Paws For Breath
We had moved into our first house in 1976 and it was during this period that we first experienced the ‘pleasures’ of living with a member of the feline fraternity. His name was Ollie, a Burmese Blue and he belonged to some friends who were going to visit family in Australia. It was to be a very enlightening five weeks.
Ollie needed somewhere to crash for the duration, and I had suggested that we might be interested. We had no idea what a Burmese Blue was, and I had considered all cats to be out of the same mould but finished in a variety of colours. Ollie was the bee’s knees. Tom and Barbara brought all his bits and pieces over on the Friday evening prior to their departure, and Ollie was freed from the confines of his carrying case to inspect the house. He put his glasses on (bifocals of course), took out his notebook and gold-plated Parker and, starting with the downstairs back sitting room, commenced his inspection like some feline estate agent. We followed him around the house at a respectful distance (you don’t like to cramp the style of a professional, do you?), looking anxiously for some sign of approval, but he was giving nothing away.
Ollie was an aristocrat. ‘Ollie’ wasn’t his proper name of course, it was short for Lord Oliver of Somenthingorother of Somewhereabouts and he had a pedigree as long as the M1. Being Burmese, his ancestors probably got caught up in the conflicts at the time of Genghis Khan, were captured and served the warlord loyally for many years. This would have been rewarded in due course by freedom, and the family emigrated to the new world in Europe, where they eventually settled down in the Normandy region of France.
After a number of generations working their way up the French nobility league table, they finally made it into the premiership via a play-off final against Famille D’Orleans United, which had gone to penalties after extra time. This had caught the eye of a minor noble by the name of William of Normandy, and they were invited to the away fixture against Hastings Athletic managed by Harold Godwinson, for the European Cup. The rest, of course is history. An overwhelming victory in 1066 was marred only by home supporters throwing rock cakes at the victorious team. This wouldn’t have been so bad except for the fact that they were actually made from rocks.
Thus Ollie’s family had made it into the big time, and he never let us forget it. Having said that, we were awarded four paw prints (the maximum is five), he said his discreet farewells to Barbara, ignored Tom and curled up on the settee for a kip. That was when the fun started.
He wasn’t much of an outdoor cat, and tended to stay within the confines of the house or back garden. What he did require at all times was full and unrestricted access to the entire property, and this was made clear to us from the first evening when we shut up shop for the night. Having tidied up, lights were turned off, doors were locked and we went to bed leaving him shut in the downstairs back sitting room with fresh water, food and all his bits and pieces. He howled, long and loud. Pillows were useless. It was the kind of howl which would have penetrated the finest double glazing. We gave up after half an hour. He joined us and slept at the bottom of our bed happy in the knowledge that we understood clearly how the land lay. You had to keep your toes tucked in though, as they tended to be regarded as toys, and his claws were very sharp. His period with us was full of incident as we were going through a program of renovating the property and Ollie found himself in his element.
Whilst we had all the floorboards up and the house was a building site, we decided to rewire. My father in law provided the know-how but the labouring was all down to me. Ollie came into his own here. He acted as project manager, reporting directly to my wife and his supervisory skills were legendary. Every piece of ring main and lighting cable had to be inspected prior to installation and he didn’t even need to work from drawings.
Those who have ever laid new ring main cable will know what an awkward piece of work it can be. Unless you get it flat to the wall and all the kinks removed, you have the devil of a job pinning it to the brickwork. Well this drum of cable was the granddaddy of the lot. It refused to lie down, turned in its sleep, kicked off the clips already in place and generally acted as if it owned the place. We got it right in the end, but when you are feeding the stuff between floors, it comes into its own since you can’t see whether or not it has twisted itself, or worse still snagged on the nearest convenient protuberance. Ollie was no help at all here. No doubt he thought that he was making a significantly positive contribution to the project, but when you are trying to pull ring main through a wall for a spur socket in the next room, the last thing you expect is a cat sitting on the other side pulling back on the other end.
We couldn’t understand why the cable was stuck, each time it was given a tug something snagged. A look into the kitchen revealed nothing but a cat going through its ablutions, and we gave it another go but the result was the same. It wasn’t until this pantomime had gone through several scenes, that we decided that Ollie might be involved. I returned to the front room, but instead of trying the cable, walked immediately back into the kitchen to find him with the other end of the cable in his mouth ready for the next round of the tug-o-war. Cats don’t usually wear pants, but Ollie got caught with his well and truly down that day.
His five week stay with us coincided with most of the major structural work in the downstairs rooms and what he lacked in practical skills he made up for as resident comedian. The plastering on the walls in the back sitting room left a lot to be desired, so we decided to wallboard them instead. These boards come in sheets measuring 8’ x 4’ and are the most stupid building materials ever invented. They have absolutely no idea how to behave and spend all their time flopping around looking for somewhere inconvenient to fall. You can only handle one of them at a time due to their size, and cutting them with anything else but a Stanley knife is not recommended. At first they scared the life out of Ollie because they turned up wherever he wanted to be, but once they were flat on the floor he could sit on them and give them a good talking to safe in the knowledge that all they could do was listen with that annoyed look on their faces that you only normally get with naughty children.
Cutting each board resulted in a spiral of waste material shooting off to one side of the knife, and Ollie decided that this was his opportunity to get his own back by attacking this random piece of offcut. He constantly got in my way, coming close to the knife blade on more than one occasion. Finally, after appearing under my armpit for the umpteenth time, I gave him a firm push to move him out of danger. He lost his footing on the board’s shiny surface and spun gracefully with legs splayed, down to the other end of the sheet. At that end, my wife turned him quickly round and shoved him back to where I sat waiting. Back he came again rotating gently as he desperately tried to regain his balance. He finally managed to engineer a dismount off the side of the wallboard and staggered off to regain the small part of his dignity which we had not stolen from him.
Funny, but he kept very much out of the way after that, preferring to watch from afar atop of the tallest piece of furniture he could find. He’d still offer advice and the occasional sarcastic comment but we ignored him, leaving him to sulk in silence. It’s a good job he was only with us for the five weeks – I don’t know how we’d have coped for longer.
They say that curiosity killed the cat, and with this individual it was a wonder that he had any of his nine lives to take home with him. You couldn’t leave any door open or the lid off anything whilst he was around, and Lynn found this out the hard way one weekend. With both of us out at work during the week, the bulk of our washing was done on a Saturday morning and it was on one of these days that Ollie went missing. When you’re baby sitting a pedigree cat the last thing you want to happen is that he gets lost, and we were starting to get very worried when he hadn’t turned up by lunchtime, particularly since his stomach was one of the prime movers in his life.
We hadn’t noticed the whining at first, and when the normal noise emanating from a Burmese is comparable to a pneumatic drill with a cold we ignored it for a while. It’s like the squeak in your car which you ignore because it doesn’t seem to mean anything – eventually you get fed up and try to find out what it is. We scoured the downstairs, never thinking to check inside the washing basket, but there he sat looking up in such a pathetic manner. He had clearly jumped in, settled down amongst some towels and fallen asleep. It was only when his digestive system registered a lack of input since breakfast that he woke up. He didn’t do it again though.
The loft was worse because I couldn’t reach him. He shinned up the step ladder, climbed over my shoulder as I was coming down and disappeared into the gloom. We hadn’t got a light fitted up there at that time, so all I had was a torch. The semi where we lived was not completely separated from next door and Ollie scampered through the gap for a good look around. He wouldn’t come down and without floor boards I didn’t fancy chasing him all over someone else’s property so we had to leave him up there until he decided that the game was over. When he did actually grace us with his presence again he was so distraught that he’d been left up there all alone that he felt the need to superglue himself to one of us for the rest of the day. Although he was only with us for a short period of time we did miss him when he went home and if we hadn’t been so heavily involved in working on the house, we may not have waited so long to have cats of our own.
© Copyright 2016 Phil Neale 1952. All rights reserved.