The death of the old lady tabby meant that we were free to get kittens. We could never have inflicted kittens on her: she hated any change to her routine, and would have loathed the rumpus of kittens, and the adult cats they grew into. Our Ginger, on the other hand, moved into a house where there were already four adult cats so has a track record of seeking out company. We thought that so long as we made sure to make a huge fuss of him post kitten that he would probably come round to the idea, and might even enjoy the companionship in time.
I went to the cat rescue centre in Colchester to put my name down for kittens, duly equipped with photographic identification and proof of address less than three months old, as required on their website, and was given a form to fill in. Did I live on an A or B road? Did I own my house? Did it have a secure back garden? Did I have my landlord's agreement to get a cat? Did everybody in the household want a cat? Why did I want kittens and not an adult cat? Did my house have a cat flap or was I prepared to fit one, and did I undertake to keep my cat indoors at night and to provide an indoor litter tray at all times. I filled in the form, lying in places (none of our previous cats have wanted to use an indoor litter tray as long as they were in any condition to stagger out into the garden).
The young woman who took my form was discouraging about the idea of introducing kittens to an adult cat, saying that in her view it was not a good idea. I looked into her bright, sharp, righteous little face and felt a deep sense of weariness. I was fairly sure I had taken responsibility for my first pair of cats before she was born, or at any rate while she was still at primary school. They did not want to see my passport or bank statement, not at the moment. The only kittens they had were only two weeks old, and they did not offer to show them to me. They would ring me. I left, feeling fairly sure that I would not be getting kittens from the Colchester cat rescue. Nobody I know has ever managed to obtain an animal from them.
The next stop was the vet, where I tried to buy a fresh pack of combined flea and tapeworm dab-on-the-neck treatment for Our Ginger. The receptionist looked at her records and explained apologetically that she could not sell them to me, because they were prescription only and they had not seen Our Ginger in the past year. Would I like to make an appointment to bring him in for a check-up? My sense of weariness deepened. Our Ginger does not like going to the vet, and as he seems happy enough at the moment I was not sure I wanted to subject him to a check-up. At his age it seemed unlikely to stop at checking his heart and looking at his teeth. I had visions of blood tests, resulting in dismal warnings of age related conditions that we could not do anything about, all at vast expense. I invoked that great middle aged lady get-out clause that I would have to speak to my husband, and would ring them.
I had more luck when I explained that they needed to remove the old lady tabby from their records, and that I was now on the hunt for kittens if they knew any other clients who had some. One of her ladies that very morning had said that she had so many kittens, and I left with a name and phone number. This turned out to be the kitten and feral cat rescue centre based in Alresford, whose website I'd seen without giving it priority among the plethora of Essex cat rescue organisations. The woman who answered the phone said that yes, she had two litters ready for homing, though she had to warn me that they were all black or black and white. That was fine by me: we have had three black cats over the years and they have all been wonderful pets.
Slightly stunned that she had kittens ready now, rather than tiny ones for July, I arranged to go round at five so that we could sort ourselves out first, and then had to ring her back shortly afterwards apologising that I wasn't thinking straight, but could we choose the kittens today and collect them on Friday when we would both be at home to look after them and our existing cat. As the Systems Administrator had spotted when I told him about the appointment, I had a garden club meeting that evening and was going to London for the next two days, so it was not the best moment to take charge of kittens. We went round at half past two, with a clear plan to choose two boys, preferably short haired because long haired cats fur can be a problem as they get older and can't groom themselves, and we wanted nice, friendly, outgoing kittens that would make sociable cats.
Both litters were adorable. There were three black and white brothers in one pen, nine weeks old and big for their age, two of them semi long haired, and none of them especially friendly. The shelter owner assured us that they were lovely with her, the problem was that they had been born in the rescue centre and were not used to strange people. Ideally they needed to be in a proper home as soon as possible. The other pen held four much smaller, sleek, short haired, sociable kittens, three boys and a girl, pure black or with small white markings around the face. We dithered. We dithered some more. The shelter owner said she would step outside and let us discuss it. The Systems Administrator was terribly drawn to the black and white biggies, because they promised to make large cats and the SA likes big cats. Yes, they were a bit wild but would soon settle down. The little black ones were so friendly, they would soon find homes. The black and white litter were awfully pretty, but how to choose? The fluffiest one that hissed at me soundlessly showing his tiny teeth was the prettiest. Who was going to be left behind, alone in his pen? I said the fatal words: I suppose we could take three.
We took all three. As the SA said, that boosted the future rodent control force by fifty per cent. They came with a dowry of the kind of cat food they currently eat, three plastic balls to play with, and the phone number to get a voucher to have them neutered for twenty pounds each at a vet of our choice. We showed them to Our Ginger when we got back, and the fluffy hissing one hissed at him, so Our Ginger hissed back, before managing to get into the study where they will live for now and ostentatiously scarfing down all their food. They spent the morning hiding behind a cupboard, until we moved it forwards enough to get behind it, and then under a desk, and climbing into the bookcases. We left them in peace some of the time, and managed to catch each one to pet it a couple of times to start their socialisation process, until we went in to check on them after tea and found that two had completely disappeared.
We looked under the furniture and in the bookshelves and the places where a kitten could easily climb, with no success. It was a locked room mystery. The door had been shut. The window was only ajar behind a wooden slatted blind. We tried to think whether there could be any other ways of getting out of the room or connections to the kitchen, given that the layout has been altered over the years. It gradually and horribly dawned on us that the kittens must have managed to get behind the fitted bookcase. It has a neat hole cut in the back at one end to allow access to the electric socket that was there before the bookcases were fitted, and once we looked closely we realised there was a small gap at the bottom of the trim at the end where the shelves didn't reach right up to the wall. The SA prised away a piece of the bottom trim at the end that was not against the wall, and shining a torch along the floor we could just see a black shape that eventually moved.
It was a kitten, but only one, so where the hell was the other? Had it managed to climb up the gap between the back of the bookcase and the wall? And how did we persuade the kitten to come out, when it didn't like us? We could have left it there until it was starving, but that would have been stressful for all parties. We couldn't take the trim off the bottom of the front of the bookcase because it had the weight of the shelves and all the books pressing down on it. We tried menacing the kitten from the door end with a drain rod with socks tied on the end, to see if it would pop out of the gap in the trim by the wall, but it stayed firmly put. In the end the Systems Administrator flapped a ruler noisily through the hole at the wall end and it came close enough to the missing trim at the door end for me to haul it out, though by then I think it wanted to be rescued. That was Hissing Sid, but there was still no sign of the other one, which after lunch had consented to sit on the SA's chest for a time and even stared into his face.
The SA removed part of the vertical trim from the gaps between the case and the walls at both ends, which broke into pieces since it was only faced chipboard. No signs of the other kitten in the gap between the back of the case and the wall, when we shone torches in there. It was not on top of the bookcase either in the gap between the case and the ceiling, when the SA prised a piece off the end cornice. We turned our attentions to the other bookcase, which also has an access hole for the electric socket, and when we took the end bottom trim out there under the lowest shelf at the furthest end was the last kitten, and again we could not remove the bottom trim along the front because it was wedged in by the weight of books, so had to rip the end vertical trim out and try to shoe the kitten out of the gap with the drain rod. At the first attempt it stayed put, and was equally resistant to be shooed out the other way when we waved a length of hosepipe through the gap opened up by removing the vertical end filling piece. I thought it might look like a snake, but while the kitten came towards the gap we'd opened up, it stayed just over arms length from the end of the bookcase. At the second rodding attempt it hopped out through the vertical gap, and hid under the stove while the SA quickly blocked up the holes in the bookcases so that it couldn't disappear back underneath, before we managed to catch it.
The kittens are now locked in the downstairs loo for the night with their food and their litter tray. The loo seat is down, the window is shut. We are collapsed in the study and Our Ginger is sitting in my office chair washing noisily. So much for the idea of introducing them to each other as soon as possible and carrying on in a normal fashion so that Our Ginger doesn't feel left out. I am absolutely shattered. The kittens are probably traumatised, but they should be safe in the loo. The SA will have to rebuild the bookcases in the morning then we can move the kittens from the loo back into the study and try again.