Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Recipe for the New Year

Oh dear, this was going to be no more than a brief note, a simple message designed to wish you a very happy New Year.  Then, I stopped to ponder . . . and, yes, you can guess the consequences.

If you're busy after Christmas, and would rather have no more than the brief note, then please feel free to stop here.  But, if you'd like to share the journey . . .  and I'd love to have you . . .  you're very welcome to come.

Tell me, have you ever stopped to consider the word 'new?
It is, as I've discovered, nowhere near as simple and uncomplicated as you'd think.

To the modern world, 'new'  doesn't merely mean 'freshly arrived', it's also synonymous with 'improved'.  When we read 'New Recipe!' emblazoned on a dish in the supermarket, the words imply that the old version was lacklustre and flavourless.  This 'new recipe', on the other hand, offers all the mouthwatering appeal that the old one lacked.  True, this is a marketing ploy, but it wouldn't be so successful were we not conditioned to expect the multiple benefits implied by the word 'new'.

Which brings us to the fast-approaching New Year.  Seen in these terms, a new year is not merely a change in the date . . . the time for a new diary and a new calendar on the wall . . . it has far more excitement to offer.  The approaching year is introducing a new ingredient into our lives.  It is, so we hope, improving the recipe.

Wouldn't you agree that we need a new recipe?  Three-hundred-and-sixty-five days are as much as we can take in the dish labelled '2013'.   Weary in the middle of winter, burdened by the old year's accumulation of events, we need the concept of renewal . . . the offer of a new opportunity, the promise of a fresh chance.

So, what is a New Year?  Surely it's no more than a date, a label stuck at random on a revolving planet?   Maybe, but that label is critical to us.

Around the globe, as tradition dictates, the clocks will reach midnight in slow sequence. One after the other, the bells will ring out and the old year will pass into history.

What can we expect in 2014?

It would seem that there are two aspects to a New Year.  There's that over which we have no control . . . the slings and arrows, and the unexpected blessings.  Then there's the 'new and improved recipe'  . . .  our contribution to the menu.

The ingredients for that recipe are the same powerful mixture that has dominated man's actions down the centuries . . . but, as always, it's up to us which ones we'll select for the year ahead.
Might I suggest a nutritious blend of 'love', 'trust' and 'collaboration' . . .  mixed with 'care' and liberally seasoned with 'gratitude'?

Whatever awaits . . .  may it prove a happy and truly nourishing New Year for all of us.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Remember Me?

Do you remember me?  I've never known
A chance acquaintance with the clarity
That I knew you.  Eyes met in unity;
I read your mind, in truth it was my own,
And gathered not from words but from your tone
Of voice that you enjoyed this harmony
Of total understanding.  Eagerly,
As children do, we shared all we had grown
To know and love - yet rarely could explain -
Until the moment of our parting came.
We buttoned up our coats to leave the train
And knew that it could never be the same
Were we so foolish as to meet again.
It's strange to think I never knew your name.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hats off to Christmas!

Would we have heard about the nativity play in Neath had it not been for the saga of the hard hat?  I doubt it.  But that hard hat carried the story into the headlines.

In case it didn't reach you, this Welsh nativity play was due to feature Mary, accompanied by Joseph, riding on a donkey through the streets of Neath.  A simple and straightforward dramatisation of the Christmas story . . . or so one would have thought.

But, no!  It appears that, according to the small print in the insurance specifications, in order to travel by donkey through the streets of Neath, Mary needed to be wearing a hard hat . . . no hard hat, no arrival at the inn, no baby in the manger, no Christmas!

Surprisingly enough, it would seem that the majority of our Christmas celebrations have passed below the radar of the Dept. of Health and Safety.
Perhaps this is just as well.  Were they to notice what's truly going on, surely they'd consider Christmas a potential disaster zone?

For a start, Santa greeting all those children in his grotto . . . there's no doubt that, under any vigilant Health and Safety regulations, he'd need to be clean-shaven.  Just think how many lethal germs could be lurking in those luxuriant whiskers.

Then there's the ubiquitous Christmas tree, carelessly festooned with dangerous fairy-lights and scattering unsanitary pine needles on the carpet . . .  all of the trees would need to be stripped and banished to the nearest timber yard.

As for the hazardous candles that crop up everywhere over the festive season . . . heaven knows what conflagrations they could cause if not banned during the celebrations.

Finally, what about potential dangers on the Christmas table itself . . . what about crackers?
The explosives are too feeble to cause any anxiety, but the jokes would definitely need to be removed.  Can't you imagine the consequences if someone read a joke whilst simultaneously eating his nuts at the end of the Christmas meal?  There could well be an outburst of choking and spluttering . . . maybe even the need to dial 999 . . . no, definitely no jokes.

Yet, when we stop to think about it, Christmas is all about celebrating a birth . . . and what could be more dangerous, less protected, than birth itself?  The baby has no hard hat to shield it on its daunting journey from the womb to the outside world.  The mother has no contract guaranteeing a pain-free delivery.

The process of birth is hazardous, painful and uncertain.
To conceive and give birth to anything, be it a project or a baby, is to take a step into the unknown . . . to voluntarily move away from the familiar and the comfortable and to place your trust in an unexperienced and possibly harmful process.  You are willingly laying yourself open to limitless potential, but with no guarantee of safety.

It's nearly decision time, which shall we trust . . . the unprotected, unlimited promise of Christmas or a hard hat?
Give me that unlimited promise any day!

Which reminds me . . .  was this the genuine article speeding past my bus window in the High Street yesterday morning?
He doesn't seem to be wearing a hard hat, so perhaps it was!

Monday, December 9, 2013

I hum, therefore I am

Have you heard of a project called 'Aberdeen Humming'?
I was intrigued when mention of it was made on the radio . . . this is what I discovered.

A few weeks ago, at the instigation of Suk-Jun Kim, a Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, the people of that city were encouraged to visit what was called a Humming Booth.  Working on the basis that humming is a private act, the booth was designed to urge those who came to offer their favourite hums . . . to invite others into their personal space.

I seems that the people of Aberdeen were happy to respond to this unusual invitation . . . if you'd like to, you can listen to the half-hour compilation tape.

All of which made me think . . . it's true, isn't it.  When we sing, we sing to others.  When we hum, we hum to ourselves.  Not only that, whereas song flows out of the mouth and away from the singer, humming penetrates deep inside and resonates with the body.

At this point I need to come clean and make an admission.
I am one of those irritating people who, albeit unconsciously, hum to themselves as they walk along . . . what you might call a compulsive hummer.

Not surprisingly, this increased my interest in the Aberdeen experiment.
What, I wondered, was so special about humming?

It turns out that humming is special, and it's special for many reasons.  Let me share some of them with you . . .  who knows, I may even encourage you to adopt my bad habit!

Firstly, did you know that humming slows down your breathing rate?  Apparently, we normally inhale and exhale about sixteen times a minute.  However, when we are humming this is reduced to less than six.  Humming also brings down the heart rate, and reduces both stress levels and blood pressure . . . changes which can only be beneficial.

Not only that, did you know that humming can promote healing?  As we've agreed, we can feel the internal vibration set up by humming.  What I didn't know was that our atoms, molecules, cells, glands and organs all have their own distinct vibrations which respond to sound.

My humming may sound a tuneless blur to others, but it would seem that what I'm doing is literally fine-tuning the cells of my body.  Or, as the writer J.R. Savage puts it,  "Being the conductor of our own health can be achieved with simple, peaceful humming."

I also discovered that those of us who hum are in very good company.  Mozart, for one, is known to have hummed as he composed in the knowledge that sound stimulates the brain.  On a more mundane level, exponents of high-speed reading recommend that the reader hums as he reads.  Humming, it appears, enables you to both achieve and maintain a high level of concentration . . . but it does make you wonder whether a gathering of high-speed readers mightn't be a rather noisy occasion!

So . . . let's review the remarkable benefits of humming.  It reduces stress . . . promotes health . . . increases creativity . . . and speeds brain activity.

Is there anything more?  Yes, there is, and my final discovery was possibly the most riveting of them all.

Did you know that The Earth itself is humming?

If you don't believe me, listen to the words of Mark Morford, an award-winning American columnist:

" . . . scientists now say the planet itself is generating a constant, deep thrum of noise.  No mere cacophony, but actually a kind of music, huge, swirling loops of sound, a song so strange you can't really fathom it, so low it can't be heard by human ears . . . countless notes of varying vibration creating all sorts of curious tonal phrases that bounce around the mountains and spin over the oceans and penetrate the tectonic plates and gurgle in the magma and careen off the clouds and smack into trees and bounce off your ribcage . . ."

Isn't that a wonderful mental picture?
Who knows, could it be that this sensed, if unheard, humming of The Earth, encourages our own music-making?  That this constant background music generates a need for us to join the planetary orchestra?

In participating we confirm our unity with the music of the spheres.
I hum, therefore I am.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Be-wondered and Bewildered

I'm a convert . . . I willingly admit it.  I'm a total convert to the power, beauty and vital necessity of mycelium, or, as it's better known, fungi.  And, as every convert is gripped with a compelling desire to convert others, may I share some fascinating facts with you?

"I see the mycelium," writes the mycologist, Paul Stamets, "as the Earth's natural internet."

It's a mind-blowing concept.
In my ignorance I'd thought of fungi only in relation to mushrooms, which I much enjoy, toadstools, which add to the beauty of the woodland floor, and the largely unseen fungi which carry out the necessary work of breaking down dead matter.  Little did I appreciate their complexity . . . or their essential role in our survival.

Although we have named our planet 'The Earth', we seem to give little thought to the earth itself.  How rarely do we stop to consider the soil beneath our hurrying feet.  Yet, with the exception of fungi, every living thing, in order to survive and flourish, extracts nourishment from the soil.  Plants draw out its goodness, animals graze on what it produces, we feed from it and exploit its concealed energy sources and minerals.  Without the soil, a source that we plunder so unthinkingly, life on the planet would not exist.

All of which brings us to the vital question:  what creates and sustains soil?
Yes, you've guessed . . . only the fungi perform this essential role, thereby producing a fertile environment for the creation of life.

Forget the Redwood, the Totara and the Cedar of Lebanon,  the largest organism on the planet is not a species of tree, but fungi.   Incredible as it may seem, a single field of fungi has been known to stretch out to one thousand, four hundred acres . . . a positive suburban town of underground organic growth.

But could it be that fungi has something else to tell us, something on a completely different level?

When we look at a hollow tree it's easy to make the mistake of thinking that it has lost its heart.  This, in fact, is the reverse of the truth.  A tree, as one might say, wears its heart on its sleeve.  The centre of a tree is no more than dead wood.  The 'heart' . . . the living, growing substance . . . is the layer nearest to the bark, the layer in closest contact with the outside world.  When fungi devour the centre of a tree and create a space, they are, at the same time, removing what is no longer needed and rendering the tree more flexible and supple.

A hollow tree, cleared of its dead interior, can withstand the storm that will topple its rigid neighbour.  A hollow tree, in addition to providing warmth and shelter to many woodland species, will also live considerably longer than those who remain intact.

Might it be wise were we to follow their example . . . to discard the dead elements of our past and move forward unencumbered by their rigidity and weight?

I thought of fungi the other day.  Investigating a rarely opened drawer in my bureau, I came across a package of letters tied up with string.  They were the letters I'd sent home from boarding school, letters cherished by my parents as proof of their daughter's enjoyment of her new life.  I won't say how many years they'd lain there forgotten in the drawer.

Had I opened even one of those envelopes and started to read, I wouldn't have been able to destroy them.  But they were 'dead wood', my parents were no longer here to value them, the letters represented the past . . . a happy period, but the past.

I thought of the fungi as, without undoing the string, I dropped the package into the re-cycling bag.  Am I a little more flexible without them . . .?   I hope so.

Perhaps it's wildlife photographer, Louie Schwartzberg, who best sums up my feelings on the amazing world around and below us,

"I am lost in be-wonderment and bewilderment," he says, "at the complexity of nature."

Be-wondement and bewilderment . . . I completely agree.
Wo knows . . . a regular bowl of Mushroom Soul might help me to absorb the wisdom of the fungi!

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Hunting Season!

It's Chloe here.
I'm sorry if you were expecting my Mum, but I wanted to send you a quick note . . .  when the story is all about me you can't be sure that my Mum will get the facts right, so it's best if I get a word in first.

Did you know that this is the Hunting Season?
It's the most exciting time of the year . . .  let me explain.

When it comes to hunting, my life can be a little restricted.  If it's too wet to go into the garden I'm limited to paw-play with the vacuum cleaner . . . which is good fun, and I like to help my Mum with the housework, but it's not what an energetic cat would call exciting.

Or, if it's wildlife I want, I can always get up close and personal with the black duck on Mum's umbrella . . . but , with all due respect to him, he's a rather stupid and very dumb duck.

All of this keeps me on my toes, but it's not nearly as much fun as proper out-of-doors hunting.

However, and this is the exciting thing, out-of-doors hunting becomes even more exciting in the autumn.

Have you noticed that in the autumn the trees are covered, absolutely covered, with things called nuts?
There are small ones called acorns, and bigger ones called chestnuts, and lovely shiny ones called conkers . . . I'm getting quite an expert on nuts.  
Not only that, when the wind blows they all come tumbling down from the trees and make a crunchy carpet under your paws.

Nuts are great fun to play with, but what really puzzles me is that the squirrels love to eat them.  They really do!

I tried an acorn once, when my Mum wasn't looking and, believe you me, they're not a patch on free-range chicken.  But dozens of squirrels come visiting our garden every day just to tuck in.

So . . . squirrels love hunting nuts . . . I love hunting squirrels . . . all of which, as I'm sure you'll agree, proves that autumn is the perfect hunting season!

Mind you, I'm careful.  Squirrels don't always play fair . . . I can't speak 'squirrel', but it's jolly clear that whatever their jabbering is about, it isn't very polite . . .  and, I don't know if you've noticed, but even the smallest squirrel has very big front teeth!

Now, the reason for this letter is to tell you about something very exciting that happened just the other day!

My Mum and I were walking in the garden, looking up at all those squirrels leaping about in the branches, when, suddenly, I heard a definite rustling sound right down by our feet.  And, stagger my whiskers, there was a squirrel, hidden deep in the ivy, with the tips of its ears sticking up through the leaves!
He hadn't seen me . . . but I'd seen him!

Well . . . you can guess what any resourceful cat would do given an opportunity like that.

I leaped as high as I possibly could and landed, 'Plonk!', right on top of that squirrel . . . who wriggled out from under me and shot up the nearest tree.

Now, I'm sure you won't make the same stupid mistake that my Mum made.
To my annoyance, she thought that I'd actually been trying to catch that squirrel.  In fact, she burst out laughing, which was very rude, and told me that squirrels had fleas, and that all I'd probably caught was a flea!

Of course I wasn't trying to catch that squirrel.
Who in their senses would want to catch a squirrel?  What could I do with it?  I'd hardly want to bring it home to eat up my food, monopolise my favourite toys, and pinch my bed.

Who could possibly want to have a troublesome squirrel in their house?  Definitely not me!

No, all I'd wanted to do was to give that squirrel a surprise . . . to show it that I wasn't the pushover it thought I was . . . and that's exactly what I did!

Mind you, jumping on squirrels and hunting for squirrels is all rather tiring for a small cat.
After a celebratory lunch I settled down for a well-earned sleep on the sofa.

I know you'll understand what really happened, and that you won't make the same silly mistake that my Mum made.
If she tells you that I couldn't catch a squirrel, and could only catch a flea . . . please, can I rely on you to put her right?

And I didn't catch a flea!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Unknown Factor

I can accept, because I'm told it's true
And observation prompts me to agree,
That what I'm standing on so trustingly -
This solid earth, this globe on which I grew
Whose complex, multi-featured face I view
As home - is circling, spinning endlessly
Around the sun.  What's more, it logically
Can be perceived that other planets do
The same.  But telescopes can't show who wrote
The music for this stately, stellar dance;
Nor find the wisdom that controls each note
And scored the moonlight that it might enhance
The darkened earth.  What steers each cosmic boat
Through boundless space?  The hand of God - or chance?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Hello, Good News!

As I'm sure you've noticed, phones are dominating the news at the moment.
From the phone hacking case at The Old Bailey, to the constant trickle of leaked news telling us of NSA's phone tapping activities in Europe . . . phones, their users and their interceptors are everywhere.

But what strikes me as rather sad is the fact that this news is universally bad.  By and large, any good news relating to phones slips unnoticed under the radar of the media.

Which is not to say that there isn't good news on this subject.  There is.  I've just learned of one particular, heart-warming item that fully deserves publicity . . . may I share it with you?

Talking about his forthcoming book, 'Empathy', and urging all of us to join what he terms 'The Empathy Revolution', Roman Krznaric (portrayed in this lively sketch by Andrew Park) spoke of an unlikely project that has been sowing fertile seeds of hope in the Middle East.

Under the name, 'Hello, Peace!', it was launched in December 2002 by 'The Parents' Circle' . . .  an organisation based in Israel and Palestine which 'promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge'.
As its name implies, 'Hello, Peace!' involves phone calls . . . unexpected and life-changing phone calls.

Under this imaginative scheme, anyone in the region who has suffered bereavement on account of the prolonged conflict, can make a free phone call 'over the wall' and communicate with a similar sufferer on the other side.

By these means, bereaved Palestinians are able to speak freely for up to half-an-hour to bereaved Israelis.  Bereaved Israelis can reach out and make contact with bereaved Palestinians.  They can share their mutual grief, build up an understanding, and, by talking and listening, form an empathetic link.

Neither side is in search of an outlet for anger, it is the empathy formed with someone who is experiencing a loss similar to their own that creates a tangible bond . . . a bond that can be both healing and sustaining, a bond that can lead to peace.

The figures alone stand testament to the success of this inspired project.  Over a million calls were made in the first five years of its availability.

In the words of Roman Krznaric, "Empathy, the imaginative act of stepping into another person's shoes and viewing the world from their perspective, is a radical tool for social change and should be a guide for the art of living."

Wouldn't you agree that boundary-breaking projects, such as this, bring home the truth  that we need each other . . . that we are part of each other?  What's more, that given the opportunity and the encouragement, we can grow together in wisdom and understanding.

Let me share a phrase I read recently, 'We are not human beings,' it declared, 'we are human becomings'.
Along with everything else in the universe, we are evolving . . becoming more aware . . . becoming more conscious of our inter-dependence, our basic unity.

At a level familiar to all of us, just watch a group of football supporters after their team has scored a goal.  Whilst bad news freezes and isolates, so good news clearly liberates and unites.

True, when it comes to football matches there might be a divergence of views between the opposing teams.  But were a free phone link to be made available after the match, there would still be a strong point of empathy between supporters on both sides . . . a shared deep love of the game.

So . . .  if we're looking for front-page headlines that lift our spirits, promote understanding, and generally unite us, wouldn't you say that the moving news of 'Hello, Peace!' far outweighs the nefarious activities of international phone-tappers?

We don't need a free phone link to agree on that!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The little grey cells in action . . .

Tell me, were I to offer you a name, the name of 'Hercule Poirot', what would come into your mind?
Would it be a small, dapper figure with a waxed moustache . . . Agatha Christie's Belgium detective as portrayed, for so many years, by David Suchet?
We are all familiar with the mannered walk, the impeccable attire, the courteous doff of the hat.  But what is it, in particular, that embodies this interpretation of Poirot?

In an absorbing interview, given at the launch of a new series, David Suchet contended that personality is embodied not in appearance, but in the sound we make . . . hence 'personality', which stems from its Latin root, 'per sona'.  We are 'our sound', and it is this unique, instantly recognisable sound which carries within it our inner essence.  By this understanding, it is not the physical image, but the clipped tones, distinctive accent and modulated delivery that constitute the essence of an unforgetable Hercule Poirot.

David Suchet's comments caused me to ponder and realise how much we react to sound rather than words.  Wouldn't you agree that whilst our minds react to the information in the words we hear, our emotions respond to the truth contained in the sound.  If the speaker's tone runs counter to the words being spoken, you'll ignore the import of the words and place your trust in the tone.

Nor is it just the sound of the voice.  I'm sure you've noticed how film-makers use their knowledge of sound to skilfully manipulate our feelings.

A person walks into shot and immediately you know you are encountering one of the 'bad guys'.  How do you know this?  It's the music that tells you. To make certain that you are not led astray by any fanciful notions of your own, the music anticipates every turn of the plot with appropriate under-scoring, and never fails to pull out the sweeping strings for an orchestrated happy ending.  Words are superfluous . . . the background music is a wholly reliable narrator.

In his recent, absorbing radio series entitled 'The Science of Music', Robert Winston explored this subject from a scientific viewpoint . . . successfully proving that the sound of music plays a much larger part in our lives that I'd ever imagined.

Music, it would seem, is the universal language.  Voiced by every aspect of creation, it is found everywhere.  I hadn't realised, had you, that there is no region of the world where music is not an inseparable aspect of human existence?

Not only, as we've seen, does it activate our emotions, but it also forms the essence of communication.  We convince ourselves that words are all-important, that language dominates.  Don't you believe it . . . our larynx, it appears, was designed to produce far more subtle sounds than those needed for speech.

Could it be recognition of the communication and unity achieved by sound that has given rise to the recent popularity of choral singing?

According to a scientific study, members of a choir not only breathe together, but their hearts beat in unison . . . physical  bodies, it seems, can be woven by music into choral coherence.

Whether it be the tone of the voice or the music of the spheres, sound both unites and informs.  It is common to all of us . . . and, as we now know,  it is one of many mysteries effectively solved by the little grey cells of Hercule Poirot!

Monday, October 21, 2013

A message on the wall . . .

I wonder, do we affect the world around us more profoundly than we realise?

This thought came to mind the other day after I'd been chatting to a friend.  She had, so she told me, just spent a peaceful ten minutes seated in our local church.  It had been quiet and restful . . . it had helped her to make sense of her rather hectic life.  Churches, we both agreed, provide the ideal beneficial space for reflection.

I was pondering on our conversation afterwards.  Why, I wondered, should churches offer this sustenance?
It can't just be the quiet of a large, empty building . . . a large, empty warehouse is unlikely to provide the same benefit.  It can't be the chance of meeting someone for a chat . . . on the contrary, another person moving around in the church can be a distraction.

No, this sense of strength, support and companionship resonates from within the empty building itself.  It descends on you as you settle comfortably in a pew, it envelops you as you lean back and start to relax . . . it was there before you arrived and it will remain there long after you've risen to your feet and gone on your way.

True, there's the pervasive essence of the divine . . . there might even be visiting angels . . . but there's more to it than that.
Could it be that we are tapping into the intensity of worship and music that has, over the years, seeped into the fabric of the building?  There are similarities to visiting a library and taking a book down from a shelf, only in this instance the support is available just by sitting quietly in a pew and absorbing what's there. You are not alone with your thoughts, you are at one with a myriad thoughts and melodies that have accumulated over the centuries.

I'm sure this experience is familiar to you.  And would you agree that whilst it's our finer qualities that have seeped into the walls of churches, our negative emotions are equally capable of making their impact elsewhere?

Many years ago, I was working with a camera crew inside the Old Bailey.  We were shooting a feature film, and I needed an office on location.  The only quiet space available for me was the cramped, claustrophobic cell below the courtroom.  The cell from which the prisoner ascends directly into the dock.

Never, before or since, have I felt more ill as ease . . .  or been in conditions more redolent of misery and anger.  What was more, it seemed to have become a longstanding tradition for each prisoner to record the nature of their charge on the walls of the cell.  In scrawled lettering, some faded, some recent, words such as 'murder', 'rape', 'assault' and 'arson' cried out for attention.
You could feel the anger, the violence and the despair in the handwriting . . . the fear was palpable.

It may be different now  . .  who knows, they may have scrubbed the writing from the walls.  Nonetheless, one thing is certain, no amount of soap and water could eradicate the misery that permeated that stonework.
I know . . . I worked there.

Which brings us back to our original question, could it be that our emotions, albeit unvoiced, permeate the physical world around us?
If so, a further question presents itself . . . a personal question.

Emotion, or 'energy-in-motion' as the word implies, is part of our being.  It's the part that we are constantly giving away . . . our responsibility.

Just think of it . . .  at any given moment, you and I and everyone else are packaging up our emotions and leaving them embedded in our environment as offerings to the future.

So, what's the message that I'm posting on the walls of my flat as I sit here writing this morning?

It's nothing complicated . . .   it's just gratitude.
Gratitude for the pleasure of being able to share these thoughts with you . . . and let's talk about those angels some time in the future!

Monday, October 14, 2013

A blip for a Therapy Cat

It had to happen, Chloe's career as a Therapy Cat had to experience a blip . . . and, sad to say, it happened this week.
As you've heard all about the 'ups', I suppose I shouldn't keep quiet about the 'downs'.

Chloe has established a regular routine at the nursing home.  Not only does she know exactly where to go, which rooms to enter and which to hurry past, but, in each of the rooms she visits she has a chosen place to position herself.  In one room it's a purple chair . . . in another a green stool . . . each position chosen so that the patient she's visiting can fully appreciate just what a good little girl she is.

If  only Chloe were half as good at home as she is at the nursing home . . . but that's another story.

Last week we arrived to discover that there was a new patient on our list . . . Monica had moved in and had expressed a desire to meet the visiting cat.

The introductory meeting went off without a hitch.  Monica fell for Chloe who, in turn, was intrigued by Monica's highly decorative wooden duck.
Once Chloe had established her chosen position in this new room, there appeared to be no reason why everything shouldn't go smoothly.

As we entered Monica's room the following week I noticed that Chloe's new friend was looking rather excited.  She was clutching her handbag and eyeing us eagerly.
"I've a present for Chloe!" she announced.
After some brief fumbling in her bag, her frail hand drew out a small packet of cat-food . . . a gift that she must have asked one of the nursing staff to obtain for her.

Monica was eager and excited.  I was deeply touched.
But there was one imponderable in this otherwise happy scenario . . . how would Chloe react?

I knew Chloe . . . and it was here that my heart sank.  Whilst trying hard to look appreciative, I was worried.  Chloe is a fussy little so-and-so when it comes to her food.  Monica had been to a lot of trouble to get this gift.  What if Chloe failed to give it the enthusiastic reception it deserved?
No . . . it was a gamble I wasn't willing to take.

"How kind of you," I enthused, hurriedly reaching for the packet, "I'm afraid Chloe's not allowed to eat when she goes out.  We'll take it home with us . . . it will be a real treat for her lunch."

But my words fell on deaf ears.  Monica was already opening the drawer of her bedside table and reaching for a pair of scissors.  Egged on by a highly expectant Chloe, she snipped the top off the packet and tipped some of the contents onto the table.

Chloe sniffed eagerly, then, all too visibly, her face fell . . . it wasn't her favourite, fresh chicken breast . . .  it wasn't even her favourite dried cat food . . . registering total disinterest, she jumped to the floor.
Poor Monica was clearly shaken.

"There, you see . . . " I burst out, "just as I told you.  She knows she isn't allowed to eat when she goes out.  It's a shame, but she's a very obedient cat."
The 'very obedient cat' looked at me, slightly surprised at this unexpected commendation.
"I'll take it home," I insisted, shovelling the granules of rejected food back into the sachet, "she'll love having it for lunch."
I wasn't at all sure that Monica believed me.

There was only one thing to be done to try to save the situation.
Once safely home, I took out Chloe's feeding bowl.  Into it I put some of her favourite dried cat food, beside the bowl I placed the packet so kindly given to her by Monica . . . I then took out my camera.

Will Monica be fooled when I give her this photo next week?  I do hope so . . . it was such a kind and generous thought.
Let's hope that she doesn't examine the picture too closely and notice that the granules of Chloe's favourite cat food are slightly smaller than those squeezed out of the packet . . . a packet that was subsequently much enjoyed by the cat next door!

A blip in Chloe's unclouded record?  I'm afraid so.  But, knowing Chloe, I'm confident she'll now revert to being a wholly reliable and angelic Therapy Cat!