Monday, 31 December 2012

Christmas is for cats

Loki (top) and Otto, with shiny paper and a few balls.
‘Christmas is really for the children,’ or so many people claim.

In which case, do cats count too?

It’s certainly been an eventful festive season for our little pride, starting when Loki got herself lost.

She’d successfully chased the considerably larger Reggie out of the carpark behind our flat, and was rather obviously feeling chuffed with herself.

But by the time I’d returned from the shops, The Other Half was back inside, the door was still open, but she was nowhere to be seen.

Cue much calling and rattling of food tins. No sign.

After about half an hour of hunting – and increasing panic – The Other Half went upstairs on a communal staircase and opened a window to peer out from above.

Next door to our small block is an old pub that’s been converted into flats. He thought he spotted her on the metal stairs leading to the upper floors.

He sped out one way and I went the other, food tin and fork in hand.

There she was, underneath the metal stairs, hiding in a corner, bravado gone, now just thoroughly frightened.

Eventually he coaxed her out and through the gate, picking her up and pushing her back into the carpark, where she ran past me as I beat a tattoo on the tin and called her.

Past me, indeed, into the garden, straight into the flat and absolutely straight to the food bowl, where she started to gobble food.

“She’s going to bring that all back up,” I mused to The Other Half a few minutes later, as she continued to empty the bowl. But remarkably, she didn’t. Presumably, being frightened and lost gets the appetite going.

She’d also managed to get mud all over her paws and belly, so we toweled as much off as possible. I was wondering if we’d have to experience the joys of bathing a cat, but fortunately she completed the job excellently all by herself.

And then it was a case of flopping next to The Other Half on the sofa and not moving for the rest of the day. And the day after that.

But Christmas Day brought with it reasons to be active again.

The cats have had a few balls to play with for some time – light, ping pong balls are perfect. But they lose them rapidly beneath the furniture and then demand we get them out again.

Solution? A Christmas present of a bag of 150 orange ping pong balls.

Which we emptied onto the wooden floor all at once, to enormous feline confusion. Confusion, however, that was followed by gleeful play.

Boudicca isn’t entirely convinced, but The Kittens – who arrived at Christmas three years ago, so aren’t really kittens any more – love them.

It’s a sort of combination of dribbling skills and pinball. Although Otto has added a format to the game that’s entirely of her own making.

Having worked out that she can carry a ball around, she picks one up (using her front paws to lift it to her mouth) and then carries it to the mat inside the door to the garden.

Then she puts it down and waits until it either rolls away, before she charges after it, or until she decides to bat it away, and then charge after it.

But then, after a while of pinging it around, it will be brought back to the mat to start again. In the last week or so, the mat has changed to a piece of shiny wrapping paper, which is near the mat.

Wrapping paper is obviously another seasonal pleasure, to be dived on (this year’s new wooden floor means you can pretty much surf on it), torn at – and made into little tents to hide in.

Not that this is Otto’s only version of a formalised game.

Having realised, last Christmas, that she particularly loves ribbon, I bought a spool so we can cut lengths off for play.

And the ribbons ended up on the bed, which has a blanket box at the end of it.

The game, as it has evolved, means that when I’m sitting in bed with a book, Otto will sit on the blanket box and wait.

I’m supposed to take the longest piece of red ribbon and flick it towards her and then draw it slowly up the bed.

Sometimes she pounces quickly – sometimes she waits. And waits.

But she always returns to the blanket box to start the next round.

Cats have habits – they’ll patrol exactly the same area in exactly the same way, for instance – but neither The Other Half nor I have ever seen anything quite like this. It’s fascinating.

Mind, she will also sit and watch television (or a computer) for longer than any cat I’ve known either.

Boudi continues to be the household’s big clumsy girl. Presumably because she was so young when we got her (six and a half weeks) and because she moved into a household with two elderly cats, her social skills are not what they might be.

She gets her verbal signals all confused, growling and hissing when she’s actually playing. It still bemuses The Kittens, although they generally seem to regard her behaviour in a sort of ‘oh, it’s just Boudi’ way. They’d probably shrug if they could.

Mind, that’s when they’re not teasing her – karma, Boudi, given how you baited Trickie when you were a tiny thing?

Trickie, our Battersea rescue cat, who had spent most of her life with an elderly man who clearly liked a very hot home; who thought that she wasn’t a cat, but a small, elderly and rather genteel lady in a fur coat.

Trickie, who was nearly about to set records for the longest stay at the home; who beat her ‘cabin’ door when she saw us coming, drooled over the top of it at us, and faked the cat test, which is supposed to reveal whether a cat can get along with other cats.

Trickie, who was so grateful to be rescued from Stalag Luft Battersea, and who was then twice attacked in our garden by some hulking stranger cat, who was chased off by Boudi, paws a-whir as she hurtled after it, claws glistening in the morning light.

All of them leave you with stories and memories.

Not that our anthropological observations this last couple of weeks have been limited to the cats.

When we finally managed to get out for a walk yesterday, we discovered that squirrels make nests. Okay, I knew that they nested in hollow bits of trees, but had never realised that they actually make nests in the branches too.

We were in the park and there were squirrels everywhere – including the fattest one either of us have ever seen; sitting beneath a tree and munching its way through a whole pile of nuts, beady eye keeping a watch on anyone who got too close.

But not far away, there were squirrels running up and down the naked trees, carrying leaves to a big nest.

Since there was another rather large squirrel watching, we surmised that there’s a spot of Sciuridae pregnancy in the air.

And with a scattering of pink blossom on a tree further on, and crocuses already well on the way in our own little garden, it would seem that the seasons are well and truly in chaos.

No wonder it hasn’t felt much like Christmas anywhere but completely hidden away from the outside world.

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