The smiling assassins …

There is no doubt that cats are at their best asleep … Not that I don’t love them when they’re awake but there is nothing more relaxing and therapeutic than a cat curling up to sleep on your knee. Well, unless you’re me, that is. Oh it’s great for a short time, then the fidgety legs kick in and I cannot stay still and so they de-camp and switch loyalties to enjoy the vast tundra that is Mike’s lap. Not that he is unoccupied for long, as our mob of moggies have all discovered the joy of perfect stillness. Not that Mike is a couch potato, far from it. At every possible moment he is out in the garden or his shed. When he does come in and is relaxed, he can stay still for a long time with anything up to 4 cats on or next to him. It’s a gift.

The one-way cat flapThe other reason I like them best when they’re asleep is that it’s the only time that all the little beasties are safe. I can’t be doing with dead little beasties offered up as tokens of respect and appreciation. Even less do I like LIVE little beasties flapping or scuttling around my house. My daughter maintains that we once moved house because the cat let a mouse go in the house. She ‘s not totally wrong. My motivation to find a new house was certainly revved up by the thought that this mouse could drop into my soup at any moment., although I had already been on the look-out (honestly).

We had been noticing our cat spending a lot if time looking up at a curtain rail. In the end, assuming it was a fly or spider that was mesmerising the cat, I decided to shake the curtain and a mouse bounced off my head, onto the floor. In sheer panic I locked myself into the downstairs loo and shouted My daughter, who was probably only about 6 at the time, to get her boots on and find the mouse!!! You have to understand that she was, even then, a shark loving, dinosaur expert who was not afraid of any living creature (except moths, and if forced to I could deal with those). Unfortunately nothing could be done to find this mouse and even a friend who worked for Rentakil and came armed with all his technical equipment (a shovel and a brush) had no more success.

Well ill we did move house and, to my undying shame and my daughter’s undying contempt, I re homed the cat. I know, I know. Despicable. But she did go to a good home, and I’ve learned my lesson, and all our animals have a good home for the rest of our lives and would be provided for beyond that if necessary. I’ve got no better at dealing with the wee timorous beasties but since Alex left home, Mike has taken over as mouse-tamer and,  if he’s not around,  I have to go out for the day and pretend it was all part of the plan.

We now have a proper cat flap but for a long time we’ve used a customs control sort of system. Show me you’re not “carrying” and I’ll let you in …but there was a cat flap that Mike designed some years ago. A one-way cat flap which it took one of our cats only seconds to work out. She could spring out one claw which would lever the flap up and then she’d put her head under it and climb in. The other slight problem was that the cat flap was cut out of the door itself and hung with it’s slightly uneven edges back in front of the opening with a rusty pair of hinges. More shabby cheek than shabby chic. It had to go and Mike was so fed up with me nagging him about the wind whistling through the gaps that he closed it permanently in the early hours with a six inch nail, but that’s his way, bless him.

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The art of relaxation

… Cats have it. Zen comes naturally to them. They literally can sleep on anything and during daytime hours, so can I. If I’m a passenger in the car, we’ve hardly reached the end of the road we live on before my chin is bouncing on my chest. I can catnap and wake up marvellously refreshed but once saw an article or heard a radio programme (can’t remember which) where tests have shown that 20 minutes is the optimum for a catnap. Less is not enough and more makes you feel more tired afterwards and makes it more difficult to “come round”.  I’ve made that mistake before and a short nap has turned into a couple of hours’ deep sleep leaving me feeling lethargic and heavy-limbed for the rest of the day and more restless than usual at night.

i’ve struggled with pillows for as long as I can remember.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an insomniac thank goodness, and I feel for the people who do suffer. For me it’s been a bad habit of working late at night when everything is quiet, and then struggling to get up in the morning. This started with a particularly heavy load of work some years ago, leading to me working on one portrait under a daylight bulb right through the night so I could deliver my last commission in time for Christmas. This was fortunately not a coloured piece of work as these can go badly wrong with the colours having to be re-adjusted the following day in real daylight,  so I tend to organise myself with colour work during the day and pencil work, admin or writing at night. I say organise with an ironic smile as I have very little organisation in my life – by choice – I don’t like routines or being pinned down to anything on a recurring basis, especially since retiring from “work” but I recognise that I could do with more discipline in my approach to my painting and writing. Order and discipline sound like they are the same thing but not in my life. For me, I can’t work in an untidy space, so I tend to have a problem with displacement activities, I think they’re called, ie  cleaning, tidying and reorganising when I should have the self-discipline to just paint.

So here I go rambling on and I have that kind of brain which doesn’t usually stop me from getting to sleep but does cause me to have vivid and sometimes disturbing dreams which I can often recall in great detail. I certainly hope to visit Cadiz one of these days to try and find the beautiful building I dreamt about –  a church or cathedral in light coloured stone standing above dazzling wide white or soft pink steps leading down onto a promenade overlooking the sea, where I was waiting to meet someone special. Just a mosr haunting  dream that makes me feel as if I’ve really been to Cadiz but I have no idea what caused that to pop into my head that night. So sleep itself does come, but rest is more elusive as I have restless legs, and problems with aching shoulders and neck – back to the pillow problem. I’ve tried all the fancy shaped ones, the memory foam ones, etc, but in the end I found my best night’s sleep was in a Premier Inn with their much publicised Hypnos bed and really comfortable pillows which I investigated and found to be just a firm hollow fill type. So I now have a firm pillow which seems to work OK most of the time. Of course at the Premier Inn I was in a super Kingsized bed on my own as opposed to our Kingsize bed shared with a partner with ridiculously long arms and legs and a variety of cats who seem to work on a shift system of their own making. So usually my head hits the pillow very late and I do get to sleep through sheer exhaustion. I have been known to fall asleep at the computer on a night and crawl to bed once I’d fallen off the chair but last week was a first. I was working all hours on a painting trying to get ready for the exhibition that will finally be hung in the morning, I fell asleep with a brush in my hand and found I’d painted a stripe right across the t-shirt of one of the musicians on my canvas. Easily remedied thank goodness, but it was a signal to hit the hay even though I’d been working well up to that point.

It’s quite difficult to leave a painting or drawing when you’re “in the zone” but I find as I get older I don’t have the legs to work right through the night. Actually it’s more accurate to say I don’t have the eyes for it these days. Just when I feel like I’m really starting to learn how to paint … But then I always was a late starter.