The first cat was the family pet whose name was Sam. He was older than me. One day, I built a house for him under the kitchen chair. When I tried to put him into his lovely new home, he did not like it. He scratched me. I discovered that a living animal was not a cuddly toy which had to play whatever game I wanted.
Sam disappeared one night when I was about eight. I was told cats are like that. They go away to die by themselves.
The next cat was a tabby female. She was much friendlier than Sam. The name on her card at the vet’s was Stripes. Affectionately known as Stripy, she saw me through my teenage angst. I soaked her fur with tears after family arguments and she dribbled over my pyjamas when she crept into bed with me on cold nights.
When Stripy was about 18 months old, we introduced her to a Labrador-cross-? puppy. She hunted for a present to offer the new arrival. Somewhere in the city suburbs she found a rabbit. She laid the corpse on the kitchen stool and sat on the kitchen table to observe the puppy’s reaction. All it did was yap, which brought the family running to the kitchen to see what the matter was.
Offering rejected, Stripy ignored the dog as best she could for the next thirteen years. She continued to give presents to the humans. One year on my sister’s birthday Stripy waited until suppertime to bring my sister a dead black rat. In the commotion which ensued after the rat’s discovery, the cat helped herself to the roast chicken.
I was at uni when Stripy’s kidneys failed and she had to be put down. Her passing marked the end of the family home being my home.
There followed several catless years as I moved around London. For a few months I shared a flat with the owner and her two kittens. One was part Burmese and a great climber. Once he swarmed up my coat as it hung from the peg on the door to take up an attack position on the door’s top. The non-Burmese tried to follow but was less adept. The abiding image I have is of her desperately clinging on as my coat began to swing.
I left the kittens when I moved in with my son’s father who is not really fond of animals or small children, come to that. We relocated to Scotland. He decided that life in the countryside was not for him and retreated south.
I inherited three cats along with the house I moved into. Collectively they were the BLT, two sisters and the son of one of them by a half wild cat tom, who was a regular summer visitor. I also called them the tabby tide as they streamed in through the front door in the mornings in search of breakfast.
They were outdoor hunting cats and present givers like Stripy. One of them once caught a weasel. Mice and birds were regularly deposited on the doorstep. The postie – bless him – used to leave those corpses for me to clear but he always moved the dead rats, which seemed to appear whenever B, L and T were bored with one brand of cat food as a signal that they wanted a change of flavour.
Giving them away when we moved to a small town a hundred miles away was among the hardest things I have ever done. It broke my son’s heart to the extent that he never bonded with either of the indoor cats we took into our new home from the Cats Protection League.
They were a brother and sister aged three or four. He was a big heavy guy called Felix. She was the runt of the litter, barely a third his size. Called Lucky, she was the prettiest tortoiseshell, the fastest mover of any cat I have yet met and definitely Felix’s boss. Over the first week they lived with us, the food bowls were emptied, the litter tray was filled but we did not lay eyes on them as they were hiding behind the kitchen sink.
Gradually I coaxed first Lucky and then Felix to come out to play and to accept strokes and chin rubs. Felix reached the level of trust required for combing. All I had to do was show him the comb and he’d hurry towards it with that stiff-legged run before rolling on to his back. He had, and has, as special a place in my heart as B had, and has, in my son’s.
These days I am sadly catless again but there are still more stories to tell about B, L, T, Felix and Lucky in future.