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Cat calls, stink bombs and hissy fits

Outdoor Living

John Shelley is besieged by an unwelcome stalker — aged, cranky and decidedly foul-smelling 

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

A cat has come into our world. It is no ordinary cat, but one of obvious antiquity. It is, in fact, so positively old that it might have been George Moore’s own animal, that fled for its life when the Great House was burned and has lived in the woods until now.
Well, perhaps not. In ‘Hail and Farewell’ Moore does write of a cat, a very beautiful white one; this animal is orange and hideous. Perhaps its coarse hair has become rough and yellowed with age. And now it has come home to die.
It will not die quietly. Each night it prowls around the place, yowling like a banshee as if mourning its own impending demise. I found it beneath the bird table, chewing on fallen grain with ancient, broken teeth. When I spoke gently it gave a malevolent glare and a venomous hiss and slunk away with its belly to the ground. Before slipping out of sight it gave a backward glance with narrowed green eyes, and I knew then that if we were of equal size it would kill and eat me in a moment.
But it isn’t, so I can sleep soundly. At least, I could if the thing wasn’t given to making that infernal racket from dusk through dawn. If it disturbs me so, imagine how it strikes terror to the heart of my songbirds, which have universally abandoned the bird table and snubbed my kind-hearted benevolence in supplying them with food. They imagine I have their destruction in mind, and try to lure them to their death with crumbs of cake and bacon fat, and not just any death, but a terrible one at the broken claws and splintered teeth of this bundle of feline savagery.
Why has this cat come to me? We often read of animals knowing instinctively where they should turn in times of trouble. Perhaps some do. Well, if they do indeed know where they might find refuge, they do not all, for the more I think about it the more I am convinced that some kind of action needs to be taken to make this place Cat Free once more.
Mind you, this last winter we haven’t had anything like the mouse problem we have grown accustomed to. Wood mice converge on the house by the drove in cold weather. Now I know we haven’t had anything near a real winter this time around, but that alone cannot explain the almost total absence of rodents in the cupboard under the stairs. Cats might come with a price; they also have their benefits.
While trying to buy its way into favour the cat has discovered where I keep my Wellington boots. It is the same place it has chosen to empty its scent glands, which are in an evident state of hyper-stimulation. I first noticed the smell while pruning the apple trees. What could it be? Whatever it was, it seemed to be following me around. When I took letters from the postman he wrinkled his nose, and even James took care to walk on my windward side as we made our way to the lake.
It was while driving with the heater blowing warm air onto my feet that I realised the smell had nothing to do with the neighbours spreading slurry. The air inside the car rapidly became pungent and cloying. I opened the window and rain came in; at least fresh air came in with it. I don’t normally wear my Wellies to the supermarket. Perhaps I should. Nobody stood in my way in the aisles and queues dissipated before me as if by magic. All the same, I was very conscious of the odour that emanated from my footwear in almost visible waves and the uncomfortable, sidelong glances that came my way.
Nor was that the end of it. When I went to the polytunnel to tend my bed of winter lettuce the smell grew stronger, and in the soil I had carefully worked and turned, among those delicate, flavoursome leaves I had tended and nurtured and had so been looking forward to, I found neat coils of excrement hidden just below the surface.
This is, then, a vendetta. Am I to be deprived of sleep, to have my songbirds subject to wholesale slaughter, to have my hard-won food soiled and to be stunk out of my own home?