I have two cats, and one husband. Three are warmly furry, two a delight, and one is mean, indifferent to touch, bored by strokes. One is Stan, one is Bunty and the third is Husband.
I adopted the kittens around the same time and from the same place – one a male tortie, and his sister, a tiny ink black female, with Clara Bow eyes. I took both because she clung to her brother. But despite coming from the same litter, and going to the same home, the boy, Stan, is laid back and friendly without being needy. He gently butts my leg when he wants feeding. He purrs when tickled behind the ears. Proper catty. And he rolls over obligingly for me or Husband to fluff his undercarriage. Bunty however, has the soul of a Victorian poisoner. She shrieks for her breakfast in the morning and then winces when anyone strokes her. When I pick her up she pulls away in contempt as though it’s MY breath that stinks of cat food. If I refuse to put her down she grumbles, a low level whining growl. When she lies in the sun washing herself she grunts like a fat old dowager. I bent down as she wriggled onto her back and softly stroked her stomach. She stopped grunting and gave me a malevolent stare. This must be what it feels like, working for the Royal Family. You might get the odd crumb of recognition but you are still a servant and don’t you forget it – you pleb.
The only other living thing Bunty likes is Stan, on whom she has an enormous crush, even though they have both been neutered. When he saunters in, she jumps on him, desperate for attention. He either brushes her off or sometimes gets her in a head lock. She adores this and starts to wash him respectfully. Or they roll about together on the carpet making grunty love noises. Sometimes she holds the side of his face and washes him neatly. On other more skittish days, she sneaks up behind him, bites his bum and then runs off. Here we see Bunty doing her ‘Stan Hold’.
Outside the flat is a large terrace, overhung by several large trees. It’s the time of year when the birds are building nests and persuading their teen fledglings to bugger off.
So a week ago my Husband and I were in the middle of a Game of Thrones binge when I flicked a glance outside, a desperately flapping wing, and saw Mean Cat had grabbed a fledgling bird, while Nice Cat crouched menacingly behind it. Both were about to Go Lannister on the poor thing. The baby thrush was still very much alive, so I grabbed the cats (by their alarm birds’ collars – yeah big deal) and hauled them inside, but before Husband could pick it up, the thrush struggled into the bushes. Neither of us could find it and unsurprisingly the bird wasn’t waving a flag about with ‘Here I am’ in his beak, so we left the cats pacing behind the big glass door, hissing and chattering, and aiming the occasional bad tempered swipe at each other. Husband gave me the standard ‘nature is red in tooth and claw’ lecture and we went to bed.
Early next morning, I noticed Husband was outside on the terrace carefully carrying something. A little bird head poked up and Husband softly stroked it, before putting the tiny thrush down on the outside wall in full view of the parents’ tree.
I smiled and hugged him, made him coffee.
‘It’s all down to whether it can fly,’ said Husband. ‘If it can’t then it’s done for and I’ll have to kill it.’
I sat drinking coffee, thinking who was it who said that if we are not prepared to kill and cook our own meat, we shouldn’t buy it? I killed an injured bird once. It was horrible. One of its wings had been torn off, so I picked it up, stroked the head and then twisted its neck hard and fast. I heard a small crack, and the bird was instantly limp as I threw up, a violent gush of disgust. Not just animals, what about those poor people who were executed by beheading, with blunt instruments, held in trembling, frightened hands. It took three goes to get Mary Queen of Scot’s head off. And our memory of Henry VIII is mainly of how he made so many women’s lives miserable, but since he ordered a French swordsman to behead Anne Boleyn, and it took one clean stroke, this in retrospect does seem like an act of love.
When I was five my cousin tore the wings off a butterfly. Frozen with misery, I heard the terrible tearing sound and a rush of nausea shot through my threat. He then trod on the tiny creature as it tried to move. I remember launching myself forward and then my cousin’s face was a mass of blood and crunching bone and screaming. Mum didn’t tell me off or even say it was a sin. Instead she said I was brave and bought me an ice cream. This was between meals so a Big Deal.
If the bird couldn’t fly it wouldn’t live.
I glanced up as mummy bird swooped down with a large worm and fledgling scarfed it up. Mummy flew off. I held my breath. But still the fledgling didn’t move.
‘Are you sure this is a fledgling and not a teenage bird?’ Husband asked. ‘It’s just sitting there doing nothing and expecting to be fed.
I was about to suggest putting a mattress down underneath the wall so if the fledgling did fall . . . . . . . . . . then I stopped. I was too embarrassed to finish even the thought. Instead I sniggered to myself, Husband asked me why, I refused to tell him, he of course, wormed it out of me, I explained about putting a mattress down, and he barked and snorted with laughter.
The fledgling was well hidden, the parents could see it and the cats were still skulking indoors, so we went inside. Ten minutes later I went back to check. The fledgling had gone!
I checked over the balcony my eyes screwed shut, expecting to see a little body. I should have put a mattress down! But there was nothing. Then I glanced up and saw that the fledgling had flown to the opposite garage. By the time we came home later that afternoon, it had gone. Stan was pleased to see us, head butting our ankles. Bunty stuck her tail in the air, showing us her neat pink little bottom, exactly the same colour as her collar. I didn’t care as she stalked past us and marched to her food bowl. Bird – One, Bunty – Zero.