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The Long Journey.

Ollie is our cat and he celebrated his tenth birthday this month when no doubt a few tantalising treats were once again placed before him to honour the momentous occasion.  Born in Peckham, S. E. London at some time during the third week of April in 2004, our much loved, chubby British Black with the 'cream' around his lips, is believed to have originated in that borough amongst a litter of five siblings.

My daughter Mimi who has maintained a lifelong fascination for 'Felis cactus'  was resident in Peckham when she was offered first choice of a friend's unwanted and apparently increasingly intrusive litter. As we old folk here in the wilds of the English East Midlands had recently bid a fond last farewell to 'Archie' - a very large and loveable tabby - and were still mourning his passing, Mimi carefully made the decision that we would just love a replacement. Having made her choice of the litter on offer, the chosen one was subsequently packed into a small, perforated shoebox which was, in due course, transported over the 118 miles that separated our residences.  Fait accomplis!

In truth, we were not really ready yet to replace our recently demised incumbent, but the unsolicited presentation of this little waif and stray from the mean back-streets of metropolitan Peckham served to generate the minimum of resistance from us country folk.  And who could have rejected the tiny, sad and dishevelled creature that announced his presence on our doorstep; though observing suspiciously its sad and dishevelled appearance I had visions of his antecedents being more likely of the alley-cat social order and was moved to enquire of its deliverer if he was in fact, "perhaps feral?"   Mimi brusquely and swiftly disabused me of this 'awful and hurtful' suggestion and thus it was that at that moment in our lives, one scruffy little feline became a Melton Mowbray cat.

Those people - and I know there are many - who are averse to these independent and wilful creatures will not have read this far, but we as cat lovers are well aware of the differences of opinion that exist between the protagonists, so to argue the point here to any extent is perhaps not worth the effort.  Suffice to say that we have long enjoyed the presence of a cat in our home as part of our family on the grounds of the minimum effort which is required to maintain friendship and loyalty.  Their independence assures us that all we are required to do is to feed him, notwithstanding that legend asserts that a cat can go for many days without food, as indeed many of them do in the wild.

Of course there are the trips to the Vet., the cost of his food and other minimal needs, but it is his warm presence and humerous nature which keep us in thrall as he goes about his life as a paid-up member of the household and easily justifies his outgoings. Ollie is a nocturnal creature and every night of every month throughout the year he spends outdoors, searching for mice and frogs or any other little creatures which might be abroad.  At the same time he is studiously aware that 'Reynard', the local fox, is also known to patrol in the same area.  He chases the pigeons from my bird table when the season arrives but sadly, to my great chagrin, he is also known to take baby birds from their nests in the Spring, a practice for which I chide him but with little positive effect. He does seem to be impervious to the vagaries of the weather and can often be found lying on the snow for long periods of time, though prolonged hot spells in the summer can drive him to the shelter of shadowy areas on occasions.

From what I have learned of Ollie's movements over these past ten years, it seems that he has a limited area of patrol, albeit quite a large one, which comprises the rear gardens of the houses on three nearby roads all of which form a triangular to the back of our house.  It seems that the presence of the sometimes heavy traffic on these roads is sufficient to prevent him straying further.

On a normal summer's day he is usually to be found at first light, peering expectantly through the glass of the back door, through which he is welcomed by the lady of the house.  After a bit of breakfast he will toddle off to wherever he fancies in the house to select a place to sleep deeply for the next four or five hours.  After some lunch he will continue to snooze on an off until the sun goes down when, with his batteries charged, he resumes his nocturnal prowls.  In all I would suggest that sleep takes up a good three-quarters of his very privileged life style.

The Human Touch.

It is for sure that Ollie has few enemies, the local dogs respect his presence amongst them and usually keep their distance after having once felt the sharpness of his claws on their nose and he keeps a tight watch for all unwelcome visitors on his patch.  Many times we have discovered the presence of pulverised cat hair blowing around the garden following one of his night-time scraps, the scars of which can be seen today, but his main enemy is that of the homo sapiens variety and one day he was to meet his match.

About a year ago I was spending a late Sunday evening in the garden when I heard, at first very faintly, the plaintive sound of a cats 'me-ow'. Curious as to its source, I went to the bottom of the garden where I was devastated to see Ollie, just inside his gate but lying down and obviously in much pain. As he tried to stand he fell backwards and I saw that his hind quarters were bleeding and exhibiting evidence of being run over by a vehicle or similar.  He looked so woeful and despairing that I began to cry and as I comforted him I speculated as to how far he had dragged himself to get back to the apparent safety of his own home combined with whatever pain he might have suffered in doing so.  I had no indication or knowledge of what had transpired with the little chap or where and when it had occurred, but I lifted him up gently and took him indoors.

That night being Sunday and the following day being a bank holiday, we had a problem arranging veterinary assistance and it was perhaps fortunate that Ollie remained brave and showed no signs of great discomfort, even though a fracture of his rear leg was readily apparent to us by now.  When we did eventually meet up at the surgery, the true test of our love for the species was to be sorely tested - at least it was for me.  My dear wife was to not bat an eye-lid as she stoically declared to the surgeon, "Whatever it takes." You see, we were not insured for such an event and animal surgery today does not come cheaply. The  options were limited; full surgery and weeks of isolation in a cage, let him learn to live with it and - close your eyes - say goodbye.  As is the practice these days we differed in our preferences, suffice to say that following a payment of four figure sum, Ollie was gingerly taken home to spend the next few weeks on the kitchen floor in a wire cage.

When the big day of his release finally arrived he was allowed out into the garden where he wandered off to discover what had perhaps changed in his absence and within a very short period of time, we looked out of the window to see him perched on the top of a six foot fence. "Oh no!" we both shouted in pained unison only to admire his poise as he gracefully greeted terra firma, two front feet first and these followed by his rear legs which were gingerly lowered to the ground but all in one smooth action not unlike the articulation of an aeroplanes's undercarriage in completing a copy-book landing. It was as if he had forgotten nothing during his convalescence - situ normali - and left me thinking that we perhaps underestimate these little creatures and sometimes at our great cost.

Ollie no longer ventures beyond the garden fence and only he knows what sort of awful moment overtook him on that frightful Sunday evening, but his life seems little changed now; eat, sleep, sleep, eat, sleep, sleep and why not, isn't that what we all would aspire to? - So here's to the next ten years Ollie. 



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