Begbie & Me

There have always been cats in my life, along with a few dogs here and there; but cats, like wonky teeth and record buying have been a bit of a constant for me. Bonnie was the first. She had a coat that looked like it’d been thrown together by the sort of person that would unironically wear a kaftan. She looked like she was made up from a patchwork of offcuts from the sexier, better looking cats in our neighbourhood; all ginger, black and brown. She died a few weeks after I started school. 

I knew something wasn’t right when my mum met me at the school gates with mascara running down her face. If I’d known who Alice Cooper was back then no doubt I would have said to myself, ‘blimey, mum looks just like Alice Cooper,’ but Alice Cooper was at least seven years in the future for me. At that point in time I only really knew Elton John and Kiki Dee, Brotherhood of Man and ABBA. On our walk home she explained that she’d found Bonnie dead in a neighbour’s car port. She thought Bonnie had been run over. Not only that but we’d have to wait for my dad to come home from work so that he could put her in a bin bag. All of which meant nothing to me. I was still way too young to be able to process any of it. Run over? Bin bag? Whatchyaonabout mum? Ten minutes later I was standing beside a very dead Bonnie, who just that morning had been a very live Bonnie. She was laying in an impossibly awkward position. If I’d worn mascara back then I’d’ve looked like a Minipops version of Mr. Cooper. I remember Bonnie more for her dying than living. 

Bonnie’s untimely death was made easier for me by the fact that we still had Sweep, who was black and naughty, and Clyde who was also black and naughty but wasn’t a cat at all. He was a Dalmatian/Labrador cross that legend has it (well, so my dad says), was picked up on the drive home from hospital after I was born. So me and Clyde arrived in the family at the same time, which meant we had a bond. I never told anyone but it was obvious to me from year dot that Clyde was my dog. 

Back then there was only one real reason to have a dog, which was because you liked dogs. Unlike nowadays where people choose dogs to go with their outfits. Pets as accessories if you will. Every family had a dog when I was little, and try as I might I can’t remember any of them being dressed up as sharks or bumble-bees. Thinking about it I don’t think any of them had their own Instagram or Facebook accounts either. Then again in those days oxygen was only the third most popular thing to breathe in after carbon monoxide and second-hand smoke. So it’s all a trade off I guess.

Clyde died too (it tends to happen with pets), but years and years later, long after my parents had split up and my dad’s parents got custody of him. He was the most easygoing dog in the world. As a kid I used to fall asleep on him. He was famous for escaping from the back garden and roaming the streets until he’d had enough and would decide to return home. It was the ‘70s, things were different then. He did that right up until he was too old to do anything except lie in front of the fire at my grandparents’. He used to get so hot that you’d have to roll him over for fear that he’d combust. 

So anyway, like I said there’s always been cats in my life. There was Jah-Wah who we (me and my then girlfriend Clare), found in an alleyway by the side of our flat. She was covered in creosote or tar or something. She was great, really easy going, used to get everyone in the street to feed her. She was also black and had the biggest yellow eyes, hence her name. Little old ladies would coo over her and tell us how sweet she was. Then there was Hooch, a little white thing, I can’t even remember where she came from. When I moved to Sweden, Clare took Jah-Wah off to London with her, where she lived a long happy life. Like some sort of fairy tale ending, albeit with a cat rather than a precocious princess. My dad took Hooch, and to my eternal dismay gave her away to his sister’s neighbour a couple of months after I’d moved.

In Sweden there was Mookie and Namlook, who ended up going off with another girlfriend after we split up. Then for ages and ages there weren’t any cats around. I was living alone, so when I’d return home there was no one to greet me, no little furball winding its way around my legs trying too convince me to give it some fish. They weren’t my favourite years. I was depressed without really knowing it. 

But that’s not what this is about, this is about how the cat I’ve had for the past nine years found me. I’m a postman, and I was out on my bike one day delivering post to houses, like postmen tend to do, when I spotted a little black ball no bigger than an orange run out in front of me from under a caravan. I immediately braked, and the black ball turned and with the saddest look on its little face gave an inaudible meow. I tentatively got off my bike and walked towards the kitten, fully expecting it to run a mile. Instead it ran towards me, up my trouser leg and onto my shoulder where it nestled its head against mine.

I did all the things you’re supposed to do, knocked at every house on the street and asked if the kitten was theirs, put up posters saying that I found a kitten and even informed the police. More importantly I took him to the vets and got all his jabs sorted out. Turns out the kitten that I had presumed was a girl was actually a boy and was only five weeks old. Which was far too young to be away from its mother. So me and Pernilla (then girlfriend, now wife) had to try and feed him with a bottle. Which was great except for the fact he kept chewing through the rubber teats. 

I wanted to call him Kitten Kong, Pernilla thought Begbie was far more suitable, and as usual she was right, since it suits him down to the ground. He’s always been a bit of a tearaway, running around like crazy. The long and the short of it is that no one ever claimed Begbie, and if we hadn’t bumped into each other I’m certain he would have died within a few days. As I sit in my kitchen writing this he’s curled up on the kitchen chair that he makes me move next to me whenever I sit down to write. I doubt a day goes by without me remembering how we first met. I saved his life and he’s immeasurably improved mine. I can’t imagine my world without him in it. I hope he feels the same way about me.

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