Fat Boy Slim: Chairman Meow’s New Year Diet & Exercise Regime

There’s no alarm clock more effective than a hungry cat wanting breakfast. If I was ever unsure about who’s boss in our relationship, these past few mornings have left me in absolutely no doubt : 6am sharp and Chairman Meow jumps straight on the bed. One moment I’m sound asleep, the next – a loud purring in the ear, a strategic paw placed firmly on the bladder, a gentle but persistent tapping on the chin. Resistance is futile.

You see, the Chairman is on a diet. Like a few other members of our household, the festive season has left him looking decidedly podgy. Even allowing for the fact he’s a big cat, it came as quite a shock when we last measured his weight. Clearly the Chairman couldn’t believe it either, because he kept getting back on and off the scales to check the reading!

Lazy Cat

The biggest challenge we’ve always faced with the Chairman is that he’s so darn lazy. If I thought it was hard getting myself up and out for a run, it’s not a patch on this tubby tabby. It all stems from when we were still living in the Village – back then every time he ventured out, the girl-cat-next-door would suddenly appear and start beating him up (Chairman Meow may be a heavyweight on the scales, but he’s a complete lightweight in all other respects). Things initially improved when we first moved back to London, but then the weather turned nasty and he decided a warm, comfy sofa was infinitely superior to the great outdoors. Frankly, I have some sympathy.

So in an attempt to become Ms. Moggy Motivator 2014, I’ve been trying everything. The first thought was ‘there must be an app for this’. And sure enough, there is – “Game For Cats”. A laser point of light whizzes randomly around the ipad screen and every time your cat catches it, it scores 100 points. It certainly caught the Chairman’s attention but all he would then do is lie flat and occasionally stick out a paw – hardly a high-impact workout.

Game for Cats 026

We had slightly more success with an actual laser pointer. At first, it had the Chairman running madly round the house whenever it appeared; But eye candy can never compete with something genuinely tasty. Once Chairman Meow realised he was never actually going to catch anything, he threw his proverbial toys out of the pram and stopped playing (As for the real toys, they ended up abandoned under the sideboard).

Eventually, I did what all sensible people nowadays do when they’re stuck for answers : I asked Twitter. The verdict was unequivocal. I needed “Da Bird”. Not that I was convinced – A handful of feathers on a piece of string? You’ve got to be kidding. As is so often the case, however, the best solution really was the simplest. Ever since the Chairman first laid eyes on Da Bird, it’s as if he’s bewitched (ok, the string is attached to a wand but even so!). He follows it round the house, grabbing at it claws-flexed, until it swings out of reach. Suddenly, he’s jumping and pouncing and somersaulting round the room, determined to defeat this feathery foe. Even when he’s left with no choice but to lie down and catch his breath, he’ll still be swatting away at it with this paw, then that. Nowadays, for the health and safety of all concerned (not to mention the more fragile household ornaments), play sessions are strictly rationed – 20 minutes a day, five days a week.

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So does this mean it’ll be ‘New Year, New You’ for Chairman Meow? There’s no doubt since we’ve been using Da Bird, he seems much more active. A number of his toy mice have made a reappearance and he’s even started going out once more, despite all the rain. We were feeling quietly confident, sure that come summer he’d be back to a lean, mean, fighting machine. Then the other evening, we caught him jumping in the window, licking his jowls and smelling of catfood: Maybe his Fat Cat days aren’t quite behind him yet.

Happy New Year x

A Purrfect Experience – Enjoying the Cat Cafe Lifestyle

Cat Cafe Lifestyle

‘How could you do this to me?’

The look from Chairman Meow as I walked in the door said it all: Hurt, anger and betrayal all wrapped up in a slightly tubby tabby. Here I was, not only coming home late but stinking of other cats.

‘Wait! I can explain . . .!”

Too late. With an extravagant swish of the tail, the Chairman turned and stomped upstairs in disgust. If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, it’s not a patch on a pissed off puss.

In fact, there was good reason for my feline infidelity. With all the excitement surrounding the planned opening in Shoreditch of London’s first Cat Café, I was curious – What might the capital expect? I’d travelled down to Totnes in Devon to meet the team behind the UK’s only current Cat Café and see what might be in store.

The Totnes Cat Café is the brainchild of Liz Dyas. She heard about Japanese cat cafés and realised many cat-lovers here also longed for one as a pet but found it impossible – landlord’s restrictions maybe, family circumstances or finances – so she used her savings to bring the concept to the UK. Not that this was the first time Totnes had struck a blow for alternative café culture – Last year, the town made headlines for successfully preventing Costa from opening on its High Street.

Cat Cafe (5 of 5)

Totnes advertises itself not just as a café but a “Feline Therapy Lounge”. The therapeutic properties of pet ownership are well documented in medical journals, human and veterinary, and the café now has connections with organisations such as The Stroke Association. When you step inside, there is a sense of leaving the world and its troubles far behind – once of course you’ve cracked the complex system of doors designed to keep the cats safely within (far easier said than done!). For a start, it feels more your living room than a café – All big comfy sofas, low tables and scatterings of magazines. It’s peaceful too, certainly by London standards, thanks to an unintended ‘no children’ policy. Cats, it seems, are Certificate 18 at least where insurance companies are concerned.

So what of the Café’s cats? There are 6 members of the Totnes team – Jet, Rolo, Lilac, Felix, Mango and Glee – all rescue cats and all specially chosen for their friendly, sociable nature. Unlike the plans for London, none are moggies-in-residence, rather they live at home with Liz and commute in daily with her to the Café. Jet is the baby of the family – not that you’d believe it from the size of him. Walk like a Panther? This pure black, gentle giant could easily teach Tony Christie a thing or two. Mango is the looker – Long haired, ginger and white, he’s every bit the show-off supermodel – whilst Lilac and Glee are the troublemakers, Lilac especially. She’s even been known to steal purses out of customers’ handbags. As Liz jokes, “if the café didn’t work out, at least we knew we’d still make a living as cat burglars!”

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Judging by the number of visitors, the people of Totnes have definitely taken the Cat Cafe to heart. Many are regulars, popping in daily to enjoy a cat and a cuppa and soak up the (c)atmosphere. Not everyone however has been so enthusiastic. The leading cat’s charity, Cats Protection, have been openly critical of the cafe claiming it’s not a suitable environment for cats and likely to cause them stress. It’s something which clearly frustrates Liz: ‘they didn’t even realise I was already running one of their shelters’ she says, referring to her Cool for Cats cattery and rehoming centre. ‘No one from Cats Protection head office has ever even been to the cafe. Their people on the ground here are nothing but supportive’.

Academic literature on the subject is certainly divided but at the time of visiting at least, all the cats seemed very relaxed in each other’s company and enjoying the attention. There are clearly sign-posted human ‘no-go zones’ (ie top shelves & cubby holes) designed to offer the cats a retreat. Liz herself is adamant their welfare will always come first but as she says ‘cat people come here. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who’ve tried to pick a cat up or do anything silly’. It’s particularly disappointing for her since the Cafe, a not-for-profit organisation, had planned to raise money for the Charity : ‘they sent a letter from a solicitor saying they wouldn’t accept a penny. We used to have it pinned up on the door’. Proceeds from the cafe now go to other animal charities instead.

So does Liz have any words of advice for Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium? ‘We were pioneers you see. It’s always hard when you’re first’ she says, sympathising with the battle the London team are currently having with red tape. Interestingly, the one big change Liz has made is around entrance fees. She used to charge £2 for 30mins but found customers disliked the entry charge, preferring instead to pay a little more for their drinks. Given the demand already for bookings at Lady Dinah’s, it doesn’t sound like us Londoners will have any such qualms.

For all the focus on her cats, in many ways the real star of the show is Liz herself. With a passion for life that would shame most half her age, she’s a remarkable woman: Having trained as a nurse, she opened one of the country’s first ever children’s nurseries before focussing on animal welfare. In 1990, she set up Prickly Ball Farm and Hedgehog Rescue Centre which went on to become one of Devon’s most popular attractions and even led to her making an appearance on The Ali G Show : ‘I found the whole thing very strange and kept thinking ‘are they really going to show this on the telly?’!”

So after TV celebrity and cat cafes, what’s next? : ‘Oh, a book! I think I shall write a book about it all’

It’s going to be quite a tale…

… Or should that be tail?!

With sincere thanks to Liz, Bill & Melanie at the Totnes Cat Cafe – And not forgetting of course Jet, Rolo, Mango, Felix, Lilac and Glee

Socialist Principles : Chairman Meow & Meeting the Neighbours

Chairman Meow has been checking out the local restaurant scene: He came home smelling of fish when we only feed him chicken. Clearly, it was a dodgy late night take-away because next morning, we had a rather sickly kitty. A couple of days later and he still wasn’t better, so it was off to the Vet we go.

Henry Asleep

There’s nothing like a pet, especially a poorly one, to help break down traditional British reserve. I always remember as a child taking Clarrie (our corgi) for a walk – Half the neighbourhood would appear, demanding an introduction to my dog. Sure enough, the moment we stepped outside with the Chairman, the bloke next door waved from his garden and asked if everything was ok. As ice-breakers go, it seems it’s not just about doggy grins. A cat’s look of pure disdain is equally hard to resist.

London has a bit of a bad reputation on the community spirit front. The 2002 Lonely Planet guide famously claimed Londoners would “no more speak to a stranger in the street than fly to the moon” and not much has changed, apparently, in the last decade: In a recent survey, London was voted one of the unfriendliest cities in the world, second only to Moscow.

Strike up a casual conversation with a Londoner on the tube and it’s true, you might as well have mooned at their mum for the reaction you’ll receive. But Underground etiquette aside, in many ways London’s a far easier place in which to make friends than much of the UK.  It’s not just the sheer numbers of people (8m of them and counting) but the diversity. When you’re surrounded day in, day out by more than 270 different nationalities and 300 languages, you have to accept people simply for what they are, rather than what they should be.

Life in the Village was a bit like sending a dyslexic to the World Scrabble Tournament. People weren’t actively unfriendly, but there was always this lingering sense of ‘why are you here?’. The default population was all middle class, middle management and middle school children (it’s not called ‘middle England’ for nothing). If you didn’t fit the mould, fitting in was equally difficult.

Not only does London have the highest proportion of DINKies (dual income, no kids) in the country, but around half the city’s population is single. In other words, there’s a whole host of people out there who have neither dependents nor the security of a domestic social scene and for whom a drink after work or the local football club isn’t just a luxury but a necessity. Don’t get me wrong, being single in London still isn’t easy: If you’re one in a million, knowing there must be at least another 8 like you isn’t much comfort when all you seem to find are the 7,999,992 who aren’t. However, at least you’re in with a chance of meeting them.

It was an invite to a local barbecue which really hammered the point home. Parties in the Village had revolved solely around kiddy birthdays and school fêtes, something from which we were automatically considered disqualified. Here, everyone in the neighbourhood was invited regardless: Aussies, Kiwis, bikers, fishermen, politicians, photographers and no doubt a few tinkers, tailors, soldiers and spies too. As a social mix, it shouldn’t have worked and perhaps it didn’t, but once the wine started flowing, we stopped caring and just had a good time.

As for the Chairman, he’s now fully recovered and back doing his bit: He was caught the other day in next door’s house and unceremoniously booted out. Clearly one way to meet the neighbours, if not to make yourself popular!

The Meowist Movement : Moving House with Chairman Meow

Chairman Meow was due before the Parole Board today. It’s been a month since we moved back to London and all the official guidelines say to keep your cat indoors for the first 28 days.  I’d like to claim he got time off for good behaviour but bad behaviour is closer to the truth. Ten days in, he was having none of this house arrest nonsense and legged it out the back door.

They say dogs have owners, cats have staff. If moving house with a cat has taught me anything, it’s the true meaning of “pussy-footing around”. Even our decision to return to London kept being delayed out of concern for The Chairman: We’d have happily squeezed ourselves back into some grungy one bed but there was no way Meow was getting anything less than a house and garden and traffic free access. So hardly surprising it took ages to find somewhere a. on brief and b. affordable without a winning lottery ticket. Even then, there was this nagging doubt that London just wasn’t the right sort of place for a cat. Eventually, it boiled down to a leap of faith : If Chairman Mao could conquer the city from the country, we reckoned our Meow would manage ok.

But first, how to get him there. The usual advice made no sense: “consider booking your cat into a cattery for a few days whilst you get everything sorted”. I’m sure there are superhuman domestic goddesses out there who can be done and dusted in just a few days but down here, amongst us mere mortals, we knew we’d still be lugging furniture and unpacking for weeks to come.

As our life increasingly descended into a chaos of bubble-wrap and boxes, it was clear separation wasn’t the answer for Chairman Meow. He clocked we were on the move and refused to let us out of his sight (It really is quite disconcerting when your cat won’t even let you go to the loo on your own!) Given his origins as a rescue cat*, he was always more likely than most to have abandonment issues, but he seemed genuinely worried he’d be left behind.

Rebellion will be punished

In the end, the fact that Chairman Meow was a rescue cat actually made the move easier: We’d been through the process before of introducing him to a new home and so were more confident in what to do and what to expect. At either end, we kept him in the spare room, safely out of harm’s way, whilst the removals men did their job. The travelling, we knew, was always going to be the hardest part. Cats are connoisseurs of comfort. Anything less than five star accommodation and a first class ticket leaves them pretty unimpressed, let alone a pet travel box and long car journey.

For the Chairman too, this was clearly nothing like as traumatic as coming home from the rescue centre. Yes, there was a new house to get used to, but at least he didn’t have to adjust both to a new neighbourhood and new owners (aka staff) . Back then, we had weeks of cowering under the bed plus moments of pure Psycho-Kitty madness. This time, he only hid for 24hrs before curiosity got the better of him and he came out for an explore.

A month on and it’s obvious Chairman Meow actually prefers his new pad. We’d been so focused on all the bad things that were to be found in London, the traffic, the people, the foxes etc, it never occurred to us to think about the ones that weren’t – in particular, other cats. Back in the Village, everyone seemed to have a cat; and since all cats are born believing they’ve a divine right to rule, the Chairman was forever battling neighbours and rivals as they tried to rob him of power. Here, he’s finally claimed his rightful position as Supreme Leader.

Since moving to London, we’ve noticed a real change in the Chairman: He’s confident now, sassy and street-wise, not-so-much unfriendly but definitely diffident and decidedly difficult to impress.

A power-crazed puss perhaps? No. Just a typical Londoner.

*For more about Chairman Meow and his transformation from humble orphan cat to great Meowist leader, click here

The Story of Chairman Meow

From his humble beginnings as an abandoned orphan cat, Chairman Meow has become the undisputed and dearly beloved ruler of his people. May his story be an inspiration to other would-be Meowists.

Chairman Meow Poster

Self Reliance and Arduous Struggle

Chairman Meow’s early life was defined by poverty and hardship. Abused by a cruel Imperialist regime, he was abandoned at barely two years of age and forced to fend for himself before being rescued by the kindly people at Cats Protection.

War and Peace

With his poster-boy good looks, the Chairman naturally attracted many potential supporters but his early experiences had made him fierce and passionately committed to feline liberation.

Many came and went from the Cats Protection Adoption Centre, frightened of the struggle. But good comrades are those willing to go where the difficulties are greatest. One couple recognised in Chairman Meow a great intelligence and charismatic personality, and offered him asylum.

At first, the Chairman was placed under house arrest. Although it was done for his own protection, nonetheless Meow was deeply disturbed by the situation. He established secret headquarters under the bed and prepared for war. When conditions were favorable for battle and the household was sleeping, he ambushed the people and refused to be cowed by their reactionary bluster. Still, they persevered with diplomacy and kept making peace offerings in the form of Whiskas.

Psycho Kitty Blog Version

Education and the Training of Troops

Chairman Meow harbored no unrealistic notions about the people. However, he resolved to unite with them and co-exist peacefully. He believed they were entitled to an education to help them morally develop and become workers for the feline cause.

A strict disciplinarian, training began at 5am with kitchen fatigues. Any attempts to over-sleep were remedied with a firm paw-blow to the chin. Initial sloppiness in the preparation of rations, especially the use of inferior cat-food, resulted in punishment by gas.

The Chairman was no less committed to the intellectual development of his people but to his dismay, he found they were barely literate; The beauty and subtlety of cat language was beyond them. Only with considerable effort and many repetitions did they eventually come to understand a few basic words: M’aow – ‘Let me out’ and Miaooow – ‘Feed me’

Culture and Art

Undeterred, the Chairman tried to express himself through other, different forms and styles of Art

Cat Yoga Final

Correcting Mistaken Ideas

Although the people had many good qualities and often rendered great service, there were times when they became arrogant and high-handed. Chairman Meow was always at pains to eradicate such behaviour.  For a long time, they believed they had priority over the household soft furnishings but Meow made sure to squash anyone who got in his way.

Nor was the Chairman any less tolerant if the people failed to pay him sufficient respect. Potential rivals – newspapers, mobiles, laptops – were always ruthlessly crushed.

Crush Rivals

The People’s Army

A year on, the Meowist people are happier and more content than they have ever been. To fight on behalf of a scared, damaged little cat and see him transformed into a great and powerful leader, Chairman Meow, is one of the most rewarding things they have ever done.

Cat and People

Postscript

Sadly not all cats are a lucky as Chairman Meow.  Every year, thousands of cats are still subject to terrible cruelty, neglect, starvation and disease.  The People’s Army, Cats Protection, works tirelessly to promote the welfare of cats through-out the UK through education, neutering and rehoming programmes but at any one time, they have around 6,200 cats and kittens in their care all of whom, like the Chairman, need good people to lead and rule.

For more information and details on how you may be able to help, visit their website : http://www.cats.org.uk/