The one where I visited Steampuss Cat Lounge

I love cats but was never allowed pets as a child. When I was at senior school, I lived several miles from school but my best friend lived a short walk away so I’d go to her house at lunchtime. One summer’s day, we found a litter of 4 kittens abandoned in a cardboard box in a cut-through by a main road. Who does that?! I dread to think what would have happened to the poor little things if they’d got out and ventured onto the road. My friend and I carried two each to her house. In a gesture of extreme gratitude for rescuing them, one of them peed down my white school shirt! Yummy! I wanted to keep one but wasn’t surprised when I was told a resonating no. Fortunately my friend’s mum found them all new homes.

It was many years later before I owned my first pets when, fourteen years ago, my husband and I adopted two RSPCA rescue kittens: Felix and Pixie. Sadly they’ve both crossed the rainbow bridge. We lost Pixie six years ago and Felix left us in January this year.

No longer having my own cats to fuss over, I was really keen to visit Steampuss Cat Lounge which had opened in Scarborough in 2019. Then Covid hit and that wasn’t an option.

Last Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of The Secret to Happiness – my first release through Boldwood Books – and it was also the last day before my daughter, Ashleigh, returned to school so I booked us in to visit the cats as a special treat. What a lovely hour! In fact, some might say purrrr-fect!

The cafe is on Scarborough’s Bar Street which provides partial inspiration for Castle Street which appears in many of my books. There’s a ground floor room which, when we were there, had two tables and a lower ground room also with two tables. Booking is advisable to avoid disappointment as spaces are limited. This can be done via their website or Facebook page.

There are twelve cats who go home with the owners each day rather than living in the cafe but they’re not all there every day. We were told that there were eight cats there during our visit and we saw seven of them. There’s an area on the lower ground floor for staff and cats only so a cat may occasionally go in there for a complete break.

Ashleigh and I were thrilled to be allocated a ground floor table by the bay window because it’s in the window where the cats tend to congregate. There’s a large scratching post/sleeping tower in the middle and vintage suitcases either side which the cats were curled up in.

Most of the cats are named after characters in films/books and there’s a lovely booklet on the table including pictures and giving detail about each cat from breed to age to who its best friends are. Awww! It’s perfect for trying to identify the cats although a few of them have similar markings so we’re not convinced we were accurate with our guesses!

The menu includes hot and cold drinks and cakes but there’s a large choice within that and vegan/gluten-free choices too so it caters for all dietary needs. Ashleigh and I both had the most delicious milkshake we’ve ever tasted. Mine was caramel and vanilla and hers was white chocolate and vanilla. To eat, she chose chocolate cake and I had a Victoria sponge with passion fruit topping although her chocolate cake was enormous and she let me have the last bit. Nom nom!

Delicious as it was, a visit to Steampuss was not about the food for us. It was all about the experience of being there among the adorable cats. You’re allowed to stroke them when they’re asleep (which several were) but are asked not to try to wake them up and definitely not to lift them. Full guidance on getting the most out of your visit and treating the cats with care and respect is on the website.

When we first went in, the largest cat – Hagrid – was in the middle of the floor, staring at us. It was as if he was telling us it was his domain and checking us out. Loved that! Once he was satisfied we were friends rather than foes, he settled into one of the beds on the scratching post.

There were six cats including Hagrid spread out in the window area but then another appeared. Lots of shelves were built into the walls in a way that made an accessible climb for the cats so that one decided to hang out on one of the higher shelves.

Ashleigh absolutely loved the experience. She’s 13 and I think children young and old and adults (as long as they like cats) will adore a visit. Actually, scrub that, even if they’re not cat-people, it’s such a lovely experience. Do it!

The cats are so soft and happy and lovely. A friend of Ashleigh’s has visited and it sounds like they were more active during her visit. Having been a cat owner myself, I would imagine that there are times of the day when they might be prowling more than sleeping, either of which will be amazing.

It costs £5 for an adult and £4 for a child to have an hour in the Steampuss Cat Lounge and then, of course, you do pay for your food and drinks on top of that. There are also various gifts available.

We’ll definitely be back in person but I hope to be back in my imagination too because, of course, the cogs are now whirring and I have a story forming. I would love to add a cat cafe to Castle Street. I think it would be perfect in Whitsborough Bay and not in competition to Tara’s The Chocolate Pot because it’s a very different experience to what Tara offers.

Because I was celebrating my book publication anniversary, I just happened to have a paperback with me for a photo shoot!

I highly recommend a visit to Steampuss Cat Lounge. You can find their website and all the details about the cats here. They’re also on Facebook here. The Twitter and Instagram accounts are @Steampuss with Twitter not active since last year but Instagram full of regular picture updates for a gorgeous fix of beautiful cats.

Have you ever been to a cat cafe? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

The one where I’m heartbroken

12357000_957718117600822_9195002559067948814_oMonday (20th January), the third Monday of January, is referred to as ‘Blue Monday’ and is said to be the most depressing day of the year. This was is based on a completely non-scientific calculation based on a combination of weather, post-Christmas debt, time since Christmas and New Year, lack of motivation and so on. For me, Blue Monday was the absolutely worst day of the year and of the past several years but not for those reasons. Blue Monday is the day my heart broke because we had to say goodbye to our beloved cat, Felix.

10659109_785339811505321_8803746827979664118_oAs a child, I never had pets and, even though I always loved animals, I admit I didn’t get it when someone talked about a cat or dog (or other domestic animal) being “part of the family”. What? No, of course they’re not. They’re a pet. But now I completely and utterly get it.

Felix and his sister, Pixie, joined our family on 27th April 2006. They were rescue kittens from the RSPCA and my husband said that, as soon as he visited the vet’s after hearing there was a litter of five to pick from, Felix, a black and white short-haired variety, pushed himself to the front of the pen. He definitely picked us. His sister, Pixie, also black and white but long-haired was at the back, being shoved out of the way by the others. Mark felt sorry for her so he chose her too.

11402452_883270705045564_1890615259289843821_oI loved my first pets. We lived in the town centre so they were indoor cats and therefore always around. Like typical siblings, sometimes they loved each other and sometimes they fought. Pixie was definitely in charge, shoving Felix away from the food and dabbing him if he walked past her. They loved to hide in boxes and small spaces, like most cats, but one of their favourite things was playing with crisp packet triangles. When I eat a packet of crisps, I fold it neatly into a small triangle and I taught Mark to do the same. We’d throw it to the cats and they’d have great fun batting it around the room. One day someone came to repair our washing machine and we were mortified when he pulled it out and there must have been about 50 crisp packet triangles shoved under it! I will say that this had obviously been building up over years but was still very embarrassing!

Pixie, Felix’s Sister

Pixie was a very beautiful-looking cat but she wasn’t very affectionate and, as the years passed, she became quite aggressive, particularly around feeding time. Concerned about her behaviour, we took her to the vet’s and she was diagnosed with diabetes. We did our best to manage this through special food but she got worse. She was visibly losing weight and barely had any energy. I asked Mark to take her to the vet’s while I was at work one day and, sadly, she never came home.

So it was just Felix and, without Pixie around, he became super-affectionate. He was always referred to as my cat. I had Felix, Ashleigh had Pixie and Mark had ‘Ginger’ (the invisible cat). And he really was my little boy. If he wanted attention, it was always me he looked for. If I was in the lounge, he’d lie on the back of the sofa behind me, purring. If I was in bed, he’d jump up and lie on me. If I was in the office, he’d wander in and nudge my legs, demanding a fuss.

Over the last few years, Felix developed a few health problems. One day, his tail suddenly lost its muscle, bending over in a curl rather than standing straight. He developed a lump on his eyelid and then he developed cataracts in both eyes, turning them cloudy. He cut himself on something (we still don’t know what) on his neck and had to wear a cushioned collar to stop him scratching but it didn’t seem to work. The cut got bigger because he wouldn’t stop scratching it so it was back to the vet’s and into a body suit. His first one was red and we jokingly called him Santa’s Little Helper. It seemed to clear and then he opened it again so he was back into another body suit. He didn’t like wearing it and occasionally wriggled out of it. It would be strange seeing it abandoned somewhere in the house with no cat in sight. One time, he managed to get stuck and hurt his leg doing so; another trip to the vet’s and more meds. Daft boy. He must have worn some sort of body suit for the best part of a year – maybe longer – before he finally healed.

Then, towards the end of last year, I noticed that he seemed to have stopped passing stools. We changed his food and occasionally some oily fish would sort him out but toilet visits were intermittent so it was back to the vet’s. Digestive problems and a ‘mega colon’ as a result of being ‘backed-up’. He was given a kick-start and medication to make him more regular but he never got back to normal. A couple of weeks ago, I took him for the same treatment and bloods were taken to see if there was an underlying problem. I knew it wasn’t going to be good and dreaded the phone call with the results: Diabetes, like his sister, but also kidney failure. Add in his digestive problems, his deteriorating eyesight and his age (approaching 14) and the prognosis was not good. ‘End of life’ was discussed. I came off that phone call with the vet and sobbed. I couldn’t bear to lose him but I couldn’t bear the thought of him being in pain.

83084525_2762867103752572_1117322084058398720_oWhat was really hard was that, in himself, Felix seemed fine. He was still extremely agile, leaping up onto the bed or the sofa or a window ledge without hesitation. He was still affectionate. This wasn’t a dying cat … or at least not on the outside. But across the next week, he started to struggle. Sometimes he ate and sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes he went to the toilet and sometimes he didn’t. Then, over the weekend, he was sick several times. Ashleigh went to school and Mark and I both looked at each other. It was time.

Monday was hell. Our appointment was for 5.30pm. I had work to do and I tried to get on with it but my heart was breaking. I kept looking at the clock, counting down the hours. Every so often, I’d go downstairs. He was curled up on the sofa, very calm, very relaxed. It was as though he knew. I’d spend some time stroking and cuddling him, then return to my work. I couldn’t stop crying all day.

A few hours before goodbye

Ashleigh knew Felix was ill and that he wouldn’t be with us for that much longer, but she didn’t know the end was so close. Mark picked her up from an after-school drama club and would normally have taken her to the climbing wall. The plan was for him to then come back, pick me up, go to the vet, then pick her up and break the news after it had happened. I kept thinking about how I hadn’t actually been able to say goodbye to Pixie and how upset I’d been at that so suggested it was only fair that, at age 13, she be given the choice as to whether to come home and see him first. She did and, upset as she was, it was the right decision. She went to her Nana’s while we were at the vet’s.

I can’t praise the veterinary practice enough – Companion Care in Pets at Home – for how kind and reassuring they were. A candle gets lit on the reception desk with a sign explaining that, when lit, someone is saying goodbye to a beloved pet. I think that’s such a lovely touch.

Felix was very calm again. I think he was ready. He lay on a furry rug and we stroked him and told him we loved him and that Pixie would be waiting for him.

Coming home with an empty cat carrier felt wrong.

Opening the door and not having him waiting on the stairs squeaking for food felt wrong.

Everything felt wrong. Everything feels wrong.

“Feed me!”

As I lay in bed on Blue Monday, I kept waiting for him to jump on me like he often did. I kept thinking I could hear the distinctive noise as he hurdled over the wooden end of the sleigh bed and landed on the mattress. But there was no noise because there was no Felix.

Every morning, as soon as someone awoke, Felix would stand on the stairs squeaking to be fed. Awful sound. And yet across the past couple of weeks, I kept telling myself that I’d miss that sound very soon. Sure enough, I awoke on Tuesday and ached to hear him squeak.

I went into the ensuite and prepared for him to nudge the door open, like he always did, while I was mid-wee, weaving around my legs. But he didn’t. As I moved around the house in my morning routine, I was so very aware of the Felix-shaped gap at every moment. He always jumped on the bed, demanding attention, when I was trying to get dressed. But he couldn’t anymore.

We have a dog, Ella, who has been with us for nearly 4 years. Mark takes her out for a walk mid-morning and it was at that point yesterday that the silence in the house screamed at me and I crumpled. I kept thinking I could hear Felix scratching in his litter tray or running up the stairs. I’d see a shadow out the corner of my eye and think it was him.

Ella and Felix. They tolerated each other but were never friends. Ella has been very melancholy since we said goodbye. She can tell something is wrong

Then today my heart broke even more. The bin lorry came so Mark emptied out the cat litter tray. Glancing into the utility area of our kitchen and seeing the empty space where it had been signalled another Felix-shaped hole in our lives. The silence screamed at me again when Mark and Ella went out for their walk. With some time to spare before I ran a lunchtime webinar, I decided to run the hoover round but that made me cry too. Little fragments of cat litter strewn around were sucked up for the final time ever. I washed his food bowls and put them away. I bagged up his hairy cushion. And I broke down and sobbed.

I know it was the right thing to do because he was dying. There was no cure; there was only a painful prolonging of life for my own selfish needs if we’d hung onto him. I know time will heal. Right now, though, I’m bereft. I miss him so very much that my heart hurts and my head aches and the tears won’t stop flowing. He was in our family for nearly 14 years, he was affectionate and loving and he was very much loved. Some cats can be detached but Felix absolutely wasn’t. With him being an indoor cat and me working from home, he’s just always been there. And now he isn’t.

Mark and Ashleigh are heartbroken too. I told her to try to remember all the things about him that we loved or that made us laugh like the time he climbed into my suitcase when I was trying to pack to go away with work, how he always liked to lie on the clean washing but refused to lie on a throw to protect the sofa, how he loved climbing onto empty shelves or hiding in wardrobes, and how he made a better door than a window when you were trying to watch TV. I’m trying to do the same and hope that, one day, that Felix-shaped hole in my heart will heal and the tears will stop.

RIP Felix xxxxx
(14/03/2006 – 20/01/2020)
(Thank you to the super talented hubby for all the really good pics. I took the not-quite-so-good ones!)