‘The Travelling Cat Chronicles’ by Hiro Arikawa

‘The Travelling Cat Chronicles’ by Hiro Arikawa

The Travelling Cat Chronicles is a Japanese novel that tells the tale of Satoru and a stray cat he rescues and names Nana. Satoru is kind, easy going and whimsical with a deep affinity for misfits and strays of both the human and feline variety, while Nana is proud and independent but the pair quickly become devoted to each other. A few years after adopting Nana, however, Satoru begins to contact old friends and relatives to ask if any of them could re-home his beloved cat.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles is as much about friendship and families as it is about cats, and each chapter focuses on one of Satoru’s closest friends and relatives, and through each chapter the reader learns more about Satoru and the lives he has touched. In a way, this story explores the regrets and hidden hurts that people often carry through life, and what happens when life seems to give us another chance to atone for our past mistakes and heal some of our old wounds.

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The Travelling Cat Chronicles is a bit predictable, and yet it is such a poignant story that I still enjoyed it and was moved by the ending. Have a lovely week. X

A Little Spring in My Step

A Little Spring in My Step

We’re just home from a wonderful holiday in Iceland (which deserves a separate post) feeling thoroughly refreshed and inspired, and enjoying a few days at home before we return to work.

This weekend it was warm enough to sit outside sipping our morning coffee for the first time this year, and it was lovely to notice all the changes that have occurred in the garden while we’ve been away.

Before we left the tulips were still green with only the tips hinting at the colours hidden within, and just a week later the first petals are starting to unfurl. Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a haphazard gardener so I forgot to write down the varieties of bulbs I planted, and the only tulip I can identify with any certainty is ‘red riding hood’ because of its distinctive leaves.

Elsewhere in the garden, the primroses are appearing, and I’ve cut some of the hyacinths that were toppling under their own weight and put them in a vase on the mantelpiece.

Of course, the best part of coming home is being reunited with our cat, Mara, who stays with my dad whenever we go on holiday. As much as we love travelling, Mara is such a big part of our little family and so many of our daily routines revolve around her that we miss her terribly while we’re away. For her part, Mara is very much a family cat who loves nothing more than the three of us being snuggled up on the couch or in bed together. Luckily, Mara is such a sweetheart that she never holds a grudge and is always full of purrs and affection when we return.

It’s good to be home again after a lovely holiday, enjoying the sunshine and preparing for the week ahead with a little spring in my step. Have a lovely week. X

Pottering around with houseplants

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Winter still hasn’t given way to spring yet in our part of the country, and another snowfall at the weekend prevented us from making a start in the garden, but I’ve been pottering around the house tending my little collection of houseplants instead.

Our house is a long way from becoming one of the lush urban jungles to be found on Instagram, and I’ve killed more plants than I’d like to admit but I’ve gradually collected and nurtured a little selection of succulents, ferns, fittonia and, of course, a seemingly infallible spider-plant. Decorating the plant pots was a rainy day project – though like all my crafts they’re a bit rough around the edges.

As our cat, Mara, is a nibbler, we only have plants that are safe for pets, and the ASPCA provide helpful lists of toxic and non-toxic plants.

I’ve had no luck at all propagating succulents, but I’ve had much more success propagating spiderettes from the spider-plant. I’ve already given one to my dad, another to my best friend, and I’ve just potted up a few more to give to a couple of friends and my husband, who wants one for his desk at work.

Determined not to repeat some of the rookie mistakes we made last year, I’ve started our courgettes and squash plants off inside. I’m also attempting to grow chilli peppers from seed; the cayenne seedlings have already surfaced, and I’m hoping the poblano will sprout soon too.

Meanwhile in the garden…

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Have a lovely week! X

 

Review of ‘Finding Gobi’ by Dion Leonard

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I can’t remember when I first heard about the ultra-marathon runner from Edinburgh who bonded with a stray dog he found while competing in a race across the Gobi desert in China, but I was delighted when I found out he’d written a book about their story.

Something that struck me right from the start is that it was the little dog who chose Dion out of a hundred other runners, not the other way around. Mile after mile, the scruffy stray he names Gobi keeps pace with Dion, and little by little he starts to enjoy her company as she gallops along beside him, at times Gobi’s presence helps him push through the pain, exhaustion and boredom of long distance running. A real turning point in their relationship comes when Dion stops to carry Gobi across a river that is too deep and fast flowing for her to cross, even though he knows it will cost him time and probably his position in the race too. By the time he crosses the finish line, seven days and 155 miles later, Dion has resolved to bring her back to the UK with him.

Roughly the first third of Finding Gobi focuses on the ultra-marathon, and the rest describes all the challenges of trying to bring Gobi back to the UK. I don’t want to spoil it, but this story ends happily and their reunion and eventual return to the UK is that much sweeter for all the obstacles and setbacks they faced along the way.

Dion, a bit of a loner by nature with a fair bit of emotional baggage from his childhood and adolescence, is humbled by the outpouring of generosity and support from friends and strangers alike who donate money to the crowd-funding campaign he starts or give up their time to help him directly. It is Dion’s commitment to bringing Gobi home that drives the campaign, but it’s the kindness of people from all over the world who make it possible, and in turn make this story so heart-warming and memorable.

Although my own furry, four-legged companion is of the feline variety, there were so many aspects of this story that resonated with me. Human relationships can often be complex, yet our animal companions offer us their love and trust unconditionally, and no matter how we may see ourselves they accept us just as we are. Yet even more than that, Finding Gobi demonstrates that somehow animals also have the ability to bring out our very best qualities – from commitment and co-operation to kindness and compassion.

Have a lovely week. X

Awakening from Hibernation

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I often think January is a month ill-suited to starting our New Year’s Resolutions as it’s the middle of winter and many of us are still recovering from the busy-ness and excess of the festive period. By February though, we’re usually awakening from our winter hibernation and ready to start tackling some of the goals and resolutions we’ve set ourselves.

One of our goals this year is to reduce how much food we waste. Food is a necessity but it’s also become one of our biggest expenditures after housing and transport, and I feel guilty when it goes to waste. To help us achieve our goal, we’ve been planning our meals in advance and we’ve bought a set of Pyrex dishes so we can cook some of our meals in bulk and freeze the extra portions for quick and healthy midweek suppers. We’re also going to continue growing some of our own fruit, vegetables and herbs in our little garden and composting our kitchen waste.

The gradually increasing daylight has given us a much-needed energy boost, and I’ve enjoyed getting back into our fitness routines, like swimming and my yoga class. Yoga has been a key component of my self-care over the last few years, as aside from the physical benefits, focusing on my breathing and immersing myself in physical activity helps me to clear my mind. This year I’d like to focus on improving my spine flexibility and increasing the number of sun salutations I can do without collapsing in exhaustion because I’d love to participate in a yogathon someday. I’m keeping my goals simple because as my yoga instructor often reminds us, yoga is as much about self-acceptance as it is about self-improvement. My husband and I have also signed up for salsa dancing classes. We learned how to foxtrot for our first dance, but took a break from classes after our wedding, and we’re excited to start our classes again as dancing’s a fun and romantic hobby to share together.

One resolution that’s already well under way in our home is resetting our cat’s breakfast routine with Pavlovian behavioural modification. Over the winter Mara had been waking us up earlier and earlier by pawing our faces, knocking things off our bedside tables and scrambling across our pillows, but we’ve gradually retrained her to stop waking us up at 4am, and she’s now allowing us a whole extra hour of sleep, which is a vast improvement as far as we’re concerned! After Mara’s had her breakfast, she always comes back to bed for a snuggle, which almost makes up for our rude awakening.

How are your resolutions going?

Have a lovely week. X

Review of ‘The World According to Bob’ by James Bowen

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A Street Cat Named Bob was the first book I reviewed this year, and it seems fitting that the sequel The World According to Bob should be the last. This picks up where the first book finished, James is a recovering addict, struggling to make ends meet by selling the Big Issue magazine and living in a London tower-block with Bob, the stray cat he adopted in the previous book.

Both books really capture the unconditional love, trust, loyalty and affection that can exist between people and animals, and how healing and transformative those bonds can be. Taking care of Bob gives James a sense of purpose, routine and responsibility, it’s his reason to get out of bed in the morning, to work hard and stay sober.

James isn’t proud of his past, and although he describes his difficult childhood shuttling between divorced parents in England and Australia, and his failed attempts to become a musician that ultimately resulted in him becoming homeless and addicted to heroin in London, he doesn’t blame anyone else for his choices.

James’ humanity comes across throughout the book as he understands the desperation that leads people in a similar situation to his own resorting to intimidation, violence, theft and addiction to numb their pain and shame. When his own fortunes start to change, James sees it as part of his duty and purpose to raise awareness of the harsh realities of those rough-sleeping, battling addictions and trying to eke out a living working on the streets.

James doesn’t have much by most people’s standards, and yet he is grateful for everything he does have, and his gratitude extends to all the people that believed in him and helped him when he needed it most from the Blue Cross vets who treated Bob whenever he was sick or injured to the Big Issue organisation, his parents, friends and the publishers who gave him the opportunity to share his story. Above all, James is grateful to the little cat that changed his life and inspired him to become the very best version of himself. I don’t usually read autobiographies but I found both of James Bowen’s books thoroughly heart-warming and inspiring. Have a lovely week. X

Preparing for Winter and a Halloween Fright (courtesy of the cat)

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October has been a month of misty mornings, silvery sunlight breaking through the clouds and stormy nights in our part of the country. Over the last few weeks we’ve been racing against the decreasing daylight and worsening weather to finish tidying the garden before winter.

My husband has extended one of the raised beds to give us more space to grow some of our own vegetables again next year. I’ve composted the courgette and pumpkin plants, and we’ve bought a second compost bin to keep up with the kitchen waste, grass cuttings and ash from the woodburning stove. I’ve also planted snowdrop, tulip and crocosmia bulbs in the flower bed, and hopefully some of them will surface. I was sad to pull up the last of the wildflowers as some of the marigolds were still flowering but it is deeply satisfying to see the freshly turned soil free from all the weeds that were growing between the flowers.

Nasturtiums have been creeping along the back fence but I don’t mind as that part of the garden has been sorely neglected while we’ve been trying to decide what to do with it – we’ve discussed everything from apple trees to a zen garden or a chicken coop (if local by-laws allow). There are currently three fir trees growing at the back and though I hate the thought of cutting down trees and losing the privacy they provide, they’re almost twenty foot tall and still growing, they block out a lot of light and their lower branches take up too much ground space.

There is nothing like a visit from parents or in-laws to prompt a frenzy of cleaning inside the house, and this weekend we had back-to-back visits from both sides of the family. My in-laws live quite a distance from us and we don’t get to see each other as often as any of us would like, yet it always makes our reunions joyful occasions and we spent a lovely day chatting, laughing and playing board games together. No sooner had we waved goodbye to one set of parents than the other side of the family arrived as we wanted to treat my mum to a birthday meal and she chose a vegan restaurant near us. Afterwards, we all returned to our house and spent a few cosy hours chatting and half-watching one of mum’s favourite films with hands wrapped around cups of coffee and the fire crackling in the background.

This weekend also brought the first frosts of the season to our part of the country and we were up before dawn yesterday defrosting the car as our cat Mara was lethargic and off her food, and given the year she’s had we didn’t want to take any chances so we rushed to the emergency vet. Mara was severely dehydrated after eating something she shouldn’t have the day before and spent most of Monday hooked up to an IV drip but thankfully she was discharged in the evening. Our naughty little snaffler gave us a fright, but we couldn’t have been happier or more relieved when she woke us up at ten to six this morning whining for breakfast as usual.

Wishing everyone a happy Halloween and lovely week!

A very special anniversary… ❤️

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Just a quick post to mark that it was two years ago today that we adopted our cat Mara from the SSPCA. As Mara is a rescue cat we don’t know when her birthday is or even how old she is but we like to celebrate the day we adopted her, and this is a very special anniversary as we weren’t sure that she would even still be here to celebrate it at all.

Back in January when our vet diagnosed the lump we’d found on her tail as a mast cell tumour, they had warned us that she might only have six to twelve months left. The vets amputated her tail to give her the best chance of survival, but the next six months were full of blood tests, ultrasound scans, x-rays and fine needle aspirates to ensure the cancer had not originated or spread elsewhere. It was a relief for all of us in July when the oncology department at the small animal hospital finally gave us the all clear, and we’re so grateful to all the vets who have helped us.

We all still miss that fluffy, tabby tail crooked like a question mark when she walked around, thrashing from side to side when she played or curling round our wrists when she was asleep, but nowhere near as much as we’d miss Mara if we hadn’t found the lump in time. Mara has been so brave and resilient throughout it all, she made a full recovery and adapted with no continence issues or loss of balance and mobility, and she is still every bit as affectionate, mischievous and curious as the day we adopted her.

Back then, we were newly-weds just back from our honeymoon, when we visited the rehoming centre to look for a potential new addition to our little family. I still remember seeing the tabby and white cat pressed up against the door of her enclosure and rearing up on her hind legs to let us stroke her when we went in to say hello. Bringing her home, we were almost as nervous as we were excited, as she was the first pet either my husband or I had had since leaving our family homes, and it seemed like such a big responsibility, yet Mara easily settled in with us, quickly becoming the centre of our world and the beating heart of our home. Now, two years later we are happy to have an excuse to spoil her a little more than usual today – even if she steadfastly refuses to let me take a photo of her wearing a party hat. Have a lovely week.

September’s Golden Glow

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There has been an avalanche of gold and amber leaves in our street over the last week, and every day the sun seems to hang a little lower in the sky on my morning and evening commute. September is always a busy month for us, and this month has swept by in a blur of happy anniversaries, birthdays and annual traditions.

Every September, one of my closest friends hosts a get-together in the countryside. Over the years, we have become good friends with the other guests despite most of us living so far apart that we only see each other a few times a year. Our annual weekend get together is something we all look forward to, and it’s always a relaxed and wonderful time spent enjoying delicious food, rambling walks along the Solway Firth and long conversations with old friends and new around the fire-pit as the stars twinkle above.

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In August, my grandmother was in hospital for a procedure that was not without risks due to her age, yet she recovered in time to celebrate her 91st birthday this month. I feel very grateful to have had my grandmother all through my childhood and well into my adulthood, and while she is still fiercely independent, I can’t help noticing that she’s slowing down a little bit more every time I see her, which makes the time we spend together very precious.

At home, the cooler evenings have given us an excuse to light the wood-burning stove. My husband – a modern man in every other respect – relishes the opportunity to get in touch with his inner caveman and takes great pride in his ability to create fire, while our normally lap-loving cat Mara has firmly established herself on the hearth.

As the calendar edges towards October, it has been a lovely month full of family, friends and cosy moments, all suffused in September’s golden glow. Wishing everyone a lovely weekend. X

Flora and fauna in the garden

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This was the first year that we’ve had a proper garden of our own and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed tending it. My husband and I weren’t really expecting many (or any) of the seeds we sowed to appear and vastly over-seeded all of our beds, next year we will be a bit more sparing with the seeds and also more selective about what we plant. This year, we scattered wildflower mixes and particularly loved the cheerful marigolds, poppies, corncockles, cornflowers and the striking mallow flower that appears to have self-seeded.

In June, we took part in the Great British Bee Count and enjoyed identifying all the different varieties of bee that visit our garden, such as early bumblebees, honeybees, tree bees, banded white-tailed bumblebees and red-tailed black bumblebees, all of which loved our very wild and colourful wildflowers. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen many butterflies, just a few cabbage whites now and again.

Although we suspect our rescue cat, Mara, has always been a house-cat she also loves sitting on the windowsill watching all the wildlife in our garden from the insects flying around the flowers to the sparrows nesting in the hedge, the odd cheeky grey squirrel that visits and the little family of fieldmice we spotted when the wildflowers started to die back. We’ve tried taking Mara out into the garden wearing a harness a couple of times but she seemed quite overwhelmed by all the strange smells and sounds, and seems to prefer the safety and shelter of the house; though that doesn’t stop her becoming territorial when other cats decide to pass through our garden, and it always gives us a fright when our gentle girl starts making angry whale noises at the trespassers.

This weekend, I put on the gardening gloves and spent some time tackling the weeds that have also flourished in the garden over the summer. Although we have a lot of dandelions and other weeds to deal with, my priority is halting the progress of the horsetail invading our garden; I fear we are fighting a losing battle as it grows prolifically in our neighbourhood but if any readers have advice on how to get rid of it or at least keep it under control I’d be very grateful.

Yesterday, we also spent a few hours with my parents in their gardens, admiring dad’s pumpkins – that are the size of footballs now – and helping mum pick white currants, we even spotted a little frog near the marjoram.

Gardening is a rewarding and mindful pastime, and now as summer falls into autumn we’re already making plans for next year, planting the bulbs for spring and making the most of the last of the light evenings in our little garden. Have a lovely week.