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How We Bought Our Whole Wedding Online, Part 4: Flower girl outfits, cake, confetti and music

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Just a few more bitty things to mention … And by the way, I haven’t mentioned everything. Like: the little place name things above? My colleague Christine designed and printed those and I think I folded them while watching Gossip Girl. Random little things that you don’t even think of, that probably aren’t essential, but that have to be done if you want them: wedding planning is made of these.

Flower girl outfits

Alex_Nicola_LR_(032of 274) The dresses came from good old Monsoon; I think it was the beaded Estella dress in white. Regardless, it was gorgeous and if it had been bigger I would have worn it. The girls looked adorable. They chose their own accessories including golden sparkly shoes which they loved (although my niece did confide to one guest that they were ‘murder’ to wear).

The Cake

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Isn’t it pretty? I ordered it for a very reasonable £200 or so, over the phone from Heriot Cake World. It was a chocolate Guinness cake; I didn’t mention that it was for a wedding. I also didn’t get to eat any because I was so busy running around but apparently it was delicious. I also barely ate any dinner. Top tip: ask your venue to doggy-bag your food to take home for the next day, and also to save you a slice of cake.

Confetti

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Islington Town Hall doesn’t allow artificial confetti (love it) so I found natural flower petals here. Done. (Except not quite done; I started fretting over whether we should supply little paper bags for confetti so it wouldn’t get squashed in peoples’ hands …. What was I thinking? Luckily my friend C intervened and bought it all and sorted it before I went completely nuts. Whew).

 Music

Alex_Nicola_LR_(267of 274) Rather than try and find a DJ we thought it would be easier to make a Spotify playlist. The problem was, we have totally different taste in music. I have the musical taste of an eight-year-old girl: Alex is indie and obscure. He wanted Ash and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone; I wanted Madonna and Robyn. This caused the biggest and really the only fight we had in the whole of our wedding planning, during which the words ‘I hate the wedding’ may have been uttered. In the end we compromised and it was all fine. Oh, until Spotify dropped the connection and we were left music-less. My friend Jaremey brilliantly fixed it all and the dancing went on. I didn’t even notice.*

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And that’s the thing about weddings. The best things are the ones you didn’t plan for, didn’t expect, and that other people bring – literally – to the table.

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The photographer

We didn’t exactly buy him on the internet (as I knew him IRL) but I can’t finish this series of posts without mentioning our amazing photographer Andrew Colvin. We barely noticed his ninja-like presence all day but we have photos we’ll treasure for years. This was thanks to his artistic eye but also all the care and preparation he put into the day, from checking our ‘must-have’ pictures and a roll call for family shots, to going over the timeline with us during multiple Skype sessions. He also made the brilliant suggestion of having all the family and couple portraits done before the ceremony – DO THIS. And book Andrew now!

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I hope this series has been helpful if you’re in the wedding weeds yourself. But remember, all you actually need to get married are ‘a man, a preacher and a dress’ – or in 21st century terms, a partner, a legal ceremony, and maybe some rings.

Everything else is just icing on the cake.

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* (Amusing side note: we decided not to do a first dance, but when the music came on it was clear we had to dance first. So we ended up having our first dance to ‘Nowhere to Run’ by Martha and the Vandellas).

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How We Bought Our Whole Wedding Online Part 3: The Dress

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Ahhhh, wedding dress shopping. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The best of times because if you like clothes at all, and I do, a wedding is the ultimate dress-up opportunity. It was the worst of times because I couldn’t find anything. I looked at vintage, high street, department stores; nothing was quite  right. I looked for normal white dresses – it didn’t have to be Bridal with a capital B – but these are hard to find in December, who knew. I went to try one very beautiful dress from a bridal designer which was beautiful, very fitted and slinky, and had sleeves (win win win) but … expensive. Let me be clear; I think women should be allowed spend exactly as much as they want and can afford on their wedding dress, and not feel bad about it; God knows there’s enough pressure out there. But personally, I didn’t want to spend that much. Finally, I decided on a very pretty dress I’d seen online, that was more my end of the budget ($500 or so, so £300) and I ordered it. This was it:

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Some people don’t believe me when I say that I bought my wedding dress online, without trying it on. But the measurements were provided so I knew it would fit, I liked the style, and I figured that if it didn’t work out I could always return it (or rather my friend could on my behalf – thanks Frieda!). To avoid paying import tax, I had it delivered to my friend Frieda in New York, who brought it back to Dublin at Christmas, where I tried it on for the first time. And it fit, and I liked it. Yay. What was also nice was that my mum was there when I tried it on for the first time, which I wasn’t sure would be possible given that I live in London and she’s in Dublin.

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So I was very happy with my dress. But you know what? It wasn’t my ‘dream’ or ‘perfect’ dress. Those words were banned from our wedding. It was just a lovely dress that was a lot of fun to wear. I think there’s so much pressure to look your absolute best self on your wedding day and it’s understandable given how photographed you’re going to be, but there are so many other opportunities to dress up and try different hair and make-up styles. Who says you have to peak on your wedding day?

Because the dress had a lot of decorative detail already, I just wore earrings with it – which I also bought online – and a simple pearl bracelet from John Lewis. I bought my wedding shoes online, without trying them on. They were something like this – silver dance shoes meant for Latin or tango, with a low block heel – because I knew they’d be the most comfortable. I didn’t really care what they looked like because the dress was so long. And lastly, I bought a 1940s fur jacket, from Pennies From Heaven – I think this was the only aspect of my wedding outfit that I actually tried on IRL as the kids say.

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My hair and make-up were contracted out to professionals: Sammy from Mac did my make-up and Bree from Trevor Sorbie did my hair. I figured that having ‘saved’ on my dress – well, in wedding land where a £300 dress is ‘saving’ – I could splash out on hair and make-up and I’m so glad I did. The hairstyle Bree made was a work of art and Sammy’s make-up stayed on all day. He even managed to disguise – mostly – the enormous spot on my forehead that accompanied me throughout our whole wedding day.

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If you like my dress but are UK-based and don’t have an obliging friend in New York, then I’d try Monsoon – they have a fabulous range of beautiful dresses – or Coast. John Lewis also have a gorgeous bridal range – I particularly like this beaded column dress. Or if you want to go the bespoke route, then try La Poesie – my friend Monika’s designs. They are totally exquisite, works of art and the kind of dress you could keep as a family heirloom.

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Tomorrow: Cake, flower girl outfits, confetti and music!

All photographs taken by the brilliant Andrew Colvin

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How We Bought Our Whole Wedding Online Part 2: Flowers, Invitations

Alex_Nicola_LR_(019of 274)  Flowers It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you prefix anything with ‘wedding’ it becomes twice as expensive. I don’t think this is totally unreasonable. If you’re making a dress or catering an event, the stakes are probably much higher if a wedding is involved. But I still didn’t feel like paying £100 upwards for a ‘wedding’ bouquet when I could just buy a normal, lovely bouquet of spring flowers and tie some string around it. So I bought my bouquet online (see above): it was this one, from the Fresh Flower Company, who use mostly seasonal flowers. It was £40 and smelled heavenly; I think I might order it again now that all the spring flowers they used – anenomes and grape narcissi and paperwhites – are out.

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Twirling with my bouquet. As you do.

But then there were the other flowers. The ones that I fretted over. Specifically, flowers on tables while people eat. I don’t know why but I got very bewildered over these. I initially thought the easiest thing would be to buy a load of hydrangeas and put a few in small bowls on each tables. But I’d have had to buy the flowers and the bowls, and get them to the venue, and I just couldn’t deal. The manager of the place pointed out that once all the glasses and china etc were on the tables there really wasn’t much room for flowers, and they would put a large candle on each table which was plenty. I agreed that he was probably right, but then I fretted. Wasn’t it sad to have no flowers? Wouldn’t it ruin things to have no flowers? Then I told myself: no, don’t be ridiculous. But then –  the morning before the wedding  – I cracked and ordered these, which brilliantly came with their own containers. They were very pretty. Probably nobody noticed them.

Our reception. Can you spot the flowers?

Our reception. Can you spot the flowers?

Invitations IMG_2980 Like so much to do with wedding planning, we were probably a bit stupid with these but it worked out fine. I was reading the only sane and helpful wedding website I could find, and via them I fell in love with the Metropolitan printable invite from A Printable Press. The idea is you print it yourself and I knew I could get it printed through work. Unfortunately the sizing etc was all American and there were a lot of complicated conversations about formats and re-sizing and Pantone shades, so I’m not sure I’d go that route again, but whatever, it got done. I also got envelopes free from work (fancy stock left over – the perks of working in publishing). But we did pay for the stamps, you’ll be glad to know. Second class. If I were doing it again … I do love the elegance of having a printed invitation, but I would possibly use something like www.paperlesspost.com. Because people can lose printed invites, and then you get a text from your friend the morning of saying ‘What time is your wedding again?’ And you’ll end up having to send an email with some extra details anyway. We didn’t have a wedding website though. Life, and our engagement, were too short.

Tomorrow: my dress, shoes and accessories!

All photographs taken by the brilliant Andrew Colvin

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How We Bought Our Whole Wedding Online* Part 1

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Our reception venue, the Union Club in Soho, London

So, nearly 2 years after getting married, I’ve finally got round to blogging about our wedding planning. Maybe it was because we did it all in four months, but we found wedding planning … stressful. Sure, some of it is fun. I LOVED my hen nights – both of them – and you get to look at pretty pictures on Pinterest and play dress-up and obviously, wonderfully, you’re getting married and that’s really exciting. But then you get insecure from staring at photos of endless flawless brides, and sticker shock when you see that adorable rustic home-made looking bouquet costs about £200, and the wedding industrial complex is out to get you, and your third cousin wants to know if she can bring her 10 kids, and there’s an endless list of decisions and they all involve money, family, friends, your relationship and tablecloths and aaaagh. And breathe.

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The thing that saved us was … firstly, our venue, the Union Club in Soho, did all the catering so we didn’t have to worry about fridge sizes, washing-up, chairs or glasses – they just magically appeared (see below). I’d highly recommend using an all-in venue if you want to avoid hassle; my friends who went most nuts over their weddings were the ones who had to deal with caterers, and they also didn’t find it that much cheaper.

Secondly, we bought everything we possibly could online. Like:

My engagement and wedding rings

My wedding dress, shoes and accessories

The cake

The flowers (see below)

The invitations

The music.

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It made life so much easier. And in case you think were destroying all the livelihoods of little artisans (because that’s the kind of paranoid thinking wedding planning can induce) it was totally the reverse: thanks to the magic of the internet we were able to deal directly with loads of small businesses that we would otherwise never have heard of. Starting with …

My engagement ring

I helped A choose an engagement ring. Thank God, because otherwise he might have done something nuts like spend three months’ salary on it (which by the way is, like so many things about diamonds, a myth invented by De Beers in the 1930s). Diamonds are beautiful, but I liked the idea of a coloured stone, and I also wanted something affordable. We did a bit of browsing and found some gorgeous rings on Etsy which is an online home for lots of small jewellers and vintage sellers.

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It took just a few hours until I found one I loved: a peach sapphire set in rose gold (pictured above). We bought it from Rene, who’s in Sri Lanka, home of the world’s best sapphires. He has lots of elaborate pave rings which weren’t for me but also some very simple beauties (with gorgeous sapphires of all colours – he also does requests). Rene answered all our questions incredibly promptly, sent the ring ASAP and even took back the original ring and sent me a new one when I’d (gulp) made a mistake with the size … So yes, it was a bit of a risk buying sight unseen, but I adore my ring. As you can see from one of the many many photos I took while I was meant to be working.

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Top tip: whether you or your beloved is choosing the engagement ring, think of getting a wedding ring made at the same time to go with it. If all goes well you probably will be getting married, so you may as well. And not all rings will sit happily on a finger together; hence I had to hit Rene up for a wedding ring a month or so later. Just sayin’.

On Monday I’ll be posting about: invitations and flowers!

*nearly

All photographs (except the last two of the ring) taken by the brilliant Andrew Colvin

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How I wrote Rachel Does Rome

Rachel does Rome is out tomorrow!!!!!

Rachel does Rome draft

I know I’ve said this before but Rachel really is one of my favourites in the Girls on Tour series. It’s the first novella where we see the girls on holiday together (except Poppy) and I relived loads of fun girls’ weekends away in writing it. But it changed massively in the writing – and even more massively since I first planned the series.

To start with, I knew I wanted to write a stand-alone story with Rachel from If I Could Turn Back Time. I was also curious to explore how her relationship with Oliver fared after they got together as they were such an unlikely couple in some ways and because she felt initially that she was ‘settling’ by going out with him. In the original synopsis Rachel was meant to be recently single after Oliver dumped her for being a workaholic. Cue a weekend in Rome where she let her hair down, and met a gorgeous Italian, Paolo, in a bar, who offered to marry her.

But I changed my mind about this scenario for a number of reasons. Firstly it was clichéd; also, I didn’t want Rachel to be romantically punished for working too hard because that seemed so retrograde and anti-feminist. I also thought better of Oliver. I figured that as someone who works very hard himself, he would understand her long hours. Instead I decided to give them a misunderstanding over Valentine’s Day plans because it allowed me to explore Rachel’s romantic expectations of what A Proper Relationship was like – and her insecurity and fears about Oliver losing interest. Then, instead of her meeting a gorgeous Italian, I decided it would be more interesting to have Rachel bump into her ex, Jay, who messed with her head and broke her heart. Jay looms large in If I Could Turn Back Time (where Rachel first appears) but we don’t meet him so I thought it would be fun to bring him on-stage so to speak.

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Toasting the completion of Rachel Does Rome with a green drink

So that’s what I did. I wrote Rachel Does Rome almost exactly a year ago; it was the second novella I wrote since getting out of hospital. I was starting to feel properly better; I’d also started jogging again for the first time and spring was coming … I think that sense of spring and optimism got into the story. I wanted to capture all the fun of a girls’ weekend away – all the crazy happenings and running jokes as well as the little differences between, e.g., the person who wants to see all the sights (Rachel) and the ones who want to kick back (Lily and Maggie). A number of odd people and situations and one-liners in the novella will be VERY familiar to some of my friends (such as Joe the American and the seagulls).

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The big challenge with this series was to create a different kind of romantic story in each one rather than having the same girl-meets-boy scenario over and over. In Poppy it was about seeing someone familiar in a new light: in Lily, it was a full-on holiday romance alongside some massive life changes. In Maggie, it was about the turning-point in a relationship where you decide to go or stay. Rachel is, I think, the most romantic in the series, though it might not start out that way. The ending is one of my favourites because it sums up to me what romance is really all about – not heart-shaped chocolates or pink teddies but people showing how they feel in simple but significant ways. If you want to find out more you can pre-order Rachel Does Rome here. I really hope you read it and that you like it!

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Five things that are brightening my January

Is it my imagination or is January going waaay more slowly than usual? I swear it feels like it’s been on for at least a month now, but no, there are another whole two weeks to go. Maybe it’s getting older but I really notice the January bleaks in a way I didn’t a few years ago. The only good thing is that everybody (at least on this side of the world) goes through the misery of it together and there’s something cosy in that.

Anyway. This time of year is all about cheering yourself up in cunning and ideally cost-effective ways. Here are 5 little things that are brightening my January:

1) Baths

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Not an original one, but really, can you go wrong in a hot bath? No. I rarely have baths except at this time of the year, so when it comes to bath stuff so I prefer to buy something expensive that will last. (I love my rationalising). My dream product would be Laura Mercier Crème Brulee, but I’m ‘making do’ with the Rose and Pomegranate Bath Oil from Neals Yard. It smells gorgeous and leaves your skin very soft. Oh: and also on baths, I got a voucher in last week’s Stylist magazine that gives you £3 off the Sanctuary Salt Scrub in Boots this week. WINNING. Go through the recycling and find yours now.

2) Jigsaw

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I love jigsaws. Don’t laugh. I first got hooked on this one when I got out of hospital last year and it was ideal therapy. This one has kept me going for nearly two weeks so far – pretty good for £11.95. I will pore over it for hours at a time, which A thinks is tragic/endearing. It’s really hard, honestly. But satisfying.

3) The Mindy Project.

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I LOVE The Mindy Project. I put it on and I know that for 25 minutes or however long it lasts, I’m going to be completely happy. It’s overtaken New Girl as my favourite – NG doesn’t make me laugh the way it used to but Mindy does. Also, I love the décor of Mindy’s office and apartment – it’s gorgeous and colourful and I want to live in it, with her. Her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, is also great.

4) ‘Show A Little Faith’ poster from The Indoor Type

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I just ordered this off Etsy for inspiration in my office. I’m sure typographic posters will soon go the way of Keep Calm posters, but whatever, I like this a lot. It’s a line from one of my favourite Bruce Springsteen songs, Thunder Road. The next line is ‘You ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re all right’. That’s a January sort of compliment if ever I heard one, but hey, thanks Bruce, we’ll take what we can get.

5) Running

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These are the exact Adidas runners I have, but mine are dirtier.

I’ve been sort of having a 70 % success rate on all my New Years Resolutions so far … except running where I’m at 100%. I’ve been out 4 times a week without fail. I rarely ever want to do it … but then when I’m doing it, I do always enjoy it, and it’s GREAT when it stops. Sort of like January itself.

Anyone else have tips for brightening up January? Also, what the @£$@£ are we going to do about February?

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A treat for January

Poppy & Lily bundle

It’s January. I KNOW. Cold and bleak and dark, everybody’s broke and there are no more Cadburys Heroes. So I’m pleased to be able to provide a little treat: the first two ebook novellas of Girls on Tour – POPPY DOES PARIS and LILY DOES LA –  for just £1.49. Whoop!

So for less than the price of a cappuccino (or since it’s January a green tea) you can be whisked away to Paris and Los Angeles with Poppy and Lily. Click here to see the bundle in the Kindle store. Happy travels!

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10 tips for internet dating without pain

Four years ago today, I went on an internet date. I was twenty minutes late because I couldn’t find the pub and also announced that I wouldn’t be drinking because I’d given it up for January. Charming. Despite all this he seemed keen to see me again … and we’ve now been married for almost two years.

So you can take it I’m a fan of internet dating. A and I worked around the corner from each other, but we had different commutes, routines and friends: there’s no way we would ever have met each other without our mutual friend the Internet.

Of course, I was doing it in the days before Tinder, which now seems like a quaint Jane Austen-type era. I don’t know, maybe it works for some people but Tinder sounds to me like a sort of brutal dating dystopia. Even ‘traditional’ online dating is scary. But there are some tricks to make it easier and even – sometimes – fun. Here are my hard-won top tips for internet dating without pain.

  1. On a first date, tell the person in advance that you’re only free for an hour – coffee or a drink – as you’re meeting friends later. That way nobody’s feelings will get hurt and you can always leave promptly if it’s painful – or extend it if it’s going well …
  2. If you’re nervous tell yourself it’s a work/networking meeting or that you’re meeting a friend of a friend who’s just moved to your town. Who knows, you might actually make a new friend or a work connection (unlikely, but at least you’ll be less nervous).
  3. Trust your instincts. You might (especially if you’re a girl) want to ‘give people a chance’, but if their emails don’t make you smile and their picture doesn’t appeal, it won’t be any different in real life. So there’s no need to meet them ‘just to see’. Let alone go on a second date.
  4. Don’t have pen pals. Some people just want to send really long emails back and forth for months; pointless. Suggest meeting up, and if there’s no response stop emailing.
  5. If you’re female, this will happen: you will be asked out by a creepy man, turn him down nicely, and then get an angry message accusing you of being ‘stuck up’. Just block him, report him, and forget him. And remember he’s in the minority.
  6. Some people suggest ‘talking on the phone’ is good before a first date. No! Terrible idea. Just rip the plaster off and meet.
  7. Don’t do it if you’re feeling fragile. Post break-up, when Adele still reduces you to tears, or when you’ve been single forever and feeling as alluring as a sack of kitty litter, is not a good time to put yourself on the dating market. Pick a time when you’re feeling strong and happy and up for an adventure. And if you can’t imagine such a time, then maybe work on that before you dabble with the interwebs.
  8. Remember; it’s only the internet. It feels very bad when someone doesn’t ‘wink’ back at you or whatever, but remember they haven’t met you. They don’t exist yet (see 10).
  9. After the date, if you didn’t like them there’s no need to contact them to tell them so. Just don’t get in touch and if they ask you out again a polite no is fine. And if you did like them, there’s no need to text to ‘thank them’ for a great time. Their thanks can be a second date with you …
  10. Until you meet someone in reality, they’re basically imaginary – a photo and a few emails. So don’t worry if they cancel/stop emailing/delete their avatar. Maybe they’re twelve years old or married or live on an oil rig. It doesn’t matter. There are plenty more virtual fish in the internet sea. And you only need to be lucky once. Good luck!!
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Christmas cat-astrophe

IMG_2862 As anyone who follows me on Twitter will know, I love cats. Let me rephrase that: I looooove cats. Ever since I was old enough to know what they were, I wanted one. Sadly my parents hate them so I was doomed to a cat-less childhood. The nearest I could get was a library book called Care for your Kitten. I read it from cover to cover and I could have told you all about fleas and de-worming and making sure your cat’s collar was partially elasticated so he wouldn’t get stuck in a tree … but I never got the chance to put it into practice. Instead I had gerbils (Snuffles and Snuggles) which was fine until, well, Snuggles, or Snuffles (I forget which) found out the hard way that gerbils are cannibals. I know. Trauma.

Nearly 30 years later, I still want a cat, though A is less than convinced, because of the hassle/responsibility; we’d also have to have an indoor cat and he thinks this is cruel and refers to such a hypothetical cat as a ‘prisoner’. So when my friend S asked us to take in her two indoor cats for a few days post Christmas while she went away, I was thrilled. It would be a cat holiday for everyone! Alas. When they got here initially, Charlie (short-haired tabby) seemed reasonably OK and explored cautiously, while Eddie (long-haired tabby) shot under the sofa and refused to emerge. He later relocated to his litter box – ie a poo tray with a lid – where he hid the entire 2 days he was with us. I would peep in once a day to check he was still alive, and if ever a cat’s lip could tremble it would have trembled. He also – much more worryingly – refused to eat or drink any of the gourmet foil-wrapped treats and meals his owners had left.

Meanwhile Charlie entertained us by playing fetch with us (throw him a hairband and he retrieves it, like a dog!). But his brother was miserable and still on hunger strike. Like an idiot, I googled ‘How long can cats go without eating’ thinking I’d find something reassuring. Oh, no. It turns out that if cats go for longer than 48 hours without food they can get something called fatty liver disease or feline HL which can be FATAL. Who knew? It’s probably really rare, but still, was I going to take the risk? And should I lie to my friend and say Eddie was having the time of his life, or should I tell her the truth?

I told her the truth. And to cut a long story short, my friend ended up coming back a day early from her stay in Dublin. Which some people might think is nuts but I understood and was really relieved. And I thankfully, as soon as he got home, Eddie started eating heartily and the traumatic memory of his stay in North London was obviously wiped from his memory. My friend S will be MUCH more traumatised I’m sure. So has any of this put me off owning a cat? Absolutely not. The cats were lovely. And considering how scared and freaked out they must have been, they were so good; not a single scratch or mess the whole time they were here. I still really, really want one, preferably a kitten. I’d especially like a silver tabby or a ragdoll cat. Now I just need to convince A. Watch this space …

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