I was in a PetSmart buying dog food for a friend when I spotted cages full of three and four month old kitties. Kittens this age are the most photogenic they'll ever be. They fall all over each other, because they're still a little bit clumsy. They're bony little things with big eyes and lots of fur, and they're damned cute.

I hate pets, as a rule. Dogs drool on you and piss on everything other dogs piss on, while cats are too aloof. Dogs do not have an independent thought in their minds - nor do they want to - while cats studiously ignore the hired help, which is you. Both require far too much maintenance. As I walked by the little mewling furbags, I hardened my heart and imagined how I'd wind up hating their adult cat versions. This worked as long as I walked at a brisk pace past their cages.

A four week old yellow kitty looked at me. I stopped. I peered at it. It peered back at me. I stuck a finger into the cage. It took one of its soft little paws and touched my finger. I wiggled the finger. It brought its head over, so that it could be scratched behind its ears.

I kneeled down so that my eyes were level with the kitty's. Its eyes tracked mine. Then I stuck two fingers in. It kept touching my fingers. If a kitty could ever be said to be starved for human touch, it was this cat. It kept its paws on my fingers as if to say, please, stay right here. I want to curl up in your hands.

This is not the way a grumpy man who doesn't like pets behaves. My defenses were breaking down.

The kitty was in a cage with two other cats. They were far more rambunctious and meanspirited. This cat, my cat kept to itself alongside one wall. Its aloof spirit appealed to me. It was willing to go its own way. I had to respect that.

I did something I've never done in my life. I asked the pet store owner if I could hold the yellow kitty.

She took it out of the cage with her hands just behind the front legs, so that the kitty looked like a long, limp piece of cartilaginous animal, as if it was being transported by the mother who had grabbed the kitten by the scruff of his neck, and it had gone completely limp during the transport. It was deposited into my arms as if it was a little human baby. It was warm. It looked up calmly at me. I think it liked to be held, to be surrounded by my arms, and to have its head cradled in my hand. It put a paw on my chest.

It had had all of its shots, and it was neutered. Pre-neutered, it was a he. No more. The price: $140.

It seemed to enjoy the quiet of being by itself, without the constant haranguing of the other cats. The only time it was afraid was when it heard the barking of a nearby dog. Then its claws came out and it burrowed into my arms, trying to make itself invisible.


Having a pet is a poor substitute for a child. Nothing beats holding your own daughter in your arms and having her look up at you. You can see your soul in her eyes. My daughters are now grown women, but I remember as if it was yesterday the feeling I had when I first held them in my arms. The first-moment memory of holding your own baby is burned into your soul, seared as if by a branding iron. You remember the sight, you remember the smell, you remember how scared your baby is, and you remember how big your heart is. It swells up to fill your chest. This is your child. You have new responsibilities, but they are nothing compared to the infinite amount of new love you have.

My child-bearing years are behind me. The future is for grandchildren, if I and my daughters are fortunate. In this interim period, I have emotions that I don't know what to do with.


It would have been easy to become attached to the little kitty. It would have been easy to take it home and make it mine.

A little voice said not to.

I handed the cute little kitty back to the store owner and looked at it one more time. I could only hope its eventual owner would love it and treat it kindly.


That's the way these stories end. The ending is not like you think it is. A decent person would have bought the kitty and given it a good life. Perhaps its fate is destined to be a cruel one. Perhaps my fate will be pleasant, or unpleasant. Who knows? One doesn't know these things.

Every day this scene is repeated a hundred different times in a thousand different pet stores throughout the country. Different people. Different kitties. For some, fate decrees a happy intersection.

My fate was this: I paid for the dog food and walked out the store. The kitten is still in its cage. It forgot about me as soon as I walked out the door. I still remember how it looked at me, and the way its paws felt wrapped around my finger.

Sometimes I feel things. Other times, I feel nothing anymore.

HoopDeDoo - you don't see me but I see you.

I haven't been in here for almost a year and I've lost another 2 XP. My LF is 1.000. Last thing I wrote received another batch of downvotes. What else is new?

Cool Man Eddie hiccupped and told me six times in the same breath that "Somebody likes Liberia!" So do I, Ed. Or I should say "I liked it when we lived there." Understand the country is still on its knees after Charles Taylor's reign of terror. Oh well, c'est la vie.

And that's it - all quiet on this particular front. Just checking in with you guys. Bye now.

I am 34 today. I don't feel like having a huge retrospective about it and don't think I'll get philosophical, but seeing as we just moved from the city to the country, I'd like to describe my day.

I woke up at 9:30am, having slept all the way through the night because Jo, the saint who is my girlfriend, got up with Joshua at 4am, 6am, and finally 8am without waking me. I came downstairs and she made me coffee and I played with the baby for a while; he was smiling and being very happy and cute.

A little after that I had a shower. This currently involves a complicated dance with the house's dodgy plumbing, in which one must juggle the timer and the thermostat and the central heating, resulting in perhaps five minutes worth of tolerably warm water that dribbles out of the shower head. Next it was Joshua's turn. We boiled up a kettle and used it to heat some cold water in his tub, and he had a giggly, wide-eyed bath with baby oil and lots of cooings. Then I lifted him out too fast, he got a bit of a shock with the cold, and started crying; silly daddy. But he quieted down again fairly quickly after being wrapped up in his snuggly yellow towel with a hood with a duck on it.

Then we went out to have lunch with Jo's mother and aunt at the cafe at the old mill building in Glasshouses, the village next door. The river Nidd races past the cafe windows and the mill is almost completely concealed by large overhanging trees and undergrowth such as ferns and ivy and brambles. The food is homemade and delicious and cheap. Because it was my birthday, Joshua decided to sleep through the whole lunch, so we got to eat and chat and everything.

After lunch we went walking up the road to Guisecliff Wood, a patch of ancient woodland that used to be part of the Knaresborough Hunting Forest. It has been there for over a thousand years and is full of gnarled oaks and huge birches and moss and crisscrossed with paths that still follow the old, old hunting trails from long ago. There are long, broken-down stone walls covered with mould and moss that extend back into the soil of hills covered in ferns. There are clearings full of greenish-grey rock formations, and dominant oaks hundreds of years old around whom nothing else grows, apparently out of respect or fear. Paths lead up to the cliffs, some of them dead-ends and some of them capped by almost vertical trails up a small escarpment; and beyond that, nothing but the flat, heather-covered vista of the Yorkshire moors. The woods are strangely quiet, in the way that very old woodland can be; you would expect there to be more birdsong. In the centre, concealed on almost all sides by rock and wood, is a deep tarn whose water level never changes, whether in rain or drought; folk tales say both that it is bottomless, and that a hideous old creature lives in it who drags swimmers to their deaths. Whatever the reason, you never, ever see people so much as paddling there. I didn't paddle, I took photos, lots of photos. Then we came home.

That was my birthday, and it was wonderful. Tomorrow I am going to the job centre in Harrogate to explain to the British government why they should pay me some money to keep myself and my family alive while I try to start up my own business in the worst economic climate that most people still alive have ever seen; I am strangely optimistic. After all, the British government tells me that despite everything, optimism is justified. Let's hope they see it that way tomorrow morning.

This weekend was the first time I ever got to ride in the pace car, during an actual race. I've driven one up to start, and I've been advised that I may be asked to drive one during a future race, but this weekend I was pressed into service as a communicator.

As most of you aren't racing people, I will explain. A pace car comes out on two occasions during a race. The first is at the start, when the car paces the field around the track at a speed that allows the cars to put some heat in their tires but is slow enough that the cars can line up and thus get a fair start. The second occasion is when there is an incident on track that leads to a full course yellow. In that case the pace car comes out and gathers the field behind it, and keeps it moving slowly enough that all cars are under absolute control so the incident can be cleaned up safely and any damaged/destroyed cars removed. Cars who are behind the leader but on the same lap often benefit from the gathering process as they can close in to the front and any other cars ahead of them. A NASCAR yellow occurs when some very minor incident is used as an excuse to tighten up the field so the racing will be closer and more competitive, particularly for the TV audience.

What I had to do was pretty simple. The driver drives, and drivers with racing experience are strongly preferred. The reason is pretty simple: you need to go fast enough to keep the race cars from overheating and starting out on stone cold tires, which don't grip so much. Cold tires cause a lot of accidents because its hard to estimate exactly how much grip you really do have. As they are in a race car (say a Formula Atlantic, or a 650 hp GT-1 monster) and you are in a street car, the driver has to go fairly hard in sections of a tight course like Mid Ohio. So the driver is accompanied by a communicator with a radio who makes sure control and the driver know what's needed. That was my job.

What you do is pretty simple. First, you must request permission from race control to enter the course. You turn on your light bar (just like the police car lights) and go when permission is given. If the course is clear that's almost always granted, although they will warn you of clean-up operations in progress, so you aren't surprised by that wrecker partially blocking the course. You travel a full circuit of the course and stop in the center of the front straight. Ideally. Sometimes permission comes late, and you exit pit out and then back into positions. Grid will release the cars and the splitter will divide the field into the correct lanes behind you. Once the field closes up the pace car is to accelerate at a mild pace until the entire field is gathered up and then speed up to pace speed.

The first field I paced was made up of GT-1 and 2 monsters, American Sedans with thumping V-8s, Touring 2 Z-06 Corvettes and smattering of modified RX-7s, BMWs and Porsches. My friend Matt Downing drove. He's an experienced driver (who got two second places this weekend) of front wheel drive cars and decided to pace the field at 60MPH with a jump to 90 down the backstraight. Keep in mind that there are turns at Mid Ohio (3 and 8 for example) where 60 MPH is challenging in a race car, much less an Acura TL. Matt maintained that speed until he got to station 11 then slowed to 45 to allow the cars to form up behind us. As we slowed I put my arm out the window to let them know we were about to deccelerate. My job was to announce our locations at different 'corners' of the course, so race control knew when to expect the field. And to let us know what to do. There have been occassions where race cars have crashed on the pace lap, usually due to mechanical failure or that old cold tires/overheated driver problem. We might be told to stay out and continue pacing the field. But we weren't. As I passed corner station 14, the last tracking point I announced our location, that the lights were out on the pace car and that we were coming in. Matt put his foot down and shot ahead into the pits. The race leader then assumes control of the field, and having a big, uber-powerful GT-1 car decided to start slow as he knew he could blow by the Touring class 'vettes immediately behind him.

Then we entered the pits, and moved to the end of pit lane and stopped, angled so we could easily head back out on track. There we sat, engine running until the entire field completed the first lap of the race. Then I asked for, and recieved permission to 'stand down', which meant we could turn off the engine.

Then my problems began. The race ran smoothly and we sat there quietly until the checkered flag was given. After the field entered the pits I asked control if it was time to go out on track and stage for the next race. No answer. I asked again. And again, and again. No answer. Finally I got a reply that said the one minute had been given and so we needed to back down on the front straight as even a formula 1 car can't lap Mid Ohio in under a minute. At least not coming out of the pits.

And did I mention that Matt had turned over the driving chores to a guy who had never driven the pace car before?

Still, I had been warned that control might not respond right away as they often switched head phones. My radio had worked perfectly the session before. The cars went out (this time slower but still quick Spec Racers). We paced at 45 MPH per Matt's recommendation, and successfully got a start.

That's when trouble began. After the first lap, I three times requested permission to stand down. No answer. Maybe those guys were busy. I noticed my dispaly blinking but thought that was normal for this particular radio. What it really meant was my batteries were dying fast. I saw the double yellow flag go up at turn one. I knew we needed to go out, but we also needed instructions. Control was supposed to order us to stand up and the number of the car we were supposed to pick up. Really that means the driver, as he has far better mirror coverage than I. Instead I heard only static, and an odd rustling. I knew something was up, but could do nothing. Not even a pace car may enter a hot race course without permission. Even if I had moved on my own, without radio communications how would we know when to come back in? A moment later a steward ran out of medical clutching a radio. We did a quick hand off, and my driver floored it as the field was coming. We got out just in front of the field, in part thanks to the leader who slowed up when he saw us exiting the pits.

Gee, my (and the driver's) first full course yellow and my radio chose that moment to die. Murphy sure does love racing.

Fortunately, all went well and got the field gathered up (this time single file) for a re-start.

And I had fun. It's cool being out in the pace car, and next time I'd like to drive. But I'll tell you this. You can't see much of the racing from where I sat, and Acura TLs have really comfortable seats. You can't sit there too long without falling asleep.

I was glad at the end of three sessions when one of the stewards relieved me.

Well, last weekend it was time to take the cats, all three of 'em in one carrier, to the vet's for their annual checkup. Although they all fit in just fine, getting three willful boy cats in the one carrier was NOT fun. I came out relatively unscathed, and the trip there and back was, for once, rather quiet.

All three have been very healthy, thank the Gods, over the last year and so I pretty much knew we probably didn't have anything to worry about. But that didn't stop me from fretting. You see, we used to have four cats. And after one of those checkup trips, I got a call from our vet informing me that cat #4 had a disease. A disease that wasn't going away and couldn't be treated. Some six weeks later, we were back to three cats. It took longer for the hurt to heal.

Thus the reason why, every year I worry and wonder when it's time for the annual checkup. See, those cats mean the world to me. When they hurt, I hurt. Fortunately, all three received a clean bill of health from the vet, and I was able to breathe again.

Caring for our cats has, over the years, given me newfound respect and understanding for those of you who have children and for what you go through with them. If I wore a hat, it'd be off to you.

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