I had a friend whose cat had had six kittens. He got rid of five and he asked me if I’d be interested in taking the last one, a female. It was a cute little thing, mainly black but with a patch of white – I was sold.
I took her home and she settled in fine. I called her Ethel and we had lots of fun, especially with monkey nuts, which I’d flick across the carpet for Ethel to pounce on. Then one day I was lying on the settee watching telly when Ethel jumped up beside me. Strutting past my face, she flicked her tail, and underneath that tail I was surprised to see two black velvet pom-poms – yes, Ethel was a HE. I had taken my friend’s word for it that the kitten he gave me was a female.
About this time they were building a shopping mall where I lived and there was a group of feral cats that had taken up residence underneath the portacabins on the building site. Ethel got in with this gang and he started staying out all night, preferring the company of these rogues to the comparatively tame pastime of monkey nut chasing. I tried everything to coax him back onto the straight and narrow from grounding him to buying him treats, but his mind was made up and eventually he stopped coming home for good. I saw him on the street once and he came over to me, rubbing against my shins, but no sooner had I got him home than he flew the coop again.
I have this mental image of Ethel and his feral pals under that portacabin. They are sat round a makeshift table made from an upturned wooden beer crate, playing cards by the light of a candle. The conversation turns to why they ran away from home. Spike, a rough-looking ginger tom with a torn ear, removes a cigarette from his lips and spits to his side.
“They got a dog. Can you believe it?” he says, “ A Jack Russell. I put up with it for a week but I had to get out.”
Amidst tuts and head shaking all eyes turn to Ethel, who throws a Jack of clubs from his hand onto the table.
“Bastard called me Ethel,” he says.