Love me, Love my cat

June 11, 2013

This is the story of how stroking a cat can change your world. You have been warned…


Greebie aged 3 months

I first met Greebo the cat (indeed named after his Discworld alter-ego) on August 10th 1998. He was laid on the grass outside the house of the girl I had met two days earlier. I approached, he rolled over, I stroked his tummy…

“Is that my cat?” asked the girl stood in the door. At this moment, Greebo, who had enough of my attention, bit me. “Yup, that’s my cat,” the girl stood in the door confirmed.

I bid my farewells, with no intent of seeing girl or her cat again…

Ha! Little did I know that Greebo wasn’t nice to anybody, voluntarily offering his tummy was tantamount to a proxy proposal of marriage.



Despite living almost 300 miles apart, I saw quite a lot of that girl, Vee, (and her cat) and by November of that year, I had offered Vee a place to stay while she looked for work in London.

It would transpire that the girl and the cat came as a package deal. “Love me, love my cat,” she said. And since it turned out I loved the girl, this wheezy, allergic-to-cats, tenancy-agreement-says-no-cats-and-besides-I-don’t-do-cats fool of a man agreed to this odd two-for-one offer.

Greebie aged 2, newly ensconced in my flat

Greebie aged 2, newly ensconced in my flat

Of course, we hadn’t checked with Greebie (as he was affectionately known) if this was acceptable. Turns out, that being hand weaned from the age of 3 weeks old gives a cat a certain belief in ownership and he had no intention of sharing. He was the ultimate “jealous puss”.

Shortly after Vee and Greebie moved in I found myself in A&E, with a towel wrapped round my arm that was turning steadily red.

It was explained to the nurse that I had been attacked by a cat. The nurse was horrified and I think, suspecting some panther-like escapee from a zoo or circus, demanded to know the size of the cat. “Just a small domestic cat,” I replied sheepishly.

Pumped full of antihistamines and antibiotics the two four inch gashes on my forearm stopped swelling up, the bleeding stopped and I went home. I still have two beautiful tram-line scars as a constant reminder of that particular disagreement.

Oddly enough we got on much better after that and we moved from a flat to a house and we all had more room things improved dramatically and Greebie had pigeons to hunt and embarrassingly, on occasions, other families pets, such a couple of baby rabbits, but that’s another story for a different day.

By the summer of 1999 Vee was now my wife and by Christmas 2000 we discovered we were going to be parents (She opened a WonderBra from me, I opened a positive pregnancy test from her. Vee never did wear that bra…)

Given Greebie’s reaction to sharing Vee with me, we weren’t sure how he’d take sharing her with a baby, so, on the recommendation of a vet, we acquired another cat, Knut, to keep Greebie busy. She did, but that again, is a tale for another day.

Romilly was born in September 2001, just a few days after 9/11 and we worried about what kind of world we’d be bringing a child up in, as I guess a lot of us did at the time.

Milly and her best friend

Milly and her best friend

As Milly grew, Greebie became her constant companion and interactive play-thing, they were inseparable. So when Yvie came along in 2007 as the ultimate April Fool’s Day gag (two weeks early) we wondered how Greebie, now 11, would fare…

Admirably, it turned out, almost kitten like in his enthusiasm to play, he had the full attention of an almost six year old and a new baby and he loved it. As Yvie grew into a toddler he was often found being half carried, half dragged from one room to another, completely content with his new role in life.

Greebie looking after Yvie

Greebie looking after Yvie

Turns out Yvie was born with a hole in her heart (now healed) and Greebie became our early warning mechanism, refusing to leave Yvie’s side twenty-four hours before an inevitable turn for the worse and another emergency admission to hospital.

So, in early 2012 when Vee started to feel unwell and lost her voice for seven weeks and Greebie refused to be budged from her side, save to eat and for comfort breaks, we knew something was up, even if then, we didn’t know what.


The “something” would turn out to be a tumour in Vee’s Thyroid and in the weeks between diagnosis and the operation I would often wake in the middle of the night to find Greebie lying atop Vee, head tucked under her chin, purring for all he was worth. It was oddly comforting to know that he was doing his best.

Go away, she's my mum

Go away, she’s my mum

Vee is still recovering from the long-term effects of her Thyroidectomy and Greebie has been a feline drill in the darkness of the night, purring away still.

Then, a week go, it was clear that Greebie himself wasn’t well, so Vee took him to the vets, expecting the usual, “it’s his age, he’s getting old. Give him two of these a day and he’ll be fine.” Alas, this was not to be. After a couple of days in the feline equivalent of Intensive Care, tests indicated that Greebie was very unwell. Kidney failure and, ironically, hyper-thyroidism, meant Greebie, Vee’s baby of 17 and a half years didn’t have very long.

The vet boosted him up so he could come home for the weekend, so the family could love him, in the flesh one last time, so our beautiful two girls, who have never known a house without a Greebie could say goodbye. There have been many, many tears.

Our last family photo

Our last family photo

Today, Tuesday, 11th June, 2013, as we lay cuddled in bed dreading the alarm, Greebie heaved himself out from underneath the bed, scrabbled up the duvet and dropped himself heavily onto the arm I had round Vee. A jealous puss to the very last…

So, in a cold, wet, rainy and cliche ridden day we dressed slowly and with heavy hearts and glistening eyes took Greebie back to the vet. We held his paw and stroked his head and told him how much we loved him, how much he meant to us, how much he will always mean to us and after an injection by the vet waited for him to go to sleep. It didn’t take very long. It was awful, heart-wrenching and it was absolutely the right thing to do.

It turns out I am a cat person. I will miss Greebie in ways I did not think possible until just a few hours ago. I will cuddle my girls and remind myself constantly that if that little black and white cat hadn’t rolled over and let me stroke him 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have any of this.

Thank-you Greebie cat. I owe you everything.

RIP my little friend.


Dad. x

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Seeking Inspirational People

June 2, 2013

A good friend once said how much he disliked the ‘greyness’ of corporate life, how empty everyone seemed.  I asked him how much of himself he took to work.  He thought a moment and shrugged. Fair point, he said.  This person, who was always at odds with ‘corporate’, has now moved on from a life spent running company websites to make award-winning short films. And yet, how grey was he to the co-workers he greeted each morning?

I went on a business trip recently, meeting my colleague on the train at Wolverhampton as we headed north.  We’d not spent much time chatting before that (and probably won’t again – at least, not through work.)  He was the techie pre-sales engineer and I was the product manager, coming together for a customer visit.  We got chatting.  He was into photography, and showed me his pictures.  His wife had the bug too, and I saw arty night shots of trees illuminated by the two of them as they ran around shining torches in the darkness, while a slow-release shutter rendered the couple invisible.  The photos were very good.  But even better was the picture it painted in my mind of love and life in action.

Something got me thinking today.

About all the inspirational people.  Not the ones on the big stages, but the ones who aren’t really trying to lead anything other than a normal life.

About a friend, now gone, who spent his days at home, naked and relaxed, pottering.  Brilliant and very much at one with who he was and how he expressed it.

About the primary school teacher whose love of Simon & Garfunkel and the canals of England and Wales, through her methods and wonderful eccentricity, ignited in a ten-year old boy two passions that live on decades later.

And about the friend who called today, to speak to my wife, but made the happy mistake of asking how I was, whose comments have left me that little bit more certain about things, and whose remark that she’d been listening to ‘Let Her Go’ by Passenger took me to the album on Spotify.  Genius.

Does corporate need to be grey?  Do we need to strip the personality from our product messaging?  I’ve always struggled with this, and see no reason why it needs to be this way.

And with this in mind, my penultimate shout out (in this unashamedly self-indulgent blog) goes to the copy-writer who I’ve got to know over the last year, whose battle with bland finally seems to be paying off, as the company he writes for finds a more ‘human’ voice – and in doing so, will perhaps inspire a few more people to look again at the products and services he’s writing about.

My last shout… to my wife and daughters, whose unflinching belief is a daily inspiration, adding wind to the sails as I work to justify their faith.

The list is not exhaustive, and as I’ve written just these few I’m reminded of all the people I’ve not included in this short list.  Hopefully they know.  I guess the point is, be open enough to notice the incidental comments and happenings from which inspiration just might spring, and be bold enough to take a little more of yourself into everything you do.

When I was at university, I learnt about a study once carried out on ‘luck’ by assessing two self-selected samples (unlucky people and lucky people).  Count the number of photos in this newspaper, they were told.  You’ll get money once you’re done.  And the faster you’re done, the more money you’ll get.  Three pages in, there was a piece of text that gave the number of photos and instructed people to stop immediately and collect their money.  Lucky people saw it.  Unlucky people didn’t, as they stuck to their course and counted the photos, ignoring the text.

That’s all.



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Reading Writers Annual Writers’ Day

June 1, 2013

Earlier today, a small posse from WordWatchers made its way across to Sonning to participate in the 2013 Annual Writers’ Day hosted by Reading Writers.  As part of a two-way, tit-for-tat barter, we were WordWatchers’ response for Julie Cohen spending the evening with us back in March (when much fun was had, and many new ‘people’ were introduced to the group – like Stephen Alexander, for example).

Today’s response involved John Hoggard, John Potter and me presenting our thoughts on writers in the digital world – covering what this has meant for WordWatchers as a group and for the individual writers within it.

Before we got down to business, though, the day kicked off with some literary limbering up, as teams collaborated for 20 minutes to produce a short story based on three pieces – a prop, a location and a character.  Entries were then read out – and if you want to enjoy (?) the WordWatchers effort, you’ll find the whole thing at the end of this post.

So, for our main event…

I kicked things off by taking everyone through the evolution of the group, and how we’d gone from an inwardly focused bunch to a much more industry-aware group of established writers with a great mix of skills and a strong vision for how best to serve the needs of its members.

Then, John Potter spoke about his experiences in producing Chasing Innocence, and how important it is to ensure that the words you’ve slaved over for months or years aren’t let down by poor quality packaging.  He spoke about formatting for print and eBook, making sure it’s able to stand head and shoulders alongside the traditionally published offerings with which it needs to compete for attention.  He also spoke about the many mistakes he’d made along the way, and how each production, from Chasing Innocence, to Mahrie (his novella) and Out of Time (the WordWatchers’ anthology), have introduced new challenges and forced the learning of new skills to ensure the best possible product.

John Hoggard then spoke about social marketing, and the need to make sure your high-quality, well packaged book has every chance to stand out in the market, and rise above the noise with some savvy online activity.  He spoke about Twitter, and the approach WordWatchers has taken in eschewing volume for quality, in terms of followers, and how the approach is paying off through some very rewarding online interactions.  And then Facebook, and just how much effort is involved in making the platform work.

Apple and Cinnamon Cake

And there was cake.  Aside from the fine spread put on by our hosts, John H upheld the WordWatchers’ tradition and provided a particularly wonderful (and gluten free) apple and cinnamon cake.

It was a great opportunity to meet up and discuss writing in a lovely setting, and share in the vast array of experiences (and cake) that each writer brings to the table.

And now, you know that short story collaboration you’ve been waiting for?  On reflection, in the spirit of ‘what goes on tour stays on tour’, perhaps it’s best I don’t share it.  What I will say is, it was a lot of fun… and certainly brought out some creativity.  After all, take a look at the prop we had (in the photo).  And that paper on its chest – that’s our character (a 19th century body snatcher) and our location (an old convent with echoing corridors).

The Hairy Nun

We called it ‘The Legend of the Hairy Nun’ and it began like this:

Birds sang.  Last night’s moon hung in the bright morning sky like a misplaced reveller.  Morag Blair peered in through the leaded window of the recently abandoned convent.  A chill ran down her spine.


Definitely not one to be taken too seriously.

Well done Reading Writers on a great day.  I look forward to future collaborations.




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