The cat climbed up the chimney

This is what happens when you’re curious. If we hadn’t completely stripped the bedroom wallpaper to see what the wall looked like. If we hadn’t found a board and wondered if it concealed a secret. If Garry the joiner hadn’t removed that board to reveal a lovely fireplace. If I hadn’t wondered what it would look like surrounded by a mosaic. If Heidi the cat hadn’t decided to jump up the newly-opened chimney to see what was up there.

If all that hadn’t have happened, we’d have a boring blank bedroom wall, a healthier bank account and a soot-free cat. But where’s the fun in that?

Following the Great Gutting of the Bedroom back in April, when we swallowed our bodyweight in plaster dust, the long-concealed fireplace was revealed and all agreed it couldn’t be covered up again. There was nothing but the fireplace, no surround, no mantelpiece, no antique tiles, so in my mind, it was a blank canvas. ‘I know’, I announced, ‘I’ll make a mosaic’. I have no idea where that came from, I’ve only made one mosaic before and that was from a kit, but I’m never one to let enthusiasm and lack of any practical knowledge or skills get in the way of a good idea.

What followed was a lot of research and quite a bit of maths, which is not my best ever subject. Still, working out how many 2cm² tiles I needed wasn’t that hard. And of course there’s the old adage, measure twice, cut once. I’d a massive template on my work table and I damned well made sure it fitted the surround. How I would carry it upstairs when it was made was a bridge I resolved to cross when I reached it.

Mosaic-making is like doing a massive jigsaw, except you wear goggles and make up the pieces and the pattern as you go along. Glue is also involved, it’s gloriously messy and extremely colourful at the same time, what’s not to like?

Carrying it upstairs turned out to be easier than I expected, nothing fell off, which was a bonus. Once in place and grouted, which created even more mess, it was time to get Garry the joiner back to cut cut through the plasterboard which had covered the fireplace while I did the mosaic. I felt I should have invited a band to give us a fanfare as we saw the lovely fireplace again. Instead, our curious little cat walked straight into the bedroom, sniffed at the fireplace and jumped up the chimney. The little minx. Turns out it’s a very big chimney and she disappeared from sight. Fortunately I have a voice that can be heard in space so my yells brought her tumbling down with a nice little layer of soot. Socks, our other cat, looked at her in disgust, which is nothing new.

The chimney has now been plugged, the cat cleaned up and I’m contemplating my next mosaic project to decorate the inside of the fireplace. Watch this space!


Fat Tabby’s catflap days are numbered


Fat Tabby caught red-pawed

It’s just after 2am and Noel is standing barefoot in the garden, wearing only his skimpy boxers and a grimace as he throws a snowball. Badly. His target has long since scarpered, but Fat Tabby’s days of dining at our expense are over. And we know where he lives.

After the last debacle when Fat Tabby was discovered bothering Socks Akers on his own turf, Noel set up a spy camera to get hard evidence. Using his techie skills and what looked like the inside of a toilet roll and sticky-back plastic,  he rigged up a motion-capture camera, pointing it at the food.

The next day, there was all the evidence we needed. Fat Tabby strutting around like he owned the place, an immediate order was placed for a magic catflap that only lets in cats who have the password, which is handily printed on the ID chips on their necks. Unfortunately there was a day, a whole day, to wait before it arrived. Remember when it took weeks for parcels to arrive? No, me neither.

So in that one day, the unthinkable happened, though in hindsight it was totally predictable. Fat Tabby had found an easily accessible source of food and warmth, why wouldn’t he come back again and again and again? Just before 2am and there was such a howling and yowling and carrying on, it was so loud it even woke me. Noel was downstairs like a flash, definitely a PB. Not wanting to miss out on the action, I watched from the window. There was Fat Tabby legging it down the snowy path pursued by scantily-clad Noel, with a snowball. Socks was lurking in the doorway, I think Socks he laughing.

The next day we were telling our cleaners, the Lovely Laughing Ladies, about thieving Fat Tabby and the come-uppance he was going to get, except that we didn’t know where he came from.  When they saw the photo, they recognised him immediately, he was Albert from number 3. The LLLs know him as a devious feline, who hides among the teddy bears on the children’s bed and leaps out, claws swiping, paws waving, then sneaks away, snickering like Dick Dastardly’s evil sidekick, Muttley.

Albert. We know who you are. We know where you live. Be afraid, be very afraid. And stay away from Socks Akers. You have been warned.

Intruder alert! Feline fur flies!


Socks the not-so-brave

There was a sudden commotion and almighty clatter and Socks Akers’ whiny voice floated up the stairs. “Intruder alert! Intruder alert!”,  followed by an eardrum-piercing yowl that would waken the dead. Then silence, broken by the faint growling of Hidey, our other cat. Something was up.

Noel was well into his REM sleep, but sprang into full alertness, clattering down the stairs, his naked milk-white torso reflecting the moonlight. That’s scare ’em, I thought, in my semi-wakefulness. My next thought was that Noel and Socks would be able to cope with whatever he found, and that I’d leave him to it. Hey, there could have been a burglar, or more likely dismembered rodents, or worse still, catsick, ewww, Noel could definitely deal with that.

The cat flap opened and closed, Socks the Brave, as we shall not call him, was cowering behind the settee, looking like he was trying to avoid the monsters from Dr Who. Hidey was pawing the treats bag, because it was there and she assumed Noel was there to feed her. She has no problem with daleks, they can’t do stairs and she is the Queen of the Stairs.

We’d suspected catty trouble when we saw Big Fatty, a huge tabby and white cat as big as a dog, with legs as thick as my arms, he was ambling up the garden path, pawsteps echoing down the ginnel. Socks was confident Big Fatty was way too lardy to fit through the catflap, so wasn’t worried. He weighs in at six kilos is no minion himself, but he is a scaredy cat. He’s all boasts and bluster when he’s perched on the upstairs windowsill twitching his whiskers at Big Fatty below. Or maybe he’s not figured out that something that looks small from far away gets larger the nearer it is. Socks Akers is not a very bright cat.

Hidey on the other hand, had worked out that not only was Big Fatty very big, he could indeed fit through the cat flap. With ease. She wasn’t too worried as she can also run very fast and hide extremely successfully, that’s why we called her Hidey.

It seemed Fat Tabby had helped himself to food and was about to bed down on the sofa. Socks told me he’d slapped FT about a bit and showed him what for. Hidey said Socks was a big fat smelly liar and a coward to boot. She said he’d wedged himself behind the sofa, covering is eyes with his paws. Socks said that was not the case, he’d spotted something very interesting behind the sofa and had then got something in his eye, besides, he wasn’t smelly, he was manly.

Noel shrugged his shoulders and came back upstairs, relieved that there were neither burglars, rodents nor catsick. Socks followed and jumped onto the windowsill, watching what he saw as a tiny FT disappearing into the bushes and congratulating himself on seeing off the interloper. As I said, he’s not a very brave cat, but we love him to bits.



The cafe of awwws and big smiles


We’ve a lot of cafes in Leeds, but the latest to open is the only one that comes with paws and purrs. The Kitty Cafe is the new home to a dozen or so rescue and stray cats who rush to greet you as soon as the door’s opened. Well, not so much rush and greet, they are typical cats and just ignore you until it suits them. Cats, eh?

We’d visited a cat cafe in Paris, it was the first I’d heard of cafes with cats, but the idea of sipping a latte surrounded by cats, particularly French cats, was very appealing, I was excited to see whether they miaowed with a French accent.  They didn’t, it seems miaowing is a universal language.

The Kitty Cafe opened in Leeds last week, of course we had to go. The windows were already covered with smudges where humans had pressed their noses in the hope of seeing a cat or two. I confess, one of those smudges was mine and yes, I saw the occupants who, having come from not-very-nice places to somewhere they would be fed and adored, were looking rather pleased with themselves.

Our one-hour slot was early morning, the cafe is fully booked for weeks, so we took the only available time. It gave us a chance to sit down with a cuppa and continue to be ignored by cats – pretty much like at home. However, we did observe the humans, every one of them awwwed as they came in and every one smiled.

There has been debate about the rights and wrongs of cat cafes and whether it’s cruel to the cats. But as far as I could see, the cats were getting on with being cats and have they very real prospect of finding homes. The cafe charged £6 per person to cover cat care, which is cheaper than going to the cinema and certainly more interactive. And the humans are happy, if only for an hour. I’ll definitely be back!




In praise of the greenhouse


I never imagined in all my life I’d be excited by greenhouse staging. Hell, up until a couple of weeks ago, I thought it was some kind of theatre set. But today it arrived, long and shiny, slats, struts, nuts and half nuts, and it was going in my new greenhouse.

Noel, who is to DIY what I am to spreadsheets, actually excelled himself (see what I did there?) The tools had been reclaimed from the cobwebs in the cellar and built a greenhouse. Granted it was from a kit, and he did have expert guidance from his dad, but he made the base from scratch, then assembled a glorious greenhouse. I was very impressed, so was his dad, and that takes some doing.

So there we were, a greenhouse, ready for green things. Thanks to a house move, some friends told me they had staging they didn’t need. I had no idea why they were telling me that until they explained that staging was shelves for greenhouses. Just what I needed – that and something new and shiny so I could feed us with home-grown goodies all summer.

It didn’t take long to sow seeds, everything from tomatoes to celery, peas to sweet peas. I already had a conservatory full of trays and pots of soil, which the cats were eyeing up, thank goodness we have a cat flap. Soon the greenhouse started filling up, tier upon tier, then the piece de resistance, aluminium staging, light as a feather, strong as an ox. Oh my goodness, it’s glorious.

This is my place. I just slide open the door, walk in, inhale and smile. Soon, it will smell of tomatoes and warm cat. I’ll probably spend most of my summer in there, perhaps I could sleep on the staging.

The cat is in the doghouse

Socks, the destroyer of emails

Socks, the destroyer of emails

“My name is is Ozymandias, king of cats”

No, your name is Socks, you’re no king, you’re not even a minor royal, but you’re about to be crowned

“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair”

I think we need a conversation about those so-called works of yours. We’ll ignore the scratching of the furniture and trailing mud into the house after your digging expeditions in the garden. And we won’t even mention you dragging the chicken bones from the plates in the kitchen, or swiping your smaller, younger, cuter housemate, Hidey. It involves my computer, your fat furry backside and a disappearing inbox.

“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away”

Let’s get this straight. You’re not an Egyptian deity, you’re a very naughty cat. You may think you’re very powerful, but it’s not big and it’s certainly not clever to make a colossal wreck of my inbox. How the hell did you manage to delete ALL my emails, and then log me out, just by prancing around on the keyboard? Have you got some kind of special powers? They’re gone, all my emails, nothing remains. You are very much in the doghouse.

“See, I told you I was Ozymandias, the destroyer of all things. And I’m also very cute, so you’ll forgive me instantly and then tickle my tummy and give me some of those yummy biscuits. And while you’re at it, I like the Felix catfood pouches, the beef ones. Except when it’s a Tuesday, I don’t like them on Tuesdays, I prefer the chicken ones then, though not on Thursdays, unless there’s an ‘r’ in the month. And will you shut the door when you shower? You’re w-a-a-a-y too white, it scares me to death…!


WTF, WFT, WTF, what the f……?


Cat Akers, now a girl, they're calling me Hidey FFS.

Cat Akers, now a girl, they’re calling me Hidey FFS.

There’s been a lot of fuss about Dr Who and the whole regeneration thing. He’s young, he’s old, he’s fat, he’s thin, he eats jelly babies, he drinks Costa coffee. I know about these things, I can understand all TV except Bagpuss. But me? I was definitely in a bad way. Cancer smancer. Life one on the way out, no matter, I knew I had eight left.

They took me to the Place of Strange Smells, quite frankly I was feeling shite, and was glad to go for a change. They didn’t bother with that cage thing which smelt of my old wee. Hey, a fella’s gotta make a mark. Or two. I just remember a little prick ha ha ha, then blissful, pain-free sleep.

I was dreaming about food, scratching posts, digging in garden of the poncy house behind have having a fantastic dump in the hope that the little guy who asked her to stop me going on his property would get it all over his Gucci loafers. Then, ahhh. Dark, light, more light and….

Hello world, me-ow. I knew I was back and I was B.A.D. OMG I felt good, young again, a spring in my step, ready to go ratting and eat my own body weight in steak and chicken with a few of those crunchy, tasty biscuits followed by a good old coughing up of a fresh furrball.  All that was needed was a good old preen and to lick my bits, gotta look after those family jewels.

But WTF? OK, I know this regeneration thing brings about a few changes, and I didn’t expect to be the same black and white. OK, tabby, that’s fine. Small, I can cope with that. But a girl? A GIRL? Cat Akers, the tom’s tom, a GIRL? Oh FFS I’m never going to live this down with the lads. And do you know what they’re calling me? Hidey. Hidey, I ask you, they can’t even spell it right, saying it’s because I ran off and hid. Too bloody right I did, don’t they know it’s still me? I just look a little different. I’m still badly-behaved though and no amount of looking cute will change THAT.

But we can photograph the dawn!

One keen camper

One keen camper

“Look at it this way,” Noel said as he took the green waterproof fabric from the little bag and tied its strings to the chairs and sofa, “for the price of a night in a hotel, we can stay away as many nights away as we want, wherever we want.”

“But it’s a tent,” I said, stating the obvious, even though the dining room was too narrow to accommodate all the sticky-up bits and the offending item looked more like a collapsed sailboard. “And a small one at that.”

The tent wasn’t small, it was bijou. In fact, it would sleep three, so would fit us and the cat, if he wanted to come with us, Noel said. That was all very well, but where was the bathroom? And the kitchen? And where would I plug in the hairdryer? And where would the car poo? Noel’s been to a lot of very loud rock concerts and I don’t think he heard me.

“Here’s the plan,” he said, inflating the Thermarest and laying it out in the tent. “We drive up to the Lakes after work, hike up to a Very Pretty Place, travelling light, carrying our tent,” he emphasised the prettiness of the Lakes, as if I needed convincing.

“But they look rather good from a hotel,” I protested. “And they have jolly nice toilets and real beds. They even turn the sheet down and put a chocolate on the pillow,” Noel had another of those rock concert loss-of-hearing moments, these were becoming too frequent, maybe he needs to take up one of those hearing aid offers in the unsolicited Saga magazine he gets and immediately bins .”When we get there, we can eat and then take pictures of the sunset,” he said wistfully. The evening meal, it turned out, would be reconstituted risotto cooked on a camping stove in the Great Outdoors. What could be finer? I have a list….

Following the photography session, we get to go to sleep really early – and wake up early, possibly even before we’ve fallen asleep,  to enjoy leftover reconstituted risotto and photograph the dawn. We wouldn’t need to set an alarm, the sunlight would sear through the thin sheeting. Oh good.

I’m not made for camping, I need toilets, showers, a coffee maker (though none of that instant stuff) and somewhere I can stand up, but I promised I’d give it a go, though for a maximum of one night. And it would have to be warm and rain-free, so nothing this summer, then.  Cat on the other hand, seemed taken with the tent and wouldn’t move out even when Noel took it down. Maybe we should just put it up in the garden.

Top cat tips

Me and the crow, the crow and me. I'm the cute one on the left.

Me and the crow, the crow and me. I’m the cute one on the left.

WTF? Can’t a cat get a kip without the clicking of a camera, or the clip clip clipping of scissors? I got the fecking fright of my life when I caught a glimpse of this great big crow. How the hell did it get in the house? This is my house, where my humans live with me.  No mice, not any more anyway, no rats, just Roland who lives in the shed, we have an agreement about that, and certainly not crows. Crows! I ask you FFS!

While she’s off faffing with cut-out crows, fishing line and cane, I’ve got my paws on the computer (ha ha ha, – she should have done the old ctrl-alt-del thing to lock it…) You’d have thought she’d have learned after the bumper delivery of Felix Sensations Sauce Surprise from Sainsburys Online, they were just a click away and I’m rather partial to the new recipe. I love the Google Chrome ‘always save my password because I can’t be arsed to type it in again and I’m just begging to be ripped off’ button.

So while  I’m online, and in the mood for mischief, I’ve three top tips to my feline friends for keeping our pet humans under control and making sure they keep us in the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed.

  1. Always look cute, even when you’re asleep. Curl up and cross your paws or roll on to your back and show your tummy, look as if you’re smiling. They like that, they give you extra Iams, which are rather nice, though I prefer to share their tuna sandwich, but without the sandwich bit.
  2. Make sure you’ve got that bit-of-a-wild-thing going. Let them stroke you, stroke you, stroke you, purr loudly and then…a quick bits or swipe of the paw. That’ll show them who’s boss.
  3. Mess with their heads. Give a little cough, pathetic to start with, then make your body shake and retch retch retch. It’s great to see them rushing for a cloth or something to catch stuff with. At the last minute deposit a furball as far from reach as possible and go back to 1.

The party’s at my place this weekend. They’re not away, but they won’t mind, they like lots of pawprints, flying fur and feline farting. I’ll leave the catflap open.

Getting knitted out

Cat casts a critical eye over the new jumper.

Cat casts a critical eye over the new jumper.

The first thing I ever knitted was a dishcloth. It was at junior school,  the stern-on-the-outside but soft-on-the-inside Mrs Elliot cast caution and health and safety to the wind, and without so much as a warning about the pointyness of needles and their potential as playground weapons, thrust knitting needles and a ball of thick grey string into our hands, and told us to get on with it. Those were the days.

Fortunately dishcloths do not need to be a prescribed shape, though it’s best not to have too many holes, as I found out when I did my first wash-up and tied knots of unknitted string around the Sunday best fruit dishes, failing to scrape away the residue of Del Monte fruit cocktail and Carnation Milk.

Along with baking and sewing, knitting is making a come-back, we’re all finding our creativity again. Personally I’m glad, I like making things to eat and wear, it feels somehow more satisfying than writing a solid strategy or project plan with milestones and critical paths. Though of course it doesn’t pay as much.

Living near Bradford, which used to be the wool and textile centre of the world, you’d expect to find a few good yarns, even though most of the mills have long since gone. The best of the best is Texere, a quirky mill-cum-shop open just a few hours a week, packed with every colour and weight of wool possible. There’s even  coffee and comfy sofas to spend those few hours browsing patterns or, in my case, talking to anyone and everyone, listening to tales of knitting derring-do with chunky needles the size of rolling pins and near misses with the stitch-holders.

I went to look at the colours and get ideas, after all, I hadn’t knitted since just after dishcloth days. The orange mohair in the bargain bucket was calling to me. Why on earth wouldn’t anyone want to knit an orange jumper? And at £1 a ball, well it was criminal not to buy it, even though I hadn’t a clue how much I needed or how to make it into something I could wear. Still, a bargain is a bargain.

It turned out there wasn’t quite enough for a whole jumper, I worked that out before I started, so in my usual make-it-up-as-I-go-along fashion, I added extra colours and twisted in some fine yarn which I’d bought on an impulse with the vague idea of knitting Noel a tie. Still, it’ a one-off, and the cat seems to agree, though he was more interested in sitting on the balls of wool. Maybe next time I’ll use a pattern, I might even stick to it.