January—cats, squirrels and libraries

Happy 2020—I’m far too late with my new year wishes, but the nice intent is still there. May the new decade bring you what you want (so long as that doesn’t harm others).

The bed is a bit crowded these days…

In Chez Baird-Birnie, we are adapting to life without Freddie and with two cats. One argument cat lovers always put forward for the adoption of new cats post the previous one’s departure is that cats all have their own unique personality. You don’t take on a new one, find yourself endlessly comparing its traits to its predecessor and finding the replacement wanting. Our new two stimulate endless debate, especially because we now have a boy and a girl.

I think Lucy is the smarter cat (feminist bias here, definitely), but William is far bolder and keen to venture outside whenever he can. He’s also much stronger, leaping higher, further and far more often. Ms Lucy, I sense, looks at him rather like modern-day baby boomers regard their grown-up children. “FFS, I thought I’d got rid of you ages ago, but you’re still at home/have returned here again?! Why, why, why…?”

The nippy sweetie

There is a Scottish description ‘nippy sweetie’, used to describe someone who is sharp-tongued or peevish. (And usually used in a faintly misogynist way just for women, but that’s a whole other conversation.) Lucy is a literal nippy sweetie in that she does bite. They are not painful or aggressive, but little nips to warn you to back off. William ‘proves’ my not particularly scientific theory that neutered males are more affectionate and softer than the ladies…

Feed me!

And she is the boss, except when it comes to food. With two cats, you usually need to supervise meal times to stop one stealing from the other. William gets super-excited at food times and once he’s wolfed his, his mother’s helping is fair game. She’s a much slower eater, a habit I find interesting as shouldn’t life with William have taught her to eat more quickly?!

As per instructions for new cats, we kept them both inside for two-plus weeks so they got used to the house. Thought to themselves, “Well, this is a nice place. Hot and cold running humans happy to let us sleep on the beds and not too cross when we decide the wallpaper is much better than a scratching post.”

I’ve always put collars on cats and I suspect Lucy and William weren’t collar wearers previously.  They don’t like them very much but the collars operate the cat flap. If it is not magnetically controlled, two of our neighbour’s cats would come in.

Cat invaders

In the Freddie days, I didn’t mind Mr Biggles and Loki visiting us because he wasn’t bothered. My new pets, on the other hand, are not confident enough to deal with that kind of encroachment on their territory. As they bicker among themselves in the house anyway, it would be silly to add another cat to the mix.

Mind you, neither cat has worked out how to open the cat flap from the outside yet. Next week, I’m going to have to squat in front of it waving something super-tempting. A bit of raw steak, perhaps…

Aside from cat caring, I’m in the midst of typical start a new year activities—yoga and sauna sessions, culling spending on silly things, reducing my meat and fish consumption, and going for plenty of walks. This post’s  featured image is a squirrel I encountered in the Kelvingrove Park. They’re bold fellows who will come within a foot of you, especially if you rattle a bag of sunflower seeds at them.

I’m attempting to write another book in the Highland Books series, number four… At some point soon, I’m going to run out of ideas for what I can do with the characters but I’m good for another 160,000 words (roughly two novels).

I published a box set of books one to three this week and I’ve already sold a few of them. A bonus—if the box-set sells in decent quantities, I get 70 percent of £7.49, instead of £2.99 and £3.99 and the only money I spent on it was the cover because the editing/proofreading had already been done.

Another January resolution was to use my local library more. In the last couple of years, I’ve grown lazy ordering far too many books on my e-reader. Libraries struggle for funding these days, so it’s important for them to demonstrate use in communities. As a lifelong voracious reader, libraries have provided me with tonnes of free entertainment over the years. I’ve been to Dumbarton Library three times this month already and picked up The Testaments by Margaret Atwood via the order service. (It’s much better than the TV series, which is now beginning to feel far too dragged out.)

A cool fact for you… I publish my books wide, i.e. not just on Amazon but through Kobo, Apple, Google Play, Barnes & Noble and more. Because of this, my e-books are available on OverDrive, an online repository for digital content. If you ask for one of my books in your local library, I’ll get a bit of money and you’ll get my books for free. If you’re so inclined, I’d be grateful if you could ask!

Highland Weddings and ginger cats

Highland Wedding, the third in my Highland Books series, is out now…

When you write romcoms, the wedding industry is an easy target. People queue up to offer you unnecessary rubbish, lending themselves to wonderful satire. What I never understood was the whole chair cover thing. You book a hotel, buy their wedding package—food, drink, number of guests, etc.—and they expect you to cough up a fee for white covers neatly wrapped over the bleedin’ chairs with a bow on the back.

Hopefully, I’ve managed to make it as amusing as I can. Here’s the blurb:

Ask a man to marry you and the rest is a walk in the park, right?!
When Gaby springs a proposal on Jack, he is happy to say ‘yes’. As are the Lochalshie residents, delighted at the prospect of a wedding instead of the more usual  funeral. They have ideas for the nuptials coming out of their ears…
With the local landlord piling on the pressure, their friends demanding hen parties in Ibiza, a would-be wedding planner too ready to criticise and a new guy on the scene who is easy on the eye, will Gaby and Jack get their happy ever after?

Highland Books box set by Emma BairdYou can buy the book on Amazon (I’ll put it on Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play, etc., in the new year). I’m also planning a box set of the three books and there’s the gorgeous cover for it, thanks to yummybookcovers.

The cat-shaped hole in our home

Finally, I wrote about the sudden loss of my cat earlier this month. Freddie was a special fella and he is in my thoughts a lot of the time. There are a lot of cats out there in shelters requiring a home and we had a cat-shaped hole in our house needing filled…

 

Meet Lucy and William, a mother and son ginger combo who are currently feeling their way around our house and into our lives. We got them from the local SSPCA shelter on Christmas Eve and whereas the charity’s policy is not to allow people to adopt animals as Christmas presents (rightly so), this was definitely the best gift I received.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting on my blog in 2019 and all the very best to you and yours in 2020.

Love, loss and extraordinary kindness

Unless you’re the lucky (unlucky?) regular receiver of booty calls, the phone that rings in the early hours of the morning rarely signals good news. The one I received last week no exception to that rule.

The small animal hospital in Glasgow—a request to phone them message left on voice mail, as my phone is on don’t disturb mode through the night. I pressed ‘return call’. The back shift had left for the day; the on-duty vet said she’d find out and get back to me.

The second she spoke to me again, I knew what was coming. My cat, the fabulous and super-spoiled Freddie, had been brought to the premises in the early hours—no sign of life on arrival. Her colleagues had checked and there were no obvious indications of cause of death, but cats struck on the road (where he’d been found) often die from internal bleeding. I live near a busy dual carriageway. We knew he crossed the A82 from time to time late at night. On Friday the 13th, his luck ran out.

Final goodbyes

We drove to the clinic, umm-ing and ah-ing. Should we see him? I said no. Over the years, I’ve seen my fair share of road kill; a different prospect entirely when it’s your pet. My husband said yes. He wanted to say a final goodbye. We arrived. Positions reversed; Sandy now worried that the sight of our poor dead cat would trigger tears in front of strangers. I can tell him plenty of times that it is okay for men to cry. But too many years of west of Scotland masculine culture will beat the message, Thou Shalt Not Weep, into a man.

The vet, a kindly soul, took us into a consultation room and explained what had happened. “What does he look like?” I asked. “I know he’ll be stiff.”

“He’s okay,” she replied. “There are no obvious injuries, apart from a small wound on his chest.”

We gave our assent. Bring him in. She returned, cardboard box reverentially held, its exterior decorated in a funereal fleur du lis. I jumped up, compelled to witness its opening and the revelation of precious content.

Hey, darling boy. Look at you, all dirty…”

The Good Samaritan

I stroked his face and tickled him under the chin. Freddie adored a chin rub. I ran my hand along his body. As the vet said, no obvious signs of what killed him. I leant into the box and kissed his little face.

Goodbyes said, could the vet let us have the phone number of the person who brought him in? She checked and returned with a name and phone number.

Later that day, I spoke with the Good Samaritan. He and his wife had been visiting her parents who live further up our street. They came across Freddie, who was alive at that point but spasming. They moved him off the road and wrapped him in a blanket her mum supplied when told. An ambulance stopped, said they weren’t able do anything but provided another blanket. Another woman appeared; she researched vet services. The small animal clinic in Bearsden—25 minutes away—was identified. The man and his wife phoned them and the clinic said they should bring Freddie in.

He died on the way there.

Pictures and promises

My little cat—one, two, three, four, five, six people all doing what they could to save him. Later that weekend, there was a knock on the door. The Good Samaritan and his wife, Dave and Laura, armed with a huge bunch of flowers, Laura in tears. “Our cat,” I told them, “had a brilliant life up until that twenty minutes before he died. We promise you.”

“Show Laura the pictures!” I instructed Sandy. True, my husband has always had far more pictures of Freddie on his phone than ones of anything else. Laura saw Freddie at his worst. I wanted her to see him curled up on our bed, sprawled on sunny spots in the garden, perched on the sofa and doing his best to open packets of Whiskas by himself.

(He could, you know.)

Acts of kindness

My other promise to Dave and Laura? I will remember your act of kindness for the rest of my life.

They don’t even live in my town.

And others’ too. My mum cried when I broke the news. My sisters phoned; animal lovers both. Our sister-in-law delivered a card and flowers. The friends I told came up with lovely words of comfort. My neighbour burst into tears as Freddie had visited her house regularly, mooching for food. A work colleague listened to the tale, glassy-eyed.

Human interaction and love never ceases to astonish me—the powerful together pull of it when you ask really matters.

The house creaks, empty and incomplete. I glance at the spare room automatically when I walk past, looking for Freddie who used to sleep in there. The draught from the front door moves the living room one and our eyes dart there, waiting for him to walk in. I take ham out of a packet, pole-axed with longing for my little cat who’d jump up if you held small pieces of meat above his head.

We will get another pet, one I’ll speak to in a silly voice, over-feed and assume uncomfortable positions in bed so he or she can sleep on me. Like Freddie, his predecessor Corrie, and Jazz the one before him, I’ll adopt from a shelter and shower him or her with love.

For now though, we rest, we reflect, we look at pictures of cats needing their forever home, and tell everyone we know about the extraordinary kindness people have shown us, and the comfort we have taken from it.

Ten Little Stars and Half-Marathon Recovery

This week, I’m…

Recovering from the Glasgow half-marathon

Ladies and gents, I did it. It wasn’t fast, and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but yours truly stumbled across the finishing line two hours and fourteen minutes after setting off.

Glasgow’s half-marathon is popular as the course is flat (ish, not quite as my rose-tinted ten years ago experience recalled) and many people achieve personal bests. I was thankful for its flatness, but speed wasn’t coming into it. Glasgow joggers run the gamut of weather types in late September, and the day was no exception – overcast and cloudy at first, then bright sunshine, heavy rain half-way through and repeat.

The crowds turned out to cheer us on. Little kids high-fived as many runners as were willing (me, every time), witty signs read Good Luck Random Stranger! This is great practice for the zombie apocalypse, and someone who’d drawn the poo emoji and asked if anyone needed one yet…

Grateful thanks to my support crew—my husband, my mum and her partner Neil, who cheered me on at the start and the end.

Eating pasta

A race always means a reward meal—I opted for a protein, carb and fat overload in the form of Beef and Mac ‘n’ Cheese. You can buy this, but have you ever eaten a shop-bought mac ‘n’ cheese that made you sigh in contentment? No, I thought not. Most manufactured versions stint on the best bit, when the dish should be more a case of, would you like some pasta with your cheese?

To continue the celebration theme, I washed the lot down with a decent helping of pink Cava.

Writing short stories

Ten Little Stars by Emma BairdIn an attempt to the ‘game’ the Amazon system, I’m putting out a book of short stories a mere thirty days after publishing the last book…

I’m not sure what this achieves, except that I’ve seen it written about in ‘places’. My search history* is too vast to revisit anything unless I remember to do so an hour later, so heaven alone knows where I read that or if it’s even viable. But I have read it a few times so here goes!

Book marketing experts also bang on about the importance of the mailing list—*sighs*—and this book might end up being my freebie incentive. Sign up to my mailing list** and you too could be the proud owner of this free book, kind of thing.

I’ve served up a mix of vampire tales, modern love dilemmas and a bit of historical fiction. The book is available for pre-order here and here.

Making spicy stuff

This year’s chili crop will outlast us. Good people, we grew a lot of chilies this year as you can see. And I’ve already made the rookie mistake—gosh, aren’t they small, better put a few of them in YEOWCH—so it’s one or two per recipe max. Thankfully, they freeze. Our house is about to become Curry Central.

Dieting the cat

Cat emotional manipulation expertise 1. Emma determined to hold out on number of feeding intervals 0.

Freddie’s vet visit and vaccination beckons, and I’d like to escape the annual lecture on the size of him. He’s bordering on moggie obese. So, a few weeks of strict portion control, no treats and definitely no sly helpings of ham.

Yeah, good luck with that one.

 

*And VERY confusing for Google.

**Which will of course be 100 percent GDPR compliant.

Cat in a Box!

cats in boxesLike many cats, mine loves a new box. I open it up, empty out the contents and in he jumps. There’s usually a bit of proprietorial scratching too as he marks it out as his new toy.

At least it distracts him from wanting to sit beside my laptop. It’s always the left side and it usually involves disabling the caps lock key. On a few occasions, he’s managed to turn the laptop off – two times, I was in the middle of composing complicated emails. The emails vanished. Once, I was updating a book, changing a few words here and there. That wasn’t saved either and I had to rely on my becoming-increasingly creaky memory.

Cat experts suggest you install a supervisory shelf in your home office – some kind of high-up structure that allows your cat to survey everything and sleep if he wants. I’ve tried putting a box with a blanket on my desk, just the blanket and a pile of paper. But nothing is quite as nice as the naked left-hand side of my laptop.

The non-cat lovers among you might be thinking the obvious: can’t you just shut him out of the room? For years, we’ve operated an open door policy. If there’s nothing a cat likes more than a new box, there’s nothing he hates more than a closed door. Besides, being head-butted by an attention-seeking cat is kind of cute, hmm?

The joys of working from home include spending more time with your loved ones, pets included.