Cats I have known

Lucy Locket stars as "A Bookish Cat" in a pastel painting I did of her this week.

Lucy Locket stars as “A Bookish Cat” in a pastel painting I did of her this week.

I’ve always loved cats. I don’t know what it is about them, but I’m always happiest with a book, a cup of tea, and a cat. My current cat is Lucy Locket, named for the old English nursery rhyme, which may or may not be a flattering name for her, depending on how you interpret the poem. If I had a second cat, I’d call it Kitty Fisher. (You can read why here ). I did a portrait in pastels of Lucy Locket this week (above).

Anyway, Lucy Locket is an indoor cat, except for being allowed into our enclosed courtyard, because I have had several cats run over, and so has my husband, and we couldn’t bear for that to happen again. Lucy seems very happy and the vet says that, at six, she is in the prime of her life.

I wish my dad were still alive to meet Lucy Locket. I wonder if he’d give her one of his famous cat nicknames. When I was a baby, we had Button—who before I arrived had been treated like a baby and sat at the dinner table wearing a bib. When I was a pre-schooler, we had Bomb (who was smelly) and Loopy (who had one eye). Later, there were part-Abyssinians Abdul, always known as Ringtail, and Omar, known as Other One. Yes. Can you imagine calling them in from outside: “Ringtail! Other One!” Ridiculous.

At one stage, we had three cats at the same time, all of whom hated each other. Sandy was a big pale ginger tom who became Fat Ginger; Thin Grey’s real name was Kelly Jason; and Jawa (named after the creatures in the first Star Wars film) was a pitch-black tom who became Blackness and who lived for 16 years and moved from New Zealand to Australia with my parents. My aunty had an all-white cat that Dad always called White Fright (though I don’t think they called it that!).

I couldn’t have a cat of my own for years, because I was moving towns and countries and living in flats. But my flatmates often had cats. I remember in particular Aunty Huia, a small grey cat named after a TV character of the time. She was one of a menagerie at a flat in the rural town of Warkworth, New Zealand, where I was working as a journalist. We also had German short-haired pointers Apollo and Zeus, Bunny Bunny the rabbit, Casper the bird, many unnamed goldfish, and another cat whose name escapes me now but was something like Molly.

As an adult, I kept on the tradition of giving a cat a “proper” name, but also giving it nicknames. The exception was Patsy, my Abyssinian kitten who mysteriously went missing forever from our enclosed backyard at six months. She was named after Joanna Lumley’s character  in Absolutely Fabulous.

10 years ago, I had a beautiful Burmese cat named Mandalay, but I always called her Babette. She had a brush with celebrity when the famous Australian TV vet Dr Harry examined her when I was writing a magazine story about a clinic he was running. Explaining to me some of the faults in her breeding, he said, in the kindest way, “She’s a lovely cat, but she’ll never be best in show”. I replied, “Oh well, she’s best in Mummy’s show”.

Australian TV celebrity vet Dr Harry with Babette. His verdict: "A lovely cat, but she won't be best in show".

Australian TV celebrity vet Dr Harry with Babette. His verdict: “A lovely cat, but she won’t be best in show”.

At 18 months, Babette was bitten by a tiger snake and nearly died: but $900 worth of anti-venom saved her. Two weeks later, she was run over by a car and killed.

Mandalay/Babette’s successors, sibling half-feral moggies Peter (named for a friend) and Minky (for a Peter Sellers line in the Pink Panther film), became Boy and Schmink.

And Lucy Locket? She’s Punchinella (a variation of the Italian puppet Punchinello, but there is also a Jamaican children’s song called Punchinella Little Fella). Don’t ask me why I call her that; it just seems to fit.


7 thoughts on “Cats I have known

  1. My first cat was named Muddy – I’m sure you can guess where that came from. For most of our time together, we lived in St Kilda. My most vivid recollection of him – a ginger – was him waiting for me to come home. We lived a couple of blocks from busy Fitzroy St. Yet when I got off the tram, there he would be – waiting, blocks from home and mixing it with the street people and junkies, and watching the trams to see me.

    I’ve always envied people who have cats they can take out in public on leads. But Muddy was just about as good. He would go for walks with me all over St Kilda, Middle Park and Albert Park. I think this was mainly because he didn’t want to be left at home alone. In any case, he would follow me, slinking along in the gutters. I’d hold him when going across intersections and we’d stop every few blocks to give him a breather. When we got home, he’d cark it completely – cats don’t have walking stamina the same way dogs do.

    Perhaps inevitably, he got run over. I came home from work one Friday to find him dead beside the apartment block dumpster with ants crawling in and out of his mouth.

    I still miss him.

    He was replaced by a lovely tabby I named Louis, even though it was a she. Nice cat but not so much a class act. She was eventually adopted by one of my neighbours, a film freak who re-named her Sharon. She put on a lot of weight after that …

  2. Near we where lived in St Kilda – in one of the notorious boarding houses – lived the most macho tom I’ve ever met. This guy had frayed ears, multiple scars and no doubt massive cojones. When I’d attempt to sweet talk him – “Who’s a nice pussycat, then?” and such like – instead of hissing or retreating, he would ADVANCE towards me, along a brick wall studded with broken glass to deter burglars. Needless to say, I never did find out the size of his cojones …

    • We had a nasty tom cat around here for a while. We used to call him “the Duke” and “the red devil”. He was a red Burmese, I think. Used to come in to the courtyard and terrorise Lucy if he could. I tried to make friends, but he would only hiss. Only see him occasionally now. No doubt he’s terrorising some other cat somewhere.

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