It was 5 o’clock on a Monday morning in May and my tortoiseshell and white cat Rosie was determined to get me out of bed.
“Go away Rosie – it’s way too early to get up”, I said, and turned over. Rosie wasn’t taking No for an answer though so I dragged myself out of bed and staggered into the bathroom. When my eyes finally unglued themselves, I saw her sitting on the bathmat looking imploring, with her sides heaving.
“Oh no – you’re in labour – let me go and feed the other cats so they don’t come up here bothering you and I’ll be back in a tick.”
By the time I was on my way back, she’d come halfway down the stairs to meet me. Not alone – a tiny damp little squiggler was making desperate efforts to fall down the stairs. As I watched, Rosie picked her up (I could see ginger markings so I guessed she was another little tortie princess) and took her into the spare bedroom, where she dropped her into the half-open drawer under the bed and started licking her clean.
I felt that a cup of strong tea was required and when I got back to her again with food and water, there was another little squiggler – black and white, this time.
I sat with them for a couple of hours to make sure that everything was fine and that the kittens were suckling and then reluctantly had to drag myself off to work. Almost as an afterthought, I left a note on the kitchen table for my partner, who was still asleep – “Bad news – little evil cat has had kittens – good news though, there are only two and they’re in the drawer under the spare bed – see you later.”
If this all sounds a little on the casual side, let me explain – Rosie had simply moved in with us the previous November. We’d been seeing her around for over a year – along with another little tortoiseshell and white cat whom we christened The Foxy Kitten because she was so tiny and thin, with a sharp, pointy little face and a ginger nose. Both cats seemed perpetually hungry and I was more than happy for them to come into the kitchen through the cat flap and eat my own two cats’ leftovers (we had two RSPCA rescue cats at that time, Podger and Mooey).
One Friday evening in August 2011, I arrived home from work to find The Foxy Kitten curled up on the sofa with my partner. This was unusual, and he explained that she’d been in the house all day, looking into cupboards and checking out all the rooms. I had actually noticed a week before that she seemed to be getting fatter and we wondered if she might be pregnant.
Eventually one of our own cats came in so The Foxy Kitten did a lot of indignant squawking and ran out of the room.
I really didn’t give her another thought until I eventually went up to bed, leaving my partner watching a late film. Then just as I’d settled down with a book, I heard squeaking coming from the wardrobe – I went into a complete panic and ran downstairs – “The Foxy Kitten is having kittens in the wardrobe, she’s too young and too tiny, we have to call the vet now!” My partner is a West Cork farm boy and therefore less prone to hysteria – “Just leave her on her own and don’t be bothering her now, sure, she’ll be fine altogether.”
After a pretty much sleepless night on the floor of the sitting room, I crept upstairs at 6 in the morning and peeped into the wardrobe. Without my glasses, all I could see was a damp huddle of fur – nothing moved and there was no sound.
I ran downstairs again, crying – “She’s died, what are we going to do? I knew we should have called the vet last night.”
With a huge sigh, he stomped off upstairs, returning in five minutes with a smile – “She’s only exhausted, she’s had kittens, I can’t count how many there are.”
Three beautiful little tuxedo kittens! We eventually found out that the largest was a boy and the two twinnies were girls. They have just had their third birthday and they and Mumsy, (aka The Foxy Kitten) now Tigerlily, are all happily living with us still.
So it wasn’t much of a surprise when Rosie pulled the same trick. We’d been debating for months whether we should get her spayed but by that time we had found out where she and Tigerlily came from – a house up the road where they obviously weren’t being looked after – and we were worried about “stealing” someone else’s cat and having her spayed.
By this time, we had our RSPCA rescue cat, Black Cat Podger – Mooey sadly died in his sleep a couple of years ago – Tigerlily and her brood (Sparky Tom, Flissy and Little Moppet) – and now Rosie and her two, Nadiya and Diggy (I have a habit of using racehorse names for cats so young madam is actually Nadiya De La Vega – and never has a name suited a tortie princess – or should I say Infanta? more – and Diggy is named after Dedigout).
With eight cats, I had truly achieved crazy cat lady status – or rather, had it thrust upon me. To be fair, we did discuss finding kind homes for Tigerlily’s three but when you have watched three blind little mice grow into beautiful lively kittens – well, let’s just say it didn’t happen. For one thing, the kittens loved each other and their “Mumsies” never stopped loving them.
Time passed – all settled down – I grew accustomed to the cashier’s comments in Tesco when I spent far more on cat food than on our food – and Diggy and Nadi grew into fine handsome cats, Nadi with the hugest tail ever seen on a cat. Even Rosie stopped being “little evil cat” and grew stout and matronly and reasonably mellow.
Then this winter, we kept having a visitor. Actually, two visitors. One tortie and white and one black and white, both short-haired, unlike our large family of fluff monsters. Then came March, the weather brightened up and I stopped seeing “the young visiters”, as I used to refer to them. I called the tortie Poppy and the black and white one Daisy – in fact, Daisy became the work experience office cat as by now I was working from home and she used to come and sit with me (or rather on my work laptop) nearly every day.
Until the end of April when I saw them again, both now noticeably pregnant. Of course, I was worried – we were really up to capacity for a small London house. But then, they weren’t pregnant. And there were no kittens in the house. I was relieved – they must have had them in their own house.
You know how this is going to end, don’t you? On May Bank Holiday Monday I opened my clothes cupboard and there was Poppy, blinking up at me, with two tiny, but not new-born, kittens.
Diggy adopted the kittens as soon as they could crawl. Sadly never to be a father in real life, but always great friends with Poppy, he has washed those kittens’ bottoms, and played with those kittens, and batted them around a fair bit, and just loved them.
As I finish this, tiny tortie Sophie (Woodsophiesmile) and dapper little tuxie Mister Dillon are out sleeping in the garden in the sun, with Poppy and Diggy in attendance.
There will be no more kittens for Poppy.
I did see Daisy yesterday though and she looked suspiciously pregnant.
Watch this space.
You can follow Sally on Twitter @betsyspangles