On how to trump Trump..one unsolicited act of kindness at a time.
At the beginning of the year, my book, Able Seacat Simon, was published – a novel based on the life of the eponymous famous feline, who was ship’s cat aboard HMS Amethyst during the 1949 Yangtse Incident. He’s also the only cat to have ever been awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal.
So there’s the background. Now we move on to mid April, when an email arrives from a lady called Ann, writing to tell me that she has finished it, and to pass on some kind comments about it too. She also tells me how much her 83 year old mum loves it, and sends a couple of photos of her own cherished kitty, Patsy, and one of a crocheted cat tissue box holder she’s made. As opposed to crocheted cat-tissue box holder, which is quite different, and would be bonkers – everyone knows cats never blow their noses.
(I’ve been blessed with this particular book, by the way – so much lovely, and often humbling, correspondence. And I wonder – are cat lovers and retired naval officers a particularly warm and communicative group? I’ve never had such a plethora of letters.)
Anyway, cracking on, I reply, admiring both her darling cat and her crocheting skills – not least because my own needle skills are virtually non-existent. I’m still knitting a ‘stylish’ snood I began in 2012, and am still only a ball and a half in.
“Would you like me to make you a ‘Simon’ holder?” Ann asks, in her next email.
“Why, yes, I would,” I respond, because why ever wouldn’t I? I’m not really a tissue person – I generally favour a wodge of kitchen roll – but what’s not to like about being given a present? Particularly when that present is both personal and hand-made.
Fast forward a couple of months, to the arrival another email. Ann hasn’t forgotten me. The holder is finally now in progress. It’s just that she’s been busy – Ann works full time – and since her personalised holders take around four weeks each to make, she has currently got something of a backlog. She makes them, you see, for anyone who wants them, asking only that the recipient make a small donation to her local cat shelter, so they can buy much needed cat food.
We chat further. About her cat and our cats, about my friend Rose’s cat, Stan. The usual random cat stuff, because that’s the way we cat ladies roll.
And then, in October, comes the news that it’s finished. And a week or so later, my gift arrives in the post, along with six knitted catnip balls – she makes those as well – two each for my two, plus two more for my friend Rose’s cat, Stan.
(The catnip balls go down A STORM.)
Touched, I write to thank her, and also mention in my email that my tissue-holding Simon has already been much admired, my other friend Jane having been round when I received it.
Ann writes back immediately. Would Jane like one too? And, if so, what colour would she prefer?
I consult Jane – who is touched and delighted. I tell Ann ‘goldy-slash-beigey-slash-marmalade-catty’, as Jane’s Reggie, who was run over a couple of years back, had been a ginger tom. I also mention that I too have had something of a hectic week – because the children’s version of Able Seacat Simon has just come out, and I’ve been busy penning cat facts and feline fun stuff for my diminutive new readership.
Ann emails back, wishing both me and the book well, commenting that she will definitely look out for it in the shops, because her friend’s 10 year old daughter Grace will doubtless love it.
So I write back – would Grace like me to send her a signed copy?
She would. So I send one, duly dedicated and dated, and this week, Ann’s written to say how chuffed Grace’s mum Carol is, and that Grace herself has had her nose in it ever since.
Which is lovely. As I’m sure will be Jane’s goldy-slash-beigey-slash- marmalade-catty crocheted holder. But why exactly (I hear you ask) have I filled up this page with all this everyday, bland, boring schizzle?
Because Ann’s a happy bunny. Because I’m a happy bunny. because Rose is happy, and, once her holder arrives, Jane will be happy too. (Well, happier, which is what this is all about.) And, in turbulent times, full of mistrust and hate, young Grace has learned something positive about people – that unsolicited acts of kindness, by stranger, are still, in fact, a thing.
So no apologies for sharing. Indeed, please pass it on. This everyday boring swizzle is precisely the sort of thing that will help heal us.
First Published in Western Mail Weekend magazine, Nov 19th 2016