The Kitten, The Vet And The Pet That Made Our Family Happier

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“So she’s … dead?”

The young Australian vet looked at me with red eyes. “I’ve never had this happen to me before,” he half whispered, as if reading my look of alarm.

A silence hung between us as we sat  facing each other on fake leather chairs. Only one question ran screaming round my brain: “What the hell am I going to tell the children?”

Eventually I asked to see her and we trooped downstairs to the operating theatre.  “Fluffy Offenbach” (don’t ask) was written on a marker board outside, among a list of operations that day. At six months, she was down to be spayed, a supposedly simple ten minute operation. Or not. She lay under an old blanket, with her head and paws poking out.  Like all the world’s deceased, she appeared shrunken.  I stroked her head like I’d done a hundred  times, the fur still soft but her body now cool. A post mortem by the Royal Veterinary College would later reveal, for a sum of £400, precisely nothing.  “Allergic to anaesthetic” was the only proffered explanation.

I was genuinely surprised how devastated I felt.

In my lifetime I’d lost both parents within ten days of each other and a close friend who was barely 40. That was it. And yet, this felt just as painful.

To explain, let me backtrack.

As a family, we didn’t really do pets. Growing up the Middle East I had a feral cat called Tiger who’d deposit mice on our pillows. When thoughts turned to fury friends on acquiring a family of my own, it turned out my husband was allergic to moggies. Dogs? Out of the question, as they needed as much looking after as a baby, three of which I already possessed.

The children were fobbed off with hamsters Monty and Roderick, followed by Rosie the budgie. All met a swift ending at the hands of said small people.

The clamour for a ‘proper pet’ began again when they were teens, and ended last summer with us knocking on the door of a terrace in Hounslow, where a Russian breeder presented a litter of six week old pedigree Siberian Forest kittens. The husband rolled around with them without a hint of a sneeze. We’d found the answer.

Another six weeks later and for an obscene amount of money (£900) our feline teen was welcomed into a household of both raging and dying hormones.

Marl grey, long-tailed, green-eyed and as soft as down, she set about stealing all our hearts.

At 6.30 am she was all mine, curling up on my lap as I drank tea and watched the dawn. At 4 pm, she ensured our 14 year old never came home to an empty house. On the weekends, she reposed, purring, on my husbands chest on the sofa. (“I want nothing to do with this cat” he had previously proclaimed. Now? Putty.) She became the perfect nocturnal plaything for the elder teens who hibernated in their rooms with friends doing heaven-knows-what. To lure them out, once a mammoth task of shouting up the stairs and unanswered texts, now all I had to do now was kidnap this ball of fur.

My sister, owner of Betty and Lily, explained: “The cats are the one thing we don’t argue about. They are like glue in a family – no-one dislikes them.’

And then the vet went and killed ours.

We packed up her toys, washed out her litter tray and cried many tears. The house appeared depleted.

To be honest I’d always found “cat person” a pejorative term, invariably applied to tricky women. But I totally get it now.

They are usually low maintenance providers of unconditional love,  affection and acceptance, with numerous studies proving they counter feelings of worry, distress and loneliness. Certainly the happiness index of our family had risen exponentially.

We needed a Fluffy doppelgänger and pronto.

Within two weeks I’d found another Siberian on the internet, inconveniently residing in Barcelona (they are not easy to find).  We FaceTimed the breeders, cooed over Sky the tabby kitten, paid even more obscene sums and the following Saturday waited in the back streets of Kings Cross for her and her blue EU pet passport to be delivered from the back of a black Mercedes Benz van.

Did I mention we’ve never had much luck with pets?

Within 36 hours our four month old kitten was at the vets (a different one) suffering from an upper respiratory infection. “Is she going to die?” I solemnly asked the elderly man with the rheumy eyes who’d cared for local pets for more than 40 years.  “No,” he said.  And he was right.

Sky very much lives, but who knew cats were such mercurial characters, even among their own breed? More catch-me-if-you-can than love-me-do, she isn’t quite the Fluffy replacement I’d imagined.

She remains, nevertheless, beguiling. We find her leonine stalking and pouncing around the garden as transfixing as any Attenborough wildlife programme. Her favourite game is to pull off a piece of ribbon I’ve draped over the apple tree and race back to me in the kitchen with it between her bared teeth. Like a dog. As I write she’s studiously trying to catch raindrops lashing the other side of the kitchen window. It’s like having an amusingly clever toddler in the house.

More importantly the teens adore her, mostly because she takes turns sleeping with them. If you catch her dozing and manage to pull her onto your lap, all that stroking and subsequent purring is positively meditative and distracts us all away from our pernicious screens.

It was the cat-loving French novelist Colette (whose life is currently depicted in a film out now starring Keira Knightly) who decreed: “Time spent with cats is never wasted.”

Agreed.

Six months on and two kittens later, I have transmogrified (lol) into a ‘cat person’. Although when it comes to famous cat quotes, I still aspire to this from Charles Dickens: “What greater gift than the love of a cat?”

Indeed.

Sky, listen up babe. I really appreciate your unifying effect on the family. But I’m still waiting for you to hop on my lap unprompted.

2018: An Accidental Year Off

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Somehow, we are already at the point in the year where, like clockwork, it feels like December 31st is rushing towards us, yet we have no idea how we got here so quickly (at least I don’t). Most of this year has felt painfully long for me and now all of a sudden it’s almost over and I can’t quite believe it, largely because upon looking back, I see that I accidentally took most of it “off” and I don’t know how to feel about that.

As many of you will know by now from my previous articles (this one in particular), I have been as open as I can be about my struggles this year. One of the feelings that has weighed heavy on me with each passing month is the massive disappointment in myself for all the things I did not and could not do, despite wanting to and even saying I would. Looking back over the past twelve months has been tough because everywhere I look I see all the ways and times I failed myself and other people.

Until recently, I had always relished this time between December into January because I loved looking back at everything that I had accomplished and enjoyed setting new goals and plans for what I would do next. In my article for this year’s January newsletter, I had lots of big plans and ideas that got tossed out the window from the very first day, so this time I want to do things differently. Even though my eternal optimist is somehow still hanging in there (just), I want to go into the last month of this year and the first month of next year just relaxed and open.

I want to try and not judge myself so harshly for the way 2018 turned out and accept whatever may come in 2019. Of course, I have loosely held plans, goals, ideas and dreams, but I am also ready to go with the flow. I am doing this because I realised that the source of my disappointment was the pressure of not being able to live up to the high expectations I had set for myself and I know I’m not the only one that does this.

The social media and comparison obsessed culture we currently live in has made doing our best look and feel completely inadequate. Now it’s like if you don’t blog/vlog every day, constantly churn out “content”, or have multiple ventures and collaborations on the go (a podcast, jewellery/clothes line, book deal, speaking engagement) then you’re not living your best, most fulfilled life. Busyness is still being glorified, yet has anyone else noticed the number of “influencers” and just people who have felt compelled to speak out about much they have struggled this year? It’s all become so exhaustive and I personally cannot continue in this way.

Besides negatively contributing to how I feel about myself, this lifestyle has led me to be the least productive I think I have ever been and it’s mostly because many a time I have been so mentally paralyzed and emotionally overwhelmed with all the things I should and need to be doing that I simply can’t do any of it. My mental health issues this year has meant that instead of throwing myself in to every task until it’s completed like I normally would, I have basically walked away from most obligations and responsibilities in favour of hiding in the comfort of my bed, feeling awful and getting nothing done.

If you find yourself feeling anything like this (exhausted/dejected/overwhelmed etc) as the year comes to an end I can only say, don’t be too hard on yourself. I know so many people who feel like this in some way and we must be kinder to ourselves and each other. Things like taking a social media break, rediscovering my love of reading, taking long walks to clear my head and of course, binge-watching a show on Netflix or Amazon has been helpful this year. It’s all about self-care again (original article here) for me — being mindful, present and listening to my body.

And this is what I mean by accidentally taking the year off. In almost every single area of my life I just “checked out” and I didn’t mean to. Each new week and month I told myself today I would get back to it, but that never happened and now I have to accept that and stop dwelling on all that was not done. It feels massive when I think about it too much. A whole year. Twelve whole months where I didn’t participate in society like I “should” have, but at the same time, if I had, I don’t know what kind of state I would be in right now. Even though this time off was unexpected, it was definitely needed.

Sometimes it can be hard to give ourselves the time we need to be whole and doing things to support our mental and emotional health can seem indulgent and even silly, but I promise you it isn’t. In my time off this year I have done a great deal of thinking (and feeling) and while I have struggled a lot, I know I have gained so much important insight in to my past and who I am. This year has certainly been difficult in more ways than I can talk about at the moment, but I have also learned a great deal and while I’m not at all satisfied with how the year turned out, I managed to make it through and that has to be enough for now.

The Joy Of Lists

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If you stand still for long enough around here, someone will put you on a Google spreadsheet. Well, I exaggerate – but only slightly. Because without my list-making apps and online spreadsheets – not to mention a fair amount of list-assisting stationery – I think my life would probably fall apart. Lists, I’m fairly sure, are the secret of true happiness.

This is, of course, the ultimate time of year for lists. Does anyone on earth go Christmas shopping without one? (With the exception of my beloved, anyway?) There is something incredibly comforting about the tick, tick, ticking of people on your Christmas present list – every tick taking you closer to what we always hope will be a wonderful day with family or friends, sometimes at what feels like breakneck speed but would be even scarier if our list wasn’t basically whispering, silently: ‘Don’t worry. You’ve got it all under control here.’

I absolutely believe that lists are good for mental health. In this too-much-to-do-in-too-little-time-world, we constantly run the risk of forgetting stuff – and I don’t know anyone that doesn’t stress out. We’re juggling work, friends, family and countless other To Dos. The counterpoint to an overcrowded mind, a list ensures you don’t forget something. I think it works two ways. First off, when you write it down, you can sort of relax a bit. But also, for me, the very gesture of writing it down somehow fixes whatever it is I need to buy/do/reply to/ask someone else to do in my brain so that I’m more likely to remember that ‘To Do’ spontaneously without even needing to refer to aforementioned list. (Though I do, of course.) The key is not to fall into the trap of believing that by writing someone on a list, it’s actually been DONE – and I do know people who are guilty of that. Lists must be referred to, ticked off, referenced. Preferably several times a day.

It’s slightly against the conventional wisdom but I always have several lists going on at the same time. First off, there’s the lives-up-to-its name app Wunderlist (which I wrote about here, in another editorial, if you want to explore it in depth). I know so many people who’ve downloaded this app now that I really ought to be on a hefty commission from them. (Are you reading this, Wunderlist???) But nobody I know has regretted it or found it anything but invaluable.

Secondly, I have my 5 Days A Week planner, which goes everywhere with me and tethers me to the work I have to do each day. As a stationery junkie, I get these from a very wonderful company called Kikki K. – whose graphics are so, so appealing. I recently met Kikki K.’s founder Kristina Karlsson, instantly lapsing embarrassingly into fangirl-mode. Honestly, I don’t think I’d have been more excited to meet one of my musical heroes – perhaps Joni Mitchell or Madonna or Carly Simon (come to think of it I did once meet Carly Simon and it was just a shade disappointing, I have to report.)

Every Friday night, the last thing I do before I leave the office is to fill in the bare bones of the following week’s To Do list, with work actions for each day. These are fleshed out (and added to) as the week progresses, and it’s fair to say that a number of arrows appear on the page, moving things from Monday to Wednesday or even bouncing them into next week. But it means that every morning, when I sit down at my desk (before I do my ten minute Calm app meditation), I know about all the important things I have to prioritise that day. There are stars. There are asterisks. There’s underlining. But I honestly feel it’s like the framework to my week. Without the list, I am sunk; on the rare occasions I leave for a few days on the road for work without taking it with me, I have to get someone to photograph it and send it to me – because there’s bound to be something I’d otherwise forget, and I truly hate that feeling. (Strong word. Entirely accurate, however.) And if it’s a really, really, really busy week, I’ll ALSO use a daily planner, where I can make even more notes in the margins!

According to David Allen, a time management expert whose book on list-making – Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity I have on my bedside table (yes, I am THAT sad), it’s not enough to scrawl ‘Mum’ or ‘Sainsburys’ on a Post-It note. He prescribes detail. Do you have to write an e-mail, run an errand, make a call – and what’s the purpose? Apparently, if the list isn’t clear, your tasks don’t get done. Which is why when I sometimes write a To Do in ink on my hand – like some kind of schoolgirl throwback – I can almost never remember it. I’m still staring at the ghost lettering ‘JS’ on my left hand, which I wrote yesterday and haven’t managed to remove despite several hand-washings, and can’t for the life of me remember what it means.

Of course I mentioned Google spreadsheets at the beginning of this editorial – only partly in jest. Because without them, Sarah and I, and Amy (our calm and patient Beauty Bible right-hand), and Jessie (who co-ordinates all our Beauty Bible testers and their scores/feedback) would be completely sunk. Ditto, me and my team at The Perfume Society. Different team, different Google.docs. But I am going to share a little tip that we’ve all found useful for fleshing out a Google.doc, which is to use a traffic-light colour system. Any ‘To Do’ action starts off in red. Then when the relevant e-mail’s been sent, or the call’s been made, it is turned to amber via the spreadsheet’s drop-down menu. When the action is satisfactorily concluded, it doesn’t get ticked off but is instead turned green. At a glance, everyone can look at a spreadsheet and see what still needs to be done.

Is my love of lists excessive control freakery? Am I wrong to map out my life to the enth degree, eliminating any possibility for spontaneity? I don’t think so. I like to be super-organised, sure. But personally, in what often feels like a very uncertain and scary world, lists somehow also make me feel a bit safer – even if it is a complete illusion. And if Google.docs are the equivalent of my comfort blanket, they’re probably more acceptable in an office environment than hiding in the corner with a threadbare soft toy.

On Not Giving A Damn What People Think

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I grew up with a grandmother who cared a lot about what people thought of her. She was a wonderful woman – incredibly generous, pillar of the various communities where she lived, from India to Malaya to New York and finally, the Cotswolds. But in all the years I knew her, I don’t think she ever truly relaxed – to the point I’m not sure I actually did know the ‘real’ her. Read More…

Funerals

weeping beech tree

We need to talk about my funeral. No, really, we do. I’m not expecting it to be imminent (I REALLY HOPE NOT!) – but I’m not burying my head (or any other part of me) in the sand, pretending it ain’t going to happen. As the old saying goes, ‘Nothing is certain but death and taxes.’ (And having just paid my half-year tax bill, as many self-employed people have, I know just how annoyingly unavoidable those are!) Read More…

Middle-Aged Brits Are The Most Miserable People In The UK

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Its been quite a week. What with England failing to make the final of the World Cup after being defeated by Croatia on Wednesday; the unexpected but much appreciated lengthy heatwave beginning to cool off; and the various political tussles that we’re not even going to touch on. It’s not surprising that some of us are feeling a little blue. If you’re aged between 45 and 59 years, this week might have hit you harder than most.

A new survey has revealed that middle-aged Brits are the most miserable, unfulfilled people in the UK. Health is the most common reason for unhappiness among this age group. Those who believe their health is bad are 14 times more likely to be unhappy than those in good health. However, being separated, divorced, unemployed or unhappy in their job and renting rather than owning their home can also play a role.

On the other end of the spectrum, students and those in early retirement are likely to be the most content and if you’re young, educated and married you might just be living your best life.

For the rest of us, here’s a few tips on how to boost your happiness levels…

Move more

Plenty of studies have proved that regular exercise not only improves our health, but also increases our endorphin (happy hormone) levels. This doesn’t mean you have to sign-up to a gruelling, sweaty spin class or hit the gym five times a week, instead find an activity you like and schedule it into your week where you can. Walking, running, swimming, you name it. It could even be a lifestyle change, such as walking to the train station rather than jumping on a bus, or walking up the stairs rather than taking the lift. As long as it raises your heart rate, you’re doing alright.

Look after your gut

Researchers are still exploring the impact our gut has on the rest of our body, but some studies have indicated a link between a healthy functioning gut and our emotional wellbeing. While any good quality probiotic should help promote good bacteria, Florassist Mood by Life Extensions has been specially formulated to help not only rebalance the bacteria in our gut, but also to improve the signalling between our gut and our nervous system.

Make a list

This is particularly useful if you’re feeling unhappy or unfulfilled at work. Making a list of what you like and don’t like, as well as where you’d like to be in the future can help give negative thoughts a constructive twist.

Take time out

For some this might be meditating or partaking in a yoga class, for others it’s binging on trashy TV or reading a book. Taking time for yourself doesn’t have to be virtuous, you just need to switch off from the tensions and dramas of day-to-day life and relax. We recommend investing in Soul Medicine’s Inner Smile Mist to set the tone. Admittedly, this is no mean feat if you have young children, but where possible having a little me-time and checking out can help you relax.

Have a clean-up

There’s the saying ‘tidy home, tidy mind’ and having a good deep clean of your home, desk or car could really help make space in your mind. If you need any more encouragement, it’s also been proven that you sleep better in a tidy bedroom.