A terrace of dark, dull and dank grey-granite eyesores. Duthie Terrace. Cold, wet and dreary. Aberdeen. Our new home.
“Turn back!” screeched my mum. “Turn the car around right now! We’re going right back where we came from!”
Amused, I watched as my dad’s face turned from pale and fraught to red and furious. With only yards to go, I gripped onto the car seat, wedged myself in, and braced myself for the explosion.
“Back? You want to go back? I’ve just driven for two whole days and two whole nights and you want to ……
But I have no recollection of anything else that was said or not said, because I was already out there. Already propelled (1) out of the back seat and up the admittedly-very-short garden path, peering into the front window. It was important to be the first, to be before Big Brother and before Bobby – to be the first to stake my claim.
Bobby. Our cat. And, more specifically, our very unique and special ginger cat. Our ginger-bob-tailed cat.
Bobby’s tail was a fluffy-orange-pom-pom ball perched on top of a short stalk. ‘An accident at birth,’ our mum told us. ‘Something happened inside his mother’s tummy and he came out with half his tail missing – one of his siblings bit it off in a womb fight!’ This, indeed was a sentiment, or a tale, I could relate to. But with my claim on the largest bedroom already made (revenge for my box-room at the Cowley Road house (2)), it was time to put old sibling rivalries aside.
Time to start afresh.
Fresh. A fresh start. Scotland. Aberdeen. My new beginning. My mum’s new end.
And for an ageing cat?
A fresh pile. A fresh pile of poo. Lots of fresh piles of poo. Lots and lots of Dirty Monkeys (3). Bobby was on a mission to refresh the dull-grey Scottish surfaces with his favoured shade of earthy English brown. Deposits were made in pretty much every corner of our granite cave: in the airing cupboard next to the kitchen, in the entrance hall, on the doormat, under Big Brother’s bed and in the breakfast room.
Yes, this old and oh-so-very-cold cold house, so slim and ordinary looking from the outside, had rooms and dimensions fit enough for royalty (4). I, Jay Cool, the unbeknowest-to-my-younger-self direct descendant of William of Normandy, looked up and up and up – belittled by gloss-painted-floral-cornices and ceiling roses (5)! It was obvious to me that the ornate plates had been superglued up into the sky by trapeze artists.
But a breakfast room?
Yes, wonder of wonders, we were the proud inhabitants of a house with a breakfast room! So called, because it was a room you had to walk through to get to the kitchen. And, not only was there a breakfast room – there was also a dining room!
The dining room (6) was a posh room in which to entertain one’s guests. I envisioned happy days of doll’s tea parties. At nine years of age, I wasn’t yet too old to entertain such grand schemes, was I? Young enough for dolls I may or may not have been but, unfortunately, I was old-lady slow!
Old-lady slow because my dad had already laid claim to the dining room as his new study. A study, essential for his new job, for his upgraded (upnorthed!) Chaplain of the British Sailor’s Society post. My dolls were forthwith, relegated to the realms of the lowly, receiving their caviar in the commoner’s breakfast room!
Bobby may not have been particular in taking possession of the various possibilities the house offered up. But, my own preference, my own favoured location, was – the airing cupboard!
The airing cupboard was in the mini-hallway that linked the breakfast room to the kitchen and a side-door to the back garden. I spent more-than-quite-a-bit-of time in the airing cupboard. I could sit there with a book for hours on end, without being hunted out by Big Brother and, just to add to its advantages, I could listen in to all the grown-ups kitchen conversations. These conversations were always disappointing – being rarely about myself!
The airing cupboard may sound like an
inferior hideout to the dining-room turned study. But, my dad was soon robbed of his isolated man-of-the-cloth-only zone. Bobby had a preference for my dad, his own father having done a bunker before the sperm even scored its bulls-eye with the egg. Change didn’t come easy to Bobby and he was seriously disturbed by our move to the Northern hemispheres. Talk of snow may well have been a myth – a carrot – but it was more-than cold in the City of Lights, and Bobby was sensitive. Bobby let his sensitivities show. He let them out all over the ‘new’ house. It soon stank (7)! Why didn’t the Cools put down a cat litter tray? I hear you ask. Well, let me tell you that my parents did attempt to save the situation via your genius of a suggestion, but Bobby was having none of it. The cat litter tray in the airing cupboard did nothing for him. He rejected it. Perhaps, being in possession of a considerable amount of Cool intelligence, he recognised the airing cupboard as my particular abode. Jay Cool’s territory. My reading room.
Not that it was all doom and misery for Bobby. He did pick up few advantages to his person in the cold climates. A few parasitic friends. I distinctly remember their surreptitious appearance, long-white-tape-shaped worms, depositing themselves onto the carpet of my dad’s study. We tried, they seemed to be declaring. We tried to keep Bobby company, to give him the benefit of the locals – but he ejected us! To legalise the eviction, and to safeguard the household against recidivism (8), my mum went out and bought some de-worming tablets. And Bobby, keen to hasten his own recovery time, ate lots of grass. Cats eat lots of grass when they are feeling nauseous.Apparently. At least, this is what I was told. But, then, what did my mum know? What does anybody’s mum know?
The thing about the cat, about Bobby, was that he was disposable too. At the age of eleven, he was hardly going to make a smooth transition from South to North. He ended up six-foot under, in a flower bed in our Aberdonian back garden. I lie! In truth, poor old Bobby was only about three-foot under; my dad’s persistent digging had hit upon a hard barrier – another pet’s tomb perhaps? Bobby had given up, so my dad gave up. And Bobby was placed Bobby right where the spade gave up – three foot under – all snug and cosy in a cardboard box.
It’s okay, Bobby didn’t die of the worming tablets – my mum didn’t poison him! Bobby was the victim of arthritis and old age. The ice-cold winds had tortured Bobby and his back legs had given up. Whereas he used to leap from shed roof to semi-detached dormer window in Suffolk; in the Grampian Regions, he could barely leap from the top of our television to the top layer of our tea trolley. This was a good thing, as I didn’t want him to steal the freshly-baked Aberdonian scones and lemon-curd my mum wheeled into the lounge every Sunday afternoon for our tea. I lie, again, about the scones; my mum had been force-fed the recipe by her mother-in-law – a Shropshire lass (9)!
I digress. Because the point of this particular story, the reason I’m relaying it to you now is because, for some time after Bobby’s death, I had a recurring nightmare. On these dark nights, Bobby would rise up from his shallow grave, sporting a feathered hat and a sword. Undoubtedly, you are anticipating, even hoping, that we engaged in a blood, sweat and tears duel. But no – this didn’t happen! Bobby would do a ritualistic war dance, before presenting me with a memoir. A stench. A stench just for me. A Dirty Monkey in my airing cupboard; my very own reading room.
Unable, at that age (and now), to separate the nightmares from reality, I relocated myself from the airing cupboard to the greenhouse. In a moment of short-lived optimism (perhaps he imagined we still lived in the sunny South), my dad had planted tomato seeds in grow bags. By some miracle, the tomatoes almost made it to adulthood and, for a brief time, they made sweet-smelling reading companions. But, tragically, their young lives were cut short when they became infected by the Dirty Monkeys of the Scottish greenfly!
Seriously, though. I did miss Bobby. We all did. Big Brother cried for a whole week and a night. And I think back fondly to the time when Bobby dug his claws into my brother’s green-felt Subbuteo pitch. I even suspected that he might have completed his business there, if only my brother hadn’t caught him in the act. If only Big Brother had appreciated that Bobby had been about to do him a great favour – it wouldn’t be long before my brother would be bored with Subbuteo and onto his next sister-proof hobby – Bobby was just attempting to speed up a natural process!
But, alas, Bobby departed. And Skip arrived.
Skip, a reject from the local dog population. Scottish-bred through and through. A genetic product of the cold. Cold and unwanted by the Scots. Skip found himself a home with the English. A home with the Cools.