Tuesday, 19 October 2010


When I was six I had a parka coat, a dark blue from the Army & Navy store. It had a warm quilted interior and somewhat synthetic crusty outside to shield me from the weather's loathsome prospect. It also had a hood with rabbit fur trim. Soft and smooth to the touch, it gently tickled my cold cheeks on winters days sending little pimples of excitement up my spine. It even smelt warm, and could be stroked for hours in the absence of real hot blooded living pet form.

Until it got wet. Then it took on the appearance of the proverbial drowned rat, and smelled not much better. It's velutinousness drenched and shattered revealing the tough leathered grey rabbit skin, plasticated like a dog chew, crudely stitched in to the artificial fabric. It's limpness mocked me, and the grey straggley fur made me look like something spewed up from beneath the Freeling's swimming pool in Poltergeist. The first and last time I have ever worn fur.

I've lain on it, though, many a time. Again, from childhood, I remember my grandmother's living room sheepskin rug. A dense pure white fleece that smelt smokey from her open fire, and excited her Jack Russell every time it wandered over it. I began to think it was doing it on purpose. (Unfortunately as the dog aged, it's capability to hold it's bladder grew less and less). But I understand the dog's excitiment. Even now, despite myself, I find it hard to resist the touch of the bought fur. There is a woman in my office who has been yearning for the cold weather to snap, specifically so she can wear her fur coat. Its wear is excused by the notion that being vintage, it is not perpetuating the modern trade. And I concede that is looks luxuriant, and I want to run my hands over it. She hugs it to her face and extolls its warmth, but I cannot help but proffer that was specifically the reason for the animal to have it in the first place. I prefer my fur on living things.

It's all a round about way to talk about my cats. The interestingly monikered Misty Hymen and Anastasia Beaverhausen (I'm gay, what did you expect? General Flump and Skittles?). Bought at an exceedingly tender age from a Russian flop-house in Bethnal Green, their beauty to me knows no bounds. I was their surrogate for a good few weeks, all hope of a natural weaning dispensed upon with my arrival to view them. They, and their two siblings, bounding around a tiny room, crammed with beds and a limited floor space, already being given adult food, and not anywhere approaching litter trained. She, the cat's mother, paid them not a blind bit of notice and despite her pedigree had adopted a decidedly East End approximation of motherhood. It took a while for them to settle, to realise where their food was, to fathom that the toilet was in one place only. They were freaked by the scale of my flat, and I recall the day Misty took her first tentative steps away from the skirting board and ventured into the corner of the room. It made me weep with joy. Her reason for moving? She wanted to be stroked.

They're seven years old, now, and the novelty has never worn off. With the unpredictable consistency that only cats can bring they both approach at an excited rate, a deep full-bodied purrr signally their advance, and I am always happy to oblige. Their softeness unmatched, their smell - a warm just baked shortbread, an accumulation of all the times I've already touched them.

I am intrigued by all forms of downiness. I regularly freak my manager in meetings. In her "Take a letter, Mr. H" moments, I arrive with pad and deeley-bopper pen. It's crest engulffed in a flourish of fluff and soft fake fur. She laughs every time (or titters at the repetative nonsense) but it's a comfort, a pacifying and thoughtful aid to me. Not professional, maybe, but an enhancer of my professionalism. I cannot stop touching it. In the same way, I cannot pass a supermarket display of ripe peaches without running my fingers across their skin. I will never tire of stealing pussy willow from a tree and stroking the back of my hand, and cheeks, and the bliss of caressing, and having caressed one's own fur - the fur of a man.

Friday, 15 October 2010


2010 has been a sad year. My 'anus horribilus'.

It started badly. I split from my partner of 12 years. I need no sympathy, it was my idea, and whilst I have tried every ounce of willpower to imagine us back together, I can't do it.

My job's been a ballache. Three years ago, when I started it offered a truckload of prospect. It has now become a series of days in which meaningless paper is presented to me and moved from tray, to tray, to file. It feels desperate and unfulfilling.

Financing a newly single life has taken me to the point of economic despair. Buying new furniture and committing to clearing associated debt has been tough, and, at times, nauseatingly upsetting. There's a light at the end of that tunnel, but at the moment it's a match - tenuous and wavering, and always threatening to extinguish at any moment.

But I'm sick of being miserable. I'm not a naturally depressive person. I need to bolster my mood. I need to remind my self of the things I love, the things that make life worth living.

I used to hate autumn. Preceded by the acronymatic phanopoeia of Seasonal Adjustment Disorder. The sun at Lat 51.5283, Long -0.0164 decides to neglect the morning as Summer ends, barely reaching the height of the rooftops and lulling the body into a false sense of eternal night. Getting up is impossible. Promised early runs and gym visits never happen. Everything about the season tells me to stay in, prepare, hibernate. And yet the sun's light takes on a moody, glamourous glow. It filters through charcoal Rothko-esque cloud, and when it plucks up the energy to burn through, reveals crisp, startling blues. We don't see the sky in the height of summer’s heat. It's a milky, hazy, diluted blue, flooded by sun. Autumn blue is cold and sharp and enhances our surrounding world with such clarity.

Nature seems to desert us with surprisingly swift and careless abandon in autumn. Birds in massive flocks swoop and dive in rehearsal, preparing their quick escape to warmer climes. The trees shed their glorious summer greens and shut down for the winter. They have the right idea. As someone over forty it makes me think of death. It is a reminder of another year over, and the cycle gets quicker and quicker.

But a gaggle of geese, making their way South in a big crepuscular wave, honking in companiable unison, is a joy. It cheers me in the same way as seeing good friends off on some great adventure at the airport. They’ll be back sooner than we know it, and with great tales to tell. The birds that get left behind endeavour to fill us with cheer. The humble Robin (who we've forgotten since March) put's his red vest on, and punctuates our hedgerows like a miniature ring-master, bobbing and weaving, and saying “look at me, I’m here… now I’m here... Are you looking?”

And if the leaves on the trees went grey, rather than the sumptuous warming reds and oranges, we'd have cause for complaint. As it is, the beauty of this transition is accompanied by awe and wonder the world over. The carpet of fire that satisfyingly litters parks and pavements, hides the dirt, the dying decaying grass. Unfortunately it sometimes hides a rogue dog-poo, but the less said about that the better.

As the sun affords us little time, we light up the evenings. I love the adoption of a true Halloween from our American cousins. The hollowing of pumpkins to create ghoulishly fun lanterns is the best use for the frankly tasteless squash, and gets us creative. November brings the unnatural and inexplicable wonder of fireworks, from our own history, and from our mixed cultures in the form of Diwali, and there’s some TV sparkle in the form of Strictly Come Dancing, which dazzles us with its sequins like a gloriously daft carpet of fairy dust to Christmas.

So, much to be thankful for, and much to sit back and savour. I’m going to use this blog to tell you about the things I love. They may be small things, like a martini or cigarettes, or bigger adorations like architecture, cities, countries, people. Hopefully you’ll love them too. And if not, you’ll tell me why…

Next up, Marmite!