Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Mass Meditation for Peace and Plenty

As random atrocities become an increasingly regular visitation on the Western World, perpetuated by self-appointed agents of their god or, no less horrifically, psychopathic individuals who fancy some copycat notoriety on their way to the grave, perhaps the best thing we can do as individuals psychologically is to focus our attention away from what we don't want (thus helping to attract more of it according to the Law of attraction) and concentrate on what we do want (thus helping to attract more of it according to the Law of attraction).

For most nations, the main want would surely be 'Peace and Plenty' so that we all have a quality of life and choices which do not force us down paths we don't wish to go down or to treat each other harshly as a result of life brutalising us into constant 'fight or flight' survival mode. Nor do most of us wish to be driven out of our own countries or forced to leave them (and our communities, friends and families) behind in search of a better life, and all the hardships and risks that entails. We want the option of a good life in our own nation as well as the option to travel or work abroad.

A long time ago (sadly I can no longer find the source) I read about a 10.30pm world mass meditation initiative. That wherever everyone was in the world, at 10.30pm each night they would commit to a couple of minutes either meditating or praying for world peace. With the various time zones, that would mean an enormous number of people asking their god (or the universe) for world peace at various times throughout the clock. I would like to resurrect this daily idea if it has fallen by the wayside to include 'Peace and Plenty' as peace without enough to eat does not quite fit the bill for a balanced and wantless world.

Here is a link to a once a year initiative of similar ilk called Earthdance, which takes place on 23rd September 2017 and has an incantation to go with it (see above). Or if you'd rather do the 10.30pm each night thing with a simple wish for Peace and Plenty throughout the world, please Like my Facebook page here.

Quantum physics is now telling us we are entering the Age of the Mind and the next generation of discovery will be a voyage around our minds and realising the power we all have if only we were to use utilise our full mental capacity and energy and take control of our own minds. So strength in numbers folks. It's up to us to ask, meditate (and vote) for the world we want and visualise a bloodless revolution. Otherwise one thing is for sure. We will 100% continue to end up living in a world we don't want, hapless victims of other people's agendas, egos and mental illnesses, individuals who didn't hesitate to go after what they wanted, however warped or self-serving their particular vision.

So let's give mass mind power a chance and see what we can achieve. But let's avoid words like 'fight' or 'war' against want as aggressive words are counter-intuitive. 'As some wit once said: 'Fighting for peace is like f***ing for virginity!' Mother Teresa also once said: 'I will never come to an anti-war rally, but invite me to a peace rally and I will come.'

Strangely enough religious institutions seem uninterested in mass world prayer, except for sparing a thought for the sick of their parish once a week. Perhaps it's time to demand their involvement too.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A Tale of Two Stuarts

This was the view from my office window for twelve years in an Oxford College.
Well not my sole office, for I shared it with two wonderful Surveyors over the years, both called Stuart, first as a secretary and latterly as a Surveyor's Assistant.

Stuart I and Stuart II were very different characters but I had an excellent giggling chemistry with both.

Stuart I was dynamic and mercurial with a natty taste in bow ties and expensive brogues and could whinge for England, particularly about 'this country going to the dogs' but nearly always holding forth with a twinkle in his eye and a ready laugh. He could crack the whip and had cleared the workshop of the 'dead wood' as soon as he arrived which meant he ran a tight ship by the time I was appointed (the final in a long list of secretaries).

Conversely he could be incredibly kind and compassionate. He was also meticulous about getting every detail right. His friend Robin, a Surveyor as well, worked with us part-time and the two made a tremendous double act, but a tremendous professional partnership as well. Stuart I took the view that he wouldn't ask anyone to do anything he couldn't do himself, so he had trained in carpentry, plumbing, electrics etc. He could literally turn his hand to almost anything. However he also had Robin and myself on our knees with vacuum cleaners when building works overran and the students were about to move in!

By rights we shouldn't have got on for Stuart I was a hunting. shooting and fishing man with a love of 4 x 4's and good beer whereas I was a lifelong vegetarian and teetotaller, but somehow we 'got' each other and clicked, possibly because we were both Sagittarians and spoke our minds with birthdays only days apart. He also had an eye for the ladies and liked the window boxes to be kept short so he could admire them going past the windows!

We worked on amazing projects like the restoration of one of the oldest working mediaeval kitchens in England without compromise to its structure, wall painting restoration, chapel window restoration, roof and parapet repairs and restoration of a mediaeval internal courtyard, almost untouched for centuries.

Stuart I's downfall was that he wasn't much of a professional networker and not very good at compromise. After three years of my working with him (seven years at the College for Stuart I) and a change of Bursar, sadly Stuart had a disagreement with the college and ended up walking out.

I held the fort for a while after Robin also left (to pursue a year abroad to turn his hand to making his sporting activities into a career). The new Bursar (not a buildings man) eventually asked if we really needed another Surveyor to which I replied, shocked; 'Of course we do.'

Cue for Stuart II to appear several weeks later, a man in his early 60s with the bushiest and scariest white eyebrows I had ever seen, but equally dapperly dressed. He was much more laid back than Stuart I but I noticed things still got done and the pace of conservation and refurbishment soon picked up where it had left off. Stuart II also had the benefit of being a big cricket fan which meant he was never short of sporting banter to help him bond with the senior staff and fellows. Moreover he was generous with his time (not wishing to work full-time) and quite happy to help staff with projects on their homes, whereas Stuart I couldn't get home quick enough to spend time with his young daughter at the end of each day.

Perhaps because I had to hold the fort for at least one day a week, if not two, Stuart II started making it his business to teach me everything he knew. I also went on courses and gained an NVQ in Interior Design which I could then immediately apply to whatever project we were undertaking. Together we designed a new (but traditional looking) Porter's Lodge, numerous WC's, two luxurious academic house kitchens, en-suited various staircases, refurbished Fellow's rooms, offices and other areas. We had a rule that if we couldn't agree on a carpet, a colour or some other detail, then we hadn't found the right product yet. I came to be very grateful to Stuart II for his interest in my professional development and mentoring.

There was no such thing as staff development in our College. I didn't have a single appraisal in 12 years and only went on the courses I went on owing to Stuart II's urging. I also ended up writing the first ever Green Policy for the College.

Like Stuart I, Stuart II had an eye for the ladies and liked to joke he was a 'silver fox'. I bought him a silver fox badge for his birthday and he was delighted.
His wife suffered from a chronic illness so I also ended up giving him a lot of emotional support. Eventually she sadly died after a brave seven year battle. About a year later I found myself being consulted for dating advice and lo and behold, the Silver Fox was back on the dating scene for the first time in 45 years! One of the first things I remember saying to him was - 'Just remember, you don't have to marry them all! You can just date a lady!' He seemed quite surprised by this.

One of the most amazing things Stuart II did for me was defend my position when the Bursar (not a buildings man) decided to make me redundant after 12 years for the spurious reason that the building programme was coming to an end and I was no longer needed (though strangely, the programme of improvements and refurbishments subsequently continued following my departure to encompass many further projects).

Sadly my redundancy still went through, but I will always have fond memories of the college and both Stuarts.

This all came to the fore last week when I attended the funeral of Stuart I. A particularly sad occasion since he had taken his own life. Stuart I could fix everything it seemed, except himself. We'd kept in sporadic touch over the years and he had seemed his old jovial self the last time I saw him a couple of years ago, but apparently a few demons lurked behind the scenes. The only positive note was reconnecting with some welcome familiar faces. There was an unspoken feeling that it had been an intense and 'special' time when we were all together at the college and tackling so many core projects (sensitively) after so many years of neglect. On the other hand so many years of neglect were also to be thanked for making our college one of the best preserved Oxford colleges in the city, whereas others had let the most hideous brutalist buildings creep into their quads.

Certainly there are few jobs that you look forward to going to each day knowing you will be working in the most beautiful built environment and have at least one belly laugh per day if not several with your line manager and colleagues. There is something refreshingly down to earth about the world of Surveyors. There's no side to them. Not the ones I've worked with anyway. The workshop was great for camaraderie too and we worked with some wonderful contractors for years including a certain stonemasonry company, to the extent of replacing the worn gargoyles (designs repeatedly rejected by our blue-blooded benefactors for being 'too ugly!) Then there were the regular visits by film companies to use our quads for Morse and assorted costume dramas, so more than once I became a set dresser and met the likes of actors Nathanial Parker and Kevin Whately. Finally there was that most welcome 'conference bonus' each Christmas for putting up with some charming mature Americans over the summer undertaking a literature conference in Oxford and who would always invite me to one of their special dinners.

As for Stuart II? Well he stayed on at the College for another few years, though he complained it wasn't the same without me, before being retired in his early 70s on grounds of age. He now lives nearby with his second lady friend since being widowed.

Happy days in a unique workplace which, unlike some, will still be standing years after we are all long gone, weaving us into their fabric and making some sense of our toil in them.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Before I Forget...

I used to moan about it at the time but how we miss having to build in those ten extra minutes to run away from our cat each time we left the flat! Having eagerly clocked us donning coats and shoes, you'd follow us up to the communal gardens at the TOM, lagging behind and then breaking into a sprint, half racehorse, half baboon up the street, our black boy Django, also in tow, shyly weaving between parked cars.

I'd try to distract you by slapping a tree and teasing 'Bet you can't climb this tree!' and you'd always fall for the bait, scrabbling up the tree to show off while we tried to escape! Sometimes we'd split up doing detours round different streets to confuse you. Once I hid behind a lamp post round the corner. You stalked carefully past and then miaowed loudly in triumph when you spotted me as if to say 'Ha Mummy, I caught you!'  You liked to jump over the wall at the front of the gardens to surprise us with a mighty 'Miaow!' as well, lest we thought we could creep out the gardens without you spotting us.  We didn't want you following us up to the main road though, which you nearly did, on a couple of occasions.

It was particularly funny when punters were drinking outside the Bottom's Rest on a balmy afternoon and saw you following us. 'Just taking the cat for a walk.' I'd joke. I loved that determined look in your golden eyes. You were a natural cathlete. And of course this culminated in the Bottom's Rest being the only pub we could go to - where you could come too, much to the delight of the punters, again coaxing Django in too (as long as there were no dog-shaped objects). Not that dogs bothered you. You had no hesitation in squaring up to them and biffing them on the nose to show them who was boss.

Even funnier was when you had Django and Monster (a neighbour's black cat) in tow and all three of you would follow me to the communal bins at the end of our street. You were the leader of the pack. How they miss you now, not knowing what to do with themselves, although Monster often calls round and sits on the windowsill seeking a playdate. Poor Django hardly goes out though, except for little five minute bursts through the day. He's lost so much confidence since we lost you, even though we do our best to play with him and give him extra attention.

You loved the warm summer nights running around the neighbourhood when it was virtually impossible to get you (and Django) in, though we did our best to get you both in overnight. And once you gave in and allowed yourself to be captured with the aid of a meaty stick you always seemed happy to settle down, secretly pleased to be relieved of your catly duties for the night, even if you'd never admit it. Then you'd be bright and bushy tailed next morning, ready for a new days' adventures.

One time Django went missing overnight and we were really worried. Then you went missing too. We called you both all over the neighbourhood only to find you were both stuck in an empty house where some numpty had left a cat flap which opened inwards but not outwards again - you had gone to rescue Django and ended up trapped yourself, the two of you together!  You were both chastened and well behaved for several days after that experience and we found it sweet how you cared for your 'brother by another mother'. A cat demonstrably caring for another cat. How about that? But then you'd always been Django's friend - which is how Django came to live with us when his young owners lost their flat and ended up moving to places unsuitable for a cat. I remember how you almost high-fived each other with your paws each time you met  - two young dudes on the same block and him in need of a leader.

Another time Oliver got chatting to a man in the pub, only to find out that he lived round the corner from us and had woken up one night to find Mr Cheeky asleep and purring on his chest, having somehow got in through the first floor window! You were also a daily visitor to Gordon at Gwhizz bikes around the corner, inspecting all the bikes and amusing his customers.

A few weeks ago I had to contact the decorator who painted the courtyard of our flats last summer regarding an unrelated job and he asked how you were. I had to beat back the tears as I told him. The decorator was also very upset as you'd made it your job to be his Supervisor for those weeks he worked on our courtyard, inspecting the paint tins, the brushes and the workmanship! I had assumed you were being a bit of a pain and apologised at the time, but actually he loved you for it!

Everyone agreed you were such a character. A legend, no less.

Django is so timid without you. It's sad to see. While it seems far too soon, and there'll never be another Mr Cheeky, I think we will need to think about another friend for him. I don't think we should let him be a lone cat for the rest of his life.

It has been five months since you were so cruelly snathed from us and your wonderful life and neighbourhood by that awful couple, yet I find myself missing you as much as ever, particularly now the sunny days and balmy evenings - your favourite - are on their way again. I particularly miss how you would always spot us walking down our street from about half a street away and start running up to greet us. Or how we would drive round the corner and you would be there, always waiting and listening out for our car to return. Or finding you mooching round the communal gardens patrolling them and seeking out the catlovers on benches to be fussed as I returned from an errand.

I hope the day will come when I will be able to think about you with a smile on my face rather than a lump in my throat, but meantime I must stop writing about you now, my beloved.  We are going on holiday next week, so I hope that will prove a healing experience. As for Django, he will have a live-in catsitter, a nice Australian lady who also loves cats, but we are still conscious that it will be the first time we will be away without you to keep him company and play with him, assuring him that yes, we will be back! The only thing I guess he doesn't miss about you was how you'd naughtily try to lick the gravy off his catfood as well as your own, so I ended up having to feed you in separate rooms! On the other hand you could be generous, but you also needed to remind him you were top cat, lest he ever forgot!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Ode to Superfood

Having been brought up in a 'macrobiotic' household long before such things were fashionable (my first chick peas were served to me in a petri dish at the age of six, for goodness sake!), I find myself both astonished and bemused by the cult of 'clean food' that is now all around me and the millennials trying to outdo each other on various Facebook groups with vegan oneupmanship, not to mention the not at all morally dubious trolling of any vegan novice who dares to commit a crime such as spreading honey on their toast or letting their child enter an egg and spoon race with a real egg!

However, while it's great to have access to so many amazing new foods, I do wonder about the environmental impact of having up to a dozen exotic ingredients from as many countries on each plate! Talking of which - I never bother with any other but Hawaiian Spirulina dahling - the rest is very second rate...

Clean Food for Free Radicals

Hands up all you atheists whose body is a temple
Hark at my green example
All hail, mighty Kale!
Seaweed, Flaxseed,
Green tea, Broccoli
Porcini, Zucchini
Swiss Apple, Saw Palmetto
Couscous, Sweet Potato
Omega, it’s Wheat Grass!
Those go-to berries, Goji Berries,
Cousins Blueberry and Cranberry
Black Raspberries, Morello Cherry
Pomegranate and Kiwi
Sesame, Carrot, Wasabi
Ginseng, the man root
Asparagus and Beetroot
If you’re not too Quinoa
On Courgette spaghetti Cauliflower
Pass the Pumpkin creamed Starflower
Avocado, Heritage Tomato
Pineapple, Mango risotto,  
Raisins Muscat, Dates Medjool
Papaya, don’t preach
I’m in fuzzy Peach
Just like a Pear in Himalayan rock salt
Raisins from Red Grapes, Sultanas from White
Know your Onions, get your Oats
Give a Fig for Chilli Peppers
Butter no Parsnips with Royal Jelly
Cactus juice, a heart of Palm
Abide with me, your superfood psalm
Beansprouts, Buckwheat, Chick pea
Yoghurt and Mulberry Smoothie
Walnuts, Plums and Millet flakes
Artichoke, Hemp and Strawberry cake
Oranges, Apricots, Turmeric
Spinach, Aubergine, Wild Garlic,
Cacao powdered Cashews
Lentils, Carob and Brazils
Sweetcorn and Sugar beet
Pasta forged in Wholewheat
Fungi on Halloumi
Truffle-sprinkled Gnocci
Cinnamon and cardamom
Nut milk, Fruit of Sharon
Cider vinegar sourdough
Spelt out in Bran and Molasses Rye
Get a PH in balance before you die
Honey, Chia, Spirulina
Aloe Vera, Gingko Biloba
Butternut squash, Banana
To be a centenarian, think fruitarian
Eat your food raw
To be drop-dead gorgeous when you bore
Bathe in Coconut oil, no planet despoil
Just be Grapefruit
You live in the age of Quorn
And silken Tofu for a new you
I don’t mind Polenta, but hold on the Placenta
Easy over, just how I like it.

                              ©LS King 2017


Sign at Brighton VegFest this year

Monday, 27 February 2017

Eating the Roses

Facebook certainly knows how to rub it in. The above memories of Mr Cheeky flashed up on Valentine's Day from the same day two years ago when our little monkey decided to try and eat my Valentine's roses! Everything was for him in his catty mind!

In fact we could never have plants or flowers in the flat as he would soon demolish them one way or another. His funeral flowers have miraculously lasted nearly four weeks by comparison as Django is very respectful of plants.

I am a bit better now about not bursting into tears at inopportune times, but I still expect to see him around every corner in the flat. Writing the following poem helped a bit. 

The Grim Reaper’s Mate (Grief)

Whether you yearn to hear a key in the door
The flip of a catflap or the pitter patter of a paw
Grief doesn’t differentiate
Whether you’ve lost a person or a pet
It fillets your innards with pain so raw
You just don’t want to carry on any more
Your appetite is stolen and so is your sleep
You ache all over, no tears left to weep
The longing to rewind time won’t go away
You feel you’d give anything for just one more day
The what ifs’ and if onlys’ claim the wee small hours
It’s an effort to think about new dawns and showers
You make silly mistakes like putting kettles in fridges
And confusing an onion with a Golden Delicious
Your car drives you in unintended directions
You’ve aged ten years overnight when you catch your reflection
The rain doesn’t move you and nor does the sun
Will you ever smile again, let alone have fun?
You want to be alone but crave company too
Though no friend can bring back what you need them to
Yes, you’d give up a winning lottery ticket to have things back as they were
Whether you’re grieving the loss of a human loved one or a babe with fur

©LS King 2017

Monday, 20 February 2017

The Mad Catters' Tea Party - photos and update

Here are photos of some of the lovely attendees at the Mad Catters' Tea Party at Patisserie Valerie in Hove on Sunday night. 40 tickets were sold and along with the raffle and a few extra donations, the total raised for Lost Cats Brighton is £600 (rounded up from £595 by a kindly work colleague - thanks Michelle!).
With big thanks to everyone who supported this event, not forgetting the manager Daniel, and staff of Patisserie Valerie, who put on the tasty buffet spread and opened just for us, and the Lost Cats team themselves. 

It was particularly touching to meet in person some of the many individuals who tried so hard to help us find our beloved Mr Cheeky (on line and in life) after he was kidnapped from our home on 4th December, including a couple of dog owners who had taken Mr Cheeky's story to heart. There was also Heidi, standing on the stairs below, who unbelievably had a phone full of clips of Mr Cheeky playing with her boyfriend at work (her boyfriend works in a music company next to our flat and Mr Cheeky used to visit on a daily basis it seems). She was indeed wooed by endless clips of our pussycat and his antics when they first met! Sad as it was, it was so nice to see our boy having a great time whilst we were out at work feeling guilty about leaving him home!

It was a poignant night to remember our golden boy with a smile - he with the paw in every door - who spread his massive heart and love throughout the neighbourhood and indeed, introduced us to most of our neighbours!

The latest news with Lost Cats Brighton is having suffered their own sad loss last month of their founder Ron Ayres, they need to find new rented shelter premises, as their former rented premises ended with Ron's death. 
Meantime, having re-homed all the cats that they had, they continue to operate online helping reunite lost cats with their owners and are setting up a cat fostering service where cat lovers can be supported in a temporary fostering role until a cat is found a forever home. Anyone interested in fostering a lost cat in the Brighton and Hove area should email: for further details.
Further Lost Cats fundraising events coming along in May in Hanover.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Mad Catter's Tea Party, 19th February 2017

While still in deep mourning for our beloved golden boy, we feel the need of something positive to look forward to, so are working hard on the Mad Catter's Tea Party to bring cat lovers together for an evening of feline fun and fab tea party food to raise funds for Lost Cats Brighton in Mr Cheeky's memory.

We also intend it to be a unique event to remember!

We are therefore calling on all Sussex cat lovers to please share poster and print out for your window or workplace. And do book your tickets asap if you intend to come as they are currently going fast. Really want to make this a sell-out for Lost Cats Brighton (and our late beloved Mr Cheeky). Tickets here.
Many thanks. Laura and Ollie xx

50% of ticket price will go on buffet and beverages (lots of veggie options) and the rest to Lost Cats Brighton.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

The Kidnapping of Mr Cheeky - the final chapter

It has taken me most of the day to process what has happened, but ultimately I wanted to say more than a few words on Facebook.

Today at 11.50am, as I was cleaning the windows in our flat, the telephone rang.

It was Emma from Wilbury Vets, Hove. A ginger cat had been brought in. It had been hit by a car round the corner in Cromwell Road, Hove.

Sadly it could not be saved. They scanned the cat and found a match with Mr Cheeky's details on the PetLog database, hence the phonecall. I asked if she was absolutely sure and she asked if he had any other distinguishing features so I mentioned the chipped upper right fang, She asked if he had had a collar and I said yes, he had a yellow collar on when he was kidnapped. Much to my astonishment he still had a 'gold coloured' collar on. She asked what I wanted to do as they could organise cremation if I wanted. I said could I pick him up after the weekend as I didn't think I was in a fit state to drive. She said she understood, They would put him in their cold room for the weekend until I was ready. She knew all about Mr Cheeky and sounded quite emotional herself.

So our baby was alive for 7 weeks and 6 days following his kidnap and was killed only today when he finally escaped (or was released). Clearly disorientated and with no idea where he was, he panicked and ran across a road, sadly to be unlucky. I wonder if his captors lived on Cromwell Road? It is also a mere 0.9 miles from our flat in Brunswick Street East. So near and yet so far!

I have been in bits all day thinking about it. He had such a tough start to life, abandoned as a young cat, barely out of kittenhood, living on the streets and rescued by Lost Cats Brighton (where we got him) and then only two and a half years of happy life with us before he was kidnapped by those utter slimeballs, for who knows what reason.

My last memory of Mr Cheeky was earlier on the night he was taken. I was sitting on the sofa in front of the TV and Mr Cheeky was lying on his back on my lap reaching up with his paws to try and brush my hair with his claws. It was one of his little things. He was fascinated by hair. But it was also a perfect moment which I will treasure always.

He was a tough and independent cat most of the time, (let's face it, he ran the neighbourhood in catly terms!) but just occasionally he would be as soft as a marshmallow and allow a big cuddle, usually when he was tired. Or if I let him sleep on our bed (big treat) he would start by sleeping nonchalantly at the bottom and gradually work his way up the bed through the night until he had wedged his head under my chin gently purring and bunting me with his nose until I was so hot I had to get up and relegate him back to the living room with his food and litter tray.

So farewell my brave soldier, the most fearless cat I ever knew. You wouldn't hesitate to look a dog straight in the eye or boof a canine nose which got too close. You even managed to cow an American bulldog two doors down and visit and walk around that flat as if you owned it. You had a paw in every door (little children loved you) and you followed us to the local pub too. You even tried to follow me up the street to get the bus to work and were a regular visitor striding up the aisles at the Sunday Assembly in Waterloo Street! You've paid a high price for being so independent, friendly and fearless, (or perhaps because of your resemblance to 'A Streetcat Named Bob'), but you could never have been an indoor cat. It just wasn't in your nature. I'm so glad you got a last taste of freedom, albeit tragically brief. God bless you my furbabe, until we meet again.

Thank you so much to all the Likers and Sharers and Messagers and well-wishers. You've been phenomenal. As have our dear neighbours. I only wish I had a happy ending - for all our sakes.

But if you are local and want to pay tribute to Mr Cheeky and help other lost cats in Brighton and Hove, there IS one final thing you can do.  I had been arranging a Mad Catter's Tea Party (dress code: Crazy Cat Lady or Eccentric) to raise funds for Lost Cats Brighton. (where we got Mr Cheeky). This will take place on Sunday 19th February (6pm-9pm) at Patisserie Valerie on Western Road, Hove. It is £25 a ticket - £12.50 for late afternoon tea with buffet and beverages (lots to suit vegetarians too), with the rest going to Lost Cats. Plus we have exclusive use of this gorgeous venue on two floors, so it would be amazing to get away from screens and mobiles for a bit and meet some of you lovely people in real life. Something to look forward to on this darkest of days. As you may know Lost Cats sadly lost their founder Ron Ayres last month and may shortly lose their rented premises, so it is vital they find new rented premises asap in order that their valuable work can continue (it is estimated Ron helped up to 200 cats a year in his 17-year post-retirement calling.Tickets here (even I as the organiser will be buying one!). It is a registered charity, so Lost Cats can also claim Gift Aid on anything we raise.

UPDATE 29/01/17: The lady who was alerted to Mr Cheeky's body in Cromwell St and who took him to Wilbury Road vets round the corner has been in touch with some further information and it looks as if our cat may have been being kept by someone in the street, very close by. Have just updated Police and asked them to investigate. It would be good to get a prosecution for pet theft if possible.

I leave you with a few of my favourite piccies of Mr Cheeky, some of them with his playmate Django, who has been doing his catly best to cheer up a weeping Mummy all day.

The male Marilyn of cats

You may rule the neighbourhood but I rule the cat flap! Mwah ha ha.

Mmmm we love fresh linen!

We also love Daddy...

Polishing cars with Django

Chilling in Bottom's Rest pub

I'm King of the bag!

You're not going anywhere Mummy and Daddy!

Chillin' after a hard day's catly duties

I saw this new fridge first ok?

Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Kidnapping of Our Cat Mr Cheeky

It's been some time since I blogged, probably the longest time since I started this blog in 2007.

Aside from battling two bouts of the flu, back to back, nearly all my spare time has gone into the hunt for our beloved cat Mr Cheeky, who was kidnapped from our front courtyard in Brunswick Street East, Hove, by a young couple on the night of Sunday 4th December 2016 (caught on neighbour's CCTV).

We didn't immediately know that this is what had happened to Mr Cheeky as our neighbour opposite had been away for a few days and it was only when he was checking his footage (my partner Ollie had asked him to see if he could see in which direction our cat had gone), that he made the horrifying discovery that Mr Cheeky had not just wandered off, but had been deliberately taken. Quite a dramatic end to what had been my partner's birthday celebrations.

Naively we felt relieved that at least our fur babe had not been knocked down by a car, and now we knew what had happened, it must surely be only be a matter of hours or days until we got him back.

Nearly six weeks later (seven since the kidnapping), we seem no closer to finding him, despite all the publicity, the social media, the postering and flyering and offering a substantial reward.

Regrettably the CCTV footage was not quite good enough to identify the couple, although it was picked up by the Brighton Argus newspaper (click link to watch footage) and BBC/ITV regional news.

Mr Cheeky has left a huge hole in our lives and I worry that he may think we have forgotten about him or given up on him. I wish I could find a way of letting him know that we still love him and will never give up on him. Our other cat Django has been wandering around like a lost soul wondering what has happened to his leader and staring out the window forlornly, hardly venturing out. Their black cat pal down the road, Monster, also doesn't seem to know what to do with himself. Mr Cheeky ruled the neighbourhood. I am constantly stopped by small children in the street asking where Mr Cheeky is. He had a paw in every door it seems and visited most of the neighbourhood. For a short time, he was possibly one of the most famous missing cats ever - his story even appeared on The Sun online and The Mail online!

He had over 1000 shares on social media, particularly via a wonderful local facebook group called Brighton People. Mr Cheeky now has his own Facebook page called Find Mr Cheeky here.  Streetlife website have also been very good.

In fact we have been overwhelmed by the number of shares, likes and lovely messages, plus offers of practical help and tip-offs that we have followed up (sadly all other ginger cats, until now). We have truly seen the best side of social media and been reminded of all the good people in the world, at a time when we could easily have become fixated on the bad people in the world. We also have amazing neighbours, many of whom have put up posters in their windows and cars.

We have no idea why Mr Cheeky was taken, except that apparently there has been a spate of ginger cat thefts since the success of 'A Streetcat Named Bob' book and film.

One thing that I have particularly appreciated is all the stories people have shared with us about their pets miraculously reappearing weeks, months or even years later. Only this weekend, I met a young woman who used to volunteer at the RSPCA in London who told me that a cat was brought in because his elderly owner had died. They then scanned his chip and found to their great surprise he was a cat who had been reported missing more than 3 years before. Evidently the elderly lady had found him, assumed he was homeless and taken him in without making too many enquiries (or vet appointments). Needless to say his real owners were stunned and delighted in equal measure, having long since given up hope of ever seeing him again.

Fingers crossed it will be our turn for a miracle sooner rather than later.

Meantime the founder of Lost Cats Brighton (where we got Mr Cheeky two and a half years ago), Ron Ayres, sadly died a fortnight ago. Funds need to be raised for a new shelter to continue his legacy as the charity will soon lose their rented premises.

I am therefore throwing myself into organising a 'Mad Catters' Tea Party' to raise money, hopefully at the end of next month. Full details as soon as I have venue confirmation.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

George Formby and Max Miller - two goliaths of 20th Century British Comedy

Having recently watched Frank Skinner's excellent TV documentary on George Formby (above) and read John East's biography of Max Miller (right), I was struck by some of the similarities between these two British 20th century comedy icons.

  • George and Max were proud Lancastrian (Wigan) and Sussex-born (Brighton) comedians respectively who built their careers on working class humour and pride in their roots (although George was actually working class made good as his father George Formby Sr had already dragged the family out of poverty through his own music hall success)
  • Both changed their names (George Formby from 'George Hoy', Max Miller from 'Thomas Henry Sargant')
  • Both George and Max began their careers in the music hall and both progressed to films, although sadly in Max's case his film career was short-lived as he had the misfortune to be cast in several low-budget films which did not capture the public imagination or cast him to make best use of his talents. He was also ten years older than Formby and found it harder to get into his natural stride on film. Max was always more comfortable treading the boards and playing to a live audience and it showed.
  • Both married female performers (Beryl Ingham and Kathleen Marsh, respectively) in the early 1920s
  • Both attempted comedy double acts with their new wives with limited success before it was realised that the men were the stronger performers at which point both wives made the decision to sacrifice their own stage ambitions and devote their lives to raising their husband's star.
  • Both wives proved fiercely astute managers who drove a hard bargain and were widely feared by the showbusiness world (though it needs to be remembered that they were operating in an almost exclusively male environment in an age where women had little choice but to be fierce in order to be taken seriously).
  • Both wives edited, approved and coached their husbands with their material and acts (George and Max both struggled with literacy). Kathleen also made most of Max's famously flamboyant stage clothes.
  • Both comedians were always impeccably dressed for their performances, although Max would revel in his sartorial derring do with floral fabrics which dared to tease the inflexible masculine norms of the times.
  • Neither comedian had children, Kathleen lost a baby, after which she was advised not to risk another pregnancy for medical reasons and Beryl chose to have a hysterectomy shortly after marriage as she did not want children
  • Both wives followed their husbands everywhere they performed in their heyday and kept them on a short leash in terms of drink and female temptation (Beryl went as far as to prohibit George from kissing any leading lady, even if the script required it, so his films often involve a romantic moment comically interrupted at the crucial scene. Beryl also made sure she appeared in as many off-screen photographs with George as possible, lest anyone get any ideas!) 
  • Both comedians were known for their comic songs and stock-in-trade cheeky double entendres, though Max was far more risque compared to George's mock gormless hero of the hour, coining the term 'blue jokes', a reference to his 'blue book' of jokes, tame as these seem by today's standards. However George went on to have the stellar film career, which eluded music hall 'There'll never be another' Max, albeit Max also made a few films.
  • Both were excused from conscription in WWII and became famed for entertaining the troops as their contribution to the war effort (George was awarded an OBE)
  • Both were exceptionally mean with money, using their manager wives as an excuse (George was famously only given 5 shillings a week 'pocket money')
  • Both shared a love of luxury cars. George also had a boat, Lady Beryl.
  • Both comedians lived in the same area all their lives, although their houses became larger as they grew in stature and both dabbled in smallholdings with a few animals for a while. Amusingly each of George's homes was christened 'Beryldene'.
  • It was rare for either comedian to spend a night away from home, though this was not necessarily about devotion - both were highly reliant on their wives, almost to an unhealthy degree, to manage every aspect of their lives and careers. Max even called Kathleen 'Mum'. 
  • Both comedians would eventually confess (George publicly, Max privately) towards the end of their lives that their marriages had not been entirely happy unions and they had been deprived of marital relations for many years (no matter that their wives would assume jealous reactions of almost epic proportions if they dared exchange more than a glance with another female).
  • Both managed to conduct one or two affairs despite stringent marital controls. Or perhaps because of...
  • George died in 1961 and Max died in 1963, both following heart problems and having suffered from depression as health and career declined in their final years. 
  • Both comedians have societies devoted to them. The George Formby Society and The Max Miller Appreciation Society, still going strong over 50 years after their deaths. Both are also commemorated as bronze statues in their home towns.

In conclusion, these comedy giants were almost brothers by other mothers in my view and I wonder if this ever struck them on the occasions that they met. The world would certainly have been all the poorer without them.
I think it's only right that Beryl and Kathleen are remembered too though. Whatever personal frustrations went on behind closed doors in their marriages, Beryl and Kathleen were undoubtedly devoted to their husbands and sacrificed everything for them (which in itself must have been a hard pill to swallow and not without its tensions). But their talents went on to shine in other respects and they struck their own pioneering blow for female equality in the world of stage management, intentionally or not.

Perhaps too it was hard to sustain a romantic relationship when Beryl and Kathleen knew and helped with last detail of their husbands' lives and were no nonsense business partners as well as spouses. Beryl's last few years were also spent battling leukaemia (and alcoholism to control the pain) which can't have been easy for her.

           (Shyer) Kathleen Marsh Miller           

Beryl and George Formby

George and Beryl attempt to make it as a double act (1920s)

Kathleen and Max also attempt to make it as a double act (1920s)

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Why Libraries Are Not An Unaffordable Luxury in a Digital Age

Yesterday I noticed an advert for Brighton and Hove Debating Society. The motion was 'Libraries Are An Unaffordable Luxury In A Digital Era'. I nearly didn't go, imagining that I would get too angry and probably be thrown out anyway.

I needn't have worried.

Even the proposer did not wish to see the end of libraries and it was a majority victory against the motion, though the proposer argued that libraries still had to 'stack up' and be financially viable. I did not agree. Libraries are a public service. Nor do I accept the argument that cuts must be made somewhere and we need to decide what we want to keep. As long as we are paying for all our services through our local and national taxes. we need to RECEIVE all our services in my view. To talk about alternative methods of funding (as one audience member suggested) for public services such as libraries just means that we would pay for the same services in different ways twice over!

There was an interesting letter in the local paper this week pointing out how in the days when our city was truly broke (ie late 70s with 3-day weeks, endless strikes, not much cash around), we enjoyed immaculate parks with award winning flowerbeds, plentiful and spotless public toilets, free museums, bowling greens, leisure centres, a well-resourced library service, free social care and virtually no social housing queue, not to mention plentiful Police and a reasonably well-run NHS. Yet now in an age where the council has never enjoyed more citizens paying council tax and rakes in parking and parking permit revenue undreamt of in the 1970s plus the benefit of a year-round seaside economy, thanks to university growth, suddenly we are expected to accept cut after cut to our local services. If there is genuinely such a deficit we need to first demand to know where our money is going, rather than blithely accept what we are told. Nor did we receive a council rebate for our water rates when they left council jurisdiction to be farmed out to privatised companies under PM Margaret Thatcher in 1989.

But to get back to libraries, yes they have had their cyclical and fashionable ups and downs over the years and some are better supported than others, though this is largely down to how well they are run. Of course they have had to change with the times and run clubs, meetings and events and offer internet access, DVDs, CDs and even toys, but they remain an essential social hub in most communities, without which there is literally no non-commercial public space left for people to go when it rains or for people who can't afford to spend vast sums of money on education, entertainment or taking their children out. NB: It is a truth universally acknowledged that children LOVE libraries and regard them as something akin to magical kingdoms of endless possibility. They are also sadly more likely to get a story read to them at their local library than they are by their own exhausted parents at bedtime these days. Autobiographies abound by poor children made good or who survived bad childhoods crediting the library as their refuge or the key to their success as adults. Let's not forget that Andrew Carnegie himself was such a poor boy made good by libraries and determined to extend that privilege around the world.

In an age pushing us towards 'contactless' life libraries are also a lifeline for the lonely and elderly who are rapidly losing their banks, post offices and human interactions in shops, not to mention free museums. They are also a lifeline for those failed by schools but who cannot afford further education fees.

23% of the population still don't have internet access either, some because they have never joined the internet age and others because they live in parts of the country which don't have internet coverage. It can be a polarising and socially isolating phenomenon leading to some segments of the population suffering disadvantage.

I speak as one who spends half their life on computers and the internet for professional as well as personal reasons. I have nothing against the digital world, except for its threat to take over my life if I let it. The online world may be seductive (and I've had my moments of addiction) but nothing beats real life and spending time doing real things, hanging out with real friends and generally keeping it real. I have to regard the online world as a tool to be kept in life's toolbox for the sake of my own sanity. Often at weekends I refuse to check my Facebook or email for a whole 24hrs, occasionally a whole 48. It feels good and I feel healthier for it. It is rare that I miss anything of importance as a result as a real life friend can always phone me if it's urgent.

The average 18-25 yr old apparently checks their smartphone on average 85 times a day with up to five hours a day spent streaming films and music or on social media. Mental health issues are on the rise as a result of such behaviour as is bullying and that lovely internet trend known as 'trolling'. Concentration levels are also plummeting leading to serious mistakes in people's everyday lives and lower productivity at work.

So what has all this got to do with libraries? Well the true aim of a library is to provide information. To offer signposts in a confusing world. It doesn't matter if that information is multi-media in form or in a book. The modern Library can still provide and the public are still helped.

One also has the regular joy of discovering something new in a library or which you would never have dreamt of reading/watching/listening to had you not stumbled upon it. This doesn't happen on the internet. You search for something, you find it. no surprises. Your horizons are neither challenged nor broadened. And however high resolution screens become, I for one don't want to be staring at them 24/7. I love the smell, tactility and jacket of a book. Nor is it easy to wrap a download as a present for someone. Downloads make lousy presents to go under the Christmas tree! And many people remain unaware that digital downloads are never truly yours, no matter how much you have paid for them. You are merely renting them for life when you buy. Should you wish to leave your music or movie download collection to your son or daughter when you die, you can't. The collection dies with you. Buy a real librarysworth of  books, DVDs or CDs and they are physically your property to leave to whomever you wish

Aside from addiction, the online world carries the huge unspoken risk if we put all our eggs in its basket as we are increasingly driven to, the more real life services are transferred onto it. Almost everything online is free now, but the moment it reaches a tipping point of the vast majority of the real world being reliant on the online world to function is the moment we will begin to be charged for all data, including our own. Have you ever wondered what the true intentions of 'clouds' are, aside from making it easier to share files? Why, so that you no longer save your own information on your own C-drives or USB sticks of course. So that you have to pay subscriptions to carry on using both software and your data. And it won't just be financial control. Your data will be able to be stolen and used against you in all kinds of ways. Microsoft, Apple and Google are no benign entities. Each has world domination intentions or are owned by powers who do. Those endless compulsory computer 'updates' are not for our benefit, no, but to increase the stranglehold on us and our data (sic the recent case of an HP printer download rendering all HP printers unable to accept cheaper generic cartridges so that printer owners were forced to pay through the nose for genuine HP cartridges).

When this digital bubble bursts and our love affair with the computer age ends I predict libraries will enjoy a renaissance comparable only to their rise in Victorian times. Free information, education  and entertainment will be prized above all else once we have had a taste what digital Big Brother has to offer.

Meantime with national literacy and grammar levels plummeting and the rise of social media contributing to the shrinking and bastardisation of our vocabulary. we remain in dire need of our libraries if we did but know it. Social mobility and progress is currently going backwards to the bad old days when few people could read and write properly. We are well and truly in the age of the unenlightenment, but hang in there and this too will pass, for ultimately we are cyclical beings who learn, forget, make mistakes and then learn again.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Invasion of the Vegans...

At 22 a friend's son announced he was going vegan. There was a general rolling of eyes as 
a. Jason had always been an enthusiastic meat lover.
b. Jason wasn't known for sticking to anything for more than about ten minutes and had already dropped out of two universities.
c. Both Jason and his dad Paul were wind-up merchants and it was their greatest hobby to devise new ways to annoy one another, so it was a natural assumption that this was just Jason's latest thing to annoy his dad.

Merciless teasing inevitably followed along with various mealtime battles, some jovial, some deadly serious resulting in full scale morality arguments and fall-outs and Jason leaving home and disowning his family for several months at a time. Eventually his family got the message and always kept a pack of Linda McCartney sausages in the freezer, just in case.

Much to everyone's amazement, having lost a whole Facebook network through his relentless vegan proselytising (and doubtless gained a new one through joining various vegan FB groups), Jason is still a strict vegan five years down the line.

He is not alone. Like a new religion, veganism is sweeping the country and our youth with a fervency seldom seen, seemingly fuelled by a succession of young and glamorous 'Deliciously Ellas' with their clean eating revolution combined with the easy availability of horrific animal abuse exposes and films online. Vegan Facebook groups frequently descend into rabid arguments over the tiniest ignorances or points of difference and have to keep urging each other to 'Be nice to newbies' or close down particularly contentious threads altogether.

My late vegan father and campaigner would have been astonished. When he was hawking veganism in the 1970s and 80s, few people gave him the time of day. It was embarrassing to be around him as a child as all he ever seemed to do was lecture everyone about what they should (and shouldn't) eat. Going to a cafe was mortifying as he lectured every waiter and waitress on the merits of the vegan diet and the dire health consequences of not converting, rather than simply telling them what he DID want to eat or drink! If anyone he knew died of cancer or heart trouble, it was 'their own fault for eating rubbish' or 'smoking' because 'I warned them!'.

Not that I wanted to eat meat. I just wanted us to be normal apart from not eating meat. Instead we were known as local freaks in the small town in which we lived, bullied at school and never invited to other childrens' birthday parties or sleepovers. I learned being messianic about things won neither converts or friends. 

My late friend Jill Phipps (killed by a lorry exporting calves at the anti-live export protest at Coventry airport in 1995) would have been similarly astonished by the vegan revolution and I wish she could have lived to see it. 

Despite all, it fills my heart with joy going to events like VegFest and seeing queues around the block in their hundreds. I am glad to be a strict veggie (if not quite a vegan anymore - I just can't do that level of raw food!). I am glad my parents never got me vaccinated with animal tested products using animal ingredients, not to mention hazardous heavy metals). I am really glad we have so many great new foods and products nowadays, though I miss some of the old like the amazing Granogen soy milk powder. I am also glad I feel balanced and sane (sadly many vegan men were a little tooo eccentric for me and it wasn't the diet!). I will happily advise people on going veggie or vegan and share tips, but I will never shove what I believe down anyone's throat. Apart from anything else, I learned from my father's example that it doesn't work as a tactic to change the world. 

My partner is veggie-friendly, careful to avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen, and has reduced the amount of meat he eats, but it is not my business to convert him and I have seen a good friend lose her husband by trying to convert him and him pretending to embrace veganism and then sneaking off to burger bars to 'cheat' on her! This to my friend was even worse than him cheating on her with another woman! But I do see how converting to please a partner can lead to hidden resentments, which then build up over time, whether it is a religion or a diet.

Therefore I just encourage my other half to eat as organically and humanely as possible. The rest has got to come from him as and if he is ready.

Ultimately life has to be about each of us trying to do our personal best to live a good life with as little harm to our fellow humans and animals as we can manage. If each of us did this, how much better the world would be, immediately. Not perfect, but then nor are we.