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Periodically, we all need to go on holiday. Being British, thoughts inevitably turn to Europe. Sun-drenched Mediterranean coastal bays, free-flowing wine, sparkling swimming pools, beaches draped with soiled Union Jack condoms and lots of drunken fighting - it makes a man happy to be alive. However, there is always a cloud on the horizon, and in this case it took the form of a tabby and a black & white, and what to do with them for two weeks. They both knew we were planning a holiday from the moment I arrived home with the brochures and they promptly sat on them. Although it is said that cats can't form facial expressions, I could read their saddened faces like a book. Like a child on Christmas morning who's just unwrapped an anthology of biblical fables, hidden craftily inside a Nintendo 64 box.
There was one benefit on leaving at this particular time. The cats were starting to moult. Anyone who has ever lived with a cat who is moulting will know the absurd amount of hair that a cat can actually lose in the approach to summer. The state of our house during moulting season puts you in mind of a 1970's Army barbers shop floor if The Jackson Five had ever been drafted. I could annually stuff a quilt. And the bloody stuff gets everywhere. I've been getting into the bathtub before now, and had to pause first to tease a few inexplicable tabby wisps from the crack of my bottom. But, you would surely think that the modern vacuum cleaner would cope with a few cat hairs. Our twin turbo super electro vac could easily whip off a tightly glued wig, but point it at a sofa covered in cat hairs, and a few seconds later the motor smokes, whimpers, then belches last week's cat litter spillage all over the cushions.
I made the arrangements for the kennels. After hours of poring over the Yellow Pages, I decided upon the advertisement which had a picture of a beaming cat, with the lie "reasonable rates" printed underneath. The woman I spoke to on the telephone actually sounded like a cat. She gave the impression that she'd much prefer to go in each kennel in the evening, stick her bottom in the air and shout "Wiaooooooo", than be cleaning out litter trays on a daily basis. But finally the dates were arranged.
And eventually, slowly, the holiday date came around. Oh, the joy of the last day at work before a holiday. It's so difficult not to look smug as you leave. When the clock ticked to five-thirty, and I had carefully hidden my preferred pens and mouse mat, I skipped out of the office like Bambi, and drove home. Now we were ready to go. We had everything we needed for the trip. Camera, sun cream, and various remedies for "Tummy upset". (Point of note - none of these actually work. You still end up spending hours on the lavatory groaning "Oh Please God make it stop coming out" whilst your partner paces up and down outside shouting "For the Love of the Lord get a move on in there, I can't nip these buttocks together a moment longer and I'm wearing your shorts").
All that remained was to get the cats to the kennels. I thought I had this one nailed. Our pet doors have a cunning mechanism that allows you to make them one-way. Cats can come in, but not go out again. So, all I had to do was set the doors in that mode, and wait. In practise, however, what really happened was that the cats gambolled merrily outside, occasionally sticking their noses against the window and shouting "Loser" in cat language. There was no alternative, I had to go out into the garden and catch them. This started out being a bit of fun, until one of the cats disappeared under the hedge - his favourite toilet location - and the spot where my wife had tenderly nurtured some delicate roses. I had to get him out before it was too late.... I haven't been getting on very well with my neighbours recently. We live in an adjoining house, and I believe I can trace the start of the discord - somewhere around the time I used my wife's library ticket to borrow "How to learn to play the drums using only your household pots and pans". However, any trace of reconciliation was shortly to go out of the window, and it was so unfair. You see, I genuinely didn't realise that my neighbour was inches away from me - grubbing around in his side of the hedgerow with a trowel, getting his balding, wispy pate all covered in leaves. All I knew was that I desperately wanted my cat to go back in the house before he made his latrine, and therefore a raucous shout of "For fuck's sake don't you dare shit under my hedge you ugly moulting bastard" seemed perfectly justified in the circumstances.
It worked, too. Whether the cat was more frightened by my outburst or the subsequent one from my neighbour was unclear, but one of the cats bolted back to the house, with the other hot on his tail.
In a previous story, I have described the nightmare of getting a cat to go into a cat basket when he doesn't want to. I have no wish to go through the pain of the memory again. It's enough to say that during the procedure, you will come to learn how much your humble nose can actually hurt when it's got a couple of claws in it, and your cat will do more growling than Grizzly Adams applying his Preparation H.
At last it was done - both cats boxed up in their stout wicker baskets, looking angrier than a WWF wrestler who's just discovered that he performed his last bout with a post-it note saying "I am a homo and my mother farts" stuck to his back.
I put them in the back of the car. My wife and three-year old son jumped in as well, everyone put their seatbelts on, and I had a quick look around. Everyone buckled up, with my son giggling delightedly saying "Pippin and Tog are in the car".
The journey started off well. I knew exactly where we were going, and it wasn't a long haul. The sun was shining, and everyone was content. Except, that is, for the two prisoners on the back seat. As we drove, I started to hear low growling and murmuring. Then - the worst sound of all - claws going to work on wicker. I decided to ignore it.
Conversation is essential in a car, and, depending on whether or not our son is present, our conversation is either on along the lines of "Did you see that Big Red Fire Engine going 'toot toot' down the road?", or "Look at that twat in that Ford haven't you got any indicators on that bloody thing you clueless fucker". However, the next two words my son said were probably the most grave that had ever been spoken in that car. He was so amused he could barely get the words out between giggles, and he quite clearly didn't appreciate the magnitude of what he said.
I span round to look at what was going on, and immediately got a face full of cat. I desperately tried to see the road, peering over the top of a mouth full of angry tabby wrapped around my chops. "MffmffmFFFF", I yelped, to which my son replied "Tog's out as well, Daddy".
The other cat had seen what his brother was doing, and also leapt up onto my seat back. My head was now completly engulfed by fur and claws, and it looked like I was wearing two really angry Russian hats. An elderly gentlemen who was leisurely overtaking us caught a glimpse of my huge wriggling furry beard and spat out his dentures.
With my wife reaching over to grab the steering wheel, I eventually managed to pull the cats off my head, but it was quite clear they weren't in a mood for curling up and going to sleep. This was a shame, and unusual. There is a lesson to be learned from cats in the sleeping department. It can be the sunniest, brightest day, and you can be playing your stereo so loudly that your deaf neighbours come round and complain about it in sign language, and yet your cat will saunter into the room, curl up by the sub-woofer, and drift off to sleep instantly. Three minutes later he will decandently stick his legs in the air and dribble a bit. Five minutes later his whiskers will twitch. Ten hours later he'll reluctantly shuffle up off his arse and go to eat a plate of food only slightly smaller than him.
Anyway, that was not happening now. The damn things were more lively than James Brown after a refreshing holiday and a course of Ginseng, and were performing a wall of death around the car windows. Until one of them decided that he'd had enough, and was going to hide. Under the brake pedal. Now here was a problem. We were travelling at 70mph on the motorway, and the only way I could stop the car was by flattening a cat. Since I didn't fancy having tears from wife and child throughout the holiday, I had to find another way of stopping the car, and the only thing I could think of was the handbrake. Personally, I thought it was quick thinking. But moments later, when my wife was peeling her nose from the windscreen and massaging the seat belt weals in her shoulder, the only thanks I got was "You stupid knobhead" whispered right in my ear. I took my trouser belt off, put both the cats in one basket, and fastened the belt around it tighter than it had ever been fastened. Including immediately after Christmas dinner (when it is so tight that the leather turns white and makes creaking noises). My wife put the basket on her knee, and we set off again.
"Let the cats out again, Daddy"
We arrived at the kennels. The woman who I had spoken to on the telephone came out to meet us, and I was astonished to find that she actually looked like a cat. When I think of her now, I actually picture her with a great bushy tail, which started swishing moodily when I asked to pay with my Visa card.
We walked over to the kennel area. I have never seen as many cats in one place in my life. They all froze in mid-preen as we entered the area and I felt a hundred green eyes burning into us. Then they started chattering. Quite obviously they were fascinated by our arrival, and were presumably making scathing comments about the quality of our cats' fur (cat fur is of incredible quality, but you never see Vidal Sassoon producing a new brand with "Contains Cat Spit" flashed all over the box). However, because of the time of year, every cat in sight was moulting. All Telly Salvalas would have had to do is stick a bit of glue on his bonce and rummage his head around in a few of the kennels. He'd have had a freshly carpeted thatch in seconds.
I couldn't wait to get out, but my wife and son wanted to spend some time saying "good bye" to our two, which predictably didn't get a tearful response. The two cats sat looking disinterested, sniffing grumpily at the bowls of food in front of them and turning their nose up because it wasn't their favoured brand of that particular hour. Eventually we got back in the car. The kennel's proprietor gave us a jaunty flick of her tail, with a cheery "They'll be fine, and they'll be looking forward to seeing you again".
We had a wonderful holiday, enjoying the usual five "S"s - sun, sea, sand, sickness and stolen wallet, and I came back home feeling refreshed and invigorated with my lightly tanned skin and purged bowels. Immediately after our arrival, my wife and son wanted to go pick up the cats, insisting that they'd have been missing us.
We drove back to the kennels, with my wife frantic about the state of the cats. This was starting to wear a little thin, and I got a bit snappy. "Yes they'll be fine for God's sake and no they are not your babies - I'd like to have seen you breastfeed those two on the bus", which predictably didn't go down too well.
When we got to the kennels, I paid an amount of money which, if I had given it to a Third World family, would have caused them to place my photograph between two candles in pride of place in their hut, and got our cats back. "Oooooh" squeaked my wife, happy to see them. On the way home, the cats sat quietly in their baskets, presumably knowing that they would shortly be returning to a place where there were no restrictions on the damage they could do.
When we got home, our neighbour welcomed us back with a tight, thin smile. However, even that disappeared when he noticed that one of our cats had scooted under the hedge and was, with a quivering tail and a very serious expression, shitting on his rhubarb.