As you know, our darling cats have taken to Yorkshire as if they have never lived anywhere else. I’m sure their meows sound less Scottish daily and and more like a Yorkshire “Eh up, lass, where’s t’breakfast then?” They are thriving physically – the Calamity Cat is rounder than ever and even the Princess hasn’t stopped eating for the summer, as she has in previous years. They have embraced the outdoors with an enthusiasm that belies their years and can often be found up trees and bounding across the lawn like mad things. We get so much pleasure from watching them enjoying their lives, as energised by the move as we are ourselves.
However, being the new kids on the block (never mind being the new ladies of a certain age) brings its own challenges, and we are not alone in recognising good cattage when we see it. There are therefore a number of other cats in the area, in a range of colours, sizes and temperaments and, unfortunately, they all seem to use our garden as a path from the back to the front of the houses.
The Princess, on the whole, is a total wimp who will run from the first sign of trouble. Imagine, then, our surprise when she staked her claim on next door’s flat roof some months ago, hoping to enjoy some early Spring sunshine in peace. A large tabby had got there first and much caterwauling ensued when the Princess arrived as well. The result was the tabby leaping down to the lawn with as much dignity as it could muster and the Princess moving to occupy its exact spot on the roof, sending a clear message that the day – and the roof – was hers.
Calamity, as usual the total opposite of her sister, is much more ready to defend her home and family and turns into a tiger when she feels threatened. Usually, it’s from the safety of the other side of a window, it has to be said, but she has fought other cats in Scotland if they came too close to the house, or to her beloved sister. It’s a protective stance that is not reciprocated – the Princess will rarely support Calamity if the situation is reversed.
As well as the tabby, there is a large tortoiseshell who visits, an old tabby and white lady and a very cute young black and white now and then. Our most frequent visitor though is a large, handsome black male. He appears to be a lovely cat – non-aggressive with other cats and timid with humans. One day last month, he appeared through the hedge and marched up to a startled Princess, greeting her with the friendly nose-sniffing used by cats when they are simply saying hello. Sadly, the Princess was less than welcoming and he got a warning smack for his pains. As soon as he saw me watching, he retreated and, once she was confident that he had run away, she decided to chase him as far as the hedge – “See! I told him – he won’t be back for a while” she seemed to say with a smug look on her face. He has returned on several occasions and they have struck an uneasy truce, tolerating each other as long as he was only passing through.
So we aren’t quite sure what has happened this week, but it has been a traumatic one for our girls. Mid-week, we heard an almighty howling row going on next door. Calamity was in our garden but there was no sign of the Princess and we feared she had been caught up in an altercation with another cat. I flew upstairs to see if I could see from the study window. Meanwhile, with a speed you wouldn’t expect from her size, Calamity hurtled across our lawn and under the hedge towards the noise, presumably to leap to her sister’s defence. By the time I got upstairs, she was being chased back across to our garden by the black cat, who only veered off at the last minute as a panicked Calamity fled into the house and hid behind the sofa. Five minutes later, the Princess peered cautiously around the gate that separates our decorative garden area from the orchard and, seeing the coast was clear, made a dash down the lawn for the safety of the house. Both were extremely jittery, but it’s amazing what recuperative powers lie in Sheba, a fuss and a long nap.
The following morning felt like deja vu as, after breakfast, with both girls out, we heard a howl and Calamity appeared through the hedge again. This time, the tortoiseshell was hard on her heels and it took Dreamies to console her. I started to wonder if they had a deal going with the local youth – “You pretend to chase me and I get treats. We can swap over later …”
The day after, though, was definitely not a set-up. We had been relieved that they seemed to have survived their morning constitutional without incident and had both returned to snooze the day away. Mid-afternoon, I had opened the patio doors as usual, so that they could both stretch their legs and get some fresh air and gone back upstairs to work. Five minutes later, all hell broke loose downstairs. It sounded like the fight to end all fights was going on down there and a fair amount of banging and crashing accompanied the screams of anger as well, making me fear for my glassware as much as for the cats. By the time I got to the top of the stairs, the Princess was on the landing, quivering but apparently unhurt. I hurried downstairs, to find Calamity, twice her usual size, squaring up to the large black cat, who was at the other end of the dining room. I put myself between them and, as I expected, the black cat ran. I slammed the door behind him and turned to console Calamity, who was stressed enough to spit at me before allowing herself to be calmed.
The week was a reminder that our girls, however sprightly, are getting older and, at nearly 13, can’t defend their territory the way they may have done when they were younger. Later, they came to me for comfort, with one on my knee, the other curled up next to me and they purred as they groomed each other (and me, for good measure). All we can do is hope that they continue to feel safe in their home and enjoy their garden for as long as they can, and that we can protect them as much as we are able. Oh, and make sure we keep the Dreamies coming of course …