My daughter and I have a game we play on the way to school. It’s a game we came up with ourselves and we call it Counting Kitties. The way it works is this: every day we have to see a certain number of cats on our way to school, or else we have to give each other a ‘squeezy hug.’ So on Monday it’s one cat – starting the week off easy, not too much stress. Then Tuesday it’s two, Wednesday three and so on until Friday. We take pretty much the same route to school each day, so the challenge lies in remembering our ‘regular’ cats and where to find them, as well as keeping our eyes open for new cats to add to the game.
These cats are everywhere. Some wait on doorsteps, others sit curled in windows or perched on shed roofs, while other prowl and it’s just lucky if you happen to see them. We have names for some of our regulars, Moo-Cow Kitty (black and white), Super Fluffy Kitty (for obvious reasons), Balcony Kitty (where she likes to sit). We’ve also added a couple of dogs we see regularly to the tally and, if we’re really pushed, two magpies equal one cat. We will also accept our local red tailed kite, or as we like to call him, ‘Hawkie’ – he’s often to be seen riding the wind high above, feathers flashing in the sunlight. The rules are fluid and subject to change – recently we’ve allowed a carryover tally, whereby if we have a particularly good day of sightings, we can carry the excess over to the next day.
So why am I sharing this with you?
Well, first of all it’s a bit of fun. I look forward to our walks every day, time spent talking and taking in our surroundings, using our imaginations to come up with silly names and complicated rulings, starting the day with thought and laughter. I have only the one child and that’s it for me, so I’m making the most of my time with her as she grows. I also want to encourage her to look at the world, to see where it takes her and find fun in even the most mundane of things, such as a walk to school.
I remember my grandmother taking me for walks when I was young, pointing out and naming wildflowers, bringing me to the local woods to gather snowdrops in the spring and hunt for fairies at Midsummer. She showed me that the world holds infinite possibility; that stories can be found anywhere. When I grew older and had to make daily train commutes to school and later, work, I would look out of the window and see if I could discover something new each day, or, if it was an underground trip, imagine stories about myself or the other passengers (no staring, of course!). The point is, I made the most of my time as best I could, and so that’s something I’d like to pass on, if I can. Writing is part of it, trying to convey in words what I’ve experienced and imagined. And this is another part, encouraging the growth of ideas in my own child, sharing in her life as she grows.
And this game, I think, is similar to what we do as writers when we write. Taking everyday things, such as the fact we see a lot of cats on our walk, and turning them into something more meaningful. I recently wrote a short story that featured an unusual outdoor light, inspired by the fact that one of the houses we pass every day also has a striking outdoor light. Ambeth is based on a park I used to visit as a child. One day I might even write a story about a neighbourhood with lots of cats. In every day there’s potential for us to find inspiration in even the most mundane things.
And what about you? Where do stories and games lie in your own life?