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.
Pink misses Alleycat, but maybe she doesn’t know how much. When he left her to drive the trains she said she’d be able to cope without him and she’s sticking by that.
She adjusted fast to little Bertie’s arrival but Bertie’s surprised her by growing even faster. Pink still imagines she’s in charge of the establishment, and she expects Bertie to toe the line and obey her commands. That’s not going to happen fast, is it?
Alleycat’s been away for a long while, driving trains, but he pops home occasionally, to prove he still exists. The last time he showed his face he had a little friend with him.
He found Bertie in the overhead luggage racks on the eight oh five to Paddington and whiskered her to us in Six Foot way in a few shakes of his tail.
No one knows where Bertie’s from, but she’s settled in perfectly, just as Alleycat anticipated.
Pink’s taken over her education, which means she’s clear that cats are the most important beings on the planet and much the best role models for a small but promising little spaniel dog.
A fat cat thin or a thin cat fat? When Alleycat was young he was thin, but suddenly one day he became enormously fat, like a bear getting ready to hibernate, or like a cat leviathan. But there was method and purpose behind his bulking-up. He was building his physical power in the knowledge that soon he’d be poisoned (and he was) but he got himself through his ordeal and burned off the poison by burning away his fat. He came near the Door of Death, and he saw through it, and who knows what arcane knowledge he glimpsed out of the edge of his cat’s eyes in those days when the poison was attacking him. But now the poison’s gone and he’s as thin and fit as he was when he was young, and as for me I’m a little bit fatter than I’d like to be, so Alleycat and I have started running together. We jog together along the disused railway line near my house, and sometimes we stop and listen for the ghostly whistling of the old-time trains. By the way, it’s Alleycat in both of the photos, fat and young at the top, old and thin at the side.
A hundred years ago there were so many railways in Dimchurch that it wasn’t possible to leave town without crossing one of them, but they fell into disuse and they’re all closed now. That’s where we found ourselves this morning, in an old cutting, with a rusty rail stretching ahead of us, and we hadn’t been there five seconds when we heard a shrill whistle from right behind us and jumped to the side to make way for the train. Only the train didn’t appear. The whistle came again, closer this time, and raced past and died away, and a minute or so later one of those old hand-operated pump trolleys came rattling along with two burly old men working the seesaw. There was a little grey cat on the apex of the seesaw and he miaowed to the men and told them to slow down. The trolley stopped next to us and the man at the front saluted and said: Begging your pardon, Sir, but did the Dimchurch Thunderbolt pass this way, and if so, did anyone get on or off it? We said we might have heard it whistle, but that was all, and the man nodded, and took his cap off and fanned himself with it. He was dressed like an Edwardian station porter, and looked like something to do with the heritage railway. I was just about to ask him if that’s why he was there, when the little grey cat miaowed in his ear and looked along the track, just as if he’d seen a bird and wanted to kill it. The Porterman replaced his cap pronto and set off again, pumping the seesaw, and believe it or not the cat jumped on his head and sat there looking to the front just as if the cat was in charge of the man. I told Pink all about it when I got home, but she wasn’t interested and I couldn’t make Alleycat spill the beans either. Of course, they know what it was all about. They just won’t say. Pink likes me to mind my own business. That’s her in the photo, telling me to watch it.
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.
This post is late because I’ve had a bad case of influenza,but even so I’ve got something unusual to tell you. On my way home from work, the day before I fell ill, I saw a cat on the train in the guard’s cabin. I was at the end of the carriage, facing towards the back with the guard’s little office right in front of me. The train stopped a bit too suddenly as we were pulling in to Dimchurch and the door to the guard’s compartment jolted open. Through that door I glimpsed a small, stubby man; he was dressed in old fashioned clothes, like they wear on the heritage railways, and there was a cat on his lap staring up at him. But that wasn’t all; the human lifted a thin glass phial to the cat’s lips and tipped a green liqueur out of it into the animal’s throat. And you know, the weirdest thing of all was that the potion (or whatever it was) smoked when it made contact with the air. It actually smoked! And the cat gulped it down greedily. Obviously I told Alleycat all about it when I got home and although he pretended to be interested, I don’t think he was particularly impressed at all. He’s far too old and dignified to let anything take him by surprise.