FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 1-330

The Story of FurCats; From Teaching to Tiny Tigers

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A Big Blooming Change

I’ve been in education since I was 3 until I was 38 – a whopping 35 years! There was no fancy-pants gap year – it was a straight run. I attended college after I’d finished school, then University and then completed my Teacher Training before going straight into teaching in 2000 and completing 15.5 years. I was an English Teacher and for 6.5 of those years, I was also a Head of Year.

In my head, I was going to be a teacher forever. It was what I always wanted to be and despite not being confident as a child at school, it was something I was just going to do. There was no grand plan – I’d visualised it from day dot, so I’d just get there. Call it driven, or deluded, but I was satisfied in the knowledge that that was where I was going to end up!

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Ferocious Feline

In September 2015, I fell ill. I was stressed and this quickly morphed into a depression that I failed to initially recognise. In fact, I found it difficult to even acknowledge at first. It was around this time, my partner mentioned how a stray cat had had a litter at a garage he knew. I hadn’t grown up with pets – and embarrassingly, I was a little bit terrified; they’re unpredictable and bearing no resemblance to the human form, I believed I could never relate to them. But something told me that a kitten was exactly what I needed.

I was struggling to be in school and was initially off sick in October which was when we both went to visit the litter. I’d pulled the sleeves of my hoody over my hands and imagined claws and teeth of gargantuan-tiger-proportions; terrified I was going to get eaten alive (or scratched/ bitten, at least, by these ‘ferocious felines’)! I was still a bit scared of Tian when I brought him home on the 3rd November but he clambered into my heart almost immediately and I had very little say in the matter; it was fixed. I didn’t know at the time, but my life was set to dramatically change.

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Duvet Days

I returned to school in November and managed to stay until February 2016, but every day was a challenge. My intention was to always go back to teaching – it was what I was; my identity. I didn’t know anything else. I guess I was so institutionalised, the idea of not teaching was impossible to imagine. Like Pavlov’s Dog, bells dictated what I did and when I did them. My comfort blanket was slipping and the longer I had away from teaching, the further and more unreal it felt as an option to return to. Day by day, my world dramatically shrunk and having been in a world where I was speaking to hundreds of people in a day, during my absence, I was speaking to a handful of people in a week! Time became loose, vague even and I spent months in bed. Knowing kittens can sleep for up to 20 hours a day, Tian was my perfect companion to assist my duvet days.

I would force myself to leave my bed at least once a day and naturally I’d been food and toy shopping for my kitten. Reflecting on how frustrating it was having to go to different shops to buy him things, I happened to drive past the trendy dog-boutique in Chorlton, Manchester, called Betty & Butch. And that was the moment I’d decided I was going to set up a cat equivalent – it was, for me, serendipity at its most magical.

I didn’t know much about cats, but keen to learn whilst away from school, focused on exploring food with high meat content. The strapline for my shop is ‘Healthy Cat; Healthy Owner;’ because in the same way he was helping me recover, (there’s tonnes of research out there on how cats (and dogs) are therapeutic; healthy to have around, good for you), it was important that I looked after him by meeting his funadmental (dietray) needs. I wanted my shop to focus primarily on excellent quality cat food, after all, ‘we are what we eat.’

Conscious, that despite my enthusiasm, I knew nothing about running a business. Fortunately I came across a couple of brilliant courses; Women in Business and Pop-UP Business and whilst searching for a shop in Chorlton, signed up to do some Maker’s Markets too. These were weekend stalls in and around South Manchester that helped me shape and visualise what I wanted to create.

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Cats and Dogs Are Welcome

I get asked what I’ve learnt during this transition. It’s such a tough question, so broad. I’ve learnt so many new skills whilst dipping in and out of my ‘transferrable skills’ toolbox (which I’d initially accepted as empty). I’m learning a different value of money – where money used to be (relatively) easy-come, easy-go (certainly guaranteed), the latter still rings true; the former happens, but less predictably. Having my own business monopolises my thoughts, but I have free space and free time to reflect on it, despite being open six days a week. I don’t have that constant wave of panic I used to either. I love my ‘job’ (differently to teaching), I love my catshop, I love what’s being created here. I love the spot it’s in and the fact it feels part of a wider cat community where people happily come in to chat and share cat-vulnerabilities, cat-stories and cat-love (occasionally with their dogs)!

And I’ve learnt that I also love being my own boss. Working for me, dictating my own pace with my own expectations – allowing my business to grow organically without any external pressures. Yes, I sometimes have quiet times in the shop, but ultimately, I’m happy and healthy, in charge of me and my shop and in (relative) control of the immediate world that surrounds it.

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The Joys Of Teaching

One year on, it has felt like a monumental journey. I regularly get asked if I miss teaching – of course I do. I miss the buzz and excitement and pressure and camaraderie and enthusiasm; the highs and lows of the job. It’s something that can’t be replicated I don’t think, in any other line of work. The rewards are vast; incredible even, but for me, the penalty was just as intense. I do still feel umbilically attached to teaching; loyal to the joys of it, loyal to the memory of actual teaching, loyal to the children I taught and the staff I taught with over the years, but I’m slowly accepting it as something I did, as opposed to something I do. Having FurCats is definitely the best thing I could have done for me and it’s the best thing for me to do at the moment. We all have a pain threshold, but sometimes ignore things escalating until we collapse; metaphorically, or in a more physical sense, we give up our chance to choose differently. I didn’t choose FurCats – it chose me; in the same way a cat chooses its owner.

Sometimes we get so scared that the conventions you think you should be living by don’t really fit; or you’ve moved in a different direction unwittingly against a ‘norm’ you were supposed to have adhered to. We’re so scared to break away, we inadvertently restrict and police our own movements; our own potential even. We’re often more frightened of a regret we might feel if we did make a change, than a regret we might feel if we didn’t. I was seduced by a salary and was terrified of what may happen without it. It’s scary as hell, but if you were flirting with the idea of a change – be it drastic or more subtle, I would suggest you embrace it! It might just be the best thing you do for yourself!

 

I’m really pleased with what I have built so far. My plans for the year are to create my own brand of food as well as arranging a Community CAT-ch up. There’s a definite dog community out there and although virtual cat communities exist, I’d love to host a physical meet-up location for cat-people. Un-prompted, people keenly share pictures and stories and worries of their FurBabies and it would be (ahem) purrfect to have a meet-up where cat-people (male and female) could do that. My intention was to create a place, borne of the love I have for my own cat, that would be understood and mirrored by a wider cat community. I hope I’ve achieved that – or at least on my way to achieving it.

FurCats is next door to Tiny’s Tipple in Chorlton (ironically named after Tiny, the little Jack Russell, adorable but definitely not a fan of cats). It’s a wine merchant/ bottle shop, run by Ed and Alex. Ed seemed to be counting down to my First Birthday; “before you know it, you’ll be celebrating your FIFTH birthday like we are.” Well, chin chin Ed, here’s to the next few years.

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FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 315

#CelebrateGoodTimes

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Sunday Best

FurCats is a YEAR old!

Wow, I can’t quite believe I had my opening this time last year – that was just a year ago – but then, it was a whole year ago?!

Time’s funny. Sometimes you look back and a memory can feel as though it happened to someone else, in another time, whilst at the same time, it could just as easily have happened that morning. In some ways it feels as though I’ve been running my catshop forever and in other ways, it feels as though I’ve only just walked out of a classroom.

I regularly get asked if I think I’ve done the right thing; leaving teaching and starting my own business… YES, definitely! I’m genuinely excited and look forward to it every morning, walking to the shop with a spring in my step and a song on my lips. I’m quietly joyous and keen to see what my day will bring; meeting new and regular customers with cat updates, but also getting to know people amongst the wider community. Bizarrely I meet tonnes of dogs in my catshop (lots of dual pet owners) and it goes without saying that I see pictures of people’s cats all day long too. So, all in all, it’s a pretty awesome ‘job.’ My intention was to create a place, borne out of the love for my own cat, that would be understood and mirrored by a wider cat-community. I hope I’ve achieved that – or at least, on my way to achieving it.

I’ve been having anxiety dreams though for a couple of months in the build up to the BIG birthday. I guess because it feels like a big deal or summink. It’s not about the shop, but a recurring anxiety-dream I’ve had for a while, with classic anxiety-dream characteristics. I wake up, panicked; something has gone horribly wrong. Sometimes I dream I’m back at school and everything is unfamiliar; I don’t recognise it, save for some key faces, and I’m due to lead on something, or I’m in the hall, or it’s a whole school meeting, or I’m conversing with a member of staff I no longer have any contact with. I wake up relieved that my walk to FurCats is in the opposite direction.

A common question asked after or during a new experience is to find out what it’s taught them. So on a trashy reality show for example, during the post-eviction post-mortem, the host will end with asking what they’ve learnt. It’s actually quite a tough question; it’s so broad. I’ve learnt so many new skills whilst dipping in and out of my ‘transferrable skills’ toolbox. I’m learning a different value of money – where money used to be (relatively) easy-come, easy-go (certainly guaranteed), the latter still rings true; the former happens, but less predictably.

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Borne Out Of Love

I’ve learnt what a work-life balance actually means. It means you love your work and your life equally and able to enjoy them. It means going to and from your ‘work’ easily. With no hassle or pressure (from anyone else) or deadlines (other than the ones you may place on yourself). It means when you get home, your time is yours. Having my own business monopolises my thoughts, but I have free space and free time to reflect on it, despite being open six days a week. I don’t have that constant wave of panic I used to, of I-haven’t-done-I-need-to-do-I-forgot-to-do which I’d ride several times a day. I love my ‘job’ (differently to teaching), I love my catshop, I love what’s being created here. I love the spot it’s in and the fact it feels part of a wider cat community where people happily come in to chat and share cat-vulnerabilities, cat-stories and cat-love (occasionally with their dogs)!

And I’ve learnt that I also love being my own boss. Working for me, dictating my own pace with my own expectations – allowing my business to grow organically, without any external pressures. Yes, I sometimes have quiet times in the shop, but ultimately, I’m happy and healthy, in charge of me and my shop and in (relative) control of the immediate world that surrounds it. And for that, I’m also thankful.

I often get asked if I miss teaching. Of course I do. I think about it a lot and being based in Chorlton means every other person seems to either be a teacher or is at least connected to one. (The whole six-degrees of separation is actually only two in Chorlton, when it comes to teachers)! I miss the buzz and excitement and pressure and energy and camaraderie and enthusiasm; the relentlessness, highs and lows of the job. It’s something that can’t be replicated I don’t think, in any line of work. The rewards are vast; incredible even, but for me, the penalty was just as intense.

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Loyalty To Teaching

I still feel umbilically attached to teaching; loyal to the joys of it, loyal to the memory of actual teaching, loyal to the children I taught and the staff I taught with over the years, but I’m slowly accepting it as something I did, as opposed to something I do. I enjoy dictating to time (as much as one can) as opposed to time dictating to me. So, for example, if my cat tries to follow me to work, (this happens more often than you’d think), I’m not fretting about what time I’ll get into work; just that I’ll get there. Time has lost some of its power; some of its tyranny.

There’s a lot to be said about being your own boss – it’s great, but inevitably comes with its own (solitary) pressures; vastly different to the (communal) pressures found in schools. Do I still like it?  – another question I get asked – AB-SO-LUTELY! It’s the best thing I could have done for me and it’s the best thing for me to do at the moment.

Sometimes we get so scared that the conventions you think you should be living by, don’t really fit, or you’ve moved in a different direction unwittingly, against a ‘norm’ you were supposed to have adhered to. We’re so scared to break away, we inadvertently restrict and police our own movements; our own potential even. We’re often more frightened of a regret we might feel if we did make a change, than a regret we might feel if we didn’t. I was seduced by a salary and terrified of what may happen without it. It’s scary as hell, but if you were flirting with the idea of a change – drastic or more subtle, I would suggest you embrace it! It might just be the best thing you do for yourself.

FurCats is next door to Tiny’s Tipple in Chorlton (ironically named after Tiny, the little Jack Russell, adorable but definitely not a fan of cats). It’s a wine merchant/ bottle shop, run by Ed and Alex. Ed seemed to be counting down to my First Birthday; “before you know it, you’ll be celebrating your FIFTH birthday like we are.” Well, chin chin Ed, here’s to the next five years.

Thank you all for #SupportingSmallBusiness and therefore, #SupportingADream

 

FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 241

Delayed Gratification

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Delayed Gratification vs Instant Gratification

I wouldn’t describe myself as being particularly patient, but I was pretty damn good at practising the art of delayed gratification as a child, which inevitably seeped into my life as an adult.

As a child, I remember on the rare occasion we were allowed a Mr Whippy ice-cream (there were 5 of us, so it was rare), I would savour every single second. I was so disciplined in just licking it, and (despite desperately wanting to), not biting or gluttonously gobbling it instantly! I wanted it to last for-ever, and so, (in my head, anyway), I made sure it did!

The ritual would commence sat on a pavement during those idyllic childhood summers. I’d create a peak with the ice cream and when the peak was barely visible (just a slither of ice-cream left), I’d flatten it with my tongue and push it through the cone. I’d then bite the end of the cone off and suck the ice-cream through, thus creating two desserts and making the ice-cream last just that little bit longer.

I’d do the same with Sarsaparilla Tablets or Pear Drops (or any sweet really), until they’d melt into nothingness; disintegrating in my mouth, with just the memory as evidence that it had ever existed. With food I loved, I’d eat around it so that I could ‘save the best til last’ and then savour the last few moments, before the heavenly bit at the end. I imagine there was an element of not believing I was entitled to getting what I wanted – when I wanted. As if I had to exercise some self-control and discipline; it was too greedy otherwise, or there hadn’t been enough suffering/ torture beforehand for me to enjoy what I wanted immediately. I told myself I had to demonstrate will-power because things had to be achieved and weren’t just given.

This wasn’t just done with food, indeed, on reflection, I practised this with most things in my life that I could control. I had perfume bottles (still got one or two), some way over 15 years old, with just remnants of perfume left, not allowing myself to finish them off!  I don’t know if the guilt-thing was how I’d been brought up, exacerbated by a Catholic Primary, Secondary and Sixth Form College, but I’d feel it so keenly, that it would frustrate me that others around me didn’t punish themselves in the same way.

As a grown-up, a teacher-friend mentioned the Marshmallow Test; something she had shared with her year group in an assembly. I looked into the finer details and was relieved to know that my childhood discipline was not just a self-imposed punishment – but rather, (and arguably), symptomatic of a greater good!

It was a psychology experiment devised by Walter Mischel, exploring how children developed self-control and its ‘positive’ implications on their lives as adults. Of course, children are so familiar with the notion of resisting temptation and demonstrating self-control and will-power dating back to religious stories of Adam and Eve; indeed so many fairy tales featured a lack of self-control often resulting in punishment that seemed rather disproportionate to the ‘crime’ committed.

Up until very recently, I’d even eat say, the egg white of a poached or boiled egg first, (whilst watching my imaginary self devour the yolk) and make myself wait before that bit! We’re taught there’s no pleasure without pain; a form of punishment has to be endured beforehand if there’s to be some joy later; a penance before, I guess, a ‘heaven.’

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Instant Gratification Wins

And then things changed. Now, it seems as though I just don’t have the patience for that endurance anymore. I guess my belief system has altered. If it’s within my control, I’m eager to have what I want, when I want it, with the desire to needlessly wait becoming more and more redundant. I’ve got out of the habit of denying myself unnecessarily – and of course, there will have been a number of factors that have contributed.

Having a cat is definitely one of these factors.  Apparently living your life like your cat, is the secret to a happy life.  You can see how that’s true; on the whole, they look pretty well rested, can behave appallingly but are still adored and don’t bother with any of that delayed gratification nonsense! In fact, owners up and down the country are practically falling over themselves to feed their kitties who look like they may be going in the direction of a not-full-to-the-brim-food-bowl. Every cat person I know does this!

And then there’s my shop. FurCats is attached to Arison Hairdressers and often, I’ll stop to watch them work; colours, cuts, blows, perms, shampoo and sets, etc. etc. I’m mesmerised by the way they work and what they can achieve in such a short amount of time; it’s therapeutic; an art-form really. With their work, they see instant results, instant transformations, there’s instant gratification. Research shows hairdressers are the happiest workers and I can totally see why. Not only is their joy immediate, but they make others feel better instantly too! So, if I can control it, I’ll have what I want when I want and like my cat and the hairdressers, I’ve realised that instant gratification is the secret path towards happiness.

FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 183

Janus – The Two-Faced God

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Janus – Two Faced God

January, named after Janus, is the two-faced God who watches the past in one direction and new beginnings in the opposite. The New Year forces us all to reflect on the year that’s past and the year that’s about to begin. It becomes a time of absorbing what’s happened and to embrace the possibilities that the new year might bring. Some of us make resolutions; get fitter, eat more healthily, don’t curse as much, be more forgiving etc. etc. but ultimately many of us are looking to change something (or looking for a change).

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Looking To Change Something

Having a birthday in January forces that reflection more forcefully I think. Not only are you having to contend with reflecting on the year, but turning a year older (and having just had a significant birthday), you’re also dealing with age and scrutinising your losses and gains much more harshly (“I’m X years old, what have I done with my life so far?!” kind of thing). For the first time, I was abroad at the turn of the year in search of some winter sun and to top up my tan and serotonin. The change, I think, has done me good.

When I was younger, I used to play this ‘game’ at various points over the New Year/birthday examining how little my life had changed. I thought it saddened me, but on reflection, I think I quite liked the security and stability of it. Between July 2000 and August 2015 my life was more-or-less the same. I almost knew what to expect each year; there was a pattern, like the (actual) four seasons. Of course there were details such as learning to drive, buying a home, holidaying solo, falling in love etc. etc. that couldn’t be predicted, but it’s fair to say my life had a routine and that was a great comfort to me.

Like a cat, routine is what I needed to enjoy my life. For me it symbolised comfort and stability and perhaps was something I craved. Sometimes my thoughts – my life – would feel chaotic and I leaned towards living a life like an Asian-melodrama. The routine of getting up early and going to school for 15.5 years helped stabilise and quieten the louder, less predictable elements of my life.

From August 2015 things dramatically shifted for me and now my life is almost unrecognisable. My shell is the same (albeit, older), but internally I know I’ve changed.  And not just that, my environment is totally different to the one I’d complacently rested on for such a significant number of years. And now, I definitely can’t predict what my life will look like in six months, let alone ten, fifteen years from now; the changes are a-plenty! This terrified me initially; like having to swim without armbands for the first time – there was no system in place to hold me up, so if I collapsed, I collapsed.

I occasionally watch live TV and ‘Still Open All Hours’ was on one weekend. I remember watching the re-runs of ‘Open All Hours.’ When I got my shop, I would muse on how the clear-up at the end of the day was really enjoyable; therapeutic even. I’d make reference to the show and how there was comfort in the process at the end of the day; like a much-loved chunky jumper. There’s a quiet satisfaction in a physical, visible close to the day; Arkwright clears up and the voice-over reflects on the exchange of stories (a form of mindfulness) with regulars and newbies (in my case with tales of (rescued) cats and kittens). There’s closure at the end of each day; it’s refreshing, reassuring even.

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Watching New Beginnings

This year will be different for me; different from the year just gone. I have no real point of reference for what it will look like; perhaps ‘Open All Hours’ should be it(?) I do know though that having no scaffolding, the future is both terrifying and exciting. But I have the routine I need and the unpredictability I’ve started to crave in running FurCats.  Irrespective of what might happen, I’m hoping Janus is looking optimistically in the direction ahead.

Whether you’re looking to hold onto stability or are embracing a change and adventuring abroad (like my good friend Adam) or staying put – here’s to a happy 2018 and positive new beginnings.

FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 128

Un-Cool Rebellions

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Rebel With A (Probable) Cause

I don’t see myself as a rebel; rebels are cool and renegade saying things that leave tremors in a room as they leave. Rebels are people you wish knew you existed but probably don’t; like the Jordan to my Angela, or the Angela to my Brian, in My So-Called-Life; they’re just way out of your league.

And then I reflect on my life and think about some of the choices I’ve made. I know I have rebelled; be them great balls of rebellion (in my tiny world) or smaller rebellions. OK, so I’m not ‘cool’ of course – but not all rebels have to be – I’m learning we come in all shapes and sizes.

As a rule, I hate people telling me what to do (of course, I don’t mind telling others what to do)! There’s something in me that will either overtly do the opposite or question (consistently, relentlessly), or just simply ignore. Occasionally though, I’ll accept it – but there’s a limit before my innate desire to do the opposite kicks in. On reflection, I’ve always been like this. I did it in many aspects of my life growing up, at school and having left, my rebellion has remained intact and I carry it around with me, often hidden and out of view.

They say your stomach is your second brain. During my sickness, it began to reflect how my brain was feeling; unwell. I was in and out of hospital and together with my poorly back, was desperately searching for help. Before discovering the magic of my Podiatrist, I stumbled across a Groupon voucher for a Chiropractor.

He was a long-haired Australian – who, despite displaying the right amount of concern, made three suggestions that forced me to revert back to my default position on being told what to do.

The first suggestion. During the initial assessment, I needed to push against his arm with the back of my leg. I felt I was at rock bottom at this point and my lack of strength simply illustrated this; I just couldn’t push against him. I was weak and felt pretty pathetic. He asked me to remove my nose ring, which I dutifully did. (I had my nose pierced in my second year at University – an act of rebellion or embracing my culture, I’m not sure. (Although I initially had my nose pierced when I was only 3 – on a family-visiting holiday to India, but, on my return, my dad had it removed because he really hated it)).

Unaware of what he was trying to prove – we repeated the same exercise. Now here’s the thing; I had this inexplicable Wonder-Woman strength. I swear, the difference was phenomenal – I’m genuinely not making this up! I was kicking my legs back as if swatting a fly. If somebody else was telling me this, I’m not sure I would have believed them (either). I would have Larry David-ed them with my eyes searching for a truth. But I swear to you, this is the truth!

Watching the YouTube clip above, I would have scoffed assuming it had been a fabrication. I would never have believed it if I hadn’t experienced it. I can’t remember the technical term for it, but essentially when we add something foreign to the body, there can be a reaction to it. For the most part, metal objects will interfere with the electrical activity within our bodies; your body can reject it, or rather, rebel against the object.

So, all I needed to do, was leave it out – simple. But I couldn’t bring myself to! I’d resolved to take it out before my appointments but then feeling guilty about the deception, went in unashamedly sporting it! He (quietly) asked, “Donchoo wanah git bedah?” I did, I do, but I couldn’t remove what I felt was integral to my identity; I’d just get better, I decided!  It was another inadvertent rebellion.

The second suggestion was to bring in some of my cat’s fur, having expressed how significant he’d been over some really difficult months. Same scenario – we repeated the exercise with some fur wrapped in cling film, placed on my stomach (with and without my nose ring). And you guessed it – I was Super-Strong without the fur (and piercing). So now all I needed to do was lose my cat! Well, that wasn’t going to happen either – ironically he was my strength, achieving what I’d deemed impossible; a purpose to get out of bed. I rolled my second ball of rebellion into his room as I left.

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Vegan Campaign

The final suggestion. Drinking breast milk. In particular colostrum; milk produced within the first few days of giving birth. You read it correctly, he suggested for a poorly tummy, I should give breast milk a whirl! (Formula milk, although a poor substitute for this, would also work). It contains all the essential fat, protein, vitamins and minerals vital for recovery. So, in some warped way, it kind of made sense (I’m cringing as I write this). It instantly made me think of a vegan campaign I’d seen a while back…

But, I couldn’t get over the oddness of it (was it just social conditioning or just too weird)?! Did he just have a fetish for (feedback on the benefits of) breast milk? Was there a room of nutty chiropractors daring each other to suggest it to poorly patients? Was this quackery? Or was this a genuine remedy for a sick belly? (I guess there was some truth to the nose ring (and possibly the fur, although I loathe to admit that))…

I wasn’t sure if this was something that I could pursue or just have to accept as a probable fact. Did I attempt this final suggestion (formula would be easier to source, I guess, just the local Boots, or wherever)..? There’s something in me that will either overtly do the opposite or question (consistently, relentlessly), or just simply ignore. Occasionally though, I’ll accept it – but there’s a limit, before my innate desire to do the opposite kicks in…

FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 91

Developmental Milestone: Walking

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Learning to Walk. Again.

I’m learning to walk. I’ve been learning for about a year but haven’t perfected it yet. I mean the actual walking I’ve done since forever, but, I’ve never done it properly properly.

Stomping around the corridors of a large secondary school counter-balanced years of marking cross-legged on the floor/ bed/ couch. I never worked at a desk, other than in school – and when I did, I was often sat cross legged on a chair. All my marking, planning etc. etc. was done leaning over books, essays, exam papers. I practised this somewhat unconventional method throughout my own school years, college, university, teacher training. So actually, forever.  This was fine.  Until, it all stopped.

And everything went still.

We’re re-building our home (renovating really, but feels like a re-build), and after months of being inactive, I decided to shift a bag of plaster (an everyday occurrence when working on a house), when my back decided to betray me. An electric current shot through my body and demanded I become a statue. I was in absolute agony and realised my back was my Achilles’ Heel; it had become my weakest point.

Did you know the health of your back is often closely connected to your emotional well-being? During dark moments, it is often your back (and/or stomach) that become a physical manifestation of your inner darkness. It makes sense really; when your core is strong,  you’re strong. A building with a strong foundation will last longer than one built on sand. Fact.A half-hearted idea or belief is easier to dilute and break down, than one that is secure and unwavering.

You’ll be familiar with the phrases ‘chin up,’ ‘hold your head up,’ ‘stand tall,’ etc. etc. often uttered when times are tough. They’re encouraged to create the impression that you’re well; strong, doing OK. Slumped shoulders are low mood indicators – your core is not supporting you and that leaves you vulnerable to all the elements. That means your head isn’t supported physically or indeed, emotionally.

The process of re-building my strength was long and still on-going. Your trust in a reliable car that breaks down, becomes damaged, encouraging a loss of faith and starts to feel like a betrayal. That’s how I viewed my back for a long time anticipating that it could go again, unannounced. There were a number of avenues I went down in order to heal (I’ll cover some of these another day), but the podiatrist was my saviour.  He was my partner’s friend who managed to get to the root of the problem. Feet, really? Yes – foundations.

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Monster Munch feet

I have rather un-glamorous Monster Munch feet and have been blessed with being flat-footed too (I know, some of us have it all). It transpired that as I walked, I didn’t engage my core and walked on the outer arches of my feet. Years of walking incorrectly, and then months of subsequent back pain, meant that I had altered the way I balanced, my hips, back and the way I held myself. I compensated by adjusting my walk and posture making for a rather tangled internal knot.

I do yoga now, as one of my healing strategies.  We’re encouraged to spread the weight across the feet; to have firm foundations. Tadasana, or mountain pose, improves posture and strengthens these foundations: i.e. the power and mobility in your feet; toes. Like Jenga, if the foundations are wobbly, there’s little choice the top has other than to topple over. So I’m spreading my weight and engaging my core and achieving that early childhood milestone!

FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 87

The Course of Recovery Never Did Run Smooth

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Tian – Seed One

A few seeds were sown for me in the Autumn of 2015. MyBoy was born on the 1st of September, in a field. Mum, CC (Company Cat), was a feral and we brought him home on the 3rd of November {Seed One}. I could never have predicted the impact he would have on my life.  In fact, my younger self would never recognise ‘me’ with a cat, let alone, the owner of a cat-shop!

I was initially off work at the beginning of October and had decided, prematurely, that I was ready to go back on the 2nd November following the half term holiday.  On the Saturday just before, my neighbour Ian and his dog Tia, were tragically killed on Princess Parkway by a Selwyns Coach {Seed Two}.

Despite previously thinking I was getting stronger, this was a massive blow to our world.  My partner and I were broken and each time we thought about it, were reduced to tears; inconsolable. Depression has a ripple effect; it affects you of course, but inevitably also those around you. You can’t see it at the time, but on reflection, it strips layers off your nearest and dearest – it weakens them.  With their untimely deaths, came the cruel reminder that life was short, unpredictable, unforgiving {Seed Three}. As the arrival of our kitten seemed to almost overlap this, after seeking permission, we named him Tian officially, marrying the two names together, in their honour. (Of course, like most cats, he goes by whatever name he decides (which evolve regularly)).

A few weeks into my return in November, I was offered several OH appointments through work. These spanned over the last few weeks of my time at school as well as some of my time off in February. The woman I saw was brilliant. She’d stipulated that as long as I did three things in my day, I had achieved (and I so wanted to achieve). I was required to do one thing that was essential, one thing that was pleasure and one thing that was routine. Of course, I bought a lot of stuff back then (for me, my home and Tian), and figured as it was part of my (retail) therapy (and pleasure), then I was moving in the right direction(!) The sessions quickly formed part of my routine (and salvation) every Thursday.

Whilst I was off work, I initially struggled with my dramatically shrinking world. There was quite literally a deafening silence following me around. In a large comprehensive, I easily spoke to hundreds of people in a day. Being at home, I was speaking to a handful of people a week. And not just that, as time passed, a greater wedge was forming between me and work. Time and distance had pallied up against me; I was pretty helpless.

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In My Head, I Always Title This Poem ‘Loss’

Being a teacher had been my identity for such a long time, I was conscious it was fading in front of me. I didn’t know if I could be anything else; a bit like your parents are just your parents – that’s their identity and we struggle (when we’re younger especially) to see them as anything else. My staff lanyard was metaphorically slipping and as much as I wanted to hold on to it, it didn’t seem as though I could. I felt too weak and I knew I was losing. This quickly formed part of my grief and I was mourning yet another death.

I wanted to reclaim some power and in my ‘up’ moments, felt as though I needed to do everything immediately! I was going to learn to speak Spanish whilst brushing up on my French GCSE (I’d downloaded Duolingo and read rave reviews about it)! I’d impulsively bought a keyboard, but a bit like the character who nicks a guitar and claims he thought he “might learn to play” in Duffy’s ‘Stealing’ poem, it went up on eBay, a year later. I’d also decided I was going to get involved with a small non-profit organisation called Feed Manchester, (feeding Rough Sleepers in the City Centre) and was looking into yoga as well as signing up to do some meditation at Inner Space, Manchester. I was feeling excited about taking charge, but as these things happen, it wasn’t as smooth as I was hoping it would be.

Many moons ago, I walked through Manchester City Centre and overheard one woman saying to another, “it never rains Pat, it always fucking pours…”  I don’t know what was happening in her life, but remember thinking how succinctly she’d captured the difficult time she was evidently going through.

The downpour was just beginning.

FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 79

Miscellany of Mindfulness

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Stillness of the Trees

I’ve always been a faffer, dawdler, slow-coach, whatever your choice of term might be. Timed, I can get changed in under a minute, have breakfast in under 3,  shower in 4. But I don’t. I end up taking an hour to do these things, sometimes a little bit longer – very rarely less.

I have a Mondaine watch. It’s a Swiss Railway watch; the face is used on the Apple clock. It’s simple, with clear lines. I really like it; in fact it’s actually my second one. You get free entry to the London Museum of Design with a Mondaine too. (Although I’ve never actually tested this freebie – but The Watch Lab guy, in The Arndale, who has a penchant for Mondaines, told me). Mine stops telling the time properly if I don’t wear it consistently; this is deliberate I’m sure. An apparent downfall of the Mondaine, is that you have to physically change the date on it – the dates go up to 39 and the days can go all funny too, if you’re not careful. I quite like the extra bit of work you need to put into it though – think I enjoy the hassle.

I stopped wearing my watch when I was breaking up with Time. I didn’t find it helpful being reminded of Him constantly – so I blocked Him and refused to have any reminders; think that’s why my watch decided to get back at me. I needed to clear my head before I could be on friendlier terms with Time again; a cleansing. So I’ve been walking to work; a kind of mindfulness. It’s 1.7 miles there (and 1.7 miles back, obviously) and takes 30 mins to walk, when I’m not faffing and in ‘bossy walk’ mode (as it was once called). But, because I enjoy faffing, I get a bit lost in my thoughts, so it takes longer for me to get to work and back. Being ‘on time’ isn’t a priority for me – and yet ironically, I often am!

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Walking = Mindfulness

I enjoy walking to work. It’s a straight road, more or less and it’s the Mindfulness that suits me. When I know I’m walking to work, it’s proving to be a great motivator to get me out of bed! I focus on my breathing; my constant, as well as the stillness of nature around me (there genuinely are some trees on the way). I also like to do a daily count of  Mobikes – numbers are definitely dwindling – but I got 8 in 1 day. Imagined conversations with people I know, don’t know, would like to know, wish I didn’t, are played out. I enjoy playing with car registration numbers to see what words I can make with the letters (reminiscent of Paul Coia’s Catchword (4mins 18secs in) from years gone by).  I’m also coveting dogs at the minute – not in a sinister way – but, I like to think of the walk as part of my imagined dog’s imagined routine. (I know, you’re sensing I have a lot of fun on the way)!

Before we had external invigilators at school, we used to invigilate exams in the Sports Hall for mocks and GCSE exams. In the silence, I’d imagine doing cartwheels down the aisles. (I’ve never been able to do a cartwheel, but I enjoyed the rebellion of an imagined one). I would count the number of headscarves, girls with a tan, similar haircuts, afros, long/ short hair, plaits, kids with nose rings. I’d then delve into races, languages, parents I’ve met/ not met, names I knew, siblings I’d known etc. etc. etc.

It would go on for the duration of the exam, and if it wasn’t for my left knee choosing to click only ever in the silence of an exam hall, I would have loved the exam to have gone on and on until I tired of the game. In some ways, this was a kind of mindfulness; compartmentalising, creating lists, a focus on something other than a worry or a fear of time (that ol’ beast again).

Mindfulness was part of my healing-prescription.  I was advised to buy the Mindfulness book and in particular, to listen to the CD enclosed (Finding Peace in a Frantic World). It definitely helped clear my mind and helped me gain some control of my thoughts and as a result, my feelings. It’s a bit like having a clear desk at work, a place for everything (rather than everything thrown into a drawer, like mine often was). It gave my thoughts structure. A few minutes of stillness and peace helps rejuvenate; a boost that can begin to empower. My walks to work are beginning to do just that and by the time I arrive, my world has been (ever so slightly) realigned.

FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 74

***Written on Sunday 17th September 2017***

Christmas has come early.

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Topping Up My Vit D

We’re in September. It’s autumn outside – although admittedly, it’s been autumn all year round! But, the sun’s out at the minute and it feels glorious!

This is what a real summer would have felt like! It’s a Sunday – a day of rest. And yet, Chorlton seems busy today and there’s a sunny vibe; t-shirts, caps, (despite some folk with their coats on). Music blaring out of cars, windows wound down. There are a few people sporting Ray Bans and dads pushing prams topping up their Vitamin D. Chorlton is colourful today and it’s feeling good.

Saturday was a busy day and already people seem to be Christmas shopping! I had a few in last week crossing people off their Christmas gift list! “Do you think my mum would like this?” Already?! I know I wrote about fluidity of time a bit ago, but this is happening quicker than I’d expected. I guess it will just happen. One of my customers pointed out we’re 15 Mondays away from Christmas. I had to check. She was right. Gulp!

I never knew the countdown to Christmas would start so early! Already some of the shopkeepers on my strip are talking about preparing window displays. One of them has been tszujing up some wooden lettering used for a previous one! I thought thinking ahead to Halloween was pretty impressive. Nope – not impressive at all apparently – think I was supposed to have done that a couple of months ago! Double gulp!!

But I’ve still got my other head on – the one who anticipates the next mock, or the next essay, or the next set of books, or the next holiday. Christmas, at this time of year, is ludicrous a thought; it’s still in the distance, as it were. It’s not the next event; certainly not round the corner! It all seems too premature!

I didn’t expect to be thinking so far ahead. I was never a great planner; I was always in that queue at school, getting some last minute photocopying done, accompanied by a desperate plea. There was a sign up in the Print Room that read: “A lack of planning on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on mine.” It was on an A6 piece of card, stuck on the left hand side of the room as you went in. Although (thankfully) no one pointed it out to me, I often ended up reading it. Whilst I was waiting. A bit like locking eyes with someone you’re trying to avoid.

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Need To Be Ready For It!

Whether I embrace it or not, it’s happening! I need to pull my finger out! I need to think and feel Christmas before I miss the prep work that goes into it! I need to think about Christmas opening times and themed gifts and food, as well as Christmas stockings for FurBabies and stocking fillers for ailurophiles.

I’m going to get ready for this one – that sign might have a bit more prominence in this world!

 

 

 

FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 62

It Might As Well Rain Until September.  (And Boy, It Totally Did)!

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Story Time

Mrs Wright, my primary school teacher, sat us down on a hard wooden floor and read Aesop’s Fable of the ‘North Wind and the Sun’ to us. I think I was about 6 years old and it was Story Time. It’s the one where the Sun challenges the Wind to make a passing traveller take off his coat. Of course, the Sun wins. But the fable explores the power of manipulation. It comes about because the sun is, for want of a better word, a bit jellybags of the power the wind has. I remember thinking even then, that the wind should have reminded the sun of what he was capable of.

When I realised I had a Summer moving-in date for the shop, I was properly excited; like, dead giddy. I imagined the huge shop window haemorrhaging heat, completing the happy, warm look (and feel) I was aiming for with my shop. In my head, it was going to be those childhood summers; long, scorching, eternal. The streets would be littered with laughter and joy, folk buying stuff for kids and kitties; carefree.

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Quick! Quick! The Rain

I was wrong…  I don’t mean to exaggerate the length of our summer, but it lasted approximately 4 hours (OK, I’m rounding up). And when the sun wasn’t shining – which was more often than not – then it was raining. I have already praised the rain in a previous blog (no, really, well done rain :|fabulous work), but I think seeing as this August has been the wettest August we’ve ever had, ever (I’m not sure if that’s meteorologically true, so don’t check…), I thought it warranted another mention.

It’s that first droplet of water that acts like an air raid – warning everyone to run for shelter and run to safety.  “Quick! Quick (boys)! An ecstasy of fumbling…” all desperately trying to get away from the unrelenting rain, waiting for this weather-war to halt, at least temporarily. That first raindrop is the one everyone dreads, because we all know what’s about to be unleashed. Miserable, moan-y weather.

I would definitely say the wind was stronger than the sun. Teamed up with the rain, it is an unshakeable force. The rain, in fact, I would say is the most powerful. If there was a challenge I would set all three, it would be ‘Who can clear the streets the quickest…?’ The rain would win hands down.