Crazy Cat People

As far as the writer and philosopher John Berger is concerned,  animals are household gods. How could any pet lover disagree?

I wrote this reflection on the misgivings and metaphysics of pedigree pet ownership after it dawned on me that I was indeed our cat’s humble servant.

A household god? Me?

My apologies for ignoring the dog. One day he will get his own two thousand words.

Confessions of a Cat Custodian

When the cat pram arrived – a loud, bright-red affair complete with coffee-cup holder – I cringed. ‘The neighbours will think we’re crazy,’ I muttered as my then twenty-one-year-old daughter gleefully unpacked and assembled that outrageously indulgent pet accessory.

The pram topped other cat paraphernalia Francesca purchased over the years – a bumblebee suit, a hat in the shape of a shark’s fin, a mermaid tail, a pink lace dress. Miso – our indoor Birman cat – hated them all.

As I watched, I cursed those predatory online stores that enticed gullible people with cheap, colourful crap. I should have been a firmer parent, but now, it was too late. By this point, Francesca had a job and her own income. It occurred to me not only had I failed to educate my daughter about money management, I was enabling animal abuse.

‘He’s going to love it,’ Francesca cooed as she squeezed Miso into a harness that matched the colour of his eyes.

I sighed, knowing she wanted to show him off. Miso is a very good-looking cat. He has long silky white hair with chocolate-tips on his ears, legs, face and tail. He has white paws – as if he’s wearing ankle socks. Topping all this off, are eyes the iridescent, mystical blue of a distant galaxy. Birmans – the Sacred Cats of Burma – are thought to have originated in the temples of Burma and are accorded special treatment as they are believed to be reincarnations of Burmese priests.

While Miso does have an air of the divine about him, he can also look as if he is plotting to kill you. And there were times – like the pram debacle – when I didn’t blame him.

This household god may be plotting to kill you.

My eyes watered as Miso finally settled into that pram with the resigned air of one of those meditating Burmese priests. This was animal indulgence carried a step too far. Humanity – and my family in particular – had lost its grip on reality.

It turns out, however, when it comes to going loopy over our pets, the Japanese are masters. Pushing one’s pet around in a pram is de rigueur for Japanese urbanites, as is dressing them up in designer outfits, giving them expensive grooms and gourmet food. Considered family members, pets’ well-being is enshrined in a Japanese law which recognises the special status of any animal homed by humans. Thanks to beliefs that go back to folklore and Shintoism the Japanese believe animals (in particular companion animals) inhabit the same spiritual plane as humans.

As I watched Francesca depart with Miso like a handmaiden serving some god in his gleaming chariot (no way was I going with her – this was her personal crazy), I wondered: How had this happened? When did we transform pets into such overbred, luxury lifestyle accessories?

I grew up with semi-feral cats – unvaccinated, unneutered creatures – that mated rowdily and reproduced prolifically in our sprawling suburban garden. In our woodshed, I watched a cat give birth. This was before the feline parvovirus vaccine, when many kittens died of what we called back then ‘cat fever’. The cats that survived were tough, independent, flea-ridden, and snarky. My parents had an unspoken respect for our pets’ animal wildness. At a certain point, Mother Nature ran her course. When my father placed my favourite kitten Sylvia – erased too soon from the book of life by that virus – on a pyre of burning garden rubbish, I watched in frozen sorrow as she transmuted into smoke, flames and ashes. Pets were part of my induction into the unfathomable mysteries of the natural world.

With Australian laws now requiring owners to neuter and register our pets, over the years I have witnessed pet ownership metamorphose into something more akin to over-protective parenting. Along with a plea from the breeder to keep him indoors at all times, Miso arrived in our home with registration papers, a pedigree certificate listing parents with exotic, dreamy names and a detailed family tree that put to shame. Having no say in his individual rights, he was also microchipped.

Thirty years ago, I would have regarded all this as absurd extravagance. Yet according to an Animal Medicines Australia study, last year, Australian households spent 13 billion on pet-related products and services. And somewhere in those figures are the costs of special scientifically-concocted foods for hairy indoor cats, catnip mice, tunnels, feather-duster toys and prams for cats like Miso.

An hour after Francesca set off to cruise our Sydney neighborhood with Miso, she returned, her eyes radiant. Passers-by stopped and swooned, she told me. They took photos to post on Instagram and Facebook. Our cat was now a local celebrity.

The Dysfunctional Cat

I confess, I had hoped Francesca’s outing would serve up a lukewarm dish of natural justice. Or result in a smite from Mother Nature’s cosmic light sabre. Perhaps Miso might express his disgust by scratching her with his syringe-sharp claws or defaecating in his pram. Instead, it was one of my reaping what you sow moments. I had, after all, started off this chocolate-tipped snowball-roll by owning an exotically handsome cat. In purchasing and incarcerating Miso, I had contributed to the whole inbreeding and anthropomorphism debacles animal welfare organisations like PETA and the RSPCA loathe.

This wasn’t even my first crime against feline nature. Once, I had been a prison-guard for cats that had never felt the wind’s breath tease their whiskers or munched on a blade of grass. When I lived in New York, I regularly cat-sat, looking after a variety of neurotic, cantankerous, calculating and dysfunctional cats who were as complex as their New York owners. In one apartment, I was given a water pistol and told to fire when the cat tried to wake me up at dawn by knocking over everything on the bedside table. The owners of a pathologically shy cat warned me that if I had visitors, the cat would vengefully defecate in the middle of the living room carpet while I slept. I did have visitors and, as promised, the cat deployed. All those cats lived indoors. Some – like their owners – regularly visited psychiatrists.

Warily, I watched Francesca unhitch Miso from the pram. Was he traumatised by this outing? Were we denying Miso the freedom to be his wild animal self? Had he enjoyed this outing or would we soon be paying a small fortune for a pet psychiatrist?

Miso, free from his restraints, strolled into a pool of sunlit carpet, stretched, and preened. ‘See? He’s happy,’ Francesca said. ‘He had a wonderful time.’

‘He’s relieved to be home,’ I snapped.

I would not be complicit in any form of animal abuse. I wanted to ensure Miso was happy going on these walks.

‘Next time, I want to go with you,’ I announced.

We set off the next day with our pet-on-wheels. Miso leaned forward, his front paw dangling from the pram as if he were a playboy in his convertible.

Reincarnated Burmese priest and wildlife killer.

It occurred to me all he needed to look completely cool was a pair of kitty sunglasses. I said nothing.

Half-way up the street, our neighbour Janet was trimming her front hedge. Janet detests cats. Wildlife killers, she calls them.

Janet’s gaze dropped to Miso in his pram.

 My insides squirmed. ‘We’re crazy cat people,’ I explained.

Janet sneered. ‘If I see you at the shops with that…’ She pointed her clippers at cat and pram. ‘…I’m going to pretend I don’t know you.’

‘I’ll wave at you,’ I replied, avoiding her irradiating gaze. 

I could almost hear her thoughts as we walked away. Oh, you shallow morons! Paying good money for a killer! Treating it like a baby! What are you? The cat’s slaves?

The Anthropomorphic Cat

My insides a maelstrom of defiant shame, I wondered if I was not only a bad parent, but a bad pet-parent. It occurred to me that while we raise our children to be independent, our pets remain dependent until the day they die. If humanity suddenly vanished, wildlife would return and thrive but pure-bred, incarcerated Miso wouldn’t even know how to nudge open the toilet lid to get a drink. Miso – who had only hunted the occasional cockroach or fly rendered sluggish by insecticide – would die of thirst and starve.

Amidst these inner flagellations, I kept my eye glued to Miso for signs of cat misery. I saw the treetops and sky reflected in his gemstone eyes. His nose twitched as the wind ruffled through his whiskers. His ears rotated towards the bird songs.

My thoughts see-sawed as we walked. At least, like those Japanese animal-loving Buddhists, we respected living things. At least we weren’t like the Ancient Egyptians who bred orange cats to sacrifice to Ra – their sun god. Humankind had moved on since those superstitiously ignorant times. My daughter, my cat and I were inhabitants of a more sophisticated, informed and scientifically savvy era.

Across the road, an elderly man gawped. Then again, was our cat a sacrifice to the gods of excessive consumption, gene-tinkering and ridiculous cat fashion?

was our cat a sacrifice to the gods of excessive consumption, gene-tinkering and ridiculous cat fashion?

The wind rippled through Miso’s fur. He looked radiant and dashing – the perfect picture for a kitty calendar.

The perfect candidate for a kitty calendar

Wild or tame? Couldn’t Miso be both?

I decided then we were responsible custodians of a purpose-bred, superior cat. The Japanese – with their animal spirits – worshipped and respected their pets. Miso represented progress.

I took a deep breath and held my head high as we turned towards the main road.

A passing car tooted. Another car slowed. The driver stared, ignoring the pedestrian crossing ahead. In my mind’s eye, I saw a headline: Cat in Red Pram causes Fatal Traffic Accident.

The Paradox of Miso

By the time we arrived at our local square I was harbouring a new set of doubts. We were idiots. We were infantilising an animal whose wild ancestors once roamed the mountains, plains and forests. Plus, we were a threat to road safety.

A delighted squeal shattered my plummeting thoughts. A group of women ogled Miso.

‘Oooh! How cute!’

And so, it began. We chatted to doting strangers. A toddler sang Miso a song. A friendly dog inspected him. When a grim-looking couple – the woman in a wheelchair – saw Miso, their eyes lit up. Laughing, they gave him strokes and cuddles.

Through all this, Miso – our reincarnated Burmese priest – maintained an air of gracious and accepting calm.

Pondering the healing power of animals, re-setting my wobbling moral compass, we sat at an outdoor table at our local cafe. 

When the food came, Miso eyed the bacon on my Eggs Benedict and the yoghurt on Francesca’s blueberry pancakes. In a moment of collapsed resistance, I gave him a sliver of bacon. Francesca took my cue and offered him some yoghurt.

Assailed by another stab of darkness, glimpsing this ridiculous scene from a distance, I considered how I had sunk another level down the anthropomorphism wellhole. At the very least, explosive cat diarrhea would be my punishment.

Just as swiftly, my qualms evaporated. Gazing into Miso’s fathomless galaxy eyes, past and future compressed into a singularity of spacetime. This child who had lost pets from car accidents, poisonings and infections was now a woman sitting with her own daughter at a café with a vaccinated, parasite-protected cat happily dining in a red pram. And, a year from now, Francesca – studying animal law and feeding the stray cats on her university campus – would volunteer at a Peruvian wildlife refuge on the edge of the Amazon rainforest.

In that Zen moment of calm, with rashers of bacon digesting in my stomach, I embraced the paradox of Miso.

The paradox

Looking at our harnessed, pram-bound pet contentedly licking yoghurt off his lips, I decided he was the luckiest cat in the world.

On our way home, Francesca took Miso out of his pram. After a stroll on his lead, after rolling in a patch of sunlight, he settled onto a seat under some frangipanis and star jasmine.

Paws crossed, his fur spread about him like a celestial robe, I saw the world’s secrets embroidered into his eyes.

He looked mysterious. Wise. Like Buddha under the Bodhi tree.

‘He’s having fun,’ I confessed.

After regarding me with a triumphant smile, Francesca photographed Miso and posted his portrait on Instagram.

Follow Me on Instagram


A few weeks ago, I visited a place in Canada called Lynn Canyon. A short bus ride from Vancouver, it’s a popular tourist spot with a suspension bridge, hiking trails, waterfalls and swimming holes surrounded by temperate rainforest.

Lynn Canyon is full of signs warning people not to jump into the inviting water pools in the chasms below.

Clearly these signs are written for hot summer tourists with impulse management issues. Yet, surrounded by all that fragrant forest beauty, one sign made me pause for thought.

‘Your fear is smarter than you.’

In a world of short concentration spans, I appreciate we are guided by such simple aphorisms, but I longed to argue with the writer of that sign.

Because sometimes I have found fear is an obstacle.

Sometimes your fear is dumber than you.

And perhaps the most insidious fear of all is fear of the unknown. Fear of the unknown can lead to insularity, superstition and prejudice. It can shut down our brains.

For millennia, fear of the unknown, along with its Siamese twin ignorance, have been exploited by clergies, governments and tyrants to oppress people, isolate entire communities and countries and justify all kinds of heinous crimes.

So how do we counter this very human tendency to retreat from things we don’t understand? How do we fight that fear than can swamp our bodies and brains when we encounter something new, confronting and different?

Reading is a good start. Information is a slayer of ignorance. So, incidentally is fiction. A good story with empathetic characters in challenging situations can capture profound truths about the human condition.

Acts of courage regularly triumph over fear.  We just don’t read about these quietly heroic deeds very often because most of us, including yours truly, are addicted to our regular fixes of drama, bad news and scandal.

In the stories below, names and details in have been changed to protect the identities of the protagonists. Except where they don’t.




The world may be broken but thank goodness for the superglue of compassion, common sense and courage.

It was mid-morning in an office in Tehran, and Aminda – a temporary employee contracted to do some book keeping – had been invited to join the other workers for morning tea.  In the office kitchen, everyone took a cup from the selection in the cupboard above the sink. Aminda chose a teacup with an attractive floral design. As she pulled the cup from the cupboard a colleague gave the teacup a dark look and vigorously shook his head. ‘You shouldn’t take that one,’ he advised. ‘Return it to the cupboard.’ When she looked perplexed, he leaned in and whispered between his teeth. ‘That cup belongs to Husayn.’ He gestured through the door to a man sitting at his desk working. ‘He’s a Bahá’i.’

Aminda, who, unbeknownst to her colleague, also happened to be a Bahá’i, smiled graciously. ‘In that case she said, ‘I really want this cup. It’s a very nice one and will do just fine.’

After I heard this, similar stories of idiocy, superstition and hostility towards disciples of this benign faith followed.  A young woman told me the story of her Muslim grandmother who separately washed the cups and plates of her daughter’s Bahá’i guests.

In Iranian towns, villages and city streets, people wiped down public phones after they had been used by Bahá’is. Insults were written on doors of Bahá’is and their windows were smashed. Rather than risk physical contact, a teacher poked his Bahá’i students with the eraser end of his pencil.

A café proprietor openly smashed the cups of Bahá’is to placate his Muslim customers. There’s far more – the list is long and astonishing. I have met people fired from their jobs and children expelled from school for being Bahá’i.  In Iran, Bahá’is can’t go to university.  These are not the worst stories. Bahá’is have been imprisoned and killed for following a faith that believes in unity and peace. And this is still going on today.

Many have fled Iran to escape the persecution. Some have ended up in Australia where I have had the pleasure and privilege of meeting them.

The Bahá’i friends I have are some of the most wise, gracious, peaceful, forgiving and dignified people I have ever met. They understand much of this hostility in their home country comes from ignorance fed by fear. They carry many devastating memories with courage and even sometimes, humour.  They miss their families and friends –both Muslims and Bahá’i – but they daren’t go back to Iran while the current government is in power. Yet they bear their oppressors no ill will even though the rumours spread by the government about the Bahá’is are so preposterous they belong in the dark ages.

I will say no more. It makes me too angry. There is no way I would have been able to face all those superstitions with such peace, wisdom and fortitude.


For more on this beautiful faith here’s a link:






Once a beloved family pet, Flor the Saki monkey was handed over to RAREC in exchange for a pair of shoes, so a little girl could walk to school.


In May of 2018, a young Australian woman on a university exchange in Canada searched for ways to fill her summer break. She didn’t want to come home to the Southern Hemisphere. She had a whole world she longed to explore. The challenge was: how to do this all on a budget? As a foreign student, she wasn’t allowed to take on paid work and she wanted to travel.

She decided on a trip to South America but was concerned at the prospect of travelling on her own. Despite asking her friends, she couldn’t find a suitable willing or available travel companion.

Then, one day, a post popped up on her Facebook feed. It was a call for volunteers to help at an animal conservation and refuge centre deep in the heart of Peru on the edge of the Amazon rainforest. Accommodation and meals would be provided in exchange for helping with the management and running of the refuge. The travel cost was cheap. She would be met at Iquitos airport by a member of the centre.

When her mother – back in Australia – heard about her planned trip, a maternal meltdown ensued. Fear reared its ugly head. All the potential pitfalls of travelling to what sounded like the middle of nowhere consumed this mother’s brain. So many things could go wrong! Disease, kidnapping, assault, pythons, deadly spiders, man-eating fish, travel disasters – the list was endless.  And was this Facebook post a scam?

‘Don’t go!’ said her mother. ‘It’s far too dangerous!’

Steadfastness is a close cousin of courage and sometimes, particularly where a parent-child relationship is concerned – this can be construed as stubbornness.

The young woman wasn’t backing down. This was an exciting opportunity and she was going.

Meanwhile, the mother – trying to master her rising fears – did some comprehensive googling.  The organisation seemed legitimate. But still. Peru? South America with all that male machismo, poverty and political unrest? The Australian government’s Smartraveller website confirmed her worst fears. ‘Exercise a high degree of caution,’ it warned, listing the numerous and terrifying catastrophes of previous travellers.

Still the young woman dug in her heels. She was going. She would be fine. She would be sensible.

More maternal conniptions followed and continued, via Facebook messenger – all the way to Peru – where the young woman was met – as promised – by the owner of the rescue centre. From here she was driven into the depths of Peru to have one of the most transformative experiences of her life.

For two weeks her fretting mother woke to videos and photos of her deliriously happy daughter cuddling orphaned baby monkeys, gathering food for manatees and going for jungle walks with a tame ocelot.

And then, came the finale to this story, the other lesson learned, and the reason why having children is also such a life-transforming experience.

After another day of monkey-hugging and ocelot-schmoozing, mother and daughter spoke over the refuge’s surprisingly good internet connection.

‘Mum,’ she said. ‘I ’m so glad that I didn’t follow your advice.’

The mother was me and that brave, determined young woman was my daughter.

I am now an exuberant supporter and follower of  RAREC (Rainforest Awareness Rescue Education Centre).  I am so touched by their courage and perseverance. The work they do is truly visionary. They understand that to promote animal conservation in an environment plagued by poverty and sometimes ignorance they must educate and offer locals alterative, sustainable ways of making a living. They lobby. They work with the police to try and stop animal poaching – endemic in an area inhabited by so many beautiful, exotic animals. They stand against corporations plundering the rainforest and decimating habitats for profit. It’s a hard job and they constantly need donations and volunteers.

Here’s the link to this amazing organisation. Please help them in whatever way you can. They are doing so much for the animals and our planet.


Thank you, RAREC for not only looking after but also inspiring my daughter. And thank you also for all the wonderful, selfless work you are undertaking to save those beautiful animals.

Hopefully one day, thanks to the kindness, hard work and courage of people who want to protect the planet and help human civilisation progress, instead of followers of beautiful religions and instead of endangered animals, it will be fear and ignorance facing extinction.

Meanwhile no matter how hot it gets, I won’t be jumping into any canyons.

At least not literally.





As we farewell the star-swallowing black hole that was 2016 – a year in which truth took an extended holiday and is currently threatening to permanently depart our little blue planet, do we need to redefine our relationship with reality?

Amid the racket of tweets and soundbites, exhortations and accusations, fact and its close relative truth have flown off with the fairies.  So it comes as no surprise that the Oxford Dictionary has declared ‘post-truth’ as the word of the year. Never mind it’s two words – that’s so post-truth, it’s perfect.

So how do we coax truth and trust back to our watery world?

Through religion? Oh my God. That word is so loaded the martyr’s sword is already at my throat. After all, one person’s profound truth is another’s  fairy tale. Religions, in their various incarnations, have been plagued by lies, corruption and power-plays since the first ape-man looked up to the heavens in wonder.  Our ambivalent relationship with this complex ideology is beautifully summed up words of the 14th century Person mystical poet Hafiz: “The great religions are the ships, the poets the life boats and every sane person I know has jumped overboard.”


What about science?  Even this embracer of reason and empiricism is suffering a crisis of epic proportions. This year polls – those supposedly scientific predictors of opinion – have failed. Twice and sensationally. But the current debate over human-influenced climate change must be the biggest clanger.  Despite all that evidence (rising Co2 levels, studies, graphs and expert’s warnings) the deniers, with their political and corporate agendas, are shouting so loud, the sound waves from their cries are enough to dislodge another sheet of ice from a melting glacier.

After all, quietly rising sea levels of evidence are far less sexy than greed and bellicose subjectivity.

So as I sit and steam like a frog in boiling water in record Sydney heat, I can’t help but think we need to completely change our relationship with truth.

If we can’t even trust science where do we turn?  To art, of course.

I predict, as the final nail is hammered into the coffin of 2016, that 2017 will be the Year of the True Lie. Art, after all, is honest in its homage to illusion. It begins as nothing more than a work of imagination. And this is where things get interesting.  Embedded in visual and literary fictions, we often unearth unassailable truths about the world and the human condition. It’s all about perspective.  After all, when we ponder the fathomless mysteries of the universe or look deep into the mind-bending quantum world, we‘re reminded of how we are limited by our perceptions. In the end, we’re forced back to ourselves – our consciousness – the ultimate conductor of reality.

I’m not the first to suggest we may be residing inside some kind of celestial simulacrum.  So. If everything is an illusion, then art is the mirror that reflects this ultimate truth.  Look how entire tracts and moods of history have been captured in a sublime work of art, literature or music. Look at Picasso’s Guernica. Or Goya’s Satan devouring his children. Veils of propaganda, tradition and propriety have been pushed aside to reveal humanity in its darkest moments.

2016, not only the year of post truth, was also the 500th anniversary of the passing Hieronymus Bosch – an artist who depicted the corruptions of the clergy through his weird and wonderful paintings. History is filled with master illusionists distilling the reality of the human condition. Art  after all, captures truths we have yet to fathom.

And in this past Year of the Lie, I’ve discovered some glowing illusionistic stars. I’m delighted Liane Moriarty’s wonderful novel ‘Big Little Lies’ is being made into a television series. It’s a masterful study of the lies we not only tell others, but ourselves.

For really frightening reading, there’s Ian Leslie’s ‘Born Liars’ –  a book driven by the premise that humanity has conquered the planet because we have evolved into masters of self-deceit.

Then there’s the fabulous movie ‘Arrival’ – which examines how language shapes our perception of time and reality. And ‘The Light Between Oceans’ – a beautiful, heart-breaking book by M L Stedman and now an excellent movie – shows us how sometimes right and wrong can look exactly the same.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that in troubled times, people turn to fantasy.  In 2017 there will be so much political crap flying out of the global fan that many who can afford to do so (and many who can’t) will retreat into illusion.

So 2017 will be a year to look to art as the ultimate purveyor of truth. The Year of the True Lie. A year in which we must confront the fictions of our own existence through monumental escapism –imagined journeys to exotic foreign worlds where we must prise open our minds,  shatter and then mend our broken hearts. All from the safety of our couches.

And thanks to these fictions, 2017 will be a year in which we turn back towards the truth. And hopefully do something real to build the world of our dreams.


Hello, my name is Ziggy and I have ataxia. If you see me walk, you will think I’ve been hitting the Christmas egg nog. That’s because I have congenital cerebellar disease, which affects the balance and coordination part of my brain.


This turn of events has also affected the equilibrium in my owner’s brain. I’ve recently watched her tear at her hair and shout: “WTF! This is my first dog! I prepared for this puppy! I researched and googled! I choose a breed known for its good health!”

Instead, she got me. Diagnosed last week with this rare, untreatable neurological condition which may or may not get worse.

Now, I may have cerebellar disease but I’m still a supreme mood reader. I can feel hearts squeeze every time I fall. Although for me, stumbling, tripping over my feet and skidding on wooden floors seems perfectly normal, my charming puppy clumsiness is now a sign of a serious condition with an unknown prognosis. Ah, knowledge can be painful!

Personally, I think there’s a lesson here for my owner.  Life can sometimes be a bad Santa who brings crappy, unwanted gifts. So I’m here to teach her acceptance.  I’m here to remind her we can’t control everything.  After all, randomness is built into the very fabric of existence.

In other words, shit happens.

Sadly, my owner – being human with a tendency to over-think and let her imagination run off with the fairies – is still seeking an explanation for the cause of my illness.

Was it that time during renovations when I fleetingly chewed on an arsenic-infused chunk of wood?

Or was it that piece of really, really, smelly poop I once ate?

Then, there’s this doozey: Perhaps I’m a reincarnation of a Soldier of the Third Reich, my imperfect goose-stepping walk (characteristic of this illness) not only a reflection of the eternal life of the soul but also clear evidence  the universe, in all its wisdom, understands the transformative power of irony and poetic justice. Either that or there’s a deity out there with a warped sense of humour.

I prefer to simply see life as a balancing act. And if there is one thing that is certain in this world; it’s uncertainty.  May I add, all this unpredictability is no excuse to lie on our backs, expose our tummies for a rub and yield to complacency.  No. There are still some things we can change.  So.  A moment for practicalities, please.

We little dog-animals are bloody hard work. So no giving of puppies for Christmas.

I am also a glowing example of the importance of pet insurance. Diagnosing my condition ( X-rays, blood and fluid tests, an MRI scan and specialist consultations),  has cost a small fortune.

On the bright side, to compensate for my awkwardness, I’m strong. Really strong. Just try and pull me away from some fabulously interesting smell. I can still jump insanely high and when I run, I’m like someone with a speech impediment who sings like a star.

Plus, there’s one thing of which I am certain.  I know what makes the world turn, the oceans stir and the stars come out at night. I know I’m wildly loved. I know my family will be beside me on this journey and pick me up when I fall.  I know they will care for me, do all they can to make sure I live out a happy life, no matter how brief that life might be.

After all, who among us knows how long we have in this wonderful world?

So look into my eyes and succumb to the enchantment. Smile, poke out your tongue and drool. Happy Christmas. And I hope you like my hat.

THINGS THAT MAKE MY BLOOD BOIL – EPISODE TWO – Putting the Green Squeeze on Big Business Bastardry

The other day I visited a new local enterprise called Juiced Life and chatted to the owner as she made me a freshly squeezed juice. When she gave me the drink in a very attractive glass bottle, I asked her if I could return with the bottle and re-use it. No, she said. It’s against the law.

She told me (rather sadly, may I add) Juiced Life’s original business model was one where customers would buy the juice in a branded bottle, then return it for their next drink. It makes sense doesn’t it? Fewer bottles in landfills, less overheads and energy wasted on recycling. She explained they even had a bottle cleaning machine on the premises ready to make sure the returned bottles were thoroughly cleaned.

Alas, legislation here in New South Wales forbids such environmentally responsible initiatives.

Outraged at such irrational,  small-business-crushing legislation, energised after my deliciously nutritious drink, I stormed home and googled.

My first guess as I searched for answers was this nutty law had something to do with the nanny state and potential litigation. If a bottle isn’t clean and a customer gets sick, someone can be sued.  Yet when I dug further, it turned out the beverage and packaging industries have lobbied to curtail any changes to current legislation.

We all know how this parable ends.
We all know how this parable ends.

Before I say more, here’s  a link to a related piece of research on the topic from The Conversation.

Here’s an excerpt that made my juices curdle:

The beverage and packaging industry have, over the years, provided modest funding for litter-reduction campaigns or initiatives to reduce packaging, in exchange for governments resisting calls to introduce a system which puts responsibility for recycling cans and bottles on the companies that make them.

So where does this leave a small business that does want to take responsibility for their packaging? Breaking the law, apparently.

Many small businesses run on the smell of an oily rag and owners often work hours that would have employees screaming exploitation and racing to their unions or the Human Rights Commission.  So, short of spending vast amounts of time and energy fighting for change, there’s not a lot a small business owner can do except adapt to current legislation, which is what Juiced Life has been driven to do.

But there’s hope. Consumer demand is the force for change. Consumers have the power to put the squeeze on those bloated, self-serving manufacturers of preservative-riddled, tooth-rotting, chemical-infused beverages in non-recyclable packaging by refusing to buy their products. By buying natural and local, making responsible and informed choices and supporting small business, consumers can make a huge difference. Because didn’t someone important once say the meek shall inherit the earth?

After all, look what happened to Goliath.

David chats and beheads Goliath

THINGS THAT MAKE MY BLOOD BOIL – EPISODE ONE – Invasion of the Thought Parasites

I wrote the following piece a while ago in a moment of fury and decided not to post it. Now I’ve read it, I’m fuming all over again. So here’s it is…

The situation involved an already hot and humid Sydney summer morning, a stressed man and a willful puppy. I’d just crossed a busy road on the way to work when the aforementioned puppy escaped its lead and bolted. Too overwhelmed to give chase, the man previously attached to the puppy suffered a medical episode and collapsed on the sidewalk.

Strangers appeared everywhere to help and comfort him as he writhed in pain and gasped for breath. A man ran down the road and retrieved the escaped puppy.  Another called an ambulance.

I sat with him and held his hand as we waited for the ambulance. More people came and stayed to make sure he was OK. Then, a woman arrived and pushed her way into the gathered crowd. She knelt beside him and said: “Now. Let’s pray to God for help.”

To some of you, this may seem a harmless response to a person in distress, but my first thought was one of shock and affront followed by an intense urge to shout at her and say: HOW DARE YOU ASSUME THIS MAN BELIEVES IN GOD!

I have to admit to feeling so angry, I wanted to tell her to sod off. To assume a stranger follows a particular brand of belief is, to me, a massive act of arrogance. To impose one’s ideology on someone in this way in a moment of need is to me, both deeply inappropriate and offensive.

While your defences are down I will infect you with my doctrines
While your defenses are down, I will infect you with my doctrines

Look, I know she had good intentions, but her gesture came across as massively rude. All I saw that morning was an opportunistic bully attempting to cajole a stranger who could barely speak into muttering utterances to her dogmatic version of the unknown. This woman was applying the heat of religious indoctrination when all that man needed, until medical help arrived, was warmth and compassion.

Aware this was neither the time nor the place for an argument over matters of theology, I held my tongue. Thankfully, as this happened near a fire station, a fire engine arrived and began to minister practical help to this distressed soul and rescue him from that fevered evangelist.

On that steamy Sydney footpath, there were two fires that needed extinguishing that morning – the flames of that woman’s righteousness and my own smoldering indignation. So. Thank God for the fire service.


On Tuesday Luna – our beloved Chocolate Burmese cat – suddenly passed away.

Just before the deploying of the 'don't humiliate me' bite.
Just before the deploying of the ‘don’t humiliate me’ bite.

Although I’ve lost cats before, the children grew up with him and have known him as long as they can remember.  Most of us have, at some point in our lives, lost a beloved pet, but it’s particularly hard on children, and often their first experience of grief and loss.

As well as being a shock as painful as a punch in the gut, an unexpected loss like this is also a sage reminder of how fragile and fleeting life is and how it can all change in an instant.

Yet what Luna taught us about unconditional love has been priceless. Despite the heartbreak, knowing and loving him, watching him grow from full-on kitten into occasionally sedate senior has transformed us. A cat with a huge personality and a bottomless capacity for love, every day, he made us happy. Now, we smile at all those memories.

For Luna, it’s now cat heaven with no more painful bouts of pancreatitis, or humiliations being dressed up in silly Christmas hats or monthly flea treatments or the poking and indignities of rectal thermometers at the vets.

Being a pragmatic sentimentalist, it’s worth listing here, the things I, as primary cat-caregiver, won’t miss:

  • The litterbox cleaning.
  • The cat puke surprises I’d find on the carpets or down the backs of couches.
  • The gifts of fleas collected in the garden.
  • The occasional dismembered cockroach delivered to a bed in the middle of the night.

Nothing of course, compares with what we will all miss.

  • That Burmese meow which sounds like a tortured peacock.
  • That furry bundle that was always somewhere – sleeping on a bed, a couch, a chair or stretched out in bliss on the deck in the sun.
  • The tinkle of his collar and the shrieks of the myna birds that heralded his return from his territorial inspections.
  • The sudden shake of the bed in the middle of the night as he arrived or departed on one of his bed-hopping sprees.
  • The beautiful sight of him snuggled up next to a sleeping child.
  • The cuddles, the purrs and leg-rubs and that cat-smile that was one part smug, nine parts bliss.

So much about life is choosing how we react to the curve-balls it throws at us; how we approach love and process its inevitable sorrows. This wonderful article on resilience says it all.

Finally, here’s to thirteen years of love with a cat so special, he must have been made just for us. What a Chocolate Burmese ride.  Thank you Luna for everything.


My scientist father wasn’t terrifically fond of Christmas and when he was alive, would regularly say around this time of year: “I’d like to go to sleep and wake up when it’s all over.”

As my father’s daughter, I know exactly how he felt. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, exasperated and stressed at this time of year. Not only by the expectations we impose on ourselves but also by the pressures advertisers impose on us. The barrage of advertising urging us to not only consume, but to increase our consumption, is one I find particularly offensive. Yes, I know sales drive the wheels of our market economy, but I can’t help thinking we’re getting this all wrong.

And what is it about Christmas dinners? Depicted in all those ads for puddings and turkeys as a joyful gathering, the reality is often the opposite. Thanks to all that emotionally manipulative merchandising, so great is our expectation for happiness that we can’t help but be disappointed.

In Robert McKee’s fabulous writing bible – ‘Story’ –this is called ‘the gap between expectation and result.’

This gap – created when internal desire encounters the antagonist of external reality – is often a turning point – a character-defining moment, a chance for transformation, a recipe for disaster or all of the above. It’s a place where a story teller finds the ripe (and sometimes festering) fruits of inspiration. In this gap – which is often a metaphorical canyon – things get interesting.

So, in the spirit of giving, realism and that gap between expectation and result, I offer you this alternate Christmas menu:

Menu 3


Yes, indeed. That archaic word, which simply means someone who doesn’t’ follow the dominant religion, is loaded with dysfunctional, medieval baggage. It also means free thinker, non-conformist and dissenter. Sounds like a description of most authors and artists!

Hooray for royalty-free images from artists who’ve been dead for well over fifty years plus thanks (and apologies) to Jan van Eyck.
Hooray for royalty-free images from artists who’ve been dead for well over fifty years plus thanks (and apologies) to Jan van Eyck.

Christmas also means books, travel and time to read. Weightless eBooks are perfect for travelers, so here’s a chance to grab a discounted/free copy of the acclaimed The Infidel’s Garden and load it on to your device.

After all, what better time to read a page-turning story about the need for peace between the world’s different faiths and explore the gentler, more sensuous side of Islam?

Indie publishers rely heavily on reviews for sales, so if you do download The Infidel’s Garden, this author would greatly appreciate a review on Amazon or Goodreads or whatever platform you choose.  The result of this will be even more Christmas good will, karma, positive vibes and oxytocin surges. And of course, the force will also be with you.

Click on the link to travel to Amazon and get The Infidel’s Garden.

star with wings



I saw this ad on the back of a bus the other day.


Why indeed? It’s something to dwell on as we move into The Season of Massive Consumption.

Along with eating meat when we know we can get protein from more environmentally sustainable sources, here’s a smattering of other things we do out of habit and/or tradition.

Yes, yes, I know – some of these issues are fraught with convoluted legal, ethical, economic and cobwebby religious constraints – but from this subversive pragmatist’s point of view, they make no sense.

  • Euthanasia. While we put our pets down when they are old and/or suffering, the legal systems and moral codes in most countries prevent us from doing the same to people who are terminally ill and have expressed a wish to die. Why, when it comes to terminal illness, do we treat our pets better than we treat our fellow humans?
  • Blood Sport. What is it about killing beautiful, noble and free animals that gives some people such a thrill?

As Socrates said:  ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’.

Writers and artists – individuals whose professions revolve around this very examination of the human condition –  through choice or temperament, often prefer to hover on the outskirts of society and watch the world from a distance. Grist for the creative mill comes from observations that much human behaviour is ruled by vanity, social conditioning, fear of rejection and a desire to conform, imitate and impress peers.

Governments and legal bodies often reflect our breeches of common sense on a grander scale. So continuing on with my list:

  • Fossil Fuel Dependence. Why in sunny Australia is the government not offering more business subsidies and solar incentives to support clean energy?
  • Drugs and Drink. Why is alcohol – the cause of countless deaths – legal, while marijuana is still in many countries criminalised?
  • Smoking. Given the obvious link between health problems and smoking why on earth do tobacco companies still exist?

I welcome your additions to my list.

Meanwhile, SETI continues its search for signs of other civilisations in the universe. To date this quest has revealed nothing but utter silence (except that single ‘Wow’ signal). This raises the question: Is there intelligent life out there? Or have we got this the wrong way round?

Perhaps there’s no technologically advanced civilisation out there dumber than us. Perhaps, just like the Vulcans in Star Trek, before they make contact, advanced alien species are waiting for humanity to pull itself together and discover the warp-drive of common sense.

They may also be waiting for us to cotton on and eat more insects.

After all, those delicious crustaceans (lobsters, scallops, prawns) we eat are really just bugs from the sea.

A delicious protein- packed addition to your Christmas menu.
A delicious, protein- packed addition to your Christmas menu.

Back to those cute animals and the questions posed at the beginning of this post. Aside from the initial yuk factor of insect consumption (and BTW, what  is more yukky than eating the red bleeding flesh of a dead animal?), if you have a rational answer  that doesn’t involve tradition, laziness, habit or the fact that bacon tastes good, then I’d love to hear it.

My guess is I will hear nothing but utter silence.


bosch demon 1 flipped with shadow

Press on the link demon above for more discussions on the future of food: