Philip the Kitten

I don’t suppose many of you will have heard of The Mighty Boosh.

Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt have developed a cult following. They are not everyone’s cup of tea. I might venture to suggest they are very few people’s cup of tea: their penchant for nightmare imagery is extreme. But they are, to the right audience, very funny indeed.

They are Howard and Vince, a pair who work at a zoo. Vince is young, beautiful and blessed, Howard older, ungainly and seems to get the rough end of life.

And Howard gets stressed. He fancies himself a writer, but whenever anyone offers criticism, no matter how benign, he decks them with one blow.

In a little hut in the zoo lives a shaman called Naboo. Howard goes to him for help. He lies on Naboo’s sofa and exhibits supreme tension.

So the wise shaman takes out a picture of two kittens.

“Look at the picture of the kittens in the barrel,” he says. “They’re having a whale of  time. The one on the left is called Philip. Look at his little eyes: he’s happy.”

Angels sing in the background. Howard gazes with adoration at the happy kittens.

Naboo continues:”Whenever you’re feeling angry, I want you to look at Philip, and your anger will recede like an ocean.”

It is an instant panacea for anger. Howard is cured, so long as he keeps looking at the little creatures. “That’ll be 156 Euros please,” says Naboo, putting away the kittens.

Howard tenses in fury: “156 euros? ” he begins to complain. But Naboo is razor-sharp: out comes Philip the Kitten and Howard hands over the extortionate amount happily.

Exquisite irony:  watch it here.

I am in dire need of Philip the Kitten. On Thursday afternoon at 3pm, as Big Al was preparing to come with me to collect the rest of the children from school, I received a call to say my school will receive a visit from the inspection agency.

And it arrives at a time of flux.

So I feel a little as if, even with the best planning in the world, I shall be walking onto a stage in front of a huge audience with no script, just as my nightmares often insist I should.

Every week I potter off to learn how to get the best from life. An expert in a local university is kind enough to take an hour to help me review my week and bring a little cognition into the mix.

On Wednesday, we painstakingly deconstructed goings on, and looked at how the weight of a lifetime can make one perceive things differently.

Memories, emotions attached way back before we care to remember: they helped to make beliefs about ourselves which have a sledgehammer force out of proportion to the challenges we face today. The beliefs have grown, my academic said, like a great tree that has taken half a lifetime to grow and tower over everything we do.

The solution is to grow a new tree: a new set of beliefs. And we do it by collecting evidence which makes the new sapling grow according to what we see, hear and record in our notebooks.

We’ve all got them, the folks in cognitive behavioural therapy: it’s the cognitive man’s diary. We write down the good stuff: the pebbles, if you will; and then analyse it to see where it confirms and where it confounds our beliefs.

Sometimes, though, the old tree prevails. Times like this, in fact. It’s hard to ignore the weight of evidence from our memories and the great walls of feeling which wake old terrors.

We need something to stop that old tree in its tracks, and redirect  us to the sapling at its side.

That Something is different for everyone: a phrase, a quote, a picture. Something which says: hold your horses. Is this how it really is?

My mentor told me that was my homework. What would stop my old tree in its rumblings?

I was called into school twice yesterday on my day off as people rushed to prepare. The second time, I took the children. I told them how I was, and why. And I shared the story of Philip The Kitten.

Every time I begin to disappear into a vortex of panicked speculation, my daughter calls me out. “Mum,” she says, “Remember Philip The Kitten.”

And I laugh, and I remember: this is a job. I shall do my best. And if the worst happens, I shall handle it.

I turn to the new tree.

And so, forgive me if I do not visit for a day or two, and if I repost here and there.

I shall be back soon. I am off for an odyssey with my trusty sidekick, Philip The Kitten.

Picture source here


51 thoughts on “Philip the Kitten

  1. The background on my phone is of my favourite beach, on a rare sunny Donegal day. That’s my Philip the kitten, in a pocket when I need it.
    We’ll see you when you’re ready to come back to us
    Good luck!

  2. I think that rather than having a cute kitten to calm you, what you need here is a ferocious tiger next to you, to smile at the inspectors in a meaningful way – ‘One wrong step and the shredding equipment will be brought into play, so be very, very nice to Kate…’

  3. You are in my thoughts – never forget that just as the pussy cat and your wonderful family will be support you and be at your side through the good and the bad, we your cyber family are cheering you all the way. See you soon, lots of love 🙂

  4. But Phillip is a purely temporary solution. Perspective is the long term fix.

    We can only do our best and mostly, that’s good enough. Attempting to attain perfection can be hazardous to health 🙂

    Good luck Kate.

  5. I sure wish I had a Philip the kitten to roust me from the occasional pits of anger and recurring obsessives. I do find that I will focus on a negative a bit too much and it sometimes takes me two or three days to shake it and move on. I do better with each passing year and will keep working on it, but, sure would like to have a little Philip to carry in my pocket.

    Your post is a good reminder to keep looking for ways to keep the negative thoughts out of our lives as much as possible.

    1. It’s a continual journey, isn’t it, Lou: the search for razor-sharp thinking which will confound these negatives. CBT teaches us to put these problems into perspective using hard evidence, and form new habits in the context the happenings of every day. I consider myself extremely lucky to be on the programme with such a clever, analytical thinker as my mentor. I’ve learnt a lot in a short time. Wish I’d learnt it years ago.

  6. Maybe even better than the tiger option, which I support as a kitten substitute, I think you should carry a picture of Big Al, both for inspiration and reality check. Remember that these inspectors were once (and still may be) children. You know how to handle them. Apply CBT to the adversary, as well as yourself.

    And since I’m quite sure that you bring to your other endeavors the same generous spirit, formidable intellect, and loving heart with which you produce this blog, I predict that even the most damaged of inspectors will feel warmed by your presence.

    1. *blows nose noisily, blinks back tears* Thanks, Barbara. I shall print this comment out and stick it next to Philip the Tiger. With a tiger and such a testimonial, who could give me a bad press?

  7. The challenge ahead always looks bigger than the challenge passed. It will be interesting to hear about the inspection, after the event 🙂

    Fingers crossed it will go smoothly. Remember the three Cs…. keep quite clam 🙂

    (I won’t post my story about a school inspection yet…..)

  8. When it all seems overwhelming and old self-doubt creeps in to haunt, I try to ask myself, “How bad can it truly be?” and “Will it matter one way or another a year from now?” Sometimes (not always, but usually) that’s sufficient to cause a deep breath and a strengthened resolve.

    This morning, Googling netted this: “The most important thing to remember is that you are in control. Stop thinking about the big picture and break it down. When you start to feel the stress creeping back, take a breather. If you allow yourself to work in “stress mode” it will effect your quality of work and most importantly, your health.” — which I found here:

    Wishing you well.

  9. Good luck Kate in the next week or so, Kate, and here’s hoping all goes well. I’ve been through these times and it helps to have a Phillip, and family, on hand to bring one back down from that ledge of panic. Thinking of you.

  10. Firstly, I like me ‘shtufffs’, an the ‘shtufffs’ which surround. We all got our ‘shtufffs’, yes we do. For the most part we see stuff, I call it ‘shtufffs’, as that which tangible and tactile. But our ‘shtufffs’ resides in the universe of being, the mind’s past, present and future. ‘Shtufffs’ is life’s experience. An it is a journey, but it is good as we’re able to pack our shtufff on our person an venture off -no luggage or boxes drag along. I made a list of my ‘shtufffs’ once, in hopes it would or could help someone understand who ‘I’ was -or as close as one could get to understanding another. It helps. It helped me and it helped them. It definitely cemented a life long friendship that I thought could not be attainable.

    My ‘P’ Kitten is the horizon, which I have found out, exists one step forward and two steps back.

    1. Hi Hudson: and I trust that beautiful Elvira of yours is doing well. Eyes on the horizon, and not too much shtuff. I’m getting quite an extensive self help list!Thanks. Lovely comment 🙂

  11. Kate, a big hug to you. I know exactly where you are. Your new tree is already there. The thing about new trees is they’re kind of scrawny, aren’t they? Not like the majestic, sweeping established ones. Still, if we can see what the new tree will be, we are already there.

    You have been on my mind the past couple of weeks, and you will continue there in my thoughts and prayers.

    1. Andra, thanks 🙂 Your hugs always make a big difference to the day…you have the tree thing perfectly. Bit scrawny, but there, at least, and promise for the future. John Bunyan would approve.

  12. My “kitten” is the screensaver on the computer ~ a white beach, turquoise seas, and swaying palms with the message “Escape to the Beach.”

    Creative Visualization works wonders too . . . picture your self chopping down the “dead wood” and watering the “new growth.”

    Best of luck, Kate! You rock . . . no matter what the inspectors have to say or do. 😉

    1. 😀 Thank you, Nancy, I shall have that last sentence tattooed on my forehead for the inspectors to read. What with those and the tiger I feel sure the days will just fly by.

  13. Kittens. They make me all warm and fuzzy and happy inside, every time. Hence the eternal presence of cats in my home.

    And yes, I’d love to take an axe to my old tree.

    1. It just helps to have a new one first 😀 It really is the most liberating thing I have ever undertaken, this new tree business. I have a very clever helper.

      I was trying to explain to him about Philip the Kitten, but he doesn’t understand yet…

  14. Take all the time you need, Kate – I myself have been felling old beliefs left right and centre, and still they raise their heads from time to time… but always when I least expect it.

  15. How great it is that you have developed a community of friends online through your writing, and when you tell them of trials and tribulations, there is a whole load of support that comes back through their comments.

    I could say that you are lucky to have this, but that would be to miss the point. In your writing you give so very generously to us all (and no doubt do a whole lot more with comments to others as well) and share your gift for really connecting with people.

    That gift as a communicator is just one of the things that makes you a great teacher. I know (albeit only from second hand experience) that inspections are a stressful time, but it sounds like you are doing your best to keep it in perspective.

    It’ll be done with soon enough, and I’m sure you’ll come through the other side!

    Lots of love

    M xx

    1. Thanks Miff: and you’re right: I never dreamed how much strength and support could come from people all over the world at a time like this. I feel very lucky indeed. What an absolutely beautiful comment: thank you 🙂

  16. This brings back memories of my poor mother having to deal with inspectors coming to her school when she taught grades 1 to 9 in one room. All of a sudden, the kids who were predictably a handful would turn into mother’s strongest allies. I think if the Inspector had stepped out of line, those ruffians would gladly have let the air out of two of his tires!

    I loved mother sharing her fears at these times – and I saw the gentle response in all my siblings. It offered a chance to feel very grown up and purposeful as mother’s demeanor became focused and intense.

    Through my business life, we had auditors. Nit picky, have-to-find-something-wrong people who had to justify their roles. Usually their reports proved we were underpaid!

    Kate, you care too much to be one who has to worry. Without even meeting you, I’d put my money on you coming out with a gold star!

    1. Thank you, Amy. It’s cathartic, this business. Adversity is a strange thing. About three years ago I faced an op which might go either way: I might wake up, I might not. There was nothing for it but to take a great big deep breath and step forward into whatever waited. Same here: but on the other side my life and family waits, whatever the outcome. I’m lucky.

  17. This is so strange, Kate, this post. Because I have been going through some similar introspection as part of a group in the last fortnight. Ah, the weight of memories. And the building of new ones. Phillip the Kitten is going to help me, too.

  18. My heart just expanded reading this post, dear Kate, and I’m going to carry you with me (very gently) while you are in this whorl! I’ve now adopted Phillip the Kitten for my own needs, too. We are all mentoring one another and your transparency is deeply appreciated…you give a great deal. Debra

  19. I enjoyed that video. :-).

    I don’t have a Philip the kitten. I do however, have a phrase that I run through my head whenever things get a bit dicey. I once read an inspirational piece about being calm when things get you stressed. The author advocated repeating a two word phrase over and over until it had the desired effect. The phrase? ‘Serenity Now.’

    Well, I actually tried the exercise, and the result was I felt and sounded so ridiculous (I think it was something to do with my northern mining town upbringing) that I burst out laughing. It worked!

    Now, every time I repeat that phrase (in my mind, never out loud lol) I end up smiling, no matter the situation. There’s a lot of sense in what may at first seem nonsensical. I’m now old enough to try anything, no matter how foolish it may seem. Age is a great liberator.

    Best Wishes,


    1. Hi Paul 🙂 Serenity now: it gets to the heart of the matter…it’s funny how humour can short circuit panic and any feelings of being overwhelmed. I read this comment before the inspection, and the thought of you grinning your way through those two words made me smile at some very grim moments. Thank you.

  20. Often the things we are most anxious about don’t happen, Kate – and if they do, they can send us on paths that may be preferable to the one we’ve just been kicked off – hope all is going well

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