Until I was in my 60’s I almost always had at least one cat. When we lived in Queensway we had one whose name I think was Madam. She had to be an indoor cat as we lived on the 6th floor of a block of flats. It was she who helped the family dispose of our Christmas tree one year when, while we were all out, she somehow denuded it making it very easy to carry out of the flat without leaving a long trail of sharp green needles. When I was pregnant she appeared to be pregnant as well although, for her, it was an impossibility as she hadn’t had access to any male cats. We thought it was a phantom pregnancy – and maybe it was – but it was also because she had some terrible female problem which, in the end, killed her. It was a very sad lesson to us that female cats should always be spayed if they aren’t to be allowed to have kittens!
(Above is the block of flats we lived in, with our flat marked in red (not very well!)
When we moved to Chiswick Veronica was around two and a half and was very keen to have a kitten. We were given a little cat which we called Daisy. She was mostly white with little patches of tan and she did not make Veronica happy as, when the two first met, Daisy scratched Veronica on the ankle signalling, I think, that she didn’t want to be bothered by a small child. A few years later Daisy was joined by a mother cat and five kittens.
I was sitting on the little garden space we had on the roof of the shoe shop we lived above when a pregnant cat jumped off a ledge, settled at my feet and produced a little black kitten and then proceeded to give birth to four more kittens over the next hour or two. We moved them all inside as it had started to rain and we made them a home in the box room at the top of the flat where they lived for a few weeks. The mama cat – whom we called Mama – went out one evening when the kittens were about six weeks old and was run over which made us all very unhappy. Luckily, the kittens had been weaned by then. We had a friend who was looking for a kitten and she chose ‘Dudley’. A neighbour wanted a kitten so she had ‘Frankenstein’ and this left us with ‘Orpheus’ (the black kitten), ‘Winnie’ (named by my sister after Winston Churchill), ‘Poppy’ and Daisy who was not at all happy about sharing her home with other cats. (Somewhere I have a few photos of the above mentioned cats but I can’t lay my hands on them at the moment. When I do, I’ll add a short blog with their photos and maybe a few more of the others.)
At around this time I started going out with a vet which was very lucky as one by one the kittens and Daisy succumbed to horrible illnesses leaving us with Orpheus who came with us to Ravenscourt Park, West Malling and East Malling after Julian and I got together. Orpheus was a special cat. He tried to talk to me occasionally, not with words or meows but with facial movements. He would sit near me and wait until I was looking at him then would open his mouth and stick his tongue out as though he were going to lick then move his head to the side. After he had done this a few times I realised that he was telling me he was hungry. He went on doing that strange movement for years. Another thing he did was ‘fetch’. If I rolled an olive across the floor, he would run after it, pick it up and bring it back to me. (Don’t ask why I would roll an olive on the floor!) He did the same with wrapped sweets.
Once, when Judy, Veronica and I were living in digs and Orpheus was living with us, he went out into the back garden. The house we lived in was one in a circular terrace of houses and there were probably twenty or thirty (or even more) houses in this circle. None of the back gardens had access to the roads in front of the houses except by going into a house from the back and out the front door. Orpheus didn’t come back though I called and called. For two days he didn’t come back and I started to really worry about him. I went down the street and round the terrace calling, ‘Orphy, Orphy’, but no luck. Then, just as I had given up hope of ever seeing him again, and was making one last tour of the roads, I called again ‘Orphy’and he came running out from under a parked car and jumped up into my arms! We had a little celebration that evening because our lovely Orpheus was home again.
We moved back to West Malling after our year of living in digs, taking Orpheus, Moosh and Tiggy (both of whom we had acquired along the way) with us. First Tiggy, then Moosh some years later, were lost to speeding cars but we were not to be a one cat family for long. We had a friend, Georgia, who lived in West Malling but worked in London and who was a sucker for stray cats. On her walk from the tube station to work one day she spotted a little cat who was very obviously pregnant and adopted her, bringing her home and making her comfortable until her kittens were born. She invited us to see the kittens and we fell in love with two of them, Piggy and Tiggy II. Not content with making us a three-cat family, Georgia decided to give Veronica her very own kitten and bought a pedigree Burmese for her. The breeder seems to have been rather careless, though, first by selling a kitten who hadn’t yet been completely weaned and then by never forwarding the paperwork proving the pedigree. We didn’t care if Dizzy was pedigree or not! He was gorgeous and so loving.
When he came to live with us, Dizzy was small enough to sit on my hand (which isn’t a particularly big hand). He decided that I was his mother and that my earlobe was a teat! If he wanted comforting he would climb up me and start to suckle on my earlobe. It was really sweet for the first few months because he didn’t have very sharp teeth but later it became quite painful and I had to discourage him. He carried on trying for about five years but, eventually forgot what my earlobe was for. Several years after Julian and I set up home together, Veronica went off to uni and I suffered from ’empty-nest syndrome’. In some ways Dizzy became my surrogate child. I didn’t dress him up and push him around in a pram or anything stupid like that but I did probably treat him as a child rather than a pet. Of course, the inevitable happened to all four of the cats who went to East Malling with us. First Orpheus (who was about 20 by that time) died, then Piggy and Tiggy and finally my Dizbo left us.
We still weren’t entirely cat-free, however, as Mitzi, a stray abyssinian mix took up residence under our shed and, in the coldest months, came into the house and allowed us to feed and pet her. When we moved from East Malling to Wateringbury we left Mitzi with Sue and Keith, our next door neighbours as she still liked living under the shed in the warmer months. We also left Tortnaytootinalumbine with them as Keith was very fond of reptiles and we were frightened that our new garden would not be safe for her (it was huge with ponds and many places for her to hibernate and never be found).
Tort, as we called her because her real name was far too long to keep saying, was a lovely tortoise which I had bought at a garden centre the year before the sale of tortoises was banned. The first couple of years we were careful to hibernate her, following all the rules but later we left it to her. We had a wood-burning stove which was our central heating boiler as well and when winter came she (Tort) would usually disappear behind the wood-burner until March. Occasionally she would make an appearance around Christmas, maybe to munch on a bit of lettuce or cucumber, then would disappear again until spring. About two years before we moved a friend gave us another tortoise called Chronos who laid several eggs in the middle of the lounge one New Year’s Day and promptly died. Of course the eggs were not fertile, but just in case, I incubated them for a few months.
During our time in Wateringbury we didn’t have a cat of our own although we were visited by two black cats which we named Belle and No-Belle – they were both pretty, both girls and both wore collars, one with a bell and the other without. Then one cold, wet evening along came Sandy who was a ginger-ish cat who had been in a fight and was bleeding. Julian brought him in and we took him to a vet who cleared up his injuries. When he was well we tried to persuade him to go home but he had decided that we were his family so we kept him and, when we moved to West Malling, took him with us.
He was a sweet old cat who just wanted to lie around and not go outside which was lucky as we lived in a busy high street. Only once did Sandy get out of the premises without our knowledge. Our building was on the High Street, as I said, but it backed onto a small lane separated from our yard by a high brick wall with a wooden door in it. At some point during the day Sandy must have walked out into the yard and gone out the door when someone had opened it to throw rubbish in the bins which were outside the brick wall. When I went up to our flat (from the antique shop which was on the ground floor) I called Sandy but he was nowhere to be found. I rushed back down in case he was locked in the shop or workshop then opened the door into the lane and, there he was, sitting and waiting patiently for me to come find him!
After Sandy we had another old cat called Ozzie. He had belonged to Sue and Keith but they needed to find him a home and, as he was old and liked being indoors, they offered him to us. He was a very handsome fellow and we had him for a year or two.
After Ozzie came a lull. We retired, moved to the seaside and got a dog, Rosie about whom I will write another time.