Wednesday, 12 September 2007

My First Cat - Whisky

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Our first cat was called Whisky. He was black and white and so was the Whisky label, so his name stuck. I was about 11 years old at the time, living in the East End of London with mum and dad in our attached house in Norah Street. We had a small garden and around us there was quite a bit of building going on. The debris remaining from the bombed houses of the second world war was being cleared. In these bombed houses a few mice had found a new home. My mum did not like mice and for my dad they were just vermin. In a way it is understandable. In London you didn’t find the sweet little field mice, but grey mice lurking in every corner for food bits and pieces and spreading their germs everywhere. This was the main reason that mum and dad decided we should have a cat. I was, of course, really happy about this decision. Since I was a kid I always wanted a pet, but up to the time I was 11 we had only really had a sweet little budgerigar called Bill. Quite a talkative budgerigar really, but that was no wonder as he was surrounded by noise in Bethnal Green.

Coming back to Whisky, he was born in a wood yard near a canal. My friend’s father worked there and told my mum and dad about the kittens that had been born and we could have one. In those days cat psychology was non-existant. If you wanted a kitten you took it. I am sure Whisky could not have been much older than 6-7 weeks when he came to us as I do remember he still had blue eyes. He was such a sweet little thing and spent the first night hiding under the cupboard. My mum had made a nice bed for him - a wooden drawer with a cushion. When Whisky eventually came out of hiding (I think the curiosity got him) he found his bed and promptly left his mark in it, which my mum was not so pleased about. I mean cats are supposed to be clean animals. The next day mum took the cushion out of the drawer and filled it with earth from the garden. This suited Whisky much better and the drawer remained his toilet for ever. In those days the pet industry was not so developed as today. There was no clumping filling for the cat toilet – you just used what you found.

Mum’s next problem was what to feed the cat. Dry vitamin food for cats had not yet been invented so there was a limited choice and you bought the cat meat in tins. Whisky was not fussy and ate anything that smelt like meat. We were a working class family, so our cat was a “working class” cat. My mum had had cats when she was younger and remembered that her mother (my grandmother) used to buy offal from the butchers and cook it for their cats. I remember my mum buying lung to cook. Now as you can imagine lung is something you breath with and is fairly light weight and porous. She cooked the lung first of all, although I think Whisky would have eaten it raw if asked. Whisky had his own enamel plate and I remember when he got his first (and last) dish of lung, did he have fun throwing up into the air catching it and rolling it around with his feet. He never actually ate it but he played with it. That was the beginning and end of saving money by cooking your own cat meat, so it was back to Kit-e-Kat or whatever.

Whisky was growing and was no longer the sweet little kitten, but a sweet little cat. He was spoiled by us all, both mum and dad. I used to play with him quite a lot. We had a staircase in the house and we lived up on the first floor. I used to roll paper into a ball and throw it down the stairs. Whisky would charge after it, pick the ball up in his mouth and bring it back to the top of the stairs and drop it at my feet, for a second round. Eventually after charging up and down the stairs about 10 times (he was panting eventually) he gave up and went for a sleep. He was a real home cat and often made himself comfortable on our lap for a nice quiet sleep.

The original purpose of Whisky was to catch mice, but we saw very few after getting Whisky, probably the mice noticed that a cat now lived at No. 45. He did catch one once in the garden. Basically mice in the garden were accepted, but no-one told Whisky. Being a good thoughtful cat he naturally brought the mouse in to show my mum. After a scream from mum we noticed there was something wrong and I am afraid Whisky lost a few points on that day.

Another trick Whisky had was to sleep in an upright position on the back of a chair (see photo). He balanced himself with one front leg stretched out and would close his eyes and nod off for a few hours. Another favourite place was on the window sill on the top floor where he could watch the pigeons flying on and off the neighbours roof. Once he misjudged the distance and reached out for a pigeon falling off the window sill to the ground floor. A big distance for a cat to fall, but like all good cats he managed to turn in the air and land in a cat safe position. Mum was frightened to look in case anything had happened, but he recovered safe and sound.

He had his first visit to the vets as an 8 month old male cat. When he came home he was still a male cat, but not quite the same as before. At that time, in the 1950’s-60’s you really only went to a vet if a cat was ill. You didn’t have it protected again various illnesses as you didn’t really know they existed. My cats cost me a fortune once a year to get them immunised against this that and the other, but at the time of Whisky, it just wasn’t done. We had one small problem when Whisky got fleas. If a cat got fleas in the 1950’s you had bad luck, There was no frontline or whatever to rub into the back of their neck. Mum was a bit overstrained with dealing with a flea attack, so the only thing that came into her mind was to bath Whisky. Cats do not like to have a bath, so the first problem was actually getting him into the water. This being done, mum was not very happy when the fleas deserted the wet cat in one cloud. However, this also passed and Whisky remained quite flea free for the rest of his life. At the age of 10 mum had to make a visit to the vet as he kept having saliva dripping from his mouth. The remedy was he had to have two teeth removed. Whisky even survived this operation. We know today that a cat needs something hard to chew on, but at that time you just gave a cat tinned food. I also remember that mum’s idea of bringing up a cat was like bringing up a human. You fed it three times a day. Whisky was not a fat cat, but he wasn’t actually thin. Every time mum put his food in his dish she emptied the rest on the fork by banging it on the metal rim of the plate. This noise became a signal for Whisky to come and get it, grubs up.

I left my London home to go to Switzerland to work when I was 20 years old. Of course I always came home once or twice a year to visit and Whisky was there. After a couple of years in Switzerland I met Mr. Swiss and got married and started my own family. I one day got a letter from mum (you didn’t have computers in those days to send a quick mail and telephoning from England to Switzerland was a bit of a luxury). The news was that mum had to make the last visit to the vet with Whisky. He was getting older and suffering with his old age. He couldn’t walk properly any more. She couldn’t bear to see it and although she didn’t want to, she had no choice. Whisky was my first cat and I have never forgot him even today.

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