Cat stories
Home - Philipart
Zebedee & the substation
Cats & water



My first cats were Romeo and Julius. They were going to be Romeo and Juliette, but our initial sexing was wrong. My ex wife Steffie and I were holidaying in Italy in an apartment in Panza on the island of Ischia. Steffie didn’t care for cats much, but Lulu, the proprietor’s cat insisted on befriending her. With the persistence that we all know cats are capable of, especially when they spot a cat disliking person, Lulu with her patience won Steffie over. Lulu was pregnant, and decided to have her litter at the bottom of our wardrobe. You can’t help but feel privileged. Unfortunately Lulu gave birth on the night we had a little party at the apartment, and the cat, dismayed by the noise and movement, decided it was safer to have her litter in the basement. Next morning we were greeted by Lulu, dangling a kitten in her mouth, which she placed at Steffie’s feet, and promptly disappeared down the steps. She brought her three kittens in turn up the three flights, each time giving them to Steffie for safe-keeping before gathering them up again and depositing them in the wardrobe. Our host wanted to keep only one of the kittens (which she named after me, that’s a first), and not wishing to contemplate the fate that would in all likelihood befall the other two, the result was pretty obvious. The kittens were only three weeks old when we took them home with us to Germany. Customs were still a token reality in those days, and the kittens tended to squeak from their covered picnic basket when the car stopped. A lot of coughing, clearing of the throat and basket rocking occurred at these times’ and though we received some strange looks, the kitties weren’t discovered. Feeding them was not so straightforward however; until we found a child’s doll’s feeding bottle! They were well travelled cats before they were a month old.

We lived and worked in the countryside in Odenwald, a nice place to raise our kittens. Whilst we were at work the kittens were confined to the ground floor flat before they were old enough to go outside. One day we returned to find an agitated Romeo greeting us inside the front door. He ran up and down the hall, and around our legs, meowing continuously. Julius was nowhere to be seen. We searched the flat until we heard a tiny desperate meow coming from the bathroom. Julius had fallen into the loo, and was barely keeping his head above the water! We fished out a soaked shivering bundle, and, closely attended by Romeo, rubbed him down in a towel and finished him off with a hair dryer. To warm Julius up from the inside we gave him half a teaspoon of schnapps! We had tried this before with a little bird (less than half a teaspoon of course) that was fading away, and it worked. Within a few minutes Julius tried to stand upright and walk. ‘Tried’ being the operative word. All his legs tried to move in different directions. It looked like a fluffy crab learning a new dance. The toilet seat was never left open again.

Julius was a tabby with a distinctive M on his forehead. He always looked cute. Romeo on the other hand, was black and white; black on top and white underneath. The separation of tones on his head was a straight line above his eyes. It looked like a Beatle hair cut. Romeo only allowed three people to touch him, Steffie, her friend Anna and me. Others soon learnt that it was unwise to attempt any physical contact with Romeo, unless they were masochists. Julius was a friendly cat, a lap cat. He always wanted to be with people - any people. When it snowed he left a trail. Julius’ footprints could be seen leading from our flat straight to the door of another house. If the snow settled for a few days several trails of Julius prints would lead to a variety of houses, but to nowhere else. Romeo’s foot prints went in all sorts of exploratory directions.

Several domestic issues had to be resolved within the early months. Both cats discovered the fun to be had from hanging woven raffia curtains, which replaced an internal door. They would have hung from them, swung from them and climbed, clawed and bitten them to destruction. They seemed incapable of walking through the curtains without attacking them. The solution was actually quite simple : taking a kitten in two hands, we walked them through the curtains. From the other side we walked them back. After several repetitions, and more the next day, Romeo and Julius gave up. For fear of having to be walked through; a process they found initially alarming, and subsequently annoying; they henceforth rushed through the curtains at breakneck speed, no longer wanting to have anything to do with them. Another situation that needed resolving was the kittens’ improvised toilet. Before we had the cats we had erected a ‘feature’ in the corner of the lounge. It comprised of a low wooden structure or receptacle, 20 cm tall and a metre square, filled with pebbles, a tall gnarled piece of driftwood and a couple of plants in pots sunk into the pebbles. What a fun place for kittens! It could have been made for the purrpuss, I mean purpose. They thought it had been specially erected for kittens, who loved to climb and dig and eject pebbles in all directions. I suppose this could have been seen as amusing if they didn’t decide to use it as an impromptu toilet. No amount of bright ideas enabled us to resolve this one successfully, so we had simply to admit defeat and dismantle it.

One of their favourite games was to sit in front of the washing machine and watch the progress of the wash as if it was a television. Their heads would turn as the drum revolved, but sometimes they would get out of sync, crash their heads together and land in an undignified heap on the floor! Later they learned that if they jumped upon the machine, and sat upon it during the spin cycle, they’d get thoroughly shaken about – cat ecstasy!

Another game was to chase a marble down the long narrow hall. Romeo was a brilliant footballer. He could chase the marble, tapping it from one paw to the other alternately, never missing and never breaking his stride. Julius would try the same sport with only limited success. As Julius proceeded down the hall, trying to control the marble, Romeo would run behind him, and by running up the wall he’d overtake his brother and neatly take the marble from Julius’ feet and dribble down the hall to the door, and for good measure would make the return journey, sidestepping a bemused Julius on the way.
When they were about three months old the kittens gained a playing companion. A jet black kitten, of about the same age or slightly older, appeared in the garden and chose to stay. For about a week the three kittens played together incessantly and the stranger even slept over with ours; and one day he was gone. The black kitten was the first of only two that our cats ever accepted.

As they grew up their differences of character showed quite quickly. Julius loved to be handled, Romeo didn’t. Julius was a lap cat and Romeo would only occupy a lap when he chose, and not very often at that. Julius was friendly with everybody and Romeo would only allow three people to touch him. Yet the two kittens where inseparable in the home and in the garden. Other cats in the neighbourhood would pick on Julius, who was unable to defend himself. He would find some corner to back into and cry for help. If Romeo was close enough to hear (usually the case), he rushed to the rescue like a knight in shining armour. Romeo always defended his brother. He was so fierce that cats twice his size would run if they knew him, or soon learned that it was the best option. After sorting out the opposition Romeo would check Julius over to see if he had come to any harm, and then sit with his brother, warning all comers (including humans, other than his own people) to approach with extreme caution.

Our cats were very discerning of small differences in sound. We had the same make, model and colour car as a neighbour, with whom we shared a little car park fifty metres from the house. We worked at the same place and came home more or less at the same time, yet Romeo and Julius completely ignored the other car, but were always there to greet the arrival of our car. Later the cats would pick up our car, never straying off the grass verge, from three or four hundred metres out, and run along with us as we drove to the car park. They never displayed this behaviour with any other car. To the humans in the vicinity, including us, the cars looked and sounded identical.

When the cats were about one year old tragedy struck. Romeo was a bit off colour one day, and a bit worse the next. He was off his food, was listless and shunned interaction with Julius. We took him to the vet who gave us some pills and said he’d be OK in a couple of days. Within two days he was dead. He deteriorated rapidly, his mouth and throat turned blue, he lost the use of his hind legs, and started bleeding from every orifice. Julius was upset and fussed around without understanding what was going on. Romeo cried and called out to us for comfort, and he tried to purr as he passed away. When we described the symptoms to the vet, he diagnosed arsenic poisoning. There was nothing he could have done except ease Romeo’s passing. We were fairly sure who would have done such a thing, a woman who’s outdoor dog food bowl was sometimes raided by other cats, including Romeo. She didn’t like cats and had been linked with other cat disappearances before, though nothing was ever proven. We got over it of course, as did Julius, who soon had another cat to share the household with – Rosie.

One day our neighbour, Cordie, came home with a kitten. She said a friend of hers had found three kittens in a hay barn, but the mother had gone missing. The other two had been found homes, and would we like to have the third? This kitten had exactly the same facial markings as Julius, so we adopted it as Julius’ daughter, and so did Julius – immediately, without any fuss. That’s how we acquired Rosie, Julius’ lovechild! They acted as if they had known each other all Rosie’s life, and became inseparable.

About 6 months later Steffi it was Steffie’s turn to get pregnant. Although she is German, Steffi didn’t want to raise a child in Germany, so we returned to England. The cats were fostered by a farming family 50 miles away, and the last we heard of them was both sad and happy news. Julius, after about 6 months, went walkabout and never returned, and Rosie had become a grandmother, and had learned to boss all the other cats in the neighbourhood around.



Zebedee and the substation

We returned from a private viewing of an art exhibition to find Zebedee perched quite comfortably on the plastic spikes I’d so carefully attached to the substation fences alongside our garden. I’d been led to believe by someone in the Electricity board that it was a danger for the cats. It was untrue of course, as I later learned – but we pet owners can easily be panicked, and I had painstakingly affixed plastic spikes all around the substation that adjoins our garden. The birds in the cypress tree outside the fence must have tempted dear Zebedee, and with seeing pusspuss perched like an Indian fakir my worries resurfaced. He didn’t respond to our entreaties to come down so I tried to approach through a collection of plants, still in their pots, below the fence. In the dark I trod on a plastic pot and broke it. Zebedee was startled and jumped away from the sound – into the dark depths of the substation. Panic ensued. Jackie fetched the torch and I the ladder. I saw him close to the generator and he looked my way but was frightened and wouldn’t jump back up. Taking the ladder to the other side of the substation, where the outside gate is situated, I tried to coax him to jump up here as the gate is lower than the fence. He came to the gate but would not jump. The only thing to do it seemed, was to climb over and retrieve the startled cat. There was only one place I could put a hand down without enduring the plastic spikes, as I’d careful covered up as much timber as possible. As a result my left hand and upper thighs were unprotected and subject to dozens of nasty sharp plastic needles. Ouch. Gritting my teeth I manoeuvred the ladder over the fence and into the enclosure, but as I set it down, unable to see clearly that it settled on uneven ground, the step ladder toppled out of reach. Because the spikes had grabbed my jeans and secured me to the fence by then, I was unable to jump down myself, to retrieve either cat or ladder. The effect of supporting my weight mostly on my left hand and thighs was beginning to cause puncture wounds, so Jackie returned to the house to fetch an old blanket to lessen the effect of the spikes. At this juncture Zebedee jumped back up the fence at the point from which he’d descended, while I clambered slowly and painfully down, minus a ladder, nursing a bloody hand and a prickled and bruised sit-upon. Tomorrow I’m going to buy a new chain for my chainsaw and cut that bloody tree down!



Cats and water

Naturally our cats have comical encounters with water. Both are fascinated when I water indoor plants, and Dylan enjoys the bath. Having once or twice chased a spider back down the plug-hole, he frequently checks to see if it has returned, swatting the shower curtain to dislodge anything that might be lurking behind it, and inspecting the plug hole carefully. When I’m in the bath Dylan jumps onto the edge and does a tour, nuzzling my face from time to time and tickling me with his whiskers. Then he will either give my hair a good wash with his tongue or try to get onto my shoulders. Sometimes he nibbles my toes and sometimes he touches, sniffs and tastes the foam. Dylan loves shoulders. Since he was little he’s loved climbing onto people, sit on their shoulders and give them a good licking. Water wasn’t so kind to Florence once however; she wouldn’t come in one evening and I found her hiding behind the pencil cypress, in a grumpy frame of mind. I carried her indoors, under protest, trying not to get too wet myself in the process. Her lower half was drenched, her tail a skinny little dripping snake, and her demeanour miserable.

Zebedee’s new trick is walking on water. The pond, still not fully filled and operational, has two ledges for water plants. They were just above the water level, unlike now when they are definitely submerged as it won’t stop raining. I’ll have to remember to build in cat conveniences when I build the ark! Zebedee jumped down onto a ledge, sat down and sniffed at the water. He licked at the surface, dipped his paw in and then took some swipes at the water. Each time watching the splashes and ripples he made. But then he did something unexpected; he stood up and made as if to walk over the surface of the pond! I had to look twice. Each time it really looked as if he was walking, but each time he halted in mid-step and drew back, something like a moon-walk. Maybe he really can walk on water. Maybe he thinks he’s Jesus. It’s amazing what cats can achieve with practise. At the moment Zebedee keeps climbing up various trellises around the garden, and each time he meows pathetically for help as he has not yet learned to reverse the process and come down by himself. He’ll get there.

Yesterday Zebedee bounced into the bird bath, shook his paws and continued on his way. Today he simply jumped in with a big splash, and bounced out, continuing on his way without shaking his paws, as if that would be the new norm. Later he walked into a puddle left over from watering the garden. He seemed surprised because water is usually in containers, I suppose. He raised a back paw and front paw simultaneously, balancing on the other two, and repeated this with the other two paws. This was followed by shaking all his paws in turn, just outside the puddle, and when they were dry enough he walked through the puddle again, and bounced off unconcerned.