Season’s Greetings, readers. I’m getting excited because Christmas will be here very soon and of course I’ve been thinking very carefully; what should I write about? I have the perfect yuletide story for you, it’s a tale of something that happened last Christmas when I lived at the farm with Mother, the big shed, my tractors and all my cows.
Just sit there while I go and get my diary……
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
’Twas the Night before Bonfire Night
November 5th 2013
Last night on evening patrol round the big shed I found something worrying, something very troubling indeed. Ran indoors to fetch Mother thinking it might be wise to have back up before further investigation. The problem is there are no other cats here except us and I could have sworn, that is I was fairly sure, well at least I thought that I had smelled unfamiliar cat wee in my big shed!
Mother and I tiptoed into the shed and I could tell by her face that she had caught the scent. I was boiling with rage! “An intruder on the premises! I’ll get rid of him!”
“Just hang on a second,” said Mother, “Not so fast my boy. Hold on.” She went to the edge of a straw bale and sniffed deeply, clearly analysing the smell. “This is a female, Squirt, and there’s something about the smell, I think she might be ill. I don’t think she’s a threat.”
We conferred in whispers, split up and quietly searched the big building. All we found, apart from the wee, was a little nest in the hay where someone had been curled up.
“There, see? She’s gone. Just passing through, nothing to worry about.” But I could see that Mother looked thoughtful as she said this.
November 6th 2013
This is getting serious. More wee this morning, and the nest looks bigger. The stranger was here again last night. I said to Mother that we are definitely not in the bed and breakfast business but, being Mother, she pointed out the obvious.
“It was Bonfire night last night, stupid! While you and I were safely shut indoors, it’s quite clear that this poor cat was not. We can’t blame her for wanting to find shelter away from the sight and sound of fireworks. You know how it calms you down to be with the cows, well, maybe she felt the same. We won’t begrudge her that and anyway, she’s gone now. She won’t be back. Come on, let’s go and root round in that stack of drain pipes and see if there’s a mouse or two.”
So a-mousing we went, and I soon forgot all about the stranger.
November 27th 2013
I’m beginning to think someone has put up a sign at the end of the lane, “Cat Hostel, open to all and sundry. Come on in!”
The stranger had been back at least twice and was here again last night. I was getting really peeved and determined to get rid of her once and for all. Talk about taking advantage! Very early this morning I entered the shed and crept stealthily towards her sleeping place in the hay bales. She was still there, curled up and fast asleep.
It was the first time I’d seen her, and what a sight she was; scruffy and thin with a dull, dusty coat. I’d never seen such a pathetic looking cat and felt a rush of compassion for this poor, homeless creature so I left her in peace and went to find Mother to tell her what I’d seen. She went and had a sniff round in the shed.
“Hmm…, she said, mysteriously, “I thought as much.”
She looked at me with a very serious expression on her face. “Right, Squirt. This cat will need to stay around for a while, but then she’ll go. It’s nearly Christmas, the season of good will, and we can’t turf her out into the cold and wet. Not this cat, not now. She needs shelter, peace, and lots of food to build up her strength. We should make a point of leaving a few mice on top of those bales every day or two. Rats and rabbits too, if we can.”
I looked at Mother as if she had totally lost the plot. Was she serious? Did she honestly mean that we should not only welcome the stranger but feed her as well?
“Don’t argue. She stays here for a while, we bring her food. That’s our good Christmas deed for the year. End of chat!”
Of course, I knew that Mother was talking sense and, to be truthful, I felt oddly compelled to help this scrawny creature. For reasons I couldn’t fathom it felt like the right thing to do. So, for the next three weeks or so we did our utmost to deliver daily fresh meat to the cat in the shed.
We saw her often but she never said a word, just regarded us with caution although as time passed she seemed less and less nervous. The food was obviously helping because she gained weight at what seemed to be an alarming rate and soon her belly was huge. I did wonder at this stage whether she was now fit enough to hunt for her own supplies but we carried on with our deliveries. If she had a name we never learnt it, and began referring to her simply as ‘The Girl’. She was a small cat, quite pretty, and as her condition improved her coat began to shine.
December 20th 2013
It’s getting colder every day now. The cows are snug and cosy in the shed, the horses are in their stables and the logs are crackling day and night on the stove at home. The Girl is in the shed and rarely leaves her place on the hay stack. She’s eating everything we take for her and she’s getting fat. Oh boy, is she getting fat!
December 24th 2013
It’s Christmas Eve! I must confess I always get quite giddy with excitement at the thought of presents and turkey. Especially turkey. Mother took a rat to The Girl early this morning and came back telling me I ought not to go into the shed today and to leave The Girl in peace. No chance! I don’t mind helping a stranger out at Christmas but it’s my shed and if I want to go in then I will! I took a mouse, as an excuse to go and have a peep at her. She was laid in the hay looking rather portly and not a little uncomfortable. I’m not surprised with all this good grub. She needs to take some exercise! She was making some soft grunting noises and moving restlessly as if she was trying to get comfortable and I decided that once Christmas was over she would get her marching orders. There is such a thing as taking advantage and outstaying one’s welcome. I said this to Mother but she just told me that I’d know soon why The Girl had stayed here.
December 25th 2013
I’m beside myself with excitement! No, not the presents or the turkey, The Girl! I took two mice in early this morning and was a bit surprised to hear squeaks from The Girl’s nest. I thought that was good, it was about time she caught her own mice but, when I peeped into her hiding place I got the shock of my life. There she was, somewhat slimmer and with five kittens curled up against her – I was speechless! I’d never seen such tiny, young kittens and stared at them in awe for what seemed like hours.
Mother met me outside the shed. “There, now do you see why she had to stay? We couldn’t turf a pregnant, homeless cat out in the middle of winter, could we? We’ll keep taking the food but fairly soon she’ll start to hunt too, and before long she’ll be gone. She’s a cat of the road, that one, and she’ll want to move on when the kittens are old enough.”
I felt a bit stupid. How could I not have realised? But I also felt quite proud that Mother and I had helped this wandering cat to bring her kittens into the world in comfort, safety and with plenty of food. Like most cats I am normally very territorial and would oust a stranger from my patch without a second thought. I quite enjoy a good scrap now and then! But I’m glad I listened to Mother this time and allowed The Girl to stay.
February 27th 2014
The last week or so has been quite mild for the time of year. No snow, rain or frost and with a little bit of warmth in the sunshine. With the longer days and shorter nights it’s a reminder that spring is not so far away.
Feel a bit sad today to be honest; The Girl and her kittens left during the night. As soon as I went into the shed this morning I knew I would find an empty nest. I’d got rather fond of the kittens, it had been fun watching them grow, open their eyes and take their first tottery steps. And when they were old enough to start playing they were so comical. Was I like that as a kitten? I suppose I must have been.
So there you are, my friends, that’s my Christmas story for you; the tale of The Girl and her five kittens. I will often think about that little family, on the road to who knows where. I hope they’re ok and that the kittens grow into fine, healthy cats. I think The Girl was grateful to us and showed it in the only way she could think of; the nest wasn’t quite empty the morning they had left. I found, neatly arranged, a mouse, a rabbit and a rat. I think that was her way of saying “Goodbye friends, thanks for giving food and shelter to a stranger in need.”
I have the satisfaction of knowing that we helped The Girl survive to give birth. It’s a good feeling, and it’s made me realise that there are times when compassion is a good thing and generosity and kindness are rewards in themselves. Christmas is always good but, thanks to The Girl, last Christmas was very special.
Just one question remains. Is my story true? Or have I made it up to encourage you to think of others in this, the season of good will? I’ll leave it to you to decide, only Mother and I know the truth.
And The Girl knows too, of course!
If you enjoyed Squirt's Christmas story, you'll love his book: Reservoir Cats: True Stories and Cat's Eye Views from Squirt
The stunning illustrations in Squirt's Christmas story were done by Frances Gillotti