When Bertie arrived she was shy and unsure. She’d hide under the sofa or lie in the climbing ivy or under the fence because it felt safe.
But since then Alleycat’s instructed Bamber to keep Bertie safe and naturally that’s made her more confident than she used to be. She may be young but she senses Bamber’s presence and feels him watching over her, and that’s why she’s getting too big for her boots and dragging old Lucy around by the ear and biting her where she shouldn’t.
There was nothing magical about Snatcher, but years ago, when he stayed with the cats of the Six Foot, he managed to slip into Pink’s heart and make her adore him. They were often together, sitting on the elephant table or sunbathing in the yard, and they left all the difficult work to Bamber, and all the complicated work to Alleycat. It’s years since Snatcher moved away, but Pink still thinks about him. Every now and again she attempts to open the door to the room where he had his quarters. He slept in the middle of a big four poster bed and the Ginge Club steered clear of him and Snatcher wouldn’t have let them in even if they’d asked. He didn’t speak to them much. Except for Pink. But now that he’s gone and won’t ever come back she often tries to cross into the room he occupied, as if a shadow of him might still be there, and Alleycat stands guard and watches the Six Foot and that door at one and the same time, because he can’t have anything bad happen to Pink, and if Snatcher had left a message it would be a trap as much as anything. Snatcher won’t ever come back, but Pink could get caught up in the idea of him ever so easily and if she saw his shadow or heard his voice she’d never be able to forget him at all, not ever, and she’d never be able to think about anyone else either. And no one, not even Pink, would want that.
It snowed my first day back at work after the flu, and while I was waiting for the 08:05 at Dimchurch I saw a strange sight. I was in my usual place, at the end of the platform where there’s a sign to say that passengers aren’t allowed. The snow was pristine, no footmarks at all except for mine, and yet there were a few cat-prints, just one pair, and the odd thing was that these prints started at the edge of the platform next to the tracks and went a few steps, then vanished abruptly. I stared at the prints and wondered who had made them and why. At first I thought that someone must have picked the cat up and carried it off, but that wasn’t it because there were no human prints. Then I wondered if the cat had taken to the air and flown away, but that was a silly thought because pigs may fly, but cats can’t. After a bit I realized what it was. The early train had stopped there and a cat had stepped down from the guard’s van, walked a few steps, looked up and down the platform, then climbed back on board, just like the human train guards do. I should have known that that’s what it was, because the sign that tells the humans they can’t go any further along the platform doesn’t apply to cats and they don’t pay any attention to it; so obviously that’s where all the felines climb aboard. I told Pink about it when I got back home but the only thing she’s really interested in at the moment is the woodburner.
The last time we had a Christmas Tree, the dogs ate the glass decorations and Lucy our youngest spaniel ran off with the fairy lights; she had the flex in her jaws and the lights streamed off the tree behind her, a bit like a string of illuminated butcher’s sausages. While she was distracting us, Bamber came in, and before we could stop him he’d shinned to the top, grabbed a length of tinsel and abseiled down like Tarzan. The whole tree swayed and almost fell, but not before Pink had had a go. She didn’t want Bamber to have all the fun, so she ran up after him, kicked the fairy down and watched while the dogs grabbed her and worried her half to death. The only animal who wasn’t impressed by all the fancy lights and the trimmings was Alleycat, but even Alleycat couldn’t stop the others behaving badly and so now we don’t have a tree at all. This makes Christmas very boring for Pink, because she doesn’t go out of doors much in the winter and has to amuse herself by eating too much and making herself sick and then eating some more, like the old Roman kings at the banquets. Her main exercise at the moment is yawning strenuously.
It’s cold in Dimchurch, bitter cold, and this morning when I caught the 08:05 I saw a thin, grey cat slink across the station platform and disappear inside a boarded up waiting room in search of shelter. I couldn’t investigate further, because just then my train pulled in and I had to go; but when I came back that evening (in the pitch black) I gave the waiting room a bit of an inspection. It’s at the end of the platform, beyond where the trains normally stop and no one pays it much attention. Intriguingly, I saw a pale light at the edges of the boarded up windows, and I looked through a knothole and saw a big, lit-up space inside (bigger than I’d been expecting) and there was a big, old four-poster bed in the middle of the floor, and an old fashioned counterpane spread across the mattress and about a dozen grey cats on the counterpane asleep. These cats are marauders. I said to myself, because that’s what hedge-cats are called in Dimchurch and this was clearly their HQ and base of operations. I didn’t want to wake them, so I went straight home and made sure that Pink had plenty of coal on the fire.
I don’t have much to say at the moment because since Pink kicked the firework the cats have been locked in for their own good, not as a punishment, but simply because cats and fireworks don’t mix. This has given me a chance to meditate on their qualities and now I see clearly how eccentric they all are. Take Alleycat for example. The neighbourhood cats are all susceptible to illness, to cold, to pestilence, or simple old age, but he goes on and on from year to year the same, and in a way that’s how he draws attention to himself. Pink’s not normal either. I mean, she kicks fireworks! Thank the stars for Bamber! If it wasn’t for him the whole Ginge Club would be mad. That’s him in the picture, taking his ease in the normal way, while the Catherine Wheels hum in the garden next door. Maybe he’s mad too!
The other day there was an explosion under Alleycat’s fences. It shivered up and down the Six Foot like a bolt of lightning ripping through the earth. We had a team of landscape gardeners working for us at the time, and they were in the middle of excavating a new post-hole when it happened. Something a lot like lightning rushed out of the ground (out of that hole) and ran up the arms of the gardener and almost killed him. Everyone was shaken. I had to call in the electrical supply company and they pretended that the mains cable runs right along the front of our property. I guess they had to explain it somehow. But I know that Alleycat’s magic is buried under those fences, and he keeps it there, hidden, strung out along his perimeters, and if anyone tries to cross his boundaries uninvited something always happens. It’s not always as dramatic as a bomb going off, but its part and parcel of magic that it’s always secretly something else, like a pearl in the shell of an oyster, or the dark side that the moon never shows us.