Wendy and I bought our first house through an advert in a local North London newspaper. The woman who owned it was leaving the city and moving to Wales. It was a ramshackle Victorian terrace that needed modernising, but it had a peaceful ambiance and a mature garden to the rear that was perfect for a small family.
It’s a well-known fact that most people spend more time choosing a pair of jeans than viewing a new home prior to purchase. You know when clothes feel right and you buy them on that basis. Using the same logic, we almost made an offer for the house on our first visit. However, we had our extended family to consider. We cared for two adorable cats and had to consider their welfare as much as our own. The extensive garden would be ideal for Fred and Ginger, but it was the pre-existing cat-flap that sold the deal. Nicola was a cat lover too, so we knew it was meant to be. We told her about our two youthful ginger moggies and in passing she mentioned her cat flap needed attention. She’d never fixed it because the occasional appearance of local feline visitors didn’t bother her.
The house move went ahead on a handshake and without an estate agent we enjoyed a frictionless exchange and completion process. We kept Fred and Ginger inside for the first four weeks of our tenure by blocking the cat flap with a packing box. It didn’t take long for Fred and Ginger to adapt to our new home, and soon they were exploring the territory outside.
Over the course of a year we made improvements to the house when we had the time, money and inclination to do so. Nicola was vague about the state of the property and said something about a gurgling cistern in the bathroom. That was straightforward to fix, but there were a few other plumbing anomalies that didn’t appear on the surveyors report, and the boiler needed updating, of course. We discovered the quirks associated with an older house as and when we encountered them. The damp plaster on the kitchen wall was awkward and the rotten bedroom floorboards kept us busy, so it’s not a surprise the cat flap repair drifted off our “to-do” list. We all adjusted to our new home and Fred and Ginger were calm in their new domain until Busby arrived.
I’ll never forget our first meeting with you. It was a warm morning in early June and we’d come into the kitchen to prepare a salad for lunch. You had a little voice, Busby, but boy could you get what you wanted and command our attention. Wendy wasn’t joking when she described you as “small in stature but large in spirit”. You had the temerity to dive through the cat flap, charge past Fred and Ginger and help yourself to their ‘whitefish and tuna feast’. You were a whirlwind of dark tabby stripes and swirls. Our two softies didn’t know what had hit them. When they challenged your impudence, you fluffed up your tail like a toilet-brush and hissed with the menace of a rising cobra.
We witnessed this first encounter at our kitchen table and the casual insolence with which you gobbled the food, despite our presence. Wendy shook her head in amazement and I couldn’t believe your audacity. As for Fred and Ginger, they hid behind our chairs while you helped yourself.
It didn’t take long for you to polish off the two bowls. Who knows, maybe you hadn’t eaten for a week? Wendy stood up and you raked the air with your tiny razor-like talons, hissed again and retreated through the doorway. Wendy opened up two more cans of ‘whitefish and tuna feast’ and I got on the phone to the local pet-shop.
“No collar and bell on that one, eh?” she said.
“Too right,” I said. “I wonder how long he’s been casing the joint?”
“He’s the cockiest burglar I’ve ever seen.”
“Park Lane Pets, can I help you?”
“Ah, yes, hello,” I said. “I’m after a replacement cat flap. Do you have any in---”
“Out of stock, mate,” he said. “We’re expecting another batch in a fortnight.”
You were a lucky little cat in more ways than one. The pet shop’s logistical oversight bought you time for more home invasions. Our poor cats suffered your daily visits, every day for the next two weeks. Wendy tried blocking the door and feeding our two cats at unusual times, but undeterred, you sniffed out the fishy treats and breached our defences.
Wendy and I discussed the matter and took the initiative. If you wouldn’t cease your forays, then maybe we should treat you like a guest. I retrieved an old blue enamel dish from the packing boxes in the attic. We would try out the idea and presented a third bowl next to Fred and Ginger’s.
Later that afternoon, Wendy removed the tops from three cans of fishy feasts and forked out the contents into the bowls.
“Oh, boys, Freddie! Ginger!”
We heard the familiar “Kerdunk! Kerdunk!” followed by a third, “Kerdunketty!”
Sure enough, the three cats assumed their new feeding positions in an orderly line. The little fellow’s tail stood tall and wafted at us in triumph. There was no fuss, no squabbling and no post-meal shenanigans.
“You realise what’s going on here, don’t you, Wendy?”
“Yep.” She sighed, reconciled with our fate. “We’ve been adopted.”
“So?” I said, “Do you have any names in mind?”
“With a proud tail like that, it can only be Busby.”
“Like the guardsman’s hats, you mean?”
“It suits him, love.”
Busby it was. Fred and Ginger were fine with it. You were now part of our family.
Park Lane Pets struggled for two months to get their consignment of new cat flaps. The Saturday they arrived was the weekend of Busby’s misadventure. I went to Park Lane Pets to pay for our order and when I returned Wendy was in tears.
“It’s Busby,” she said, wiping her eyes with the back of her shirt cuff. “His leg’s in a terrible state.”
I’m no doctor, but I could see he was in pain. His hind leg was out of joint and hanging at an odd angle.
“He’s lost his appetite.” She sniffed. “He just feels all limp.”
“I’ll get the cage from the attic.”
Wendy looked me in the eye and swallowed. “He’s not right, is he?”
“We’ve got to take him to the vets.”
The local veterinary was only a mile away and a short drive by car. We both accompanied Busby and on the way Wendy called up to announce our visit. A last minute appointment late on a Saturday afternoon is hard to obtain, but Wendy persuaded them to slip us in.
We entered the silent waiting room to discover a veritable menagerie of domesticated livestock. Worried looking owners were clutching their animals on every available chair and sofa. We spotted a box of placid looking puppies, a basket of sick kittens, a tank with an anemic reptile and even a flaccid looking goldfish.
I’m not sure what triggered the chaos, but within a minute of our arrival, every pet had turned its head in our direction. Busby narrowed his beady green eyes. The pale looking lizard leapt at the glass of his enclosure and flicked out his crimson tongue. Behind the bars of our cage, Busby extended himself to his full height and glared at each animal. There were movements around the room as every beast stirred. All the hair on Busby’s body lifted of its own accord, and he hissed with all his might. The pandemonium that ensued resulted in the practice nurse requesting that we leave forthwith. We struggled to hear her words because of the racket, but we got the message.
Outside the surgery, with the cacophony behind us, Busby collapsed onto his tartan blanket and resumed his former listless demeanour.
“You might be fortunate to squeeze into the Spencer Rise Practice,” the nurse suggested, “They’re usually quiet, but you’ll have to be quick.”
The Spencer Rise Practice was silent. There was no queue and indeed, we were just in time. The young vet explained they were about to close, but agreed to check Busby.
“Hmm,” he said, stroking his chin. “It doesn’t look good.”
“Will he be---”
“He needs rest and a painkiller too.”
“What’s happened to---”
“A dislocation and I’m afraid those gums look raw too.”
“Can you help? we---”
“We can sedate him and I recommend an overnight stay.”
“His name’s Busby, he’s a lovely cat and---”
“We’ll look after Busby tonight.” He smiled. “I suggest you call first thing.”
The nurse lifted Busby from the examination table, wrapped him in a clean fluffy white towel and the vet offered us his card.
The next morning, we had an early breakfast and sat in silence until the surgery opened. “Busby’s not in pain,” said the nurse. “He’s still resting despite a good night’s sleep.”
“When can we---”
“Mr Cavagin recommends more bed rest and---”
“And tomorrow he’ll be---”
“Oh thank goodness, shall we call---”
“Yes, of course,” she said. “First thing tomorrow.”
“Thank you so much, please let the vet know that---”
“Of course, don’t worry,” she said. “Busby will be fine. Mr Cavagin’s very experienced and I’ll let him know you called.”
It was a relief to speak to the nurse. Again we’d have to wait until tomorrow, but the news sounded promising. We didn’t know what the ramifications would be, but we were just relieved to know Busby would recover.
When we called the practice on Monday morning, they didn’t prepare us for the outcome. Mr Cavagin answered the phone and was very positive.
“I’m pleased to inform you that Busby has made a complete recovery.”
“Oh, thank goodness,” Wendy said, sighing with relief, “We were so worried and---”
“And we provided Busby with precautionary gingivitis treatment.”
“Ah, fine, err, but we didn’t ask for---”
“Standard practice for our clients nowadays, we take the initiative and all our clients approve.”
“So when would you recommend we collect---”
“We’re not busy today so at your convenience,” he said, “I’ll hand you to the nurse who will arrange payment prior to your visit.”
“Thank you,” Wendy said, casting me a concerned look. “You never talked about the cost of---”
“Hello, we met on Saturday. I’ve prepared an invoice for our services,” said the nurse. “Do you have your card handy? We can take a payment now. Is Visa fine for you?”
“How much do we---”
“That will be four hundred and fifty. When you’re ready, if you can read out the---”
“Well there’s the cost of two sedatives and the gingivitis tablets and two nights accommodation and---”
“You’re having a laugh, right?”
“You have pet insurance, I presume?”
“No, Busby is a stray who adopted us and---”
There is a muttered exchange on the other end of the line and the nurse resumes.
“In that case we can reduce the price.”
We negotiate the cost of the cat hotel down by thirty per cent, which is still expensive for bed rest and a sedative. The good news is that Busby looks as bright as a button when we collect him. He rubs himself up against our legs and skips into his cage and curls up in his tartan blanket. We didn’t ask if we could keep the fluffy white towel as a souvenir. I suppose that would have been presumptuous.
The household resumed its routine once we returned with Busby. The three cats scampered about and appeared for their meals at regular intervals. We remained in a contented state for about a week and then one day Busby failed to appear for his food.
We weren’t too worried at first, but then as the days drifted past, we imagined another accident. After a week we made a “missing” notice and placed it in our local shop windows. A few weeks became a month, and we realised that was the end.
I never installed the new cat flap, and we continued to leave out the third bowl.
We never know, you might decide to pay us a visit some time.