This little story was originally accepted by Copper Staple and was initially inspired by an item from the internet that my son showed me where a black pen dot on the palm of a hand is a cry for help from someone who is the recipient of abuse, whether emotional or physical, when shown to someone in authority. I don’t know how much truth there was in this article – please don’t ignore any cry for help.


She wanted it, she needed it, she didn’t know how to ask for it.

When she took her children to school in the mornings and stood chatting with the other mothers, in tight jeans and ponytails, every word of conversation was imbued with a silent plea for help. The mothers sensed the sticky desperation and slowly slid away, blinkered to the cry in her eyes.

The cold nervousness of a trip to the supermarket, greetings exchanged with the staff who’d known her for years. The begging in her touch as she handed over her money, searching in their eyes for some recognition, some sign that they saw her call.

Her husband, kind enough, older than her, unthinking, had no idea of the snakes her head contained. He saw her in the morning, before he went to work and again in the evening when he came home; leaving desperate hours in between to try and silence the screaming snakes in her head.

Even the cat sensed her clammy, tenuous grip, and slipped uneasy from her hands as she tried to suck comfort from his warm fur.

Her mother, her father, happily married for thirty years, saw no further than the blank mask of happiness she assumed on their weekly visits. They did not want to see what lay beneath the carefully made up face and designer clothes holding inside shattered fragments. She’d get over it and settle down, perhaps a nice little job when the children were older. They comforted each other.

One day her husband came home early. She should have been expecting him, the suitcases packed and standing in the hall, ready for their holiday.

He found her upstairs. He thought she’d bought new sheets. The crimson glowed dully in the light of early afternoon. She lay, peaceful and pale. What will he tell the children?

She had found the help she wanted at last.

Words Copyright © 2016 Samantha Murdoch

All photographs Copyright © 2016 Alex Marlowe


Moss Agate and Motherhood


There’s some inexplicable comfort in knowing your Mum will do something, like ironing or cooking, for you. Just because she’s your Mum.”

These lovely words were left as part of a comment on one of my earlier posts, and they set me to thinking about the nature of motherhood. I, myself, am mother to two boys-nearly men at 16 and 21-and four feline daughters. Not quite sure what the budgie regards me as – housekeeper perhaps? In a way, my job is nearly done as far as my sons are concerned. I have raised them as best I know how to be decent human beings, fit to be inhabitants of this world in the 21st century. They are both capable nearly-men and yet I know they will remain bound to me by the ties of mother-love, not just the dutiful ‘phone call or email, but by the memories of things past…

Teaching them how to tie their shoelaces and getting frustrated because I couldn’t do it…Laughing uncontrollably as my older son fell in a puddle when he was about 2, and it turned out to be deeper than he thought; marvelling at my younger son’s manipulation of the English language to make it express what he wanted, “cutting nose” for “beak” – isn’t that great?! My mother sneered as I carefully sliced my older son’s tomato and cut my younger’s into quarters the way they prefer – yet she made sure I didn’t have too many chips and that the peas didn’t touch the tomato sauce.

Motherhood is a continuous process of give and take. I delight in learning something I didn’t know from my children and I appreciate it when they pass me things from shelves I can’t reach; the same way my older son appreciates my re-stocking of his toiletries, unasked, or my younger, the carefully prepared vegetarian packed lunch he takes to college every day.

Likewise with animals. The love between an animal and its owner is like that between a parent and child. My cats are my little girls and as such I make sure they have everything they need since they depend on me and I am responsible for every aspect of their well-being. This obviously ranges from fresh food and water to trips to the vet for boosters and worming tablets. In return, my cats love me. At least I think they do…

I draw love and comfort from them and reassurance. Yet they are all individuals, requiring different aspects of love from me. When Charlie is scared, it’s me she wants, not Daddy. When she’s tired, it’s my knee she wants to sit on so she can knead my jumper, purring herself a lullaby. They’re all Mummy’s girls really.

Moss 6Charlie having Mummy cuddles

Trying to go out shopping is difficult as I am generally accompanied by two or three cats running along beside me:

Hey wait! We can help! We checked price comparison websites for you!”

So I have to go back, make sure they understand cats really can’t go shopping and as I round the corner of the road I can hear Ting’s siren wails:

Naaaoooohhh! Don’t goooooo! Pleeeaase!”

Moss 7Ting doing a spot of creative gardening…

I ring my partner when I get off the bus to come home and generally two or three of the girls will come running to meet me:

You’re back! I thought you were never coming home!”

One day, all four came running to meet me and a little boy riding past on his scooter said wonderingly:

Look at all those cats!”

Another time, I counted three black cats, a Siamese and a tabby running towards me…an extra stray black cat caught up in the joy of the moment!

Moss 4

Moss 5Just the two black cats, Lily and Tooty…

As I write, I have Moss Agate in my pocket: not unsurprisingly, this stone is strongly connected to Mother Nature, and is said to be useful to midwives, decreasing pain and ensuring a good delivery. A typical interpretation of this stone is that it can refresh the soul and help you see the beauty in everything, reducing sensitivity to the weather and environmental pollutants. It is another stone of abundance and can help people access and channel intuitive energy. Moss Agate can help with self esteem issues and strengthen beneficial personality traits. It’s a happy stone promoting new beginnings and as such is useful for those who work both in agriculture and midwifery, linking back to Mother Nature and her endless cycle of death and rebirth.

Moss 2

I have two pieces, a pale greenish grey one with patches of white. When my son gave me this piece, the Bering Sea entered my mind, the cold grey waves topped with crests of white, another example of Nature’s inexorability. My other piece is greener, with threads of white and dark green running through it like vines. Amazon rainforest, lungs of the Earth. I generally use these pieces as I write as Moss Agate is a creative stone, promoting self-expression and communication, another little conduit to Mother Nature and the Earth.

Moss 1

I draw inspiration from my cats, another reward of being their mother. My younger son, when he was little, once referred to me as “she” without explaining who he meant. The person to whom he was speaking delivered this statement, meant as a rebuke:

She? She’s the cat’s mother!”

To which I proudly replied:

Yes. Yes I am…”

The Finding of Kittens


It was a bitterly cold winter’s morning. Dull and grey, like lead; not the sparkling mornings that glimmer like crystal, instead the flat grey cold of snow and ice that has melted and re-frozen. Consequently, there was a layer of ice on the ground, covered by an inch of frozen slime.

My son and I were returning from the shops through the park, me holding on to him, afraid of slipping and falling. If that happened, I was determined not to go down alone, hence my grip on his arm. We approached the cut through, only to find an old lady with two small dogs peering anxiously into the hedge. She looked at us hopefully and said:

The dogs think there’s a rat in there and they won’t come away!”

I replied somewhat blankly: “Oh, right, well, that man next door has chickens, maybe it’s come for the food…” I bent down to have a look, unsure really of what she wanted me to do. Rescue the rat? Drag it out from the hedge by the tail and send it on its way? Cautiously, I bent down to have a look…


Peering back at me, was a small black face, lit by yellow eyes, as round as an owl’s. It was a kitten. I relayed this fact to the old lady and she said:

Oo, I’ll go home and get it some cat food…” She left, towed along by her two small dogs who had obviously given up hope of finding a rat to play with, so I sent my son ahead to our house to fetch some cat treats. (Usually I carry some in my handbag, but a white cat, begging for donations, had already had them at the bus stop…)

In the meantime, I knelt down and “Brrrp”-ed encouragingly at the kitten. It gazed back at me, resigned, cold and comfortless. There was a feeble movement next to it and a flash of white fur.

Oh no,” I thought, “two of the poor little things.” My son returned with treats and we set to persuading the kitten to leave its temporary nest of dead twigs and rubbish. It was very timid. Finally, after much “Brrrp”-ing and my best imitation of a mother cat call, a little black cat slid into the open. Hesitant but hungry, the kitten grabbed a mouthful of treats and I said to my son:

Quick, grab it now and tuck it firmly against you…” I sent him back to the house to alert his father and turned my attention back to the dirty, frozen hedge.

Roused perhaps, by the absence of its sibling, the flash of white fur came nearer to the gap. To my great surprise, I saw blue eyes and a little dark face, along with white fur as the second kitten revealed itself to be a Siamese. It was cold and hopeless. I stuck my arm into the hedge and grabbed it by the scruff; it went limp in my grasp, tail curled between its legs, very cold and very frightened.


Having had a quick check to ensure there was no mother cat who might object to the removal of her babies, I returned to the house. My partner was not best pleased, but unsurprised by my return with another kitten, as he is quite used to me returning with odd things. (I found my son’s budgie in a similar way…)

We got our first proper look at the kittens, who were delighted to be reunited with one another and set to working their way through a bowl of catfood, watched with disgust by the two bigger girls:

Look at that! Don’t they know it’s vulgar to gobble your food like that? Peasants…”

That was four years ago. Tooty’s continued presence in our household was debated at one point (“Really Samantha? Don’t you think three cats is enough…) but her sweet nature and endearing personality ensured her position. It’s a joy to watch the two sisters as they play, groom and sleep together, but their traumatic early start in life has left them both with a couple of personality quirks. (I later heard that a cat had been run over and killed on the road not far from where we found them.) They are both food orientated. Ting hates to be cold. And despite her early bravery in approaching us, Tooty remains timid and scared of strangers.


However, they are now valued members of my household, the ‘Little Girls’. Wonder if one day I’ll find a goat, or a llama… or a unicorn…The possibilities are endless!


All photographs Copyright © 2016 Alex Marlowe

The Collecting of Cats:

I never meant to have four cats, it just happened. It took a little time to adjust our household, introducing the two little ones to our bigger girls was not a roaring success, but with the right amount of food dishes, litter trays, scent exchanges and of course, plenty of love and attention, our four girls live together happily enough. The younger ones will still get a slap and a hiss from Charlie usually, if they don’t move quickly enough, but all things being equal, they have adapted. Indeed, Ting follows Charlie around like an annoying younger sister.

Hi, where are we going then? You’re going over here? Right, I’ll come too, it’ll be fun, we can pretend we’re having an adventure!”

And of course, if you have real cats, what’s the ideal gift for any occasion? An ornamental cat, naturally! I am not a collector of things generally, but refusing gifts meant with love and thought is hard to do. So I have ornaments. Lots of them. Now, cats and ornaments don’t really go together and after Charlie jumped on the unit where my Poole collection was carefully displayed and sent a dolphin and a frog hurtling to their doom, my ornaments were temporarily re-located to a safe box with plenty of bubble wrap. However, since my oldest son has left home, I now have space to display and admire…

I must thank the lovely garfieldhug’s blog for the inspiration for this post – she recently went on holiday and one of her travel blog pictures showed these fabulous coloured pottery wares, gem like colours shining from the display, not unlike some of the more modern glazes that the Poole factory uses.

Cats 1

This red cat was a Christmas present from my mother. The glaze is Red Delphis and I love the contrast of the deep tomato red with a turquoise tear-drop collar.

Cats 4

The blue cat, also Poole, was a present from my partner, again, although slightly plainer, I love the depth of the blue-green glaze, which was a popular choice of colour for the rest of the animal range, like the dolphins, seals and frogs.

Cats 2

I love the shape of this vase, the Galaxy glaze and the deep dark glaze, against which the smooth teardrops stand out like comets.

Cats 12.jpg

Again from the Poole range, this glaze is brown lustre glaze Precious, chocolate brown with a golden overlay, I’m thinking of expensive truffles here…

Cats 5

This little white cat is actually a perfume bottle by Avon – surprisingly collectable now!

Cats 3

A selection of Siamese: from left to right, my mother was given this one about fifty years ago after she was involved in a motorbike accident, then a signed Mike Hinton limited edition cat, and another little vintage Siamese.

Cats 7

Then some tinies: a little black plastic cat that came off a Halloween pen and I couldn’t bear to throw it away, a tiny tabby made of Tiger’s Eye and a lucky cat, then a crab, my son and I were both born in July so this is our horoscope sign.

And of course, my real cats in order of seniority.

So whether real or ornamental, cats are both beautiful and decorative. (I saw an ornament of a slug the other day…) Both need care and attention and do not necessarily mix well, as I have discovered to my cost. ‘Cats are intended to teach us that not every thing in Nature has a purpose.’ (Garrison Kellor). After tubes of superglue and hours of patient repairs, I can see that my cats do indeed regard ornaments as pointless… Why do I need them when I can gaze upon the beauty of real cats and stroke real fur… I do wish they’d leave them alone though!

All photographs Copyright © 2016 Alex Marlowe


The House

The little girl was enjoying her holiday with her parents, unaware of the tensions simmering between the two adults. They had been to the New Forest and seen the ponies, small brown story book creatures with their foals, creatures of Disney delicacy and sweetness. Now they were on their way to an old country manor house, not part of the usual tourist trail but with spectacular gardens her father had expressed an interest in seeing.

The twisty feeling in her lungs had started as soon as she saw the house from the car window. It was a simple enough house, red brick and half-timbered. She heard her mother explaining this, but her gaze was drawn to the top floor windows that seemed to glare at her with the same squinty eyed look of meanness as her Maths teacher at school.

She trailed uneasily behind her parents, as they wandered amicably, for once, chatting about the aged oaks, genuine Elizabethan knot garden that had survived the Civil War and twisted rosemary bushes that lined the little gravel paths. Every so often she would stop and look up at the house, butterflies beating in her chest and a cold tingling pricking at her fingertips, despite the warmth of the summer sun. Her mother took her hand and pulled her briskly along to look at the historic carp pond. The little girl was momentarily distracted by the languorous swimming fish, dull gold and orange; delighted when one rose to the surface to take a fly, hinged jaws opening silently to reveal a mouth lined with palest cream. Then it sank back into the weedy depths, safe amongst the lily roots. Always she was aware of the house’s brooding presence at her back.

The moment came: she set foot uncertainly over the threshold; safe between her parents she looked around. They joined a guide who took them through the rooms, smiling indulgently as the parents exclaimed at the history intact within the red brick walls, like an egg in its shell.

The little girl heard noises, metal clanging against metal, heavy – footsteps? As the group inspected the second floor, the butterflies beat frantically in her chest and then it happened. Tucked away in a corner of the third bedroom was a battered wooden door, the surface stained and greasy with the patina of wandering fingers, black iron hinges clenching it shut. The guide swung the door open silently and gestured the little girl and her parents upstairs, up the twisting wooden stairs that dipped and creaked with every step. The little girl brushed her fingers against the whitewashed walls and felt the echo of time in her bones.

They reached the top of the stairs and the butterflies burst free. Screams of pain and fear, brutal laughter echoing, clanging and metal striking flesh, the awful sucking sound as blades pull free. The little girl started crying, the screams terrifying her beyond endurance as she saw a young man caught, held and killed. His eyes met hers and the depth of pain she witnessed cut her to her soul, as she fell to the floor, her pretty dress and neat shoes smudged with dust as she kicked and wept.

Her parents were astounded. Normally the quietest and best-behaved of children, this tantrum was completely out of character. Her father scooped her up from the floor and she clung to him as he left the room to take her back to the car. She gazed over his shoulder, at the odd-shaped little room with its white walls and wooden floorboards. Completely empty. Except for an old metal bedframe.

“She felt it then!” the guide said.

“What?” the mother exclaimed indignantly.

“Oh, apparently, during the Civil War, this house was a Royalist stronghold. The Roundheads captured it though, and chased one of the Cavaliers up into that little room. Hacked him into pieces, they did.” The guide delivered this last with relish.

The mother thanked him and left, anxious to check on her little girl.

As they drove away, the little girl turned to look one last time at the house and opened her little fist. Within, lay a crumpled sprig of fragrant herb.

Rosemary-for remembrance.


  Copyright © 2016 Samantha Murdoch

All photographs Copyright © 2016 Alex Marlowe

Tiger Iron and Tails

Tails 7.jpg

Every living creature at some point in its evolution had a tail, and although humans have since disposed of theirs in the Darwin dustbin of “no longer needed”, when it comes to the Animal Kingdom, tails remain a useful indicator of how an animal is feeling and a barometer of its moods. My mother’s dog, Erin, has a splendid furred tail, and she has the endearing habit of wagging it if you wave at her. She obviously feels sorry for us lacking this handy appendage, but humours us by “waving” back.

Tails 3.jpgErin’s splendid furry tail

I have four cats and it is a constant source of amusement to watch how they use their tails. All my girls raise their tails in greeting to me:

Hi, where have you been? Where’s the food?”

and although Ting has the classic Siamese kink in her tail, the message is the same.

Tails 2.jpgSiamese kinky tail

Tooty is funny to watch as she hunts flies on the lawn, crouched parallel to the floor, tail straight out behind her, level with the line of her back as she does the sideways shimmy in preparation for a pounce.

tails-4Little short stumpy Tooty tail

Lily has the longest tail at 11 ½ inches, and as a small cat, she always has to carry it slightly raised to avoid tripping on it, a little like a clumsy Victorian lady neglecting to hold her skirts securely. At rest, she curls it right around her and buries her face in it, and whilst sitting upright, it is elegantly coiled around her feet, as she poses Egyptian queen-style.

Tails 1.jpg

Egyptian Queen

Charlie has possibly the most expressive tail of any cat I’ve owned. For all her grace and ladylike qualities, it is a little short…although I would never dare tell her so! However, it may be small, but it is perfectly formed, as befits a feline princess. A rich chocolate brown with shades of chestnut, at regular intervals there are striking bands of delicate mouse grey, broader on the outside but tapering underneath, so the whole effect is of a series of crescent moons running along its length, all finished off with a perfect twist of fur.

Tails 5.jpgTabby tiger tail

When Charlie is grooming, I sometimes like to think I’m helping her by holding the last couple of inches of her tail and offering it to her for cleaning. She licks it angrily, sometimes putting a paw on my hand for emphasis:

Wretched thing! It’ll never stay STILL long enough!”

It will wave gently, as she purrs herself to sleep, or thrash in annoyance as she chitters in frustration at rude sparrows. Or, most alarming, it can be fluffed out to what seems at least four times its size and used to terrify…

I was returning from the shops one day, when a little dog fell in behind me. It seemed cheerful and pleasant enough, but apart from a check to make sure it wasn’t going to leap at my throat and bite me, I largely ignored it and carried on home. As I approached our gate, Charlie came out to meet me, but upon seeing this little dog, the most extraordinary transformation took place…A low, vibrating growl emanated from her. The little dog stopped, its head on one side. She raised herself as tall as she could and fluffed out her fur. The little dog wagged its tail doubtfully, and took a step backwards. Charlie’s tail assumed monstrous bottle brush proportions and she charged at the little dog, whose nerve, completely broken, turned tail and ran away, yelping in fear as my little cat shot after it.

Having seen it off, she came sauntering back to me with an air of “Well, if you will bring these strange things back…” as her fur slowly deflated. I did, later, find out that the little dog belonged to someone up the road who had temporarily taken their eye off him:

Oooh, ‘e were only gone for a minute, came back in ever such a state ‘e did, won’t go out in the garden now to do ‘is business unless I’m wiv ‘im and you oughter see ‘im run when ‘e sees a cat..”

So then. A positive lesson learned as a result of direct action, rather like the metaphysical abilities of Tiger Iron. This is a lovely, positive combination stone of Jasper, Hematite and Tiger’s Eye. I have one particular piece that matches Charlie’s colouring perfectly, a blend of gold, chocolate and silver.

Tails 6.jpgGolden Tiger Iron

My initial piece, courtesy of my son and his crystal lady, Lizian, has more red Jasper in it, and I only discovered how helpful it can be by accident. In a rush, one morning, my hand hovered above my crystal shelf, and without properly looking, I seized Tiger Iron and Pyrite and stuffed them into my pocket. Off I went, and not a twinge from my hip all day. It was only later I discovered my mistake and my Tiger Iron practically purred with satisfaction as it demonstrated its worth.

Tails 9.jpgThese stones are redder because of more Red Jasper inclusions…

A typical interpretation of this stone is that it stimulates impulses and banishes stagnation, lending emotional endurance to any endeavour. Tiger Iron clarifies thought to encourage quick and determined action, heightening vitality and helping with tiredness. As a combination stone of Jasper, Hematite and Tiger’s Eye, it combines all of their useful qualities into one positive stone to promote change and supply energy. It gives the wearer space to think and then it will supply the simplest solution. An artistic stone, it will bring out hidden talents and can also be helpful in healing the hips and lower limbs. If possible, wear it so it touches your skin at all times.

Tails 8.jpgDo you see the shadow paw print?

I rattle with stones in my pockets and around my neck, but what I wear and carry is a useful indication of my mood, since I no longer have a tail… 

All photos were taken by my son!


One of the dictionary definitions I came across when looking for a starting point for this post was “an absence of pigmentation.” Not so. White happens to be one of my favourite colours, a wonderful choice – especially when combined with muddy cat paws..

But look again.. there’s a whole rainbow of colours within white. I have a white rosebush ( called Richard…) and I was delighted because the first rose opened the other day. Not only is there white within its petals, but there is the lushness of Jersey cream, thick and yellow towards the base of its velvet petals.

White 2.jpg

Obviously there is an abundance of white flowers in Nature, it is one of the most primitive and earliest evolved colours for flowers, along with yellow. Daisies star our lawn, like the Milky Way, and I’m always regretful when the grass is cut. To me, they have the crisp white of freshly laundered sheets, snapping on the washing line.

White 5

Another treasure chest of white, a water lily in our pond, perfectly symmetrical petals, as pristine as if they had been carved from soap and arranged origami-style to form the flower, white with palest blush pink and delicate veins of green.

White 4

And then my dicentra, or “bleeding heart” as it’s sometimes known; it’s not very big, but the flowers are studies in softness, marshmallow cherub’s wings of cloud white.

White 6

That’s just in my garden. Go further afield to the Arctic, or any sub-zero region and the whole spectrum of blue and green is visible within a single iceberg. The icecubes in my fridge are a poor relation doing their best, yet still in the right light you can catch glimpses of polar bears and penguins.. Look up, and most days (here at least) you will see clouds, wisps of angel hair trailing softly across the sky, or plump pillows within the folds of blue sky, newly laundered by the rain. I had the most amazing dream once, I was standing on the rockery, reaching up to pull down great armfuls of cloud, that felt like cotton wool, but was cool and crisp like shredded cucumber…

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Look within the Earth, and despite her dark innards, Mother Earth too will give up chunks of purest white that still contain the might and making of the Universe, Moonstone, Calcite and Quartz. White Calcite, as well as being good for encouraging spiritual growth and alleviating emotional stress, looks as though it has been hewn from the very centre of the North Pole, Aurora Borealis dancing within its depths.

White 7

My son’s White (or Snow) Quartz, good for enhancing tact and co-operation, has a million tiny faceted rainbows caught within its walls, glitter in a glass of milk.

White 9.jpg

Of course… food. White chocolate, the best quality, has the sheen of cream running through it with the richness of gold as it melts in your mouth. White rice, soft mounds nestles together like herds of tiny sheep, and white bread, cushiony and wheaty, smelling of summer, that faintly hot, parched tang of earth as it bakes in the sun. Yoghurt, peaks of whipped perfection as satisfying as the Alps.

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Not for me “ Oh, white’s so sterile, it reminds me of an operating theatre” – there is a richness within white as mesmerising as clouds on a windy day, forever changing and reforming, not one solid colour but the whole spectrum flowing in an endless cycle. Continuity and colour.


All photos were taken by my son!