I’ve been reading lots of other people’s blogs today and Lisa Dingle’s story about her beloved four-legged pal, Monty reminded me of my own little tykes, Snuggs and Purr, black and white brothers who breezed into our lives all those years ago.
We’d moved to Hong Kong the previous September, having left my precious kitties, Rover and Ginger (another time, I’ll tell their stories too), behind in the UK. Ginger had not lasted long without me – three weeks after we moved he thought he could take on a truck and discovered his body was not a big as his heart. I had cried for weeks over losing him. I missed having a loving pet around – but we’d had no idea what would be possible and had therefore left them with Mum and Dad and now we were living in an apartment, forty floors high in the middle of one of the busiest, noisiest, most exciting environments the world has to offer.
By the following June, I’d found some work in a great school and begun to make new friends. Many of them had pets and we were starting to come round to the idea that we could also find room for a new furry friend, as long as the landlord didn’t check up on us.
The end of the school year was fast approaching and Mrs Hedges, our school librarian, was leaving the Territory. This happened a lot in Hong Kong – people came and went with alarming frequency; two year contracts or positions within various multi-national companies meant that staff and pupil turnover could reach fifty percent in a year – with 720 primary school children in the school, it kept you on your toes, because there were always new people to get to know, new ideas to incorporate into everyday life.
Angela Hedges came to me with a slightly wild look in her eyes – I was naïve and was sucked in by the last of her first three words ‘They’ll be euthanised!’ she declared, if no-one could be found to take on her pair of cats. ‘They’re brothers, two years old and simply cannot be separated! Oh, please, please will you take them?’ she begged. Who, with even the smallest hint of softness in their heart could have said no? I’m a marsh-mallow, wrapped round a feather cushion, upon which sits a teeny Angora kit, all soft and furry… the likelihood of me refusing her request is zero. Nada. Zilch.
So, the next morning she popped a note in my pigeon hole at school, which turned out to be an eighteen page tome on the history of these two animals, detailing their birth, their appearance, their likes and dislikes and every single thing that had ever happened to them in the two years they had managed to scrape through life thus far. It was riveting stuff… ‘Purr likes to be up as high as he can manage and he particularly enjoys hanging out on top of the aircon shelf, which can be a little hair-raising as we live on the eighteenth floor…’ and ‘Snuggles is friendlier and has a bit of a thing about shoes.‘ That sort of stuff. Loads of it. Eighteen pages of it – foolscap pages, handwritten in very small, very neat ‘Librarian’ handwriting. I decided there and then that these names would be a thing of the past. We call our pets by really cool names – my daughter, Donna, was assured by her nursery teacher, when she first went to nursery school, that she ‘couldn’t possibly have a cat called ‘Rover’ because that is most definitely a dog’s name’. And when we were adopted by our second cat, a gorgeous Russian Blue, we remembered this advice and gave him a proper ‘cat’s’ moniker, ‘Ginger’. So stupid names like ‘Purr’ and ‘Snuggles’ just didn’t pass muster I’m afraid. No, they’d have to change.
Excitedly, we prepared for the day at the end of the week when the two animals would arrive. We set up the litter tray in the kitchen and organised where they would eat & sleep. We researched how to exercise cats that were essentially ‘indoor’ animals and purchased neat little cat harnesses so we could take them for short strolls outside. Angela had assured me (in the ‘note’ which became known as ‘the Magnum Opus’) that these two were very used to living indoors (as indeed many cats do in Hong Kong) and we needed be too concerned about this. Still, you can’t love animals and think this is a great idea, so we made provision to change this concept, although the harnesses were treated with predictable disdain by the felines and never used again.
Angela arrived with a large cardboard carrier and we ushered her into the living room. Holding our breath, we watched as she placed the box on the floor and carefully opened it up. Two noses, exactly as described in ‘Magnum Opus’ appeared immediately; ‘These two are identical brothers, almost entirely black all over. The only difference between them is that one of them (Snuggles) has a white nose and the other (Purr) has a black nose’. A white nose was quickly followed by wide eyes, whittery whiskers and a solemn expression that Snuggles wore for the rest of his life. ‘Oh, he’s gorgeous!’ my daughters flapped and tried to take him out of the box.
Cue appearance of black nose, rapidly followed by massive black eyes, enormous ears and a flash of the white patch on his front paw, which had been described as the only other difference between the two otherwise identical brothers, as Purr made his presence felt too.
Natalie, then eleven years old and fairly slightly built, nearly toppled into the box as she realised that picking Snuggles up may not have been a wise move. He was a BIG cat. Far too heavy for her to try to lift on her own. Placid, yes. Sweet natured, of course. But not what you’d call small. Unless a twenty-five-pound cat is defined as ‘svelt’. Nope, there would not be much carrying around of these cats, not if he was anything to go by. I was just contemplating how we’d manage with two huge monster-cats when Purr rather neatly solved the problem by jumping, gazelle-like out of the box from behind his brother’s vast shadow. He was clearly NOT big at all. On the tiny side of petite, you-might-not-see-him-unless-you-knew-he-was-there kind of small.
Seriously, the only difference between these two identical brothers is the colour of their noses and the fact that one has a white patch on their front paw. Not once, nowhere, not at any point in the eighteen foolscap pages of Magnum Opus had Angela mentioned that there might be one other small, but quite essentially obvious, detail about the two animals that you *might* notice before having to check which colour nose you were staring at. One looked like a sparrow, sitting innocently on the topmost branch of a tree, small and feather-light at around four pounds in weight. The other looked like a battleship.
It was the start of fifteen more years with Snuggs and twenty more with Purr, whose names we never did manage to change at all; a story that followed us through seven house moves including one across seven thousand miles back to the UK – which for them meant six months in boarding and a scary plane ride before being reunited with us.
Years later, we had that agonizing decision to make, due to failing organs that had served them well, for a very long time. Snuggles died in January 2008 and Purr died last October, at the grand old age of 22. Which, of course in cat years is something like a hundred and fifty-something. They were great cats, true brothers-in-paws. I miss them still.