Meredith opens the front door and in with a gust of cold air comes a rush of cats–an explosion of fur–on the move.
Not an unusual sight here at feeding time.
Five out of six make their entry: Beau, Ben, Midnight, Lily and Blackie. (Three blacks, one white and one tuxedo.)
Number six, Peanut, will slink in later when the others have had their fill.
Survival has been Peanut’s game since she first insinuated herself into the group years ago.
Slinker would have been a good name for her.
She convinces herself she’s invisible to the other cats by moving forward in slow motion–one paw imperceptibly lifted in front of another.
“Don’t look at me, I’m not moving–in fact I’m not here!”
She can be bold and hang out in plain sight too, on a radiator or a mantelpiece–staring down a challenge with her unhelpful hooded-eyes.
I’m not alone in never warming to her–none of the other cats like her. She upsets Meredith by stalking birds at the feeder though she has access to plenty of food.
She’s tolerated as an “outsider”–though Ben enjoys terrorising Peanut from time to time, chasing her off.
Having cats is a little like a play by Harold Pinter–it’s all about Power and Control–about ways of maintaining the upper hand.
When their paths cross at feeding time Lily and Blackie (mother and daughter) show no hint of knowing each other.
Never a “Hi there! how’s your day been?” nudge, nudge.
Just a jealous circling of the food on offer.
It’s a tough world–out there.
(It was the same with our late head cat Pippa– “Mother of all cats”–and her offspring Marmalade and Butterscotch, all gingers, of fond memory. When they predeceased her she showed no sign of noticing.
In fact Lily, new “Mother of all cats” since Pippa’s departure, was a remarkable parent to Blackie and the three litters she brought to us. (Nonetheless after the third litter, we took her to the vets to be sterilized.)
White cats are always susceptible to sun burn (and often deaf). And after the hot, sunny summer 2003 Lily’s ears were permanently damaged as she carted her litters from safety point to safety point.
We suspect that Lily has another home, over the way, across the fields, in the blue beyond–but where exactly we’ve never pinpointed. She remains a regular visitor, her white form visible in the evening gloom coming across the green pasture.
She rarely hangs around for long, though lately after supper she stealthily climbs the little ramp into the vacant hen house in the courtyard, for an overnight stay.
Since Pip died, the cat-dynamics have changed.
Blackie used to hang out under a huge topiary bush at the end of the garden.
As a direct consequence of Pip’s absence, she’s becoming less timid and more demanding.
Just this month, at age 13, she has dared to leap up on the bed on cold winter nights and sleep on the duvet with the other cats.
Black is the new hue, (apart from wretched Slinker, that is); our GINGER days are (sadly) over–for the moment.
Our Pip was a modest cat, but a BIG presence and definitely Top Cat.
Always found the higher perch–often the kitchen table (the only cat with that privilege)–and would see off any challengers with a long, low, growling hiss that she might have learned from a snake.
She’s buried in the garden now and the pecking order has been rearranged.
Beau wears the mantel now and knows he is Top Cat.
Ben seems content with his modestly elevated position, second-in-command to his adored older step-brother.
Midnight is happy to be allowed in the same room with these esteemed Giants of the cat world.
And that’s how the hierarchy stands these days.
The males are all young cats and rank is forgotten when there’s a Rumble in the garden.
The sun comes out and the garden becomes an irregular race circuit. Up the Judas tree, down the fig!
Round and round they go, leaping and jumping, a sprint of cats until someone gets too rough–and it becomes less of a game.
Survival of the fittest–or rather the one who best times his retreat up to the tree top.
We now take responsibility for SIX cats.
A collective noun to describe them?
A barrel? A pile? A rush? A mew? A herd? A slink? A skip? A stretch of cats?
Certainly not a handful, for the wonder of cats is that they are so good at taking care of themselves.