My first pet was a grey tabby cat named Tiddles. He walked out of the bush across the road from our house when I was a baby and took up residence.
Note the no hands touching pose, I gather it had been necessary to forbid me to lay hands on the poor beast, probably more for his protection than mine.
When we came back from living in the US for a few months, when I was 10 years old, we were greeted at the airport with the news that Tiddles had died while we were away, not the most wonderful homecoming ever. Once we were settled back home we made the trip to a cat shelter and were chosen by a lovely red and white tabby. He was named by committee and ended up with Jonathon Aragorn as per the cat naming guidelines set out by T.S. Elliot. (The Aragorn bit was my contribution.)
There was a brief interlude of mouse ownership at about the time that photo was taken. One white mouse named Trillian and one black mouse named Mrs Frisby. One day when I was cleaning out the mouse cage on that very table you see Johnathon sitting on I was startled by the sudden appearance of said cat under my feet (I had thought him safely inside). I was holding Mrs Frisby at the time and in a moment of distraction I’m ashamed to say I dropped her. Right in front of the cat. He pounced and bolted out of the pergola and over the back wall. Consumed by remorse I finished cleaning the cage, put Trillian back all by herself and retreated to my bedroom. A good half-hour had passed since the dropping incident when I heard the distinctive muffled “merrroowwwwwwfff” of a cat announcing his hunting prowess “Look what I’ve got in my mouth!” There on the front lawn, crouched between Jonathon’s paws, was a slightly damp but completely unscathed Mrs Frisby. Back in the cage she went to eventually outlive Trillian.
When Adam showed up in my life Jonathon took on the role of chaperone. He did not like us getting too close together and would jump up and try to insinuate himself in between us, sometimes with the aid of claws. I used to call him my knight in furry armour. I can’t remember what year it was he died but I do very much remember going to visit Mum and Dad’s place when Jonathon was getting very ill and frail. I lay down beside him on the floor and he made a huge effort to stand up and come and rub faces with me. He died on my brother’s birthday.
Not long after we married and were living in a rented unit in North Ryde, friends of ours rented a unit in a block just down the street from ours. I went to say hello on the day they got the keys and as we stood in their doorway a fuzzy streak of red and white bolted past our feet and straight into their kitchen. The fly screen on their kitchen window was claw-shredded so we surmised that the cat had been abandoned by the previous tennants. My friends were not fond of cats so I picked him up and carried him outside before walking back to my own place. He followed me up the street, up the steps to the stairwell door, inside the block, up the stairs to our front door, inside to our lounge room and settled himself on one of the armchairs. We weren’t supposed to have a cat, but the upstairs neighbour had 2 and our real estate agent never bothered to do inspections so he stayed. No one seemed to mind. I named him James Fëanor.
James took great delight in bringing live prey (mostly mice and, on one occasion, a rat) into the house and letting it go for the amusement value of watching us chase it. He would sit in the middle of the lounge room with an air of perfect innocence as we dragged furniture around and frantically blocked access to the back of bookshelves and the like. He also had a habit of turning into a vicious fiend after about 10:00pm. He would lurk by the hallway to the bedroom and leap out, wrapping himself, all teeth and claws, around your ankles as you headed to bed. It was much less funny in summer than in winter. We would bribe each other to be first down the hall at bedtime. We dubbed this game “tiger and peasant”, there was another version which we called “lion and wilderbeest” in which you could see him coming, on one memorable occasion I wasn’t quick enough getting away and he jumped up and bit me on the bum.
When David was little and raised the classic “I’m scared of the monster under my bed” protest at bedtime, I told him so he should be! After all, it had fur and claws and a habit of attacking ankles. On the other hand, you could be pretty sure there wasn’t anything else under the bed with James on duty.
In July 2004 James was diagnosed with bone cancer in the jaw, he would have been about 10 or 11 years old. Caitlin came with me when we took him to the vet for the last time. I still sometimes look out the window at his favourite spot in the garden and see him curled up there in my mind’s eye.
A week after we’d had to say goodbye to James we were at the local charcoal chicken takeaway and bumped into the real estate agent who had sold us our house. Pleasantries were exchanged and she asked half-joking if we knew anyone who wanted a kitten. “Yes,” said I “in fact I want two.” Her cat had given birth to seven kittens that morning. We went the next day to see them and choose two. I held Jack and Sam together in the palm of one hand. Their mum ended up at the vet and almost died and the kittens had to be hand reared, we brought them home at 8 weeks old. Jack and Sam were the first kittens I’d owned.
They don’t snuggle like that anymore, instead they fight. Loudly. In the wee small hours of the morning. Sometimes under our bed. But at dinner time if Jack is inside and Samantha is outside he will stand at the front door insisting that you open it and find her. They greet each other with every sign of affection…for about 15 seconds. Then the hissing and paw-swiping starts again.
Last but by no means least came Clara, a staffy/mastiff cross according to her papers. The cats were not amused. Samantha is still not amused but Jack and Clara have become quite, well, let’s say tolerant of each other. She doesn’t mind when he grooms her ears and he puts up with her bouncing at him and trying to get him to play. Clara’s introductory story is already written here and she features regularly in posts and in my tweets/facebook statuses, as she did last night when I left the cheese platter unattended on the coffee table for just a little too long while I cleaned up in the kitchen. Nearly a whole wedge of King Island Smoked Cheddar had completely disappeared and she was about to start on a big piece of King Island Discovery Ash Blue when I came back into the room.
We also have 3 fishtanks and a hermit crab but I don’t really have any interesting stories to tell about them. Plus it’s late and I want to go to bed!