I’ve had three cats during my life, but not in childhood. My father had a particular loathing for cats, and he dinned into me that this was an inherited trait, and (unless I am imagining it), he even had a catapult which he alleged my great-grandfather had carried, to torture any passing cats. My grandfather was supposed to have filled his pockets with stones and lobbed them at cats. My father was not a cat-man. He liked dogs. So he gave me a dog.
It followed that one of my first acts of independence at the age of 21 was to get a cat, which I called (I’m a bit of a softie) Ribena. It was not very bright of me to get a cat when I had a top floor flat, and when the road outside was busy. The cat didn’t lead a charmed life. It had one life, and it was a short, and probably not an overly interesting one.
In 1979, following the two-cat theory (they occupy each other – rubbish, of course), I got two cats, and, about the same time, got married and moved into my first house. There were lots of cats in the neighbourhood, and lots of pedestrian areas, so there was no problem with their being run over, nor with – the reason why, living in the country, I have no cat – lugging other wild life into the house. But there was a problem with a bully.
The bully was a very large male tabby, and he did the same thing each day. At about 6.30 a.m., he came through the cat-flap, and chased our two cats upstairs to the door of the bedroom (on the top floor), where he duffed them both up. Much yowling therefore at that time of the morning.
I hadn’t admired Heath Robinson for nothing. I rigged up a long string which went from my side of the bed, through the top window, down to the outside of the kitchen window, and – I hope you’re following – through that to the inner door between the kitchen and the cat-flap. In theory, this meant that I could shut the bully in my tugging on the string. I am afraid I had not thought ahead any further than this.
At half-past six two mornings later, there was the usual scuffle and kerfuffle outside the bedroom door. I tugged the string. To my utter amazement, I heard the inner door downstairs click shut. I had trapped the bully in the house. At this point, I realised that my forward planning was inadequate, but realised it only dimly. I jumped up – naked, which was taking a risk – and, pausing only to acknowledge the look of intense gratitude in the eyes of my two shivering cats, I went down very quickly to the kitchen. There, by a small bin, trying to make itself look invisible, was the bully. I affected nonchalance, and moved to the sink (at this point the bully could have savaged me very badly, and I would have neither a son nor a daughter). There I stealthily turned on the taps, and filled a washing-up bowl. And then, with an incompetent and sudden movement, I seized the bowl and drenched the bully, and, of course, myself.
But I hadn’t opened the inner door, so the bully, soaked, made a dash in the only direction it could – back up the stairs, where my cats were presumably awoken from their dream of peace by the understanding that their owner was an idiot. At the top, the bully met my wife, who said Boo, or probably something stronger, at which point, by now travelling at some speed, it reversed and shot back down the stairs, By this time, I had opened the way to the cat-flap, and it hurled itself through.
It never came back. But, rather damply, I realised that my victory could easily have been a disaster. Probably the same feeling Julius Caesar had when he wasted the Germanic tribes.