Monday, 7 September 2009

On Childhood Cats

I realise that, thus far, this blog’s main title may have been a bit misleading. While there have been several posts that are, at least loosely, linked to music, I still haven’t written much about maths (partly because I’m doing so much at the moment in order to prepare for a forthcoming exam that I don’t feel very inclined to blog about it), and I’ve hardly even mentioned the moggies.

So here is a little post about some of the cats I grew up with!

Cats seem to have featured in my life ever since I was born. In fact, when my grandparents came to visit me just after I was born, they had the rather sad task of telling my mum that the old family cat from her childhood had just died. All thoughts of new baby (me) vanished, and mum went straight into mourning for the cat!

When I was about 5 my parents decided that it was time to introduce a cat to our family. We’d just moved into the house that was to be my home until I left to go to college when I was 18, so it seemed like a good time. We adopted a little kitten, who was named Leonora (and subsequently Leonora the First). However, this is a sad story – little Leonora was already fatally ill when she arrived and we had her for just 3 days. My only memories of her are of a small kitten being sick into a saucer.

Leonora the Second was her replacement. She was a fine and social cat, who loved the car (particularly curling up to sleep on the back parcel shelf where the sun came in through the window). She was very friendly with a white tom cat called Toby who lived over the road. Unfortunately, her life was also cut tragically short – she was hit by a car on the way back from visiting Toby one night. I remember my parents telling us the next morning. Another grave in the back garden, and a white tom cat sitting on the doorstep for ages afterwards howling and looking for his Leonora.

At that point my parents decided to stop getting cats. However, circumstances overtook them. My father was a science teacher, and took one of his classes out on some sort of nature walk one day. Two boys discovered a tiny kitten under a bush, and the body of a grown cat was subsequently discovered on the road outside the school. The kitten lived in a box in the prep room for a day or so until it was established that no home could be found. My father called my mother, preparations were made – the kitten was unweaned so we fed her Cow&Gate milk from a teat pipette, and my mother named her Smokey (Leonora was now deemed bad luck).

Smokes, as she was generally called, became my childhood companion. She was antisocial to all except our family and one or two select friends who visited the house a lot, but she was gorgeous to us. She was often terribly nervous, and we could never have had another cat with her (even though I nearly brought one of my uncle’s kittens home – he had 12 cats at the time), but she even trusted me enough to let me tie my school tie around her neck, and then sat still for long enough for me to take a picture!

Fortunately, she also enjoyed a much longer life than either of the Leonoras. It wasn’t until I was away at college in London that she finally succumbed to some kind of growth in her mouth. We’d had her when I was 7, she died, age 14, when I was 21. Her timing was interesting – my parents had just sold the house we had grown up in – I’m certain she would have been deeply unhappy if she’d had to move. I still keep a picture of her in my purse today. It’s terribly battered and faded, but I love it anyway.

Again, there was a decision not to have any more cats. We children had flown the nest and my parents were making a new start. However, when my mum heard about 2 kittens, living on the farm next door to my stepgrandparents’ house that were due to be drowned, I and my stepsister were dispatched in the car to collect them.

Ebony and Ivory (as they were eventually called - some of the ruder alternatives having been vetoed by my mum) were joined a couple of years later by their little half-brother Felix (named after Mendelssohn since I was working on my D.Phil. on Mendelssohn’s String Quartets at the time). Felix had been found foraging on a compost heap by my stepgrandfather and rescued from almost certain drowning.

I must have been absolutely besotted with little Ivory – I’d never have let anyone else walk on my viola!!

Sadly Ebony died about 18 months ago. Here’s one of my favourite pictures of him, when he was in his prime.

Ivory (who is now rather elderly and not in great health) and Felix (who remains in good shape) still live with my mother. She says she’ll never have another cat when they go, but I’m not 100% convinced! Kittens under bushes and on compost heaps will always need rescuing.

In the meantime, I’ve both inherited my mother’s soft spot for the furry felines and married someone who has a similar soft spot. It is about time for you to be introduced to our feline family. I had originally thought that I’d introduce them all at once, in a single blog post, but, on reflection, that might make for a rather lengthy post, so I hope to give them each their little moment of glory over the next few weeks. Watch this space!


  1. Thanks for posting that.

    We got a cat when I was 9. he lived for 20 years the dear chap. Got very attached to him.

    Always sad to hear of beloved pets dying.

    Do people really drown kittens? Or am I taking things too literally? How awful

  2. My family had a tortoiseshell cat when I was a girl. She had a white belly and was very beautiful to look at. Her name was Penny and she had one kitten called Tuppence. Tuppence was taken by a fox and Penny turned bad. Her name transformed into 'Old Poo in the Bath' because invariably that's where she did it. Or, memorably for me, after coming home inebriated and very late from some party, she would have evacuated her feline bowels under my bed - directly under where my pillow was. A charmless and bad tempered cat who lived about 16 years. we had other cats who invariably got hit by cars or died of a disease, or wandered off, but Old Poo in the Bath was a survivor.

  3. I currently have 2 very fun cats. They think they're brothers and get on very well. They play constantly even at the age of 4. I wonder if I'll get more cats after them. Hoping I have a long time to ponder that.

  4. @iamamro - I fear that some really do drown kittens - although not if I can get hold of them first.

    Phillipa - ah, poo in the bath. We've had that situation here, but managed to cure it. Sorry to hear of her lack of charm and bad temper - the grief for Tuppence was obviously too much to bear.

    ifeelunusual - lovely to have cats that get on very well. Two of ours do, but a lot of the time it's tolerance rather than love (happens when you adopt older cats). As far as playing goes, we have a sprightly 17 year old, who acts just like a kitten sometime - so you may well have many years of play ahead!