The Weird Cat

She’d been a weird cat since she’d first arrived, squeezing her way past the children’s legs one day as they came in from school. “Can we keep it?” they’d begged their mum, but she’d told them that this was somebody else’s cat and lifted it out onto the path, where it sat until the door was opened again before attempting entry once more. The girls had made posters advertising ‘FOUND CAT’, complete with a photo, but it’s hard to tell one black cat from another, especially in a grainy print. No owner had come forward and, day after day, the cat came back with little encouragement from the girls’ mum but secret treats and lots of cuddles from the youngsters. Eventually, it was tacitly accepted that she was now the family cat; a bed was bought and two bowls for food and drink. They named her Clinker and they loved her.

There was no doubt that she was getting on in years; her belly was flabby, the tip of her tail was flattened and hung at an odd angle, she had strange flecks in both eyes and she never meowed, although she often purred. The whole family made a fuss of her, but nobody pretended that she wasn’t weird. She would sit on the window sill, her back to the outside world, watching the room like a small, furry guardian. If anybody got up to leave, she would watch them until they were out of sight before resuming her original stance, rarely blinking, even more rarely sleeping. Most un-cat-like.

Clinker wasn’t very graceful for a cat either. She had an ungainly walk and would frequently fall from the furniture, righting herself as she hit the floor and continuing as though nothing had happened. The one time she displayed anything like the expected amount of feline agility was when she did the weirdest thing of all; whenever she crossed from the rug in front of the fire to head into the kitchen, she would walk in a wide arc, hugging the furniture until she reached the chair closest to the door, whereupon she would leap delicately as though she were clearing a small hurdle. The first time she’d done it, the family had laughed at her odd ways and had subsequently tried to fathom what made her do it. They’d tried moving the lamp in case a stray shadow was causing the cat’s confusion but it made no difference; over time the furniture was rearranged slightly, but she still followed roughly the same path and always ended with a little leap. It was part of her charm.

As the girls grew older, Clinker’s fur sprouted stray white hairs and she looked a little scrawny about the haunches, but she would still sit and survey the room with her almost unblinking gaze, never once facing the outside world. She enjoyed curling up in a lap, rumbling like a fur-covered Geiger counter and there was never a shortage of willing laps. All in all, it was a good life.

It was approaching winter when the burglary happened. As the family lay sleeping, their mother woke to a strange sound. Somewhere, a cat was mewing loudly and a bitter draught rattled under her bedroom door. She thought the girls might have left a window open, as they sometimes did; perhaps a local cat had climbed in, but as she opened her door to go and check, she saw a dark figure halfway up the stairs, or down – it was difficult to know which way they were heading in the gloom – and she cried out and flailed for the light switch. The burglar ran down the stairs and headed through the dining room and into the living room, making for the open back door through which he had forced an entrance.

He’d clearly spent some time in the living room, looking for valuables that didn’t exist, as every drawer of the dresser had been emptied onto the floor and the cushions from the suite had been tossed, as though someone might hide money or jewels in the furniture. The burglar stepped onto some letters and skidded a little before taking a wild step to try and right himself. He hadn’t accounted, however, for the now silent black cat prowling in the only spaces left unsullied and as his foot landed on the flattened end of her tail, she hissed and lashed out with deadly accuracy, raking her claws across his leg. He fell with a crash, catching his chin on the dresser and was already unconscious as he hit the floor. As he lay like a dead man near the kitchen door, Clinker sidled up to him and leapt in a graceful arc over the vanquished intruder, as though clearing a small hurdle.

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To Dirty Washing (With profound apologies to Andrew Marvell)

Had I but world enough, and time,
My efforts I would turn to rhyme
I would sit down and think which way
To sculpt a poem every day.
I, by the chattering Mersey’s side,
Could sit with pen and watch the tide.
Of chills and winds, complain. I would
And shuffle back to flee the flood,
Of water, not of words I’d use;
The offerings of my shimmering Muse.
My verse anthology would grow
As vast as any that I know;
And readers would, with deep amaze,
Marvel at how I used my days;
Yet empty pages do attest
That my sweet Muse remains at rest;
Or else she knows not how to start,
Bold inspiration in my heart.
Most likely she must sit and wait
‘Til I surrender to my fate.

But at my back I always hear
The pile of laundry, damp and drear;
Which will not hang itself to dry
Though I should wait eternally.
And in the bedrooms, more is found,
Socks, shirts and towels, all in a mound
I gather laundry with a sigh
And wonder why it’s left to lie,
Forgotten forms to gather dust,
If left too long to form a crust:
To banish beauty from the place,
Inviting odours at a pace.

Now therefore, when my sons return
Strong words will make their ears burn,
And consequences may transpire
Involving piles of clothes and fire,
If I should chance to find them thrown,
Upon the floor; my will is stone!
Their clothes will dwindle by the day
‘Til every thread is cast away.
Let them retrain to nightly scamper
To drop their clothes into the hamper.
Then I can take my book and pen,
Commence to gather rhymes again.
Thus, though I may not be a bard,
My laundry won’t be half as hard.

Little

When the world was bigger,

When the days were long,

When the night came quickly,

When my legs were strong,

I would climb the lamppost,

Right up to the light,

Swing upon the cross bar,

Holding really tight.

 

When the nights were lighter,

When we were out all day,

When a pound was riches,

When all we did was play,

Then I would write out numbers

In chalk upon the ground

And hop and jump for hours

Until the night came round.

 

When all my friends were little,

When I was little too,

When adults were like giants,

When there was lots to do,

I’d pull the blankets round me,

The world would fade from sight,

I’d lose myself in stories,

‘Til late into the night.

A Mother’s Advice

Never leave the milk out.

Always warm the pot.

Before you do the shopping

Check what you have got.

Never sleep in make-up.

That’ll clog your pores!

Brush your teeth before you sleep.

Always lock your doors.

Do the things you have to

Before the things you want.

Always tell yourself “I can”’

Never think “I can’t!”

Never waste your money

When it’s flowing free.

You never know how difficult

Finding more could be!

Never be uncaring!

Always aim for kind.

Words can be like weapons

They can harm a person’s mind.

Never change who you are

For other people’s sakes.

Don’t waste time on idiots.

Learn from your mistakes.

Don’t let struggles drag you down.

Be who you want to be.

Whatever else goes wrong in life,

Don’t grow up like me.

Growing Up

Such a long road to walk for such short legs,

We’d stop to read the numbers on the doors;

Testing you on your counting as we strolled,

My big hand wrapped completely around yours.

 

We’d play the games that spring up at such times:

‘Twenty Questions!’, ‘I-Spy’ or we’d chat

About the things we’d do once school was done,

About your thoughts on life: on this or that.

 

But now, your hand’s at least as big as mine,

And you are taller by an inch or two.

So, soon you’ll leave to start another life

And part of mine will finish when you do.

The Day Before Christmas (Apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

‘Twas the day before Christmas, when all through the land
The nerves of the masses were stretched like a band
After finding once more that they’d left things so late,
That there’s really no chance that their day would be great.

The children are praying for Playstation 4
But the shops are all empty, the signs say ‘No more’.
For Johnny a CD, for Tilly a dress
A keyboard between them so it costs a bit less.

When on the TV there appears ‘La Nigella’
For a change it’s got nothing to do with her fella.
She’s stuffing a turkey with handfuls of cake,
And boasting how easy it all was to bake.

She’s roasting potatoes in a gallon of lard
And telling us all that this feast isn’t hard.
While there in your kitchen, you reflect with a pout,
There’s nothing prepared, not so much as a sprout.

You meant to be organised, get started quickly,
But the effort of trying just made you feel sickly.
Until with a tremor you noticed the date,
And were forced to admit that you’d left it too late!

“Now Tesco! Now, Asda! Now, Aldi and Lidl!
You’ve queued up for hours, you’re bursting to widdle!
You don’t have a turkey or stuffing or spuds!
They’ve sold out of chestnuts, there are no Christmas puds!”

As you scramble for apples, satsumas and nuts
You get the most terrible pain in the guts.
It’s not out of hunger, it’s even more shocking
You’ve yet to find gifts that will fit in a stocking.

And then, in a moment, you get an idea
So you dive in the car and zoom off to Ikea.
You stock up on Daim bars and napkins in red,
And cushions with elks on to place on the bed.

You load up on pencils and paper tape measures,
Brown paper and string like they’re all buried treasures.
There are lampshades and glassware and Lufsig and Mala.
And a yellow felt creature called Vlad the Impala.

You try not to picture the children’s sad looks
As they open their stockings and find photo hooks.
But you don’t have much choice, you resolve to be fiendish
Point out to the children that Lapland is Swedish.

At least you remembered to buy some mince pies!
Though the kids say they hate them ‘cause they’re made out of flies.
And there’s half a Swiss roll that the kids haven’t seen
And some frozen puff pastry and a full squirty cream.

As you tuck in the children you make the old threat
“If you don’t go to sleep then you know what you’ll get!
Father Christmas won’t call and then you will be sad.
It’ll be your own faults, don’t blame me or your dad!”

Then you sit in the lounge feeling shattered, not merry!
Just wondering if you should drink all the sherry.
And you turn on the Christmas lights, draped on the tree
Fall asleep to the Christmas edition of Glee.

You wake in the morning at quarter to four
As the kids come and empty their stuff on the floor.
“Just look what we got in our stockings!” they yap
And you beg for some peace “Please let mum have a nap!”

Once you’re up and about, though the presents are scrappy.
The children are playing and reasonably happy.
As you start to relax, there’s a knock at the door.
You forgot you’d invited your mother-in-law.

My name is Oonagh and I am …

I have a confession. For a while now, I’ve been working for an online company that supplies copywriting jobs. That’s not the confession; I have no need to be ashamed of this fact, having registered for tax and everything, although that’s more in hope than in expectation. I’m on target to have earned enough to pay for one school uniform by the end of the tax year – not necessarily THIS tax year, but certainly A tax year. I won’t name the company who provide me with these jobs, since I have no proof that they aren’t secretly MI5, testing my capacity to keep my mouth shut and form grammatically correct sentences, ready for the day they need somebody to infiltrate Rupert Murdoch’s empire. On second thoughts, the grammar thing wouldn’t be an issue, so that’s probably not the job they have in mind.

It’s not like a ‘PROPER JOB’. There is no guarantee of work, I’m definitely earning less than the minimum wage and I don’t see a friendly face for days on end. Actually, it’s quite like some ‘PROPER JOBS’ I’ve had in the past.

It works like this –

  • I log on to a website (MI5 – Shhh!)
  • I check my messages – invariably, there are none!
  • I open a separate browser and post a comment on Twitter
  • An hour later, I remember I was supposed to be working, but I’ve had three retweets and five favourites; it’s a personal best.
  • I look in the different categories – these change frequently but there are some regulars, e.g. animals, science, product descriptions – I look at them all. (Once, in ‘Science’ I found a job writing about the symbolism of Chinese food items. Richard Dawkins would have been livid!)
  • I try to find something I can write, either because I have some specialist knowledge (Pies, Columbo and the film career of Cary Grant) or because I can research it (Anything that is not pies, Columbo or the film career of Cary Grant)
  • I select a job and work on it
  • I submit the job and – BANG – three days later, they probably accept it, although I have had to rewrite things before now. For example, in an article in which I had specifically mentioned Goth fashions, they returned it to me because they wanted me to mention Goth fashions. On another occasion, I linked to the BBC and they asked me to link to a reputable website, ‘like Wikipedia’. The client is always right. The client is always right. The client is always right.

The pay varies from ‘terrible’ to ‘okay’, but I have a limited skill set. I’m not Liam Neeson, so my skill set won’t ever help me if members of my family are captured by sinister men, but if they want me to write them an advert for stolen arms or microfilms as some kind of ransom fee, I can do that. I do this work because I’m fairly good at it and it allows me to carry on with my real job as a taxi-driver to my children.

But this is the thing: I write fashion blogs. There! I’ve done it. I’ve confessed!

If you’re wondering why I feel the need to get this off my chest, you have obviously never met me or seen a full length photo of me, apart from the tiny one on my WordPress profile, in which you may not have realised I’m wearing a Nylon jacket, fleece tracksuit bottoms, battered boots and a liberal coating of mud. The idea of me writing a fashion blog, or even being allowed to discuss fashion in company, is frankly absurd! To illustrate the point, I’ll have to let you know that I am currently wearing a Betty Boop nightie, grey pyjama pants, a pink fluffy dressing gown and socks adorned with pictures of foxes.

However, my daytime clothes are picked using the same basic criteria as my night-time clothes. I want to be comfortable, warm/cool depending on the weather and I like my clothes to be reasonably priced.  I firmly believe in the three Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – so I get most of my clothes from charity shops. I’m not fashionable. I have never been fashionable. If I ever become fashionable, you can rest assured that it will have been by accident and won’t last more than a season, since fashions change a lot more quickly than my wardrobe. I still have clothes I wore when I was expecting my first son and he just turned 24.

In short, if my employers, clients or anybody who has read my fashion blogs saw me, it would be akin to discovering that Giles Coren sits at home eating Pot Noodle with a wooden fork from the chippy as he writes about the merits of the organic rack of lamb at the Hix Oyster and Chop House. They would have no confidence in my assurances of the likely prevalence of faux punk this winter or my conviction that oversized, colourful coats are going to be EVERYWHERE by the end of the year.

The sad thing is, if anybody saw me in my raggedy black cotton trousers, black, hopelessly stretched jumpers and endless parade of novelty socks, they might just think that you can’t believe what you read on the internet. And I wouldn’t want them to think that!