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Cats Shouldn’t Eat… first published earlier this year

I am an animal lover.  I admit it unashamedly.  Anyone and everyone who knows me, even slightly, will know that. My first, as yet, unpublished, book is about my cats.  So, it will come as no surprise to you to learn that I am signed up to a number of blogs, etc, about animals.

I received an e-mail today that told me about a number of common foodstuffs that cause cats a problem if they eat it.  That got me thinking.

Four cats, all with different tastes in food.  All with different eating habits.

Rhea, for example, loves a spider plant.   She’ll have a little chew whenever she can.  I tell you, I can put a Sergeant Major to shame now, for my shouting abilities.  I’m sure that isn’t good for her,
“You ‘orrible little cat, get off that plant!”

Artemis: Pretty much anything that is edible goes where she is concerned.

Oceana: she is convinced that she’s human, except of course, when she is bringing mice home.  And is very keen to take food off of my plate (or anyone else’s, come to that).  Even the bones of sprats, which was one occurrence.

Telesto: I think she comfort eats.  For a cat that doesn’t much like humans, she certainly finds enough humans to feed her.  Anyone who puts food out for stray cats or the foxes, Telesto finds her way to their homes and then comes back her for seconds.  I seriously thought she was suffering from bulimia when she vomited over my freshly changed bed linen on Monday morning.

And Dreamies.  They will do almost anything for Dreamies.  Or the supermarket home brand equivalent.  Rattle a bag of Dreamies and I can do anything.  Actually, I’m a bit surprised that they still fall for that one, but they do.  Polythene bags.  What is the fascination for polythene bags?  Rhea loves a little chew of them; Artemis tries to sit in them.  (I know, I know…)

Cats are curious.  Whatever it is, they want to know all about it.  This morning, Artemis was standing like a meerkat, sniffing the bottom of my coat.  (That will be the dogs I stroke on the way to work.)  They even go through the waste bins, just in case I have inadvertently thrown away some food that might be essential for their survival.  I can’t have a glass of wine without them checking that it’s not something they might like.

Telesto knows that she doesn’t like peanut butter, but it doesn’t stop her from holding a full inspection of my breakfast every morning.  Just in case something might have changed.
So I’m not surprised that cats often eat things that they shouldn’t. I’m only surprised that they stop where they do.

©Susan Shirley 2014

The Italian Bookshop – first published 11/2/14

I posted a few months ago that I had started to learn to speak Italian. I purchased my textbooks online, but through the Italian Bookshop in Soho. Of course, now I’m on the mailing list, and recently received an invitation to a function that was taking place there yesterday. I didn’t understand most of the e-mail – way too advanced for me, but my Italian friend gave me the gist of it, and agreed to come along with me.

The basis of it was that there were two female journalists, one of whom has written a book called Do You Know Who I Am. More correctly, that’s how it translates into English. The author, who writes for Marie Claire, Vogue and others, was talking about her experiences interviewing various Hollywood stars, and other aspects of her working life. My friend told me that I’d really have enjoyed it had I been able to understand it.

The event ended with wine and nibbles. The manageress of the bookshop started to talk to me in Italian and my friend explained that I am a studentessa.

The manageress said, “Maybe it was too advanced for you, but brava!”

She was right, it was too advanced for me, I understood a few words, but that was it. Good job I had V to translate.


©Susan Shirley 2014

Travelling to Work

It takes me just 14 minutes to walk from my house to the station. On Friday, it was the longest 14 minutes of my life. I was not halfway down the road when the Heavens opened. By the time I reached the station I was absolutely drenched.

Didn’t I know it was going to rain? Yes, of course, I had seen the weather forecast. But I wasn’t expecting it to rain quite so early in the day, nor quite so heavily. Showers, they had said on the BBC, my main source of reference for these things.

If your definition of a shower is hard, pelting rain that comes down like stair rods, almost like hail but not quite, that only lasts about 8 minutes, then yes, I suppose it was a shower. That is not, by the way, my definition of a shower.

Anyway, I survived that particular ordeal and arrived at the station somewhat bedraggled, but ready for the next step in my journey. As it’s the school holidays, the trains are not too crowded at the moment. My preference is usually to sit at the end of the carriage, out of everyone’s way, except for those who think it is a jolly jape to steam through the carriages. However, on this occasion, the window was wide open. If I sat by the window when it was raining, I knew from experience that there was a strong chance that I would get wet as the rain was blown into the carriage.

Why didn’t I close the window, I hear you ask? Well, that is often easier said than done. Some of those windows are really stiff and I find them impossible to close. And anyway, you will recall that I was still soaking wet and wanted the air to circulate to help dry me off. I had no desire to spend the entire day with a wet bottom. I sat a little further down the carriage.

There was a chap a bit further along, talking to himself very loudly. Actually, on further inspection, he was talking on his ‘phone with the hands free thingy. Years ago, we London travellers would have avoided anyone who spoke to themselves like the plague. It was always a sign that they were mentally ill. (Ok, back in the day we’d have called them “nutters” but I am far too politically correct for that now.)

I’ve encountered more than my fair share of them over the years. I remember vividly travelling home on a number 38 bus one day. My hair was in a chestnut coloured bob at the time (it’s relevant, believe me. What happened wouldn’t have happened if I’d looked the way I do now). I was reading a newspaper, and I do tend to get quite engrossed when I’m reading, to the extent that I’ve even missed my stop before now. Anyway, eventually I became aware of a woman sitting behind me who said something like,

“You Asians, you come over here and take our jobs…..” Moan, moan, moan.

To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention, just vaguely wondered who was the target of her venom. I’m a bit on the pale side, and if I get mistaken for any nationality, it’s usually Dutch. Must be something to do with the clogs I suppose. Anyway, the droning on behind me continued and I heard something about “reading a newspaper.” That stopped me in my tracks. I turned around. The moaning woman gaped in horror as she stared into my baby blues.

“Oh, you’re not……. are you?”

“No, I’m not, although I’m not sure exactly what difference that makes?”

The woman didn’t answer me but she did get off at the next stop.

Back to Friday’s journey. I changed trains at the mainline interchange. The trains are air conditioned and, if the connection is there when the first train pulls in, it’s quicker. The carriage was almost empty, which was good for me, because I wanted to write this blog post. Except for the fact that other occupant in the carriage was chewing gum. You know the sort, don’t you? Open mouthed and very, very noisy. Really? I am not a dentist and do not wish to inspect your teeth. My mother would have slapped me if I’d done that as an adult, never mind as a child. I do realise that you can’t eat chewing gum in an elegant or stylish fashion, I really do, but honestly, can’t people hear themselves? It’s disgusting.

Which leads me on to my next rant du jour, but you’ll have to wait for my next post for that one.


©Susan Shirley 2014

My First Job Interview

I was writing an article yesterday, on an HR related topic, which put me in mind of my first job. Or, more correctly, my first job interview, if you can call it that.

As a teenager, I don’t think I planned for anything and didn’t have the faintest clue what I wanted to do. I stopped full-time education when I was 16, so in the months before I finished school, there was a quick interview with the careers advisor (I say “quick” because I doubt that I contributed anything of value to the conversation) and I went back to class. That meeting went something like this:

“What would you like to do when you leave school?”

“No idea.”

“What are your interests?”

“Um, well, I like reading. And animals.” There were other things, but playing poker and going out drinking are things that you just can’t tell your careers advisor.

“Animals? Would you like to train as a veterinary nurse?”


“Why not?”

“I’ll get upset if they have to put animals to sleep.

“What about an office job?”

“Ok then.”

The next thing I knew was that I had a job interview, for an office job.

I don’t now remember exactly when the interview took place, but I know that my first day at work was 6 August, and I’d only had a couple of weeks off since leaving school, so my guess is that it was the end of June/beginning of July. I don’t remember completing an application form either, although I suppose I must have, as I was being employed by a government department.   Anyway, I digress.

I went to an all girls’ school, and we played hockey every week. When I say, we played hockey, that was what it said on the curriculum. Can you imagine all those female teenage hormones together in one place, with no outlet apart from brandishing a stick, not necessarily towards a ball? What an aggressive bunch of heathens they were. I remember clearly one of the bones in my foot being knocked out of position by the action of a wayward hockey stick because I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was nothing jolly about it at all, from my recollection, and whoever coined that particular expression has clearly never played the game with other teenage girls.

On the day of my interview, we’d played hockey. We didn’t shower after hockey, I don’t really remember why. So, I turned up for my interview wearing my uniform school dress, which was fine blue, grey, white and black stripes, and actually nicer than it sounds, my royal blue school blazer, and my extremely attractive royal blue hockey socks, which insisted on slipping down to my ankles, revealing my matching bruises and bits of mud. I looked as though I’d been in a fight, not a hockey match. You’ll be pleased to learn, though, that I had managed to take my hockey boots off and put shoes back on though, so you can see, I was all about making a good impression.

I have absolutely no idea what was going through my mind, I’m sure I must have been a bit nervous. Anyway, I made my way to the government building, announced myself in the front counter, full of social security claimants. I must have looked very out of place. Someone came to collect me, and I was taken up to the office of Mr M.

Very welcoming he was, too. He shook my hand and invited me to sit down. Now, I must have been very naive, because there were absolutely no papers on his desk (this was before we used computers) but I assumed that, as he was the big boss, he was the busiest man in the world. My Mum and Dad have a lot to answer for, bringing me up with an inherent sense of faith in authority, and believing every word that people tell me.

As interviews go, it was pretty easy. I don’t remember what questions he asked me, but I do remember that I made him laugh a lot, and I did a lot of laughing. It was all very jovial. I must have been smoking hot.

I’ve ever had another interview like that. I even remember being given a cup of tea, and that’s never happened since either! I seem to recall being asked very difficult questions in later interviews, so that first interview really set me up for the wrong view of the world of work.

There was a point in time when I was having so many job interviews that I became very proficient at them and I actually started interviewing the interviewers. (That’s a really bad tactic, by the way. A few pertinent questions at the end of the interview are fine, but not throughout the interview. Nowadays, with my interviewing experience, I wouldn’t let anyone do that to me, and would be decidedly miffed if anyone tried, but I seemed to get away with it.)

It’s all much more formal nowadays, at least with big employers. You can’t ask this or that because of various bits of European legislation and fashions in interviewing have changed, just as with clothing. We HR types particularly like behavioural and competency based questions, such as “Can you give me an example of when you did….?”

Of course there are the questions that we were discussing in the office the other day, such as “What kind of dog are you?” (The kind that likes a comfortable bed and lots of food) or “How do you weigh an elephant?” but these are used more by non-HR professionals. Just for the record, the answer isn’t the important bit in these questions; it’s the thought process and your ability to think on your feet that matters.

Back to my job interview, I was offered the job, and worked there for several years, so I clearly won Mr M over with my charm and wit. Let’s hope I can do it again when I start job-hunting again.



©Susan Shirley 2014









We were having one of those conversations in my office at work the other day, you know the ones: they start from nowhere and really don’t lead anywhere but take you back to things you learned at school. Well, things some of us learned at school.

I feel the need to say right now that, although I’m the oldest one in my office, I am not, old. I like to think of myself more as a fine wine. Well, I drink enough of the stuff, so I should be.

I don’t know how we got onto it, but I asked my colleagues whether they knew what a furlong or a chain was. They didn’t. I know it’s all metric nowadays, but when I was at school, we were taught about these old measurements. And very logical they all were too. The measurements derived from things like how far you could plough a furrow before the horses tired (a furlong) or a yard believed to being the distance from the tip of the nose to the end of the thumb when the arm is outstretched. Who needed a tape measure?

Oh Suzette and Theresa, you don’t know what you missed out on when you were at school. What do you mean, what happened if your arm was longer than mine? Well, that may be why it all changed in the 1800s. By the way, some of the names used are the same as those used in the US, but the measurements are not always the same. No confusion there then.

English units are those that were used in England up to 1824, which evolved from both Roman and Anglo-Saxon systems. When William of Normandy pitched up at Hastings in 1066 and took over the throne, he did not, contrary to popular belief, bring a load of new-fangled Norman stuff with him. However, he did bring the bushel.Now tell me, apart from Theresa and Suzette, who hasn’t heard of a bushel and a peck? As in Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers… Or I love you a bushel and a peck? (The Doris Day fans amongst you will know that one.) Moving on.

In 1824, the Weights and Measures Act was passed, and from thereon in, we used that system of measurement until we officially went modern. Or metric. Actually, it didn’t start being used until 1 January 1826. Clearly bureaucracy got in the way even then. From what I can tell, it wasn’t vastly different from the English units, but I expect passing the Act kept the MPs of the day busy. And kept them being paid, so no change there then.

For some reason that I don’t fully understand, bushels and pecks are referred to as dry measures. I’ve always thought of gallons in terms of liquid measures, but there you go. There are 4 pecks to a bushel and 2 gallons to a peck. You’ve all heard of gallons, haven’t you? 8 pints to a gallon, 20 fluid ounces to a pint, 4 gills to a pint, and 2 pints to a quart. (Quart = quarter of a gallon.)

It was length that started our conversation in the office. Oh, how I remember having to learn 1,760 yards to a mile, 8 furlongs to a mile (Theresa knew that one, from watching the horse racing). A furlong is 220 yards (I had to learn that too). A chain is 22 yards, so there are 10 to a furlong, and three feet to a yard. A foot is so named, because it was the length of an Englishman’s foot. (I don’t know the name of the particular Englishman, but I’m going with John. It was a common enough name back in the day.)

Then, of course, there are perches, roods and acres….  all units of area.

16 ounces to a pound, 14 pounds to a stone (yes, I do still weigh myself in stones and pounds. Well, I weigh myself in pounds, because that’s how I enter it into my app, but I convert it in my head as I’m getting into the shower, because that way I know where I am. And I thought you might want to know a bit about my morning routine.) 112 pounds to a hundredweight (before you ask, no I don’t know why it’s not a hundred and twelve weight, I just know there’s an exception to every rule) and 20 hundredweights make a ton.

I don’t remember having to learn it (I think I am entitled to have forgotten somethings I was taught) but a fathom is the distance between outstretched arms, which is supposed to be 6 feet. What about a hairsbreadth away? A hairbreadth was actually, according to some texts, a formal unit of length, a 48th of an inch.

We measure horses in hands. Nowadays it’s 4 inches, although way back, it was 3 inches. It was the distance between the tip of the thumb and forefinger.

When my Mum used to make cakes and pastry she literally took a handful of this and a pinch of that – no wonder it was so difficult to follow what she was doing… Well, a handful was used as an old dry measure, for grain or the like. And thumb, that was used to measure an inch. So when we use the term “rule of thumb,” it may have originated from carpenters taking rough measurements.

So, now I bet Theresa and Shauntae are really pleased that I didn’t use a “rule of thumb” to measure up that evening dress! And I know my time at school was not wasted!


©Susan Shirley 2014



LE TOUR DE FRANCE and other cycling stories

We’ve been bitten by the Tour de France bug here in Central London. Of course, I didn’t get to see it, I was stuck in an extremely boring meeting, but walking along towards Embankment tonight, a lot of the roads were still closed, and the support vehicles were making their way to wherever support vehicles make their way when they’ve finished supporting events.

I admire cyclists. It’s good exercise, for one thing. You get to places quicker than you do by walking. Of course the trade off for that is that it’s harder going up a steep hill on a bicycle than it is if you are walking it. Another reason that I admire cyclists is that they take their lives in their hands when they cycle in Central London. Mind you, they can be a danger to other road users, car drivers and pedestrians alike. There are times when I’ve only narrowly escaped a collision with a cyclist.

I used to be able to ride a bike. That was a long time ago though, from about the ages of 7 to 16. I had the usual tricycle first of all. I still think there is a lot of merit in having a tricycle. Think about it, I could get a lot more shopping on one of those than I could balance on a bicycle, it would balance better.

Anyway, back to bicycles. My big brother got what we called a two-wheeler; I don’t remember exactly how old he was. Daft name, really, considering that the word bicycle means two wheels, but never mind. I remember it vividly. It was a beautiful red and yellow specimen and I was immensely jealous. If I was very good, he’d let me have a go on it, when I grew big enough. It may even have been handed down to me. We did things like that in our family.

Eventually, I got my own bike. I thought it was so grand. It was a proper girls’ bike, maroon in colour, without the cross bar, so you could wear a skirt with it, although frankly, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to wear a skirt when riding a bike. I remember my Mum doing that though, and I suppose, back in Edwardian times, ladies didn’t wear jeans. Or trousers.

Actually, the first verifiable “bicycle” dates back to 1817 – the Draisine. It was quite a strange looking affair; it looks almost as though you’d walk along with it, which clearly defeats the object of the exercise.

From the 1820s to the 1850s, tricycles (see, I knew they were good) and quadracycles were en vogue. They looked a bit like two penny farthings attached back to front, but the penny farthing didn’t come into being until around 1870.

I don’t quite know when I stopped riding my bike; I suspect it was when I started work. About the same time that I discovered the joys of pubs and discos. (That’s what we called them back in those days.) All I know is that the last time I tried riding a bike it was an unmitigated disaster. I just managed to get off before I fell off.

Nowadays in London, we have what we call “Boris bikes.” Or Barclays Cycle Hire, as they are more correctly known, which have been in operation since 30 July 2010. A little known fact about the Boris bikes is that their riders are three times less likely to be injured per trip than cyclists in general. Strange the things you discover.

The Tour de France has come a long way since the very first race back in 1903, when it was run in six stages, each averaging 400km (compared with roughly 171km today). The first tour ran the following route:

Paris – Lyons

Lyons – Marseilles (the only stage with mountains)

Marseilles – Toulouse

Toulouse – Bordeaux

Bordeaux – Nantes

Nantes – Paris

And then, in 1974, the French allowed the Tour to come here. It seems our British xenophobia put the organisers off for quite some time. Apparently, the participants fell foul of the immigration authorities. The Tour came here so that the artichoke growers from Brittany could market their produce.

Still, they’ve obviously not held a grudge, they let it come back again in 2007, and now, again, this year. Maybe 2021 next time?



©Susan Shirley 2014