In my opinion there is only one wrong number of cats to have, and that is none.
I wasn’t always That Cat Guy. When I was very young my Mum had a dog - a poodle called Freddie. I don’t remember him well, only that he died while I was a kid, in my Mum’s arms as we left the vet. He had a heart attack right there in the street and by the time we ran back to the vet’s surgery he’d gone. He was fairly old, I think, but of course that didn’t help any. It doesn’t. Mum was distraught.
A few years later we got a rabbit. He was jet black all over and - this being the 70s, before political correctness had been invented - Mum named him Ayatollah. Go figure. He died before very long, as it happened - there was an accident involving me learning to ride a bike... The indelible picture in my head is at least as grim as you are probably imagining it to be. At least he didn’t suffer.
We got another black rabbit the same week, and Mum struck again with the naming scheme by going for Cassius. Cassy, as he was inevitably known, lived a long rabbity life and was joined along the way by Sandy, Crystal, Measles and Inky, and when it turned out that Inky was in fact (contrary to assurances) female, a couple of litters of little black bunnies. Five adult rabbits and eleven kittens (baby rabbits are called kittens - FACT) was plainly Too Much Rabbits, and eventually Inky and her brood were taken to a rabbit shelter leaving us with just the remaining four adults, who dropped off one by one over the following few years, until eventually we were a petless household.
I’ve glossed over the hamsters here, which is remiss of me. The exact chronology of this eludes me but I suppose the string of little hamsters that started with Screwball and included such luminary characters as Miss Ellie and Snatch (yes, really) probably started around the time of Cassy’s arrival and ended some time before the last of the rabbits - Sandy, the original hard bastard - departed. They were hamsters. There isn’t a whole lot else to say about them. One story: the first day we got one, that evening Mum got him (Screwball) out of his cage and was walking across the room toward me with him just sitting in the palm of her hand. We’d never had little rodents before and knew nothing really about them, and so it as with horror and a simultaneous inward shriek of “Oh Christ he’s going to die!” that we watched him swandive straight off Mum’s hand, five inexorable feet to the floor. Of course, he didn’t give a toss about our ignorance or expectations, and simply bounced once and ran off behind the telly. This same hamster once climbed to the top of a doorframe, around 6’6" off the ground and performed a very similar dive, with exactly the same result. Bounce, twitch whiskers, run away and (presumably) journal the results. (NB: I have no idea if this is normal. Please do not try this with your hamster. It may be that Screwy was just tough and/or A Mental.)
By the time the rabbits had all gone, I was a moody teenager with frustrating hair, acne and no luck with girls, and the last thing on my mind was pets, but it turned out that that wasn’t the case for my Mum. One day in 1991 or 1992 I was walking home from college across the field when I saw Dad’s car arrive in the driveway. Thinking no more of this - a perfectly ordinary event - I entered the house, wandered into the front room and chucked my college bag into a corner, then turned to regard the tiny little kitten sitting alone in the basket in the middle of the room. It was a little pretty grey kitten with long fur with a splash of white and sky blue eyes. It peered over the edge of the basket at me and said “Mew?” I honestly had no idea how to reply to this, so went to quiz my father. It transpired Mum had always wanted a pretty grey cat with blue eyes, and so he had gone out and bought her one. She was at work. This might have been a wedding anniversary thing, but I honestly cannot remember if that was the case or not. It’s equally possible that Dad had just gotten around to it.
This little kitty was named Selina, and she was utterly beautiful, though she knew it. She would demand a fuss in exactly the way she wanted it, and if you got it wrong or continued it for a picosecond too long or dared retract the fussing hand a femtosecond too soon she would let you know that you had incurred her wrath in a very painful way. In latter life I swear she was sponsored by Wilkinson Sword. When Selina eventually passed on Mum got a rescue cat called Lucia, who she still had when she (Mum) died in February this year. Lucia was always a difficult cat, at least for most people. Mum told me she was a sweet thing to her and Dad, and in later years she eventually warmed to me and let me fuss her for up to five minutes at a time, but for anyone else she was a streak of black and brown fur legging it out the door and hiding until the strangers had gone. After Mum went she got rehomed with a family who had young children and I hear they hit it off famously, which fact makes me very happy.
At some point during Selina’s tenure, I moved out of the parental home and in with my girlfriend and her enormous (I think I’m remembering this right) Setter/Wolfhound cross, Aslan. My girlfriend’s brother - my mate Paul - described Aslan with a phrase that still kills me to this day. "Aslan strong like bull! Smart like tractor!" I’ve honestly never got on well with dogs, and me and Aslan never saw eye to eye. He was a soppy slobbery thing, full of love and a burning desire to bark down anything that came within two-hundred yards of the letterbox. I’m saying "was" - for all I know he’s still going, but this was 15 years ago, so perhaps not. It’s not for me to know. It was in fact during my time living with Aslan that I discovered I’m actually a bit scared of big dogs. Not a fact I’m proud of, as it goes, but hey-ho. Chalk it up alongside all the other neuroses and move on.
I lived a pretty animal-free life for a bit, save the amount of time I spent with my good friend Jon, who had around that time got himself a whacking great Alaskan Malamute called Balto. I used to crash at Jon’s place quite often, and around this time I would often wake up with my arm around Balto. I might not like big dogs, but they seem to like me well enough.
In 1999 I met a nice girl called Saffron, and in 2000 I moved into a flat with my mate Paul, and in May 2000 that went all kinds of Janice Long, so I moved in with Saffron and her family for a few months before moving to London that August. This is relevant because they had five cats: Gizmo, Kitty, Rusty, Sultan and Oscar. Sultan and Rusty were elderly black creatures who loved a fuss, their food, and lazing around on whatever you might be trying to read. Kitty was mischievous and lightning fast with his razor-sharp claws. Gizmo was (and still is) a highly-strung Persian/Norwegian-Forest-Cat cross with ginger cotton-wool fur and a little girly meow, and Oscar was a big loveable dope. I was commuting from Hastings to London at this point and I was the first one up every morning. And every morning I would come down to the kitchen for a glass of milk, and Oscar would be sitting bolt upright on the kitchen table waiting for me to come and scratch him behind the ears and tell him he was a big cuddly boy.
In August 2000 I moved to London (Saffron following the month after - she went into halls at South Bank University) into a shared house with two other programmers who also worked in what I thought was called New Media, but later found out was actually called advertising. This was just after the first dotcom crash, as the second dotcom bubble was still inflating. Many were the late night all-staff parties, the little metal scooters, the nights crashing on a workmate’s sofa. Around this shared house there was this ginger cat who would occasionally appear in the back garden, and who would sometimes come down to the back door while you were cooking and scratch at the door until you opened it and gave him some of whatever you were making. It was obvious he didn’t have an owner - he was basically a stray and was making good with all the terraced houses, getting by on whatever people would give him, and sunning himself on our shed roof in between.
In mid-2002 it was time for me and Saffron to get our own place, which we did (renting alas), and we took that big soppy ginger cat with us and named him Trevor. Trevor was the most wonderful cat I could ever have imagined, and remains to this day one of my very best friends I’ve ever had. It was crushing when he got ill just after Christmas 2011 - we never really found out what he had, but hyperthyroidism was initially suspected and other suspected problems linked to his declining health over that six months included asthma, heart disease, and even cancer. Whatever the case, right at the end he ballooned in size and couldn’t look after himself, and we had to make the impossible choice for him, and send him to play with the big ball of string in the sky.
RIP Trevor the cat, 11/6/2012. We still think of you every day, Trevley-Paws.
As mentioned previously, the giant furry hole in our lives was made bearable by Shira, the little black and white 18-year-old moglet we inherited when we moved into our current (still rented, dammit) house in Hemel Hempstead. In those early days in 2012, the pain of losing Trevor was so hard on Saffron that she almost shunned Shira for a little while. She just couldn’t move on from Trevor, she loved him so much and it didn’t help that Shira had actively hissed at and attacked Trevor pretty much every time they met over the 6 or 7 weeks that they coexisted in the same house. She had of course lived in this house with no other cats for 18 years, and then we go bringing a huge great boy cat into her domain. But any hardness or resistance between Saffron and Shira melted away in next to no time, once the rawness of loss had started to scab over a little, due to Shira’s innate loveableness.
Shira wormed her way into both our hearts in no time and soon I had more pictures of her on my phone than I did of guitars, or of me looking cool in the band. Soon she was all we thought about when we went away on holiday, and I even set up a spy-cam so that we could watch the cat sitter feeding her when we were on holiday in Santorini last year.
Well, as also mentioned previously, Shira recently got very ill. She just stopped eating, and once again we will never know exactly what it was she had. And it is with the very heaviest of hearts that I report that we lost her this morning. She’d seemed like she was going to bounce back again and again, but in the end it seems she had used up all her 18-or-so lives, and it was finally time for her to go. I knew this morning when I came down and found her sitting next to the sofa, having been unable to get up onto it in the night, that the time had come. The vet was wonderful as always, and now our beloved Little Bear is buried at the bottom of the garden here, at the house she lived in for all that time, and next to Trevor.
RIP Shira the cat, 16/6/2014. Our darling Little Bear. Bobble, Shouty Bob, Feetsie, Queen of Tail, the Little Minx. Do excuse me, I have something in my eye.
So now, for the first time in 12 years, we have the wrong number of cats. And there is only one wrong number of cats - and that number is none.