Authors: Susanne Haywood
Copyright Â© 2015 Susanne Haywood
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To my family
“For he will do
As he do do
And there's no doing anything about it!”
Have you ever felt the pleasure of gliding silently through a green tunnel of long, soft, swishing grass? Or of feeling the radiant warmth of hot summer earth on your belly as you lie stretched out in your favourite hiding place while the breeze gently strokes your ears? Or of pouncing on long-awaited prey and the satisfying crunch as your teeth sink into a warm, trembling neck? No? Then you're probably not a cat. Never mind.
I am. You can call me Tigger, and this is the story of my turbulent life, which is all my family's fault of course. They are a restless lot, off at the drop of a hat from one continent to the next with me in my travel box. They're not
as humans go, mind you, just really hard work. And let's face it: they need me. Left to their own devices, they would be hopelessly lost.
My story starts in Perth, in Western Australia, where my brother and I were born and lived at first with two humans in a small house in the suburbs. My brother, I am sorry to say, wasn't careful enough â trust me, you can never be careful enough. He was friendly with anyone who came along, which is what killed him that fateful day, when strangers came into our yard while our humans were out. We were only tiny kittens, but I knew to disappear as soon as they opened the gate. I've asked myself a thousand times why he didn't follow me instead of trotting off to meet them, tail held high. What a stupid thing to do!
That was the last time I saw him alive. By the time darkness fell and our people came home, he was lying limply on the paving stones at an awkward angle, and blood was trickling from his mouth. There were stones and beer cans lying all around the yard and a scent of violence was in the air. He looked peaceful, stretched out on the ground, but he felt cold and smelt different. I knew he had gone. So I wandered off on my own and felt very strange. We had always done everything together â played, eaten, and slept together. Now a part of me was missing â the trusting part. I knew I would never trust anyone again, ever, and decided to rely on myself for all things. I've never regretted that decision.
The very next day, I came to live with my family. It was considered safer for me to move to a different neighbourhood, in case the people who had killed my brother came back for me.
That made sense to me, but still I wasn't looking forward to moving. Taking on a new set of humans is always risky. I knew that even as a kitten. Think about it: humans are so poorly equipped. They have no tails and no fur, so you have to take a guess at their moods. They can't move their ears at all, which restricts their hearing, and I don't think their eyes are much use either. They definitely can't see a thing in the dark. So all they have left to express themselves with are their paws and their mouths. The paws are good. They may not get much use from their claws, but they can grip and handle delicate things with their long, thin fingers. They use their mouths to make lots of different sounds, quiet ones and loud ones, high ones and low ones. You can tell they're all supposed to mean something, but it's very difficult to be sure what. After a while you get the general idea, but for a kitten it's a challenge. As for understanding
â well, some of them are quite slow, and it may take years of patience and persistence to teach them our language.
I didn't know all this at the time, but I suspected much of it and therefore reckoned it would be safest for me to spend my first day with the new family under a shoe rack in the corner of a small, dark room. The smell of the shoes was unpleasant, but the humans left me alone there, and that was a good sign. I would have hated living with a family who didn't respect my private space.
Eventually hunger, curiosity and the need for a pee made me leave my hiding place and meet them. There were three young ones sitting on the floor, listening to a grown-up, who was sitting in a very comfortable-looking armchair and holding what I later came to know as a Story Book. It was a peaceful scene, no scent of danger, and I was ready for company. So I strolled up to the chair and sat down at a safe distance from the children. A familiar smell drifted over to me from a pair of feet; I recognised the owner of the smelly shoes on the shoe rack. We would have to see about cleaning habits in this house.
If the humans were pleased to see me, they didn't show it. They just said hello, and one of the children leaned across and stroked me lightly. I moved away an inch or two; she took the hint and left me alone. So we all sat there quietly, listening to the strange sounds that the person on the chair was making. It was comfortable on the soft carpet; the regular sing-song of the human voice almost lulled me to sleep after a while. But then the voice stopped, the book closed with a snap and everyone got up. They showed me where my food and drink bowls and a litter tray had been prepared for me. I made use of them all.
That done, I followed the young ones to their rooms, where we attached a piece of string to a ball. I showed them how to pull it around the room while I gave chase. They loved it when I pounced on the ball and held it tight; we had several repeats. It was clear they had never played a cat game before and needed help. When they had picked up the basics of a couple of the simpler games, I encouraged them to run along and let me have a rest.
It was time to look for a suitable place to take a nap. My corner under the shoe rack had served its purpose. From now on I would rest in comfort. There were a couple of beds in the room. I tried each one in turn until I found a convenient corner spot on one of them that gave me cover from behind and a good view of my surroundings. It was an excellent choice; I was asleep in minutes.
I woke up because I needed a pee. I was still very sleepy. As I wandered around the house, it seemed quite different from last time. The room with the litter tray had disappeared. Back in the room where we had listened to the story, I found a pile of papers. It brought back memories of when I was a very small kitten in a box with my Mummy and all my brothers and sisters. She had taught us how to use the paper to go to the toilet â what a stroke of luck! I ran over to the pile of paper, scratched it into shape, squatted down and did my business.
I had to hand it to those humans â their service was first class: no sooner had I finished than they came running from all directions to remove the wet paper. They even seemed quite worried about not being quick enough. I tried to tell them they were doing just fine, but they had already disappeared, taking the paper away with them. Oh well, I reckoned they would relax once they realised I was fairly easy-going about these things.
There was a nice patch of sunshine on the carpet next to the armchair, just the place for a thorough clean-up. I was doing the inside of my left hind leg when they came back, carrying my litter tray. They looked pleased about having found it again, scratched about in it and made cooing noises. I gestured âwell done' with my free foreleg, but, finding myself in a very difficult position, lost my balance and fell over backwards. How embarrassing! Sure enough, I heard a giggle. I collected myself, sat up, and gave them one of my sternest looks. I think they got the message, because the giggling stopped and they all looked sorry. They went off with the litter tray, and I must say to their credit that they never lost it again after that.
Life with my new family settled down nicely; I had made a good choice. Mealtimes were regular, the beds very comfortable, there was a garden with several good climbing trees and a swimming pool that had fresh, blue water in it for me to drink. Next door had a garden shed with a tin roof leaning against a brick wall. It was warm and sheltered, the best place for a nap in sunny weather; no smell of dogs for miles around. My family consisted of two grown-up humans and three young ones. The bigger one of the grown-ups had been away when I first arrived. He came back one evening in a shower of rain with lots of bags and seemed surprised to see me, but was very polite when he was introduced to me and asked me what my name was. I couldn't tell him of course, as cats' names are a secret and must not be given to any human, however friendly. Luckily, my family had already chosen my every-day name, because of my ginger stripes and some tiger in the Story Book. I didn't mind it too much; actually, I've come to think it even has a certain ring to it, and I am of course a tiger in many ways.
I approved of the bigger grown-up â even though he wasn't often around â his name was Dad, and of the smaller grown-up, who saw to my food, drink and the litter tray and generally seemed to be in charge around the place. Her name was Mum. The young ones were Caroline, the eldest and clearly the most sensible of the three. When she sat down to read a book or watch TV, you could settle down next to her knowing she would stay there for a while, without fidgeting. She was friendly without fussing, and occasionally we would have a game of drafts or chess together. Robin, the youngest, was a different matter: never in the same place for more than one second, very unpredictable. The times that child has accidentally landed on me over the years! I'm not saying he's not kind and loving, but you do have to be careful around him and his toys. The one in the middle, called Emily, was my favourite straight away: her bed was the most comfortable, her voice the softest, and she seemed to guess my every wish. In return, I occasionally made an exception to my number one rule (no cuddling!) with her and her alone.