3 min read
03 Aug

I’m still fairly new to this writing malarkey and it doesn’t come easy. Solid gold advice from the professional copywriters in my freelance communities suggest writing about what you know and love to build up your confidence. Writing about your life outside work also shows your human side, which I think is particularly important for freelance, interim and remote workers - work teams can get to know you a tiny bit even though you may not work in their office.

As an aside, I’ve also just taken part in a qualitative research interview for Cambridge University, who are finding out the motivations and experiences of people who voluntarily work less than full-time. I have found answering that question difficult and the conversation I had with the researcher helped me to form a narrative, as I heard myself articulate the reasons in detail. A tip if you are struggling with your identity after a life change - find someone friendly but a little distant and talk to them.

I love cats and I’ve always wanted to share my home with one or two - I know them better than to say ‘own’ one - you just don’t. I grew up with Tony who was a kitten when I was born and reached the grand age of eighteen - so he’s been gone a long time now. Astro could knock your feet from under you when he charged, but he succumbed to a car. Tigger was a cuddly cutie who tolerated my loving embraces but he too no longer pads this earth - one day he just...died. There were others, but by then I’d moved out. Family cats that I was not fully responsible for.

For the next twenty years I was cat-less, although a bit of a whisperer, even the shyest of felines would approach, takes one to know one, I guess (not to be mistaken for stand-offish). Holiday photo albums are peppered with snaps of hotel/resort/island cats from lands afar. But even when we became a household of two we still never got one of our own. No pets allowed / road too busy / home too late / away overnight too often. But I knew exactly what I wanted: young and agile; short-haired and a tabby.

Our first experience was to foster, about 18 months ago now. Bit of an unusual situation, but we were asked by the sellers of our current house if we could look after their boy, Sox, in their old/our new home. They were moving temporarily to a flat (long story), didn’t want him in long-term boarding and knew from our visits that we loved cats. Sox lived with us for 3 months. They had access, of course, but it was strange for them (and us) to come back to their old house - especially when his lordship used to refuse to greet them.

That was useful for us because without any expenses (his owners provided his food etc.) we got into the swing of caring for a moggy and being a family of three. Knowing it was short-term though I kept him at arms-length. Well, I say that, but he slept on our bed at night. How were we to know that his owners didn’t allow that and shut him in the kitchen (with a heated basket.) Oops. Sox was a short-hair tabby and after he left us I was on the rescue centre websites in search of his doppelgangers.

Cue Chester. Only he didn’t come from a rescue centre, he just sauntered on in through the open kitchen door and lay down.  I wasn’t keen, I have to say. The antithesis of my vision, Chester is a middle-aged, ginger long-hair. With a freckled nose, a wonky tooth and a ton of attitude. Too late, my husband fed him some tidbits. So ‘Not Our Cat’ as he was then known visited daily. He wasn’t a stray though and a little detective work located his owners. Neighbours warned us to be careful, he’d hospitalised one of them with a vicious bite but he has never attacked us (yet.)

After a few weeks Chester increased the length of his visits and when his owners let new kittens out for the first time we reckoned he was probably seeking a quieter house where he could get a bit more attention. We fed him a little bit sometimes, but mostly he just slept - and he was put outside in the evening if he was still around. The existing cat flap was fixed shut so he couldn’t come and go as he pleased. His owners put their house up for sale and when it sold we knew that we’d have to speak with them. But we never quite got around to it…(BTW don’t put off those tricky conversations, just do it.)

The moving van arrived over the road and we were poised to go and reveal Chester’s whereabouts as they packed up the last bits and pieces. Comedy interlude as one of their other cats escaped his carrier and shot back in through their cat flap...just after they had dropped their keys off with the estate agent. My husband helped lure kitty back outside with some treats we had and used that opportunity to agree properly with the neighbour that we would keep Chester. They were planning to leave him anyway because they had figured out he was being well cared for by other people and he only returned to theirs periodically at that stage. 

We have now trained him to use our cat-flap, although he rarely does if there’s a human about to open the door for him. We did relax him being shut in the kitchen at night, only to reinstate that rule after two live mice in the hallway incidents - one was rescued and set free, the other was eaten whole, I’m afraid. He’s got a basket that he won’t sleep in, preferring the chic brocade armchair (now covered with a raggedy cat blanket.) And he most definitely is not allowed on the leather suite, except he does, if he sits on a towel. And since, to Chester, shut door = bad and (certain) people = good, his ‘day room’ is the guest bedroom next to my office. 

He. Sheds. Fur. All. The. Time. 

[His coat needs daily grooming, I’m still working on the trust for him to let me do his more vulnerable areas. I have learned to move away fast. Very fast.]

As a co-worker, he can be a real dick. He will happily sleep for 16+ hours a day but choose the 30 mins that I’m on a conference call to miaow loudly and scratch the carpet (for attention.) Or sits right across the top of the stairs, forcing me to vault him if the postman rings the bell. My desk was a squeeze when he wedged himself between the wall and the screen to sleep. But like a human colleague he can be a fun distraction if you need thinking-time away from your computer. Cats are creatures of habit so let you know that it’s lunchtime or hometime even if you’d be tempted to carry on working. 

He has many toys he doesn’t play with, although he can’t resist the LED laser dot however hard he tries to be nonchalant. To be fair, he’s basically nocturnal and is usually knackered in the day from whatever he’s been up to. Judging by some of the carcasses, I’m not sure that I want to know everything he does.  We don’t go away very often these days, but we have found an awesome home sitter who visits twice a day for a feed, brush and playtime. Videos are sent so we can see how he’s doing. 

I’m under no illusion that Chester is as attached to us as we are to him and we’re pretty sure that he still has multiple households, he may simply bugger off one day. If you’re a cat lover and haven’t come across them, look up the ‘On The Prowl’ series by Rupert Fawcett or ‘Simon’s Cat’ on YouTube.

So, a whole blog post unrelated to work for my own indulgence. But is it just about Chester? It’s also a proxy outlet for the other caring roles that I can’t talk about in much detail without inadvertently identifying anyone. (I work in a school and a hospice on a voluntary basis.) 

Remember how I wanted a cat but my vision anti-Chester? It took him to make the first move, but I’m glad he did. Sometimes, if you are too fixed on a view of how something (a cat...person/project/job) should be, you run the risk of missing out on an opportunity that is a far better fit for you in the long run. Embrace new and unexpected experiences even if it takes you off-plan.

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