Back when I was in my late teens I used to enjoy the television programme the Wonder Years. Well, this blog is my Wonder Years. I’m oft criticised by Mrs Aitchworld for making this blog all about me instead of Arthur and Henry. She makes a fair point, but, well, my blog; my rules. And to understand me is to understand the boys, as they are at least in part going to turn into me some day, whether they like it or not. So I will continue to write the words as they fall out of my mind and hopefully make some sense of them.
We have a new pet at Aitchworld Towers this week, which got me thinking about the pets I had growing up as a child. Firstly there was Tess. She was a stray cat that just turned up one day when I was about six or seven. I thought she stuck around for what I thought was ages, but it could have been only a year. When you are six, a year is one sixth of your whole life, so seems like a very long time!
I wanted to call this cat Lazy-Legs, but my Grandma disabused me of this notion, gently breaking it to me that she’d never heard “such a stupid idea” in all of her days, and maintained I would sound daft calling in a cat at night by that name. These were harsh words to a six year old; she called a spade a spade, that woman.
There was then a ten year gap between pets (barring a couple of hamsters along the way). George came along when I was about 15 and was a great cat, my best friend who followed me everywhere. It turned out he was no great shakes at crossing the road though, being run over by a car when he failed to out-run a Ford Escort at six months old. He was a little black cat and I just turned up with him at home one day. My dad went ballistic and still maintains he didn’t have anything to do with George in his six short months on this earth. I have photographic evidence to the contrary though, with a great shot of my Dad with George draped over his arm.
We then got Smudge from the local rescue home. I have heard it said that you don’t choose cats, but they choose you and this was certainly the case with Smudge. The local rescue home was a domestic garage behind a bungalow on a well to do housing estate, that had been converted to house a couple of dozen stray cats for re-homing. When I walked in with my mum, Smudge batted some of the other cats away from my feet then jumped up onto my shoulder. I was the chosen one.
We soon found out that Smudge was little more than feral though, hiding under a bed for over a week when we first brought her home, only emerging after dark when everyone was in bed in order to get food and do her ablutions. Even after settling in she would occasionally go into full attack mode for no apparent reason, ripping your arm to shreds when she felt she had received enough strokes. She still preferred hunting wild animals to food out of a tin, and many a time I saw her bring down a pigeon in full flight, which was quite impressive for a cat that weighed over a stone. A former Mrs Aitchworld used to call her Fat Bastard, but really she was just big-boned. Smudge that is, although thinking about it…
I swear if we had lived in an area any more rural we would have found her trying to drag a sheep or a cow that she had caught, through the cat-flap, thinking it was a wildebeest. With David Attenbrough doing the narration.
When I moved out of home, I left Smudge with my parents. My mum wanted it that way and I wasn’t ready for the responsibilities of full parenthood whilst I was still so young. I still saw her very regularly, because for the first few years of live on my own I failed to invest in a washing machine and used to take my laundry back home for my mum to do. And I’d get a Sunday roast at the same time.
Smudge would also come down to mine to stay, which as my dad took early retirement at about the same time as I left home, thus having plenty of time for holidays, meant she spent a lot of time down at my flat. Smudge lived to the ripe old age of 18, and could still catch wildlife right up until the end of her life.
And thus I remained without pets for many years until the current Mrs Aitchworld moved in. In the absence of children, we decided pets were the next best thing. Mrs Aitchworld was brought up with dogs, but as we both worked full time, we felt it wasn’t fair to leave a dog home alone all day. But cats… Cats, with the aid of a cat-flap, can come and go as they please.
After a couple of false starts, we found ourselves at a local shelter where we were swiftly chosen by a pair of black kittens, brothers from the same litter whom the staff had named Kip and Squeak. They chose me by one trying to undo my shoe laces through the bars of their pen, and the other climbing up the bars and reaching through to try and grab the cord of the hoody I was wearing. The bond was formed.
Once they arrived home with us, Kip and Squeak were thoroughly examined to determine their real names. Kip was re-named Charlie, and Squeak became Dave. While their original names accurately reflected their actions, they didn’t suit their faces or personalities.
We subsequently found out that black and white cats, and black cats in particular, are the hardest for the shelters to re-home. Given how handsome Charlie and Dave were, we didn’t understand this, or think it particularly fair. In fact, we spent many hours looking at shelter sites for black cats we could potentially re-home. It became like Tinder for cats. For those that remember Debbie from the dating site viral video who wanted to hug every cat, well, we were Debbie. We could have re-homed and hugged every black cat in the North West of England given half a chance.
How we didn’t end up with more than just Charlie and Dave is a mystery. Actually it isn’t; we were trying to have children and if successful in this endeavour a house full of cats wouldn’t have been ideal, so our focus ended up being on chickens. Strictly speaking these weren’t pets as they lived outside. Well, they did for most of the time, but when Henrietta (yes, we went there) was nearing the end of her days, Mrs Aitchworld brought her inside to live in a cage because she looked cold. But we gave each and every one of them names and somehow, every time we failed to conceive it seemed another chicken or two got added to the herd.
Dave and Charlie though, largely had the house, and us, to themselves for the best part of five years. Their world was turned upside down when, through the wonders of IVF, Henry and Arthur entered our world and theirs. Throughout, Dave and Charlie have been brilliant with the boys, and are very protective of them. Henry and Arthur in turn have been very gentle and loving with the cats for as long as they have comprehended what and who they are.
Sadly we quickly found out that we didn’t have enough time to devote to so many chickens, twin cats and twin boys, so something had to give. You are probably thinking this doesn’t end well for the chickens, but we could never eat anything we had given names to and so we gave the chickens to a friend with a small holding, to live out the rest of their days in the countryside. No, seriously, an actual smallholding; not one of those other farms in the countryside where chickens usually go!
So our family now consists of twin boys and twin cats. Or it did until last week. Last week Henry and Arthur found a caterpillar in the garden. They wanted to keep it. When asked what it could be fed on they informed us that on Monday it would eat through one apple. On Tuesday it would eat through two pears, and so on. So we filled a large vase with twigs and leaves (and five strawberries, for Friday you understand) and it takes pride of place on the island in the kitchen.
When asked what the boys were going to call the caterpillar, they unanimously decided on “Grandma”. Why, we have no idea. But Grandma it is. This created a very awkward conversation when I went to pick up the boys from nursery on their first day back after finding the caterpillar, where they had been telling everyone there that we keep Grandma in a vase in the kitchen. I had to explain to the nursery staff that we hadn’t, in fact, had another death in the family and it really is a vase, not an urn!