Saturday 26 October 2013


Many years ago my mum bought a sickly looking little cactus because she felt sorry for it. She put it on her sunny kitchen window sill and the cactus grew and grew and eventually produced beautiful cerise flowers in a ring around the top.

The flowers lasted for about five minutes then it went back to being just plain ole prickly again. But my mum loved it. She called it Big Ben.

When she died ten years ago, I brought the cactus home. It grew two more prickly lumps and it carried on flowering for about five minutes every year.

The picture below was taken a few years ago before the third appendage made an appearance. It was much smaller then.

It got in the way, prickled people (and curious kittens) and gathered dust. Beloved tried vacuuming it and several hundred spikes disappeared up the Dyson tube. It had to be propped up against the window to stop it hurling itself in the sink.

All I said was, “I think I’ll see if someone would like The Cactus.” I made a few enquiries.

I might have said, “I really wish I could throw it away, but my conscience would prickle (ouch) me.”

I went downstairs a little while ago and noticed the kitchen seemed brighter. And then I saw it – or rather I didn’t see it.

“But I thought you wanted me to get rid of it,” he said. “I thought you meant you wanted it to go, but you didn’t want to be the one to do it.”

Well I sort of did, but I still feel bad. I would far rather have seen it go to a new home.

With Indy’s many health issues, I always imagined that our next emergency dash to the vet would be with him, but Fizz had other ideas.

Last weekend she started throwing up – and wailing something awful. Then I saw blobs of blood in her litter tray and more when she tried to use it. Frightening. We rushed her off to the vet where she was examined and given an antibiotic injection (would you like an injection or would you rather give her pills? I tried giving her a worming pill not so long ago and barely lived to tell the tale. Ridiculous when I used to have to give our last poor old cat a combination of about a dozen pills a day with no problems). I opted for the injection.

Then she had a steroid injection. The first needle took her by surprise and she merely had time to spit. She was more prepared the second time and clawed (me) with all four feet and bit my finger. But despite her being scared and feeling ill, I only had two small scratches.

The next day she was fine. We assume as there appeared to be no infection present that she’d eaten something that disagreed with her. The bland recovery diet certainly agreed with her – now she turns her nose up at bog-standard cat food unless I mix chicken in with it. Sigh.

She’s going out in the garden now, but doesn’t linger unless Indy is out there with her.

They say a bad storm is headed our way - Fizz knows where she's going to hide.

Take care and stay safe!

Thursday 10 October 2013


If you’ve been coming here for any length of time, you’ll know about Indy being diagnosed as a puppy with EPI (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency) and how we came so close to losing him. I wrote an article about it which appeared in Dog’s Monthly in November last year (“Wasting Away - Focus on EPI, a digestive disease.”)

This is him with Oakley, (who is a week older than him) when they were very small. Oakley used to look after him when he was ill, snuggling up to keep him warm. Much prettier than the flowers that used to grow in that tub! Oakley is deaf now, but he still has that lovely way of looking at you.

Indy was a funny little pup. Stairs scared him. He could go up easily enough, but coming down was another matter.  He was nine months old before he took that first tentative step down the stairs. Once he realised he could do it, he was fine.

I’ve always said that he’s a bit of a wimp. But the thing is he isn’t a wimp. He’s very brave. Everything he’s ever been afraid of in his life, he’s overcome it.

Being scared of things doesn’t make you a wimp and it takes a lot of courage to face your fears head on.

It’s a year since he was diagnosed with diabetes (which is a complication of the EPI so we always knew it could happen) and he’s put up with twice daily injections, blood tests etc with no fuss at all.

When he lost his sight earlier this year, watching him negotiate the stairs was terrifying. He’d stand and carefully inch his way to the top then make his slow way down. Sometimes he’d misjudge where he was and end up in a bedroom.

Occasionally he’d go to walk in a bedroom and end up on the stairs! I put a baby gate across the top so I’d have time to get there and go down with him. He slipped a few times. Now and then he’d misjudge where he was and turn before the stairs did, banging his head on the post.

Now I watch him go down the stairs and he does it slowly and carefully, but sure-footedly (still have my heart in my mouth though). A textured doormat at the turn tells him when he’s reached the point where he has to change direction.

It occurred to me the other day as I watched him coming down (having first negotiated his way past Fizz who was lying on her back at the top waving her paws at him) that it must take a tremendous amount of courage to do it. But he never hesitates.

I’ve tried doing it with my eyes closed and hanging on to the banister which is scary enough, but he has nothing to hang on to - once he's committed that first paw, there's no going back.

I’ve long since taken the baby gate away and he’ll often go downstairs without me even noticing he’s gone. In fact he makes his way round the house and garden with such ease that you wouldn't know he was blind.

In his quiet way he's a brave old thing.

He used to be frightened of children too!

Thursday 3 October 2013

Today is the Day!

Fizz is at the vet’s to be spayed and micro-chipped. I know a lot of places will do kittens earlier than 6 months, but our vets like to wait until they weigh at least 2 kilos. Which she does.

She’s been so desperate to go outside and although she’s been out a few times – supervised – the worry has always been that she’ll escape.

We’ve had her for four months now and it is incredible how much she’s grown. I had forgotten how fast they change from tiny kittens...

 to young cats...

I asked the nurse for advice about whether to get another kitten to keep her company as I’ve never had one alone before, and she said that if we have a lot of cats living nearby – we do – she would make friends if she wants to. Still tempted though.

There is a young cat near us who comes up and looks at her through the window. Always the same one. He (or she, I’m not sure) is only about a year old and very pretty. I hope they’re looking forward to meeting up and being friends – and not trying to murder each other!

She likes to curl up with Indy beside my chair – that’s when she isn’t playing with the wires under my desk or turning off the switch which shuts everything down!

Sometimes Indy doesn’t realise she’s already on the bed – and you know how cats don’t like to move – he flops down on top of her. There’s no screeching or anger from her though, she just wriggles out from underneath and settles back down next to him.

He trips over her sometimes as he can’t see her, but she does have to learn to get out of his way.

She adores him and follows him round everywhere, but I think it still puzzles her that he won’t play, no matter how much she chases his tail or pats his face. He seems a little lost today without his little shadow.

She’s destroyed most of my indoor plants, climbs up the curtains, pulls up the carpets, throws things on the floor, stamps on my keyboard, turns off the modem… And she curls up on my chest, puts her paws round my neck and gives the most wonderful cuddles.

Indy's not the only one missing her!

Tuesday 1 October 2013

The Writer's Friend - Everyone Needs a Lynne

Two of my favourite things here today. My lovely friend, Lynne Hackles and a writing bargain.

First of all the bargain is her latest book, Handy Hints for Writers which is available as an ebook for just 99p for the next couple of weeks from Amazon UK and for $1.60 from Amazon

Lynne’s book is packed not just with hints and advice for writers, but with inspiration and encouragement which is just typical Lynne! If you’ve ever read her columns in the writing magazines or her previous books or been lucky enough to go to one of her talks, you’ll know just how brilliant she is at bringing out the writer in you.

If you saw her on Deal or No Deal a few years ago when she reached the point where she’d won 10p or £75,000, you’ll also know that she’s got guts and determination.

As well as offering her book at a bargain price, Lynne has kindly agreed to let me turn the tables and ask her some questions.

How would you describe yourself as a writer?

As a butterfly because I flit from one thing to another. I often wish I could have settled on just one genre and be a chick-lit author or crime writer or children’s writer. But that’s not me. Ask the LSO (Long Suffering One) what I’m like in the kitchen or the garden or when we’re decorating and he’ll tell you I flit from one job to another. He leaves me weeding in one corner of the flower bed and when he next looks I’m doing my Lady bit and dead-heading the roses. I’m a butterfly whatever I do.

I can identify with that, Lynne, but is there something you really enjoy writing more than anything else?

The honest answer may be that I love any writing when it comes easy and I’m in the zone.

Your writing space – it’s a question you’ve asked of a lot of writers, but now I’m asking you. Do you have a dedicated writing room and what’s in it?

We’ve just moved house and my writing room is the back bedroom which has stunning views over the Severn Valley. I can see Worcester Cathedral but try not to look too often. What’s it got in it? Tinned food, baking tins, lots of stuff that should be in the kitchen and is currently stored along one wall of my room waiting for the kitchen units to be ready. The builders left a few days ago and we’ve work to flit about doing before my room can be cleared.

It sounds wonderful (the view I mean)! Any lucky mascots/charms on your desk?

Assorted crystals. A stone which has Magic Happens written on it. A gold slipper made from wire which serves as a pen holder. My spell dish – a pretty green dish filled with crystals which has a candle in the middle and names of friends around the edges. These are the friends who need healing thoughts sent to them. I light the candle every day and send them all good wishes.

I think that is a lovely thing to do. I happen to know that being in your spell dish and your thoughts is a very special feeling! So, your writing day – do you have a set routine, or go with the flow?

A set routine definitely. I check emails, check Facebook (even though I almost never post anything), visit a few blogs, do an online crossword and finally I set my kitchen timer for 25 minutes and get down to some work. Then I have a cup of tea. Then I repeat the last two steps and keep repeating until lunchtime.

I know you are fortunate enough to have a wonderful LSO, but what one thing that he does/has done is the most precious to you?

Against all odds, he didn’t die when he had a massive heart attack and his kidneys and everything else were closing down. He said he knew I’d shout at him if he popped his clogs.

That's a lovely answer. Do you hire out your LSO for those writers not fortunate enough to have one?

I’m sure there are more than a few writers he wouldn’t mind being hired out to but I keep him busy.

Quite right too! Is there any form of writing that you haven’t tried, but want to?

There is something and I’m not going to talk about it as I’m about to try it.

Good luck with it, Lynne. I know that talking about things when they’re still in your head can kill them dead so I don’t blame you for keeping it under wraps! When did you start writing? Did anything prompt you or is it something you’ve always done.

When I was at Junior school I told my teacher I wanted to be the next Enid Blyton. I stopped writing at Grammar school when a bad teacher destroyed my confidence. I restarted when I had to spend a year in bed because of a bad back (like Katy Did).

It’s amazing how many of us have to get past bad teachers. I’m so glad you found it again, but not that you had to have a bad back to do it!
Did you have a “Lynne” when you started? Any one person that helped you at the very beginning?

A wonderful writer called R. T. Plumb (Roy) encouraged me when I joined a writer’s group. He’d written novels plus over 40 stories for Radio 4.

He really does sound wonderful.
What do you think is the biggest mistake would-be writers make?

They don’t learn about the business side and they don’t think market research is necessary. I’ve written everything I’ve learned in my new book, Handy Hints for Writers. That should help new writers and refresh (and amuse) more experienced ones.

And finally, I have to ask this: Is Noel Edmunds as nice as he appears?

He is such a professional and helps put the contestants on Deal or No Deal at ease. During an interval in my show we went outside for some fresh air and I told him about the LSO’s heart attacks. Noel immediately went back in to ask Colin (LSO) if he was all right. He told him to put up his hand if he felt ill and filming would stop so he could have a rest or a coffee. Then Noel told me I was enough to give Colin a heart attack! My car, a bright yellow little Ka is called Noelly after one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Sorry, I do ramble. The answer was YES.

Thank you so much, Lynne. And you don’t ramble at all! I’ve really enjoyed having you here.

Just a reminder. Handy Hints for Writers is available at the special price of 99p until the end of the month.

I strongly recommend reading any of Lynne’s books, but I’m going to leave the last word to someone who knows what she’s talking about and I think sums it up perfectly!

“Every writer needs a friend like Lynne Hackles. This book is the next best thing.” Jane Wenham-Jones.

I couldn’t agree more!