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Cat among the Pigeons!...
Author: DoostalkerTitle: Cat among the Pigeons!
Date: 2005-10-07 23:57:06Uploaded by: webmaster
It was a cat. A black cat. A flat black cat to be precise. It was dead. Given how flat it was, it was hardly surprising that it was dead. I suppose you would really describe it as a dead flat black cat!

My ten year old eyes were drawn constantly to this two dimensional object. I was standing on the old railway bridge in Henderson Street looking down on the recent infill for St Augustine’s Secondary school’s playground extension. There at the base of the infill was the cat. I could not drag my eyes away from it. If I was to go and get the football that Andy Fagan had launched past my goalkeeper’s outstretched and flailing arms, then I would have to clamber over the bridge parapet and scramble down to where the ball was sitting…. right next to a dead flat black cat!

No persuading by me would change Andy’s viewpoint that it was me that needed to go for the ball. He was the centre forward and I was the goalie. Centre forwards don’t go for the ball he kept saying. That was the goalie’s job.

It wasn’t that I was scared of the cat or unduly concerned about the reek of putrescence it was giving off. This was Coatbridge in the fifties, and it was not uncommon to see the odd dead dog, cat or other domestic creature. No, it was the fact that I recognised this particular, now perpendicular, cat. And that recognition was filling me with a horror and dread about possible consequences. Not for me, but for my beloved grandfather, my Da.

You see, it was dawning on me that this burst and steamrollered object was none other than “Smokey”, the pet cat of our eccentric neighbour Mrs Gaffney. Even worse her son John thought that this cat was the best thing since sliced bread. John Gaffney was a man in his 20’s, whom I had never known to do anything as mundane as work. He hung around at the gate to his house most of the time, or wandered back and forth between his gate and Cissie Ward’s the Butcher and Robertson’s general store, which were both located near the bridge I was now standing on looking down in rising trepidation. When he wasn’t doing this he would either be showing off his prowess at everything to us less than impressed kids, or just standing on the bridge smoking, so that his mother wouldn’t know he did.

He could be doing this soon, and then he would see his precious Smokey. I made my way down to the base of the infill, and, making sure Andy wasn’t looking, I picked up the cardboard stiff cat and hurled it with all of my strength further under the bridge where prying eyes would never see it, unless they came down the slope and under the bridge. Only the older boys did that, and they usually had girls with them for some reason. The infill on one side, and the newly erected fence in the electricity works on the other side of the bridge, made it a lot harder to get into the darkened area below the bridge. Only us younger ones were keen to go down the slope, simply because we didn’t care how dirty we became, in fact we revelled in it. Whereas, our older siblings were too concerned about their drainpipes and winkle pickers to keep going there. So eventually they moved the place they took the girls, to an area behind the British Steelworks near the slagbing.

Happy that the offending feline was now safely out of the way, I stuck the ball up my jumper and made my way up to the unsuspecting Andy and we continued our game of “shooty-in.” However, my mind was still troubled by the incident. You see my Da had been in a blazing row with the Gaffneys over their precious Smokey. The ever-courageous John had even threatened my Da with physical violence! He did this from behind his harridan of a mother and made his way rapidly back into his house when two of my aunts came out to see what all the fuss was about. What a hero he was! My Da would probably have wiped the floor with him, despite him being over 60 and still suffering from being gassed in the First World War. Right up to his death Da still had shrapnel coming from his body. Yet he tried hard to keep fit, and this with his Irish temper would have been more than enough for the John boy.

So what, you ask, was all the fuss about? Well, like almost all cat owners then, the Gaffney’s just opened their door and let the damn thing out do its damage as it wanted. A situation not changed over the years with the cat owning population, sad to say. We had lost two youngsters in as many weeks, and had no explanation as to where they were. Then, when he was cleaning out the shed, Da caught sight of the bold Smokey leaping on another of the youngsters. He let out a roar, which was sufficient to frighten the life out of the cat, and the youngster was free, although shaken. He had already told the Gaffneys about the cat sitting on the landing board, or licking its lips in front of the wire mesh door, but they had laughed at him and said the cat was only doing what came naturally.

Da tried everything to keep the cat away. He even put down strong ammonia all round the garden. It just made the garden stink and seemed to have no effect on the cat. Maybe it was unable to smell anything after years of suffering the smell of Mrs Gaffney’s cheap perfume!

This time was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Da’s parting words to the retreating Gaffneys were “If that bloody cat of yours sets foot near my doos again I will have its guts for garters!” To which the ever-expressive Mrs G said (expletives deleted to protect the guilty) “You just try it Mulholland and I will report you to the SSPCA and have you in court before you know it!!”

So there it was then. Da had kept his promise. Smokey had been back at the doos, and he had made sure it would never harm them again. Then he had thrown it over the bridge, walking right past the Gaffney’s gate to do so! My, I was in awe of the man! What panache! But I had to keep my own counsel. If they found out what he had done then they would have him jailed. I couldn’t have that happening to him. So for days I moped around saying little to no one and answering all questions why this boisterous child had become a virtual recluse with the same response, “sore stomach.” That was all right until my Auntie Betty suggested that my grannie give me castor oil to help it! The stoicism I displayed during my silent period was worthy of a saint. Although, if I didn’t have sore guts at the start of all this, I certainly did at the end!

Then after about four days of this treatment, I was sent down to Robertson’s store for some messages and a few sweeties to see if it would cheer me up. (Like it wouldn’t eh??) I was standing in the queue listening to the chatter of the customers, and idly looked around the plethora of goodies on display. Then big Sam, another of our neighbours, came in and said hello to all and sundry. He was a big, robust Irish ganger. He brought his works truck home late every night, but was away early in the morning so we seldom saw him.

He was working on a job nearby and having some time decided to come in to Robertson’s for some fags and a bottle of Irn Bru. He started talking to Sadie Robertson, the wife of the owner of the shop and I heard her asking him if that was his big truck outside the shop. He told her it was, and he had only got it at the end of the week before. I looked out at the truck just sitting a wee bit down the road and it looked huge to my ten year olds eyes. This was in the days before specialised licences, so Sam freely admitted to Sadie that he had been having some difficulty in getting used to driving it. Then he told her that only a week past Saturday, when he was leaving to go to work at about six in the morning, he had nearly had an accident when a suicidal cat had ran out in front of him. He couldn’t avoid it and he ran over it. “Totally flattened the damn thing,” he said. He didn’t recognise it, so just threw it over the nearby bridge. He said that he had just looked over the bridge before coming into the shop, and strangely the corpse had vanished, and he speculated that maybe a dog had got it.

Sadie said something about the Gaffney’s cat having gone missing and they both agreed that it was probably the one he had hit, but it would be best if they didn’t tell anyone. Other than me, the shop was now empty, and they both looked at me seeking my collusion in their little conspiracy. The speed at which I gladly gave it must have surprised them both. I hastily got my messages and then positively skipped back into the house. My grannie commented that I was looking a lot better, to which my Auntie Betty concurred saying that the castor oil must have done the trick! She then went on to suggest that another day or so of the same dosage would see me all right! Life is hell when you are a kid!!

By the way I forgot to mention that when big Sam was telling his story he said that the cat had ran out of Old Johnny Mulholland’s gate and straight under his truck.

You see my Da was always up around five in the morning and let the birds out about half past. He had found that when he saw the cat, he just needed to let out a roar and it would run like blazes straight out of the gate and then across the road to the electricity depot on the other side, where it would lay up for a while and then slink back to it’s owners house. This time it never made it, and it met its maker beneath the wheels of Sam’s juggernaut. My Da never ever let on, but he must have seen the outcome of his shout at the cat, as you could see right out to the main road from our back garden where the loft was. He just quietly went on about his business with the birds, with that wonderful wee smile he had when things were going his way.

The Gaffneys never got another cat, because some reprobate put round the rumour that poor Smokey had been “cat-napped” by a band of tinkers who specialised in making fur coats out of domestic moggies. They didn’t want to have it happen again. If they were daft enough to believe my attempt at a cover up they didn’t deserve to keep a pet!

So what is the purpose of this little burst of nostalgia, I hear you ask? Well pussy cats positively plague me where I stay! Then to crown it all, my next-door neighbour, decides to get herself a kitten. It was a rescue case from an abandoned litter. She was delighted with it’s carrying on, and the way it stalked her pet rabbit and anything else that was in the garden. “All play acting of course,” she would beam at me across the fence. “It will never do that to any thing for real!”

I knew differently…. and slowly kitty became a cat. Then it took to stalking my birds…. or sitting right outside the loft……… staring up at the birds…. then it was on the loft…. then under the loft.

A few Saturdays ago, just before the racing started, I had gone into the house to get some garlic for the birds, leaving them to pick about in front of the loft. I was hardly in for a minute, but when I stepped back out I was met with the sight of the birds launching into the air with the cat in amongst them. In fact it had hold of one of them in its paws and only let go when I let out an almighty roar. It must have been under the loft just waiting its chance. The cat was over the wall in a flash, and Liz was at my side asking what was wrong. “It’s that damned cat from next door just taking one of my birds. If I get it back in this garden I will swing for it!”

Then I noticed Liz was looking over my shoulder, and I turned around to see our neighbour standing there with her rake in her hand giving me daggers. She never uttered a word, but simply turned on her heel and walked inside. I felt a right prat, but I thought she would at least get the message, as well as the obvious hump with me! But it doesn’t end there, because less than a week later, kitty-cat vanishes, and stays vanished! So what conclusion does my neighbour jump to? Yes, I have kept my promise and sent it to the great cathouse in the sky! But I hadn’t, and although she never said anything to me, the stony looks and the way she whispered to the other neighbours told the whole story.

And so it went, until a few days ago I was sitting in the back garden when I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned and have to say, was positively pleased to see the damned cat was back. Now, I wouldn’t be branded a kitty killer and my neighbour would be forced to eat her words. The cat must have been totally confused at seeing me run at it screaming at the top of my lungs to frighten it away, and at the same time smiling like a Cheshire…thingy!!!

Relationships with the neighbours have been restored to normality, but I think they are somewhat concerned about my intention to buy a terrier to patrol the garden when I am not there!

Doostalker



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