Friday, 29 December 2017

Situation Report from Ella

Hello... It's Ella here!
I've been with my new humans for six days and it's all going extremely well.
I love watching the world from my 'safe spot'... Jan's piano stool.
I enjoyed joining in with the Christmas meals and celebrations.

I know that I mustn't get on the table and start nibbling the cheese!
(Anyway, I'm a very well-behaved cat... and I want Jan and Mark to love me and keep me forever)

Jan has guessed lots of things about me by the way that I've settled in....
She's worked out that my previous home was pretty chaotic, with at least one dog and small children.  When I first arrived I used to gobble all my food up as quickly as possible.  Now I know that I can leave it and it will still be there when I get back. I also know that I've got regular meal-times, which is a lot less stressful.  I was very upset on Christmas morning when I heard some small children's voices in a dark room.  I now know it was something called a 'radio'.

She's also worked out that I was often left with the dog/dogs.  I can spend hours lying quite still and watching the world.  When people want to be with me I can take an unlimited amount of fuss.  I haven't scratched Jan or Mark at all since I met them.  I'm very proud of this.
The only things I'm struggling with at the moment is working out how to 'play' with Jan and Mark.  My previous home didn't really give me the chance to play and I get in a muddle with it.  I also find it difficult to work out when I can get on laps and have a cuddle.  Each day I try to sit on some-ones lap for a little more time... it's nice but it just feels a bit weird.
Today Jan has played the harp and the piano AND used something called a sewing machine. 
She was pleased that I didn't get upset with all these noises.  I told her that they were nothing compared to my previous home!! 
She tells me that I should wish everyone Happy New Year at the end of this post.
So.... hugs and purrs from Ella
(and Jan!)

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Our new lodger....

Look who moved in this morning.....The lovely Ella!
This gorgeous lady came from the Worcestershire Animal Sanctuary, near Malvern.
She's calm, kind and super-friendly, perfect for a house where pupils and their families come and go.
She was taken to the Sanctuary as an un-micro-chipped stray.
I think a family lost a much-loved pet because she's really humanised and totally un-phased by the trappings of Christmas.  The vet thinks she could be about three years old.  Mark and I think she's probably a bit older (more like five or six). 

She's nervous this afternoon because she thinks that Thomas is about to come home.
Currently she's hiding by my feet in the darkest corner of the study.
Of course I'd still give anything to have Thomas amble through the cat flap... but I have a feeling that Ella and I are going to become good friends.
Further photos to follow!

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Christmas Stuff....

Yesterday Mark sent me a couple of photos from his department's festive breakfast.
The first one's taken in the pub near the factory where they meet up first thing.
(Mark's right at the top of the table next to his long time colleague and friend Ian.  They've shared the craziness of the same department and manager for 26 years!)
The second one is taken in a meeting room next to their 'section' in the office.
They get back to work at around 9.30, then it's business as usual for the rest of the day.
Mark received a vote for his outfit... but the guy wearing all the fairy lights was the clear winner!

We've been quite low key with the decorations this year... just a tree and cards.
Since Mark does 95% of the tree, I let him 'get away with' something larger than I would probably chose.  This year it's been a particularly good one, with plenty of space to show off the 'special' decorations that we've collected over 27 Christmases of marriage..

We've also used most of the gold and silver charity shop baubles that I picked up for a couple of pounds in Evesham a few years ago....

The photo is a bit blurry but you get the general idea....

This morning it's harp practice and housework until my parents call round at about 11-30.  This afternoon I've lots of teaching (two hours of harp and an hour and a half of piano).  Once I've finished I'm off to 'kitten sit' for a friend whose worried about leaving her teenage cat for the first time.  When I finally get home for supper I've got to wrap some presents for delivery tomorrow.
I can't believe it's less than a week until Christmas.!!!!

Monday, 18 December 2017

Doing the Right Thing?

I really don't know...
Yesterday Mark and I went to see a couple of cats at a local Animal Rescue Centre.
We're going to go back and meet them again properly on Friday.
If one of them seems like the right sort of character to fit in with the way things roll in our house, then we'll bring them home after Christmas.
I found that I've been sinking into quite a low mood since Thomas died.
I hid it with my 'professional face' for a few weeks but everything just erupted on Friday night.
I've cried.... not just for Thomas, but for lots of other stuff as well.
Mark's been worried about me.
So I feel that it's the right time to settle and work with another younger cat...
My sister (who thought that she'd give herself at least six months between cats but actually lasted three weeks) is positive and supportive.  Some friends and teaching Mums, who thought I was doing suspiciously well, have made all the right noises of support too.
I was a upset by a text from a neighbour/friend this afternoon though.. "What about all the nice weekends away you were going to plan?  And what will Thomas (his spirit!!) think of it all?"
Not helpful really..... when I'm feeling totally wobbly.
To be honest, this is probably the first time when I've thought that it would be easier to deal with stuff if I was working.  It's hard to be based at home without the emotional checks, balances and distractions of the workplace.
Anyway, watch this space for further details...
I may just completely fail to bond with either of the cats and then we'll be 'back at square one'!

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

A Bit of Christmas Fun....

Every year Mark's Boss stands everyone a 'full English' breakfast in the week before Christmas.  The dress code is Christmas jumpers, silly hats and any other festive accessories.  There's a competition for the best outfit, which is voted on by the engineers at the breakfast, and the prize is a nice bottle of fizzy wine. 
In the past Mark hasn't really bothered with the whole thing (he HATES Christmas jumpers and refuses to buy one just for the event).  This year he had a complete change of heart and 'commissioned' me to make him an outfit.  We made the patterns together, mashing up the size and shape of a body-warmer with an old waistcoat, and copying a bow tie into a cardboard pattern.  I started the waistcoat before Thomas died.. then crafting stalled a bit due to circumstances and motivation.  The recent snow days (and the fact that the breakfast is next week) gave me the time and impetus to get the job finished.
I'm really quite pleased with the whole effect....
I used 'Quilters Dream' batting (which I use for all my quilt-as-you-go projects) to shape the waistcoat.  It meant that I could do a nice striped lining and it's given the garment some stability (as well as warmth).  The bow tie and the back of the waistcoat are made out of the star design.  The reverse of the bow tie is a sparkly orange, which looks great when Mark's wearing it.

Then I've made him a sack to fill with 'presents' and sling over his shoulder as he walks into the breakfast...  He's also got a red furry 'Santa Hat' to complete the look!

Mark's really pleased with it and plans to wear everything again on Christmas Day.  I'm just delighted that it all relatively tidy (because I'm still sewing on my old 1960s Singer).  It will be interesting to see what the other engineers think of our efforts.
Thank you for all your lovely comments on my last post.
(When I've got a little bit more time over Christmas I'll update the HD pages so I can keep you posted on any other developments that come out through the HD community.)
It's starting to feel a bit like Christmas!

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Have you seen the news?

Did you see the BBC news yesterday?
For me and my sister this is life changing.
I am SO excited.
Coincidently, Mark went on a pension planning course last Thursday and we were just starting to consider how we would deal with the 50/50 chance of me having HD that starts to show at 60.  Mark is only three months older than me so we would both take a large hit if we pulled pensions down early.  However, if we can make it to 67, we'll be masses better off than we are now.  Crazy.  However, seven years of HD does a lot of damage, so Mark would have wanted to take the hit and spend the time doing nice stuff with me.
Now we the prospect of choices.  Treatment's not the nicest of procedures but it keeps a lot of much more horrible stuff at bay.  I can see a future where I can manage my HD (if it develops) and we can still do the walking breaks and motor sport stuff that we love.  I hope that I'll be able to continue playing and teaching for as long as people enjoy learning from me.
This is an immense moment.........

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Beating the Blues..

This morning I was missing Thomas badly....
I tried to distract myself by doing some piano practice (I've got a accompaniment job coming up in 10 days time at the Birmingham Hippodrome) but my heart wasn't really in it.  So eventually I took myself off on my favourite walk by Worcester Racecourse and the River Severn.
While I was walking I made myself count my blessings.
At first it wasn't much more than "It's dry and mild.. and I'm not stuck in a classroom".
That was the best I could do for about half a mile.
Then.. "I'm so lucky to have this lovely space on my doorstep"

"I live in a city with a green heart...."

"I'm lucky that people constantly maintain the racecourse area and that it's open to everyone."

"Breaks in the clouds"
(a mile or so into the walk on the Sabrina footbridge)
"Even the old railway bridge is attractive as it crosses the river"

"I live in a really nice part of the world...."

"A river full of swans"
(the Worcester Swan sanctuary is home to many old swans who have lost their partners, and quite a few juveniles at this time of the year too)

Then I retraced my steps at speed to give myself some 'proper exercise'.
I'm still feeling a bit weepy but some fresh air definitely helped.
This afternoon I've got the distraction of several pupils, then I'm off to a Christmas concert at a local school this evening.  Tomorrow I'm going to do some serious tidying up in 'the back bedroom of shame'.  Then I'll be able to start organising Christmas gifts and maybe we'll both start to feel a bit more festive....

Monday, 4 December 2017

On New Ground Again... And We Turn Down a Cat

For as long as I can remember, my Mum and Dad have had a pre-Christmas lunch at the beginning of December with members of the Manchester 'clan'.  (My Grandma was the youngest of eleven so there are masses of second cousins etc.)  They've always enjoyed the chance to catch up with family news and hand over Christmas presents.
This year there was a clash of dates for everyone, so Mark and I stepped up to represent the Worcester branch of the family.  We met up with my lovely 'cousin' M. (he's actually a second cousin, twice removed...we share the same Great Grand-parents!) and his wife G.
They suggested that we meet at Denstone Hall Farm Shop and Café, which is roughly half-way between Worcester and the north east side of Manchester.  It's an area of the country that we really don't know at all so we really enjoyed the drive through the Staffordshire country-side
We ate from the Sunday lunch menu (£13 for two courses) and I can honestly say it was one of the nicest meals out that I've eaten for some time.  If you're in the area, then I'd definitely recommend it (but you need to book because it's incredibly popular).  M. thinks that he'd like to meet there again for a 50th Birthday celebration in the Spring.  The plan is that we'd drive up from Worcester with my parents and he'd drive down with his Mum.  A nice plan.

After we finished our meal, we explored the food hall and 'Christmas Barn'.  To be honest the shop wasn't as good value as the café but the barn had some attractive ideas and made me feel really 'festive'..

(All the photos in this post are taken from the internet... I wasn't organised enough yesterday!)
And then we turned down a cat......
A 'friend of a friend' rang me out of the blue on Saturday afternoon and explained that her cat needed a new home urgently.  She's moving this week into a property that doesn't allow animals.  I wasn't really prepared for this and I agreed to go over and see her today (Monday).  When I put down the phone I realised that I'd made a mistake.... we're not ready in any way and I couldn't face the stress of settling in a new animal into our home.  So I contacted her again and she's fine about it.  I think people understand the grieving process that comes with losing a pet, but I need to recognise my own feelings and allow myself the emotional space.
One thing that is definitely clearer............
We won't be making space for another cat anytime soon.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Exploring the South Downs on my Birthday

One of the 'perks' of being a self-employed instrumental teacher, married to an engineer at Land Rover, is that we're no longer tied to school holidays.  This means that we can celebrate my end of November birthday with short breaks in areas that are completely new to us.
This year we decided to explore the area where the South Downs meet the sea.. the gorgeous Seven Sisters National Park and Beachy Head Estate.  We stayed at the lovely Tiger Inn in East Dean.  (Our bedroom was the window at the right hand corner of the building).  It's a 'walker's pub' rather than 'boutique' style and we enjoyed every minute.
We walked for miles along the coast... towards Beachy Head..

Then back to the National Trust Tea-rooms at Birling Gap.... and on over the Seven Sisters..

The views in-land were equally lovely...

On the second day part of our walk took us through Friston Forest and down the even more gorgeous village of West Dean..

Before heading out to the coast again at Cuckmere Haven,..

The 51st (GRRR!) birthday shot!!!

It's an awkward journey from Worcester to this part of the south coast.  It took us almost five hours on Friday afternoon.  Nevertheless it's definitely somewhere that we'd re-visit.  The walking was fabulous and the pub (which was a lucky internet find) was just what we wanted.
On the way home we picked up Thomas's ashes from the vets.  For those of you who believe in such things... you won't be surprised to read that he's a very active spirit at the moment.  I've heard him eating biscuits in the kitchen and 'agitating' a metal handle on the cabinet in the dining room.  He still shares the sofa with us (there's a cold patch) and pinches Mark's spot when he stands up.  (The first time it happened, we laughed because Mark sat down, looked slightly puzzled, then said "I think I've sat on Thomas").  This morning I heard him meowing and felt him jump on the bed.  To be honest, it feels like we still have a cat at the moment.  I'm sure that it will calm down eventually....
I can't believe that it's the 1st December.
Where has 2017 gone??????

Friday, 24 November 2017

As the dust settles.....and a bad idea.

This is another 'I don't want to be downstairs without him' post...... Although I've got to admit that the feeling of being punched in the stomach isn't quite so ghastly today.  I know Mark also found getting up and going to work without small feline company a little easier the second time round.  We're getting there...
Last night we talked masses about the whole situation. The most unexpected part of the day was that we were contacted through Facebook by a very ex-colleague from my school in Solihull.  She left way before me to work in the Bristol area.  In her message she explained  that her current partner is just about to move in.  He has a lovely-looking black cat called Harry.  Sadly Harry is looking for a new home because my ex-colleague is allergic to cats.  She tells me that he's friendly, laid-back and really good with children, so in many respects he could be an excellent 'third' in our little family.  However he's 12 years old.  That's a bit of a sticking point for us.  I don't think I could take on a new cat who could start to face 'older cat problems' in the relatively near future.
Yesterday morning my lovely ex-colleague from Music took me for a distracting 'coffee and cake' and a little bit of light Christmas shopping at the huge new out of town M+S on the south side of Birmingham.  Over the years I've been there for her through some really nasty stuff so I could see that she was keen to 'be there for me' this week.  She's very sweet.
Unfortunately, as we parted at the end of the morning, I gave into a very bad idea.....
There's a bit of a back story to this bad idea, so please bear with me as I explain.  Our first cat, Gulliver, came to us in 1993 as a mature silver grey tabby.  As his name suggests, he was a stray who came to us on his travels.  He was a lovely character and we were absolutely devastated when he was diagnosed with cancer in March 2003.  All three of us fought a very difficult battle for four weeks then he had to be put to sleep on the Monday before Easter 2003.  This was the first day of my Easter holiday that year.  Against all common sense I decided to start looking for another cat immediately.  (This was based on the fact that I knew that I could either settle a new cat by the end of the two weeks or I'd have to wait until the summer holidays to start the whole process.  It was made worse by the fact that we were going through some bad 'life stuff' at the time too and I felt that we needed the support of a cat in the house.)  You can see where this is going...
I found Thomas at Bromsgrove Blue Cross the Tuesday after we'd said goodbye to Gulliver on the Monday.  On Wednesday I went back up to see Thomas again and arranged all the adoption stuff.  On Good Friday he moved in.  We've had loads of amazing years with Thomas, but it has to be said that the first few months were awful and it wasn't his fault.  I remember being so upset with Thomas at times because he wasn't Gulliver in different fur.  It was so silly because Gulliver was reserved but deeply loving... while Thomas was a super-social extrovert over an equally loving core.  It took a lot of time to sort out the general emotional mess.
However the net result in November 2017 is that Mark and I have only had three days without a cat in the house since July 1993.  This house (which we moved into when it was newly built in January 1995) has never been left 'alone' because we've always got family/friends in to look after the cat when we've been away.  I'm struggling with this one.............
So yesterday afternoon, having said goodbye to my friend in Bromsgrove I drove back up the hill to the Blue Cross centre.  Bearing in mind that the last time I drove the lanes I'd been grieving deeply for Gulliver, this wasn't the best idea on the planet.  It was just as upsetting as you'd imagine but I learnt some useful things about the way cat adoption seems to have changed since 2003.
In 2003 I just walked into the centre and through to the cat pens.  I walked up and down, reading about the cats and generally getting a feel for being with a cat who wasn't elderly and ill.  Thomas chose me.  He bounced through the cat flap at the back of the pen and started a complete 'fuss the human and get me out of here' routine.  I didn't want a long-furred mess of a cat with a damaged eye but I was distracted by his crazy personality.  When I went back the next day he sealed the deal with a 'you're back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!' routine that cut through all the hurt I was feeling for Gulliver.
In 2017 you can't get anywhere near the cats.  Basically you look at mug shots on the computer (even in the waiting room); fill in a 'what kind of cat I'd like' form to help the staff match you to an animal; go into a room with a member of staff and talk about the 'chosen' cat's character etc; THEN you get to meet the one cat that seems to best fit.  I completely understand that this is to minimise stress for the cats but it cuts out the one vital aspect of learning about a new animal.... how they approach you.
I left the centre a sadder and wiser woman.
Mark spent the afternoon at work (his boss was out of the office!) looking at websites for various different animal sanctuaries across the West Midlands.  It's nice to know that there are still some more traditional places.  However we've also agreed that we need a bit of time and mental space to recover from this week.  Now that I'm based at home we don't have to fit another adoption into the school holidays structure so we can move forward when it feels really right.
This weekend we're starting my birthday celebrations.  I'll post about that next week.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Losing a Loved One...

Yesterday morning we had to make the horrible decision to say 'goodbye' to our beloved 'cat-child' Thomas.  He was over 20 years old, with an immense interest in life and settled in his ways.  Until the end of last week we believed that he might be the cat that lived for ever BUT he had terrible arthritis through his legs and back.  We managed this with pain killers and it became clear that we couldn't keep on top of his pain with the dosages that we could give him.
On Monday the vet gave him a opiate pain killer through injection and gave us four further doses to administer over the next 36 hours.  She told us that this should make him very sleepy and give him some relief.  Sadly he responded badly to the drug and started to move round the house even more.  His eyes were dilating and it was clear that he was hallucinating.  After a phone consultation with the vet, we popped him in a safe place and waited for the drug to clear his system.
By Tuesday lunchtime I had to find the objectivity to say that the kindest thing would be one more trip to the vets....  We kept him as comfortable as possible with as much standard pain killer as seemed appropriate so I know that he wasn't stressed or hurting.
For anyone else who's been in this situation, you'll know that WE'RE stressed and hurting a lot though.  In the last 24 hours I've become a 'domestic demon' and the house is starting to sparkle.  There's something about routine actions that really helps.  I went on FB yesterday afternoon to let people know.  This morning I couldn't bear the absence of a little sleeping cat in the lounge so I decided to come up to the study and post this...... So here's Thomas's time with us in a few pictures.
Spring 2003..he came to us from Blue Cross as a youngish cat. 
He's always been tiny (about 3.5kg) so we thought he was a teenager.
We found out subsequently that he was about 5!
Christmas 2005 - my all time favourite photo of Thomas.
He never jumped into the tree but he loved watching the sparkling lights.
(In fact he loved bling of any type and would even wear my most sparkly necklaces!)

On neighbourhood watch in our bedroom window.
He spent SO much time doing this.  He was desperately territorial and this was the perfect vantage point to watch the cats across the road...

2011 - Crashed out in his cat bed.
By this stage he was about 14 years old and his default setting was a good sleep in a warm place.

2012 - Helping with paperwork....

A few weeks ago...
He spent the whole of summer 2017 soaking up the heat in the conservatory.

God I miss him.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017


As I watch my friends who are still 'at the chalk face' staggering towards the end of another academic year, I find it hard to believe that I'm actually almost two years into my life 'post teaching'.  There are elements of the job that I do miss.. especially the fun that I used to have when I was lucky enough to have time with super-motivated musicians... BUT I wouldn't go back for anything.
Nowadays I'm what can best be described as 'steadily busy'.  My days are always full of music, family, friends ..and keeping on top of house-related jobs.  I love the fact that I'm master of my own ship.  I rarely have that horrible, stress-inducing feeling of sinking under the weight of commitments.  I enjoy the fact that I can always re-schedule my day if some-one needs my time, or help in anyway.
I'm starting to enjoy myself as a musician too.  In the last three years of my teaching career I didn't touch my harp at all and I lost a lot of technique as a consequence.  Since I stopped work I've put HOURS of practice into my harp and I'm finally starting to sound confident and competent again.  On Sunday afternoon, Ness and I played a set in a concert in the local church.  For the first time I wasn't paralysed by nerves... Look, I'm even smiling in this photo!!!
I've got very little money but, as I'm time rich, I make things for people.  Last week I made this patchwork bag for my sister's birthday.  I love having the 'head space' to be creative.
It's funny... I read somewhere that it takes a month to recover from every year of stress that you've lived through.  I'd agree with this.  I worked for 26 years on adrenaline and it's taken the best part of 24 months to get it out of my system.  I felt better last summer - I feel immensely better this summer.  The only thing that suffered from this has been my waist-line... but that's the content of another post!!!!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Pictures From a Heat Wave

We managed to get two complimentary tickets for Friday at the Three Counties Show this year.
Mark finishes work at 1.00 so we popped over to Malvern for a few hours in the afternoon.
It was lovely to see all the care and attention that went into the displays..
We were just in time to see the final stages of the first phase of judging.
(Although we missed the 'parade of champions', where the best of each breed walks round the ring)

There were dark clouds over the Malvern Hills and it had already started to turn incredibly hot and stuffy.  However we were lucky that the rain didn't come our way..

I always take lots of photos of the vintage caravans.  Secretly, I'd love to have one and use it for quirky holidays.  Sadly Mark doesn't share my romantic vision (He can see all of the limitations and none of the 'bygone luxury'!!!!)

We've pretty much moved outside for the last five days.  We even got a new (larger) umbrella to keep some of the sun off the patio.  I spotted it in the Sale at the local garden centre on Saturday.  It was perfect for our Father's Day lunch on Sunday...

In the evenings Mark and I just move the chairs and table from the conservatory to the patio.
While I love my new conservatory, it's thermal efficiencies make it WAY too hot for these temperatures...

I keep moving my hanging baskets around so that they don't get too burnt up and dried out.
I've made far more of an effort with the planters this year because I know that we're going to be around all summer to enjoy them.

On Monday I went up to Cannock to collect two new fuel tanks for Mark's projects. 
Here's Mark checking them out on the decking. 

...And everyone's been making the most of the calm evening weather.
These flew over last night..

Thomas is way too hot...but I can see that he's not in pain at the moment.
He likes to start the day on his favourite chair in the conservatory.
Eventually it becomes way too hot (for anyone - not just those with a fur coat!)

...Then he sprawls anywhere that he thinks he can feel a draught.

Much as I love this hot weather, I think I'm ready for the cooler, damper couple of days that are forecast for the end of the week.  Ness and I are doing some flute and harp stuff for the local church on Sunday.  My harp has been extremely irritable in all the heat and actually broke two strings this afternoon.  I need some less extreme weather to 'calm it down' before the performance!