The season has changed. We’ve reached a tipping point and it’s winter no longer.
It's been pleasant all week – and gorgeous today – but it was on Monday night, after dusk had fallen, that I knew. Standing in the garden briefly, I could feel it – smell it. It was a clear sky and chilly – well, not “chilly”; not chill-you-to-your-bones cold, but fresh: different.
And not only has the air changed, the light has changed too. As my bus passed the park this morning, the first crocuses, purple and white, were visible in the early frost.
Spring might not fully have sprung, but it’s on the way. It doesn’t mean that the bad weather is over – apart from anything else, the domestic cricket season hasn’t started yet and we always get snow around then, as if the weather is making some sort of a sarcastic comment on the sport itself.
But there is a difference and it's almost beyond welcome.
For the kittens, of course, it's a first – as are many things at present.
The mornings seem to have lightened considerably – and almost overnight. So of course the furry alarm clocks are starting their morning ministrations earlier with every passing day.
Loki likes to come up on the bed and attempt to suckle our ears. Otto comes up to me for pillow cuddles and fuss. You could be forgiven for thinking that the latter is the biggest softy in our household, but while he's as soft as the proverbial with me, there are signs of a rather tougher and more calculating feline beneath the fur. For instance, while Loki gets batted regularly by Boudi for running into her accidently or similar such infringements (like being in her presence), Otto has now taken to sitting quite deliberately in situations where he is above the Queen B. And then looking down at her.
This is an offence to Her Majesty, who eventually flips and tries to smack him. He remains completely unperturbed – and does it again. This is teasing par excellence – and way beyond that traditional kitten trick (which Boudi herself used to do to poor old Trickie – karma, eh?) of standing on your back paws and waving your front paws at a bigger cat – trying to look bigger and scarier yourself.
Bismarck would be proud – and Boudi's going to have her paws full before long, if she doesn't feel that already.
Born right at the end of last October, they haven't felt a lot of sun on their bodies before – and now that there are moments when we can start to feel it, they must be able to feel it too.
They're enjoying being occasionally let into our tiny garden now – only under supervision – although Boudicca is less than impressed at yet another part of her realm no longer being safe from kittenish invasion. The other week, on one of their first such spells outside, we had a visit from neighbouring moggy Basil.
Basil (left) is bonkers. He lives in the small block of flats next to ours, with a woman who, frankly, hasn't a clue. She thinks that he's better spending time outside – but half the time, he clearly wants to be inside, warm and comfortable. Instead, he sits in our gated carpark and mewls for attention.
And he gets it from many of the residents. In the summer, if someone has a barbeque outside in the carpark, he'll always be guaranteed titbits. Even Lisa, a neighbour who says that she hates cats, bought a box of something called 'cat gravy' for him once. It's not the best diet, though, and he's really rather large.
He's convinced, though, that however she may react, Boudi would really like to be his special friend. Before the arrival of Otto and Loki, she'd dive into the garden and attempt to reach under the fence to bat Boris if he was near enough. He must have a strange idea of friendship.
It was clearly something of a shock to him the other day to discover that the fence that he stands on the other side of, moaning, now has extra cats behind it. Loki hissed at him through a knothole. But never let it be said that such things put Basil off in his quest for feline companionship.
A few mornings ago, he hauled his fat furry body over the fence and into our garden, going to sit in front of the patio doors and mewl.
Boudi went predicatably mad, scrabbling at the door to be let out so that she could chase him off; even though she's physically smaller, it's an unfair match: she's chased him right up the fence before now, all four paws spinning like some sort of cartoon cat on speed.
Loki stood in front of the window, head on one side, watching curiously. I was taking the day off and was still sitting in bed, sipping camomile tea, looking at cookery books and planning the weekend food with Otto's help – he wasn't remotely interested in the stranger outside.
I went through to the living room and rattled the door handle, which sent Basil off as fast as he could go, scrabbling madly to get back over the fence. Far kinder than letting Boudi at him.
Who knows whether he's tried his luck since when we've been at work. I've told Boudi not to let him in. There are no obvious signs that she's ignored me or that she's had the chance to give him a serious seeing-to.
I'm looking forward to seeing how the kittens react when it gets really warm. There would always be a day, in years now past, when Mack would emerge into the garden, as though from hibernation, and roll in the sun-warmed dust of the patio. Like crocuses and roadworks and lengthening days, it was a sign that spring was on the way. And it never ceased to warm the cockles of my heart.