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.