One of my favourite photos of Molly. Typically exploring, typically posing for the camera. RIP precious angel with fur.

One of my favourite photos of Molly. Typically exploring, typically posing for the camera. RIP precious angel with fur.

The 24th June was a painfully sad day for our family. Our beloved Molly cat was so ill Tina and I had to make the heartbreaking decision to have her put to sleep. She was only three years old and the illness came as a huge unexpected shock.

Only noticeably unwell a few days before, we took her to the vets on the Saturday morning, and were advised to admit her to animal hospital that afternoon so she could be put on a drip. Overnight she worsened significantly rather than improved, and the tests suggested her kidneys had failed or her bladder had ruptured. The tests required to ascertain a full diagnosis were unavailable until the following day, and the results would have been the day after. If it was kidney failure the prognosis was very bleak. Molly was in great pain and failing fast. She was swelling up with the fluid retention as she could not pass urine. It was unlikely she would make it until the Tuesday’s results. We felt it better to end her suffering and let her pass away in the arms of her loved ones rather than most likely alone and scared in the hospital.

It was one of the most horrible and saddest moments of my life. Molly was like no other cat I’d ever encountered. We used to say there’ll never be another Moll-Moll and it was so true. Incredibly affectionate, so full of life, demanding of near constant attention, Molly seemed more dog-like than a cat. She was a right character, with her own personality. Not a day went past without her making us laugh at some crazy antics. Sometimes I’d wonder whether she was daft and not quite right, but then other times it seemed more like she knew exactly what she was doing and successfully gaining our attention. When Bevan arrived she was certainly jealous of any fuss he received. Molly liked to get into bed with us, and curl up in her “cave” purring like a motor. Naturally inquisitive she loved sitting in the window watching the world go by, and when she could she loved to hang out in a sunny backyard. When I laid some turf in the front yard Molly decided it would be fun to join in, rolling around in the earth, and coming in absolutely filthy. There are so many happy memories of her and we can draw consolation from the fact she was rescued at 3 months of age from the “kill list” in a Jacksonville animal shelter, and she had three years of a happy life in a very loving home. At the same time we felt robbed. We knew one day we’d have to say goodbye but we never expected it to be so soon.

We brought Molly home curled up in a blanket, looking like she was just asleep. Bevan, who always desperately wanted to be Molly’s friend, was incredibly upset when he saw her. I’m sure he mourned for several days afterwards. Hadley cat, who despite some evidence of affection only ever really tolerated Molly, and gave the same reaction as when they had first met when Molly was a kitten – she hissed. Molly was laid to rest in a favourite sunny spot in the backyard, buried in a whicker basket that had been the cats’ toy box in America. We bought a white dwarf rose bush and a cat garden ornament in her memory.

Tina and I felt raw for several weeks. The house seemed quiet without Molly, the balance didn’t seem right. While outwardly affectionate and demanding of fuss from both of us, Molly had always been a “daddy’s girl” where Hadley always preferred Tina. So I was particularly affected by Molly’s passing. But we had no intention of getting another cat at that point, it seemed disrespectful to Molly’s memory and we were still hurting too much. We missed our Moll-Moll immensely. There was always something to remind us of her and set us off crying again. Plus Hadley actually seemed a lot happier. Maybe a one cat, one dog home was the right mix. Life however throws up surprises, and after the tragic one losing Molly, a more pleasant one occurred.

Amelia on her first day in her new home

Amelia on her first day in her new home

Tina at this stage was still working for MyPetStop and caring for RSPCA animals. She was particularly fond of Mario a beautiful grey rescue cat, although any chance of adoption was out as he could not be rehomed with other cats. One day when I collected her from work Tina took me to the RSPCA apartments to meet Mario. Wandering around I spotted a cute bundle of fluff climbing up the mesh on its apartment door. It was almost at chest level. Like Molly this cat was white but had black and calico splodges and tail. It was like a cross between Molly and Hadley. The kitten was named Imogen by the RSPCA and had been brought in after it had followed another cat home in Bramley. She looked small for her age. She was in with another kitten of a similar age called Miles who was a tearaway, running around having fun while Imogen looked on. I held her in my arms, and on my lap, and against my shoulder and she was so calm and relaxed, purring away. It felt right. I wanted her to be ours. I did wonder a little whether the timing was good, or whether she was just a “rebound cat”, but that feeling subsided when I held her close. We went back several times, and each time that bond felt stronger. At first it seemed like we wouldn’t be able to adopt her as the RSPCA wanted both kittens to go to the same home even thought they weren’t siblings. However the adoption was approved and on 5th August Amelia, as she was now renamed, came home with us.

Bevan meets his new sister cat Mimi

Bevan meets his new sister cat Mimi

Bevan was delighted with his new sister cat. From the start Mimi (as Amelia gets shortened to) was confident around him and happy to play. Bevan is gentle and very protective of her. Mimi likes to provoke him into a chase, hide, then sneak up on him to provoke him again when he gets bored looking. They happily curl up together in Bevan’s bed. Hadley so far is less impressed with the new arrival. Mimi doesn’t seem to be intimidated by Hadley like Molly was, and despite being much smaller puts up a fight. Normally scared stiff of Hadley, Bevan will actually stand up to her if she’s threatening Mimi.

Mimi will never be a replacement for our special Molly that we still miss so much. Yet Mimi is special in her own way and has already captured our hearts. Like Molly, Mimi is very affectionate without demanding attention. She is sweet natured and full of mischief, giving us plenty of smiles and laughter. Mimi loves human company and shares Molly’s tendency to get into bed under the covers with us. Quite early on Mimi decided to perch on my shoulder, and this is now her preferred method of travelling around the house.

Amelia settles in on her first day home

Amelia settles in on her first day home

She is definitely another “daddy’s girl”. Furthermore she is lovely with Bevan and he now has the friend he wanted so much in Molly. Although she does try to steal his dog treats! I never expected to get another cat so soon after Molly passed away, but I feel Mimi was meant to be with us. She has brought balance back to the home, and helped us heal the pain of losing sweet Moll-Moll.

Last sight of Jacksonville, the airport window mural It is hard to believe but it was one year ago today that I last set foot on American soil. One of the last things I saw of Jacksonville was the graphic on the airport window shown here and so it seemed a suitable header for this post. I had been over in the USA again to break up the seven months of separation that Tina and I faced before she arrived in the UK, to take over evidence for her visa application, and to help its completion. This final visit was bitter-sweet. It was wonderful to see Tina, the boys, cats and her family again, and good to know that while still a few months away, the next time we saw each other would be over here ready to start a life together. Yet it was sad to say goodbye to an area that had provided great friendships, and had been a happy home for six months in 2009. There was the uncertainty of when I might see Jacksonville Beach again.

The “Shack”, as we called the apartment on 10th Avenue North in Jacksonville Beach, looked a forlorn shadow of its former self, many of Tina’s possessions now packed away ready to travel back with me. During this final visit I took a lot of video footage of that place and made it into a short film, a record of what was our first home together. It was a poignant moment when I set off for the airport from it for the last time. There are times when I miss it, times when I have a flashback, and I hear the breeze through the window blinds, the swish of palms trees swaying outside, and the comforting creak of the front door as it closed behind you. Having the ocean so close was something we never tired of or took for granted, and I certainly benefited from the warm climate and near guaranteed several hours of sunshine throughout the year. In the last few months I have taken up cycling to work. While the weather and environs bear no resemblance to Jacksonville Beach whatsoever, and I don’t envisage ever travelling to work in shorts, t-shirt, and flip flops, I pull up at the bike locker at my workplace and it reminds me so often of locking my bike in the rack behind the Shack having just done a grocery run. I’m transported back there.

Another important thing that six months in the Shack gave me was friendship. Living in that apartment block and having the communal garden at the front introduced me to many great people who shared the residence and became part of my life there. Life is good for Joey and Agent FangI miss them all but the two main characters of the piece were Joey and Michael, and I confess that I haven’t kept in touch as much as I’d have liked or should have done. That’s something I need to work on, and can only apologise for. Joey’s occasional emails are no substitute for the amusing notes under the door and the banter that followed, while Michael’s thoughtfulness and generosity were matched by his fine company up the Ritz bar as we supped $2 beers. I hope one day they might visit here so I can return the hospitality.

But overall I’m not sure I could have taken to life in the USA. Their concept of society is far more individualistic than here, and other than the weather and close proximity to the beach, Tina and I felt we would have a better quality of life in the UK. It was for that reason that on 15th July 2010 Tina and two of her boys arrived at Manchester Airport complete with nine suitcases and the important Fiancee Visa. Hadley and Molly cats had arrived in the UK a couple of weeks before, enduring a transatlantic trip and a near four hour drive from Heathrow. Initially frazzled by this ordeal, by the time Tina and the boys arrived the cats were settling in and seemed happy with their new home. The boys were soon settling in too and making friends in the back streets. We made some day trips to the Lake District, Wales and the east coast, and eventually got them into local schools.

The main event of 2010 though was of course at 4pm on Wednesday 8th September when Tina and I married at Temple Newsam House in Leeds, and had an exceptional reception at the Queens Hotel. I have to say that going drinking the night before with the Best Man, Maid of Honour, and Tina’s nephew Joey was not ideal preparation for the big day. I felt decidedly unwell until around 2pm, and was still writing my speech at midday. The Happy Couple - photo by S Finney Putting on the suit was an epic struggle, and the journey to Temple Newsam was a tad fraught, arriving about 15 minutes before kick off, and only a few minutes before the bride! Still it left little time for nerves, the service went perfectly, and we had such a glorious location for our photographs. We were joined too by wonderful guests; family and friends, including Tina’s Mum, Dad, Step-Dad, eldest son, nephew and best friend Paula. All who attended contributed to an amazing day, one I shall never forget. But there was no rest for the newly married couple as the following day we hired a mini-bus to take the American contingent to my parents’ house to see the area I was raised (cut short by a huge tail backs on the M6), then the next day we took a tour of the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District. We squeezed in a trip on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway and an afternoon in Howarth before the last of the American party left these shores, and I returned to work the next day completely knackered and in need of another holiday! (Alas my next decent holiday actually came almost six months later).

It’s been a year of other firsts. First family Christmas all together in Leeds. The first time the boys have seen snow. The first Valentine’s Day Tina and have actually spent together. Thankfully another stressful application form and visit to the UK Border Agency in Sheffield ended well, Tina and the boys being granted an “extended leave to remain” residency permit, allowing them another two years in the UK, and permission for Tina to work.

Away from the personal life things have got busy in my political life. Discussions started in October about forming a city wide Leeds Green Party. As someone who had the trust of both Farnley & Wortley and Headingley Green parties I was asked to be Acting Chairperson while these meetings took place. After some deliberation over the new party’s constitution, we eventually held the Inaugural Meeting of the Leeds Green Party on 24th February 2011. I had the honour of being elected to the position Coordinator & Chairperson, a member of the Executive Committee. It’s currently all hands to the pump as local elections approach, aiming to retain one the Green councillors, and add some more if possible. Once the elections are over I am looking forward to helping the Leeds Green Party progress, get involved with campaigning, and recruiting new members to the cause. Caroline Lucas Green Party Leader and IA couple of days before the Inaugural Meeting I attended a photo opportunity arranged by Cllr Ann Blackburn with Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas, as she passed through Leeds on her way to an event in Huddersfield. I was the “photographer”, but had the unexpected privilege of travelling to Huddersfield with Caroline, which included an opportunity to speak to her alone for quite a while before the train arrived. From watching TV appearances I suspected that Caroline would be approachable and without “airs and graces”, but you never know whether a party leader is gong to have a bit of an ego or attitude. I am happy to say Caroline was as friendly and genuinely interested in people as she comes across in the media, and it was a memorable and enjoyable few minutes with her discussing the situation in Leeds and the formation of the new party. I wouldn’t expect Messrs Cameron or Miliband to travel without an entourage, or to engage so comfortably with a complete stranger. The speech she delivered in Huddersfield was also a passionate and articulate piece of reasoning, and seemed to be supported by the majority of the attendees. All in all a day I won’t forget in a hurry, particularly as it was so unexpected. Now it’s back to the bread and butter, the graft of leafleting in Farnley & Wortley ward.

Family, work, and Green Party commitments make time very precious these days. Writing a blog has been pushed down the order of priorities. I don’t expect that I will be able to post with the regularity of past, or as much as I’d like, but I intend to get back into blogging. It is something I enjoy, and I hope others do too. Watch this space for any future noteworthy events and commentaries on life.

Molly curtain call

A year ago this month Molly Cat came into our lives. A lady who saves cats from the “kill list”, i.e. those that cannot be found homes by animal charities and are put to sleep, had rescued Molly and her siblings and was displaying them outside a pet supply store to try to find them new keepers. When Molly reached out and put on an act, Tina’s heart melt. She phoned me and asked if we could get another cat. I was not convinced. I feared that Hadley Cat might object to sharing her home and there was all the extra expense. But I caved in because ultimately I knew I was fighting a losing battle. There was no way Tina could walk away from that cute three months old bundle of fluff.

Now I can’t imagine not having Molly around. After seeing the photos a year ago I was anxious to meet the new addition to the family. My six months in the USA from last May onwards gave me plenty of time to be with Molly. I had no choice really, she adores me and follows me around demanding attention. I missed both cats badly when I returned to the UK. Molly has identity issues – she chirps like a bird and acts more like a dog. She will play fetch, likes constant fuss, wants her tummy tickled, and loves sweet foods. Less refined than her “sister” Hadley, Molly was happy to sleep in the litter box, a plant pot of soil (having killed the plant), and she shreds any paper that is left lying around in view of her mischievous eyes. If she is not sleeping on a cushion next to me, or playing with her toys, then Molly is usually found in the window sill watching the world go by. So here’s a recent photo of our daft as a brush Molly in honour of her first year with us.

Naughty Molly
Caught in the Act Part 1:
“This table may be out of bounds, you might remove me from it countless times a day, but up yours, I’m having a cat nap whether you like it or not”

Naughty Molly
Caught in the Act Part 2:
“Who knocked over my toy box? It wasn’t me Guv, I was asleep, honest”

I'm cute too
“Never mind that young upstart, photograph me – I’m cute too!”

Sofa so good

I’ve been here a month now and so far so good. The last week or so I’ve been mainly in the house doing DIY chores and spending a lot of time riding to hardware stores. It’s not all beach life you know. In fact since the day I was crab spotting I have not been back for a sunbathe mainly due to letting the sunburn recover! There are a few photos to upload from a few hikes and trips downtown, plus some more from around the beach. There’s no time for that now so I’ll just leave you all with this typical sofa scene – a good book and two doting cats.

When I started this blog I was determined not to litter it with the mundane aspects of life like going down to the supermarket, or hoovering the house. I wanted to post items that might be interesting to the reader, provoke debate, or deliver amusement. Any regular visitor to this blog (if there are any left!) will have noted that I’ve not posted anything for a good while. This is partly because recent life has been taken up with the day to day stuff that isn’t interesting copy, and when I’ve had subjects I wanted to write about, it’s been an effort to find the time. The reason for the sustained activity and lack of time is what leads me to be sitting in an appartment in Jacksonville Beach Florida writing this now – what I nicknamed “Operation Jax”.

Don’t worry, it’s not some covert operation to threaten world peace, but a determined and organised plan to spend six months living with Tina in Jacksonville to see how our relationship progressed. It has seen much saving of the pennies, obtaining a career break at work, a mortgage payment holiday, visiting the US Embassy in London, and selling the car. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say I had about a eight or nine page project plan by the time I’d finished. There’s so much to think about, more than you initially imagine. The US Visitors’ visa is a particuarly complex process, and while I’d expected potential issues at work, my line manager shocked and delighted me by agreeing to my career break within seconds of the request leaving my mouth, something I’d feared might be far harder to obtain. Maybe that says something about how much they’d actually miss me! Most people at work seemed more concerned about whether I was throwing a leaving party or bringing in goodbye cakes! ;-) No it’s actually quite humbling how many people seem genuinely pleased for me that this has come off, and the best wishes I’ve received from so many people is rather touching. It’s taken longer than I’d hoped but I think it will be worth the wait and the modest sacrifice.

So after one final night at my parents’ house, on the morning of Tuesday 19th May we set off to Manchester Airport for my flight to a new chapter. My churning stomach wasn’t helped five minutes into the journey by a surprise tailback on the A500 caused by an accident. A quick diversion round the northern towns of the Potteries, and the scenic route along the A50 through Cheshire saved the day and had me at the airport with bags of time. An emotional farewell later I was at my gate when the ex-footballer and manager Graeme Souness appeared on some stairs, wandered straight past me, urging his companion to hurry up or they’d miss the plane. There’s something about plane travel and me seeing celebrities, I can add Souness to Angus Deayton, Lisa Stansfield, and Paulo Wanchope as people either seen in departures, or actually on the plane. The rest of the journey to Atlanta was fairly uneventful, I couldn’t sleep so watched two excellent movies of differing genres, the moving “The Reader”, and the simmering “Gran Torino”. Clint Eastwood back in top form.

The real drama started in Atlanta. The Customs & Border Protection Service have a laidback attitude to processing the queues of new arrivals, our side of the hall had three officers, while the other side appeared to have three times as many, despite supervisors patrolling the floors. The result was a long wait to see whether I was going to be granted my six months permit. It turned out to be a longer wait than I initially thought. Eventually arriving at the usually routine passport and fingerprint check, I was informed that my “processing” (sounds painful!) would be completed in another office, my documents were placed in a large yellow trimmed transparent folder, and I wandered disconsolately with them to the double doors I’d been directed to. In this back office I waited around an hour to be seen with a wide range of visa / residency seekers of all nationalities. The whole plan came down to what was decided in the next few moments. A bit like a football team’s season resting on a penalty shootout. After what seemed an age my time came, and a friendly officer questioned me for some while, and eventually was satisfied that my story was truthful and didn’t even wish to see my supporting evidence, the presence of them piled on the table was enough! With a smile, a warning to behave myself, and a “good luck” the officer granted me the six months visa and let me out back into the main hall to collect my bags. The plan had taken into account this possibility, I’d factored in a four hours layover between flights, so I still had two hours to make my connection – easy! A huge falafel and hummus wrap later I was boarding the plane to Jacksonville.

Apart from the fact the weather was awful and the landing was a tad fraught, that journey passed easily with the anticipation of seeing Tina. I ran the last few yards along the arrivals route so we came together like the scene from a romantic movie – I think black and white film and a steam filled railway station would have been most appropriate! ;-) So I’m here, and I’m here for a while. I hope to make regular posts if I have things of interest to report. As I complete this the rain has seemed to have stopped for the first time since I arrived. It’s been heavy showers all the way so far. A quick sprint from the Regency Mall to the bus stop yesterday resulted in a right soaking I can tell you. I am getting used to my new surroundings, and the fact that I’m not off back after two weeks this time, there’s drawers for my clothes and I’m no longer living out of a suitcase. Hadley and Molly in a rare moment of peace Hadley Cat is also adjusting to me being here, she doesn’t like disruption to her routine, while Molly Cat is quite the opposite, delighted to have another outlet for her particularly cute brand of attention seeking. Tina is now at work, and the cats are having a moment’s peace after a session of grappling and hissing. I think the sun is trying to burn through the haze, and it’s now time to leave this, shower and get out of the house for a while. More to follow soon.

PS A huge thanks to family and friends who have helped this all to come together whether it be looking after the house, my scooter or whatever. You know who you are and I’m grateful beyond words. Thank you.