Teddie Tumpkins was still waiting to be formally introduced to a full meeting of The Tiddleswick Tail Lifters, but Skwonx was having difficulty getting all the members to agree on a date as some were in a cattery, a couple were resting from a fight and one member was recovering from a trip to the vets. So to pass the time he decided to visit the two timid marmalade cats known as the Marmaladies.

He strolled over the road. Living in a cul-de-sac was great as he didn't have to look out for cars. He jumped up onto the wall of the Marmaladies' front garden looking for them, but they were nowhere to be seen. He trotted round the back of their house, but they weren't at their kitchen window either, which is where they would sit when titbits were on offer when their humans were preparing food. Ginger Podgers was always first in line for a titbit or any other morsel he could get his paws on, he had to maintain his weight.

As the bungalow where the Marmaladies lived didn't have French windows, it wasn't easy for Teddie Tumpkins to see in, so he let out a couple of loud meows. Two marmalade heads popped up at the lounge window and looked out.

"Oooow, it's that Mr. Tumpkins from across the road, Freddie," enthused

Ginger Podgers, "such a nice cat, don't you think? I said I think he's lovely."

"Yes, he seems a decent sort," agreed Fred Who Stares. They meowed at their window till a human arm duly obliged and they walked out onto the window sill then looked down at Teddie Tumpkins.

"Cooeee, Teddieeeeee, I said cooooeeee," shouted Ginger Podgers.

"Nice of you to drop round again," added Fred Who Stares.

"I've come to teach you boys some of my favourite garden games today," announced Teddie Tumpkins proudly.

"Oh, garden games, how exciting. I said, how exciting, Freddie. But will they be strenuous? I get out of puff ever so easy these days," Ginger Podgers moaned.

"No, you'll be all right," assured Teddie Tumpkins, "if we have a few warm-up and loosening-up exercises first."

With that he ran through some basics such as tail wagging, back arching, paw stretching and standing on their hind legs seeing how far they could reach up the wall. It was as much exercise as The Marmaladies had done in years, they soon had to sit down to recompose themselves and catch their breath.

Right," declared Teddie Tumpkins, "it's 'snaffle the spider' time."

"Ohhh no. I can't do with spiders," groaned Ginger Podgers "horrible, nasty black crawly things."

"Nonsense," snapped Teddie Tumpkins "spiders are good fun, especially if you get the right one, for instance, a big juicy house spider."

He led the Marmaladies round the garden in search of a game spider.  They'd all but given up when Teddie Tumpkins suggested that they look in the garage as a last resort. The Marmaladies were now getting the hang of things and were looking for spiders instead of just following him round.

"Oooh, I think I've found one," called Ginger Podgers excitedly. Teddie Tumpkins went over to look. There was a thick cobweb covered in dust behind a pile of old newspapers and magazines.

"Well, it was a spider," Teddie Tumpkins informed the Marmaladies, "but I think it died a couple of years ago looking at the state of him."

But it did look a promising corner that they were in and soon Teddie Tumpkins had dislodged a monster as it scuttled full pelt across the garage floor right between Ginger Podgers and Fred Who Stares. They shrank back in fear, their eyes almost popping out of their skulls. Teddie Tumpkins pounced across the garage, blocking the spider’s escape then shepherded it back towards the Marmaladies.

"Come on you two, join in," commanded Teddie Tumpkins, "the idea is to keep it in play for as long as possible before it disappears into somewhere too small for our paws to get it back."

"Oh, that's just too vile," squeaked Ginger Podgers, "why don't you just kill it and have done with it, awful thing?"

"You can't just go round killing spiders willy-nilly," Teddie Tumpkins protested, "what would the world be like without big fat juicy spiders to play with?"

It was clear that Ginger Podgers and Fred Who Stares were becoming so traumatised by the sight of the spider scuttling round they were shaking with fear and huddling up together. Teddie Tumpkins thought that he would give them a grandstand finish. He scooped the spider up into his mouth, closed his jaws, but not too hard so the spider wouldn't get hurt. The Marmaladies looked on terrified as a cluster of spiders legs wriggled from the smile of Teddie's mouth, tickling his whiskers. Ginger Podgers let out a gasp, his eyes rolled to the back of his head then with a muffled whimper, he rolled over and fainted onto the floor. Fred Who Stares was no better either; he didn't exactly faint, he just puffed out his cheeks then bought up his breakfast. With a sigh, Teddie Tumpkins reluctantly let the spider go and then watched it scuttle off under an old workbench.

"Fresh air is what you two need!" he ordered.

Ginger Podgers was now coming too. Had it not been for his marmalade fur, Teddie's hapless student would have been as white as a ghost. He would have to put his mind to something a little less challenging for the Marmaladies, so he led them round the garden again until it looked like they had more or less recovered.

"This looks a promising spot," announced Teddie Tumpkins discovering the cabbage patch. Ginger Podgers and Fred Who Stares looked at each other, then watched in fascination as Teddie Tumpkins examined each of the cabbage plants in turn. He was going to show them a trick he'd learned at the allotments at his old house.

"Now, this is what we are after." He beckoned the Marmaladies to look. He had found a plump caterpillar clinging to the underside of a cabbage leaf.

"Oh yuk. What's that?" asked Fred Who Stares in horror.

"Whatever it is, I just don't like it. I said I don't like it," muttered Ginger Podgers in a weak voice.

"That," declared Teddie Tumpkins, "is a caterpillar." But try as they might, the Marmaladies couldn't see how a caterpillar was going to amuse them.

"This is the plan," instructed Teddie Tumpkins, "we use the caterpillar as bait, because as we cats all know, garden birds love caterpillars, so we find as many as we can, then roll them into a pile then wait for the birds to fly down to feast on the free food."

The Marmaladies hadn't quite followed Teddie's drift.

"Then what?" asked Fred Who Stares, very puzzled. Teddie Tumpkins couldn't believe how slow they were on the uptake.

"Well, you dash out from somewhere the birds can't see you, like under a big cabbage leaf," he told them.

"What? You just frighten the birds away then?" asked Ginger Podgers in astonishment.

"No, silly." Teddie Tumpkins laughed, "You try and catch them." He knocked the caterpillar off the leaf and it immediately coiled up like a Catherine wheel, so he showed the Marmaladies how to roll it gently with a paw into a gap where the birds would see it. They collected half a dozen and then he got the Marmaladies to hide. The caterpillars straightened themselves out and began to loop their way back to the cabbages so Teddie Tumpkins had to keep dashing out to round them up again.

"When a bird lands which one of you two wants to spring out and grab it?" Teddie Tumpkins asked. The Marmaladies looked at each other in disbelief.

"Oh, we thought you would do that Ted, we thought we were just going to watch," moaned Fred Who Stares. So Teddie Tumpkins nominated Fred Who Stares as the best of the two as he was less bulky than Ginger Podgers. They all lay silently, holding their breath. After a while their patience was rewarded as a beautiful shiny blackbird landed right where Teddie Tumpkins had intended. He bent down to pick up the first caterpillar, lifted his head up, opened his beak then tossed the caterpillar down the back of his throat before bending to pick up a second.

Teddie Tumpkins waited with baited breath for Fred Who Stares to leap out. By the time the blackbird was onto the fourth caterpillar he was boiling with fury as Fred Who Stares still hadn't made a move, but then to everyone's surprise, including his own, Fred Who Stares had plucked up enough courage. He sprang out from behind a large purple and green cabbage, and pounced lightly onto the unsuspecting bird. But as he hadn't quite mastered the technique, the bird slipped from his grasp giving Fred Who Stares a nasty peck squarely between the eyes then flew off clucking loudly. Fred Who Stares sat down in a daze, it had all happened so quickly, but he was surprised at his own courage and hadn't noticed he was starting to bleed.

"Freddo you poor thing, look what that brute of a bird has done to you, the nasty thug," Ginger Podgers inspected the wound.

"You'll be all right" assured Teddie Tumpkins, "I've had worse. You just need to wash it off and don't scratch the scab," which was a bit rich coming from Teddie Tumpkins as he always enjoyed scratching his wounds.

The Marmaladies were both feeling faint at the sight of blood. It was at this point that Teddie Tumpkins felt that he had overstayed his welcome. If he stayed any longer he was sure there was going to be a fatality. He bid the Marmaladies good afternoon leaving the two comatose kitties to lick their wounds and recover from the shock of the morning's activities. As he trotted back across the road he couldn't believe what a pair of wusses they were but he was determined to lick them into shape, and make them bone fide mouse-manglers like all cats should be. He paused for a few minutes thinking about The Tiddleswick Tail Lifters which he'd not yet been accepted into and he thought he would pay Skwonx a visit to see if there was any news of them having fixed a firm date for the next meeting.

Early next day he ambled out of the cul-de-sac and into the avenue. Skwonx had told him that he lived just around the corner. Teddie Tumpkins set off to find him. Skwonx was enjoying an unexpected burst of sunshine he was rolling over on his back in the dirt in his front garden. He was most surprised to see Teddie Tumpkins so early in the day as, most cats enjoyed a bit of a lazy start in this town. Teddie Tumpkins asked about his initiation into The Tiddleswick Tail Lifters so Skwonx told him it was very likely to be within the next week as they would have had chance to think up a challenge for him.

Skwonx was not giving anything away as to what the challenge might be, but he assured him that only a true desperado, and a cat worth his whiskers would be admitted to the gang, Skwonx then invited Teddie Tumpkins to join him in his back garden as he'd got something he wanted to show him. The only way in to the garden was over the wall between the fence and the garage. It was quite an athletic leap, certainly something the Marmaladies wouldn't manage, but Teddie Tumpkins scrambled over without looking too embarrassed. Two dull thuds announced the cats’ arrival in the garden, which was the signal for Skwonx's pet to come tearing round the corner to see who had arrived.

Teddie Tumpkins was rooted to the spot. He cringed in fear as a huge brown and white Boxer dog glared down at him, its nose sucking and blowing out snot taking in Teddie's scent. He expected to be eaten alive at any moment. Drool was dripping from the dog's loose baggy mouth and he could see its giant teeth. He gulped. Skwonx could see that he was struggling a bit with getting to know Tyson, his pet dog.

"She's quite tame," Skwonx assured him giggling, but Teddie Tumpkins wasn't quite so sure, the dog's warm breath was too close for comfort.

Skwonx then told him all about Tyson.

"She was bought for me by my humans when she was a puppy. It's difficult to believe that I was once bigger than her, but I can assure you I was. I soon whipped her into shape showing her who was boss, she still backs off now if I raise my paws or show her my claws, but she's lovely and warm to curl up with in the large wicker basket that we share in the kitchen, and she gives me a good grooming with her big slobbery tongue when she thinks I need it."

Tyson sniffed Teddie Tumpkins and seeing that he was a friend of Skwonx, she gave him an affectionate lick behind the ears much to his disgust. Soon it was clear that she was an old softie and, unusually for a dog, she loved cats.

There was a patio set in Skwonx's garden so they helped themselves to a chair each as they had nice comfortable cushions. Tyson lay down on the floor between them, flopped out a huge pink tongue panting gently. Teddie Tumpkins couldn't believe that her enormous teeth didn't bite her tongue off.

Looking round the garden out of polite curiosity, he just happened to notice that Skwonx had a cat flap in his kitchen door. It reminded him of the catflap into his old house. He breathed out a sad little sigh of sorrow. He still missed his old house. To try and think of something to cheer himself up he told Skwonx about his morning visit to the Marmaladies. Skwonx howled with laughter as he tried to imagine the spider's legs wriggling from Teddie's mouth and he positively doubled up with laughter when he got to the part in his story where Fred Who Stares had his head bashed by the bird's beak.

"I wish I'd seen that," chortled Skwonx, "that's one to tell The Tail Lifters."

Teddie Tumpkins looked down at Tyson who was now fast asleep a small puddle of drool was beginning to form under her flabby jowls, which he thought was disgusting. He hoped his humans never ever bought him a pet as he enjoyed the attention he got from his humans as an only cat. The cats then decided to have forty winks which turned out to be nearer fifty or sixty as they dozed the afternoon away. It was quite some time later when Tyson was woken from her deep sleep and she let out a few snorts followed by a couple of throaty barks. That brought the cats to their senses, but there was no need to panic. Climbing over the lattice fence and walking nimbly along the top came a handsome, immaculately groomed silver tabby cat, a stranger to Teddie Tumpkins but not to Skwonx or Tyson.

The stranger jumped down onto the lawn then marched smartly up to the patio to join the others. Tyson ran over to check him out and gave him a good sniffing. When she was sure who it was she snorted and left them to it walking off down the garden to have a good nose through scents on the bushes.

"Hello Skwonx, dear boy."

"Hello, Colonel Sir," replied Skwonx

"And who's this young chap with you?" asked the Colonel as, Teddie

Tumpkins stood up and tried to look important.

"You're a fine looking specimen. You're not this new chappie that everyone's been telling me about are you? I suppose you must be, couldn't be anyone else with whiskers and a mustache like that"

Skwonx introduced Colonel Bogey, who was the golf club captain's cat.

"So, you want to join The Tiddleswick Tail Lifters do you lad? We'll just have to see about that won't we, see if you're good enough to join our exclusive club?" Teddie Tumpkins didn't like the sound of that, it was as if Colonel Bogey didn't want him to join, his whiskers drooped slightly.

Colonel Bogey turned to Skwonx and told him "Spot of good news, Leftie is back from the cattery, Sven Snorkie has got over his bout of cat flu and seems to be fit again, Costas is back in circulation after his long fishing trip, Nippy Nodger appears to have become a double agent, oh, and Sparky should be back on his paws again soon after his dreadful accident."

"Dreadful accident?" enquired Teddie Tumpkins politely.

"Yes, the poor chap caught a leg in a set of points in the railway tracks, a train took his leg clean off, or so I'm told," the Colonel cheerfully informed him. Teddie Tumpkins screwed his face up in horror.

"Sounds nasty" he muttered for the want of something to say.

"Yes" Skwonx went on, "Sparky is the station cat. He often nipped across the lines trying to keep the rats down as the old railway sheds are full of them....." Suddenly Tyson began barking wildly.

"Right" instructed Skwonx. "You both had better disappear" and with no more ado, Colonel Bogey was over the fence and off.

"Come on, Tumpers, you'd better scram, quick," warned Skwonx.

Bewildered, Teddie Tumpkins asked why.

"It sounds like my humans are back, they don't like strange cats round the house anymore. One got through the catflap a couple of weeks ago and sprayed in the kitchen. Personally I suspect it was that Spartapuzz"

Teddie Tumpkins scarpered.




In the Middle of a World...

"In the middle of a world that has always been a bit mad, the cat walks with confidence."

Roseanne Anderson

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