When the call came, it was a bolt out of the blue. Teddie Tumpkins was sitting in his own garden, which now had the grass neatly clipped, going about his early morning patrol which consisted of sniffing round the bushes and emptying his full overnight bladder. Without any warning whatsoever Colonel Bogey popped his head over the wall at the bottom of the garden.

"Pssst, over here, laddie," he commanded. Teddie Tumpkins could feel a tingle of excitement ripple down his spine and out through the tip of his tail. He jumped up onto the wall next to the silver tabby.

"Looks like tonight's the night," whispered Colonel Bogey. "We're having a full meeting of The Tail Lifters. If they like the look of you and you accept our initiation challenge, then come up to par, then we'll consider you for membership."

Teddie's heart raced and his whiskers bristled but before he could answer, Colonel Bogey had melted away leaving him, for a moment, dumbstruck. He was so excited. There were so many unanswered questions. Would the other members like him? Would he be up to the challenge? What would the challenge be? What if he failed? He would have a lifetime's humiliation poured on him by other cats then he would have to spend all his days nannying the Marmaladies, or worse, spending the rest of his days alone.

He was so anxious he couldn't decide what to do for best so he paced up and down his garden. He had a little lump of nervousness at the back of his throat and a knot in his tummy. For once he didn't feel like eating his food. So, to relieve the tension he thought he would have another crack at whipping the Marmaladies into some sort of shape. He wasn't sure if they were going to be pleased to see him or not after the incident with the spider, with Fred Who Stares picking up a nasty injury from a half caught blackbird. He needn't have worried however as he was given a very warm welcome. The lacklustre duo spotted him padding up their path.

"Oh, hello, over here Teddieeee, I said hellooo. Cooooeeeee," called Ginger Podgers,  "it's that Ted again, Freddie, you know, Teddie from over the road, that nice cat."

"So it is," agreed Fred Who Stares who was also pleased to see him. Teddie Tumpkins thought it was prudent to make a small apology for what had happened previously, but he was told to think nothing of it. They had recovered from the fainting fits, the wound to Fred Who Stares' head had all but cleared up and, they were ready to get back into the swing of training again and were only too pleased that he was going to be their leader.

"You just show us what you want us to do now, handsome," enthused Ginger Podgers.

"Can we start with some gentle exercises like last time?" Fred Who Stares butted in.

In no time at all Teddie Tumpkins had forgotten what was to come that evening as he had the Marmaladies stretching, bending and trotting round the garden. Soon all three cats were panting for breath in need of a well-earned rest. The Marmaladies' humans thought the cats needed milk and cat biscuits so these were put outside on nice clean white saucers with the Marmaladies names on them and the cats were encouraged to dig in. Teddie Tumpkins thought this was terrific. He was never given milk at home, all he ever got was water.

The sun was now nice and warm and the Marmaladies' flower filled garden was soon a-buzz with wasps, hover flies, bees and flying insects of all kinds, a perfect day for 'swot the bluebottle', thought Teddie Tumpkins, but were the Marmaladies up to it? He paused for a moment to give it some serious thought. What they really needed was a dung heap, or a pile of poo to attract the flies. When all the milk and biscuits had gone, paws and whiskers were duly washed he told Ginger Podgers and Fred Who Stares that he thought they were now up to one of his most favourite time wasting games, 'swat the bluebottle.'

"Oooow, I think you've mentioned that before. He did, didn't he, Freddikins? I said he mentioned 'swot the bluebottle' before," screeched Ginger Podgers excitedly, so Teddie Tumpkins gently explained that they needed somewhere to sit where the bluebottles would come.

"I know just the place," announced Fred Who Stares, "but we don't like to go there, it's a bit dirty and smelly, isn't it Gingie?" The Marmaladies looked at each other, screwed their noses up, then led Teddie Tumpkins to the back of the garden shed where the lawn mower clippings were put to fester, and the cat's litter trays were emptied.

"Pheeeew! You're right!" Teddie Tumpkins spluttered, as his nose braced itself against the offending odour. "It's a bit ripe, but that's just what we want."

The heap was indeed a-buzz with bluebottles, all the cats needed was a vantage point from where they could do their swotting.

"There's only one thing for it," declared Teddie Tumpkins, "we need to go up on the shed roof which is directly above where the bluebottles are circulating."

The Marmaladies had never been up on the shed roof before. The only way up, as Teddie Tumpkins could see it, was to climb up the lilac bush then jump across. This was quite easy for Teddie Tumpkins, but would the pudgy Marmaladies be up to it? He led by example, and was on the shed roof in a trice with Ginger Podgers and Fred Who Stares following him very nervously.

"Oh, do be careful Fred," called Ginger Podgers as Fred Who Stares started to sway on the outer branches of the lilac bush.

"That's it... now jump!" commanded Teddie Tumpkins. Fred Who Stares crashed onto the shed roof followed by Ginger Podgers.

"I'm not sure I like heights" grumbled Ginger Podgers, "I might have one of my turns, I said, I might have one of my turns"

Teddie Tumpkins assured them that they were perfectly safe and he then got them to take up their positions at the edge of the roof overlooking the grass and dung pile. The bluebottles were coming in thick and fast. Teddie Tumpkins started to lash out with his paws at those which came in reach, snapping at those which came in even closer. The Marmaladies were quite taken with this game. At least this activity wasn't as horrible as that nasty 'snaffle the spider' game.

Teddie Tumpkins caught a bluebottle having hooked one straight through with one of his claws. He showed the Marmaladies the fly which was still buzzing before he popped it into his mouth and crunched it up.

"Ooooh no!!" exclaimed Ginger Podgers in horror. "Did you see that Freddie? He put it in his mouth, after what it's been walking on I'm going to be sick, I tell you sick"

But Teddie Tumpkins informed them that bluebottles were quite delicious and that they really should try one. Eventually The Marmaladies got into the swing of things and they were even starting to enjoy themselves, so much so that Fred Who Stares forgot for a moment where he was. Not realizing how perilously close to the edge of the roof he'd become he took a mighty swipe at a bluebottle. For a moment he thought he had one but the bluebottle was just that little bit too far for Fred Who Stares to reach and, in a fraction of a second he lost his balance. His paws were scratching at thin air as he fell knocking Ginger Podgers over too. The pair of them fell off the shed roof yowling as they landed right in the middle of the poo pile with a dull squelch.

"Ooops," thought Teddie Tumpkins to himself, "that wasn't supposed to happen."

He had done it again. He had managed to turn fun into fiasco. Ginger Podgers and Fred Who Stares sprang out of the dung heap with their fur matted with smelly old cat poos and rotting vegetation.

"Don't lick it off Fred, whatever you don't lick it off otherwise you'll wake up dead tomorrow. I said you'll be dead," Ginger Podgers squealed. Teddie Tumpkins was about to begin his round of apologies, instead he took the cowards way out running off leaving them to it. He had more important things to do that didn't involve chasing round after part time pussy cats. He had to lie low for the rest of the afternoon to avoid being shut up in the house, so that by the time evening fell, not only was he hungry, but his nerves were on edge too.

He crossed over the railway line then walked alongside the tracks and jumped up onto the railway station platform. There wasn't a soul about, not even a mouse, or a cat come to that. He found the lost property office and the hole at the back where, presumably all the members squeezed in through so he went in. In the half-light he couldn't see anything but a collection of lost property. Stacks of old umbrellas, children's toys, a few battered suitcases and there was even a pram.

"That looks familiar," thought Teddie Tumpkins to himself, remembering how a little girl at his last home would dress him in dolls clothes and push him up and down the path in a doll's pram. There was no sign of The Tiddleswick Tail Lifters so he sniffed around the office a little while longer. Just as he was about to give up and go home, he sensed eyeballs boring into the back of his head. He spun round and sure enough, there were at least twenty pairs of eyes peering down at him from the tops of the cupboards, from the edges of shelves and from behind boxes in the lost property office. Teddie Tumpkins took in a sharp intake of breath and let out a muffled gasp.

"You're late laddie," Colonel Bogey boomed down at him, "we don't tolerate sloppy punctuality."

Teddie Tumpkins apologized and he promised that it wouldn't happen again. Skwonx then stood up to introduce him to the gathered gang of cats telling them that he was just the sort of fearless feline that The Tiddleswick Tail Lifters needed and that he was proposing him for membership. Then he asked for a Seconder. Teddie Tumpkins didn't know any of the other cats, only Colonel Bogey, who to his relief seconded the proposal that he become a member, subject to him passing the initiation test.

Colonel Bogey told Teddie Tumpkins to pay full attention as he gave him details of his assignment. It was then explained to him that the fishmongers shop in the town of Tiddleswick on Sea had recently changed hands. Mr. Gill, who used to keep the shop had been a generous old soul, always putting down fish scraps for the cats to eat. But the new owner, Mr. Crabb, didn't give them anything and in fact went out of his way to shoo the cats away.

"Your challenge, Tumpkins, is to go into the shop in broad daylight when there are lots of humans there. You have to jump on the fish display and then spray on the biggest fish you can find."  There were gasps from all the other cats and soon the room was buzzing with murmuring, excited, giggling cats.

"Silence lads!" snapped Colonel Bogey.  "You will, of course, be watched over by Skwonx, Leftie, Costas, Shrimp and of course yours truly. Do you accept the challenge?"

All the other cats held their breath and stared down at Teddie Tumpkins, waiting for his reply. He was so glad his challenge wasn't going to be a fight with the biggest cat in the gang, or anything like that so he was happy to accept.

"Tomorrow morning it is then," proclaimed Colonel Bogey. "We will come to your house to collect you."

After the remaining business of the evening had been conducted the gang disbanded. All the cats scampered off in twos and threes to their homes so as not to draw attention to themselves from humans.

Next morning, Teddie Tumpkins made sure he drank lots of water so that he would give a perfect performance. He sat in his front garden anxiously waiting. The postman stroked him as he passed down the cul-de-sac, but he was much too preoccupied to pay him any real attention. The panel of judges from the Tiddleswick Tail Lifters appeared as though from thin air to escort him over the gardens and through back alleyways to the fishmonger’s shop. Skwonx took up his position behind a car wheel, Costas hid behind a wheelie bin, Shrimp sat by the door of the fishmongers shop whilst Colonel Bogey cheekily jumped onto the roof of a parked car which gave him a grandstand view right inside the shop.

"Right, it's up to you laddie!" ordered Colonel Bogey.

The shop was crowded with fat old ladies with their wicker baskets, chattering and gossiping amongst themselves whilst pointing at the fish. There were crabs, shrimps, white fish, yellow fish, and some choice cuts of salmon. Standing behind the counter was Mr. Crabb, with his blue and white striped apron, his thick glasses, short cropped hair, holding a large gleaming cleaver in his hand. Teddie Tumpkins was just about as nervous as a nervous cat can get. He hesitated, and then just to be sure, he hesitated a bit longer.

"Come on, Tumpers!" called Skwonx, offering encouragement.

"Don't let the side down!" shouted Shrimp.

"Come on laddie, let's be having you," commanded Colonel Bogey.

Then an old lady came out of the shop, just as Teddie Tumpkins made up his mind to dart in. She all but fell over him, dropping her shopping all over the floor. This was Teddie's chance. While the humans were distracted, he jumped up onto the counter, dancing up and down on the display of glistening fish, their cold, dead eyes staring up at him from the ice as he skipped on their slippery scales. By the time the old lady was back on her feet, people were looking into the shop, gasping with astonishment as Teddie Tumpkins, the performing puss, pranced perilously and playfully on perch, pollock and plaice.

Then followed his piece de resistance as he lifted his bushy tail and sprayed over a very large Scottish salmon.

Mr. Crabb's cleaver came down with a whoosh as he screamed abuse at him. The fat old ladies squealed as they held their breath as the flashing steel blade hurtled towards Teddie's cranium, but he was gone before the blade sliced the salmon in two. Mr. Crabb was so irate that he picked up both pieces of fish and threw them after Teddie Tumpkins who was dashing out of the shop door. In a flash, Shrimp, Costas, Colonel Bogey and Skwonx dived onto the broken pieces of fish and grabbed as much as they could carry in their mouths before high tailed it up the high street.

The cats didn't stop running until they reached the safety of a piece of waste ground near the railway station, where they ate as much of the tasty salmon as they could. Not only had Teddie Tumpkins passed the initiation test that had been set for him, but the ring leaders of the Tiddleswick Tail Lifters had tucked into an unexpected feast into the bargain. Colonel Bogey jumped onto a rusty old oil drum and cleared his throat;

"Heck hem, attention please lads. I think you will agree with me that the boy Tumpkins here passed the assignment set for him by the committee of The Tiddleswick Tail Lifters. Therefore it is my very great pleasure to welcome him as our newest member." Teddie's chest puffed out with pride, then little Shrimp who had taken to him, called for three cheers.

The local weekly newspaper arrived at Teddie's house a few days later. There was a photograph of the outraged fishmonger, Mr. Crabb accompanied by a description of the offending cat who'd performed the diabolical deed on Mr. Crabb's fish counter. Teddie's humans noted that this description bore a strong resemblance to their cat. There was even an artist's impression and the headline which screamed out from the front page: "Playful pet pussy prances precociously on Pollock, perch and plaice then piddles off!"

Teddie's female human looked down at him and said if she didn't know better, she would have thought that it was their cat that had fandangoed on the fish.

One Cat is Company

"One cat is company.
Two cats are a conspiracy. 
Three cats is an attempted takeover.
Four or more cats is a complete coup!"

Shona Steele (Australia)

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