The End of Lesism

I have come to the rather sad, but honest conclusion that it’s beyond time I gave up regarding my writing as a career ambition.

Now I can see the potential of my life’s remaining span being counted in decades, rather than weeks, days or hours – as from the perspective of the deluded, suicidal mind-states I’ve got lost in from time to time – I’m increasingly aware of how quickly the first 44 years has glided by and just how swiftly the rest of my life will pass. (There’s a tendency for the taller males in my extended family to die in the 40s and 50s from heart disease, and I haven’t really taken very good care of my body, so I may well be in my twilight years!)

Writing is a tough business to crack in terms of making enough money to eke a living, let alone live a life of good comfort, with relative security and flexibility to withstand the odd personal or professional tremor.

I am sitting in my post-homeless flat, with my lovely pride of five cats, and I still don’t have carpet on the floor after three years. It is fair to say I’ve been crackers for a good portion of that time, but my writing output has been woeful – mostly consisting of various takes on my own sad story, deleted and dumped in the trash within days of publishing.

There are many better writers than me. That’s not to say they can write as good as me, because I’m good what I’m good at, but I guess I’m a niche/acquired taste thing and holding out blind hope that that will suddenly engage a lucrative readership is proper folly.

It’s time for me to stop introducing myself as a struggling writer and begin to focus on becoming a counsellor, in the real world, on phones and in rooms, and disconnecting myself somewhat from the virtual life I’ve lived since the turn of the century by reconnecting with the physical world.

I don’t feel defeated by breathing this out loud. I have no children, so have no need to leave a great legacy for them. My cats love me just the way I am and they’re as important to me as any human. Does the fact that they’re unlikely to release any great works of literature that will have them remembered in centuries hence devalue their preciousness in the here and now?

I’m yet to identify the path to becoming a counsellor, in terms of what I should study and how I can get qualified, but I have a clean criminal record and a good heart; as long as I put the work in and focus on educating myself, I reckon that’s well within the realm of real possibility – adding hypnotherapy, mindfulness and all the fancy stuff that helps people heal better, as I progress. I could really see myself doing that.

This does not, however, mean I’ll give up writing. That would be silly. I just mean I won’t pin my hopes in it somehow miraculously saving me from a lonely, miserable ‘retirement’ with amputated feet and nobody to push me to Bingo each Tuesday night.

It is a revelation of sorts: doubtless the hideous writer’s block I’ve experienced since 2012 is in no small way due to the pressure I was putting on myself to turn what was once a joy into a serious, you’re-our-only-hope thing of survival, because I truly thought it was my only possible redemption. I’m not very good at much else. I’ve washed pots and pans for most of my working life and I don’t have any qualifications to my name.

I’ll likely end up writing far more after making this decision, by liberating myself from that need to succeed, and I may well have writing as part of a multi-faceted skillset in my professional life, ahead. I could even become an overnight success when I hit my 60s? That would be splendid. But I’d rather hit my 60th birthday with 15 solid years training and experience as a counsellor and know there are one or two people I’ve been able to assist in some positive manner along the way.

I don’t need to change the world. There are plenty of people doing that already, and better than I could.

I really like the idea of working hard for a comfortable life of some stability. A little more space, perhaps, and to not have to worry about the bills. I don’t drink and all my drugs are legally prescribed. I abhor horse racing and don’t gamble. I wouldn’t need great riches to achieve great comfort.

I need to be thinking in terms of satisfaction over success. I would, of course, not sniff my nose at satisfaction bringing about success, but it’s a relative thing, now, compared to at earlier periods in my life. Success would be talking someone down from jumping or getting a carpet and having it fitted properly.

I feel good about this. It’s like a weight has lifted.

All the knotted wires I’ve developed in my brainbox over the years feel like they’re unravelling, so rather than seeing this as abandoning my greatest ambition, I’m seizing the moment and choosing something new and different, which we’re allowed to do, as human beings.

I was panicking because my $99 WordPress annual subscription fee is due within the next week or so and, without paying, I’ll revert to the free version, meaning I can no longer attach my domain name – i.e. no Lesism.com. I’ve actually had sleepless nights in part filled by this dread of ‘losing my digital identity’, but really, it doesn’t matter. I can’t afford it, so why stress about it?

Lesism started out as a play on words, because I was feeling so chill after my awakening, and I’d locked @LesFloyd on Twitter by rage-quitting back in the day when you couldn’t get your account back after you rage-quit.

I have no great influence on Twitter that requires I brand myself and protect my copyright.

I have done some good words, at times, but I’m mostly there for the larks, now, or to pass the time of day. If, in the past, I helped guide a few people towards positive change in their lives, then it was a period in life I can look on as a great success. I am a super man, but I am not a superman. There’s no requirement from the world that I save it, one soul at a time, with a subscription-based premiere option enabling access to video and audio content. Loads of people are doing that already. There are hippies everywhere, nowadays.

So, new territory, in a new era: Les the Aspiring Counsellor rises from the confused rubble of Les the Writer. It wasn’t much fun being a struggling writer, to tell the truth. It’s such a damn cliché, like how the handle of a rake really does whip up in slow motion and twang you between the eyes, just like on the cartoons.

Lesism is dead.

The Woodpecker at the End of the World

(Originally posted on my old blog in March, 2011)

I wrote the goodbye note and left it on my desk in my bedroom, for my family to find. I was sorry… for everything… for my failures of the past and the pain I was inflicting on them with my impending suicide.

As had been a pattern in my life, I found the breakdown of close relationships excruciatingly difficult… and this woman… I believed she was the elusive one – the love of my life, my soulmate…

Before we met, physically, we had talked on the phone every night, wrote long, rambling emails filled with hope and unguarded expressions of affection. I eventually moved down the country to be closer to her, and we’d share long nights full of laughter and love-making… well, I was making love… she just used to shout a lot, but that was still quite nice!

Losing her felt like the greatest tragedy of all the tragedies I had filled my life with – and perhaps the sting of sorrow was even more acute because she looked a lot like Princess Leia, and we never did get round to the gold bikini thing. She’d promised me… it was just another betrayal.

I walked out of my house, at dawn, with a ligature made from knotted, plastic refuse sacks and headed off to the woods I used to explore and play in, as a child, in carefree days when girls had germs and they smelled.

Venturing deep and far out of sight of the path, I settled myself down behind a large tree and readied myself, ligature in hand. I looped it and made a slipknot.

I couldn’t see for tears and my shoulders were shaking from sobbing, but my teeth were clenched and I didn’t make much noise.

I felt worthless… abandoned… unloved and unlovable. I looked back on my life and – from my teenage years, onward – saw nothing but chaos, misery, error after error that I never learnt from, all wrapped up in crippling depression.

I wanted it to end. I wanted to leave. I just wanted peace.

There’s nothing cowardly about suicide, and there’s nothing brave. When you reach that point, it’s the end of the world…

… the mental pressure is overwhelming… you can’t see a way out… you can’t find a reason to want to see a way out…

I didn’t go into the woods because I wanted saved. There was no more crying for help. I just wanted to be over.

Lost in my dark thoughts, I put the ligature around my neck and closed my eyes, ready to pull it tight.

Then I heard a tapping… the rapid hammering of a woodpecker against one of the trees in the wood. I opened my eyes and while I listened, the early-morning Sun shone on my face through the branches. There was such warmth from it, against my skin, after sitting there in the cold Spring dawn.

I was enthralled by the noise of the bird, all of a sudden. There would be periods of hammering, then quiet, and then the hammering would begin again from another area of the woods.

I’d stopped crying. I’d stopped reflecting on those dark thoughts. Though I still had that make-shift noose around my neck, the urge to destroy myself had left.

I don’t know much about woodpeckers, but I knew it was banging its head against the tree. I imagined, when it fell silent, it had had enough at trying at that particular trunk and simply moved on to another. Maybe it was feeding, but I pictured it looking for a surface giving enough to peck a home in.

There was a lesson there.

And I smiled… listening intently, with the Sun shining on my face…

I didn’t realise it then, but I had been dragged into the moment… into an exquisite peace where all my thoughts vanished and I was just being – and by listening, watching and feeling, I saw the beauty of my surroundings, and of life.

It felt like someone or something was telling me that it wasn’t my time to leave.

I went home.

That was about four years ago. There were still many mistakes to be made before my awakening, last February… but that was my first recollection of experiencing the bliss of present awareness.

I know, now, that I wasn’t in love with that woman. It wasn’t pure. It was an egoic thirst to feel needed and wanted, and real love doesn’t exist in the mind… it bubbles up from the soul. That’s not to say there was no love there… love – just like the song says – is all around. It would be shared between everyone on this planet, if we just had the clarity to feel it and express it freely.

Love is the strength of being, within, that allows these precious souls to leave your life… and as much as it hurts, you wish from your soul the best for them – except for crap sex, obviously.

~

(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 the following link. Anything would be greatly appreciated!)

http://www.paypal.me/LesFloyd

Changing My Mind

“Wish I could go back and change the years…”

– Ozzy Osbourne, Changes

I need to make a lot of changes in my life and lifestyle or I’m probably not going to make it to my 50s, unless I’m some thirty-five stone stroke survivor, shoehorning myself into a mobility scooter and being regularly warned by the police not to chase the pigeons in the centre of Carlisle.

I don’t want to be that man, even though the pigeons thing sounds fun.

I’d like to live a long, healthy and happy life, but unfortunately I’m miserable most of the time, I’ve had a headache for three months and I frequently think about ending myself.

How do I move from this negative haze of suffering to that shiny, spangly positive existence with friendship and laughter and adventure?

It’s pretty easy, really, and that’s quite annoying.

I have a few pressing financial issues that scare me a bit too lots, but when I meditate or catch my thoughts and use that as a trigger to engage in conscious awareness, the bills really don’t matter any more.

It’s only when I think about them that they seem important and I begin to get stressed.

While I meditate, the bills fall away from my thoughts and are entirely not an issue at all, but if later, I were to pick them up and read them again, I’d end up tossing and turning (not a euphemism) in bed for hours, wondering how I’m going to pay, thinking how much of a loser I am to be in this position, thinking I should buy a tent and some other camping basics and go live in the forest, with the squirrels, and if I can’t handle that, either, at least I’d have a lovely view when I merrily hanged myself.

What is causing this pain – this emotional stress and anguish that I feel?

Is it the bill? Do the Inland Revenue imbue their parchments with an intangible sense of doom?

No… once again, the culprit is my fucking brain! My own brain! It’s my brain that’s thinking all these ridiculously negative thoughts, throwing them at me when I’m trying to sleep, like some bus hijack gang throwing random passengers out of the emergency door to slow down the cops.

My brain (who I don’t get along with most of the time, to be quite honest) is the thing that makes me panic about things; it’s the same thing that gives me the heebie-jeebies when I see a big spider, even though the spider has done absolutely nothing except be spidery and unusually large; in confidence, it’s the same thing that spontaneously still believes in vampires, witches and ghosts when I’m having to walk down a mountain in the dark, and when I reach the tree line and walk into the forest, everything suddenly looks a lot like The Blair Witch Project in the light of my headlamp.

My brain is an idiot and it bullies me. It sells me fake news. You’re likely in a very similar position, even if you haven’t had extensive mental health issues. Any fear or doubt or drama you engage in that restricts your potential to experience a full and wholesome life is cooked up and served to you by your brain.

Practicing conscious awareness (mindfulness, as the Buddhist lot call it) helps us to put our brains in their place again; showing them that, actually, they’re not the boss of us… we’re the boss of them!

They’re supposed to do what we say, but we’re so often in that semi-conscious auto-pilot mode – just trudging along through life and trusting our brains will do the right thing – that eventually that state of being has become the norm to many or even most people in this world.

All of our emotional pain… all of it comes from the brain. It doesn’t matter how much you think someone else has hurt you… the pain is inside you, created by you. There’s no ethereal link between victim and aggressor, so it’s not as though the aggressor will feel increasingly sad and ashamed of themselves the more their victim cries in silence, alone.

Fortunately, we can turn the negative ramblings of the brain off simply by engaging conscious awareness, and it’s really not that difficult to do. It takes a little practice, perhaps, but once you ‘get’ it… you walk through a gateway into a new world of opportunity and adventure.

Conscious awareness is simply a case of engaging the senses, which in turn overpowers and silences the mad ramblings in your mind.

Look at things. Listen to things. Touch things (not other people – not without permission!) Taste things; rather than just eating, make the food the focus of your awareness and savour every mouthful.

That’s all it takes. If you’re in low spirits, you really can, right now, allow yourself to let go of whatever it is that’s causing you pain and distress, and focus your mind on something far more beneficial to your life – living in the moment, at peace with yourself and all those around you.

I know, from long experience, it can be difficult to ‘flick this switch’ during times that really test us, but once you open that door for the first time and find that there actually is peace within, if we choose it, the door never closes again and, as if by magic, the doorway is never far away when you need it.

So that’s how I’ll be able to move from this rather grim life experience of the moment into something brighter and more comfortable – and I don’t mean I’m stoically preparing myself for another three year of bleak hardship until I get my own house and a record deal. I mean that, right now, when I’m aware of my thoughts – as I am more and more frequently again – I’m able to dismiss anything negative and just get on with the task of writing this blog.

Over the course of these two pages (aka wall of text), I’ve actually moved my mindset from negative to positive. While I was frowning when writing those first few words, now I’m actually smiling and feel recharged.

It really is that easy.

If there was a switch device for sale – available in all the fancy stores – that you could simply flick and turn on contentment and happiness, or flick back and feel emotional suffering… it would probably sell in extraordinary number, don’t you think? Would you buy one?

Well, the thing is… you already have one.

I’ll write more about how to ‘engage’ conscious awareness in another blog, soon, but in the meantime, stay in the moment… and beware the Moon!

The Lure of Suicide

“Suicide is painless, but it brings on many changes…”

– M*A*S*H

I’m genuinely very surprised and confused when people tell me they’ve never thought about killing themselves.

The lure of suicide has been with me almost as long as I can remember remembering, including (I literally just has a flashback this moment) when I tried to hang myself from the banister at the top of the stairs in my old house. I must have been eight or nine – around the time my ex-dad left.

The woman from across the street laughed about this. She jollied that I was tall enough already and didn’t need any more stretching.

She was (and still is, as far as I know) a lovely woman, but I remember how much it upset me that she joked when I was obviously hurting, emotionally.

The thing is, I’ve always been tall and I didn’t judge the knotted sheet right and my feet were pretty much on the stairs when I dropped. I ended up with some friction burns around my neck. If I’d been a few inches shorter, or had tied the sheet a few inches higher, none of you would ever have heard my voice or read my words – unless, I suppose, I became a ghost writer? (B’dum-tisssshhhhh)

Here’s what I think: kids shouldn’t try to commit suicide.

It was the early 80s and there was nowhere near the awareness and treatment of mental health conditions, in the UK, back then. I know that now it looks pretty shite – the government have cut budgets so much that people are actually killing themselves due to lack of care – but it was even worse back then. You couldn’t even look up advice on the Internet, because it wasn’t invented until about a decade later.

I remember people would talk about Spike Milligan almost in hushed tones, because he had ‘manic depression’ and occasionally spent time in comfortable hospitals. The stigma back then was pretty savage. That glorious, genius, hilarious mind was almost overshadowed by the fact that he was a ‘loony’.

I did see a child psychologist when I was at Junior School, but I don’t recall any great, positive change in me – though he was a lovely man, who looked astonishingly like Richard Gere, and I had a little fire of hope in my heart that he’d marry my Mum… especially if he had a car!

(My family didn’t have a car, when I was a kid. Or a home telephone. We used to have to go up to the call box at the top of the estate to make, or receive, phone calls. I still remember the number – 60849. It was removed maybe 20 years ago, probably because the kids in the village used to call the emergency services out so much.)

There was a man on a bus, in Merseyside, that I wanted my Mum to marry, too, around that time. (I don’t mean I wanted her to marry both of them.) That guy, a Canadian, was touring Europe, and it’s the only time I saw my Mum flirting – and she was good at it!

I always loved seeing my Mum smile and hearing her laugh. I honestly can’t recall – even though I’d say I have a very, very good memory, what with being a ‘unstable genius’ and all – any affection between my Mum and ex-dad, before he left. There surely must have been lots of affection in the past, what with me being the youngest of five of their children, but all I remember, towards the end, are the arguments… the dark clouds in the house when ex-dad lost all the grocery money at the bookies.

Excuse the swears, but I really fucking hate horse racing! I love horses, but whenever I see or hear anything about horse racing (and my gosh, the names of horses are constantly trending on Twitter) I seethe a bit… internally, rather than at people… because of the damage it caused to my family, and the damage was HUGE.

This is obviously all stuff that mixed up my little-boy-brain. I see and hear things, now, about absolutely tragic cases of young girls and boys taking their own lives, and it really shakes me to the core. I have such empathy with them… I can’t help but feel such heart-ache and sorrow for the depths of sadness they must have fallen into before they reached the confused and deluded conclusion that suicide was the only option.

I want to be part of helping to stop this; suicide is a disease that could and should be eradicated from our Earth… and also on Mars when we colonise it. And Titan.

I know I’ve been a fuckwit now and again (Reader’s Voice: “Now and again? 947 times… so far!”) over the past few years, but I was going through some really heavy emotional stuff and it took time to balance out again… and I am balancing out again, thankfully… and from that balance comes a familiar sense of peace; echoes of the tranquillity that hugged me like an old friend when I experienced my ‘Awakening’ in 2010.

I know ‘Awakenings’ sound like bullshit to people who haven’t had one, yet, but just Google the subject and you’ll find thousands of stories about people who have gone through the same, sudden, spontaneous experience.

Whatever the ne’er-do-wells and naysayers say, it happened to me and it changed my life. I believe that I can help others find that same peace within themselves, because it really is there, even in chaos.

When I was sitting off the path in my local woods, ready to garrotte myself during some heavy bout of depression, I heard a woodpecker and felt the warmth of the Sun on my face in a parting of Cumbrian cloud. That’s all it took to break the anthem of agony in my head. I didn’t kill myself. I went home.

I am older and wiser, now, after my ‘psychological tsunami’, and even though I may not have been quite the full loaf for a while, and felt for a long, long time that suicide was the only choice I had left, I’ve learnt from it all and I need to start writing it down coherently, because I know from chatting with people on Twitter and Facebook and there are so many people who have been through or are going through their own personal living nightmares.

I want to help them. I have a plan, but it’s going to require a little time to come together because of finances and stuffs, but I’ll get there. It’s a damn good plan!

In the meantime, perhaps I can help with my blogging? If my writing were to help prevent even one suicide (I’ve actually been told by around a dozen people who’ve said my writing hit them at ‘just the right time’ and pulled them back from the edge) then that would be splendid.

If any of you are feeling on the edge, you’re most welcome to contact me. If not me, talk to someone else who cares. If you don’t know anyone who cares, get a cat or two?

Suicide is 100% preventable. I truly believe that. It’s time for the last shards of stigma to be swept away and for mental health issues to be discussed without shame or embarrassment. This is something we can actually do; something we’re doing by talking about depression through social media, and by checking on our friends when they seem down.

Also, we need the awareness to check ourselves when we’re really low. Conscious awareness should be taught in primary schools. It would most certainly help a lot of kids in their lives ahead.

That lure of suicide is always going to be with me, I guess… unless I have some major hypnosis or a brain transplant. This may sound contradictive, but the rumination of suicide has been part of my life for some 35 years.

Today, I’m doing okay.

I hope you are, too. If not, please get in touch with someone who’ll listen and help you.

I’m here, too, most of the time.

I wrote this years ago and have posted it before, but it seems very appropriate now:

Head down, undefeated,

the soul gains strength;

Is not depleted.

Raise your face once more to the Sun.

The better days have come.

 

Pan

“Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.” – Robert A. Heinlein

Pan is the most adorable little kitty I’ve ever met, and I’ve met quite a few over the years. All have had their special, outstanding qualities, but Pan is the one that melts my heart the most, because she’s rather sensitive.

The first time I realised she was such a nervous little cat was after two hours of searching my flat, and walking around the building a few times, just in case she’d ‘escaped’ (all of my cats are house cats).

Fretting after even pulling out the washing machine to check if she’d snuck behind there and got stuck, I eventually noticed a ‘bulge’ in the curtain, beside my computer desk. She was hiding… and, oh, it broke my heart to think that any little kitty should feel the need to hide in OUR house. No kitty should ever fear being hurt in our house. That’s the law!

Anyway, I noticed after that that whenever she was stressed in any way, she’d go straight to that spot behind the curtain. ‘Stress’ could literally mean me doing tidying around the house; if I even opened up a bin liner, she’d be off to her little safe place until I stopped being peculiar again.

I read up on a lot of websites to see what I could do, and was quite worried that there was some unseen ‘dominance’ in the flat and maybe the best thing to do would have her rehomed, but the thing that worked was actually much simpler and quite lovely… whenever she got stressed, I’d go lie down on the floor and poke my head under the curtain and spend some time with her. I’d stroke her and tell her that she shouldn’t be afraid. Of course, the words were useless, because she’s a cat and cats don’t listen to words much, but the physical act of ‘being’ there with her would bring on the purrs.

Again and again, I lay on the floor with her… through window-cleaner assaults, through the terrible lawnmower attacks, through unexpected household chores, and I think it helped her.

Now, when the window-cleaner comes, she sits on the window-ledge and hisses at those motherfuckers, and that makes me so damn proud.

I totally love it when Pan loses her shit, too, and her other four family members decide to get out of the way, because Pan isn’t quite right today!

She’s my little hero.

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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If you appreciated this blog and would like to donate the price of a cup of coffee, some Quorn or nuts and stuff, my PayPal address is:

Lesism@btinternet.com

Thank you!