Both female kitten-cats (hastily named Fifi and Lula, because the vet does like to have names to put on the animals’ records, and we used up the Big Cat/Little Cat/Mother Cat/Tom Cat options long ago) are at this very moment unhappily installed at the vet’s, awaiting imminent surgery. Of course, the process by which they got there was by no means simple or straightforward, as anyone with any inkling of the nature of cats and the nature of Sod’s Law could have predicted.
Yesterday afternoon, when we were intending to catch the culprits and take them to the vet — to ensure they had a food-free night before surgery — all the barn cats disappeared. Earlier in the day Simon had the brilliant idea that we should take away the usually available supply of dry food from the barn, to ensure that they would all be really hungry by late afternoon (and thus easier to catch). Nice theory. In fact, what happened was that they all got too hungry and fed up with waiting, and so went off to find their own food somewhere else. The fields around here are full of it after all. Consequently, the only barn cat I saw all day long was Tabby, whom I spied diving into the hedge next to the lane with a sizeable lizard clamped firmly between his jaws.
So, the hours between 4.00 and 6.00pm found me wandering the vicinity in ever-increasing circles, with a bowl of tasty, fresh and utterly-vile-smelling-but-totally-compelling cat food in my hand, uttering the plaintive cry of “Here kitties”, in an irritating high-pitched and pointless manner. The house cats came. The chickens came. A big stray tom cat (and probable cause of pregnant cat’s pregnancy) came. Even a particularly tame red-start came. But no barn cats. Damn their cat-like, independent natures! Damn the lovely dry, sunny weather! Damn the abundance of rodentry in the hedgerows. Yesterday, when it looked like rain, and I wanted to walk the dogs without the added attraction of the customary dashy-yelpy-barky kitten-chase, I couldn’t cross the yard without tripping over one of the pesky little blighters. But the day you want them to be there, oh no! That would be far too simple.
As the minutes passed, and my sense of imminent failure grew, I considered alternative courses of action. They MUST return at some point. If I waited and watched for long enough, I must be able to catch them eventually. Maybe we could take them to the vet in the morning, and just hope that they hadn’t scoffed a banquet-load of mice overnight. But, hello! What was that? Yes! Little Eric had appeared.
I gave him some of the smelly deliciousness to eat in the barn, and hoped that his loud and appreciative purring would alert the other cats to the fact that niceness was in the offing. Sure enough, five minutes later, Tabby appeared, followed closely by Tommy-girl, miaowing and purring and falling over each other and my feet, to get to the extra-special grub, the like of which they only get to sniff on rare occasions, when we are feeling particularly generous, or when Carrefour have it on special offer. Still 25 minutes till vet-closing time. But still no target cats! Where the hell are they? How do they know?
“Any luck?” Simon emerged for the house, where he had been busying himself with dinner preparations in an effort to otherwise occupy his mind.
“Nope. Not yet. How long have I got?”
“Well, we’d need to leave here in the next ten minutes. I’d better ring them to let them know we’re not coming.”
“Not yet. I’ll keep looking”
“Well, I’m just gonna have a look around the barn to see if I can find my electric-fence tester. I can’t think where I put it. You haven’t seen it have you? It’s blue and about this big, with black cable wrapped round it. Have you put it away somewhere, in one of your tidyings-up?”
Whenever Simon loses something, it is my fault for moving it. Never his fault for forgetting where he put it.
“Have you looked in that box of electrical stuff in the bathroom? Or in your desk drawers? Or in the attic?” I suggest, helpfully.
“It won’t be there. I wouldn’t have put it there.”
It surprises me that he can be so sure about where he wouldn’t have put it, when he has no idea at all where he would have put it.
Simon disappears into the depths of the barn, wearing a distracted, bemused expression. I suspect he is deliberately involving himself in Other Things so as to control his almost overwhelming desire to berate me with a list of I-Told-You-Sos about the cat situation. I decide to stop looking for cats, and to start looking for electric-fence testers instead. I have a sense that I might be more successful.
Although we all know that the tester won’t be in the attic, I go up to look anyway. It isn’t. Well, at least I think it isn’t. But looking for a blue thing about such-and-such a size with cable wrapped round it, in a room full of shelves containing blue things, and things of such-and-such a size, and things with cables wrapped round them isn’t really my forté. How can any one human being possibly need so many tools? Especially ones with cables wrapped round them. And why are they all adorned with blue, or red, or yellow plastic parts? Why not purple, or cerise, or turquoise? Why not more distinctive? And less relentlessly man-some? For a wild moment I contemplate the possible pleasures of owning and wielding a baby-pink chain-saw.
On the way out of the attic, I stop for a moment at the top of the steps to enjoy the only high-up view from this house. Sometimes I wish we could have been arsed to aménager nos combles. An upstairs room with upstairs windows would be nice. And from this rare vantage point I spy two balls of black and ginger fur, curled unobtrusively amongst the nettles and brambles that have over-grown the piles of junk that are gradually entropising back to nature in the furthest of our dilapidated outbuildings. Aware that Time Is Of The Essence, I stumble inefficiently back to the barn to retrieve a dish and some of the smelly-lovely cat food and head out into the jungle to locate the cat-sized fur balls, wondering as I trip through the bramblage whether I shouldn’t have brought one of the cat-trapping boxes with me. Convincing myself that such unusual behaviour would spread alarm, I continue with my hastily prepared plan of luring whichever cats I might discover all the way back round the side and front of the house, and into the barn.
In the long vegetation I find Barn Mother, and one of the barn kitten-cats. Not the very-pregnant one, unfortunately, but beggars can’t be choosers. I’ll take whatever I can catch. Of course, Barn Mother is up instantly in response to the delicious odour emanating from the tempting dish I waft in front of them, and Little Funnyface (or Fifi, as she has since become) looks interested. She stands up and stretches. She looks at me. She looks at the dish in my hand. I look at the mental image of the clock in my head, ticking away the seconds to vet-closing-time. I can almost see the vet receptionist, checking her watch, and thinking about what she will make for dinner tonight, as she goes about the building closing windows and locking filing cabinets, in preparation for her punctual escape at the end of her working day. I bend down and assume the most non-threatening posture I can imagine. I proffer the tempting food to Fifi. She smells a rat. She turns and takes a few skulky steps in the opposite direction.
I resist the urge to shriek my frustration, and keep very still. “Come on kitty” I almost whisper. I wait. The seconds turn to years, and slip away. I want her to hurry up, but I have to act like there is no rush whatsoever. All I am doing is offering her a treat – a perfectly innocent treat. No strings attached. I hope she can’t hear how fast my heart is beating.
At last! A tiny step in the right direction. And another. She sniffs the air down-stream from the food. She takes another step. She is hooked. Now all I have to do is reel her in, slowly, steadily, all the way to the barn. It would be easier if Mother Cat didn’t keep trying to pounce on the food. But then again maybe Mother Cat’s confident presence is reassuring Fifi that all is safe. Eventually, after five minutes of years, we get into the barn. I put the dish down on the bottom stair, in the usual food place, and wait. Fifi and Mother Cat go for it. I put some more food in another dish, and move Mother Cat out of the way. I put on my cat-catching gloves, slightly adjust the position of the cat box and mentally rehearse my cat-grabbing skills. There is but One Chance. If I mess this up she will be off and away, and we will have to start all over again, with an added burden of suspicion born out of experience.
I grab her by the scruff of her scrawny little neck and stuff her unceremoniously into the waiting box, slamming the door shut in one simultaneous movement. Gotcha!
Picking up the wildy swinging and shrieking box of cat, I hurry triumphantly into the yard. “Simon! Quick! I’ve got one. Is there still time?”
“Maybe, just. Get in the car. We have about five minutes.”
We pile into the car, and I settle the howling, rocking box of angry cat on my knees, careful to keep all parts of my anatomy out of scratching distance. I had no idea that this little car could go so fast and handle so well. For once, I am so hyped up with the goal of getting to the vet before it closes, and so flooded with the adrenalin after-glow of my cat-catching success, that I am hardly afraid at all, as we squeal around blind bends, and skim past on-coming tractors with barely a centimetre to spare.
We burst through the door into the reception area as the receptionist is standing up, just ready to leave. The vet emerges from the back room to see what all the noisy commotion is about. They both smile warmly. We are probably their most regular clients, after all. Simon hands over the mewling cage, and explains that we haven’t been able to catch the other one. “No problem,” the vet says (only in French). “Things are pretty quiet here at the moment. Just bring her in whenever you catch her, and we can operate later the same day.”
We return home, debating the possible whereabouts of the missing pregnant cat and wondering whether the Law of Sod had beaten us to it, and whether she might already be holed up in some cosy dark space with her newly delivered bundles of not-joy. And as we pull into the yard, we spy the unmistakable smugness of a still-very-pregnant black-and-ginger kitten-cat, standing bold as brass right in front of the barn door. She stands and watches as we get out of the car, and walk towards the house.
“I don’t fancy trying to catch her now, and then keeping her howling in a tiny box all night. I think we should wait until the morning.”
Simon raises his eyebrows. “Well, if you think that’s best…”
The very-pregnant-black-and-ginger kitten-cat winks at me and slinks away, sliding her fatness through the small gap under the barn door, to go and finish off whatever delights remain in the no-longer-empty cat dishes.
The next morning arrived bright and early. Too early for me. It should have been my turn for a lie-in, but the need to get Pregnant Cat caught before it became Too Late, and preferably before vet-opening time at 8.30am, inspired my unscheduled leap out of bed and once more into the cat-tracking fray. While the dogs walked Simon, I headed into the sleepy dark of the barn to discover the two little toms, and Tommy Girl, adopting their usual food-eliciting behaviours, miaowing insistently next to the empty bowls. But Pregnant Cat was nowhere to be seen. Damn!
Deciding that there was no point searching for the inconveniently elusive feline, I thought it best to go about some normal tasks, in the hope of tricking her into thinking that everything was perfectly normal, and that I wasn’t in fact lying in wait for her in some hidden corner. I went away to let the chickens out, and started watering the seeded area where we are attempting to replace the grass that was so successfully obliterated by the hungry piggies. I checked back in the barn. Barn Mother Cat had appeared and was munching away at the food, looking so much like her pregnant daughter in the half-light, that for a moment I thought my luck was in.
Over the next half hour, I tried to concentrate on watering our very dry world, whilst keeping one eye on the area around the barn door. The dogs brought Simon back. The chickens wandered off burbling into the field across the lane. Barn Mother joined me at the old pig pen, and proceeded to dig a nice big hole in our freshly seeded ‘lawn’ to perform her morning toilet. Pregnant Cat remained invisible.
“I’m making breakfast now.” Simon called from the door. “You coming in?”
“In a bit.”
I watered on, and, as deep puddles formed between bone-dry spaces, I realised how hard it is to water a patch of ground evenly whilst looking somewhere else. Thinking that I may as well resign myself to the fact that we would not be popping up to the vet any time soon, I decided to interrupt my watering activities to go and eat breakfast. I’ll just check in the barn one last time on my way…
Oh My God! I could hardly believe my eyes. There was Pregnant Cat, standing half way down the barn stairs, staring me straight in the eye, and daring me to try to catch her. Argh! The desire to just run-and-grab was almost overwhelming. But no. I had to play it cool. I opened a sachet of the smelly loveliness that had so successfully attracted Fifi the day before, and squeezed a little into a dish. Pregnant Cat descended the stairs, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, keeping her wary eyes on me. I stepped away from the dish and waited. Pregnant Cat reached the second step where the dish of temptation waited. She sniffed at it. She licked her lips. She started to eat. I took a step towards her and she darted between the stairs into the black space beneath. I waited. Her head reappeared in the gap beneath the third stair. With only her head and shoulders in sight, she started to eat again.
All I had to do was grab the scruff of her neck. One quick movement and hold on tight. I took a slow breath. I went for it! But Pregnant Cat was ready. She was moving away before my intention had fully turned into action, and I couldn’t get a good hold. Instead, I had my fingers round her whole neck and she was twisting and wriggling like a very twist-wriggly thing, and with one last wriggle she was free. Aargh! Now I’d blown it. She disappeared into the blackness again.
I might as well give up. I might as well go and eat breakfast and reconcile myself to the fact that we are clearly destined to raise an endless stream of wild kittens for the rest of our cat-weary lives. Or… maybe… I could just try once more? With a slightly different approach. I put a little food in a different dish, and put the dish right inside the cat box. Then I placed the cat box next to the black space beneath the stairs, with its open side facing where I thought Pregnant Cat was still hiding. I moved back a few paces and waited, silently.
Pregnant Cat’s ginger-emblazoned head emerges, and e-v-e-n m-o-r-e s-l-o-w-l-y she inches forwards towards the box. Keeping her back feet on free ground, she strains forward to reach the food. This time I have to get it right. This surely is my last chance. I try not to think about what I am about to do, so as not to telepathically alert Pregnant Cat to my intentions. I try to focus all my non-thinking attention on the action and not the outcome. I am momentarily distracted by a stray thought about writing a book called Zen and the Art of Cat Trapping. And then by another thought about how I really must persist with the Meditation Lark, and learn how to trap stray thoughts before they give birth to another, and another….
Back in the moment I achieve focus, and act. Just like that. Perfect cat-trapping motion in action. I step forward, shove Pregnant Cat’s arse with one hand and slam shut the box door with the other. She erupts and somersaults inside the box, filling the small space with hisses and flying food. Claws and teeth scrabble at every opening. This cat surely has eight legs and five heads! The cat box is hard to carry as the furious weight inside it shifts frantically from one end to the other, so that it swings wildly, suspended from its flimsy handle. Back at the front door I shout triumphantly, “Breakfast will have to wait. Get the car keys!”
When we arrive, the receptionist and the vet are standing exactly where they were when we left them the previous evening. I experience a weird Matrix moment. I wonder if I am getting enough sleep. Fortunately Simon is well and truly grounded in the practical present. He apologises for the mess of food mixed with hissy wildness (hastily named Lula) inside the box, and explains that these little beasts are somewhat difficult to catch. He wonders whether it would be possible for the vet to use soluble stitches, so that a return visit for stitch removal can be avoided. The vet assures us that we needn’t worry. If we can’t bring them back, the stitches will fall out of their own accord. Eventually. Glancing at the myriad tiny scars on my hands and forearms I vaguely wish she had mentioned that some time ago.
Back at the house we eat our cold breakfast, happy in the knowledge that, henceforward, Blanchetière will be a kitten-free zone. Every life should have nine cats, but nine cats is enough. With the cat situation sorted, we turn our minds turn to the other Big Thing on Simon’s List. Before we collect the fixed cats at the end of the afternoon, we have to finish the fencing of the New Field, install electric wiring along all the boundaries where our various male llamas might attempt to destructively demonstrate their masculinity, and move Duc and Valentine to their new abode.
I guess there actually is a chance that all that needs to be done will actually be done before I leave for England tomorrow, and that the strategy of Leaving Everything to the Last Minute will be justified once again 🙂