The other day I was at the station wailing for the eight oh five, and Alleycat was in the cabin of the train. I didn’t disturb him, passengers aren’t meant to distract the driver while the train’s in motion, and within a few seconds we were off. I waited, hoping that Alleycat would come to find me; but he didn’t and that seemed very strange because usually when I’m around he can’t wait to jump in my lap or wrap himself around my neck. Eventually, after I’d waited for ten minutes or so, I went to the front of the train and listened at the door of the driver’s cabin and that’s when I heard the music. There was a band in there, a three-piece I think, and I could hear someone on the pipes, someone strumming a guitar, and I don’t know what Alleycat was doing if he wasn’t singing along. You’ll realize that the trains in my neck of the woods are crewed by unusual individuals. One of them’s tall, as big as a giant nearly, and he can hardly get along the carriage when it’s packed and he needs to check our tickets. The giant has a pal, who’s maybe half his height, and the pair of them manage the train together. Once I saw them at the side of the tracks, walking along rapidly, the giant taking immense strides, with his pointed cheeks and sharp nose in front of him, and he wasn’t going to wait for the little chap and made him run after him, and he didn’t care if the little fellow had difficulty keeping pace. I could see the little fellow didn’t care either. Obviously, when I got back home I told Bamber and Pink what I’d seen and heard, and Bamber wasn’t impressed at all and listened to my tale from behind the garden gate, and Pink was more interested in her bowl of milk. Only Bertie was amazed by it all and afterwards she sat on her own in the raised beds and thought it all carefully through.
Pink is secretly glad that Alleycat’s gone because she gets more attention in his absence and she often stands in the places where he put his feet, or where he sat, and claims them as her own (although they aren’t hers at all and never can be). By contrast Bamber stays close to the ground and feels for the thunder and listens to the wind and he doesn’t need to pretend he’s Alleycat or anyone except himself. He’s in charge and that’s why he’s down there, low to the ground, with a cat’s purpose, while Pink’s on high trying to be a monster. Bamber keeps marauders at bay, walks the limits, patrols the pathways, and any intruders are beaten back by him alone. Alleycat can’t help him because Alleycat’s far away; and if we see Alleycat crossing the railway line from a distance, or jumping the fences between the station and the tracks, that doesn’t mean that he sees us or needs to show himself; on the contrary, he’s on a mission all his own, a secret charge that doesn’t involve any of us. We know almost nothing of his new life, except that we know what he left behind, or think we do, and Bamber can never forget that once (not long ago at all) it was Alleycat who sat listening to the wind and Alleycat who felt the onset of the storm.
Of course it’s Alleycat who drives the train, and he acts like he can take her anywhere, even to the moon maybe. I see him in the mornings, at the station. He’s up in the cabin, his paws on the levers. Some people (the other commuters) think he’s a pet, but those folk know nothing of cats. In reality every cat’s in charge of himself and goes where he pleases, and does what he wants, and he’s no one’s pet. If he chooses to drive trains you just have to let him. And the humans that ride with him, the stoker, the ticket collector, and the train manager, they might seem to be in charge, but actually it’s Alleycat who calls the shots. No one knows that better than me.
Another thing I know is that every cat has exactly two sides, no more and no less, and nine lives don’t come into it. So, you see, Alleycat might think he’s driving the train, but there’s another side to it because whatever he’s doing he’s definitely doing it for us, for the folks back at Six Foot Way, me and the Looking Glass Lady, Pink, Bamber and the dogs. So in a way, we drive that locomotive from afar and we feel the air in Alleycat’s whiskers when he leans his head out far enough.
Nothing much has happened in the Six Foot recently, except for the kestrel. It was seen hovering two days ago, and yesterday, all in a rush, it swooped down and took a pigeon from next door’s garden. Everyone heard the screams. Alleycat doesn’t mind kestrels, or hawks, unless they get too big for their boots and start to trespass on his territory. Some folk say that cats are the villains of the piece where Mother Nature is concerned (they’re always on the hunt, apparently, looking out for prey) but Alleycat isn’t like that. He’s a sage, a meditative sort. He says that it’s Mother Nature who’s responsible and everyone (cats and humans too) have to treat her with respect and understand that She contains them and gave them all their lives (nine if you’re a cat). If a hawk kills a pigeon, or takes a vole, well, that’s Mother Nature for you, red in tooth and claw. There’s nothing to be done about that sort of thing. It’s life. But Alleycat won’t tolerate conflict on his lawns. His lawns are private, sacred to his clan , and he maintains a careful watch on his fences and Bamber’s out all hours (he has his orders) patrolling the Five Streets and putting down markers, while Alleycat remains indoors and sleeps and thinks and lays his plans. When Pink saw the kestrel she was pretty scared, I can tell you. But Alleycat sent Bamber on to the roof of the car-port, to keep watch on the perimeters, and that hawk hasn’t been seen since. He’s probably heard of Alleycat’s great power and understands there are better (meaning safer) places to hunt and trespass than Alleycat’s private lawns.
We hear tell of cats who went on adventures and travelled far and wide, or cats who bravely opposed injustice and fought for freedom, but in general cats have little truck with that sort of thing. Now and then Alleycat and Bamber go out into the world and show themselves to the neighbourhood, but Pink never goes out at all, and that’s why I think she may be the brains of the outfit. None of the rival cat families ever come into Alleycat’s garden, because if they did Bamber would be straight out of the cat-flap to engage them in heated discussion, and if Bamber failed to impress them Alleycat would plod out and ascend to the top of the highest fence post and stare at them. That usually does the trick. Pink on the other paw stays indoors all day and all night, profiting from the other cat’s exertions. In the cold weather she has prime spot in front of the hearth and she’s allowed to sleep wherever she likes without being disturbed. She can even walk over the heads of the dogs on her bony little feet and they know quite well that they’re not to complain. Pink, for all her pretty ways and her silly habits, may, in truth, be the most Machiavellian and formidable cat of all and easily the cleverest warm-blooded creature living on Nine Foot Way. And that’s a frightening as well as an amusing thought.
Bamber doesn’t understand cameras; when I try to shoot him he grabs the cord that goes around my wrist, rips the whole thing out of my fingers and turns the lens on me. It’s different for Pink. When she gets her claws into something they usually get stuck because she’s so incompetent. Then she panics and calls for help and has to be rescued. Bamber doesn’t panic. He likes a tug of war. On top of that, Pink really wants to be on camera and she considers herself a local celebrity (although she seldom goes out of doors) . She’d definitely like her picture on all the front pages in all the magazines and she’s always yelling for attention from the newshounds. Bamber and Alleycat like a bit of attention, but mostly they like to keep a low profile and sleep as much as possible. They don’t want to be targeted by the local newshounds.
It’s business as usual in the Six Foot. Or is it? Pink’s retreated indoors, and the dogs are looking after her. Most of the time Alleycat’s glued to his gentleman’s chair in the garden, but Bamber’s decided he’s got to increase his patrols, and he’s also delved a lair for himself in the jasmine, overlooking the Six Foot itself. That’s his chosen spot.Indoors, the bears are reproducing. Don’t ask me why. They’re spreading over the furniture and generally taking over the house, whilst out in the world the black and white cats increase numerically, though sheer numbers aren’t the same as strength of arms and that’s why Alleycat isn’t worried and seldom moves from his easy chair. Bamber must be worried a bit though, or else he wouldn’t have built his look-out post above the garden gate, so he can watch for all-comers and cry to Alleycat if hostiles approach or seem to threaten. No one’s dared to encroach so far, and if they do Alleycat has plans. One thing I’ve noticed is that he’s getting fatter. Years ago he was poisoned and almost died (lots of local cats perished) but Alleycat survived. He lost a lot of weight back then, but his power and wisdom were so great that he lived through it all and learned to be even lazier (and wiser). Now he’s rebuilding his fat reserves in anticipation of a hard winter (or something like that) and being lazy is his secret weapon. So really, now that I think of it there’s quite a bit happening in the Six Foot after all.