Oatmeal was a cat with big paws, big body, big personality and short legs, which created a distinctive fast drum-roll on our wooden floors when he came jogging in. Even in the last few years when his health was poor and one leg refused to work properly, you could hear the determined patter of tap-tap-tap-tick, tap-tap-tap-tick.
A few weeks back, he had one of his downturns and stopped eating, which took a determined effort and a week or more of patience on our part before he resumed and all was well. However this time the upturn lasted less than a week and this morning we had to take that final decision.
After more than eight years of those thunderous paws, we have some unwelcome silence in the house.
Oatmeal caught a mouse this morning, summoning me to the kitchen with a proud come see meow that I initially assumed came from Piper. Instead, there was Oatmeal, presenting his mouse and, as per protocol, I assured him that it was indeed a very fine mouse. I know this doesn’t seem anything exceptional, cat-and-mouse is as old as children’s cartoons, but Oatmeal is no longer what you might consider mouse-catching material.
Oatmeal has three working legs out of four, and those three are not exactly operating at a hundred percent. Realistically, his top speed is shuffle, with a regular stumble, and something wildly unstable and short-range when he is spooked and wants to get out of the way. So, the first question that springs to mind on seeing him with a mouse is who did you get that from?
Ownership of rodents can be a fast-changing market. Cats can lose their catch to a chicken in an eye-blink, and the only thing that can take a mouse from a chicken is another chicken.
I didn’t actually ask Oatmeal because some subjects are just too sensitive. I gave him the benefit of the doubt – maybe it was just a very careless and inattentive mouse that mistook him for a piece of furniture. These things do happen. Many years ago, six-plus kilos of hunting tom-cat called Tigger nearly lost his mouse after he put it down and it chose to hide under this nearby big, warm furry thing. Tigger was not the brightest of cats but he did finally work out that he was sitting on his missing mouse.
In a similar vein, some twenty or more years ago we took on an elderly cat called Tinker, because the cat rescue really struggled to re-home twelve year-old cats. In all honesty, he was a truly unlovable cat and when he turned up his paws a few years later, both we and the other cats in the house were suddenly more relaxed. To be fair, his previous owner had loved and doted on him, only giving him up due to a dire change in personal circumstances, and I don’t think we measured up to expectations.
Like Oatmeal, Tinker was not fast on his feet, and certainly not up to much in the way of mouse-hunting. However, if one of the others happened to bring in a mouse and let it loose… Tinker caught the mouse, smacked it on the carpet three times and then went to sleep with the mouse as a pillow so that he would hear if someone tried to steal it. It was clearly such a precious rodent that we wanted to leave it with him, but they do start to smell after a few days.
So, let’s assume the the mouse belongs to Oatmeal, or that he at least came by it second-hand, in an honest transaction. (And even if he didn’t, these things are very hard to prove. Rodents don’t have serial numbers.) Regardless of provenance, Oatmeal is the one who brought the recently-deceased mouse in through the cat-flap (an impressive act of determination for a cat who struggles to walk) and presented it to his people. Wisely, Oatmeal had chosen to skip the stage where the mouse is released just to show how quickly and efficiently it can be caught again. Having brought it in, pre-deceased, and been told it was a wonderful mouse, I assumed that he was expecting the rest of the protocol – yes, I caught it, but there’s no way I’m eating that, hand me the kitty-nibbles.
That is the way it works – pesky rodent dispatched, treats required, even if it’s just the regular cat food. This fundamental sequence frequently led Tigger to lose a mouse because he would stop at the food bowl by the back door on his way to tell us about his latest catch, and how quickly he could re-catch it and… where did my mouse go? Mice can be so inconsiderate, hiding under the rim of a food bowl.
Oatmeal, however, stared at the saucer of kitty nibbles and then looked at me as if I was deranged, or at least working from a different rule book. He ate a few, probably so that I wouldn’t feel like too much of an idiot, before putting his mouse on the saucer, in the middle of the nibbles, and then eating it. Completely.
His mouse. His meal. A moment beyond price.
It reminded us of a rabbit which Ginge caught many years ago, when Oatmeal was still a solid six kilos to her three, but didn’t have the nerve to take her catch. She ate the rabbit, almost as big as she was, starting at the nose, with Oatmeal watching every mouthful, until only the back legs were left. Oatmeal waited until she was definitely done before crunching down the left-overs.
So, the mouse… my mouse, mine, all mine…
Not only did he eat every scrap of mouse, Oatmeal was clearly pleased beyond measure. The empty space where the mouse had been got purred at, and then I got purred at, followed by the rest of the world, and then he went back out through the cat flap.
A rodent beyond price.
In August last year he was very nearly put to sleep as he was so ill, and then amazingly rallied before his next visit to the vet. He now has regular check-ups as part of the process of prescribing the steroids that keep him going, and one of the questions the vet always asks is how is his quality of life?
Well, he gets carried up to the Orchard to sit in the sun on nice days, and literally as I typed this sentence he tried to climb up my leg in search of some lap time, but that worry is always there, are we doing him an unkindness keeping him going?
The precious mouse answers the question quite emphatically – Oatmeal is doing fine, thank you very much. Just keep that prednisone coming, with the tuna wrapper, and the (lactose-free) milk chaser.
What a win-win precious rodent moment – it made Oatmeal happy, it made us happy, and the rodent… well, it stayed down. It’s amazing how fast a rodent can come back up if all is not well.
Got to go. Oatmeal purring.
Stop tapping that keyboard and stroke properly. Both hands. That’s it… and behind the ears.
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This was written in response to the September #BlogBattle prompt of Precious.
Cats understand their people, their wants and needs, and file that information away for leverage in the future, except for yesterday when Oatmeal clearly knew that I didn’t have a clue what to write and obliged with some simple inspiration.
We haven’t had the warmest or driest of summers, and the weather for August is presenting more like September, but we have managed a fair number of days with chairs set up in the orchard. There have to be four chairs, one each for myself and my partner, and then one each for the cats. Strictly speaking, there are four cats, but only two of them insist on spending sunny days relaxing in the orchard, and only one of them can get there under his own power.
Oatmeal is not well. Seriously not well. He can walk back from the orchard, but only does that because his food is at the house, and it can take him an hour to cover the distance. Piper can do it in under two minutes, unless there are chickens chasing him, in which case it’s under one minute, with dirty looks for his people if the kitchen door isn’t open for the dash to safety.
So, Oatmeal requires transport. He rides up to the Orchard on my arm, which isn’t too stressful as he is down from the six-plus kilos of his prime and is now a very bony three kilos. He expects all the facilities to be ready when he arrives. The chair should have the towel on it, there should be water in the bowl, and food on hand, to be presented on demand and kept out of reach of chickens at all other times.
Above all, the service staff should be attentive and ready to respond promptly to the needs of the Compass Nose. When something is required, Oatmeal sits, quite neatly in spite of his serious leg problems, and points his nose in the air to indicate what’s needed. Unfortunately, the Compass Nose only ever points upwards, so the service staff have to become adept at interpreting the requirements.
Piper, six and a half kilos of prime, podgy cat, makes his own way to the orchard and indicates his needs by walking on the service staff.
Now that everything is set in the orchard we can sit, have lunch out there, and supper if the evening doesn’t cool off too fast. Provided, of course, that the necessary taxes are paid.
The lunch menu is quite simple – home-baked bread, cheese, fruit, and just at present, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes out of the greenhouse. Supper can be more varied, but just lately there has been a definite theme of egg-related dishes since the hens are laying prolifically.
The taxation system is also quite simple. It is calculated in cheese or omelette and collected primarily by Piper. Oatmeal prefers his kitty biscuits, or perhaps this revenue collection business is really far too much effort. So, Piper gives meaningful looks at plates, whilst Oatmeal quests with the Compass Nose.
In the period before the taxes fall due, Piper can be invisible, having wandered off to explore the hedges, check for interesting things under the apples trees, and generally be absent, but his finely honed senses detect the subliminal signs of plates passing nearby and as if from nowhere he is there, in the chair, appraising the taxable items.
The rule is simple – three pieces of cheese and he is done. Once the levy has been paid, he will stop trying to balance his weight, on one paw, on the nerve in your leg, and retreat to his own chair to let the tribute settle in. That said, we have noticed in recent weeks that the rule of three now applies to each diner separately.
The supper tax is rather more complex. An omelette is easy and just like the cheese – three pieces, per diner, and then you are free to eat. Pancakes, though, are a different matter, and have to be paid in related food-stuffs. The clear winner, in general, is yoghurt because we often have diced melon, or something similar to go with the pancake, dressed with syrups, sauces and miscellaneous dairy products.
On those occasions that cream is involved, the taxation rate increases dramatically.
We haven’t risked tuna-related meals in the orchard since last year when Ginge (three kilos of single-minded persistence) climbed out along the length of my out-stretched arm in her attempt to reach my plate and apply the basic sea-food taxation rate of one hundred percent. (When we eat indoors, that’s Squeak’s territory and Ginge doesn’t venture in.)
There it is, the taxation system, apart from transporting Oatmeal back to the house. He is generally very clear when it is time for his medication, although it’s probably the concealing snack that comes wrapped around the medication that is foremost in his furry mind.
There’s only three certain things in this world, death, taxes and cats.
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This was written for the #BlogBattle August prompt of Tribute.
About this time, ten years ago, our cat Bitsy died at the age of eighteen. He left behind a legacy of fluff, entertainment and a young companion called Holly. Honestly, I don’t think he liked Holly, and probably wished that we never took her on, but he was lonely after his brother died and driving us nuts at dusk when he wanted company to hunt the hedgerows, so we took on the “small and non-aggressive, non-dominant cat”.
Sometimes the description on the packet is misleading.
Holly is still with us, although we only ever use that name for the vet’s paperwork. Holly has various names, as did Bitsy, and as did his amazing fluffy tail, which alone would need another thousand words. When she first arrived, Holly became known as Small Cat since she was half the size of Bitsy, and perhaps because she had clearly failed to graduate in any of her Basic Cat Skills training courses.
Bitsy, the Fluffy Master, taught her to climb trees, walk along fences, balance on the top of a fence post (although she never mastered scratching her ear at the same time), and generally fake it as a fully qualified cat. The faking it is the operative term, because Holly never quite got it right. As we used to say, anything that Big Cat can do, Small Cat can do eventually, sort of. Holly would produce something that almost looked right, even if she completely missed the point.
At every lesson, and every attempt, the words were writ clear…
No, Small One, more like this…
Yes, Oh Fluffy Master, like this?
No… no… oh, no…
Climbing trees is a prime example. When Bitsy and his late brother, Tigger, played tag they would race up and down our apple trees as if the trunks were just another piece of level ground. Holly worked up to climbing the three-metre high cypress hedge behind the house, but that was comprised of multiple trunks with regular and intertwining horizontal branches, so not so much a hedge as a living climbing frame which appeared to be uniform wall of green from the outside, rustling to the movement of the cat within.
No, Small One, come down smoothly, with grace, and flounce that tail, and…
Holly proved skilled at falling out of cypress trees, and rattling down in a controlled tumble like the ball in a pinball machine, progress marked by the quivering foliage, until she finally emerged at the bottom, where she then failed that other essential cat skill, the nonchalant air which says I meant to do that, and didn’t I do it well?
Perhaps that was when she first practised dark glares, because embarrassment can do that to a Small Cat.
Bitsy completely failed to teach her to fight, which is probably just as well, and also a testament to his amiable nature. Holly ignored Bitsy’s refusal to teach fighting, and attempted to wrestle with him on a regular basis, pitching her two-plus kilos of incompetence against his five-plus kilos of zen-like judo mastery. Holly would leap, and grab, and wrap herself around his neck. Bitsy would shrug and dump a pile of frustrated black fur on the ground.
That is probably when she also gained the moniker of Little Missy Trouble. Being the epitome of unstoppable persistence, she would leapt again, grab again, and again, and eventually Bitsy would get irritated, reach out with one big, fluffy paw and hold her head to the ground.
Enough, Small One.
Yes, Oh Fluffy Master….
Stop wriggling, Small One.
Stopped, Oh Fluffy Master.
Still wriggling, Small One. And stop squeaking.
Stopped, Oh Fluffy Master. Promise.
And then leap again…
Perhaps she first started developing those furious stares and furious squeaks when her head was held down, because that sort of embarrassment can leave a mark on even the blackest cats, and trouble the most persistent of Little Missy Troubles.
After Bitsy turned up his furry feet, Holly took over the patch, made it her own, and firmly adopted the name Squeak, largely because in keeping with her stature, she has a small voice. Loud, but small, and perhaps a little bit whiny.
Without Bitsy’s guidance, and weary but superior glance, Squeak caught a rat, brought it into the house without killing it, and then let it loose. Clearly Bitsy missed passing on the basics, or Squeak wasn’t paying attention.
Yes, Small One, play with the mice all you like, but rats get it in the neck, immediately.
But I wanna play a bit, Oh Fluffy Master.
No Small One, pay attention now, mice play good, rat play bad. And stop smacking my tail.
Yes, oh Fluffy Master, but…
Wise as he was in the Way Of The Cat, it never occurred to Bitsy to mention that with rats, don’t let the little beast at your food bowl because it will only get bigger. In Bitsy’s world, no cat brought a live rat inside.
I did finally managed to catch the rat after it had chewed a hole in the cupboard under the sink, eaten half a bag of raw potatoes, and for the main course, devoured the internal wiring of the dish-washer.
Perhaps that was when Holly-the-Squeak started upping the intensity of the dark looks. For a Squeak to be out-squeaked by a rat has to be pretty embarrassing. Especially when the Fluffy Master told her not to.
I know the whole black cat thing means that all of her looks have a certain measure of intrinsic dark to them, but Squeak does glare, and brooding, and serious scowl at the lightless end of the spectrum. Those dark looks earned her the the most recent name of Scowly-owl, and are at least something which she does well. The Scowly-owl can glower from the sofa, sulk on my chair, or crawl under a pile of blanket and leave one perfectly sour green eye radiating disapproval out into the world.
If Bitsy were still with us, I think the Scowly-owl could out-scowl him.
If she couldn’t, I dare not imagine how dark the embarrassment would make her stares.
Squeak is calling from the sofa.
Lap time is required, so again she almost learned something. Bitsy would never shout.
Pay attention, Small One, this is how you train your people to be properly attentive. Today, we practice the purr of submission…
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This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Owl, because the day after the prompt came out, Squeak gave me the scowl from my partner’s lap, and I reflexively commented on the Scowly-owl.
In a long-forgotten time, somewhere around my childhood and quite possibly the twilight of traditional tea-time, the rules were simple: tea was drunk from a cup, on a saucer, whilst vulgar mugs were for coffee and cocoa. Of course, back then, tea was also drunk with milk and sugar until I egregiously broke with tradition and stopped using sugar. I think I was about eight, or nine, so a bit of a revolutionary when I was younger.
Sacred tea-time was dealt another blow when I went to university and I stopped putting milk in my tea. That wasn’t so much revolutionary as the end of civilisation as we know it, and it stained my mother’s tea cups. At some point, when visiting my parents, my mother took to putting my tea in a mug, probably one with a dark glaze that didn’t show the tannin stains.
In spite of the demise of traditional tea-time, and those cup/mug rules, we do still have tea-cups around the house, somewhere, and I’m sure I could find one if I went looking. They hide, you see, lurking at the back or in dark corners of the cupboards, probably forming self-help groups where fine china can grumble about how much better it was in the good old days. What we definitely do have is saucers. Lots and lots of saucers, although we could do with a few more, because sauces are useful. Tea cups have been supplanted by the more aggressive mug species, but their long-suffering support act, the saucer, has found new niches in the domestic eco-system. However, the saucer is also becoming rare.
In the time between the twilight of tea-time and now, there was a decade or two where saucers were easy to come by – church jumble sales and charity shops always had stacks of random crockery, and saucers could be re-homed in significant numbers, whilst angry cabals of tea-cups grumbled in boxes out of sight, bitter that they couldn’t even claim to have been left on the shelf.
That has all changed – the jumble sale has become the car-boot sale and charity shops have gone upmarket (at least around here) and only nice crockery is to be found. Saucers are not allowed out without their cups, and even then only in matching sets offering safety in numbers and the possibility of swaggering all the way to the dishwasher.
No matter, we still have a supply, although every attempt to establish a breeding program for saucers in captivity has failed. For now, we have saucers to stand plant pots on, to put cat treats on, to test jam for setting, to… well, saucers are just useful, and we really could do with more, especially at present, when every spare saucer is needed for Oatmeal.
That’s three kilos of furry feline called Oatmeal, not the stuff for making porridge. A year ago, Oatmeal was nearer to seven kilos of fluff, but in March this year he was diagnosed with a serious bowel problem which has been managed with high doses of steroid, which he will happily take with three grams of cream, twice a day, on a saucer.
Start counting – that’s two saucers, per day.
Then there’s the cat biscuits, delivered wherever he is currently sleeping – in the house would be ideal, but Oatmeal has made it clear that outside is his preference. Currently, that is under a fuchsia bush, whilst a week or two back, he was under a fern on the edge of the lawn. Wherever he chooses, the location is highlighted by the technicolour array of our recycling bags arranged and rigged to keep the rain off him. So, add another saucer, per day, with a few slugs on the underside.
In the last month, Oatmeal has clearly been struggling and, not to put too finer point on things, he has trouble pooing. It causes him enough discomfort that he puts it off until things are truly desperate, which only makes the problem worse. Our vet has prescribed tramadol for the pain, which is a brilliant idea, but has one tiny drawback: flavour.
Prednisone in milk or cream is absolutely fine, but tramadol… no. We’ve tried tuna, sardines, Marmite (well, you never know) and all have failed, and it makes no difference what colour saucer we use. When Oatmeal doesn’t fancy his medication…
Here, puss, puss, puss, try the tasty tramadol.
Pah. Tastes like poo. Smells like poo. Here. I’ll spit it out. You try it.
Come on puss, just swallow…
Look, I can spit it out the side of my mouth too.
Here, puss, I’ve wrapped it in some tasty meat…
I can spit that down inside your shoe.
How about this. I mixed it with sardines.
A challenge… I can ignore that. I so can ignore that. See? This is me ignoring. Hah! Gotcha.
The tramadol option appeared doomed until we discovered Royal Canin Pill Assist. It’s brown, it’s squidgy, it passes the Oatmeal taste-test, and when placed on a pile of cat biscuits on a saucer of any colour, it gets picked off the top in preference to all else. Honestly, given a choice, I think he would probably just live off Pill Assist. He generally swallows them whole, but every so often, he bites into one in passing, enough to get a taste, but then it is too late, it’s already on the way down, and all he can do is give me that frozen what did you do look before clearing up the biscuits that don’t look, taste or smell like Tramadol.
We do have more than five saucers, but it does become a challenge, and then there is Piper, seven kilos of black and white cat who knows that saucers mean treats. So, add another saucer, or two, and then there’s Ginge, half his size but capable of consuming just as many treats. That saucer supply is looking shaky.
It’s just as well that saucers are washable.
So, saucers are for Tramadol and Oatmeal is a high and happy cat.
Mug of tea, anyone?
This was written in response to the #BlogBattle prompt of Tea, inspired by a lifetime of drinking tea and the trials of medicating a sick cat.
We have a surplus of cats. I know there are people out there, living in a shoe box with a hundred cats, but even so, our four -plus-three count as a surplus.
We don’t necessarily see the plus-three that often. Thug, the ginger beast from a half mile down the hill has only visited us a few times in the last couple of months (most memorably with the four-foot tall “hedgehog” incident), whilst Willow from next door can often be seen mooching around the outbuildings, or strolling across a field. From time to time, Willow can also be heard debating ownership with Ginge, and I usually leave them to settle it between themselves – there’s a great deal of yowling and staring, and I try not to get in the way.
Then there is number three, the black cat. The first time I saw him, I assumed that it was Squeak, the little black cat who rarely leaves the house these days. It was only when I tried to walk over to Squeak and “she” ran away that I worked out it wasn’t her. So, he’s bigger, and not a she, but apart from that one black cat in the distance looks much like another.
We see the black one occasionally, and normally at a distance, except for that memorable occasion when I left the back door open when I went to feed the chickens and he snuck in to hoover out the food bowls and do a little territorial marking in the kitchen. Tom-cat pee is another of those little gifts that just keeps on giving.
I think the only time I’ve actually been close to him is in the old cow shed. I walked in to fetch something, he was asleep on a shelf, and we were both very surprised when he woke up as I passed by. A startled cat can go from coma to the speed of fright in a fraction of a second. Since then, it’s been a distant glimpse, the occasional photo, and the passing wail in the night as he saunters past the house issuing the classic feline challenge to all comers. In response, all possible comers hunker down a bit, flatten their ears and mutter the feline equivalent of na-na-na-can’t-hear-you.
He is so elusive that if he weren’t a cat, you might wonder if he was real. There’s barely any more evidence for him than a few dodgy eye-witness accounts and some blurred photos. And a few seconds of video that looks exactly like Loch Ness Monster footage. Apart from the lack of water and Cornwall substituted for Scottish countryside.
I know the film is real because I took it on my camera, at dusk, at a distance of maybe fifty meters. The picture is grainy, the zoom on the phone is maxed out, and in the distance a black shape can be seen rolling around on the grass. Honestly, if you didn’t know it was a cat, it would be ripe for filing under Nuts and Conspiracy Theorists.
One day, our Loch Ness Moggy will be gone with only the most ephemeral evidence that he ever existed.
Or he’ll be sleeping on the sofa like those earlier Loch Ness Moggies, Oatmeal and Piper. At least then the photos might be in focus.
I’ve been here for hours – it’s one of the natural lies that any cat can present shamelessly, and effortlessly, even if the trail of yuck from the cat flap to current location is so fresh that hasn’t even dried enough that a spider could walk across without getting its feet wet. There’s a second expression of routine feline innocence which follows on so perfectly, particularly when that trail of yuk is still flowing and spreading – Who? Me? No.
Courtesy of Piper, we have a new spreading trail – wood shavings. In the last week or two he has established a whole new list of perfect sleeping places, one of which is in the top of the currently open bag of wood shavings in one of the sheds. It’s just the right size, the shavings can be adjusted for comfort, and no-one bothers him there, except the chickens when I open the door to get their feed out. However, that bag of shavings is still three quarters full, so Piper is out of immediate chicken reach. If only those shaving wouldn’t get caught up in his fur…
Piper has gained weight lately. On his last visit to the vet he had hit the seven kilo mark, which makes the cat-flap a very snug fit. You would think every last trace of wood shavings would be scraped off, but it just doesn’t work like that. Whatever has clung on during the walk down from the shed now treats the cat-flap as the jump master on a parachuting team, so the shavings fling themselves off in sequence throughout the kitchen.
Of course, there’s always one who gets nervous, or needs a little push. Or perhaps mistakenly thinks that the lounge ought to be the drop zone.
Piper doesn’t care. He thinks his new bed is perfect and when I mention to him the regularly maintained sprinkle of wood shavings through the kitchen, dropping in his wake, he just gives me that look of feline innocence – Who? Me?
And then, of course, he turns the question around – where’s my treats?
In the evening, Piper has taken to sleeping on my desk, and enforcing a clear-desk policy by the simple expedient of pushing everything off. Naturally, when I turn up and ask pointed questions like where have you put my mouse? Piper delivers the casual response – Mouse? What mouse? It can’t have been me. I’ve been here for hours and there was no mouse when I arrived.
A large part of sleeping on the desk is clearly to get attention. Squeak, the small black cat, stands in front of the computer screens, slaps me round the face with her tail, and squeaks. I think it means I’ve been here for hours and no-one has stroked me. It might be my food bowl is empty, or even my water bowl is empty. It’s best to check all possibilities.
Piper takes a more direct approach. He sleeps on the desk, waits for me to step in range, and reaches for my throat.
Claws out? Me? No.
Mostly he doesn’t reach quite as far as my throat, just settles his claws into my sweatshirt at chest level, heaves himself up and waits for the requisite shoulder rub. There may be an extra heave or two, if I’m missing the spot.
Claws? What claws? Left a bit.
And finally, when he’s had enough, the claws ease off, the cat sinks down, and now all I have to do is stay very still because whilst he is sleeping on the desk, I am cast in the role of head-rest.
There may now be purring. Or snoring. It can be hard to tell.
The meaning is clear.
Who? Me? Make trouble? No.
I’ve been here for hours. Sleeping.
This was written because Piper was in the way, and because of the December #BlogBattle writing prompt of Innocent.
Thug, aka The Purring Death, hasn’t been by for months, which lulled us into a false sense of security. Piper has been strolling around outside without a care and we’ve been leaving windows open. Last year I built a “box” to fit one of our casement windows, just so that it could be left open but with the only cat access through a microchip-sensing catflap. It worked well, and Ginge really appreciated the arrangement, but honestly she prefers a plain and simple open window.
A few nights back I heard a fuss, and found Piper watching the outside world through the catflap in the front door. I’m not sure how much he could see because it was dark out there, but clearly he knew something was on the prowl. I mean, if he had just turned around, he would have seen Thug, inside the house, on the window cill behind him. Fortunately for Piper, Thug has mellowed in middle-age and was more interested in hoovering out a bowl of food.
Thug is still a glorious, adorable and adoring cat, and it was very nice to see him, but that’s a sentiment not shared by any of our cats.
The truly amazing thing is that even after so many months, Thug still remembers the routine. I opened the front door, Piper chose to be elsewhere, and Thug followed me down the path, got in the van and I drove him home as he ate kitty nibbles.
We didn’t think anything more of it, until last night. Thug arrived again, and Piper was clearly aware that something was amiss. He sat on the doormat at the back door, staring out into the darkness. He does this during the day, watching the rain come down, part of the the routine which my partner referred to as looking for the door into summer. (She was quoting the title of a novel by Robert Heinlein, in turn prompted by his wife commenting on their cat checking the weather out of every door, in the search for the door into summer…) Of course there is no summer to be had, only Thug, and he was already inside. As with a few nights previous, if Piper had just turned round…
Once again, Thug was more interested in the food bowl and then obligingly followed me out for me to drive him home.
The problem, as ever, is getting him to stay home. Thug isn’t really interested in being driven home as such, because he fully subscribes to the principle that is is not arriving that matters, but the journey itself. If I walk to his owners’ house, he follows, but then he follows me back to the van. The only way to make him stay put (unless their door is open) is a pile of kitty nibbles on their doorstep to distract him long enough for me to make my escape. In winter, in the dark, it’s quite a challenging exercise following the path to their door without tripping over Thug. For extra excitement, as I shuffled carefully along, there was the farty raspberry sounds that could surely only be a hedgehog on the move. You don’t want to trip over one of those in the dark.
Then the farty raspberry repeated, right beside my elbow. Damn, but that’s a really tall hedgehog. My next, most rational instinct was to run screaming for the van and hope that I wasn’t the opening-credits victim of the newly-risen monster. A modest cardio workout is supposed to be good for you… Then I remembered the neighbours mentioning providing a retirement home to a pony. I’ve no idea what the pony actually looks like, because I’ve only ever heard it in the dark, but it’s nose is about level with my elbow and it doesn’t have a taste for kitty nibbles. That, or it’s a fiend running late for Halloween, but well-disposed towards people who drive a cat home.
Whatever. Taking Thug home certainly spiced up my evening.
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I didn’t get as far as posting this yesterday because we went to Plymouth – medical appointments, shopping, that sort of thing. The evening plan was simple. As soon as we got back, turn the oven on, put the chickens to bed, collect the eggs in the dark, heat a pizza, and relax.
Thug was on the drive when we got back, upset that no windows were open. My partner went in to turn the oven on, whilst I drove Thug home, withthe pizza still in the van.
Of course, it was early, barely dark, and I got chatting to the neighbours, got mugged for kitty nibbles by Thug’s sister, even failed to notice my phone chiming with a text Pizza come home.
Protect your plate. Shield your supper. Watch those damned chickens, like a hawk. This is the opening of the essential mantra for eating outdoors. A determined hen can do a vertical launch and have your food off the plate before you can blink. Of course, chickens aren’t the only threat and, as the summer fades and eating out becomes rarer, other meal-time predators come to dominate.
Breakfast is a challenge all year round as the small, black cat we call Squeak likes her lap-time and dances in a circle to get the best orientation whilst I hold my bowl of cereal above head height. To be fair, she’s not really after the food, but is still perfectly capable of arcing her tail over and using the tip to stir my muesli. No harm done, really, because doesn’t muesli have small black flecks anyway? And what’s a hair or two between friends? Or between my teeth?
All of the cats can be trouble when there’s food to be had, although the rarest offender is Ginge. I think perhaps we have a general understanding there – I don’t steal her mouse, she leaves my lunch alone. This works well since I really don’t fancy raw rodent and Ginge isn’t usually around at lunch time.
Unless there’s tuna. That changes everything. Or it is completely outside the scope of any understanding.
The essential summary of my existing food-boundary agreements, Squeak stirs my breakfast, the two toms Piper and Oatmeal loom close and stare hard on the understanding that when I’ve finished eating there will be something still on the plate, and Ginge has no interest unless there’s tuna, and we’ve not really explored that particular boundary very far since she’s so rarely around at meal times.
Simple. What could possibly go wrong? Even in the face of testing the limits of the tuna treaty, there’s still the tactic of holding the plate above head level.
Nothing is ever simple where cats are involved, and there’s another detail that needs to be factored in. Squeak failed her Basic Cat qualifications several times and frequently has to blag her way through simple acts of agility – yes I meant to land like that, no I didn’t just fall off, three attempts is normal for any cat. The toms are both too heavy to do anything clever – Oatmeal has the build and agility of a barrel and Piper has a distinct and growing bulge where his waist ought to be (no judgements here), so the above head height trick works. Ginge, however, is small, agile, the archetypal cat who walks along impossibly narrow branches and balances on the top of fence posts that aren’t big enough to take all four of her dainty paws at once.
When Ginge appeared out of nowhere (another cat skill) and took an interest in my tuna-related supper, I held the plate up high. In response, Ginge climbed up my chest and tried to reach, but couldn’t quite. Even so, she only needed a little more height, so perhaps climbing my beard…
No. No way. I’m not having that. Those paws might be dainty but it still tingles if she shoves her claws up my nose. I did the only thing I could think of and reached my arm out to the side, away from my face.
Idiot. That’s like a branch. The cat-equivalent of a multi-lane road that Ginge could walk along in her sleep. So, I held my arm out and up, but that made no difference. We’re still in tree-analogy territory here. Horizontal, forty-five degrees, what’s the difference? In the Ginge world, trees have branches and trunks, and she treats them as interchangeable. Yes, those slightly vertical ones might need a bit of extra claw, but what’s all the fuss about? Just walk, because that’s what those paws are meant for, as well as sending small rodents to meet their maker (some reassembly required). Up, down, underneath, it’s all the same, just one paw in front of the other… wait one whilst I scratch my ear…
The only thing that saved my supper was my sleeve, slipping and sliding on my arm and making for a very uncertain grip. Ginge didn’t actually give up and I think she would have continued exploring the possibilities until my arm got too tired. Eventually I had to accept that it was a no-win hostage situation. Either I gave her some of the tuna or neither of us got to eat.
So remember the mantra. Protect your plate. Shield your supper. Watch those damned chickens, like a hawk. Beware of the cat. Beware of the other cat… And finally accept that sometimes, no matter what you do, the enemy gets past every defence, so just pay the ransom and get on with supper.
Or get longer arms.
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This was written for the September 2019 #BlogBattle prompt of Shield.
writing science-fiction and fantasy since tomorrow