This post is written with the help of my boys, to mark what would have been Ethelbert’s 10th birthday. I wanted a page bursting with happy memories, for them to visit as and when they need to. She was a massive cat, in both size and in attitude. Here we remember all the fun she brought us.
The fun she used to have on the slide in the garden. From the wriggle of her fat rump as she lay at the bottom of the slide, to the mad, scrabbling dash as she suddenly tore up to the top, her bushy tail swishing as if clearing the way behind her. She would then sit at the top, almost whistling nonchalantly, eyeing up the birds, before hurtling head first back down the slope, her rear feet skidding to a halt at the end. Whilst she was playing, nobody else got a turn: no sharing, it was her slide during that time, and all the other children had to stand and wait… and laugh.
The way she could sprint up a tree at full pelt; it was amazing how she could run along the ground, reach a tree, change direction by 90 degrees and carry on running up it. She never changed speed, even when running from a horizontal position to a vertical one. Of course once up a tree, she would sit on a branch and sing. Loudly. Maybe she wanted some attention from the local firemen… perhaps I missed a trick there! For as long as you stood at the bottom of the tree, she would sing and swear at you, yet the moment you walked away she would grumble and climb down noisily, claws splintering on the bark. You would not believe the noise that can be made just by a cat extricating herself from a tree.
The way she would accompany us on the school run as we walked up the tow path. She never strayed far, stopping en route 4 doors down to hide in a neighbour’s fir tree. On the way home, you would be greeted by a howling tree, which if you looked closely enough, had a pair of reflective eyes deep in the foliage. With a little encouragement, and a lot of noise (see above!) she would appear at the foot of the tree and skip along in front of you, leading the way home in case you got lost on the last 50 yards or so. She insisted on being let into the house first, no doubt needing to check on the status of her food bowl which had been neglected for at least 30 minutes.
The way she loved to help cook family meals in the kitchen, singing along to your music together and tripping you up as she insisted on laying stretched out on the floor between the cooker and the sink. That’s if she wasn’t sitting up, pawing at the laminate floor, alternating from one paw to another and salivating at the aroma coming from the oven. How many times did you have to wipe up cat dribble from the floor once the food had been dished out? Talking of dishing out: the way she used to stand on her hind legs which made her tall enough to swipe food off the kitchen worktop with ruthless efficiency. The way she always preferred roast potatoes to the lovely, tender morsels of beef that you loving carved for her.
The way she loved cake. Particularly bun cases, which she would kidnap from the recycling bin, take into a corner somewhere and suck noisily. Freshly baked cakes were never safe. You would place a beautifully iced cake on the table, leaving the topping to set, and when you came back you would find teeth marks around the edge, or raspy tongue marks across the top. You lost count of how many cakes were thrown out thanks to her greedy nature.
The way she always drank out of your flower vases, regardless of how fresh the water was in her bowl. You would walk into the lounge and hear the <slurp> <slurp> <gulp> as she helped herself and left the flowers to wither away. All the flowers in the house had a light coating of cat fur within hours of being placed in a vase.
The way she had a fetish for Sherbet Fountains. She would hear you opening one even if she was at the bottom of the garden. Then she would sit beside you, clawing at your leg, bullying you for a taste of sherbet. Even though it made her sneeze, she still insisted on a taste.
The way that she hated her electronic cat flap. She would sit and head butt it repeatedly, listening to the loud beep it emitted each time the chip in her neck activated it. Yet she didn’t squeeze her portly body through it that often. No, she would sit and miaow at the patio door instead, some 3 feet away from the cat flap. Fools that we were, there was always one of us willing to let her in or out. To be honest, although the cat flap was the biggest we could find, and in theory it was of an adequate size, she always found it hard work to hoist her body through it; she would stop half way, with her head and front legs outside, leaving her back legs stretched out behind her horizontally. Then she would heave her legs through slowly as we laughed uncontrollably inside. I wish I’d videoed her now, it was just too comical.
The way she would sit on the back of the settee, waiting for Son no 3 to come out of his bedroom. As he appeared, she would slap him across the back of the head with her paw. Many a time the cry would be heard, “Mum! I can’t get out of my room! The cat won’t let me!” – one of the joys of living in a bungalow. How she loved beating him up, particularly if he was sitting on the floor. She would rugby tackle him and claw up the jigsaws he so enjoyed doing when he was smaller. They had a particularly special bond, as we adopted Ethel when Son no 3 was 6 months old. If he cried when he was a toddler, she would come up to him and place her paws either side of his face, before licking his head. She was incredibly responsive to his cry, and boy it was a loud cry! Yet she would come running, and if he didn’t calm quickly she would walk up and down beside him, miaowing loudly in concern.
The way she had a fear of the chickens (Cobweb Gladys rules the roost, and the garden!) yet she would fight off the foxes in the garden at night. It amazed us how, for such a prolific hunter, she never once tried to maul the chickens, even when they were cute, fluffy chicks.
The way the vet always called her a ‘big girl’ and struggled to feel her tummy through her ‘fat fur’. That fur was thick and luxurious underneath, with a soft, silky coat on top. You could see her whole coat move as she bounded round the garden. When she came indoors, you almost expected her take it off and hang it on a chair.
The way she abjectly refused to budge if she was sitting somewhere she shouldn’t have been. You would say sternly, “Ethelbert OFF!” and she would chatter her teeth, flutter her whiskers and look away indignantly. If you repeated the command, she would yawn as if to say, “Oh do stop wasting your breath, human slave. Go and fill my food bowl, then I might think about moving.” She understood the command ‘off’ from quite an early age, yet only obeyed it when it suited her.
The way she used to slink off to a neighbours’ house, where she would climb into the conservatory and sunbathe on her very own chair. The day that your neighbours left her in the conservatory whilst they went out, and returned in a blind panic, having realised that they had left a batch of newly-hatched chicks in the conservatory with her… only to discover her snoring away, with the chicks noisily cheeping away in their box in the corner.
The way she loved balloons: she would hold them between her paws and lick them. Yes, really. Balloon tennis was a favourite sport of hers. She loved to bat a balloon to and fro with whoever would indulge her. I must post a video I have of her partaking in a game with Son no 1 (whilst she was nestled on a pile of clean washing… another of her favourite things!).
The way she would hide in cardboard boxes, waiting to ambush any unsuspecting human who happened to be passing. Not great when you have a heart defect! Then again, she didn’t actually need a box; any furniture would do. She would come flying through the air and land on the back of a chair just as you were passing, claws extended ready to catch in your clothing and prevent you from going any further. We all walked around with snagged clothing; it seemed to be a family trait when you had a chuffin cat.
The way she would like to join in family movie nights, laying the length of my lap and hanging over my knees. Then she would fall asleep half way through the film, snoring so loudly that we would have to turn up the volume on the television.
The way that she would merrily sleep on her back with all 4 fluffy feet in the air, her tail often resting along her fat belly. You just wanted to thrust your hand into that furry belly, but you knew that if you did she would have curled round your hand and sunk her teeth lovingly into your wrist.
The way she often got stuck in the attic, driving you mad as you could hear her singing but couldn’t work out where she was. Then you would open the loft hatch to be greeted by 2 fluorescent eyes beaming down at you. By the time you’d lowered the loft ladder she would have disappeared into the dark, causing mischief elsewhere. I have no idea how many hours that loft hatch was left open, yet she never came out that way. She preferred to use her secret entrance instead.
The way she would sit on the windowsill when you went out, watching you mournfully with her nose pressed against the window, anxiously waiting for you to return. Yet when you came home, she would be there at the door greeting you with a look of total disdain, before shaking her head and leading you to her food bowl. Then she would insist you slap her rump whilst she crunched on her biscuits. If you stopped slapping, she stopped eating. So you would be there bent double until she’d eaten her fill.
The way she had a fascination with our vehicles, particularly Handsome Hubby’s van. As soon as he was parked in the drive, she would sit under the van. If he was tinkering on the engine, she would be beside him offering advice. The same went for Son no 1 – he spent much time mending his car with the chuffin cat sitting on the seat next to him, supervising. She loved our vehicles so much that she would run about with glee behind us as we reversed down the drive.
The way she loved to wear a soft felt Christmas hat, making the most of the festive season with the rest of her family. Don’t even mention the Christmas tree – a wonderful play centre for her, complete with shiny baubles and sparkly tinsel. It could be played with vertically or horizontally, depending upon her mood.
The way she ran about like a larey packet at the first whiff of catnip. If you sprinkled it on the floor, she would roll over and over in it. Such a lot of her life was spent in a catnip haze. I had to hide the catnip sachet in the fridge one night as she just kept finding it and throwing it about the room.
Finally, our favourite memory of all: the way she used to kiss each of the boys at bedtime every night. They would stand beside her, and the first boy in line would kiss the top her head; she would then turn her head and tenderly lick his cheek. This was repeated for all 3 boys, without fail, every single night. We always spoke of videoing this moving routine, but never did. A cherished memory of our wonderful, cheeky, mischievous chuffin cat.