When we are in Aberdeen, our lives could not be more different from home. Our green and quintessentially English village feels a long way from this imposing Scottish city. We stay in a top-floor flat in the centre of the city, surrounded by granite tenements similar to our own, with rooftop views and largely untended shared gardens below. Unlike home, where we have to get the car out even to pick up a takeaway, here we have everything on our doorstep with all the associated sights and sounds of city life.
Unfamiliar noises fill our nights – traffic, sirens and the ever-present seagulls who barely seem to sleep. One more familiar sound, however, disturbs us each month. Although central, our area is largely residential and so we see a number of cats about. One family, in particular, fascinates us – a young couple (we think), with an adventurous pet. They wake us at least twice during our week, often more. We have never seen them but we weave endless tales of their adventures.
It seems their cat, like our Princess, likes to be out exploring, no matter the weather or hour. When he comes home, he calls loudly to them, to let them know that he is home now so they had better open the door and the Felix too. The cry is loud enough to penetrate my dreams, and I toss and turn, dreaming that the Calamity Cat or the Princess is calling to me and I can’t reach them. Usually, eventually, the noise wakes me up altogether and I lie there hoping that they will hear him quickly and let him in out of the cold.
Just as often, the boot is on the other foot, though, and they are out looking for him. We often hear them out calling his name, sometimes him, sometimes her, sometimes both. They walk the streets and we listen anxiously for their relieved “There you are! In you go” when he finally turns up. Sometimes a couple of calls does the trick but more often they can be out for half an hour or more. We don’t know where the cat goes to – is he close by, listening to them call and thinking, “Naw, I’ll wait a wee while, just to make the point” or is he urgently hurrying home from a distance, having picked up their calls from afar?
It isn’t just the level and the pitch of their calls that keeps us awake. We have spent months trying to work out the name of this cat. I’m not sure if it’s the local accent which confuses us or the way the sound bounces around between the tall granite buildings but it drives us crazy. For some time, I was convinced he was called Neeman, although it seemed like a strange name for a cat (or anything else for that matter). Last week, however, we both decided we had finally cracked it. “The cat’s called Nemo”, D announced triumphantly the morning after a particularly lengthy search the night before. This does seem more likely, I admit, but it wasn’t what I had heard. “No, I heard it right this time, I’m sure,” I replied. “He’s called – wait for it…” I paused for effect. “He’s called He-Man!”
D’s face said it all …