Fourteenth Day of Advent: Henry Cat

I had wanted a pet ever since our dog died when I was about nine, but first parents and then husband weren’t keen. The mouse infestation proved the incentive husband needed to change his mind, and just over two years ago we adopted kittens, Henry and Percy. kittens1

From the start they were very different characters. Percy was an escape artist – as a tiny kitten, before he had had his vaccinations and was allowed outside, he managed to climb out of the bathroom window which I had left open a fraction, and scramble down the drain pipe. As soon as he was allowed out he would spend most of the day away from home, hunting and exploring. Then maybe two or three days at a time. Then he would only come home if it was raining. And for the last few months he hasn’t been home at all. I assume he is getting fed elsewhere, or has just adopted a totally feral lifestyle. We’ve done all the usual things to try and trace him, and he is microchipped, but to no avail. I just don’t think he was suited to a domestic cat lifestyle.

henry 1His brother Henry, by contrast, seems to think he is a dog. Certainly no-one has ever told him that cats are supposed to be independent. He is the most home-loving cat you can imagine. He isn’t supposed to go in the bedrooms as husband is slightly allergic to cats, and so I don’t want fur all over the beds. One evening when I was out, husband had gone into the bedroom and started ironing shirts. Henry miaowed outside the door for a while, cross at being left alone, but then subsided. A few minutes later he felt claws on his shoulder and a satisfied purring in his ear. Henry had gone downstairs, out of the catflap at the back, climbed over the wall and then up the drain pipe and in at the open bedroom window because he really didn’t like being left on his own.

If we go out at a time he wasn’t expecting we always come home to find him sitting in the hall waiting for us. henry 2

He is incredibly gentle and loving with Sophia, for which I am extremely grateful, and submits to all sorts of affectionately meant abuse. In fact he seems to welcome it, because he is well able to climb out of her way but rarely chooses too.

He tolerates his veterinary-approved, eye-wateringly expensive dry cat food, but his true love is Whiskas Chunks in Jelly. Opening a pouch of that brings him at a sprint from any corner of the house. He turns his little nose up at fresh chicken, salmon or sardines. He’s not even that partial t milk or cream. But Whiskas is his opium. He really should be on a TV advert for it.

He is satisfyingly cuddly, sometimes overly affectionate if I am trying to type or eat, and he is equally determined that all my attention should be firmly on him. If I have Anna on my knee for a story he will try and insinuate himself between us. He does henry 3relaxed and somnolent like you wouldn’t believe, and just watching him sleep can relax me.

The kittens came to live with us just after Anna started school, and the timing was incredibly fortuitous. At that point I’d had several miscarriages, and then had some tests which seemed to show it was unlikely I would ever be able to carry a healthy baby to term. My deep longing for a second baby seemed doomed to remain unfulfilled, and the house suddenly very empty with Anna out of it for six hours each day. The kittens, especially Henry, brought some life and warmth and cuddles when I most needed them, and they needed me which washenry4 hugely helpful.

I am a little sad that Percy has chosen not to live with us, but trying to make a fireside cat out of him always felt slightly like trying to keep a robin in a cage. But Henry is the most loved and loving of domestic cats, and I am so happy we have him.

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A romantic evening

I may have mentioned a while ago that I was lucky enough to have Two for Joy shortlisted for the RNA Contemporary Romantic Novel of the Year Award. Monday just gone was the big night where we discovered who had won in each category (Contemporary, Historical, Comedy, Young Adult and Epic), and who had won the overall Romantic Novel of the Year Award.

This meant a big glitzy award ceremony in Central London, of the kind I’ve never been to before. Just planning what to wear was exciting – I don’t have many chances to dress up like that. In the end I settled on a black silk dress which I’ve had for years. It’s slightly fifties style with a very full circular skirt, the top layer of which is sheer, floaty tulle. I felt pretty sure that I’ve read numerous magazine articles over the years assuring me that you can’t go wrong with an LBD. I also have a narrow, emerald green belt which looked good with it, and I successfully (miraculously) bid for a  pair of patent leather high heels on Ebay in the exact matching shade of green. My final bargain was a £3 necklace, from the BHS sale of all places, a Y shaped one with delicate pale green crystal flowers and leaves which looked perfect in the deep v-neck of the dress.

One of the casualties of my post-child life is time to get ready. I remember as a teenager that the getting ready was the best bit of a night out. My group of friends would all get together, usually at Julie’s house, and we’d do each other’s make-up and borrow each other’s clothes while singing along to the radio and gossiping about who might pull who. It’s been a while since I did that, but until Anna was born I used to enjoy a long soak in the bath, carefully blow-drying my hair, painting my nails, experimenting with make-up before I went out. Now, not only do I not go out that often, but when I do I normally have to get ready in about ten minutes flat while simultaneously reading Anna her bedtime story and feeding the cats.

I was determined that this time it would be different. The event started at 6pm, and I’d arranged for my friend (thank you Haf!) to pick Anna up from school and give her tea. I’d booked an appointment for 3pm to have my hair blow dried, and then I could spend an hour or so pampering and preening and trying out my new Benefits make-up. Ha ha ha.

The day didn’t start particularly well when I came home after the school run and supermarket shop to find Percy (the black catten) playing with a dead mouse in the hall. I’m not unaccustomed to dead mouse disposal, but am a little out of practice, and Percy wasn’t particularly keen to relinquish his new toy. Playing tug of war with a dead mouse is pretty grim. And then afterwards I noticed that our mail on the doormat was rather bloodstained. I picked it up gingerly and contemplated throwing it straight out, but then noticed one of the items was a new cheque book, so that had to be de-enveloped and disinfected. I then felt rather unsettled because I wasn’t sure whether this had been a visitor mouse, an outdoor mouse or, most disconcerting possibility, a resident mouse. I had to go on mouse patrol, Dettol spray in hand, checking for ‘signs’ as the disposal people euphemistically call them. They mean droppings. When they say have you noticed any signs, they mean check behind your fridge and along the worktops for mouse poo. Thankfully there were no ‘signs’ on Monday, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this was a one-off mouse, and that his fate will filter down the mouse rumour mill to deter others. In medieval times traitors’ severed heads were stuck on spikes over the gate into the town as a dire warning. Maybe that’s what I should have done with our dead mouse…

Anyway, after this I wasn’t feeling particularly glamorous, so I decided to go for a walk and have lunch in a cafe to try and recover my equilibrium. It was while checking my emails that I saw the one from my publicist checking that I was ok to be at the venue for 4.30pm for photos and interviews before the main event. Arrgghh! Given that, a) This was the first I’d heard of a 4.30pm start, b) It was now 2.30pm and I was in jeans and a possibly-mouse-bloodstained-tshirt with unwashed hair and no make up, and c) It would take me an hour to get to the venue, I could say with a fair amount of confidence that a 4.30pm arrival was not going to be ok.

Feeling rather stressed I quickly got in touch with the event organisers and explained there’d obviously been a mix up, and managed to get my deadline moved to 5.15pm. I then raced home and got ready in the twenty minutes I had to spare before my hair appointment. I then painted my nails while my hair was dried, and booked a taxi to take me straight from the hairdressers to the station. And made it just on (the revised) time.

I’d been so stressed by the time problem that at least I’d forgotten to be nervous, which is probably just as well. Suddenly I was plunged into a very glitzy, chandelier bedecked room, with views over the river and the London Eye, and uncomfortably aware that I knew no-one. Within seconds I was having my photo taken with the other shortlistees, including Lisa Jewell, who is one of my alltime favourite authors. Afterwards I got chatting to her, and Jenny Colgan (as you do) and was completely charmed by how lovely, and nice and normal they were. And how patient they were with my starstruck babbling. Over the course of the evening I also chatted to Veronica Henry, Chris Manby, Katie Fforde and lots of other lovely and talented writers. And drank quite a few glasses of bubbly.

I didn’t win the award. Veronica Henry won both my category and the overall award with the fabulous A Night on the Orient Express. I’m thrilled that a book I really love won, and, cliche though it may be, just felt so honoured to have been there, to have been shortlisted, to be a part of it all. And in one of the best bits of the evening, I discovered that if you want to turn a roomful of (mainly) female authors who are (mainly) over thirty into what seems like a group of ten year old girls at a One Direction concert, then you need to give Helen Fielding a lifetime achievement award and let her make a speech. She’s just as funny as you would expect, and hearing her talk really was the icing on the cake of an amazing evening for me.

Having kittens

Regular readers will know all about my mouse problem. It’s now over a year since they made their presence felt, and during that time we’ve tried traps, poison, blocking up all holes, nooks and crannies, and electronic bleepy things which emit a high-pitched bleep audible to rodents but not humans and which is meant to deter them. It doesn’t. We obviously have deaf mice, as opposed to the traditional blind ones. Actually, come to think of it, cutting off their tails with a carving knife is one strategy I haven’t yet tried.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that, sick of endless scuttling and sinister black specks on the kitchen worktops, we finally came to the decision to get a cat. It was the subject of much debate – I was more enthusiastic than my husband, but worried that the feline presence would scare off my highly-allergic-to-cats-sister-in-law, as well as the bloomin’ rodents. However, we reached our decision, and then serendipitously, a mere 48 hours later, a friend I did antenatal classes with but haven’t seen for a while, posted on Facebook that she had taken in a stray cat which had promptly given birth to four kittens, and she was looking for homes for them.

It seemed like it was all meant to be, and so, come September, we will be proud owners of two brand new kittens. In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say.

Anna and I went to see them yesterday. They’re a week old, and so haven’t even opened their eyes yet, and are just adorable little bundles of fluff, wriggling around, and almost permanently latched on to their mother. Two of them are black, and two tabby, and we’ve decided to have one of each (maximising the chances of telling them apart). We can’t even work out what sex they are at this point, so thinking of names is a bit tricky, but I daresay will provide hours of fun over the summer. Anna is beside herself with excitement, and wanted to tell everyone we met that we were getting kittens. And then had imaginary phone conversations with the entire cast of Peppa Pig and The Octonauts to let them know her big news as well.

Fortuitously, the kittens should be ready to leave their mother when they’re about eight or nine weeks old, which coincides exactly with Anna starting school, so I’m hoping that an additional benefit will be that they ease the trauma of my baby being grown up enough to start school, and give me a project to focus on in case I get withdrawal symptoms from having a small dependent creature to feed and clean up after and cuddle.

And my sister-in-law, thankfully, has promised she won’t eschew us completely, but warned that I might have to do some extra hoovering prior to her visits in future.

A Mouse in the House

Free Cartoon Mouse Clipart IllustrationWe moved house in June, and within a few weeks I spotted our first mouse in the house. And then the second, third, fourth etc. To be fair, I’m no expert in distinguishing between them, so at first I was optimistic it was just one very active mouse.

I did some internet research and found out that mice are unhygienic horrors. I panicked. I Dettoled the floor, the work surfaces, behind and under appliances, put all our crockery and cutlery through a hot dishwasher cycle, and would give husband and daughter a quick swipe with an antibacterial wipe if they stood still long enough. I then repeated this routine every morning, but still felt grubby and beleaguered.

A quick message round to a local parents email group I’m part of revealed that we were far from alone in our rodent induced woe. Unfortunately, my innocent question as to how we rid us of these turbulent beasts didn’t receive any particularly encouraging responses. It seemed to boil down to ‘you can’t, unless you get a cat’.

At this point we had no intention of getting a cat, so I decided some mouse traps were the next best thing. I did feel very morally dubious about them – I’m an ex-vegetarian, and typical wussy city dweller. I eat meat (free range and organic, natch), but believe me, if I had to kill it myself, I’d go veggie again quicker than you could say lentil bake. On the plus side though, my research had led me to the conclusion that chocolate spread was the most efficient bate, and as you only need a tiny bit on the mouse trap, it would have been downright wasteful not to use the rest…breakfast times were greatly cheered for a couple of weeks.

And so we embarked on our double-life as mouse-killers. I say double life, because my daughter, raised on a literary diet of cute anthropomorphic mice, could not be allowed to find out what her parents were up to. Every day at dawn my husband would creep downstairs to empty the traps (I’m a feminist, sure, but clearly a very hypocritical one, as I have to admit, this felt like man’s work to me). It turned out there was definitely more than one mouse.

This was not a pleasant period. We both felt racked with Lady Macbethian guilt, and the mice (with a few dear, departed exceptions) were still running amok in our kitchen. Scuttle scuttle.

Then a chance conversation with a friend revealed the name of a Mouse Killer Extrordinaire. He was summoned. He arrived. He was French. He called me Madame, which I rather liked. He left poison (and, unnervingly, instructions on what to do should daughter unwittingly consume said poison. “Eet zhould not be eenough to keel a bebe.” he reassured me). He then returned a week later and spent several hours filling up every tiny hole and gap in our Victorian terrace. The mice departed forthwith.

True, there were some disconcerting moments, such as when I witnessed the death throes of a hapless mouse, and then tried to remove the body without Anna noticing, all the time continuing a phone conversation on an extremely serious issue with the Chief Executive of a charity I was then trustee of.  Or the time I noticed a funny smell coming from behind the fridge and thought some food must have fallen down there, got my dad to pull it out, and found a decomposing mouse. Sorry, Dad. But generally, things were back to normal, and we put it out of our minds.

Until one evening a few months later when I was reading peacefully until I saw a familiar flash of mousy brown out of the corner of my eye. This time, we took no prisoners. M. le Mouse Killer was recalled immediately. It’s interesting, and rather frightening, how quickly moral qualms can be eroded. This time I felt far less guilt, and also far less repulsion. This was now simply a problem to be dealt with.

M. le Mouse came, acted, declared the house rodent free once more, but told me that in a house of this age, the only sure-fire way to a mouse-free future was acquisition of a cat . Husband felt this was rather in danger of going down the Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly route, but did concede that if they returned again then we would probably have to consider it.

I’m sure you can guess what happened next. Yep, they’re back.

So now, the cat issue.

There are lots of points in favour of getting a cat. I would love to have a pet, and a dog simply isn’t an option at the moment; Anna would adore it, and I firmly believe that children (especially only children) should grow up with a pet in the house; and s/he would hopefully scare the mice away.

However, the points against are that it would be someone else for me to clean up after(!), it would reduce our flexibility for holidays and travel, my sister-in-law is allergic to them, so the cat would have to be sent on vacation and the house thoroughly de-catted before she came to stay, and our furniture would probably get trashed. Or more trashed than it gets anyway with a three-year old and all her friends tearing round the place.

It has been pointed out to me that I could solve all these problems simply by considering the mice as themselves as pets, thereby removing the need to remove them, or to add another animal to the equation, but I’m not really convinced of that viewpoint. So, the dilemma remains. And in the meantime I’m back to my frenzied disinfecting routine.