Black Cats

It’s now a couple of weeks since we said goodbye to Sam, and whispered conversations have begun to gather pace around the house – wondering if George, the remaining brother, might be lonely – and wondering if we might start looking for some company for him.

The conversations turned into telephone calls late last week, and then my other half and our eldest daughter quietly slipped out of the house yesterday afternoon on a somewhat secret mission.

It transpires there are two black kittens being cared for by a foster carer. The secret mission returned with serious sounding conversations about “if we take them”. I think this was really an elaborate “make it sound like we haven’t made our mind up yet” exercise. My other half told me all about them late last night – after the children had gone to bed. I haven’t seen her sound so happy in quite some time.

And yes, I’m excited too. Two black kittens – both jet black. A little boy, and a little girl. Apparently black cats are more difficult to re-home – I was surprised to learn this – if I had known this in advance, I would have chosen them specifically for that reason – in reality, they were almost the first rescued cats we looked at.

All manner of adventures await.

HyperJapan

I’m catching the early train to London tomorrow morning with Miss 18 – we are visiting HyperJapan – an expo of everything to do with Japanese culture – food, art, movies, music, clothes, manga, anime, cosplay, and so on.

It’s all my fault apparently – for getting her started on Studio Ghibli movies, and manga books when she was younger. Now I just annoy her by asking “what’s kawaii again?… and chibi?”

Disappointed

While noodling around on the web this evening, I looked at a few of the more famous “A-List” blogs – to see if they are still going – and if their writing is still as interesting, entertaining, and thought provoking as I remembered. I’ll admit to wondering what their secret sauce might be.

This is a recurring theme of course. From one month to another, I go from “I’m quite happy sitting out here on my own little blogging island with a handful of people knowing I’m out here”, to “Must deliver my idiotic words to as many eyeballs as possible”.

I wish I hadn’t looked. It turns out almost everybody has sold-out, and begun posting advertorial rubbish – paid posts advertising free trials of junk they were paid to write about.

Whatever happened to posting because you had something to say, rather than somebody paying you to say it ? Sure, I realise that for some people blogging is a major source of income, buy do they not see that they are cutting off their nose to spite their face ?

Maybe I’m more of a unicorn than I thought.


Crossing the Finish Line

I wonder if it’s against the rules to wrap up this idiotic escapade with a few words about the experience of taking part in NaNoWriMo ?

In the beginning, writing fifty thousand words in one calendar month seemed like a tall order. Writing a little over sixteen hundred words each day was intimidating – especially as a typical blog post might only reach a few hundred words. It turns out I had nothing at all to worry about.

So how have I managed it ?

Mostly by luck. For the past few years there has been an old Apple iMac computer near the attic hatch – I fetched it downstairs, wired it up, and had a look at software I might run on it. It was a toss-up between a text editor called “TextMate”, and a word processor called “Scrivener”. Scrivener won out, because it has the idea of cue cards – each piece of writing can have a title, and a synopsis, like cards attached to a cork board.

I began by writing down a list of subjects – infant school, junior school, secondary school, computers, video games, and so on – all pretty wide subjects that I thought I might be able to tell a few stories about. I then set about doing it. I will admit to having something of a private battle with myself early on – re-arranging the cue cards seemed far more important than getting on with writing anything.

Each day, after finishing work, returning home, getting through dinner and completing the various chores that family life throws at me, I have been sitting down quietly in the junk room at the front of the house with the old iMac, and disappearing into a world of memories, recollections, and long forgotten stories.

At work, I have spent lunchtimes typing into a website called “writer.bighugelabs.com” – that provides a minimal writing experience, and saves as you type.

Once finished with writing, everything has been backed up to a place on the internet called “GitLab”, and also to a ZIP disk, via a twenty year old ZIP drive. I will admit to being amazed that the ZIP drive still works so reliably after all these years. There’s an old saying about not fixing things that are not broken, isn’t there.

On some evenings I have struggled to get past a thousand words, and on others I have been surprised to see two, or even three thousand in the little word counter at the bottom of the screen. After slogging through the first week, I relaxed into it a little. I think I perhaps realised that fifty thousands words were possible after all. I never anticipated that I would begin writing two pieces each night, instead of one.

I suppose the overriding thought – while in the middle of writing – has been “don’t you dare stop if you’re on a roll”. There’s also the whole thing about one memory unlocking another, and another. I’ve found myself recalling people, places, and adventures that I had not thought about for years – decades in some cases.

I have been keeping a secret too – a secret I feel a little bit guilty about. I’ve been sharing most of my words with a distant friend on the internet as I write them. She’s one of the best writers I know, and a wonderful friend. She’s also been a fantastic cheerleader throughout – pushing me to keep going. I think perhaps everybody needs that in some way or another. When NaNoWriMo started I posted to their forums looking for “writing buddies”, but didn’t really get anywhere. Then one day my friend suggested that she might like to see what I had written so far (I’m sure she worded it much more strongly than that) – and it just sort of carried on from there.

I almost feel guilty about how easy it has become – that fifty thousand words really isn’t that difficult after all. I suppose in the grand scheme of things – when compared to nearly five thousand blog posts stretching back to 2003, fifty thousand words really isn’t that big of deal – it just seems like it when you’re stood at the bottom of the mountain, looking up.

I’m not so sure I might describe the feeling of crossing he finishing line as wonderful. Although the challenge SEEMED like a mountain, there’s really no view as such. It almost feels like the mountain was inflatable all along, and each step forwards has deflated it just a little. I’ve ended up standing pretty much where I was at the start, but with a huge pile of words littered around my feet.

Will I carry on writing the memoir now NaNoWriMo has finished for me? Maybe. Maybe one day. Will I ever do NaNoWriMo again? I can’t imagine doing so – but then I know enough about myself never to make grand predictions like that. It does seem a bit ridiculous to steel yourself for one month of idiotic writing, when there are eleven other months when you might have invested just as much effort.

Will the iMac remain on the spare desk in the study ? Will it be used again ? It would seem a shame if it doesn’t continue being used – especially after buying an original keyboard for it from E-Bay. If I manage to get hold of an authentic Apple mouse for it, it will probably rip a hole in space time, and return back to 1998.

It’s funny really – now I have crossed the finish line, I seem to have nothing but questions – questions about what happens next. Maybe that’s a part of the human condition – certainly my condition – never being content to sit back and admire what I have done – always looking forward to the next thing.

Nearing the Summit

I’m not really sure why I’m trying to write fifty thousand words during November any more – I’m just kind of “doing it”, because I thought it would be a romantic, or eccentric thing to do – something to tick off the bucket list.

In the days before starting, in late October, I remember worrying about the impending idiocy – wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into – even though I’ve attempted the same challenge in the past.

Perhaps I have been able to just get on with writing for the same reason I seem to be able to get on with dish washing, clothes washing, empting rubbish bins, cleaning kitchens, bathrooms, and all those other chores that might otherwise trigger a falling-down moment.

It’s the whole “putting one foot in front of another” thing, isn’t it. If you keep doing it for long enough, you end up getting to the finish line.

I’m on day thirteen of thirty, and have a little under eight thousand words until the finish line. I wonder how much the t-shirts cost?

Halfway There

It feels like I’ve broken the blogging or journaling habit. While writing upwards of two thousand words a day for “National Novel Writing Month”, it hasn’t even occurred to me to write about daily life.

I sit down at the old Macintosh late on an evening, type like a crazed lunatic for an hour, and then walk away. Even on the tough days when the enthusiasm isn’t there, I still do it. I’m just concentrating on writing – emptying my head of memories each time I sit down. I have a collection of cue cards – daily prompts if you will – things from the past that I think I might be able to write a few words about. It seems to be working so far.

I’m far, far ahead of schedule to write fifty thousand words by month-end. If I keep going at this rate, I may well finish with several days to spare. I still find myself smiling during the quiet moments – every time I have tried NaNoWriMo in the past, I have failed, and failed quickly. This time I have really attacked it, and kept at it – dogmatic to the point of idiocy. And it’s working.

I’m enjoying the writing. I’m not sure if it’s just down to spending an hour inside my own head each night, or a byproduct of reminiscing with myself about people, places, and events from my past. It’s become cathartic – looking back and ruminating somewhat. I’m not sure anybody else will ever be interested in the thirty-odd-thousand words I’ve written so far, but you never know.

Time to go put the kettle on, and perhaps write a few more words.

Watching From Afar

The last 24 hours have been an interesting experience – watching results roll in from the American mid-term elections. I have no part in the circus – I live on the other side of the world – and should really be worrying about the ridiculous situation my own country finds itself in. And yet here I am, sitting high atop a fence, watching everything unfold, and wondering how the news is sinking in for so many that I know.

There are all sorts of incendiary remarks I could make about waiting for previous generations to die before real change might happen, or pointing fingers at poor education, or a handful of other things – but I keep quiet.

I keep quiet because although so many of us share a common language, we live in very different cultures, with different backgrounds, struggles, hopes, dreams, values, and ethics. We cannot hope to understand each other – hell, I struggle to understand the problems faced by people in my own country, let alone a distant country several times the size.

Maybe the big challenge for all of us going forwards will be to accept that we all share the same ball of mud. We’re not going anywhere else any time soon either – so we should really learn to get a long a bit better. Sure, we might come from a different bit of the ball of mud, but we’re all just people at the end of the day – mostly trying to do our best. Of course there are some arseholes – there are always arseholes – and we can try to humor them until they go away, because they will. Eventually.

Goodbye Sam

While running back and forth through the hallway to our front door last Thursday, Sam sat in the way – cleaning himself. He didn’t seem too keen to move, and we just thought he was being belligerent.

On Friday night, I noticed him walk past me in the kitchen, with a wet patch next to the base of his tail – it was raining, so I didn’t think any more of it. Early in the evening I then noticed him crouched in front of the sofa strangely – looking like he might be preparing to jump, but not doing so. I mentioned it to my other half, and she dismissed it.

Later that night, while sitting next to her, he wet himself.

An hour later we were at the vet hospital a few miles down the road, visiting their “out of hours” emergency service. I sat in the back of the car, holding the cage on the way – while Sam yowled, and cussed in the way cats do when unhappy. We were seen quickly after our arrival at about 11pm by an Australian surgeon who could find nothing immediately wrong. We suspected a bite wound from a fight, given his continual cleaning, and not being able to sit comfortably – hair was shaved around the base of his tail, but nothing found. It was postulated that he might have pulled his tail.

He was put on a course of anti-inflammatory drugs, and given a shot of morphine for the pain, and we took him home. Once the drugs kicked in he seemed in much better sorts – asking for food, and wandering around the house quite happily.

He sat under the children’s trampoline in the garden throughout Saturday and Sunday – sleeping in the sunshine, and washing himself. We kept half an eye on him through the window, and wondered if he might be on the mend.

On Sunday evening we got home from watching our middle daughter play rugby, and were making dinner when we noticed he had reverted to sitting on one side, and washing his back end again. We didn’t think too much of it until he tried to get up, and staggered into the kitchen, only just clearing the floor before lying down again.

Half an hour later we were back at the animal hospital. This time the surgeon took his temperature – which was very low, and did a blood test. We sat in the waiting room, wondering how much his treatment was going to cost while waiting for the test results. The news came fast – we were invited back into a treatment room, and the vet was clear, calm, methodical, and utterly professional. His blood results were all over the place. His temperature was low. Added to the behaviour he was presenting, it wasn’t good at all. They could X-Ray, and/or operate for a suspected obstruction in his bladder, but given his condition his prognosis was only 50/50 at best.

The vet immediately presented euthanasia as an option, and I looked at my other half, who burst into tears. I’m not quite sure how I held it together, but we had been here before – hanging on to a pet for a week or so longer than we should have.

We were left for a minute to decide what we wanted to do. I called home, and spoke to our eldest daughter, who also burst into tears – and then handed off to Miss 14, who was being very brave indeed.

When the vet came back in, we asked if we could fetch our daughters to say goodbye, but she didn’t want to prolong the cat’s suffering for a moment longer than necessary. We made a second call while Sam was prepared for the injection – during which time I called home, and explained what was happening.

In the end it was quick, quiet, and peaceful. Sam remained curled up on the blanket we had carried him in on, and fell into a deep sleep. After a few moments his purring stopped, and then finally his chest stopped rising and falling – he had gone.

He will always be remembered by our family – the biggest of three brothers. One of the biggest, most gentle, loudest purring cats any of us had ever known. He will be remembered for sleeping on top of the fish tank, falling off the fish tank, and for sleeping on the trampoline, and the back of the sofa. He will be remembered for making friends with our eldest daughter when she was little, and sleeping in the gap underneath the bookcase in her bedroom.

Lots and Lots of Words

I stayed up until midnight on Wednesday night, and wrote eighteen hundred words before falling into bed a little after 1am. I then wrote during lunchtime yesterday, a little more last night, and a little over lunchtime today – all in an effort to get a little ahead of the curve on this idiotic race towards fifty thousand words by the end of the month.

Knowing I can knock out over fifteen hundred words an hour when I put my mind to it makes the task seem somewhat easier – except of course the words have to make at least a little sense. I have to keep telling myself to just write – get the words down – don’t re-read and start tinkering. I never proof-read blog posts, so it makes little difference.

Anyway. Just thought I would drop in and say hello.

And yes, I know I said I was going to do NaNoWriMo as a series of long blog posts, but I decided against it. I’m writing “The Book of Me” – kind of a tour of anything and anything I’m interested in, along with huge swathes of life story. I thought it might be rather cathartic, and would require little or no imagination – just a good memory.

The Good and the Bad

While cycling home from work this evening through the early-evening darkness, an entire family walked out in front of me. The family comprised of two adults in warm coats, followed by a rag-tag train of small witches, zombies, and superheroes.

Ah yes – of course – it’s Halloween.

Along the way I passed many other families walking from house to house – and heard echoes of “Trick or Treat!” from assorted silhouetted doorways.

Arriving at home, I stored my bicycle before wandering through the house – removing my helmet, coat, scarf, and gloves. While doing so there were two knocks at the door – the first answered by my other half, who swore under her breath as she passed me, and the next answered by me.

I was greeted by a little boy in a vampire costume, and an empty bowl on the doorstep. Apparently my other half had grown sick of the fifty or sixty visitors that had arrived so far, and left the sweets outside. In the two minutes between her leaving the bowl outside, and me answering the door, the entire supply had been taken.

We have no doubt who did it. Not the littlies who stand two feet tall in your doorway, looking hopefully up in their costume. Oh no – it would all have been taken by a teenager, intent on milking Halloween for whatever they could get, after expending as little effort as possible on a costume.

I questioned two obvious mid-teens that arrived at the door with little or no costume, and asked them if they might be a bit old. One of them claimed his age was at least three or four years younger than he actually was. How many primary school children have broken voices ? Idiot.

It wasn’t all bad though. Over the course of the next hour or so I answered the door to a succession of young families with small children – some no doubt doing Halloween for the first time. The smallest are always the most fun. One little girl picked a sour sweet from our emergency supply, and asked if she could eat it straight away. I looked up at her Mum, standing at the end of the driveway, and grinned – “I’m sure that will be ok”. A little boy dressed as a television took one gummy bear, and said thankyou. Another little girl dressed as a faerie thought she had dropped her sweet, before discovering it in her own bucket, and fist-pumping the air with quite some excitement.

Of course I offered several parents sweets too. Some smiled toothy grins and accepted – others shot me a worn smile, and told me they were trying to hang on until dinner time. I bet they eat their children’s sweets.

It strikes me that Halloween is very different over here than it is in the suburbs of America. It was almost certainly popularised during the huge influx of American families during the cold war, and has carried on over the years – but only among the young. You very rarely see parents or teens dressed up. When I look at the social internet, it’s noticeable that my American friends almost all throw themselves into it – whatever their age.

You know the interesting thing to me though? If statistics are to be believed, something like 80% of Americans follow the mainstream religions – which all frown upon the idea of Halloween, and discourage any involvement in it. Because of course Halloween’s routes are pagan. It amuses me that so many people I know that claim all sorts of religious faith are happy to dress up as demons, the undead, witches, warlocks, necromancers, wizards – you name it.

Anyway. From somebody that doesn’t believe in any creator figures what-so-ever, and doesn’t question other peoples faith (but does question their hypocrisy), I hope you had a great Halloween, I hope you had some great visitors to your front-door, and I hope you’ve eaten enough candy to make your teeth squeak.