Laughter – The Best Medicine

Take time out to have a giggle today…

There is no better cure for a bad or sad mood than laughter. Not just a little giggle but hard to breathe laughter which is a bit like having an emotional cleanse. It’s hard not to feel better after a convulsion of hysterical laughter. Think of that feeling when you suddenly find something amuses you to the point of no return: breath comes in short pants, you double up and totally lose it. You straighten up then convulse again and again, tears streaming down your face. Sometimes you remember the moment for ages afterwards. Laughter should be a daily ritual for us all – a feel good factor to help us through the day, but sometimes spontaneous laughter eludes us. Stress hormones, depression, boredom and many other factors tip us into a mood that makes it impossible to feel jolly. I was feeling this dark mood today until I reminded myself of some funny experiences I’ve had in the past. Sometimes what sets us off along the path to possible hysteria may not be anywhere near as funny to someone else. Sometimes they are ‘you had to be there’ moments and indeed when you try to recount a funny story to someone some of the mirth gets lost along the way, but just for fun this week I want to write a few true stories that hopefully may amuse you .

For some reason some of the amusing things that have happened to me concerns cats. I don’t have a cat now but in the past we have had two. Both totally full of character and both typically eccentric like our family. Let me introduce them:

Jim : The most handsome Ginger Tom. Looked like a cat who should have been cast in a production of Garfield The Movie. Used to share his lunch with a Magpie. Prone to explosive diarrhoea which usually peppered the kitchen walls.

Fred : Black and white. Very fluffy with a bushy tail. Scared of his own shadow, adorable. Always walked into a room sideways. Had his own giant cat bed (the family sofa which he would let you sit on occasionally). Took a morning constitutional walk the same time every day always following the same route.

Jim’s story.

One morning I felt some foreboding as a letter fell onto the mat bearing the logo of the local Veterinary Surgery. That could only mean one thing: Jim’s annual vaccination was due. This may not sound too worrying, but for a cat who had a morbid dislike of cat baskets this posed quite a problem. Somehow we had to attend. I am not normally a  deranged woman but I have to say on this occasion sensible reasoning went out of the window on the appointed day, and for reasons best known to myself I decided to take the cat in the car sitting on my lap whilst I persuaded my husband to drive. Jim, sensing adventure, started getting restless and began to knead his paws on my thighs before exploring the interior of the car and then climbing on to my back. It did not bode well. As we drew up outside the vet’s surgery the receptionist looked from the window, perturbed to see us arriving in such an unusual fashion. But there was no going back. We had come this far and WE WERE GOING IN. But first we had to get out of the car without Jim making a quick getaway . Good-naturedly, Jim allowed me to clamp him tightly to my chest and I manoeuvred the two of us out of the car and made for the entrance to the surgery. Thinking all was going well and this was a doddle, we entered the waiting room. Unfortunately , a sense of unease followed as we eyed the full waiting room. Here before us was a total menagerie of birds, rabbits, dogs, cats, hamsters and even a (hopefully) docile python coiled up in a glass case. Their owners looked at us with a mixture of sympathy and pity and started muttering among themselves. I was aware that Jim was beginning to struggle in my arms , even for a relatively placid cat this was way too much temptation tinged with a dose of fear. The receptionist looked at us with something close to horror and walked firmly to the clinical room. I heard her announcing to the young vet that there was a woman and a possibly wild cat in reception that had better be seen. (Or maybe it was a wild woman with a cat – I can’t remember which way round we were announced). A harassed looking veterinary surgeon emerged and, after apologising profusely to the packed waiting room for letting us jump the queue – ushered us in. More mumbling and raised voices ensued and the snake rather alarmingly uncoiled, raising its head and poking out its forked tongue in protest. A parrot in the corner then ruffled its feathers, its owner looking embarrassed as it was distinctly heard to squawk ‘bloody hell, bloody hell!’ Once we were inside the surgery it was suggested we get on with the vaccination as quickly as possible. The vet grabbed Jim in no uncertain terms by the scruff of the neck to plunge the needle in and the job was done. ‘Mrs H’ said the poor harassed chap, ‘I don’t think I need to tell you that bringing a cat along unsecured like this is not a good idea.’ I apologised profusely and totally agreed, promising never to attend again with a loose cat. He showed me out . Grimly, the receptionist handed me a cardboard cat box and demanded I put Jim inside. With a shriek, Jim broke loose from my arms and made for the door. Luckily the snake’s owner was a retired rugby player and caught him in an admirable tackle . Wailing and much flying of fur followed. We tried to edge Jim towards to box whilst holding him in a vice-like grip. He struggled free again and jumped on top of the box, purring smugly as if on a winners’ podium. The receptionist had had enough. She approached, flapping a towel, which she deftly wrapped him in in one fell swoop and unceremoniously bundled him into the box. I paid up and slunk out, the box moving and tilting at dangerous angles, muffled yowls of cat indignation emanating from within. In the car I viewed my reflection with horror . My hair was on end and ginger cat hair coated my pink lip gloss most unbecomingly. My hands were shaking and I gripped the the sides of my seat tightly to steady myself as my speechless husband drove us home. Back at the cottage I let Jim out of the dreaded box, whereupon he looked at me accusingly, leaped off and didn’t return for three days.

Fred’s story.

You would think I had had enough of cat antics, but as luck would have it, soon it was necessary for Fred to pay the vet a visit. Sadly, he had been injured by another cat in a fight and needed some attention. Luckily he didn’t have such an aversion to cat baskets as his erstwhile friend Jim if he was enticed in with a treat. Fred’s problem was his nerves, and when he felt cornered he would go crazy. All started well and on entering the vet’s surgery I placed Fred on the table as asked. A slight hiss could be heard from Fred but nothing too untoward. The wound wasn’t serious and after inspection it was cleaned and sprayed with antibiotic spray. Another slight hiss ensued and I noticed Fred’s hair starting to go on end. However, we were nearly there so no panic. Then the vet spoke. ‘His nails are a bit long, I think I will just give them a little trim.’ I looked at him as if he was totally mad but said nothing. ‘Just hold him for me’ he instructed, approaching with clippers. ‘It won’t take a moment.’ Fred had other ideas. As the vet tried to steady and position his paws, he shrieked and leapt off the table, ricocheting off the walls as he tried to find a way out. Eventually, after flying past us at eye level, he ended up in the open store cupboard and could be heard crashing around the shelves. The vet sighed and went to catch him. Time passed. More crashing and wailing reverberated round the room. Eventually, the vet came back in, his white coat in shreds and his hands wrapped in towels. Fred was dangling from his grip by the scruff of his neck. Wordlessly he pushed him in the basket and shut the lid. Eventually his voice returned. ‘We will leave the nails’ he said and ushered us out with a sigh.

Post script – In all seriousness I do realise Jim’s story could have gone horribly wrong and I would never recommend taking an animal loose in a car etc. Jim was unharmed and lived a long and happy cat life, seemingly unscathed from his escapade with his foolhardy owner, but still…..

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What If You Were Homeless?

How would we cope without our essential home comforts this Christmas time?

Last week I was out and about doing some Christmas shopping. As I walked through the busy Oxford streets, just one of many people with thoughts of the busy time ahead, I noticed several homeless people huddled in doorways, some completely cocooned inside sleeping bags. I wondered if the person inside felt that the harsh outside world would disappear if they shielded themselves from prying eyes and the reality of their situation. I also wondered why these people preferred to sleep during the day but then I realised it probable felt safer – maybe there was less likelihood of being attacked or abused during the day. Like everyone else, I walked on past the homeless people. Sadly it is a common occurrence to see people living on the streets.

But then, later in the day, laden with shopping bags and having been lucky enough to enjoy lunch in a restaurant, I was approached by an elderly man asking for help. He tried to sell me a scruffy scarf saying it wasn’t glamorous but it was all he had to offer in exchange for some money. He said he hadn’t eaten since the day before. He was disheveled and looked desperate. He was polite and softly spoken. I looked into his eyes and saw despair and so I gave him enough money for a sandwich and a hot drink. I like to think he did use the money for that. I hope he did as I know a meal was what he needed the most. Whatever happened, I made the choice to give.

This year we seem to have the highest number of homeless people on our streets than we have seen for many years. Something is terribly wrong. What makes us get used to seeing people desperately needing help and a roof over their heads as part of everyday life?  For those of us with our heads in the sand, it is time to look at the facts – being homeless can happen to any of us  – a bad sequence of events can cause almost anyone to be caught up in a devastating spiral of loss.

Causes of homelessness are : poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, poor physical or mental health, addiction, family and relationship breakdown, and violence or abuse. Low wages and irregular work can cause someone struggling on benefits to slip badly into arrears with rent and have no means to keep themselves solvent. People once able to cope see themselves uses food banks to keep themselves and their families fed.

I have heard it said that homeless people deserve to be on the streets and that they are all drug addicts or alcoholics. I have even known people question why so many homeless people have dogs – surely they can’t be that badly off? But a loving pet can be a lifeline when living without a home and social support. Remember, over 80 per cent of people are ‘between homes’ in most cases the individual had the pet while living in a previous home and wants to continue caring for it. Homelessness can be very isolating and pet companionship is known to help people feel happier and live longer.Maybe too, a homeless person will feel more protected with an animal by his or her side.

Most of the time, drink and drugs is not the cause of homelessness some may turn to drink and drugs as a way of coping with their desperate situations and who can blame them? There are hidden aspects to homelessness; it’s not just people sleeping in a shop window, but families floating from hotel room, to couch or B&B each night.

There are many issues that need to be resolved before we will see real change for the better, and before living on the streets will be a thing of the past. As we all know, our political system is in total disarray – logical thinking seems to have gone out of the window –  but here are ways we can all help to make a difference:

1. See people not labels.

2. Contact an organisation like the Salvation Army if you are worried about someone you see sleeping rough.

3. Make a donation this Christmas to one of The Homelessness Services. You can visit the Salvation Army page.

4. Reach out for support if you are worried for a family member.

http://www.salvationarmy.org.uk

http://www.nhs.uk/service-search.

http://www.england.shelter.org.uk

It is amazing to think that billions of pounds are being spent on a high-speed railway in the UK,  with preparations for this bulldozing their way through the country at a time when poverty is a serious problem…..I could go on…..

I am lucky, very lucky, to have a roof over my head this Christmas and good food on my table. I am blessed with the love and companionship of family. I am enjoying all the preparations for the week ahead. However, as the wind howls outside my door and the rain beats down on the roof, I cannot help but think of the lonely man with the haunted eyes who crossed my path for a moment. He had a life once.

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When we lose a pet…

dog-in-heavenYesterday there was an awful occurrence on the street where we live. A lady was out walking her dog when a car  drew up beside her. Suddenly someone jumped out of the car and  seized her dog which they then bundled into a sack. It was only because the lady screamed so loudly that the thieves dropped the bag and sped off. Thankfully this time no harm was done but this was a totally heartless act.

Most of us love our animals and the pleasure they bring to their owners is immeasurable. We could never contemplate the above. I started thinking about the bond most of us develop with our animals and how much we miss them when they are gone.

Recently my son and his family lost their beloved dog after she had given them many years of loyal companionship. Always there with a welcome whenever we visited, she is still sorely missed by all of us.

I remember our family Scottie too; a real character who made up for his short stature with a very audible presence! Also, he could hear the rattle of a biscuit tin lid from a hundred yards away! Never really trusted off the lead, he led us a merry dance, but was a very humorous character who only ever sat on his own chair, and once ate my son’s dental brace. We said goodbye to him in very sad circumstances but he wagged his tail to the end.

I must also mention my sister’s dog, a dear old Staffy who came from a rescue center and was much loved. She had a wonderful temperament and never got cross, even when violently attacked by another dog.

Here is a poem for all our four legged friends,

and especially for Roxy, Winston, and Queenie.

All God’s Creatures

For all kinds of creatures who’ve passed from this place
There’s a land up in Heaven with plenty of space
For shaggy dogs and fluffy cats,
Long eared rabbits, hamsters and rats.

There are hutches and baskets, pillows and rugs
And plenty of angels to give out some hugs.
There are grassy meadows for the cows and the sheep
And a shed lined with hay where the horses can sleep.

Nosebags are stuffed full of carrots and oats
And for cold winter evenings there are fur lined coats.
And here every dog can jump and run
And every cat stretch out its paws in the sun.

Happiness reigns and there is freedom to roam
And room for all in this Heavenly home,
Yet once in a while in this menagerie
They’ll remember home, and you and me.

© Lyn Halvorsen