Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The everyday life of a cat sitter

So I haven't blogged here since July. Shame on me. But time flies when you're having fun.

And having fun I have had. I've taken on a lot more cat sitting work, and boy, let me tell you, it's the most stress-free role I've ever had.

Okay, so there's a lot of driving around, which, depending on the time of day, isn't exactly stress-free, especially when you encounter drivers who seem to have picked their driver's licence out of a cereal packet. But my feline clients for the most part are a joy.

In the last few months I've only come close to being attacked once. By a cat I'll call Sybil.  In fact I'll call her Syko Sybil. (Which looks better on paper than Psycho Sybil.) Here's a cat with personality plus. One personality is nice and normal. The other, the evil twin side, can take the lead in a second. Snarls, growls, hisses and threats. For no particular reason. She's healthy, before you ask. She gets regularly checked by the vet, but she's a rescue cat and who knows what went on in her life before her owner took her home and gave her unconditional love (and probably got scratched and bitten a lot since then).

Some cats are ambivalent. "Oh, you've come to feed me. Good. Feed me and I'll bugger off and sleep somewhere. Cheers." They eat, ignore you patting them and encouraging them to come for a cuddle, and stalk off. Cats will be cats.

Some are love bunnies, and it's these I enjoy the most. They miss their humans and want contact. Pats, strokes, cuddles, brushing. I have heard purrs in every key, and been climbed on and head butted by dozens of joyful furbabies who enjoy my company as much as I enjoy theirs.

The most rewarding in the last few months has been a pair of Sphynx brothers. I'll call them Da Boyz. I've never really been excited by the idea of a basically hairless cat. Photos show them wrinkled and often, it seems, with a frown on their face. I thought touching them would be weird. It is, in a nice kind of way. They are covered in peach fuzz. Their feet, bony and prehensile, are strangely enchanting. They are agile and very smart; think of a cat who thinks it's a monkey. Their tails are like whips; thin and tapered, and they curl them up elegantly against their flanks when they sit. Waiting for their food, standing up and yelling at me, their tails quiver expectantly.

I've minded Da Boyz twice. The first time was only for a few days and they were keen to tell me they wanted food, and didn't mind the odd pat. But no cuddles thanks. Feed us, clean up after us and we'll watch you and get a bit closer each day.

This month I've had them again, for two and a half weeks on and off. And things have changed between us. Firstly Smaller Boy decided he'd hop up on my knee for a cuddle after food, and he did, nestling his very warm body against mine and purring furiously. His bigger brother watched from on top of a cupboard for a couple of days and then decided it was his turn.

Well. Big Brother has been the most affectionate cat I've ever minded. After feeding (and settling himself for a pee on the toilet - they are both trained to pee over a human loo) he would run to the sofa and jump up, yelling at me to get my butt over there too. Then he'd settle on my knee, firstly kneading me, then marking me by rubbing his head all over the front of my clothing. I'll never wear a white t-shirt to his place again! He would gently touch my cheeks with a soft paw, and lie in my arms like a baby, purring furiously and gazing lovingly into my eyes.

I found I was really looking forward to visiting Da Boyz each day as they were so engaging and loving. After a bit you don't miss the fur; you just cuddle the warm feline body and get smooched and adored in return.

Their owner is a lovely person too; I contact all owners with updates and pics daily, and some respond at length and others don't. Da Boyz's owner is as outgoing and delightful as the cats.

Then there's Chubby Girl The Food Obsessed, who has to have her food measured out in timer bowls which go off at intervals so she doesn't binge eat. She's a butterball and on a strict diet but somehow doesn't seem to lose weight. She's quite affectionate and playful. Her friend Timid Tom on the other hand hides in a cupboard and has his food in a special bowl than will only open to the chip embedded in his collar so Chubby Girl can't steal it. My role with him is to leave the food out and just check he's okay; Chubby likes a brushing and for me to throw balls for her, or some kibble, so she gets exercise by chasing it, preferably up the stairs.

I have, for my sins, agreed to work for four hours on Christmas Day doing cat sitting. The owner of the cat sitting biz has mobility issues and can't handle places with stairs, whereas I look on stairs as fitness aids. My husband G is ok with this, as we're having seafood for lunch rather than the whole baked turkey thing, but it's going to feel weird heading out to work on the country's Big Day Off. But if I don't feed these little sweeties, who will? It's not as if cats celebrate Christmas.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Dog days

It's winter in Sydney, and what a winter! Bright, sparkling sunny days, warm and delicious in the sun, cold at night so you can snuggle under a duvet without getting too hot.

Because it's still getting dark early, I have moved into my winter routine. I stop work around 3.30, gather our two dogs and take them to an off-leash area five minutes' drive from home. I can work then when it's dark until it's time to cook dinner.

I could walk there, but our older dog Rose the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is twelve now, arthritic and easily tired. She's delighted to go in the car to her favourite spot, but doesn't run around with other dogs any more; she simply stays at my side or toddles at my heels and has the odd trot around.

Ellie our toy poodle is eleven months old and is delirious with excitement when I let her out of the car.

Because the parking lot is usually pretty empty on weekdays I park at the same spot, near the entrance and she's down the path and onto the grass before I've even shut the car door.

My, my, she's fast. Our little racehorse, chasing anything that moves. Pestering pigeons in the park, I paraphrase, after the song Poisoning Pigeons In The Park.

A happy soul, she easily makes friends with dogs of all sizes and ages. She has rumbled with a Briard sheepdog four times her size, and has endless fun with Cavoodles, who are apparently the dog du jour around here.  I know at least five different regular Cavoodles who frequent the park.

It lifts my heart to see her have such fun, to watch her lithe body transform from a black ball of fluff into a lean, mean, galloping machine, tail used as a rudder, ears flying back behind her head.

After the first minute or two she'll gallop back to me, do a circle and around me, and be off again. She's always clocking where I am, and always comes back to me for reassurance, pats, the odd treat.

I love doing this in winter as the days are cool and she can run like fury without getting too hot. There are fewer people there in winter and most of them have dogs; the serious dog people. Unlike summer, when you get picnickers, fisher folk, teenage lovers, sailors and heaps of kids.

Summer is a different story; muggy and hot unless the breeze is blowing from the right direction. The dogs pant and I get sweaty when we go for our walk around the point. I love the winter dog days. The coolth. The warm coat, and perhaps a scarf. And most of all the energy of Ellie.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The forgotten women - over 60, single and broke

I was thinking earlier today about three women friends who are all in the same boat: over sixty, single/divorced, childless, and with not much money or income to their name despite running their own businesses. One in particular, who doesn't own her own place, is looking down the barrel of a pretty dismal retirement, assuming she can ever afford to.

There's a theory by The Barefoot Investor that one can retire quite happily with $250K in superannuation, get the aged pension (part or full depending on your savings) and work maybe one or two days a week (both for a bit of extra cash and to keep your mind active).

That's fine but my three friends don't have $250K in super. Luckily one owns her own apartment. She also has more in super than the others, so I think she'll be better off. Let's call her Sherry. Sherry started her biz eight years ago after taking redundancy from her employer. Sherry now has a disability so will be getting financial assistance from the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Her quality of life is going to get worse as time goes on, however, so Sherry needs to assess where she is going to live as she is likely to be in a wheelchair sometime in the next couple of years.

Friend number two, who we'll call Shona, hasn't paid off her house. Her partner left her two years ago after 20 years and Shona apparently doesn't have access to her partner's super. She doesn't have enough super of her own to survive on, so she's keeping on with her struggling biz and hoping that when she reaches pension age in about two years' time she'll own her house. She's renting the house out at the moment to pay it off, and living in the granny flat.

Friend number three, we'll call her Sue, is the worst off of the lot. She had to dig into her super early to pay for major surgery. Divorced many years ago, she got a rough deal out of the marriage and has never owned her own house. Her beautician business is struggling but at 65 she's applied for the pension to make ends meet. I worry how she's going to survive in Sydney with rental prices skyrocketing. At the moment Sue is doing a long term house sit and not paying any rent. She is considering house sitting as a way of life or becoming a companion to an elderly woman. She doesn't want to move from Sydney.

If I have three friends in my relatively small group of friends who are in this position, I wonder and worry how many more women are in the same boat? How many have been ditched by their partners for someone younger (poor Shona!)?  How many are worrying that when they retire they won't be able to pay the rent? How many will have to consider moving out of a major city such as Sydney and Melbourne, leaving their friends and maybe family, and moving to a country town where rents are cheaper but where they may miss the city life and culture?

Women's wages have always been less than that of males so women have a rough deal to begin with when it comes to saving for their retirement, on the whole.

Well, you may say, why do these women continue persisting with struggling businesses? Can't they get a job? Huh!!! Despite the government urging employers to take on the over-50s, it's VERY hard for women over sixty to get a job unless they are highly qualified. These days qualifications are everything; a single degree hardly counts any more. To be in the running for a white collar management job you need a double degree at least. Shona has part time work in addition to running her business but can't find a full-time job in the region where she lives.

This is a generation of single women who are going to find their retirement years extremely tough - particularly if they haven't paid their home off. When these women started in the workforce, superannuation contributions from employers weren't compulsory. It's likely many women will have started a super contribution late in their working life. For those entrepreneurs who have their own small and struggling business, you can bet the contributions will be lower than that paid by an employer.

I think we are going to hear a lot more about the plight of 'forgotten women' in the next ten years as they hit pension age and rents continue to rise. It breaks my heart.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Buying into Buy Nothing - confessions of a shopping addict

So Buy Nothing is a thing. I get it. We live in a very consumerist society. Advertising is everywhere; on the tv, radio, print media, social media and websites and of course emails. It's overwhelming.

Use Facebook and ads will pop up for anything and everything, usually targetted to your age and gender. Visit any number of websites and you'll find an ad for something you searched for on Google recently (I'm sure there's a way to stop my search data being used like that but I can't be arsed finding it out). Click me, they urge, go on - click!

As I have a bulging wardrobe and every kitchen utensil known to man, I committed to stop shopping on 1 July 2017 for a minimum of three months with the aim of stretching it to twelve months.

I confess to being somewhat of a shopping addict. In addition to food and toiletries, I buy clothes, shoes, makeup, books, music and sometimes household goods on a regular basis. The woman at my local dress shop calls me her best customer, although I've been 'good' lately and haven't bought anything from her for six weeks, and that was only the second thing I'd bought from her all year.

But I digress. If I can make it to three months, I can increase my Buy Nothing week by week, month by month. Little steps, regular milestones, will make it easier. Rather like someone in AA taking it one day at a time.

I can see why Buy Nothing is taking off, however. Firstly minimalism is back in vogue, so to achieve it, you need less. Then there's the problem of rubbish and landfill we in the west create.

As well as being a consumerist society, we are a throwaway society. Globalisation has seen fashion become an entity which churns out new designs on an apparently weekly basis. (In fact there is a shop at Kingsford Smith Airport in Sydney which promises new stock EVERY WEEK. Ye Gods.) With low labour costs in third world countries it's easy to spend $30-$50 for a new jumper or dress, or $10 on a t-shirt. I'm guilty. When H and M came to Australia I snapped up a handful of $7 t-shirts with absolute glee. After all, white t-shirts usually only last a year or two before they go grey or attract stains even Napisan can't remove. Then into the rubbish they go, too awful to even give to a charity shop.

My goodness, the amount of clothing that goes into landfill is terrifying. How wasteful we are as a society. How greedy. How eager to flash the plastic and buy more, more, more. I feel sorry for the fashionistas who are compelled to buy the latest look, racking up their credit cards to indecent levels, wearing items only a few times before chucking or donating. Because clothing IS so cheap these days, it is very much seen as throwaway after one season.

Granted, little of my clothing gets actually chucked out. Anything still decent goes to charity, damaged clothing gets used by me as cleaning rags before finally hitting the bin.  I get many years out of my clothes as most of what I buy is either fairly classic or interesting enough not to date. I have overcoats I've had for 20+ years and they're still fine.

The human cost behind producing cheap clothes for the western world is heartbreaking. Sweatshops, dangerous conditions, working hours which would cause strikes in Australia. Look at your clothing. Where is it made? Bangladesh? India? Turkey? China? Would you be prepared to pay, say, four times more for each item if it was made in your own country under decent working conditions?

And as for 'the middle aisle' in ALDI - oh, oh, oh! What a joy! The bits and pieces I have bought cheaply, such as weights and gym clothes, or a warm throw for the living room for a tiny $15, fill me with acquisitive delight. For I AM acquisitive, and it's something I'll have to overcome. I don't need more stuff. The majority of us don't need more stuff.


It's not as if I'm in my 20s and have just moved out of home and have to buy or acquire household goods on which to sit, or kitchen utensils and pots. I have it all. Mum left a house full of 'stuff' when she died and I'm still selling or giving away things in an effort to make the place less cluttered.

I'm going to find this Buy Nothing lark hard work I think. I have unsubscribed from various shoe and clothing email lists so I don't get tempted.

So if I'm buying nothing, what are the exceptions for me? Which non-nothings will sneak into the house aside from food etc for us and the animals?
  • Toiletries and cosmetics. I don't buy many cosmetics but I'm not going to go without an eyebrow pencil when my current one dies (local supermarket, $14, and seriously good).  And I don't go mad on toiletries like I used to 20 years ago. I estimate in the next 3 months I will have to buy toothpaste, soap, 1 bottle each of shampoo, conditioner, Nuxe Huile Prodiguese and Nutrimetics Nutri-Rich Oil as these are my staples and I'm running low on them. 
  • Nails. I like having nice nails. It's a pick me up luxury that costs me about $40/month.
  • Hair. Yes, my foils cost money but damned if I'm going to go grey.
  • Books. But only e-books as they are cheaper and don't take up physical space, or I'll rejoin the local library and borrow.
  • I may have to get supplies for my business such as paper and ink for the printer, but then I've always been frugal with my business.
  • Gifts for others' birthdays. Unless I have something I can make or something new I can regift. There are 3 birthdays I have to cater for so I'll have to be canny.

And that's it. For the next two and a half months at least. Wish me luck. Hope I can conquer this shopping addiction and be a Buy Nothing person.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

When good cats turn bad

I mentioned in a recent post my cat friend Fred. Fred has been an angel to look after in my fill-in-for-a-friend cat sitting business. He has a reputation for turning aggressive at the click of a finger, but I haven't seen it.

Until today.

Poor Fred. His owner is away for another 9 days, and he's feeling lonely and starved of his owner's affection.  I walk inside and he immediately head butts my legs. I talk to him, stroke him, pick him up and cuddle him.

Marion the cat sitter told me not to trust him. I haven't ignored her; I've simply come to my own conclusions and watched him carefully. I thought I had his measure. Thought I had the balance of affection just right.

Today I sat on the sofa as soon as I got there (my third day doing this as I've become more confident with this tricky boy) and Fred happily jumped on my knees, purring ecstatically. He purred so hard saliva dripped from his mouth onto my jeans, and I held him and stroked him and talked to him, and importantly, gave him the 'cat kiss'; that slow blink that tells him I'm not a threat. I thought we understood each other perfectly as he slow-blinked back at me and we stayed happily together for five minutes, until he turned and bit my hand.

Not hard, you understand. It was a gentle bite, the sort cats give you when they can't decide whether they want to sit on your knee or not.

So I took my hands off him and still kept talking to him in a quiet voice, soothing and calming, mentioning his name every five seconds and putting in "good boy" all the time, too.

Fred got off my legs and I could finally get around to fixing his food for the day.  He followed me into the kitchen, head-butting and happy.

I decided to do a visual check of the flat for furballs and vomits - you know what cats can be like. Fred followed me, chatting happily and meowing me details of his life. Clearly he slept in the main bedroom with his owner, as the duvet was cat-rucked and he jumped onto it demonstratively.

I checked the room and turned to walk out. And Fred pounced.

Gawd, my left leg has copped it from cats this week!

He grabbed it with both front legs and tried to sink his teeth in. Bless demin. Good old jeans. I felt his claws and teeth but he didn't break any skin.

I turned and shook my finger at him and snapped, "No!" and he immediately backed off. I suspect I was heading into "his" territory, his sleeping room, and made a note not to do that again.

He was still a bit swishy-tail while I cleaned his litter tray, but was back to smooching against me before grabbing my leg again in the living room. This time no claws or teeth, just a firm grip from his strong little legs, and I had the "No!" going at him before his legs were all the way around mine.

His owner has since told me he gets over-stimulated with too much affection; he does it with her too!

So it's a hard call. I want to give Fred the affection he needs while his owner is away, but not to the point that he attacks me.  He looks for me now every day and cries when he hears my step, as I go to his elegant flat at much the same time each day.  He engages with me, makes lots of eye contact, and is desperate for a cuddle and snuggle.

There are pills marked 'for emergency only' if Fred has a real conniption and goes truly violent with me, but I have left them on the bench for today. I'll see how he is tomorrow.

In a way he reminds me of a Siamese who shared my life for 13 years; another boy who loved a cuddle but would use his teeth.  Maybe so much ecstasy is too much?

Does your cat turn aggro after a cuddle?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Today I got smacked by a cat

I'm helping a friend out at the moment. She has a cat sitting business; she goes into people's houses and feeds their cat/s while they're away, cleans litter trays, plays with said felines etc. My friend - let's call her Marion - is finally having a holiday after seven years of running her business and building it up from scratch.

Today I had two visits to make. One was for a cat I'll call Fred. Marion warned me he can turn aggro for no reason. "Never turn your back on him," she warned, but Fred so far has been a snuggly, purry angel of a cat. I've got him for the whole two weeks and hope I don't need to resort to the emergency pills on the kitchen counter. Fred lives in a posh suburb in a flat right on the water. He has views to die for (not that he appreciates them I suspect but I'm sure his owner does). He greets me at the door and flops at my feet, rolling back and forth in delight. I have long conversations with him as I clean his bowls and other paraphernalia, and there's never a hint of aggro. I do watch his eyes. If a cat's pupils suddenly turn big and round - watch out and take cover!

My second visit was one closer to home for two Ragdoll cats, Sunny and Shadow. Marion had a warning about Sunny. "He may rush at the door when you arrive and he can be territorial." Another Fred! Anyhow, Sunny was very pleasant to me and I was happily patting him and talking to him. Shadow was hiding as he apparently does. So I put food down while Sunny purred at my feet. I cleaned the litter tray. I went to find Shadow upstairs and Sunny trotted at my heels.

Unfortunately he was TOO close to my heels. I checked the upstairs rooms (no sign of the little bugger but apparently he can hide only too well) and turned around.

Only to stand on Sunny's foot.

He screamed.

I screamed.

He pounced on my ankle and gave it his best shot with teeth and claws. Luckily I was wearing boots, it being winter here after all, and I only have a small scratch to show for it.

I apologised, in the softest, warmest voice I could. I sat on the steps in front of him and held out a hand, offering a gentle pat.
Angry cat Sunny

Sunny narrowed his big baby blues and hit my hand with a front paw. No claws, but his body language said it all: Fuck off, lady. You hurt me.

Tail swishing furiously, he followed me down the stairs. Not a limp in sight, thankfully. But no, just slapping my hand wasn't enough.

With every step I took with my left foot (the one that landed on his paw), he grabbed my ankle and bit my boot. His tail was swishing like a metronome. This was one seriously pissed off cat. I don't blame the poor little thing; I felt dreadful for stepping on him.

As I was inching my way across the living room Shadow flew down the stairs, through the kitchen and into the hall, disappearing into a front room.

Well, at least I could SMS the owner that I had visual sighting of the elusive Shadow!

Sunny wasn't letting up. I shuffled, cat attached, to the scratching post trees with toys attached to them. Thankfully one had elastic and I pinged it and pinged it and bounced it until his attention went from my foot to the toy.

With one bound, I was free!

With two bounds I was out the door with a huge sigh, still feeling awful for poor Sunny.

I have two more days feeding the pair of them. I hope Sunny has forgiven and forgotten by tomorrow. But I'll wear different shoes just in case.

Friday, June 30, 2017

French Women Don't Wear Active Wear

I went to my open air resistance class this morning, rugged up against a rather chilly early winter's morning here in Oz. I had my full length black leggings on, topped with a short sleeved hot pink top, a pale blue sweatshirt and a lilac zip up fleece. It was so chilly that even in the most hectic part of the workout I only ditched the fleece. In short, I looked rather a dag, as we say over here. (Think 'slob'.)

After the class I was faced with a dilemma. I had to go to the bank and supermarket. Should I go home and change first?

Huh, you're thinking. What a snob. Just go as you are, girl, who will notice or care?

Well, I notice and I care. There is active wear and active wear. Do the full Lorna Jane or Sweaty Betty, all nicely coordinated, and you can probably get away with it. Thin, fit middle-class women do. They strut around the shopping centre with great hair, sweetly scented (you can tell they haven't been to the gym first and probably won't go ... they just dress like that) and nary a roll of fat is visible on their leggings. In winter they wear sleeveless puffa tops over their technical merino long sleeves. They have several pairs of trainers which coordinate with the accent colours in their outfits.

Active wear favours the slim. I've seen some pretty horrifying sights in leggings and skimpy gym wear and fear I'm more like them than the sleek women I see around shops in our area (which is middle-class and quite decent on the socio-economic scale).  I do wear leggings, quite often in fact, but plain, non-gym ones teamed with tunic tops that cover my backside and let the best of my legs be on show. And I pair them with ballet flats or boots, not trainers. I don't own a sleeveless puffa jacket as it would make me look like an elephant.

So I felt rather ashamed of myself when I decided to hit the shops on my way home after all, bum looking big with the fleece barely covering half of it. No makeup, not even lip gloss. Hair that looked a fright after an hour's workout in a breeze.

There's a bit of me that's French. Not just in attitude, but genetically too.

You see, French women don't wear active wear outside of the gym. If they go to a gym, that is - more likely they'll go to a yoga class. I have been fortunate enough to visit France three times in the last six years and the only Parisienne I saw in a full active wear outfit was carrying a yoga mat. She had reason to be dressed as she was. Even in rural France and French towns, nobody wore active wear on the street. I felt at home. It was easy to spot the tourists - they spoke English and wore active wear.

It's a tongue in cheek observation from several authors that a French woman will put on her lipstick to check her letterbox - a) because she has standards, b) she never knows who she may meet there and importantly, c) she doesn't want to cause offence to anyone who sets eyes on her; the French do not like to be perceived as badly turned out.

Even working from home, as I do, I aim to dress nicely. That nicely may only be jeans and a top, but I'll have decent shoes on (no ugg boots in winter or rubber flip flops in summer). When I go to the shops I will put on lipstick at least, maybe a little bit of eye makeup if I feel I look washed out. My jacket will coordinate with what I'm wearing and I may even put a scarf on. Because why not. I like to feel nice and not slobby.

I can't rock the active wear look - I'm overweight but not obese, but I have curves that become bulges in active wear clothing and it ain't a pretty sight - so I choose the French option instead.

C'est la vie pour moi. Et vous?