Category Archives: Animals

The Mad Shanks Residence: It’s raining Cats!

The saying is that ‘everything happens for a reason’, and it certainly is the case that, in retrospect, we can often see that something that happened that didn’t appear to be so good at the time turns out to be for the best.  So far, so good…

In the ‘Mad Shanks Residence’, weird stuff happens all the time, mostly it seems with absolutely no rhyme or reason, even our friends tell us that you couldn’t ‘make this shit up’!  So the tale I’m about to tell is exactly one of those ‘you couldn’t make this shit up’ occurrences.

Tuesday Morning

Lorie is working on a film set at Wroxhall Abbey, is running late and takes a tiny one track road that most of us never use for safety reasons.  Half way down she comes across three cats, what look like a mother and two of her tiny kittens.  Lorie rings me and I shoot down in my car to see if we can catch them but they’ve disappeared into the bushes.  Lorie has to go, and I have a meeting so can’t keep looking, but I resolve to look again when I get back.  I search in vain later that day and decide to come out again in the evening.

Tuesday Evening

Jamie’s partner, Ben, has taken the same lane on return from work and has seen two adult cats and one kitten on the same road?  We all ponder whether he’s talking about the same cats that Lorie had seen in the morning?  Cat carrier, food, head torches, cat treats etc…are bundled into Jamie’s car and we drive down the lane….nothing!  I’m driving so Ben and Jamie get out and walk while I hold back a little in fear the car engine might spook them, but after a few minutes I drive down to meet them.  In the middle of the road are two adult cats and two kittens, mystery solved it would seem regarding the disparity between Lorie’s sighting and Ben’s report.

With not a lot of coaxing but a fair amount of food Jamie manages to get all four into the carrier whilst Ben wandered a bit further down to make sure there weren’t any more.  Unbelievably, he hears rustling in the bushes and a tiny ‘meow’, Jamie rushes down while Ben puts the other cats in the car and eventually Jamie manages to reach the terrified third kitten.

Back in the car with the fifth cat wrapped in a blanket and back home where Jamie and Ben settle them in their bedroom whilst I rush to Sainsbury’s for cat litter and a mountain of food, these cats are starving!  Back home again and I have a chance to look at them, they’re so friendly, no way are these feral cats, they belong to someone.


Jamie, very responsibly, spends the day with the cats and takes them to the vet to be checked over, they’re all very skinny and riddled with worms and fleas, but otherwise pretty much ok.  The vet concurs with our theory that they’ve been dumped by an unscrupulous owner who couldn’t be bothered, and it turns out that the second larger cat is actually another daughter of the mums but from a litter several months previously.

We are now a baffled and bewildered family ourselves trying to work out how we have suddenly become five cats richer (we already have seven!), and what on earth are we going to do with them, they’ve been through hell living rough for a couple of weeks so we need time to think, but for the  moment, they’re safe, fed, warm and all together.

Thursday Night

The early hours of Friday morning, 3am, and Lorie is restless in her bedroom on the ground floor of the house.  As she tosses and turns she thinks she hears a tiny ‘meow’?  No, she must be dreaming, and she returns to trying to get to sleep again.  Another tiny ‘meow’, this time Lorie jumps up and rushes to the window, as she looks out she sees the kitten that has been named ‘Basher’, a tiny tabby.  Jamie had let the cats have a roam about before bed and Lorie assumes this is Basher, who has, somehow, managed to get out.

Half asleep she dashes outside and manages to grab him and takes him upstairs to the room that has been allocated as our new ‘cat sanctuary’.  Still half asleep she looks for mum so she can return Basher to her and she can know that he’s safe, but, as she looks around the room, ‘Basher’ is lying on the bed, fast asleep.  Lorie looks again at the cat on the bed and then looks at the cat she is holding, she rubs her eyes, she looks again, mystified, she does a head count and arrives at six cats!  She tries again and arrives at the same number, we’ve just ‘grown’ a cat stronger!  She wakes Jamie up and gives her the news and all hell breaks loose!

Eventually the house settles down again and we all return to bed…


Friday Evening

Nikita’s boyfriend has stepped outside the back door for a cigarette, suddenly he shouts and we all jump to attention, it sounds urgent?

‘I heard a cat!’ he screams whilst running down the field in the direction of the noise, Nikita in hot pursuit and me not far behind them.  In all the kerfuffle the three dogs are now also on the loose and running around barking in every direction!  Cody, the smallest of the dogs runs off at every opportunity so I turn my attention to catching him and his brother whilst Rory and Nikita search for the cat.

Suddenly an animal appears and seems to have run off with something in its mouth, at first Rory thought it was one of the dogs but it turns out to be a fox who drops whatever was in his mouth (we still don’t know if it was the kitten) and runs off down the road.  It’s chaos!

Eventually, they found the kitten, even smaller than the smallest of the four we already have and she is safely delivered to mum who is more than delighted to see her.


Beautiful….but SO many!

So, returning to my initial point, if everything happens for a reason, what on earth could be the reason for us having seven cats dumped on our doorstep?  As a family, we are now all hyper-vigilant and constantly listening out for cats in case another one turns up!

As I said earlier, you can’t make this shit up!

What do we do?  This a family of cats, a very close family, a family that has been through hell and it feels unconscionable to split them up, but, with seven elderly cats already, keeping them doesn’t feel like an option either.  Meanwhile, the kids have become more and more attached to them, especially as they are the most beautiful, friendly cats, and to be honest, I’m becoming attached to them as well!

Years ago we had managed to get to fifteen cats and the ‘mad cat woman’ hat was fixed firmly on my head!  One by one they’ve met their end (sadly mostly being run over on the lane by drivers using it as a race track) and we’ve been whittled down to seven, keeping this family would take us back up to fourteen again!  I’ve only recently been able to, tentatively, take the ‘mad cat woman’ hat off, do I really want to have to put it back on again?

So, your assignment is to work out what the ‘everything happens for reason’ is behind this latest ‘you couldn’t make this shit up’ occurrence in The Mad Shanks Residence!  Answers on a postcard please to:-

You Couldn’t Make This Shit Up

Everything Happens For A Reason Street








The Mad Shanks Residence: Lemons to Lemonade!

I’ve been looking back at my last few articles and it’s all become a bit serious hasn’t it?  Nothing wrong with serious, we need to give subjects the weight they need and deserve, but we also need to have fun along the way.  In fact, I wrote about just that a couple of years ago in my blog, it’s actually imperative to have fun once in a while, we get a bit grumpy and sour otherwise!

The last few weeks at The Mad Shanks Residence have been, shall we say, ‘not very nice’.  I was talking to a friend about all the goings on and she commented that ‘you really couldn’t make it up!’, no change there then, it’s always like that but not quite to the extent of recent times.

But the ‘bouncibility’ of my family never ceases to amaze me.  Jamie had a horrible experience but a few days later she was climbing the very overgrown tree on the front drive and sawing branches off like there was no tomorrow!  I stood underneath as any self-respecting mother would, imploring her not to fall out!


By the time she’d finished venting her anger on the foliage around the driveway there really wasn’t much left!  And no, I’m not moaning, it was well overdue and needed a damn good pruning.

She then proceeded to put my new bed together (no mean feat with Ikea flatpacks!) and move my entire room around to the way I wanted it.  I was grateful for that.

No comment on what’s going on here, but this is Fudge!

On another note, we have 7 cats (long story!), the trouble is that 4 of them are Tabbies, 2 of them are easily distinguishable whereas Tufty and Fudge (I know, I know…not the most imaginative names but chosen by the children when they were a lot younger) are so alike that I sometimes struggle.

2 nights ago Jamie was lying in bed and heard a thud followed by distressed meowing, a cat had been hit by a car…that didn’t stop!  They went hunting for the cat and eventually found him and Jamie declared that it was Tufty.  He had obviously been hit on the side of his head but we had no idea how serious his injuries were, or whether they were life threatening.  Off to the vet at 1.30am with said cat.

They kept him overnight to observe him, meanwhile Jamie was so distraught she was almost inconsolable, Tufty is far away her favourite cat.  Once we picked him up from the vet and brought him home with orders to keep him as quiet as possible, Jamie fed him luxury food in a little tin (something they never get, they’re farm cats!) and fussed over him.  Then the subject of collars arose, all of our cats wear reflective collars so that cars can see them at night, they all drive way too fast down the lane and it’s the cats only protection.

Someone mentioned that one of the cats had lost their collar and they rang me to get another while I was out, which I duly did.  By the time I got home though, the whole house was in uproar, it turned out that the injured cat (who, somehow, miraculously, is fine now) wasn’t Tufty…it was Fudge!   Whilst Jamie was fussing ‘Tufty’, Tufty walked in and started eating, making everyone do a double take!

I must confess that I suspected that we were calling the injured cat by the wrong name but Jamie is normally very reliable at knowing which cat is which, so I just trusted her, whilst all the time thinking it was Fudge because of his tan coloured ears.  I should have trusted my own judgement!

I think the vet still thinks they treated Tufty but unless they need to go in again it doesn’t really matter, we can always correct it next time.

Stuff happens but life goes on and in the fabulous words of Jean-Paul Satre:-

Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.

LIFE: What does that mean to you?

If I said to you ‘what is life?’ and you had to say the first thing that came into your head, what would it be?  Do it now…and I would love to know what the first thing you thought was.

That’s why I’m writing this, I’ve just been thinking about life, firstly thinking about Pippa and something I’ve just sent her about BPD that I found online….

Matt here, mental health contributing editor for The Mighty, and it just so happens that my partner lives with BPD. With that in mind, I wanted to highlight some of the things I want my partner to know about my perception of BPD.

So, here it is, my dearest one, and everyone else out there who believes their BPD makes them “manipulative,” “broken” or “unsuitable” to be in a relationship.

I see how it hurts you, not only the stigma of others but the stigma you place on yourself. You believe I see you the way the stigma portrays you: as somebody who can’t possibly be in a loving relationship without your supposed “inherent toxicity” driving it into a smoking crater. But, that’s not the truth at all. I see a woman made raw by her trauma, stripped bare and left to scar without any kind of healing. I see the fear you will be abandoned, and I understand it. You’ve been abandoned so often, made to feel like you’re worth nothing but loneliness. I see you compare yourself to other women you believe are more beautiful and worthy than you, and expect me to do the same.

These things you feel toward yourself are not true. Your worth lies not in your scars, but in how you’ve survived them for so long with no guide to life but yourself. You are worthy, and strong, and fierce, and beautiful, and all of these things and more. You are not broken. You are not evil. You are not “too much” for me, and if anyone else believes you are then they definitely don’t deserve you. You were touched by trauma but not infected by it.

You’ve got this, and I’ll stand by your side the whole way.

She’s just told me that she relates to this totally but life is still hard for her.  Pippa’s story is so incredibly complex, from her autism to her Cerebral Palsy and endless operations, to her Anorexia and Borderline Personality Disorder, from her PTSD from her father’s suicide to the constant Anxiety and depression she fights every day.  She’s been through so much and yet she’s become a strong woman in spite of everything that could have stolen her life before it has really started.  

I’m incredibly proud of Pippa, proud of how far she’s come and how she keeps battling on, proud of how open she was in the film and how many people have contacted us to tell us how much her openness has helped them, it took a lot of courage for her to be so brutally honest.

That’s all very deep and meaningful but ‘life’ means so many things to so many people and, on a lighter note, as I started writing this I accidentally opened the photos on my phone.  So, from mental health to fish!

We have a huge number of fish in our pond, they’ve discovered breeding and now they’re doing a lot of it!  But the ‘Grandaddy’ of them all is a Koi that I’ve had for several years, we don’t see him very often but this morning he was lying half under a Lily pad so I took some photos.  The pictures don’t really give much scale but I can tell you he’s about 12″ long and looks like ‘the monster of the deep’!


So, the word ‘life’ means something totally different to everyone and sometimes my personal perception changes depending on what’s going on in my life at the time, and sometimes, like today, it has many different meanings all at once.  So, here’s a picture of my fish (and the pot I planted last week that I’ve managed to keep alive so far!)

Why am I so proud of this pot of plants? Anyone who knows me well is aware that I have ‘killing plants’ on my list of hobbies (gardening isn’t my strong point!)



Failure isn’t falling, it’s not getting back up again….

I’m going to let you into a secret, deep down I’m one of those people who would love to live in a world of rainbows, fairies, seahorses and unicorns!   It wouldn’t be for everyone but here is my idea of a perfect world…

….and this is what I’ve got!

Now, don’t get me wrong, Lorie asleep in her Unicorn onesie that I bought her for Christmas is wonderful and very endearing, and I love Bear very much indeed and he does do a passable impression of a Unicorn, for a dog.

But you can see the difference, huh?  It’s not quite the same as my fantasy world is it?

It’s sad that we can’t all live in a happy world of unicorns, fairies etc….but this is real life and sometimes it sucks!  The last year for the Shanks family has been one of incredible highs and desperate lows, it’s all very confusing.  The film being launched, winning a major award and being nominated for a BIFA and now a BAFTA was beyond our wildest dreams at the time of filming, and the film receiving such an incredible response from the audience on Netflix is simply amazing.

On the other hand, me having a heart attack, the children’s grandmother passing away and  various other rubbish events have had us all on a rollercoaster of emotions from which we’re all still recovering!

But that’s life isn’t it?  Highs and lows…the trick is managing to ride them well enough to be able to get through to the next rainbow on the horizon.  Oh yes, and keep searching for Unicorns, they’re out there somewhere!


Autism: Kittens in the freezer

Yes, your eyes are working just fine, the title does say ‘Kittens in the Freezer’!  I put something up on Facebook yesterday mentioning this and had a lot of raised eyebrows, should we be reported to the RSPCA?

No, it wasn’t quite like this!

Errrr…no, we might be bizarre, but we’re not cruel, so let me explain.

It came to pass some years ago that myself and all of the children were on holiday in Devon for a week and a very dear friend was very kindly house sitting for us.  He was minding the dog and all of the cats and making sure the roof didn’t blow off in a storm (it has happened!) or marauding invaders didn’t take over the property (that hasn’t happened yet but there’s plenty of time!), he was also minding our very pregnant cat who wasn’t due to have her babies for at least 2/3 more weeks.

On day two he rang me to say that she’d had 5 beautiful but very small kittens in one of the girls wardrobes, and, so far so good.  Maybe we’d got it wrong and she was a lot further gone than we thought, anyway, she’d had them and Lewis was doing a stirling job of making sure all was well.

Until the next morning when he rang to say that one had died overnight but the rest seemed fine.  I was heartbroken and knew the children would be even more so and they hadn’t even had a chance to see the one we’d lost.

Now, I guess in a normal house this wouldn’t present too much of a problem beyond the grieving process, but, as a lot of you know, most of my children are on the autistic spectrum, so normal rules just don’t apply.  I had to think quickly to try and work out an appropriate resolution where they would at least have the chance of seeing him/her before burial.

I could think of nothing other than emptying a freezer drawer, wrapping it in tissue and putting it in a freezer bag so that we could bury her in the ‘animal burial grounds’ when we returned.  I felt pretty chuffed with myself, this seemed to solve the problem pretty well I thought.

The next day there was more bad news, we’d lost another one, so, the same instructions for poor old Lewis, wrap it in tissue and put it in the freezer.  Over the next couple of day the remaining 3 sadly passed away, they had obviously been born far too early and just couldn’t survive.  The children were all devastated but actually took it better than I had hoped, and they also knew that they would be able to see them when they returned and give them the send off we give all of our departed pets and random wildlife that we’ve tried to rescue over the years ( all dearly loved and named!).

We returned from holiday a few days later and we agreed to bury the kittens the next day as it was late when we got back.  It didn’t happen, nor the next day, or the next.  Chaotic life carried on and the kittens were forgotten, which I feel terribly guilty about but with 7 children to focus on I should probably let myself off the hook!

Time went by and it was about 6 months later that someone came across some mysterious plastic freezer bags with tissue inside.  One of Osborn’s weird experiments?  Probably!  And then it dawned, the kittens!

Everyone felt terrible, how could we have forgotten them for so long?  Life I guess, just busy life.

They were duly given a fitting funeral within the next day or so and laid to rest in somewhere rather more appropriate than the spare freezer.  Putting the kittens in the freezer in the first place had just been a rather wacky solution to the challenges that autism can throw up, they need to see for themselves, they need proof most of the time otherwise it’s too abstract, it’s not real.  My intentions had always been entirely honourable.

So, there it is, the story of The Kittens in the Freezer!




Apple Mac’s, Cats and Baths!

I think we all know that most Apple products don’t mix with water very well?  I certainly did, hence why in the 3 years I’ve had my Mac, it’s only been into the bathroom (very cautiously) 3 times!  On the third occasion THE disaster struck………yes, that one, the one I had nightmares about, the one that would end my world as I knew it!

I had started to run a bath and turned it off as 2 of my beautiful children had started talking to me about totally different subjects.  Only having 2 of them talking to me at same time was nothing I couldn’t handle, the cacophony is usually much worse, this was a walk in the park!


These items should never be introduced to a bath full of water!

Having said that, it distracted me, after a few seconds I looked around the upstairs hallway looking for my Mac and iPhone that I knew were together……nothing.  The penny dropped and I rushed into the bathroom just in time to see Tabby, one of our……..errrrrrr!!!!……..beautiful cats, jump onto the cabinet next to the bath, right on top of my phone and laptop!  It might have been my involuntary scream that frightened her and caused her to launch herself off but before I could mutter ‘shit’ under my breath, she pushed herself off the laptop as I watched, in agonising slow motion, both devices float into 2 inches of warm bath water!

Did I panic?  Well, I guess that’s one word for it?!  Having just watched my entire life being destroyed, I don’t think panic is really the appropriate word……my world stopped turning….

As fast as I could I dragged both items from the water and grabbed the towel, screaming at the kids to Google what to do if your Mac and iPhone fall into the bath.  We followed what instructions we could find but to no avail, the Mac was well and truly ‘Dodo’d’……  Miraculously, the phone still works, one point in favour of Apple for managing to create a phone that can survive more than the most obsessively cautious individuals ownership.  No points for me for thinking everything I did was backed up to the Cloud only to discover that I’ve lost everything on the Mac.  Manuscripts, proposals, photos, my media stuff….everything……GONE!

My life is now in hands of Todd at Spaghetti Agency who has the power and the contacts to (hopefully) download the contents of my hard drive so I can get most of it back, that’s if the hard drive isn’t fried!

So, here I sit with my new Mac (courtesy of interest free credit and no deposit!) trying to piece my virtual life back together, except that these days my virtual life and my real life have become so inextricably linked that they are now ‘as one’, life as I knew it 3 days ago have come to an end, I am now re-building it.

The most traumatic events in life include bereavement, divorce, changing jobs etc…..they need to add the death of a computer to that list, I am definitely in mourning!

Please take this as sage advice, I took my laptop into the bathroom to watch a talk someone had recommended to me, I thought I was being super productive by watching it in the bath….killing 2 birds with one stone so to speak.  Talk about backfire, the 20 minutes I would have saved have become entire days of trying to retrieve stuff, setting up my new computer and crying……..