In fiction household pets usually
have names like Fluffy, Spotty, Fido, or Rover. This story is
about an enormous black and tan tabby tomcat, who started out his
life as Timothy, and ended it as Manza. In between he had more
than a dozen names in thirteen years, however, the process of
change went something like this: Timothy was too pompous for our
gaggle of nieces and nephews, who changed it to Timbo. Which was
too slangy for my mother, who changed it to Timmie, which later
became Tim. Then Timza Cat (in effect "Tim is a cat"), which
became Manza Cat ("Man is a cat", since he was a Tom, or man
cat), which was finally shortened to Manza.
Funnily enough, although kids
always seemed to love Manza, he in turn always hated kids. Manza
had been born in a household where there were half a dozen kids,
and after coming to our house (where there was three adults plus
my teenaged sister, Christine), it took him all of two days to
decide that our house was better than his original home. So that
when his first owner, Charlene, came calling a week or so later,
to the amazement of her kids Manza snubbed them.
To their surprise the tabby got
halfway in through the cat-flap in the back door, took one look
at the horde of kids standing with their arms outstretched to
greet him, and reversed back out the door. Not returning until
two hours later after hearing the sound of their car driving
That became the norm with Manza
from then on. He would disappear at the first sign of kids, to
reappear a minute or two after their departure. Sometimes he
would not even get in through the cat-flap, but would hear the
sound of young voices from outside and would go across to lie on
top of the garage roof, or the carport by the side of the house,
to wait, sometimes for hours for them to depart. However,
sometimes to Manza's shock, Charlene and her brood would stay
overnight with us. Then when he came in for his supper, Manza
would be pounced upon by a swarm of kids, squealing their delight
as they wrapped their little arms around his big, furry
Apart from Charlene's kids, another
person who loved Manza was our young niece Bettina. Often we
would be up in the lounge room talking or watching television,
when we would hear what sounded like a herd of wild horses
galloping down the hallway.
Thinking that someone was out there
filming the latest sequel to "The Man From SnowyRiver",
we'd go to investigate only to find that it was Manza hopping
along down the corridor like a great jack rabbit, with Betty in
Usually she would corner him at the
front door, then poor Manza would be almost cut into two as her
little arms closed vice-like around his midriff, so that she
could half-carry, half-drag the long-suffering cat into the
"Oh Betty, that cat is too heavy
for you!" her mother would insist, as the little girl staggered
into the room, almost strangling Manza since her arms had
gradually slipped down until they were around his neck.
"No he's not!" would protest Betty,
although her chubby, little face was almost beetroot red from the
strain of carrying the tabby cat, which was at least as big as
her, and almost as heavy.
On one occasion Manza managed to
stop himself being caught at the door by waiting until Betty
almost had him, then putting his front paws onto her shoulders
and leaping as hard as he could with his hindquarters. He
leapfrogged right over the little girl and galloped back down the
hallway to flee out through the cat-flap in the back door.
Despite bonkinq headfirst into the
front door with a noise like two coconuts clapping together,
little Betty had soon reversed direction to race after
Manza would have got clean away,
however, instead of heading for the carport and safety, the
moment he was out through the cat-flap, the tomcat stopped to
preen himself, confident of his freedom, until to his amazement
two plump little arms clamped around him and started to drag him
back into the house.
"What in the world are you doing?"
demanded Betty's mother, seeing the little girl's behind sticking
up into the kitchen from the cat-flap?
"Getting Manza," explained Betty as
she reappeared through the cat-flap, dragging a struggling tomcat
into the kitchen with her.
Poor Manza, he was so used to
fleeing from people who were much too large to follow him through
the cat-flap, that it had not occurred to him that if it is
cat-sized, it is also little girl-sized.
Yes, Betty loved Manza, and
insisted that he was her cat not ours. "But he lives with us,"
we'd insist. However, the little girl would remain adamant that
she had three pets: their own grey Persian tom named Henry (who
their mother called "Henry the First through to Seventh!"
although her kids, having never heard of Henry the Eighth, always
looked at her as though she was retarded when she said it), a
large black mongrel dog named Boots, because of his white paws,
and our moggy, Manza.
Although normally good with kids,
despite hating them, even Manza had a limit to his tolerance and
had been known to lash out at them at times.
One day a teary-eyed little Betty
wandered into the lounge room to announce, "Your cat bit
"I thought he was your cat?" asked
"Your cat!" insisted Betty, and for
the next week or so Manza was relieved to find himself being
ignored by the little girl. However, she soon forgave him and to
Manza's dismay, he went back to being her cat.
Although Manza hated kids, he loved
their toys and would enjoy himself immensely rolling tennis
balls, marbles, and plastic toys of all persuasions around the
floor after the kids had gone home, leaving them behind. Our
nephews often played ping pong on the kitchen table and if Manza
was lucky he would find ping pong balls that they had lost under
chairs or behind furniture. Sometimes while they were playing a
ball would be hit behind the refrigerator or the deep freeze,
then the kids would steer Manza into the small aisle between the
fridge and the wall, then shoo him till he walked right around
behind the refrigerator and reappeared out the other side,
usually hitting the ping pong ball along in front of him. Though
delighted at his find, Manza was always dismayed when they took
the ball off him and went back to their game. He would glare up
at them from the floor, with a look as if to say, "Hey, who got
it out of there, anyway?"
Another of Manza's favourite toys,
when the kids were little, was their plastic rattles. When
Bettina was born her mother would often leave her with us when
she went to work. Baby Betty had a metre-high bassinet, draped
with all the usual accoutrements, including a string from which
dangled a number of brightly coloured rattles. Although intended
for the baby's amusement, more often than not it was Manza who
played with the rattles.
Hearing the plastic toys whizzing
round and round and the little girl gurgling with delight, mum
would go in to investigate, only to find a big, striped tomcat
sitting in the bassinet, virtually on top of the baby, furiously
swatting at the plastic toys with his front paws. There were six
rattles in all, so it was a veritable juggling trick to keep them
all in motion at once. However, (to Betty's obvious delight) with
the reflexes of a cat, and both front paws swatting away in
double-time, Manza was just able to accomplish the feat.
"Get off that baby, you big, furry
idiot!" mum would shout, giving the tomcat a clip across the ears
to chase him away. Much to the distress of young Bettina, who
would burst out into loud bawling at the game being so rudely
A few minutes later, however, we
would hear the rapid-fire ting-ting-ting-ting of half a dozen
plastic rattles whirring round again as they were swatted, and
realising that a little girl's hands were not that dextrous, we'd
know that Manza was up to his tricks again.
Another of Manza's favourite games
also involved the use of his great agility, this time his ability
to balance on the narrow rim of the bathtub like a
Manza would skip along the yellow,
enamel ledge while Betty or one of her brothers bathed, happily
slapping at the plastic boats and rubber ducks that floated
The kids enjoyed this game every
bit as much as the tomcat and would happily push a boat across
toward Manza, who would lean in toward the water as far as he
dared, to give a hefty swat with one of his front paws to send
the boat skimming back toward the bather, who would then deflect
it back toward the tabby, and so on.
At least that is how the game was
usually played. However, one day little Betty decided to invent a
new variation. This time she held the boat firmly in her pudgy
little hand and guided it across until it was almost within
Manza's reach, then pulled it away at the last second, so that
the tomcat swatted at empty air, to his obvious dismay.
Betty did this half a dozen times
to the mounting displeasure of Manza, who began to swish his
long, striped tail from side to side, pacing back and forth along
the enamel ledge like a nervous father-to-be, as he followed the
plastic tug boat, waiting for his chance to swat it.
Finally his impatience got the
better of the tomcat and we heard a loud splash, followed by
Betty clapping her hands together gleefully, and shouting,
"Mummy! Mummy! Manza's taking a bath with me!"
Betty's mother and grandmother were
both considerably less delighted than the little girl, however,
since the large tabby leapt out of the tub and raced down the
corridor toward the lounge room, splashing bath water all around
the hall carpet, and across the couch, where he finally stopped
to shake himself off, before starting to preen himself.
Although Manza hated living with
kids, he almost ended up back with Charlene and her brood a
couple of years after moving in with us. As already mentioned,
like all cats Manza was incredibly agile. His little body was so
flexible that he had been known to sneak into the house at night
when a window had been left open only a few centimetres.
On this occasion, however, it was a
side window of Charlene's Ford Fairlane that Manza eased his way
through. So that he could sleep on top of the back seat of the
car, along with Snoopy and Koala dolls that already obscured
Charlene's vision out through the back windscreen of the
No one noticed the snoozing moggy
until he started to purr in his sleep when they were halfway home
to Hopper's Crossing. Charlene's husband, Donald, wanted to throw
the tomcat out into the street, to let him find his own way home.
However, after much pleading and crying from their kids, Charlene
turned the car round and chauffeured the spoilt moggy all the way
back to Footscray.
Apart from Charlene's kids and our
string of nieces and nephews, Manza also had to contend with the
local kids. This included the Neighbourhood Gestapo, as we called
them: Ashley, Brian, Martin, Dennis, Sean, and Anthony, six
brothers who lived in the house directly behind ours.
When we first moved into our house,
the Gestapo had welcomed us by throwing everything from leftover
roof tiles to fruit and raw eggs, to broken bottles over our back
fence. They also climbed all over the roof of our garage and
outdoor workroom to toss garbage down into our yard.
Since Manza also climbed all over
the rooftops it was only a matter of time before the large tabby
came across them. The Gestapo terrified us and kept us from using
our own back yard, to the point where our mother even hung
washing on strings suspended in the garage and workroom, to avoid
them, or her, being splattered with refuse thrown from the roofs.
So understandably we were concerned for the tomcat's welfare the
first time that we saw him fraternising with the enemy.
To our surprise, however, whereas
the Gestapo tormented every other cat or dog in the region, they
treated Manza like royalty, sharing their lollies with him, and
stealing food from their own pets to give to him. When they had
fish and chips for lunch, Manza got most of the fish, minus the
batter, and most of the beef when they had hamburgers.
Naturally we were baffled by this
strange display of kindness by six hooligans who normally
dedicated their lives toward proving that Spencer Tracy did not
know what he was talking about when he said that there is no such
thing as a bad boy. The only explanation that we could think of
was that whereas they looked down on animals in general, they
respected Manza because in his own way the tomcat was every bit
as big a larrikin as they were.
Like all cats Manza was extremely
fussy about what he would eat, and would turn up his nose in
disgust if anyone dared to put old chop or chicken bones onto his
plate. "You've got to be kidding!" he'd seem to say as he flicked
up his tail, then headed for the cat door to stalk
Nevertheless, if his supper was not
up to the required standard, the tomcat was not above raiding the
rubbish bin. In those days we had a plastic kitchen-tidy, and as
you may be aware such tidies have an average life span in perfect
working order of about one month, before the pins connecting the
lid snap, leaving you with an open-ended, lidless tidy stinking
up the kitchen.
Since Manza was almost the size of
a small terrier, he had no difficulty leaping up to hold onto the
top of the tidy with his front paws to peer down at the rotting
goodies within, then pull out onto the kitchen floor anything of
interest that he discovered.
"Gedaway from that bin, you good
for nothing moggy!" my sister Irene would shout if she spotted
him from the kitchen table.
"Could you possibly be speaking to
me?" Manza would seem to be thinking, as he turned round to glare
at Irene with his bright yellow-green eyes for a moment or two
before going back to his treasure hunt.
"Nanna! Nanna! Manza is rattin'
again! Manza is rattin' again!" would shout out little Betty
excitedly, if she caught him at the kitchen-tidy.
"Rattin' indeed!" Manza would seem
to say as he fixed his gaze on her. "Haven't you ever heard of
Of course if the slop dished up to
Manza on his plate left too much to be desired and there were no
tempting titbits in the kitchen-tidy, the tomcat could always go
out foraging for food. Never one for mousing (largely because
there had never been any mice in the house), Manza was, however,
a more than respectable bird-catcher.
One day mum was in the kitchen when
she heard Manza's raucous yowling at the back door and went
across to let him in.
"Oh no you don't!" she shrieked,
kicking him away from the door, when she saw the tabby standing
there with a broad "cheesy grin" on his face, as if to say,
"Aren't I the clever one!" holding a large, green budgerigar in
Of course the poor Budgie was dead,
so Mum took it from him, placed it into the metal rubbish bin
outside the back door, made certain the lid was firmly in place,
then shooed Manza away.
Ten minutes later, however, he was
at the door again demanding to be let inside.
"Oh well, I suppose you can come
in," said mum, walking across from where she had been doing the
ironing to open the door for him. "Just so long as you haven't
got a dead budgie in your mouth."
But of course he did!
"How in the...?" said mum, looking
across to where the metal lid was still firmly in place on the
Although not believing for a second
that the tomcat could have taken the lid off the metal bin,
retrieved the dead budgie, then put the lid on again, mum had no
choice but to open the bin and look.
"Well then where did you get that
one from?" asked mum, seeing the first green bundle still lying
on top of the rubbish.
This time Manza was more reluctant
to give up his prize. "Come on fair's fair, one for you and one
for me!" he seemed to be thinking as mum chased him round and
round the back patio.
Finally she cornered him and the
second budgie joined the first one in the bin.
This time, wisely mum decided to
take Manza into the house with her. Which was just as well since
an hour or so later there were loud shrieks from next door,
followed by a string of obscene language, as our neighbours
discovered that their budgies were both missing. Amidst the
obscenities were a number of none-too-subtle threats about what
they would do to a certain large, black and tan tabby tomcat, if
he was ever silly enough to get within range of their meat
"Cat's guts sausages, oh yuk!" said
Christine, and Manza did not seem too pleased about the idea
As mentioned, in his youth Manza
was incredibly agile. My brother David and I would play snooker
out in the garage, and the tomcat would leap up onto the billiard
table from a standing start, to help us to knock the brightly
coloured balls around. In his later life though, Manza's joints
became stiff and rheumatic, so that not only could he no longer
leap up onto the billiard table, but he even had difficulty
leaping onto my bed -- perhaps half the height of the
Unable to do a standing leap
anymore, he would take a run-up, spring with all of his might,
then more often than not would land with his front paws and belly
on the end of the bed, and his back legs and behind dangling over
the edge. Then, oh-so-slowly Manza would claw his way up onto the
bed, to walk down to lie on top of my legs, which would soon
start to go numb from the weight of the tomcat cutting off their
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