I’ve wanted a cat for years. I’ve wanted a cat with the searing, borderline insane yearning that conducts itself into endless cat videos, crooning over Instagram pictures, and bringing most of my Twitter feed to a crashing halt one Friday last summer by posting a link to Kitten Cam. I knew all the cats in my street, and my neighbour’s enormous panther monster used to be a regular visitor, sizing up my decorating efforts before miaowing to be let out again.
In the autumn I went for a walk round the lovely backstreets of Wapping, and realised that the only person stopping me from getting a cat, was me. I didn’t think I was responsible enough to get a pet. I thought I’d break it. Or that it would hate living in Twee Flat and take instantly against me. Even after I passed the interview to adopt a Battersea rescue cat just before Christmas, I was convinced the home inspector would find something to hate.
Happily he didn’t. He showed me the little sign he’d added to his report, “so Ros knows you’re one of the good ones.” And because I can’t resist the call of a cat, I went straight along to Battersea the next day “just to have a look.” I couldn’t possibly take home a cat that day. I was out every night that week.
I took along my friend Blonde, who adores cats like ancient Egypt. Nearly every cat we saw had either been reserved, or was awaiting a vet’s exam, so the only one we could see who was free was a little black and white madam called Patch.
We went in, and she instantly stalked over, inspected us, and perched on my lap. I idly tickled her tummy, and was rewarded with a lightning-fast slash across the wrist – this behaviour would later lead my boyfriend to nickname her Bacon, because of her mean streak.
I rather nervously asked if there were any other cats I could see, just in case. But the cattery queen, Ros, said there weren’t. Oh. Ok then. I’ll reserve her. Can I pick her up on Thursday? No, there’s cat flu coming, I’d have to take her today. But – but I’m going out? Seemingly forever? That’s fine,she can get used to her schedule.
And so it was that I slightly dazedly ended up carting a furious cat back through London in a taxi, with carriers, litter, bowls and such hastily bought from the Battersea shop, and the welcome pack. She had a new name – I didn’t realise you could always rename them at a later point, so under pressure I called her Ambridge, after the village in my beloved The Archers. She can be The Duchess of Ambridge, like an angrier, furrier Kate Middleton, I thought.
She’d been signed off by the vet, so as soon as I got her home, I set up a room for her in the sitting room,and guiltily went off to set fire to short stories with Ultraculture and Katie Khan. I got home to find her asleep in the lap of my sleeping flatmate, who couldn’t resist saying hello. Nobody can resist Ambridge.
The next few weeks, I fell in love. Despite her Bacon streak, this furious cat turned out to be incredibly good-natured, if intensely distrustful of vets. She was a complete whore for a lap, curling up and head-butting a spare hand if it looked like there weren’t enough cuddles forthcoming. If you had a tray on your lap, or a computer, she would squeeze into whatever space remained, peering at your work.
I gave up trying to watch TV in the bath when she decided that my laptop’s keyboard functioned much better as a warm cat seat.
She would give you gentle nibbles, sidle around window sills, leap around like a distracted deer, and every jump she made onto the bed, or my lap would be accompanied with a little chirrup. My grandma and my boyfriend asked what I would call her for short. But, her name has two syllables, I thought, what can possibly be shorter? She is now Ammy. Or princess. Or poppet. Or (sung) “You’re my furry sausage, my lovely furry sausage.”
Her spotless white paws grew spotty from regular forays onto the fireplace. It took two days before she started sleeping on my bed, curled up in the bend of my legs, or in a hollow under the duvet. I spent a week in bed with flu – in terms of bringing cups of tea she was hopeless, but she spent the whole time by me.
Despite apparently sleeping for 26 hours of every day, she managed to be incredibly curious. I was absent-mindedly filling the washing machine before going horse riding one Saturday and managed to cover her in Persil liquid. It took my Write Club chum and cat wrangling expert Miss Cellany to help me get the froth off her coat by giving the cat a bath. Her outrage (the cat’s not Elizabeth’s) was positively Victorian.
Feeding her – bribing her, rather – was a nightmare. Chicken, trout, salmon, cheese, tomatoes and tuna all went ignored. Instead, she showed an almost slavish craving for plastic, nibbling on recycling bags, diving into wastepaper baskets and falling madly in love with the tough carrier my friend Polly bought my birthday present round in. Ambridge showed absolutely no interest in food that wasn’t either dry, or Dreamies, and if I absent-mindedly didn’t feed her enough, she would go into the kitchen and imperiously knock the food bag off the counter.
Her previous owners, who emigrated, had kept her as an indoor cat for all her five years, but she showed signs of wanting to be an excellent hunter, despite not actually being an excellent hunter.
She soon calmed my fears about destroying my flat by elegantly making it around the entire sitting room without touching the floor, or knocking anything off the mantelpiece. She fell in love with the clothes horse, and spent her mad half-hours chasing invisible creatures around the floor before ascending the horse like a feline Edmund Hillary.
I would leave her wistfully staring out of the window,either perched at the back of the house on top of my mum’s armchair, or in my bedroom, curled up on top of the scratching post platform my brother gave me for Christmas – “you’re dreadful. You’re like that weird cat woman. You are the weird cat woman.”
The week after I took her home from Battersea, I carried her off to the vet’s for her jabs. She sang the score to Les Mis the whole way there. The people on the bus looked at me as thought I was taking her to Huntingdon Life Sciences.
The vet – a wonderful Irishman called, equally wonderfully, Mr Irish – was lovely. Everything was fine. She had her jabs. She didn’t eat him. And then he found tartar, a gum infection, and a heart murmur.
She went back to Battersea to have her teeth sorted out – Ambridge disgraced herself by attacking the vet – but as they had given her a clean bill of health, her heart problems must have appeared in the week since I took her home. (I was not, and am not, sure about this). She had a blood test – this time she disgraced herself even more by attacking lovely Mr Irish – and left looking like an inverted Frankenstein, with little shaved patches on either side of her neck. I thought she’d be furious all day, but she doesn’t bear grudges, and my little cat soon curled up on my lap and headbutted my hand.
On Friday, the vet called. Ambridge has heart disease. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried down the phone.
She’s not going anywhere. If the ultrasound finds she has low to moderate heart disease that can be managed with medication then that’s it, and hurray for pet insurance – although less hurrah for excesses. If it turns out to be advanced then she might have to be put down. For the time being, she is squirrelled up on my lap in the space not occupied by my computer, snoozing, with her head on the head rest. I love her – Bacon and all.