It's been just a fraction over a year and four months since Mack died, leaving Boudicca as our lone cat. Past experience suggested that it would be best to leave getting another or more cats for a while, so that she had the chance to really blossom. So we did.
But a few months ago, we started targeting this Christmas as the time to add further feline joy to our lives. Christmas, because we could – as long as we had managed to hit a load of deadlines in time – take a whole fortnight off: ideal for bedding in new members of the household. And we knew that kittens would be easier on Boudi too, rather than bringing another adult in.
Unfortunately, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home had no kittens at this time of year, so I started regularly browsing gumtree.com, an online marketplace where a great many breeders, amateur and professional, advertise. And while it might strictly speaking be the end of the kitten season, if you look at that site, you wouldn't know it.
But looking and getting something sorted were two very different propositions. I rang a couple of people, essentially promising to take two of a litter (and pay the requested amount) – if they only keep them until Saturday, when we'd both have finished with work for the season.
'Urr, umm ... but I have people coming to see them later'.
'I'll ring you tomorrow' – only for the call never to come, although the same kittens were then re-advertised later that day.
And so it went on.
Then I hit gold, with a woman in Barnet (pretty much the far reaches of north London) who had two little boys of seven and a bit weeks that she wanted to see in good homes. She was, it materialised, a vet's assistant. Which was heartening to start with, since it suggested she knew what she was doing. After a fairly detailed email conversation, in which I sketched out our history with moggies, she offered to bring them to us on Saturday afternoon.
Better yet! She had a car, but we don't.
Saturday morning was a sort of manic affair. I had to shop, while The Other Half did a bit of floor cleaning. I'm not sure that kittens worry about the state of bathroom and kitchen floors, but I wasn't going to disabuse him when such a mood was in full swing.
At around 1pm – a good hour after she'd told me that she'd aim for and ring/text us when she was on the way, the doorbell rang, just as I was pacing around, finding that her phone was off and wondering whether we'd been dumped for some reason or other.
They're utterly gorgeous – as, of course, are all baby animals.
Otto (left) is so skinny and really quite scrawny, that one presumes that he was the runt of the litter. Not that you'd know it. He has no sense of inferiority or fear. When he arrived, he was popped straight into my arms, scrambled onto my shoulder and curled around my neck, purring dozily.
Loki (below) was handed to The Other Half and was also perfectly happy to stay and cuddle and purr. But Loki was also the first to start exploring – hopping down from the comfort of the sofa and starting to sniff everything around. So Loki – the Norse god of mischief – seemed a perfect name.
Otto (so called because I love the name – and it's seems to continue a naming style) stayed sleepily put for an age. But even he eventually woke up enough to start feeling inquisitive.
I'd ordered some sachets of kitten food in my bulk online shopping order – to arrive tomorrow. But I realised that they needed some before that. And it had also occurred to me that it might help them feel at home if I got them one of those fluffy sort of covered 'boxes' to curl up together in.
So after a grabbed lunch, I left The Other Half to cat sit, while I nipped to Islington to the nearest proper pet shop that I know. A bus ride and then a short stroll amid Christmas trees shedding their needles and spreading their fresh scent, with seasonal music playing into the street over speakers as crowds hunted down Yule goodies, brought me to the shop – and the rest was the business of a few minutes.
As the evening progressed, I fed them the suggested amount – suggested on both the varieties of kitten feed I'd bought them. They wanted more. I gave them biscuits and they scoffed those too. So I put out a few more biscuits. They bounced and rolled and played and play-fought ... and Otto discovered that curtains are fabulous.
And they enjoyed more fuss. Otto will curl up with you and lie still. Loki gets so excited and will squirm and roll in your arms. Both like to nibble fingers and hands with tiny, pincer-sharp teeth. Both enjoy nuzzling and kneeding faces and necks.
In the meantime, Boudicca sulked. She'd looked on them in shock at first – trying to stare them out. When that failed – they'd spent the first weeks of their lives with other, older cats, plus a couple of dogs, so not much is likely to intimidate them – she retired with indignant hisses to the bedroom. We shared our attention carefully. I made sure that, when at the pet shop, I brought her a new catnip toy. She doesn't seem to blame us, but isn't impressed. On the other hand, she knows that they're babies and can't do anything more than hiss at them a bit.
They stayed in the living room overnight: it was lovely and warm, they had cushions and other things to sleep on – plus their litter tray and some biscuits in a bowl. It allowed Boudi to feel that she had the bedroom – and us – to herself for the night. We heard not a squeak, until I got up at around 9am – later than I'd intended – and got them some breakfast. They're used to specific feeding times of 8am and 6pm – presumably sandwiching the vet's assistant's work schedule.
Well, I stuck with the same recommended amounts again – they scoffed that in no time and made it perfectly clear that they wanted more. On the basis that Otto quite clearly needs to put on weight – there's no danger of either of them being overweight at this juncture – I put out an adult sachet. They scoffed that too. And then spent the next two to three hours romping around, playing and play fighting and discovering Boudi's cache of toys – and proving wonderful entertainment.
They also started venturing beyond the living room into the rest of the flat.
Boudi continues to sulk a little. But she's branched out of the bedroom and has come to sniff everything, sit with me in the kitchen – and here, while I'm writing – and watch them from a safe distance.
She'll get there. And we're making sure to give her fuss and tell her what a good girl she is. In the end, she'll have other cats to run around with – and she's young enough to still love boisterous playing herself.
But in the meantime, if they tell you that Christmas is about children ... well, they may be right. In this case, it's about cat children. And I don't think it could get much better.