The New Man in My Life

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There is a new man in my life. No, he hasn’t replaced my old favourite – George Foreman, as in my George Foreman grill. The Lean Mean Grilling Machine. “Big George” is a retired professional heavyweight boxing champion; Foreman’s fight against Mohammed Ali in Zaire (now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo) was dubbed “The Rumble in the Zungle.” Ali won; largely because of an injury that Foreman sustained about a month before the fight was due to occur. Foreman made a comeback but retired a few years later. He made another successful come back and then went on to retire a second time. I love the way it grills food on both sides simultaneously so that it’s ready in half the time. George’s place in my heart is safe. The grill is manufactured by Russell Hobbs and would probably have been made anyway but Foreman played a part in its design. So no, no-one can replace my George.

However, the new man in my life is little Daniel, the son of my niece-in-law Julia, (I think that’s the correct way to describe the relationship) and Jordi.

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Those who know me well know that I am far more interested in animals than I am in children but Daniel is a very special little boy. It was his third birthday when I saw him last week. He remembered me from the last time I met him, which was probably a year ago, so pretty impressive, huh? Julia said that he looks at the photograph albums so has seen my face in between times, but even so, photographs don’t change, faces do.

The first few pictures here are of Daniel in Julia’s Granddad Ken’s house.


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And here’s Daniel’s selfie.


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Julia, Jordi and Daniel came over from their home in Barcelona for a visit and we went out for Sunday lunch at a pub near to Ken’s home in Hertfordshire. Of course, I engineered it so that I got to sit next to Daniel; he’s such a little cutey. I’m not stupid.

When you consider that Daniel speaks Catalan and I don’t, communication was very easy. He’s such a friendly little boy that “Ola,” could easily be mistaken for “Hello,” and other people in the pub where we had lunch were very happy to respond to him. The photographs give a pretty good idea that this is a happy little boy. I think Daniel actually thinks I understand him when he speaks Catalan to me, but I just do what I do with all men, nod and smile in response to their smiles, and pull other faces when they do. All this NLP work about mirroring and matching seems to work quite well.

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I had bubble and squeak for my starter (bubble and squeak with bacon and eggs). He didn’t have any of the bacon but Daniel seemed to enjoy the egg and the potato. Well, it was only fair as he wasn’t having anything to start.

Julia tells me that Daniel sleeps all through from about 8pm to 6am which is great. I rather wish that I could get that much sleep every day, although I’d lose such a lot of time. Still, maybe I’d get more quality work done in the time available? Perhaps it’s Daniel’s ability to sleep through that makes him such a good natured little boy, because he is truly a happy child, very charming. You can just see in his face that he likes the ladies and is going to be a complete heartbreaker when he gets older.

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What was really nice was that an older gentleman who had been having lunch came over at the end of his meal and told Julia how lovely Daniel had been. I think there is just something about a smiling, laughing child that makes everything in the world seem better somehow.

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Julia is also a writer; you can see a couple of samples of her work here:

Finally, if you like the blog, please sign up to receive it directly into your mailbox.  You can do this by hitting reply at the top of the page, and completing your details.


© Susan Shirley 2015




I absolutely adore the stuff! I know people either love it or hate it, but I am well and truly in the LOVE IT camp. I eat it by the spoonful when I’m in Marmite mode. (I have to confess to being a bit faddy about food.)  Mind you, when I say people either love it or hate it that excludes my work colleague, Suzette, who says she doesn’t like it but loves Twiglets????? And who craves it sometimes?????

I hadn’t had Marmite for ages, although I always have a pot of it in the house (great for flavouring soups, etc) but then my friend, Anne Germain, said that she was being eaten alive by insects when in the garden and I remembered that whenever I’ve eaten Marmite, or taken B complex vitamins, I’ve never been bitten. The little beasties love me too, but I stopped eating Marmite on toast for breakfast when I gave up wheat about 15 years ago, and have only recently started eating wheat free bread again (it used to be pretty grim but is much better now).

Marmite is the French word for a large earthenware or metal cooking pot with a lid, hence the picture on the Marmite label. Back in the 19th century a German scientist named Justus von Liebig discovered that brewer’s yeast could be concentrated, bottled and eaten. One can only imagine what he was taking to put him onto that train of thought, but I’m so glad he did it!

The Marmite Food Extract Company was founded in 1902 in Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire. Back then, it was sold in earthenware pots. The glass jars that we know and love didn’t come into play until the 1920s. The yeast required to make the Marmite came from the nearby Bass Brewery. By 1907, Marmite had become so popular that a second factory opened up in Camberwell Green in South London. The factory was closed in the 1960s. Apparently, the local residents tried to get a reduction on their rates (basically, what we now know as Council Tax) because the smell from the factory was so awful!

The UK version of Marmite is sold pretty much all over the world, except in New Zealand, Australia and the surrounding areas. This is because it is manufactured under licence in Christchurch, New Zealand, using a modified recipe. It is apparently not as “tangy” as the British version. (I don’t want to hear any more comments about Whinging Poms then!)

During the First World War, Marmite was issued to British troops as part of their rations as it had been discovered that it helped in prevention of beriberi, a deficiency disease. In the 1930s, a British scientist named Lucy Wills used it to treat anaemia. It was later found that it was the Folic Acid present in the Marmite that did the trick.

It’s not just me who loves the big M. Apparently the Rolling Stones and Dido are huge fans! Yay, I knew there was a reason I liked their music. So are Britney Spears and Eddie Redmayne. Madonna and Russell Brand both hate it. Never mind.


Things you didn’t know about Marmite

Both Gary Rhodes and Nigella Lawson have used it in recipes.

Footballer Nicolas Anelker is scared of it, even though he’s never tried it.

If you put a blob on a plate and keep tapping it with a spoon, it goes a lighter colour. Apparently, it’s because it gets air bubbles in it… Mmm, something to do when you’re bored I guess.

It’s popular in prisons, with the inmates, at any rate. Apparently it can be used to make alcohol.

It is generally considered to be gluten free, although the manufacturers will not confirm this.

In Sri Lanka, it’s a hangover cure. It’s made into a hot drink, with lime juice and a fried, sliced onion. Well, I’d give it a try.

There is a Marmite cook book by Paul Hartley.

There is a sculpture in Burton-on-Trent called Monumite.

In 2009, a thief stole 18 jars in one month from a petrol station. They ceased stocking it after that.

© Susan Shirley 2015


I spent some time with my friends Anne Germain and her husband Keith last weekend.  Anne and Keith have four cats, Gizmo, Bilbo (usually referred to as Bo) Simba and Frodo.  Gizzy and Bo are sisters and the boys are brothers.  For the first time in their little lives, the girls willingly allowed me to stroke them. Funny that, because I’ve known them for years. The boys have always been friendly towards me but not the big girls.

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The boys, both gorgeous long haired black cats, had two sisters who have both, sadly, died. Anne tells me that the change in the girls’ behaviour has been since the most recent death.

It started me thinking about my own cats and cat behaviour generally.  I know very well that my beautiful Telesto was not happy with having her teeth scaled last year.  Then earlier this year, she started to exhibit stress related behaviour so I plugged in a Feliway diffuser and crossed everything hoping it would help.


Amazing stuff, that Feliway, because within two weeks, she was much, much happier and had returned to her old self.  The manufacturers, by the way, say it can take up to six weeks to make a difference, so I was very impressed that it was so quick.

I had discussed her behaviour with my vet who explained that cat behaviours and social structures are very complicated, way too complicated for us humans.  So the change in Anne’s cats is maybe not surprising.

Telesto’s behaviour was also probably not difficult to understand.  Cats are territorial creatures and don’t much like change.  There is a particular cat that comes into my garden; we nicknamed him Dave that she particularly dislikes. In fact, she is scared of him.  A year or so ago, she spent all night awake, sitting on top of a neighbour’s shed because Dave was in my garden and she didn’t want to pass him to come in.  I know this because I kept getting up to check on her.  Even when I shooed him out of the garden, she wouldn’t come in; cats are stubborn too.  Anyway, he kept coming back as soon as I turned my back. Telesto also gets upset when I work long hours and she doesn’t feel that she gets enough of my attention.

It’s not just Telesto who has benefited from the Feliway though.  Oceana has been more relaxed too.  It’s only my little girls who don’t seem to have been affected, but then they don’t seem to be affected by very much. They are happy little souls and apart from the fact that they were abandoned at a couple of weeks old, they have lived with me for all but three months if their lives so clearly have a lot to be happy about!  They are well looked after and loved so don’t have a bad life.


The little ones don’t go out very much, and if they do, they like me to leave the door open (we don’t do cat flaps). If I close the door they both do an impersonation of a meercat, standing on hind legs looking through the window.  So cute!

Some other interesting cat facts:

  1. On average, cats spend about 16 hours a day sleeping.
  2. Female cats tend to be right pawed. Just watch them to see!
  3. Cats can hear high frequency sounds about two octaves higher than humans. Their hearing is better than that of dogs.
  4. A cat can run at a speed of about 31 mph over a short distance.
  5. A cat can jump about five times its own height in one leap.
  6. When a cat rubs its cheeks against you or objects it’s not just a sign of love, it has glands in its cheeks that mark you or the object with its scent. Its tails and paws also carry the cat’s scent.
  7. In many parts of Europe and North America, black cats are considered to be a sign of bad luck, however, in Britain and Australia, the opposite is the case. However, back in the Middle Ages, they were considered bad luck here.
  8. The reason that cats don’t like water is that their coats do not insulate them well when wet.
  9. Cats usually have twelve whiskers on each side of their face.
  10. Cats don’t have such good colour vision as humans, and can’t see things very close up.
  11. Isaac Newton invented the cat flap.
  12. Cats almost never meow at other cats, they reserve that for humans.

© Susan Shirley 2015












The Impossible Dream… or is it?


I am a fair weather “getter up.”  As in I don’t mind getting up at dawn, or even before dawn, in the summer, when the weather is warm.  In the winter, however, it is a whole different ball game.  I gather cats close and snuggle deep down under the duvet. (Actually, when I free run, I tend to sleep later and get up later.)

“All very interesting but what’s the point?” I hear you say.

The point is that at some point in the next 18 months, I will be undergoing a complete career change.  I dream of being a full time writer, publishing a new best seller every three months or so, living off the royalties and winning a Man Booker prize.  Whilst I do not think that is an impossible dream (well, maybe the Man Booker might be) I have to be realistic.  I need something to put food on the table and pay the mortgage from day one.  Getting recognised and paid as a writer takes time and effort. And even fabulously paid writers cannot sit at their desks all day, every day.  Not unless they want to get very lardy.  And stop getting inspiration.

For most of us writers, inspiration comes in the form of interactions with other human beings.  So I considered becoming a postman.


Benefits: early start so you finish early, in time to get back to the computer and write for a few hours (I’m writing this in Evernote, on the tube on t he easy to work).  A bit of exercise, fresh air. Meet a few people, and few barking dogs.

Disbenefits: early starts in the winter won’t suit me. Not sure how many people I will actually get to speak to, apart from saying

“Good morning, here’s your parcel.”

Benefits: disbenefits ratios are not numerical.  Becoming a postman is not at the top of the list.

What about becoming a dog walker?  This has definite possibilities.  I live close to a park, I like dogs, it’s good exercise and people always talk to dog walkers.  I can picture myself in the park, sipping coffee whilst I let my charges off their leads for a while.  And I can choose my jobs so don’t need to take any that I insist I walk Fang at zero five hundred hours every day.  I could get writing inspiration and still have time to write.  This has potential.

But why limit myself? What about zookeeper or landscape gardener? Fresh air, at least for the gardener, but I fear it would ruin my manicure. And what if the zoo put me in charge of insects? No, that wouldn’t work.

Then I moved onto some of the more prosaic jobs.  How about becoming a barmaid?  I’ve done it before, I can do it again.  But wait… Yes, I’ll get the human interaction but will the shifts give me enough free time (is writing time)?  Do I want to be travelling home late at night on a regulate basis?  Will it pay enough?


The amount I’d get paid makes me think that I was pushing my luck with dog walker and postman. I know how much I need to maintain my lifestyle.

Of course, then there is want to be earnings. In my ideal world, I’d be earning more than I earn now, raking it in from a number of different sources. That would give me the opportunity to get inspiration from a number of different places too.

I could do so much with big earnings. I would love to be in a position to say to some friends,

“How much do you need to pay your mortgage off?”

My friend, Angela, and I discussed this years ago. She always said that she would only ever loan people the money to repay their mortgages, but at a really low interest rate. That way they wouldn’t feel beholden or feel that they’d been bought. I think she had a point. Giving someone a gift of £2000 or paying for an expensive meal when you earn hundreds of thousands a year, is not a big deal. But to pay off someone’s mortgage, knowing it’s maybe a year’s or half year’s salary is quite different.

And then there is being able to give money to your favourite charity, or even set up a charity that your really feel passionate about. And that’s without the holidays, the jewellery, the clothes… The possibilities are endless.

I do have serious plans about my future, some will involve some re-training, and some will involve doing more of what I’m doing now.

So what’s your ideal job? What would you like to do if pay was no issue?


© Susan Shirley 2015