I always had animals around. When I was very small there were chickens and my collie dog. She probably wasn’t my dog really, but we used to go stealing together. From shops. She’d help me eat the things I got off the shelves when people weren’t looking. I was two.
I know this because we moved to Dorset when I was two and we were supposed to have had a black Labrador then. If it’s true I have no memory of it, whatsoever, which is an odd thing in itself.
Then we had a Pyrenean Mountain Dog because my demented father thought he could rent it to an advertising agency who were tired of the Dulux Dog. Despite being an accomplished liar and fantasist about whom my only regret is being dead he can’t actually read this, the Ad agency guys thought that a bit of consistency would be a better brand builder preferable to funding my father’s predictable progression from Ford Anglia to Mark II Jaguar.
Then the dogs stopped. There had been cats but they didn’t last. Until we adopted my feral cat, Fluff. At best she tolerated the rest of the family. But she got on with me fine.
When I got my own place a cat was one of the first things I got, long before a proper floor in the kitchen. Then another, to look after the first, and then came the Big Storm and suddenly two mother cats brought nine kittens in through the cat flap to the disconcertion of the residents, human and cat alike.
They were everywhere. When every alien in The X-Files was revealed to be basically a bald cat on growth hormones I wasn’t really surprised.
The funniest, Londonest Didn’t You Kill My Brother? time was on Green Lanes one dark, cold winter’s night. Back then it was a Greek area, mostly Greek Cypriots who had left in a hurry, but not so much of a hurry they’d forgotten their food. It was 1990 and local shops meant piles of fruit, gallon tins of olive oil and halva in plastic tubs, spicy sausages hanging outside the butchers and a Essex greengrocers who’d learned two extra languages so they could talk to the customers. You might call it an integrated community. We just called it Green Lanes.
Back on the Cypriot side of the street one night I went to get some vegetables in one of the open-fronted shops. There were two huge guys in their twenties behind the counter and a cardboard box on top of it. At any given time one of the guys was up close to the box, sometimes both of them. There was a gym bag on the floor. I looked to see where the baseball bat was, but they didn’t look as if they’d need one. When I got what I’d come for I got as close to the box as I casually could, trying to see what was inside. I thought it was the week’s takings.
The tiny kitten was something far more precious to two huge young men guarding it that winter night.