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.
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.
Alleycat’s gone but he’s not forgotten. In Bugle Street they’re saying he drives his train too fast and overtakes on hills, ignores red lights and so on. Pink hopes it’s true. She’d like to sit next to him and hang out of the window while the fields rush by. Imagine that, the wind in her whiskers. Unfortunately, she’s fated to stay where she is and wait for Alleycat’s return, and while she sits on her strange, carved table and stares across the Six Foot, she invents all sorts of rumours and if you can believe it, she’s the source of all the Alleycat stories, even the slanders. As soon as she’s got a new one, she runs to tell Bertie and afterwards Bertie sits by the back door and waits for Alleycat to confirm it.
Alleycat had a little word with me yesterday. He’d heard me talking and he knew I was contemplating writing a post that has nothing at all to do with cats.
“You know that’s not possible,” he drawled, “I can’t allow that, not in my blog.”
“I quite understand, Alleycat,” I said, deferentially. “Why don’t I start a new blog and then I can write about other things in that blog and carry on documenting the Ginge Club’s adventures here?”
“You mean you’d write about non-Ginge Club matters?” Alleycat was surprised; he obviously found the concept far-fetched and in rather bad taste; he wrinkled his eyes in disgust and curled his lip scornfully. “Surely you can’t be serious, old chap?”
I affirmed that I really was determined to depart from the norm and write about new things, and when he heard this Alleycat had a little smile at my expense. He narrowed his eyes and advised me to watch my step.
“I want you to make absolutely sure that the two blogs don’t overlap,” he said. “If you can promise me that I may give you my permission to divide your energies, but mark my words, I don’t want you slacking and the Ginge Club posts must always take precedence. I won’t tolerate anything less.”
Alleycat had made his humble wishes known and I had listened very carefully and obediently to his wise words. At least, that’s what I made him think. Later on we gave Pink the news, and she was really agitated and uncertain for about ten seconds and she wondered where it would all lead. With any luck it’ll lead you here.
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.
Pink’s been nagging me to publish an account of her adventures with the pirates, and because she’s a persistent little brute, I’ve decided that the only way to silence her is to let her have her own way. I’ve agreed to write down the whole particulars, leaving nothing out except the whereabouts of Alleycat’s treasure cave, and that only because there is still treasure not yet brought to light. In the end she’ll probably force me to finish the story and publish it here in its entirely. She’s offered to dictate it to me chapter by chapter as the weeks go by and here, to get the ball rolling, is a link to the first 3 instalments.
The pirate (Barty Sharp) who figures in chapter 3 sailed with William Dampier and had a rather interesting career. In something like 1697 (I forget the exact date) he returned from the sack of Panama and was arrested at the request of the Spanish Ambassador, put on trial, and escaped hanging by a hairs-breadth. Having cheated the gallows, he purchased a derelict hulk that had been virtually abandoned on the shores of the Thames, fitted her out and hired a rag tag crew of scallywags and ne’er do wells, who sailed their rotten vessel into the channel, stole a flock of sheep from a farm in Dover and straightaway sailed for the West Indies, capturing a more suitable vessel en route. It was probably around this time that he crossed swords with Susan Skew and met his match, so to speak. All this is supplied from memory. I read an account of Sharp’s adventures years ago in the Hakluyt series, but I haven’t checked the details in ages. There’s more about him in Basil Ringrose’s South Sea Waggoner, which you can find quite easily on the Web, and a few reference in Lionel Wafer Secret report, but most of the rest of the information you’ll find is quite inaccurate and if you want the truth the best thing would be to ask Pink. She probably knows as much about him as anyone in these days.
It’s ages since we posted (sorry) but we’ve had a bit of trouble with Pink. First off, she started pulling out her fur and we couldn’t stop it happening. She was nearly bald in the end. Then she stopped eating and we couldn’t make her start again. Alleycat and Bamber were worried, but there was nothing they could do and they expected us humans to put everything right. Pink was so low she wouldn’t let us take her photo, but she agreed once that we could photograph her shadow (it’s up there at the top). Little by little she got better. We brought her heaters, but that was no good, we purchased costly blankets, and she rejected them all, the fleeces, the silks, and even the mousseline. Then, one way or another, she gave us to understand that she required flowers, soft, scented flowers, so flowers were purchased, and after the flowers we had to supply her with golden saucers of full fat milk every other hour. Little by little she started to improve, but her hair didn’t grow back until we sourced (at her explicit request) a reptile lamp, the sort of thing that snakes and other sorts of cold blooded critters love to bask beneath. Once we’d provided her with all these things; the flowers, the full fat milk in endless supply and the reptile lamp she started to improve and now, I’m happy to report, she’s totally recovered.