A Clowder of Cats

> ArchieBalooBethBettyBusterBuzzCharlieDucEmmyJaydeeJessKyiaMoggyMugleOscarPennyPoppyPlumRomeoRubySmokeyWilson

> Archie

A cat called Archie.

Some years ago Archie took to settling in our garden as and when it suited him. Unfortunately, he refused to be friendly while at the same time keeping more sociable felines at bay. This ended in a most unpleasant altercation with Ruby, after which I had to keep him out.

When we happen to meet over by the garages and I try to be friendly, more often than not he will grumble or hiss at me. Once or twice I’ve tried grumbling and hissing back, but he takes little notice and I have become aware that this might possibly look odd to anyone watching, especially if they can only see me while he keeps a low profile.

Cat: Archie.

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> Baloo

Usually seen in the company of the more outgoing Buster, this rather timid individual prefers not to approach too closely. He was rescued from a field as a kitten in need of urgent veterinary attention.

A cat named Baloo.

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> Beth

A cat called Beth.Beth was the first cat I ever properly noticed since moving to our current address more than 20 years ago. She became a regular visitor next-door and sometimes used to find her way into our garden when Deborah and I were sitting outside on a summer’s night. While we would idly watch the sky for passing aircraft, satellites or the occasional shooting star, she would come to sit beneath our chairs but I made little attempt to touch her.

A long time passed before we eventually let her in. Her idea of becoming friendly seem to be kneading my flesh, not entirely without the use of claws. I let her do this for some time, eventually realizing that I had a thoroughly scratched, and in places quite bloodied, arm. The following day my neighbour eyed me like one suspecting that I might have actually been attempting to drown a cat.

All this effort was undone for the newly arrived Penny took to following Beth into our garden. Naively, I thought at first that this was a good thing – it wasn’t. In fact it was so bad that I have long since held the view that any young man who thinks he can have a quiet life with two girlfriends would do well to have a trial run with feline visitors. Beth stormed off, laying the blame squarely upon my shoulders. Unfortunately for her, this was in days before Ruby offered her invaluable instruction. After that, neither Beth nor I could properly come to terms with one another, for we each carried too much psychological baggage from our respective pasts.

Cat: Beth.

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> Betty

A cat called Betty.Betty was always very timid, so I felt it to be a great achievement when I finally managed to stroke her. She would often approach only to flee at the slightest disturbance, such as a car turning at the far end of the road.

I have never been able to fathom the logic, but Betty always managed to look larger when perched on her distant shed roof than she did when close by.

Cat: Betty.

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> Buster

Cat: Buster.

Buster appeared in 2017 and originally had no problem in making himself at home.

Named (like his companion Baloo) after a cartoon character, his full title is Mr Buster Moon. He had taken to visiting quite regularly and on such occasions I liked to think of him as the One Kilowatt Cat, in recognition of the fuel saving I was able to make when he went to sleep on my lap.

Unfortunately this was all spoilt by Oscar, who  appointed himself as the new neighbourhood bully. One day he chased Buster away from our door and out of our garden in no uncertain terms before (by the sound of it) giving him a right pasting somewhere beyond the garages.

For four months Buster was still keen to approach for attention and even continued to follow me, but only until I got near our property. At this point he would begin to rumble and hiss before beating a hasty retreat.

However, it would now seem that Oscar has begun to work the night shift, allowing Buster to secure visiting rights once more.

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> Buzz

A cat called Buzz.

One summer a few years ago Buzz used to appear regularly when I took a night-time walk along the public footpath down by the local stream. He was always very friendly, but I’ve no idea where he lived.

Cat: Buzz.

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> Charlie

Charlie the cat climbing a fence.Charlie occasionally found his way into our garden before age forced him to give up scaling obstacles. The photo on the right makes me want to believe he was a chameleon cat who possessed the ability to blend in with whatever fence he happened to be climbing.

Cat: Charlie.

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> Duc

A cat called Duc (as in 'Ducati').Duc (whose original owner had a interest in motorcycles – hence ‘Ducati’) arrived here already aged 13, having been a resident of Bristol, not very far from where I myself once lived in the mid 1970s. He began visiting our garden almost at once and would often come in to settle down for a while. On one occasion, after leaving the chiminea unattended for a brief moment, I returned to find our small strawberry patch on fire and Duc keenly observing the flames with a distinct air of innocence.

He later became the only neighbourhood cat I have officially looked after, going in to feed him while his owners were away. He quickly developed a habit of watching rather intently as I wrestled with unfamiliar utensils such as their modern state-of-the-art tin opener. I took to leaving his owners a daily account of what had been going on, which they apparently enjoyed reading so much that they began to go away with increased frequency.

His advancing years necessitated the introduction of a litter tray, which inevitably led him into taking full advantage of my efforts. Crunching my way across the greatest accumulation of white granules that I had encountered since being taken to Santa’s Grotto in 1954, I duly sorted things out, determined to leave his tray with a surface as smooth and pristine as untrodden snow.  Two minutes into re-stocking his food dish, I was alerted by the sound of determined scraping. Despite using the litter tray in the prescribed manner, he had then proceeded to scrabble everything back out over the edge. Duc was missing the point and I was missing my breakfast, but there can be no doubt that he was always worth the effort.

Cat: Duc.

Clockwise from top left: Finding water every bit as interesting as fire. Putting me through my paces as a lion tamer. Disgruntled at not being allowed to discover what’s cooking. Sleeping a round. Demonstrating how, like the value of investments, cats can go down as well as up. Looking decidedly unimpressed at my lack of lion taming skills.

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> Emmy

A cat called Emmy.From the same house as Wilson and a close neighbour of Kyia, I only ever met Emmy properly once, happening to come across her in our own immediate area on just one other occasion.

Cat: Emmy.

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> Jaydee

A cat called Jaydee.

The only cat I have ever seen with a truly vertical and bushed-out tail, Jaydee could see off most other cats without hesitation but was not keen on people. Although he would never actually run away, he always moved off if I approached too closely.

Cat: Jaydee.

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> Jess

A kitten called Jess.Jess moved in nearby as a very young kitten. Almost as soon as she began to climb fences she started to appear regularly in our garden. It seemed she was always around day and night, often making me jump by unexpectedly looming out of the darkness. She dashed about with boundless energy, exploring everything and giving me lots of photo opportunities. Jess was very friendly but rarely remained still for long. She was only around for a short time, after which she moved out with her owner who was a member of a rock band.

Cat: Jess.

Clockwise from top left: Hurriedly checking the thyme. Spot the Ball. Shadow boxing. Live wire.

Cat: Jess.

Cat: Jess.

From top: Monarch of all she surveys. Have you seen the state of this pointing? Eek, a spider! Gate-crasher. Forward momentum becomes critical.

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> Kyia

A cat called Kyia (pronounced 'Ki-yah')Kyia (pronounced ‘Ki-yah’) was not inclined to loiter on the off chance of an encounter. I always had the feeling she would have expected one to make an appointment.

I see myself as a young child accompanying Grandma to the local Post Office. In the queue she encounters another lady with whom she is vaguely acquainted and who displays a somewhat disapproving air. I could never look at Kyia in her natural pose without thinking of this imaginary individual.

Cat: Kyia.

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> Moggy

A black cat called Moggy.One day Moggy moved herself in to a neighbouring house. Despite the efforts of her newly adopted owners, they were unable to discover her former whereabouts.

Such was her preference for settling on the roof of a conservatory or garage that to all intents and purposes she became part of the view. This elevated location together with her black fur and dark yellow eyes made her a difficult subject to photograph.

I didn’t encounter Moggy very often and assume that most of her ground level forays were conducted on the far side of her dwelling.

When I did see her she would usually approach repeatedly for a brief stroke each time, rather than settle for more prolonged attention.

Moggy obviously took guarding her home territory against interlopers very seriously. Once, after her owners had gone out leaving the back gate open, I watched another cat beginning to make tentative investigations. Moggy disappeared from view, but instead of the expected scuffle, the gate was slammed shut with a most intimidating crash. The intruder fled and soon afterwards Moggy returned to her resting place with a distinct air of job satisfaction.

Cat: Moggy.

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> Mugle

A Bengal cat called Mugle.Reportedly the terror of other cats and even toddlers, I met Mugle for the first time when our up-and-over garage door began moving of its own accord. I looked round to see him calmly riding it like a descending elevator, before hopping off at the ground floor. He seemed friendly enough but was possessed of unsettlingly large claws.

Cat: Mugle.

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> Oscar

Cat: Oscar.

Oscar has been around since 2016 but despite my efforts to be friendly always seemed to prefer to keep himself to himself.

He would never come very close until he took it into his head to see off Buster. My very presence had always been enough to deter him, so I was taken completely by surprise the morning he jumped down into our garden and shot past me to attack his chosen target.

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> Penny

A black cat called Penny.Penny did not wait to be introduced but marched straight past me and into the house the very first time I saw her. She was wonderfully friendly and loved being combed, but once settled hated to be moved. She would quite often hiss and swear at me when it was time to get on.

On one occasion she insisted upon eating something against my better judgement. Finally coming round to my point of view, she promptly returned it a minute or two later, by which time it was no longer any good to me and not really that much good to the carpet.

Young and lightning quick, she could evade me if she decided she didn’t want to be put out and the longer the evasion the greater the risk of breakages. Penny even tried sleeping on my pillow but either got bored or else snored. Either scenario would end up with me back out of bed.

I’m afraid I had psychological difficulties with Penny. She had effectively ousted Beth, but because she was only staying in the neighbourhood as an interim measure of unspecified duration, each visit was potentially her last. This was not a happy situation.

Inevitably one day she vanished, although I was at least able to establish that her disappearance was only due to her long anticipated return home.

Cat: Penny.

Cheese and lettuce

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> Poppy

A ginger and white kitten called Poppy.An ex-farm cat who is quite far-ranging for a female. When she was young, Poppy would occasionally appear on our fence late at night. She was very self-assured and, unlike certain other cats, could handle Archie with no problem, smacking him across the face with her paw if she saw fit.

Although quite friendly, Poppy would begin to rumble if picked up. This, together with once hearing she was particularly good at climbing curtains, meant I was never keen to let her get inside. It would seem she could do a remarkably good impression of a skittle, as illustrated below.

Cat: Poppy.

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> Plum

A cat called Plum.Plum was not a close neighbour and I only ever encountered him when on my way to or from town.

He was very friendly and had a most distinctive greeting mew. It would put me in mind of the whistle of a distant locomotive crossing the Prairie, as pictured in a Western.

Plum would often jump onto the low wall which ran behind the footway for a few yards outside his house, but thankfully he would never attempt to follow me beyond its end.

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> Romeo

A cat called Romeo.Owned by one household but choosing to live primarily in another, Romeo crossed my path on a number of occasions while he moved back and forth between homes. Like a top-flight footballer, this no doubt costly pedigree was probably in the midst of negotiating his own slice of any transfer fee which happened to be in the offing.

I’m sorry to say that with Romeo I broke my own rule about not picking up a cat unless we are very well acquainted. I had it on what I thought was good authority that he was a ‘rag doll’ cat. I’d always wanted to know what it was like to feel a feline go floppy and, as a result, was overcome by temptation one day when he was inspecting my feet.

I don’t exactly know what he went, but floppy it most certainly was not. With the onset of sharp pains inflicted by needle-like claws, all thoughts of rag were immediately replaced by thoughts of voodoo. I did not then know he had an alter ego, which would only later be captured on camera. Perhaps such a change should be labelled  “transmoggiefication”.

Cat: Romeo.

Romeo plays the starring role in The Beast of Durston Way

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> Ruby

A Maine Coon cat called Ruby.Looking out of the window one morning I saw an unfamiliar type of cat, with what I thought to be lynx-like ears. I later learned she was a Maine Coon, although rather on the small size for her breed. After that I saw Ruby in the vicinity many times but was given to understand she was very much a loner who preferred to keep away from other cats and also tended to be wary of most people.

Several days later I was sitting outside the back door when to my surprise Ruby appeared on our fence, jumped down and approached me. She was clearly nervous, noticeably reacting to any sudden noise or movement. She allowed me to stroke her fleetingly but, at the sound of footsteps on the gravel path outside, darted off in panic. She hurdled the five foot fence, barely brushing the top, and was gone. At that moment I didn’t think I would see her in our garden again, but I was wrong.

Ruby changed my whole attitude to cats. Before her, at least during my adult life, they were of mild interest at best but could easily become a source of irritation. I liked them well enough in principle but seriously misunderstood them. I failed to appreciate their propensity for distraction, misinterpreted their natural wariness and knew nothing of their inability to comprehend any form of valediction.

Ruby taught me that cats are not people and have a different set of values. With a single look she could convey more meaning than that contained in many words. To dwell further on this aspect I should probably need to lie on a couch and discuss things long past, so let it suffice to say that I shall always be very grateful to Ruby for helping me in this regard.

The only time we disagree is if it gets late and I am forced to take her home, for Ruby is a cat who stays in at night. When this happens I always carry her to her back gate rather than turn her out into the growing darkness. Upon arrival she will climb onto her garage roof and if I then reach up she will bat at my hand and snap at my fingers as if admonition for my unwelcome deed, but, needless to say, she never uses her claws or closes her teeth.

Cat: Ruby.

This is one of the earliest photos I took of Ruby and by sheer luck it turned out to be one of the best!

Cat: Ruby.

Cat: Ruby.

Cat: Ruby.

Cat: Ruby.

When a cat has you by the foot never allow your toes to show off their mouse-impersonation skills……..Ouch!

Cat: Ruby.

After a touch of water sport for the benefit of the camera, Ruby ensures any less than flattering footage hits the cutting-room floor

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> Smokey

A cat called Smokey.From the same house as Plum, Smokey was huge. I once saw him sitting on top of a narrow ornamental fence and was totally mystified as to how he stayed balanced in apparent comfort. I stood conducting my deliberations slightly away from the fence for fear he should bring the whole panel crashing down at any second.

He was extremely friendly, repeatedly lifting himself almost to waist height as if hoping for me to pick him up. I should loved to have tried, just to see if it were possible without straining anything.

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> Wilson

A one-eyed cat called Wilson.

I only met Wilson on one occasion, the day we were introduced to him and Emmy, when we made a planned visit nearby to take some pictures of Kyia for her owner. I don’t know how he came to lose an eye.

Cat: Wilson.

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Cat: Unknown!and finally…

I have little knowledge about pedigree cats but this fellow strikes me as looking very expensive!

He lives quite some distance away and encounters have been rare, so I’ve no idea who he is.

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Cat Nap

You dream that you are lying in bed, your left side uppermost and your head beneath the cover. It is not quite your bed and it is not quite your room, but it is close enough. There is a sound coming through the wall apparently from the house next-door, giving the impression of a radio turned up too loud. This is unusual, for your neighbour is generally very quiet.

You try to identify exactly what it is you can hear. It is not speech, nor singing, nor music, yet it is somehow possessed of a muffled melody. The origin of the sound appears to be moving, as if the radio, or whatever device it may be, were being carried from one part of the adjacent house to another.

All at once the volume increases to a level which is both annoying and puzzling, for this suggests that the source of the disturbance has been brought into your own room, which surely cannot be.

Yet now there is a new cause for concern. Something presses through the raised bedclothes against your side. The first single point of contact is swiftly followed by another and then a third. It is as though a cat were tentatively exploring the bedspread in search of a place to settle. Its tread, while in no way aggressive, is none the less persistent. The gentle points of pressure are slowly working their way up towards your shoulder. You hear a different sound, more than a breath but less than a purr, like that of a feline which has not quite found the contentment which it so earnestly anticipates.

But now your brain is sending an alarm that all is far from well. Unable to see from beneath the covering blanket, you grow increasingly confused and afraid.

You call out, “Who is it? Who is this?” and are woken by the very real sound of your own voice, gruesomely distorted by the sleep-induced tension of your throat muscles.

You stare into the darkness, the position of your body identical to that perceived in your dream. There is no music, no singing, no talking. Your neighbour cannot walk through walls.

There is neither breathing nor purring. Everywhere is silent and you are quite alone. Yet the impression of paw prints does not immediately likewise vanish, but rather fades slowly, finally dissipating into a shiver that runs the length of your body, like the last remaining dampness of night-time dew evaporating in the morning sun.

The bedroom door is firmly shut and you do not have a cat.

March 2016

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