‘Eric, come over here,’ said George.
‘I am over here,’ said Eric, ‘but I’ll come over there if you wants, guv’nor...’
The old ginger tom, George, gave the long-haired scruffy one-eyed stray, Eric, a very hard stare indeed as he plodded over, sat down and blinked his one good eye at the black-and-white kitten-cat called Dog, who tried hard not to giggle.
‘François, you too,’ miaowed George, politely, and so the elegant tabby cat padded from the kitchen into The Lady’s living room.
Dog wagged his tail in happiness at being with all his old friends.
'Eric, François, look!’ he yapped, gazing up at the Christmas tree before them in the living room.
‘Ah yes,’ miaowed François, ‘this is the tree of shiny things.’
‘The shiny things tree,’ corrected George as they all gazed up through the darkness at the sparkling lights, glowing baubles and mouse-tail tinsel on the artificial tree.
‘Cor blimey,’ said Eric, ‘them two-legs is dog-bonkers, I tells yer!’
‘They put one up every year in the dark time,’ said Dog, who had recently learnt this fact in one of George’s lessons. He had only known one Christmas, and back then he was, as Eric would say, a ‘gentlecat of the road’ without a home or any two-legs to look after.
‘It is a habit most unusual,’ miaowed François, the tree lights reflecting in his emerald-green eyes.
‘Like I said,’ Eric sniffed, ‘them two-legs is all dog-bonkers.’
‘We must tolerate their ways,’ said George, ‘it is our duty, as proper and noble cats.’
‘But Mademoiselle Fifi, where she is?’ said François.
‘Miss Fifi has her own home and two-legs...’
‘And two-legs kittens too,’ added Dog, ‘they’re very...noisy...’
François shook his head sadly.
‘Ah yes, this I know...’
‘Yeah – all that screamin’ and shoutin’ and pullin’ yer tail and pokin’ yer bits!’
‘It is what the two-legs kittens do, Eric. We must be tolerant, especially at Cat-mas.’
At that, Eric started singing:
‘We wish you a Merry Cat-mas, we wish you a...’
‘Eric!’ yelled George, ‘Not now, not here. Please.’
‘I was only having a sing-song, guv’nor,’ said Eric, ‘there’s no harm in it.’
‘That’s debatable,’ said George, rather cattily, Dog thought, ‘all that caterwauling could attract all sorts of undesirables and ruffians and wrong-uns from the neighbourhood, and then where would we be?’
‘We’d be here, like what we is already,’ winked Eric, before plodding towards the Christmas tree.
‘Eric,’ said George, with a low growl, ‘no touching with paws...or tail...or nose...or...’
‘I’s only gettin’ a closer look,’ said the black-and-grey stray, watching his one large eye reflected in the glimmering baubles. Oh how his paw itched! How he wanted to cuff the bauble and jump right into the mousetail tinsel! What fun he’d have! But, he was a stray and this was not his home, but the old ginger tom’s – so out of respect for George, he backed away from the tree.
‘So kitten,’ he said, ‘where was you last dark time?’
Dog thought back. He remembered he had left his first home and was living the life of a stray, sleeping where he could, yapping like a puppy as he used to do in those days (and still did quite a lot in these...)
‘I remember it was so cold, and the world was white like my paws!’
‘Sky-flakes, kitten,’ said George, who had taught Dog all about snow in a recent lesson.
‘And oh it was so cold – my ears were freezy, my nose was freezy, and I think my paws were the most freezy of all...and even the sky water puddles were froze hard!’
‘Ah this I know,’ miaowed François, who had travelled widely to many distant and exotic lands, ‘I was in a place most mysterious, where even the water of the sea was so freezy it was froze hard like the stone.’
‘You is pullin’ my paw!’ miaowed Eric, open-mouthed.
‘François does not pull the paw. At this place of white there were many cats most strange, and they were all walk on the freezy froze sea...’
‘Cats walking on sky water?’ miaowed George in amazement. ‘By my paws, whoever heard of such a thing?’
It all sounded very strange but, compared with François, he’d hardly travelled at all, so he was prepared to take the tabby’s word for it.
‘And these cats they catch the fish in the holes in the water most hard,’ said François, remembering the ice fishing he’d seen as a ship’s cat.
‘What about you, Eric,’ yapped Dog, excitedly, ‘where were you last dark time?’
‘Eric thought and thought and thought – so much that he started getting a headache – but still couldn’t really remember.
‘I finks I was in a dustbin,’ he said, and George shivered at the very idea, his ears quivering in disgust.
‘Yuck!’ he miaowed aloud.
‘Oh no, guv’nor,’ said Eric, ‘it was well good. See, at Cat-mas, the two-legs eats loads of lovely grub and chucks lots of it away an all. So I was scoffin’ so much twerky...’
‘Turkey,’ corrected George.
‘Like I said, twerky...an I sat there fat as a fleabag cat, an I watched all them two-legs drinkin’ their catnip juice and singin’ and laughin’ and fallin’ over...’
‘Ah yes,’ said François, ‘the two-legs they are become most feely-touchy...’
‘Touchy-feely,’ corrected George, again.
‘I doesn’t do touchy-feely,’ said Eric, rolling over, ‘but I does do scratchy-bleedy, specially if them two-legs pulls me tail. I calls it creative biting...’
And with that he winked at Dog who just couldn’t help himself and started yappy-giggling at the Christmas tree whilst wagging his tail like the silliest of puppies.
‘Eric, really,’ said George, ‘now look what you’ve done...’
‘So where was you then last dark time, guv’nor?’
George thought back to Christmas the year before when he was in exactly the same place, but alone – apart from The Lady, of course.
‘And I remember,’ he said, ‘on Cat-mas morning, The Lady did what she always does and gave me so many presents...’
‘Oh?’ said Dog. He’d never had a present from anyone before, cat or two-legs.
‘Yes, and tomorrow will be the same,’ announced George, ‘The Lady will open our presents for us and take out the rubbish padding or whatever it is from inside – then we can play all day long with the best present a cat can ever get.’
‘A cardboard box!’ miaowed Eric, François and George in unison.
Just then, all eight ears of all four cats turned and pointed precisely in the same direction – at the kitchen and the catflap. Something had come into the house.
‘Quick!’ whispered George to Dog, ‘hide!’
And they hid behind the sofa in a place no-one could see them – except Eric and François who were already there.
Just what was in the house? thought Dog. Could it be a stray? Maybe even the huge and unpredictable Bruiser cat they all steered well clear of? Or maybe even a D.O.G.....
The cats crouched low and held their breath. They heard something enter the room. George sniffed the air. He twitched his whiskers and poked his ears up. For what he smelt was not dog, or even cat, but just little fluffy kitten.
He stood up and poked his head out from the sofa – as did the other cats – just in time to see three tiny kittens launch themselves at the Christmas tree!
The artificial tree swayed and jingled its shiny things a bit – and for a moment, George thought it may well survive this attack by a kerfuffle of kittens.
But then it fell, like a huge forest oak, CRASH, down onto the carpet, scattering baubles, sparkling lights and mouse-tail tinsel all about. In the middle of the chaos sat the kittens.
‘Georges,’ said François, ‘there are here some kittens most tiny.’
Dog looked at the kittens, then at George, then at the kittens. He was about to introduce himself when a pretty white-and-black kitten miaowed him to it.
‘My name’s Daisy,’ said Daisy, who was clearly the kit in charge.
‘And this is Maisie,’ she said, nodding at a dizzy-looking she-kitten, who promptly squeaked, giggled and fell over. 'And this,’ she miaowed at a rather podgy little tuxedo tom, ‘is...’
‘Boo!’ Boo said, almost making George jump out of his ginger fur with the shock, ‘and I’m hungry!’
Eric and Francois stared open-mouthed at the scene and licked their noses.
‘We heard the singing,’ explained Daisy, ‘So thought we’d come and take a look.’
Dog wagged his white-tipped tail in welcome.
‘All cats and kittens are welcome tonight,’ said Dog, ‘isn’t that right, George?’
George had agreed to no such thing – and he just knew Eric’s silly singalong would attract the worst sort of cat. But he had to admit, that these kittens didn’t look like the worst kind of cat at all. In fact, the little tuxedo tom reminded him of himself at that age, what with his healthy appetite and well-padded plumpity.
'Yes, kitten,’ miaowed George with a nod, ‘at Cat-mas, all are welcome.’
Eric winked at Dog and dived deep into the felled Christmas tree, rolling in its baubled branches, a piece of tinsel wrapped round his head like a halo.
‘Bring out the biscuits!’ he miaowed.
Boo’s ears pricked up: ‘I’m hungry’ he said, for the third (or perhaps the fourth) time.
‘There will be food aplenty tomorrow,’ said George, ‘for all good and honourable cats who help clear up the mess and share the blame.’
He knew The Lady would blame George and Dog for the Christmas tree catastrophe, even though George himself hadn’t so much as cuffed a sparkly bauble for longer than he could remember. At times such as these, it would have been most useful indeed to have a puppy around – they came in very handy for blaming and such like...
But when George turned around to ask the cats for their help in tidying up by batting baubles into corners and that sort of thing, he found they had all disappeared – all except Dog, that is, who was poking his tongue out in confusion like the naughtiest of little puppies.
In the kitchen, the catflap was swinging suspiciously...
‘Typical!’ tutted George, ‘but then that’s always the way with strays...’
Suddenly, there came from the garden the sound of cats singing:
‘We wish you a Merry Cat-mas,’ it went.
Dog looked at George and giggled. Secretly, and only very slightly, he wagged his little white-tipped tail in happiness behind him – and well out of George’s sight.
‘We wish you a Merry Cat-mas,’ came the caterwauling again (and George could distinctly hear Eric louder than any other cat in the miaow-music).
Then, again, still louder this time:
‘We wish you a Merry Cat-mas and a Happy New Purr!’
And then the sound of what seemed like all the cats in that neighbourhood and others miaow-cheering came from the garden. George thought it terribly uncouth behaviour, but on the other paw, he couldn’t help but admire the organisation needed for such a cat chorus, and appreciated the sentiments behind it too. And he had to admit – albeit only to himself – that he was really rather enjoying all the Christmas-y miaow-sounds.
‘I think,’ he yawned, ‘that it’s time for a good long nap. We have a very busy Cat-mas Day tomorrow...’
Dog miaowed his approval as he curled up with George on the cushions.
‘Merry Cat-mas, George,’ he said, after his wash – but George was already asleep and snoring. Though Dog was sure he could see his ears twitch happily when the sound of Eric’s voice came echoing from the distance (sounding like he was in a dustbin again...):
‘Merry Cat-mas, guv’nor! Merry Cat-mas, kitten!’
‘Merry Cat-mas, Eric and everyone,’ miaowed Dog, quietly, ‘and a Happy New Purr!’
And with that he fell fast asleep next to George who was, as all cats know, the most marvellous, noble and purr-fect Christmas cat in the whole wide world.
The stunning illustrations are by Frances Gillotti
Jem Vanston is the author of the cat lovers' novel A Cat Called Dog (available at bookshops and Amazon as paperback and e-book).