Freelance colleagues

AKA an excuse to talk about cats. 

One of my favourite things about working from home is getting to spend more time with our hilarious little brood of cats. If you're not a cat person, this post probably sounds like nonsense, so do feel free to skip it! 

With four cats, all of whom came to us separately, the dynamics really do play out like a workplace a lot of the time. They all have very different personalities (as well as theme songs and a complete array of nicknames) so of course, I felt it was time for us to have an employee of the week sign.

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I was going to go with the more traditional employee of the month, but two of the three I line manage have no conception of time so it seemed like it would be impossible to incentivise them monthly. Of course we then needed personnel cards for the board. With some photo jiggery pokery in Illustrator I turned some of my favourite photos of them into portraits that properly capture their individual personalities.

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Their expressions say so much! But it's time for proper introductions. If you follow me on Twitter (@nickyadkins) or Instagram (same) you'll have come across these little floofers before.

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Mina is a three-legged physicist, originally from London. Her missing leg happened before we got her as an RSPCA adoption. Being an active tripod, she has grown her tail into a counterweight to help her balance at speed. Though she has no feeling in it (and regularly attacks it) it's the strongest cat tail I've ever known. She is, without doubt, the politest, kindest little cat I've ever met in my entire life. If she'd like something she'll mew just once or twice, and if you say no will stop nagging. She does it with a look that is so sad that your heart breaks, but she does it. Her favourite things are scratches on the side of her neck that she can't scratch herself, nose kisses, strings and moths. 

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This hilarious little shite is Stella. I genuinely think that she's a psychopath, or has some sort of mental link missing, because she is a total dick. She's the one who pushed three-legged Mina out of an upstairs window. She breaks into other people's houses, steals things, eats anything sticky, and likes nothing less than to ambush you in the dark and attack your knees. She's also the most clingy of all our cats and will go to great lengths to be with you. She sleeps on my legs at night, and during the day will sit with me in the craft room while I sew (though I have to take pins away from her, she like to steal them) and is photographed here in the bed I had to make her on the studio table to stop  her sleeping on whatever I'm painting. It's a washing up bowl with a cushion stuffed in it.  She'll ask for affection but just can't take it without also biting. Her love is a violent love and we love her for it. 

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We went to meet this one in her foster home, as she didn't cope well with being in a rescue centre. We didn't see her, because she was hiding. The first time we saw her was when she was bundled into a cat carry basket for us to take her home. For weeks she hid. My wife spent many hours lying on the floor of whatever room she was in, demonstrating that humans aren't scary. Three years on and she's a cuddly idiot who sleeps in my wife's arms with her head on the pillow, purring away like a truck. The chattiest of the four, she'll merrily squeak away at you for hours. She's not smart, bless her, and freaks out if you're wearing a coat but has now mustered the bravery to not run away as the food comes out of the packet. 

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And this is Jet. She's not listed as an employee because she is the Queen who rules us all. I adopted her 15 years ago when she was a terribly shy shadow of a cat who hid under a bed for six months, coming out only for slightly aggressive cuddle time until the unknown harms of her past were forgotten enough that she could start a new life with me. Now 22.5 years old, she is officially the oldest cat registered at the vet and though she has some complex medical problems now is still insistent about attention, food, and the need lie in the sun all day. She's been going down hill for a long while now and it feels as though she's rapidly reaching the end. Each day we assess whether she has had joy, and when she no longer does we'll be calling the vet to help her along to the next stage. 

The last 15 years have been very difficult at times, and I'm so glad that she was with me through them, and that she's spent the recent years with two adoring humans pandering to her every wish in a house that is cosy, safe, and has the perfect garden for sunbathing. The garden is currently strung with sheets that we've pegged up in an effort to keep her in the shade during this heatwave, but the warmth does her arthritis good and she's enjoying the long hot days. I'm grateful to be working from home in her final days so that I can do her bidding.

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But here it is, the inaugural Employee of the Week award! It goes to Mina, for being attentive, adorable, and for showing great respect to the Queen as she sprawls on the lawn. It nearly went to Stella but then she stood in my wet paint and bit my arm when I tried to shoo her off it. Dickhead.

'Go anywhere nice over the holidays?'

It's the last Saturday of the Easter holidays and after two glorious weeks off, I'll be back at the day job on Monday and answering Small Talk Question No.1 after any term break: 'Did you go anywhere nice?' 

I've never understood the great need to get away. Yes, I'm an introvert and a homebody, but I don't think that in itself explains why I'd just rather stay at home thank you very much. I imagine the thing that clinches it is that I really, really like my home, and am seemingly incapable of ever being bored. There's just so much to do! And learn! And make! Calligraphy practise continues and I've had to stop myself racing forward and trying to design my own lettering, because I just haven't had the training or experience to make a good job of that. So I'm concentrating on Copperplate and hope that with a lot of practise, I may be passable at it, and not just to people whose idea of hand lettering is scribbling on a delivery note.

The big joy of this time of year though, is the garden. We've been here a year and a few months, and it's the garden that's given me the most joy. Well, that and the stove. And the lovely little rooms. And the slopey ceilings... Ok, I like the whole house. But I think the garden is where I've invested the most time and energy. When we arrived it was a scrubby lawn, with a brown painted shed plonked down bizarrely near the middle on one side, and a slightly wonky patio at the end. Having lived in a rented house for many years, and on a boat beforehand where the only gardening I could do was with containers on the roof, this was still exciting. 

 Slightly washed out estate agent's photo

Slightly washed out estate agent's photo

The first thing to go was the shed.  It was sold on eBay to two lovely friends from the Midlands who had both lost their wives and had decided to start working an allotment together. They came along, took it to pieces and took it away, pausing to fix the wonky bolt on the gate for me for me before they left. Then we wasted no time in putting up a summer shed, a marvellous cross between a summerhouse and a shed.

 The Beloved, taking our old lady cat Jet out into her new summer shed for the first time

The Beloved, taking our old lady cat Jet out into her new summer shed for the first time

There followed a great deal of digging, and running around the place with bits of string and measuring tapes to make flowerbeds, and more digging to create a proper seating area near the house, which had a strip of gravel about three feet wide between the doorstep and the lawn. It took weeks. Then came planting. And more digging. And more planting. 

Most of the non-rainy parts of the last two weeks have seen me merrily running around the garden with a trowel, digging up weeds, pulling up things that didn't make it through the winter, and doing the big job that I'd set myself for this break. Painting the summer shed. As you can probably tell, we squeezed it right into the back part of the garden so that we could make maximum use of the space. Last year I'd whacked some stain on the front, but with so so much to do with making it into a proper garden, had left the factory stain on the rest of it, after checking that it would safely last the year. This Easter, I painted it. All of it. It involved squeezing into some very tight spaces, and making a long roller out of a broom handle and some gaffer tape. It reminded me a lot of the boat years, when I'd supplement my student loan with money earned painting boats, balancing on scaffolding boards in the dry dock or leaning down over the sides while they were still on the water. It took a coupe of days but it is DONE. And I put screening behind it to stop quite as many leaves and bits of crap falling down there over Autumn. 

 Taadaa

Taadaa

I love it SO. MUCH. Having the summer shed dark instead of light has made the garden feel so much longer, and it makes the greens of the plants really ping. Things are only just starting to get growing properly, as there's a little micro climate out there between the bank and the house that means it takes an extra couple of weeks to get going in spring. All the plants out at the front of the house have been blooming for weeks, but back here, the daffodils are only just starting to open. The seeds I planted in February have been doing ok, but growing very slowly. I do have a heated propagator, but the old lady cat has arthritis and has been using is as a bed with her blanket folded up inside. Spoiled rotten. But it helps her feel better. Will be requesting a heated mat for Christmas! 

When I think about how far this space has come since we moved in, I feel so hopeful. There are several large shrubs and small trees that should really take off over the next couple of years and will, with a bit of care, grow into the lush, calm jungle of a garden that I've always wanted. Everything that happens out there is an investment in a probable future, which is an idea that calms my frantic little brain when it's running away with itself. We've just had some lawn edging delivered, which I today covered in live yoghurt and blenderized moss to give it a head start. That'll be the next thing to do, then I have a new rode to plant and plans for a wooden arch over the first narrow strip of lawn which will then have even more roses grown up it.  I'm so excited about what it's all going to turn into.