FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 48

A Date Shared is a Date Halved

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Back-to-School Feeling

It was GCSE results day yesterday. Bizarrely, I was feeling quite anxious. A Year 10 group that I taught briefly, will have got their results. (They were a bright group, so will no doubt have done well). Irrespective of how many years go by, I think certain feelings will float around depending on the time of year.  That ‘back-to-school’ feeling just before the end of the summer holiday (or indeed any holiday) is probably one that I’ll never quite shake off. (Admittedly, that Sunday night feeling seems to have subsided now, especially as my working week looks so different).

Years ago, the Head of Art retired. In her leaving speech, she said how the only actual day you enjoy of the summer holiday is the day you break up. After that, you’re counting down the number of weeks, nay, days you have left, before you go back. She was right.  I’m not sure if it was because she’d pointed it out – so inevitably I was counting down, or that I was subconsciously doing it anyway. Either way, that feeling was very pronounced. (There was, however, comfort in the fact that our first day back after the summer was always an INSET day (we once had two days *cue nostalgic music). This was associated with gluttonous feelings of naan, daal, spinach and potato curry, chickpea rice and chicken curry for lunch. This was how we rolled back then)!

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Play Time

My key dates were mostly school-related; half term holidays (=time to play), after school meetings, twilight sessions, parents’ evenings, celebration evenings, Results Day, etc. etc. These were dates shared by all teachers, if not across the country, then at least in your own school. A shared experience – one to discuss with friends and pop on the department WhatsApp group beforehand to juggle thoughts and feelings – it always made things feel less daunting.

Of course, that back-to-school feeling seems to have remained, but I now have different dates in my calendar encouraging a different kind of feeling. September 1st 2015, is my cat’s birthday. The 29th of January 2016, turned out to be (unofficially), my last day at school. I didn’t go back in after that – not out of choice, but I just couldn’t. On the 23rd August 2016, I did my first ever Maker’s Market (interestingly) in Chorlton. The year before that, was a seminal date. 17th June 2017, I got the keys to the shop. 1st July, I opened up the shop etc. etc. etc. My dates are now, mostly shop-related.

These are my dates and as much as I’m not a good sharer, I think it would have been fun (or helpful) to have been able to share these with others – maybe I will in years to come.  (I’m the youngest of five siblings – and sharing was never my forte. In fact, I had often believed I should have been an only child)! Sharing a key date with someone, brings a certain strength, I think; you’re not doing it alone and there’s a certain level of ‘excitement’ (or ‘non-excitement’) generated by the anticipation of it. A date shared, is a date halved.

My shop is attached to Arison hairdressers.  There are so many teachers who come in, especially at the minute – new hair cut or style; part of the armour in preparation to go back-to-school. Seems only yesterday I would have been doing the same. I’m genuinely so tempted to pounce in on their conversation – as if I’m still one of them. But I’m not. Not anymore. So I pretend not to care, pretend not to share the same back-to-school feelings as I type away on my keys;

No. Need. To. Share. Not. Bothered. No. Need. To. Share. Not.  Bothered. No. Need. To…

 

 

 

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FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 44

A PopUp Miracle

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Time On My Hands

You know, it’s amazing when you slowly give your world permission to open again and it begins to filter in things you might need; might want.  Mine kind of did just that. I think it was something to do with being rather cautious and only allowing good things to fall into the vacuum that had suddenly appeared. It was as if my previous life had been deleted and I was starting again. From scratch. After a difficult time, it looked as though good things (on the whole) might just happen.

I was rescued by the women on ‘The Women in Business’ group which was free, spanning (initially) four months. We met once a week and not only was it vital in terms of the tools I needed to start my own business, it also gave me structure. Structure was what I was lacking and having been at school my whole life, I often felt constrained by it. But now I was living without it, ironically I craved it (a bit Stockholm syndrome). I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, but rather than feeling free, I felt lost and unable to motivate myself. Being a creature of habit, structure was what I needed to get me out of bed.

Another brilliant outcome of the WiB, was finding out about other courses and groups that were available. To add to the magic of this group, there was another fabulous FREE course; A PopUp Business School, which ran from 20th-24th June at Z-Arts, Stretford (during Brexit Week).  I was working through some tough personal issues at the time but was determined to attend as many days as I could. We had a trio of brilliant and enthusiastic teachers; Simon Paine, Alan Donegan and Henry Nicholson – all male. I admit to having a bit of a tricky relationship with men; so this formed some of my challenge. In fact, if the truth be told, my decision to adopt a male kitten was a deliberate attempt at trying to be ‘more comfortable’ with the opposite sex. (Nothing is purely accidental).

The premise of the group was how to start a business for free (how lovely is that word)?!  We explored different marketing methods, different business structures, culminating in 12 PopUp gifts at the end of the week! It was intense and very rewarding; revising things already touched upon as well as learning new skills such as hardcore techy-stuff like building a website! At this particular point in my life, I seemed to have become more of a kinaesthetic learner so this course was perfect. (But, despite my intentions, I missed a few hours here and there; whether that was because I was physically not present, or because I was just absent).

Driving home on the Tuesday, It struck me how fortunate the teachers were coordinating such a large group of us at such different stages of our ‘business lives.’ I remember relaying this to Simon at the end of the following day. I started with ‘You’re so lucky teaching… I really miss it…’ and tears escaped before recognising my own grief. My emotions were so raw at the time and things seemed pretty messy and tangled. In my head, it played like the Juliette Stevenson moment, mourning the loss of a loved one.

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Standing Firm; Standing Strong

Embarrassed by the betrayal of my emotions, the only appropriate solution was to turn around and Forrest Gump my way out of that world. Obviously. But I stayed put and snot dribbling, eyes wet, we all *just persevered until it passed (Thank you Simon for not choosing to FG either). Despite my inner turmoil, good things did manage to filter through to build on the blocks that were already beginning to materialise. I was going to stand strong so I quickly grabbed and squirrelled away everything that helped!

Thank you Simon, Alan and Henry; just what the doctor ordered.  Check out their site and meet the DreamTeam.

 

FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 41

Fluidity of Time

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How Time Flies

Have you come across the new traffic lights in the city centre that count down how long you have left before the lights turn red? HOW stressful are they?! I know how long 10 seconds last – but when I’m crossing a busy road, I spend those seconds imagining a trip, a fall, dropping bags, tangled shoelaces, banana skins etc. etc. and then I’ve run out of time.

I’ve never been great with time; my relationship with it has always been a bit tricky. I come from a family of ‘relaxed‘ time-keepers, so when I got a ‘proper’ job, I had to train myself. Mostly though, I seemed to be running out of time; a relentless ‘tick tock’ above my head counting down from ten-to-zero.

My obsession with time means I regularly ask what time it is – a bit autistic-like, inevitably to work out how late I am for something. When I was teaching, time was so crucial in school and so therefore, my whole life. You had a time to wee, time to teach, time to meet, (occasionally) time to eat, time to print resources – but essentially, you had to be in a certain place at a certain time. Irrespective of what time it was, I couldn’t help but feel I was always running out of time. I never had enough time to wee, to meet, to eat. It was never enough. I would regularly address the Planning Room with “Do you think I’ve got enough time to…?” unable to gauge for myself. As if I hadn’t quite grasped the concept.

But now, time seems more fluid; as if there’s enough of it to go around. As if somehow, it’s slowed right down and embraced each second it has. When I was initially off, I wondered if it was just that I had slowed down as things took longer for me to do, or if time itself had slowed, enabling me to do the things I needed to get done. When you’re not measuring time against a clock, there seems to be more of it. I can fit more things into my day now that I’m not worrying about running out of time. I’ve found that the least obsessed you are with time, the more it seems, it will leave you alone; harass you less.

I used to panic if I thought I was going to be late. Now, I have more of a manana mentality – I think it’s healthier – allowing things to just run their course. Time-watching makes it behave oddly, cruelly, a bit like a tyrant. In the shop, time sometimes feels as though there are a few days rolled into each one – and then on other days, it feels as though there just isn’t enough. Either way, time is less rigid now; less like a straitjacket and more of a pal. I’m not afraid of time anymore now that I’ve come out of a life where there’s less of a focus on it. A bit like a crap relationship; as soon as you begin to indulge it, focus on it more, it will take over. I enjoy taking my time with things now – it’s kinder and lasts longer. 

FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 38

Strength in Numbers. Strength in Women.

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I would Have Just Smiled

I went to see Gina Yashere in Balham 15+ years ago. Of Nigerian background, she talked about the stark difference between mourning a pet in England (they cry, can’t get out of bed, too upset to carry on) and in Nigeria (“ahh, your dog dead? Put it in the bin…”) I think if someone was telling my younger self about opening a cat shop, I wouldn’t have understood – I would have just smiled.

I attended an opening day for a Women in Business course with my Healing Friend.  Both rather anxious.  My concern on the one hand was maybe I wasn’t ready. On the other – perhaps this wasn’t right for me, perhaps I was trying too hard to make something happen. But, we parked our concerns outside and went in.

Funded by One Manchester, Jenny Matthews was our teacher; a tiny yet fabulous woman, who skilfully weaved in and out of our ideas. She seamlessly enabled a phenomenal group of 20 powerful women. Many of us were women of colour; the youngest of whom was just over 30. Most of us had fairly conventional working lives, but for whatever reason were searching for something else. Sometimes, in the wrong garden, you just don’t bloom.

 

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Searching For Something

None of these women were weak or had failed. I guess that was how I saw myself at the time. I acknowledge now, that for a short time, I was numb, I was a little bit dead. They say you have to treat yourself the same way you would a friend when you’re feeling like that; you’re more patient with others. I wasn’t feeling particularly friendly or patient with myself – but amongst these women, I re-learnt how to do that.

No one would have suspected that in that small room in Gorton, there lay an unbelievable strength. We didn’t perform magic, but magic happened in there. Their positivity lifted me, whilst my own slowly began to unravel again. I’d dared to venture out and it didn’t feel all that scary anymore. A handful of these women are still in my life – but not all of them. I guess sometimes people come into your life just to point you in the right direction. And then they disappear.

That’s not to say that my idea of a cat shop went down well. No one stood on tables, whooping and cheering the idea. Far from it. I was asked to repeat my idea several times in those first few weeks – I think the women were trying to make some sense of my overflowing enthusiasm.

My background: an Asian, Muslim woman – so for me, pets were pets. Dogs were terrifying – I swear I was programmed to sniff one out circa 2 miles away so I could prepare an almighty run. Cats were unpredictable, therefore, pretty scary too. I never grew up with pets. (Well, that’s not strictly true. We had a cat when I was titchy, but he was, you know, just a cat. At the vet’s, dad was asked his name. Of course, our cat was nameless, but for the sake of the visit, dad named him *Saunaa (translation *Gold). That was the only time our cat was called Saunaa – never before and never since. My general memory of him is rather hazy, but what I do know for certain is that I was pretty terrified of him).

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A Clearer Picture

Conscious of Gina’s words, conscious of the makeup of my audience, conscious of my younger self and how I thought, I admit, it was a tough idea to sell. But, it didn’t matter what anybody else thought. I believed in my idea and I was going to clutch on to it; it was all I had. And the more and more I talked about it, (I talked about it a lot), the more and more they believed in it! I had a vision and I was going to make it happen. Not because that’s just what I do, but because at the time, there was comfort in the idea, comfort in that future. My cat shop gave me a purpose; it gave me hope. After such a long time, my renaissance was beginning to take place. I could feel it beginning to happen. The vision was becoming clearer.

Jenny Matthews and the Women in Business Group – thank you.

Want to know more about the Women in Business Enterprise group?  Contact Jenny Matthews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 35

WTF?!

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Oh, How We Laughed!

Google ‘How To Start A Business.’  What results do you get? It was on my ShopShop list, so I was keen to cross it off. Super excited and armed with a shiny new book to make notes, I was ready to dissect the process and feel empowered. I’d even bought my own pen!

Then I came across this – The .Gov website on how to. How to WHAT? I was feeling MASSIVELY overwhelmed… Sole trader or limited company? Need to register this and that, intellectual property and how to protect it, licence, permits, business rates, online presence, working from home, insurance, public liability, renting premises, tax, national insurance, tax deductions, self-assessment etc. etc. etc. Mind=Blown. But, I studiously made notes – but if I’m honest, I was totally out of my depth.

Flicking through the notes I’d made, I was genuinely re-thinking the whole start up process.  Surely there was another way? Could I get around it somehow? It was like learning a new language without the translation or guidance on pronunciation. I had these garbled notes; this alien formula in my possession and hoped one day, it would all make sense. (It certainly wasn’t making any sense today).

I’d relayed my findings to a friend (also an ex-teacher and also considering starting her own business). Oh, how we laughed at the impossibility of the task that lay ahead for us both! During my ‘time off’ (‘time out,’ call it what you will), this particular friend and I met regularly and I found her to be very spiritual; healing, almost. She’d often soothe with how ‘when one door shut, another opened.’  I was feeling less optimistic.

She mentioned a talk that was at the Inspire Centre in Levenshulme the following evening and suggested we both go. It was a friend of hers who was going to be sharing her personal experience of starting her own business; the Year 6 Graduation ceremony for primaries. Maybe we’d be inspired and everything would become clear – like a magic eye picture.

It was interesting – she’d started up in her house in Moss Side with 10 handmade gowns (despite not being a seamstress). Her story was interspersed with three other young women sharing their experiences of starting up. Strong black role models – I went into teacher-mode and had already booked them in my diary for a year group assembly to inspire future generations!

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Back to School

But alas, as interesting as it was, I was searching for something more practical. Something that was going to translate the notes I’d made; something that was going to dilute this other language. As the evening drew to a close, my friend and I were heading out. I was, in all honesty, feeling rather despondent. And then, an excitable voice from the back of the room shouted “Don’t forget! The Women in Business group starts this Friday, in Gorton (Belle Vue House)!!!”

And that was it!  This was the open door that my Healing Friend had talked about! This was what I needed – a course, where I get to make notes, discuss and most importantly, ask questions! I was going back to school and I couldn’t wait!

 

FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 33

***NOTE _ WRITTEN ON THE 8TH OF AUGUST 2017***

The morning after the night before..?

I’m a zombie.

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Feeling out of sorts

I have ONE FreeDay a week. My weekend. Just ONE. It’s not a holiday-Day – but has become more of a working-but-just-not-at-the-shop-Day (although, occasionally I am at the shop). Like a ‘free’ period for teachers; it’s been falsely advertised.

I spread my Mondays like cortisone cream. Thinly. I go to the Cash & Carry (yes, that is a sentence I use now), the bank, do an Aldi & Morrisons food shop, *think about cleaning the house (*sometimes I do clean the house), chase up orders/ emails/ letters/ phone calls to various people/companies, including online retailers etc. etc. etc. This wasn’t part of the plan. When considering my opening times, I’d enticed myself with a gift-wrapped ‘Free MonDays for self-indulgence’ hamper, one might find on an 80s game show.  But, alas, this isn’t happening. The plan has ‘gan aft agley’ (RIP OMAM).

Except yesterday. I was in the Big Smoke. Eek! I went to watch ‘The Ferryman’ at The Gielgud Theatre. Smitten within seconds. Dark moments, fuelled by (often misplaced) loyalty, interspersed with comic relief in a multi-generational Irish, Catholic family. The emotions were palpable; be it buried desires, a buried body, cooing over rabbits pulled out of a coat, by a Lennie-esque character, or the harrowing final scene). It was pretty-darn perfect. And therefore, a pretty perfect FreeDay.

Having printed off a two-sided A4 guide for my friend on looking after MyBoy (thank you sooooo much), we set off on Sunday after closing time for a night at my brother’s before the 7 o’clock showing the following evening.  I know, I was cutting it fine; working today, so irrespective of what time the 3-hour play was going to finish (with two intervals), it was safe to say it was going to be a late one. (I hadn’t quite envisaged a 4am ‘late’ though – certainly not on a school night)!

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Guilty Kisses

The drive back was exhausting, but, enthralled by the break, the return seemed to be relatively speedy (why does a return journey always feel quicker)? As I desperately tried to pin MyBoy down for kisses and guilt-fuelled embraces, (he kissed me. Once. At least), he was aching to reconvene with his bezzy, Max, the British Blue, (aka Greenie).  Anyone with a cat will know that 4am is the universal get-the-HooMans-up-for-a-catflap-reminder time. I reluctantly did (after a few more smothering kisses).

And then my alarm jolted me awake. At the (seemingly) ungodly hour of 8:30am. Having (very lightly) snoozed through MyBoy returning and deciding to throw himself on my chest for an I’ve-missed-you-after-all-HuMum catnap, I was more tired than I think anyone has *ever been before (*possibly). For some time my alarm hasn’t even been switched on, let alone woken me up.  I was shattered! You know that kind of exhaustion when you screw up your eyes and tears sting as they run? That. It’s your core pleading with you for just a little more time.  Inside.

Incapacitated, I was thinking of new ways to motivate me to get out of bed (New top? Nope. Driving, not walking to work? Nope. Crunchy Nut Clusters for breakfast? Yes (doesn’t have to be much, I’m easily pleased) – and I’m up))! before auto-piloting my way through dirty dishes, feeding MyBoy, driving to FurCats.

I got through the day though. Albeit slightly zombied. The morning after the night before..? It’s my new weekend feeling.

FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 30

From the love of a kitten to the birth of a CatShop.

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Duvet Days

From the moment I left teaching, to now, I have been (am) a little bit terrified.  I was fearful of the ‘what ifs’ and ‘when’ and ‘how will I?’ etc. etc. in terms of the shop, my life, my everything. As a precocious 14 year old, gorging on quotes-that-will-change-your-life-but-don’t-yet-mean-anything-to-a-child-with-no-actual-life-experience, I remember pondering on the one about how ‘anticipating death is worse than death itself.’  OK, so it’s not quite the same – BUT, the limbo stage in life – for anyone – is a pretty grim time, whether it’s because you have no direction, are feeling aimless or waiting for an answer or for something to kick-start your life into action… Irrespective of what that is, it’s a pretty lonely process.

I had no direction when I left – in fact, I was ill (let’s call them ‘duvet days’), so I really wasn’t thinking of an alternative other than the life and reality I was comfortable with and knew. But, coming out of that life and dealing with a shrinking world (that was so unbelievably hard) and grieving over the loss of identity (harder still), I knew it couldn’t (and was hoping it wouldn’t), carry on forever.

But, as these things happen – from falling in love with my cat (you know, to look at, he’s just an ordinary-run-of-the-mill-moggy, BUT HE HAS A LOVE HEART IN HIS MOUTH..?! (So not so ordinary)), to running a shop, based wholly on my cat and his likes, it’s all just been a *little bit of a scary process (ahem, *very).

 

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Smelling of LoveHearts

Over that period of time, I needed to do one thing that was necessary, one thing that was routine and one thing that was enjoyable. Needless to say, I bought a lot for my cat and my house (oh and for me too) and this was all part of a justifiable ‘therapy.’ Frustrated by having to go to a million different shops for my cat’s food, toys (known to any cat-lover as essentials) and general cat-stuff, I drove past a fabulous dog shop, Betty & Butch. It was like an epiphany; as far as I knew, there was no cat-equivalent – and that was what I was going to do. I’d discovered my ‘out-of-jail’ card and immediately I felt giddy at the thought of a potential remedy.  Serendipity.  SuperDude and his magic powers struck again (let’s call him Renaissance-Cat, for this bit)!

And that was it. I now had a purpose; a re-birth and having visualised the end product, all I needed to do was understand the process. Obviously, that was easier said than done; I knew nothing about running a business, but I was keen to kick-start the idea to life. I was going to be a student again and the desire to take on a conventional sit-behind-a-desk-and-learn was a very exciting prospect! (I know as teachers, we’re always learning, often in unconventional and unpredictable ways, but this very black and white method of learning seemed to invigorate me). My thirst for knowledge was keen and excitable. I was going to learn and live again.

 

FurCats – A Shop. For Cats. Day 27

From Kitten To Cat

Hoorah!  FurCats is a month old! It’s been a different kind of fun and a different kind of busy.  From Kitten, to (kinda) Cat.

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SuperDude (aka Tian, with Mum CC and sisters): From Kitten…

A friend of mine has just got two kittens; Buffy and Spike. I obviously spent my day off, indulging on (more) kitten-joy and paid them a visit. She asked how the shop was going and I told her it was great.  I couldn’t help mentioning the fact that occasionally it’s quiet and I’m not always busy (like today – I haven’t been busy at all), but that wasn’t a bad thing, as I was happy and enjoying myself.

And then that got me thinking.  Was I under-selling my joy about the shop?  Was it a difference that I’d fully accepted? Was I at peace with the new life I’d created? Was I, in fact, happy or was I just trying to be?  I had, at least, willed this to happen.

It’s strange.  I’ve always been a bit rubbish at accepting my own joy – but FurCats is something that I am genuinely proud of.  I look around and think – yep, this is what I have done – I have made this happen; in my head first, then on paper (my initial hand drawn ‘drafts’ of a logo are ‘totes hilaire’ together with the plan of the shop floor – equally so.  I might share at some point).  But, sitting in the shop that was, this time last year, a mere thought, is quite exciting as a concept on its own. In general, the process of a thought; abstract, hypothetical, that then becomes tangible and concrete, is a powerful one.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to watch a play that my sister’s friend, Alex Keelan, had written (The Loves of Others, at 53Two, Manchester).  It was brilliant (I cried, obviously).  And it struck me that the process of her getting her play on stage; a thought, ideas on paper, draft after draft, negotiating premises, actors, dress rehearsals, tears, tantrums etc. etc. – and me getting my shop; a thought, ideas on paper, learning process, negotiating premises, sellers, searching for products, doing up the shop, tears, tantrums, etc. etc. – was more-or-less the same.  Thoughts are so powerful – once we allow ourselves to (properly) think (and explore and live) we can pretty much be (whatever we want).

I remember reading a factoid about the boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson, at the school I taught at.  It was on the inside door to the Admin corridor, which was strictly for staff only (we had toilets there and the previous Head’s office was there too).  Robinson had dreamt he’d killed his opponent, Jimmy Doyle, the night before a match.  So he refused to fight him, but convinced by a Catholic priest that his fears were unfounded – he was persuaded to go ahead with the fight.  Doyle died from his injuries the following day.  His thoughts happened. Thinking makes it so.  Breathe enough life into them; indulge them enough; and they become real.  They grow.

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…To Cat

I guess, we sometimes accept less than what we want.  And other times, we struggle to accept what we wanted; thinking perhaps, that we’re undeserving. But, I’m going to let my thoughts guide this and see where it takes me.  Wednesday tomorrow.  It’s going to be a good day…

FurCats – A Shop. For Cats Day 22

*** NOTE _ WRITTEN ON THE 26TH JULY 2017***

The Power of the Rain

It’s a Wednesday.  It’s wet.  We’re in Manchester – so it all makes sense really.  Rain is very powerful – I haven’t always acknowledged its superiority.  As a teacher, there was often a spate of fire alarms going off – inevitably accompanied by the rain.  The rain would ensue screeching girls – and boys – petrified of the after-effects of getting ‘a bit wet.’  Horrified, that the rain would unleash frizz-galore-4-eva and a miserable dampness that would only dry out once out of the sodden clothes, at home; it bought a whole new wave of terror to our kids.  And kids behaved differently when it had been raining (throw a bit of wind into the equation (and a full moon, God, please not a full moon) and you’re in for a teaching-treat of shouting/ talking to yourself, for the rest of the day)! Some might say Zombie days.

Well, the rain has a similar effect on most grown-ups.  However, rather than facing the rain; being forced out of the classroom, because teacher-said-so, they can choose.  And most choose to stay indoors – because they can!  Just like our cats.  So, that clearly has an impact on the little shops where I am, like I am.

As Manchester slowly casts off the damp, sodden clothes, aided by a reluctant sun, life is breathed back into this strip of shops and eateries in Chorlton.  It gets busier and feels happier – not just because I feel happier, but because the sun begins to peep into people’s conversations; perks them up a bit and their general energy feels more positive.

 

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Unshakable Sunflowers

 

Days are unpredictable, in terms of busyness. According to other shops – it’s just so.  No reason, just so. Rain or shine, term time or not, weekend or not…  So far, in my less-than-a-month-experience, there doesn’t seem to be a set pattern. Regardless, the shopkeepers are as unshakable as the sunflowers – we’ll stay stood up and wait for the rain to pass.

But what is certain, is that rain follows sun, which encourages those with an aversion to rain, to venture out and about and explore again.  (Until it falls again. Inevitably).