I think it must be a bit like hiring a nanny, or an au pair. And it makes me wonder at the family who hired me when I was just sixteen to be a Mother’s Help during my school summer holidays to do the ironing, feed the dog -an adorable German Shepherd called Jason who had no idea that he was supposed to be fierce – and help with the equally lovely children Christina and Hamish, before the new au pair arrived. How did they know they could trust me? I loved my little bedroom with its chintz curtains and en suite bathroom; the view of the extensive garden. I had tea with the children, and supper (and wine) with the parents, so I gained an inch or so that summer. I also broke the iron, saw more films at the cinema than my own budget would normally allow, even though these were rather juvenile for my tastes, and was introduced to baked beans, strangers in my home where Opening Cans for Meals might have sent either or both of my parents into a spasm worthy of a Victorian maiden. There was also a cat, a tortoiseshell called Cola who had just had kittens. Kittens Jason longed to co-parent, but Cola was having none of his help. I remember it as a golden summer of sunshine.
Hopefully those who come to my home to look after MasterB since the Cattery has closed also think of it as a Golden Time. It’s a bit odd. I value my privacy enormously, yet I hand over the keys to my home and if they wanted, but I do hope they don’t, those cat sitters would be free to explore every drawer and cupboard in my absence. None are entirely strangers. There’s Celia; I have the keys to her flat too yet I haven’t so much as been in her bedroom, so I doubt very much if she has been sufficiently curious to investigate where I keep my cardigans; Julie, who catsits the Grey Ninja and who seems to spend every minute here playing with or cuddling MasterB. Julie is the only ‘professional’ catsitter I have employed, but I am not away often enough to be a good client, and she has gently let me know this by returning my keys and telling me of her other commitments. She is someone with a natural affinity with animals, someone like my Aunt Kath. They love her on sight. Rebecca and Edwin are neighbours, and MasterB went to their flat for day care while the kitchen was being replaced. They’ve been here with him too, but their lives have become busier, and they are not always able to look after him.
Now you could be forgiven, seeing MasterB patrolling the wall, as he is here a couple of days ago, for believing him an independent sort of cat, a boy who would be quite happy with a short visit from someone who’d make sure the litter tray was clean, the water was fresh and there was food in the bowl.
But he’s a sociable boy, and he needs company. So he enjoyed being with Rebecca while she made Christmas stars and laid them across his back, greets Celia with an upraised tail and quickened footstep when she comes round, and frankly adores JandB playing with him. But JandB won’t always be free, though J’s devotion to cats make me feel a fraud; Rebecca and Edwin are renting and may move; so tonight Birgit came to meet Himself for the first time.
He was immediately accepting and friendly. I know Birgit becaiuse she catsits for Ming, the cat belonging to my near neighbours, Reinhild and Mark. This seems something of a thankless task. Ming is a cat with Issues. She is complicated where MasterB is straightforward. Both cats are adopted and their kittenhoods unknown, but I’d guess it’s pretty safe to say that although MasterB was found wandering the streets of Brighton, he wasn’t there for long, the people who found him loved him, and he suffered no lasting trauma. Ming, on the other hand, is a pedigree with a genealogical chart that goes back to before Charlemagne, and has the sensitivities that only those with such established genes are allowed; she was bullied by the cats with whom she shared her home; fostered by the charity that ran alongside the Cattery; finally adopted and renamed by Mark and Reinhild.
The first days weren’t promising. She took to Mark but not to Reinhild; she cried all night long; Reinhild thought the cat would have to go. But she settled. She adores them both now, but her love and loyalty is peculiar and exclusive. Birgit has looked after her for many years, but is still not permitted by Ming to sit on the sofa in the sitting room as that is where Mark sits. Ming’s protests if Birgit assumes this place are loud and persistent. She doesn’t actually like Birgit to be in the sitting room at all, but is quite friendly to her when she is in the kitchen. Birgit is evidently *staff*, not *family*.
Understandably, Birgit was quite keen to meet a cat who might be friendly towards her. MasterB is that cat. He has no *side*, I told her; what you see is what you get; he likes company, play and biscuits. You don’t have to second guess what his plan might be, he’s transparent, affectionate, ready to be pleased.
As a first date it went very well. MasterB allowed himself to be picked up, and was polite, though he did look slightly alarmed. He played, he rolled over, he accepted biscuits, he claimed her as his by rubbing his face against her legs. She left to go back to Reinhild and Mark’s for dinner. What Ming made of the smell of a stranger on her person I have yet to hear. But I’d say my boy has made a new conquest.