive.

If you’d just got to the till faster… if that old woman with the limp and the curled-down lip hadn’t dawdled in front of you when you were marching down the vegetable aisle, you’d have now been standing IN FRONT of this monstrous woman ahead of you, rather than behind her.

She couldn’t even be bothered to wash her hair.

You purse your lips and exhale. The agitation is rising.

A glance at your watch reveals it’s 2:33pm, and you think, what are all these idiots doing clogging up the supermarket at 2:33pm on a Wednesday? What sort of moron does their shopping at this time of day, on this day of the week?

Then you see that two checkouts at the other side of the store are closed and you shake your head, thinking ‘bastards’ as you curse the supermarket for their inefficiency, their inability to provide anything close to even a basic standard of good service and you also call into question their human rights record.

As your nemesis finishes piling the absurd amount of crappy, non-nutritious foodstuffs onto the checkout console’s conveyor belt, and you notice that she’s readied a fistful of time consuming money-off coupons; and as her child wails in such a high pitch you expect the storefront windows to shatter, your brain begins to swell and your heart creaks in your chest.

Then… horror of horrors… there’s that buzz, and the checkout assistant (who you’ve now decided is both gormless and fat, and the other way around) lifts a pack of tampons above her head and shouts: “Can I have a price check on these?”

You don’t know whether to throw your basket on the floor and storm out or start yelling at everyone in the store about how they must be doing this deliberately.

Sound familiar?

It’s perhaps a slightly exaggerated example, but I’m sure it will strike a chord with most.

Resistance to what is – that mismatch between what is real, in the living moment, and what your mind wants, through its synaptic reflections or projections – is the greatest cause of stress, anxiety, frustration, sadness, anger, misery and general negativity there is for our species.

If you’re in that supermarket queue, wanting to be and thinking about being somewhere else, and getting annoyed about not being there, where are you?

You’re still in the supermarket queue.

At that moment… and in any given moment… you can’t be anywhere else but where you are, so why resist it?

Amongst that swell of life, surrounded by thousands of years of stories and experience, you reduce your perception of it all to near-nothing by retreating into a critical, grumpy state of mind.

Yet, by recognising and letting go of that negativity, you could immediately immerse yourself in the same state of peace you’d find and feel in yourself if you were sitting on a mountain, or on the shore of a lake…

Life is what is. Life is right now. Life is always and will only ever be in the living moment.

If your mind tells you you should be somewhere else, when you’re not, and that’s causing you stress, then recognise that your mind is at fault and reject its flawed thinking.

This extends to every situation and circumstance in your life…

If you’re overweight, you’re overweight and no matter how much your mind castigates you about being so, you will still be overweight in that moment.

If you’re in debt, then you’re in debt and unless you can pay that debt in that exact moment of realisation, you’re still going to be in debt.

If you’re locked up in prison, that is where you are, and no matter how much your mind protests and aches for you to be free, those are your circumstances of the moment.

And so on…

Acceptance of the moment allows you to shed the anxiety and negativity which your mind may wish to attach to and label that moment with. It allows you to move from a mentally constructed fabrication of virtual reality into actual reality… from thought into form.

Life is an ongoing process of change, so accepting the moment doesn’t mean that things won’t change… it just means you won’t be beating yourself up, psychologically, while you’re moving through that change.

And you can make plans, in the moment, to drive that change. In that space where negativity once lay, creativity and positivity pour in.

If you’re overweight and you’re uncomfortable with it, make plans to get fit.

If you’re in debt, make plans to repay it. If you can’t possibly repay it, make plans to tell the companies you owe to that you can’t possibly repay it. If you can’t possibly repay it to ‘Evil Steven’ the loan shark, make plans to move to a different area of the country and change your name.

If you’re in prison, make it the place you want to be, right now – not with such enthusiasm that you punch the prison governor in the eye to get a few extra years, but by recognising that, whatever the circumstances, that is your life and every moment of your time on this Earth is precious to you. Use the time as wisely as you can, in whichever way you can.

If those plans don’t work out right away, keep adjusting them. If you stumble or falter, get back up and start again. Never give up.

In time, you’ll be in the moment where you’re slim, out of debt or at your liberty again, and what certainly wouldn’t have got you there was all that needless worry or frustration.

Life is now and this human incarnation has a limited and unpredictable timespan, which is true for every single person on the planet… so why waste a moment of it?

Next time you’re in the supermarket, let go and live.

“A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.”Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Rings


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Six Characters in Search of Some Meaning – Part One

By @AgnesBookbinder

Edgar Allen Poe waited dejectedly in front of his computer. It was hard enough looking like the famously depressed author. To also be an author and have the exact same name spelled incorrectly? It was a curse. He was sure he would have had a very merry soul indeed — perhaps he would have written comedy — had he not had to correct people constantly and try to live up to his almost-namesake’s reputation. As it was, all he could do was stare at the blank screen and wait for words to appear (maybe Edgar Allan Poe would feel guilty for ruining his life and would send him some surplus thoughts from beyond the grave …).

But no words ever appeared. Edgar Allan Poe was a selfish bastard.

“Am I a writer?” Edgar Allen Poe asked himself, because at this point in the story there was no one to talk to but himself. He understood this was called a monologue, a legitimate literary device. As no one else was listening who might become alarmed at a man talking to himself, he continued.

“Am I? Really? I mean, that other Poe had short stories and poems and such. What do I have? A blank screen. Am I a writer when there are no words?”

At that moment, there came a sharp knock on the door.

“Who could that be?” he asked himself. “Oh! Whoever is outside the door might hear me if I ask myself questions out loud.” He switched to an internal monologue.

“Who could that be?” he thought. “Whew! That’s better. The character outside my door can’t hear this, and I can think whatever I like. Bananas. Aardvark. Solipsism. This is fun, but that’s enough of that. I should probably think about what’s happening around me now and move the story along. Hmm. I wonder who that is at my door because I haven’t invited anyone to visit. In fact, I chose to be a writer so I wouldn’t have visitors. I’m much more comfortable observing from a distance far enough away from others that it doesn’t leave me in danger of actually having to speak to them. Hmm.”

Edgar Allen Poe knew he was going to have to speak to whomever it was and tell whoever it was to go away. Whomever? Whoever? Which was it?

“Grammatical rules,” he thought in frustration, shaking his head.

Another knock came at the door, this time with a voice.


Edgar Allen Poe froze, and not just because he had to keep the radiator turned off since heating the apartment was too expensive in his current financial situation. A voice! He was going to have to do something drastic. It was no longer time to worry about grammar — someone else could deal with that during editing. It was time for action.

He tipped himself over from the headstand he had been doing in his chair and walked awkwardly to the door.

“Whoever is at the door will think I’ve been drinking. Whomever …?”

A rush of blood from his head as a result of his sudden uprightness nearly made him pass out along the way. Grammatical rules didn’t help.

“Coming!” he called. “I mean …to the door! Coming to the door, yes! Um, …”

He reached the nondescript door and turned the handle of some sort.

“I’ll have to add more and better detail about my apartment in the next installment,” Edgar Allen Poe thought to himself as he opened the door.

* * *

You can read more from @AgnesBookbinder and her wise, insightful and often just silly words, on her blog, at:


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