Part one: Meeting

In the beginning, the Sun and the Moon met to divide the world between them. The Sun took the land, the Moon took the oceans, the Sun took the daytime, the Moon took the night time. The Sun took gold, the Moon took silver, the Sun took life, the Moon took death….

Then they had to divide up the living things and this was difficult. They discussed and they argued and they debated and they cogitated, and they decided to divide the living things of the world into two, so each would take half. Both were happy, until they came to consider the cat. Both the Sun and the Moon wanted to have guardianship over the cat, for she was truly the most beautiful living thing to walk the earth. They quarreled long and hard over the cat.

The Sun said “She is such a beautiful creature and her fur would glisten beneath my light and she would luxuriate in my warmth and her eyes would shine like emeralds and all the other beasts would have the opportunity to feast their eyes on her wonder, which they could not do if she were only to walk at night”.

And the Moon said “She is swift and lithe and she can pass silently through the world. She is a wraith, a spectre, a shadow who glides on feet of air, unseen, unheard. She is clever and resourceful, she lives on her wits and she can bend all other creatures to her will with just a flick of her tail or a glance from her emerald eyes. She is truly a daughter of the night and she belongs to me.”

The Sun had to admit that she had a point. He agreed that the cat truly belonged to the Moon, but he exacted a high price for his sacrifice. The Moon had to give up the flowers and the trees, the birds and the butterflies, the beasts of the field and the fish in the oceans (all bar a few, which he didn’t really want). But she was happy.

She had the cat.


I love that story. The Sun got the best deal on the face of it, he got all the fields and the forests and the gardens and most of the birds and animals and the hoomins, of course, but the Moon got all the interesting creatures. She got bats and rodents and bush babies and owls and foxes and badgers and moths…and us, of course. And, because she wanted us above all other creatures, we worship her as our mother and our protector and guide. She watches over us all and our ancestors sit with her and watch over us too. I know my nana is up there looking down – I have found her eye in the night sky – and all the others who have crossed the bridge too… that is why I love to sit and look at the stars and to study them. They are my favourite subject to talk about at the Great Circle. I love to study and learn. It gives me something to do when my hoomins are not awake.

What is the Great Circle? It is the way we she-cats communicate, one to the other, in an unbroken chain. We teach, we learn, we discuss, we debate. We swap news of friends and family, we send comfort to the frightened, the sad and the lonely. We encourage those whose journey is just beginning and we commemorate those whose journey has ended. We search for the missing and guide home those who are lost. Nothing is hidden from us. And we get to gossip, as well.

I just came from the Circle. It’s my favourite night – I get to chat with my daughter and all the other girls. Most of them share their homes with other cats. Lots of those cats join in the circle too – Ripley has her Lilly and Luna, Lacey brings Tucker, Glados is with one of the boys she raised, and young Tory has recently joined now that dear Tuffy has crossed the bridge and she lives with a whole army of boys. They all seem to be happy to share. I couldn’t imagine it. Sharing my hoomins and my toys and my blanket – nope, can’t imagine it.


Bad day. I have no idea where I am. I’ve been bumped around in a tiny box, hauled out by my scruff, stood on a cold table in a bright and shiny room. I’ve had strange hoomins put their hands all over me and twist my ears and prise open my mouth and peer at my teeth and at one point they stuck something sharp in my bum… yowzah! Now I’m in another box. It’s a bit larger and at least there’s a warm blanket and some food and water and somewhere to pee. Too tired to think about it at the moment. I’ll try to figure this out after I’ve had a nap. Naps solve most problems, in my experience.


Are you a lion or a tiger? I have researched with interest the lives of our larger, wilder cousins and I have been surprised at some of the things I’ve found out. The tiger is a fabulous beast..huge and handsome, secretive and solitary. She lives alone in the forests, seeing no-one and needing no-one, hunting by night and only meeting her kind when the urge comes to breed. Sometimes, I have dreamed that I am living alone in a dark forest, keeping to the shadows and living by my wits, hunting for meat or hooking fish from a cold stream. I have always believed that I was, by nature, a tiger – independent, resourceful, self-sufficient. The lion, on the other hand, lives on the open plains, where there is no cover or protection. She lives in a group with her extended family, hunting together, babysitting each other’s kittens, grooming each other and basking together in the sun, secure in the knowledge that the group will protect them from danger. I always thought there was a certain appeal to this kind of lifestyle, the comfort and comradeship, the feeling of protection and safety, waking up from a sleep to see a loved one nearby…but I never saw myself as a lion. No…I am a tiger. I function at my best when I am alone. Absolutely I do.


You know the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? Well, you can certainly teach an old (well, adult anyway) cat new tricks. I’m still in the big box, and there’s no way out, but I’ve learned the art of “working it”. According to my neighbour, it’s what you have to do if you are of the more…ahem…homely persuasion and you don’t want to live in a box for the rest of your life. I’ve seen the kittens going home with hoomins, bless them – and that makes me happy. I couldn’t bear the thought of those innocent little souls being cooped up, never experiencing the sheer joy of running just for the hell of it, and hiding just so you can leap out and pounce the next thing that passes. But I’ve also seen many, many cats who can only be described as “mature” being selected by hoomins – in fact, only yesterday, my neighbour himself was packed up in a box by two large and two small hoomins. They all seemed so happy… So, I carry on working it. I approach with confidence, I do my little chirrup, I head bonk the bars of the cage, I look them squarely in the eye and yell “TAKE ME HOME!” – nah, not really. I do all this, even though I would sometimes like to sit at the back of my cage with my face to the wall, wishing I was somewhere else. In general, I’m a very upbeat sorta kittie, but this place gets to you in the end. Don’t get me wrong, I am fed well and I’m comfortable and the hoomins are very gentle and kind but…the view never changes – three cage walls and the tabby across the way washing his nethers…I want more than this. Anyway, here they come – teeth ‘n smiles, Georgie boy…teeth ‘n smiles. Hang on, weren’t these two in the other day?


Ssshhhh! Not now! Something’s going on. Not sure what. Lots of activity…new bowls…new toys. Surely they won’t. Would they?


So…I’m going home. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but the signs are good. My hoomins seem like good’uns and they were certainly impressed by my working it because, homely or not, they picked me. ME! I’m trying to act all calm here by lounging around in this moving box but my tummy is all in a knot. You see, my hoomins (MY hoomins!) smell, like so many of them do, of lilac bushes and cut grass and pine forests but, underneath it all, I can detect just the faintest wisp – the merest waft – of a she-cat. Could be trouble, or could be heaven. I’ll just have to bide my time and try to be patient. Just realised I’ve been gnawing my own toes for the last ten minutes – ouch! Calm, George….calm…


As a cat, my eyes are remarkable. I have a reflective layer behind my retina which improves my night vision, as well as making me look just a bit scary if someone shines a light in my face. I have a 20 degree greater field of vision than most hoomins so I can detect the smallest movement out of the corner of my eye and I do not need to blink to moisten them, which assists me by enabling me to focus long and hard and track small prey in the grass. Add to that the fact that they are delightfully almond shaped and the most beautiful shade of leaf green, and I can honestly say that my eyes are one of my best features. However, they are totally incapable of seeing anything through the slit around the bedroom door, however long I sit here with my eye pressed up against it. But I can hear him and I can smell him. I know he’s in there. I KNOW he is…


Oh my! This is a turn up for the books. I’ve been shut in a room on my own – a million times better than my box before – clean litter, good meals, fresh water and a whole bed all to myself…I’ve been properly scent marking my hoomins, but I couldn’t help noticing a certain she-cat was doing the same…between us, we’ve pretty much overwhelmed the scent of lilacs and pine, but the hoomins don’t seem to mind. Then, the other day, they opened the door just a crack – and there she was. A goddess. That silken fur, those emerald eyes, those luxuriant paws and…that tail! I can only dream of having a tail like that – like a high cirrus cloud on a summer’s day. And…her face..full of intelligence and personality – even when contorted into a hiss..I can’t help noticing she has wonderful ginger chops, just like me. I’ve always thought they were my best feature, but on her… Yes, I am smitten. Last night, she came to the door and we whispered to each other. I understand that she is a little shocked at my sudden arrival, and she was quite clear in laying down her ground rules – no stealing her food, the left hand tower is hers, the blue kicker is hers, if I lose a mousie under the fridge and need it retrieving, she does the talking…but I think – I hope – we can become friends.


Oh my! This is a turn up for the books. He’s been shut in the spare room on his own for a while, but now he is out and walking around my territory. What shocks me is the fact that I don’t mind. He steps carefully, and respects my space. He smells a bit funny, but I think I did too when I first arrived. He isn’t handsome as such, but he has a friendly face and twinkly, laughing eyes. And I can’t help noticing he has wonderful ginger chops, just like me. I’ve always thought they were one of my best features. He’s lacking in refinement and sophistication, but that is just down to his lack of education. I can deal with that. I am a natural teacher. I will teach him about the stars and the moon and about cat lore and history and also vital life skills like how to kill a feather on a stick and how to cheat at the whack-a-mouse game. I have even told his name to the Circle, and commended him to the Moon so she can watch over him. I’ve told him who’s boss round here, of course, but I think – I hope – we can become friends.


Was life ever not like this? Did I ever walk the streets at night and scavenge for scraps? Did I ever get into fights over morsels of rancid meat and have stones thrown at me for straying into the wrong garden? Or has life always been this, warmth and safety, a full belly, a choice – an actual CHOICE – of comfortable sleeping spots, loving hoomins to teach and an extraordinary and beautiful feline to learn from? She is a wonderful teacher, so full of learning and insight. Sense of humour too…I love to make her laugh. I am indulging our she-hoomin by letting her teach me to sing, which cracks Rosie up and I do it just for the joy of hearing her laugh. She has gradually allowed me to introduce her to the joy of sharing a sleeping spot – the warmth and softness of another body, the comfort of hearing someone breathing close to your ear and feeling a heartbeat under your head. She said it reminded her of the days when her kittens would pile on top of her and they would all sleep in a warm, twitchy heap for hours. She, in return, has been showing me the true meaning of cleanliness, especially around the ears. She doesn’t know how much I am comforted just knowing she is in the house with me. For a long time, I couldn’t believe they wouldn’t load me back into the box and take me back to the boring cage, where I would have to “work it” all over again, but she convinced me that all is well. You’re family now, she said.
Make yourself comfortable on the window sill or the small tower, so you can see the night sky to the north. Tuck in your paws and look up to where you can see the Great Cat’s Eye, the star that shines the brightest. You see, all the stars form patterns in the sky, and we give those patterns names. Now, look to the right of the Great Cat’s Eye, you will see nine stars which resemble a cat laying on its back with its paws in the air – well, that is called Old Tom. In the centre of those nine stars is a little cluster of seven stars, very faint. They are called The Kittens. Now, straight above the Cat’s Eye, you can make out a pattern of seven stars which might just suggest to you a fish, which is called The Fish (I never said the names were original, lol) and, below and to the left, a semi circle of eight stars which we call The Diamond Collar. The stars were named long ago by the thinker and philosopher cats of Egypt and Greece and the knowledge has been passed down from mother to daughter, father to son. But it would seem that, once upon a time, humans could understand the language of cats, as I have discovered that they name the stars too. Surely this tradition can only have been taught to them by our ancestors. There are two shapes in the northern sky which they call Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the Great Bear and the Little Bear. They put me in mind of some humans I once met, so I have added them to our pantheon and named them The Father and The Son. I hope this will serve as my tribute to the kind humans who comforted me when I was confused and frightened and built a lovely warm den for my little ones and me. All the other stars, they are the eyes of our ancestors who have passed over the Bridge and are waiting for us on the other side. There is my nana, third star along at the right hand of the moon, and there is your grandad and your little lost sister next to him…George, are you OK? Your eyes have gone all misty… Come and sit next to me so I can baff your ears. You know, maybe I am more lion than I thought….


Move over, then. I can’t fit on here with your enormous, floofy butt in the way. Turn a bit sideways…and shift your paw so I can at least park my posterior..not sure these towers are really built for two handsome beasts such as ourselves..


Ach..stop fussing. There’s room for the two of us wherever we need to be. Now sit still while I tackle these massive jug ears of yours..


Ooohh…that feels good. Raspy, but good. A bit to the left please….Are we OK, Rosie?


Yes, George. We’re OK.

You’ve had a tiny taste of the world outside the nest, but Mum keeps bringing you back. What’s a Cupcake Kitten to do?


Dah dum…dum DAH de dah dum…
Dum dum…dum dah de dah de dah dum…

Dis is Praline of da Cupcake Kittens here, known to my fellow prizoners as “Big X” and I iz da leader – of eberyting!! Anyway, we iz unjustly imprizoned in dis tiny space and having tasted da freedom and da fresh air and da big sky it iz our dooty OUR DOOTY I TELL YOU! to excape. So we have formed an EXCAPE COMMITTEE wid me as da leader, of course. Let me introduce you to da team:

INTELLIGENZ is my sissy Truffle. Let’s face it, we gurlz is da only ones wid da intelligenz

DA TUNNEL KING is my stoopid brudder Pumpkin. He practiz tunnelling at da milk bar. He iz very annoying, but he haz yoosfull skillz, but he hav to learn to stop yelling. He alert da guards.

DA COOLER KING is brudder Sprinkles. Just coz he want to be. I think he iz more yoosfull if we use his hed as battering ram, but he iz bigger dan me and sez he will sit on me so he get wat he wantz.

DA SCROUNGER is brudder Snickerdoodle. He juss open dem big baby bloo eyes and hoomin gib him watever he want. I will smak him for it later.

DA MOLE is brudder Val. He look like a mole.

Den der is da enemy:

DA KOMMANDANT is Mama. She want us confined in dis tiny space and she pik us up by da hed if we get away. It hurt and we get teef marks in da neck.

DA GUARD is da big hoomin. She in leeg with Da Kommandant, but she iz soft an squishy under tuff eggs…egster…ekzteri…outside. We can turn her.

DA DOUBLE AGENT is da strange brown kitten wid da hornz. He neber move and he neber mew and he smell funny. He iz not to be trusted.

So wid that formy double team behind me and da eyez of da enemy upon us, we meet in secret to plan….DA GRATE EXCAPE!

Plan 1. We go ober da wire: Dis is plan we hab been practising for since we wuz tiny and Pumpkin found exit through da bloo wall and fell to earth wid a big thud. I think he landed on his hed, which explain a lot. I suggested he try da same tactic now he is bigger but he wuz strangely reluctant, even though he got free milk bar da last time.

Plan 2. We make da tunnel: For first attempt we send brudder Snickerdoodle to tunnel under pink blankie. He get a long way in but it iz so warm and cozy dat he fall asleep…. FOR AN HOUR! He iz der for so long we think he die so we say prayer to moon for hiz immoral sole and think goodie, more milkie for us! But he come out. Swizz! Anyway, he say tunnel duzzent go under da wall cuz he met Val comin da udder way, practising his mole skillz.

Plan 3. We go in dizgize: Pumpkin say he can dizgize himself so nobody noes it’s him an he excape past da guard dat way. I say, who you disgize yourself as an he stick out his tung an cross his eyez and lay on his back an say look at me, I’m Praline. I get him in hed lock an pound him wid my feets until he sqweek. Dat teech him.

Plan 4. We go by flyin: Dis Truffle’s idea. She say we can build glider from stuff dat’s in da den, so we look around an can only see da Chickenfish, a bowl, some pouffy thingz and dat blasted thing wid da hornz. She say we can use Chickenfish as da foozy large an da bowl as da gun turret an den Val say we got no wings an Snickers say we got no toolz an Sprinkles say we kittens for hevvens sake we got no thums so we abandon dat idea completely.

Plan 5. The high-tech solution: We wait until dark, then sneak outside and cut the telephone cable before disabling the burglar alarm system and switching off the power using the main breaker. Then we obscure the camera lens while setting the computer to repeat the feed on a continuous loop showing a shot of us sleeping. Then we use a small blade to slit open the tape securing the poster board screens and we slip out quietly, closing the boards behind us. Then we all pile into the DB7 and hi-tail it to the airport where the Lear Jet will be fuelled up and waiting to fly us to….er…wha happen? I sorry, I musta dozed off fer a moment.

Plan 6. We rush da gate: We wait till da guard is der and Sprinkles (Da “Cooler” King, ha ha!) can wriggle and yell and wine like he always duz an da guard will pik him up an say sshhh an den we hed for da gap an….FREEDOM!

I dunno, tho. It a bit cold out der an da ground is hard an Mama is callin milk bar an we all a bit sleepy….

Maybe we bide our time…we chooz our moment…we lull dem into sents of force sekurity. Yep, I’ll be over here, snugglin up to Mama…I mean, Da Kommandant, an plannin….always plannin….Cupcake Kittens will be free…soon….zzzzzzz…

Dah dum…dum DAH de dah dum…
Dum dum…da dah de dah de dah dum…

The Tuxedo Knight’s Lament: a Critter Room favourite makes a return appearance…

I’ll sing you the song of brave Sir Ash
The Tuxedo Knight, who cut a dash
Through every village in the land
And set himself to win the hand

Of a toothsome maiden, pure and fair
With eyes of green and auburn hair
But a heart of stone and will of steel
Before whom lovelorn knights would kneel

To no avail, for to win her heart
Her knight should be a man apart
And prove to her that he’s the best
By embarking on a reckless quest.

So brave Sir Ash, the Tuxedo Knight
A handsome cat, but not so bright
Agreed to do as she desired –
A confrontation was required…

So, as the dawn rose in the East
He rode out to slay the Gnarly Beast
With no assistance, save his page…
His groom, his cook, his mystic sage,

His favourite hawk upon his sleeve
And don’t forget his best mate, Steve,
A guard, in case of stealth attack,
His favourite mousie in his pack

A hundred cans of Fancy Feast
A pound or two of ‘nip at least
His water bowl and fluffy bed
A pillow for his weary head…

But, three hours out, down came the rain
His entourage went home again.
And, left alone, in god knows where
His maiden didn’t seem so fair.

His voice cried out in pained remorse
“I can’t believe I’m on this horse!”
The beast stopped still and turned her head
“I’m not so thrilled myself” she said

“Now, where is it you want to go?”
He had to admit, he didn’t know
“I’ve never seen the Gnarly Beast..
Where does it sleep, where does it feast?

I have to think this quest has failed
I’m soaking wet and my crew has bailed.
They’ve taken all the food and ‘nip
I’m going in here to have a kip”

He walked inside a cavern’s mouth
He yawned and stretched, then headed south,
But, in the middle of the night
He was woken by an eerie light

The Gnarly Beast was standing near
It sensed his shock, it smelled his fear
He drew his sword and stood up tall…
He didn’t fancy her at all..

She dropped her dinner down her dress
Her red hair was an awful mess
Her conversation made him bored
She couldn’t play the harpsichord…

The Beast drew near, its eyes aflame
With foul breath that could stop a train.
He stared into that ravening maw
And held up a defensive paw…

The Beast struck out, its jaws held wide
And sucked the hapless knight inside
And as into its throat he slid
He thought..”Steve owes me fifty quid…”

He raised his head, all bleary-eyed
And looked around and peered outside.
No talking horse, no beast to battle
Instead the skyline of Seattle.

The clink of plates, the smell of meat
It’s time to find himself a treat.
He knows that, in reality,
“The only ravening beast is me..”

A story to mark the passing of Truffles, a venerable old lady, and Taps, whose life never began…

“Hello, tiny kitten. Who are you?”

The grey cat stopped mid-wash, and lowered her back foot to get a better view of the small, dark creature who had appeared in front of her.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know? You must have a name.”

“If I have, I don’t know what it is.”

“Wait a minute…don’t go anywhere…”

The grey cat closed her eyes for a few moments. When she opened them, she peered closely at the tiny kitten.

“There, it seems you do have a name after all. They gave you one just as you were crossing the bridge. The hoomins named you Taps”

“Really, why would they give me a name?”

“Because they’re hoomins. They’re the best of hoomins too. They wanted to give you an identity, so they would remember you, even though they would never know you”

“I wish I could have met some hoomins. I never had the chance. Did you meet any?”

The grey cat closed her eyes once again, and a slow smile spread across her face.

“Oh yes, I knew hoomins…I lived with two special ones, and six other cats. I was known as the quiet one….every group has a quiet one, right? And, for a long time, I was the only female. That meant I represented my brothers at the Circle, asked questions for them, interceded for them, asked Her to keep them safe and to watch over them…it was I who sang to the Moon for all of us and She was good to us in return. I loved my Sammy and that big, benevolent old carpet, Loki, and I watched with pride as my Preston and Tucker grew into handsome, kind and generous young men.

And then, the kittens came. I was a little upset about that at first. We had our lovely, settled family who all respected me and knew that I liked to watch quietly, away from the noise and activity and now, two rambunctious kittens were brought into our midst unannounced, with no manners whatsoever, crashing around, climbing my cat tree without so much as a please-excuse-me…..but, you know, those two kittens were so pure in spirit, so innocent and so loving that I warmed to them in spite of myself. And they were funny…oh, they made me laugh so much…they were like a fresh breeze blowing through the house. Everyone was rejuvenated by their simplicity and their sense of joy. I came to love them, in my way. I loved to watch Grant and Tucker becoming best buddies (such similar personalities), and I would laugh to myself as gentle, patient Loki sighed, rolled his eyes and made room as young Tory squashed herself into his sleeping box to suck on his fur.

It was a pleasant life. The hoomins moved around our world as if it were their own. They were gentle and kind and they knew exactly how much I liked to have my fur ruffled and to be scritched behind the ears. They kept my pink comb for me and laid out the warm blankies and they allowed me to watch, from across the room, the great hoomin pastime of Hockey, in which many hoomins chase a small mouse around a slippery floor with sticks then, when one hoomin catches the mouse, all the others try to eat him. I later had the great pleasure of teaching the rule of this game to Tory, who is now an avid fan, even though she sits far too close to the screen. She says it is the hoomin version of the mysterious red dot, only more violent. That little lady has wisdom beyond her years.

Of course, my favourite time of the day was crunchy time. It was just a little supper snack, but I would listen – quietly, of course, for the rattle of the biscuits on the tin bowls, and Tory and all the boys would dash to the kitchen and I would follow on, with far more dignity, and all the bowls would be in a row against the wall and we would each have our own and we’d line up….the snacks were lovely, but less important than the feeling of safety and companionship I got when we were all together like that…

So anyway, I have taught young Tory all about the Great Circle and how to sing to the Moon and how to keep the boys in line and she will be my successor and I know she will keep them all as safe as I did. Once her first year had passed and she was old enough to take on the responsibilities, I knew it was time to go. I said my thank you’s and told them I loved them in the only way I knew how and I think they understood…”

The little kitten looked wistful. “It sounds wonderful. I wish I had some hoomins….”

“If you didn’t even get a first chance at life, you will be able to go back very soon. That is how it works. You will find your special hoomin. I know it.”

“What about you? What will you do? Will you go back?”

The grey cat rolled onto her side and, stretching out her legs right down to the toes, yawned languidly.

“I expect so, one day. But, for now, I’m going to rest here. I plan to find a nice sunny spot where I can cook all down one side, then another where I can cook all down the other side and I shall enjoy my memories as I bake. Then, when it gets dark, I will lay on my back and count the stars at the same time as I count my blessings….and you know what I plan to do at crunchy time?”


“I’m gonna have crunchies…”

At the Bridge


“Keep up, slowcoach…we don’t want to miss them”

“But I’m smaller than legs are only little”

Honey sighed and sat down to wait for her small companion. Huffing and puffing, Peter finally caught up and sat down beside her to catch his breath. “Where are we going anyway?”, he asked.

Honey was play-pouncing in the grass, where a tiny moth fluttered just out of her reach. “You’ll know when we get there” she called to him, “Come on!”

The two kittens resumed their journey. Honey trotted in front, her head high, her step full of purpose. She was oblivious to all distractions and, apart from the occasional pause to sniff a flower or to swat at a loose leaf or to chase a butterfly or to laugh at the reflection of her own eyeball in a dewdrop, she remained resolutely focused on her goal. Peter scampered and cantered behind her, filled with anticipation and determined not to fall behind.

Just off the path, a bush rustled loudly and a marmalade kitten shot out in reverse, tail poofed, a daisy in his mouth. “Mfff ghhth…” he said.

“Jean Luc?” said Honey

The marmalade kitten spat out his daisy. “I thought I’d take some flowers with me, you know…to present to him? They fight back, though.”

He left the lone daisy, a little chewed, on the ground and bounced off after Honey. Peter thought for a second, then picked the flower up gently in his teeth before setting off at a run to catch up. After a short time, during which they did not waver from their purpose, apart from a short excursion up a tree, a pause to drink at a small pool, a few moments spent happily splashing each other with water and a comfort break for all three on a patch of soft earth, they came to a small stand of silver birch trees on an area of fresh, spring grass. The intense green was shot through with the gold of the late afternoon sun as it broke through the leaves and made dancing patterns beneath the kittens’ feet. So intent were they, though, on reaching their destination that they hardly spent any time at all darting after the shadows, giggling and seeing who could jump the highest to reach the young leaves on the lowest branches. Peter thought this was the most beautiful place he had ever been. He loved the brightness of the colours and the warmth of the sun on his back and the smell of earth and new grass and the velvety softness under his paws. He could not stay, though. They continued walking until, finally, they broke out of the trees and emerged into the clear space beyond, and Peter drew in his breath at the sight before him.

The soft, springy grass continued to the edge of what appeared to be a deep canyon, dark and mysterious despite the sunshine. In front of him, right against the precipice, the gnarled trunks of two ancient trees twisted and knotted together to form an archway and beyond….was it a road, a path..? No, it was a bridge. A bridge that curved upwards and away from the cliff. A bridge so long that its span seemed to disappear into a silvery mist, which sparkled slightly as it swirled around in the breeze.

Still more magical to the little kitten, though, was the fact that this whole area – right up to the tree arch – was full of cats. He had never seen such a gathering. There were old cats and cats in their prime, long haired cats, short haired cats, curly haired and even hairless cats; cats of every hue and shape and size and many, many kittens. They sat, stood, loafed, stretched, washed, played, chatted and dozed. They purred, murred, mewed, miaowed, chirped, chirrupped, snored and sang. Honey and Jean Luc were already seeking out friends and playing amongst the kitten pack, but Peter was overawed, until a familiar face appeared in front of him and booped his nose.

“Hello, Auntie Sheba” he said, a little relieved.

“How sweet of you to bring a flower” she said, “although I think you should put it down for a while, or it might wilt.” He laid the daisy carefully in front of him. “Did Honey tell you why we’re all here?”

“No…is it a party?”

“Kind of,” said Sheba. “We’re here to greet new friends. They’ll be crossing the bridge tonight, so we need to make them welcome. Do you remember the night you arrived here?” Peter nodded. “Do you remember how you were feeling as you crossed over the bridge?”

“Yes,” he replied. His eyes misted up for a second at the memory. “I was sad because I’d left my mama and brothers behind, and I was scared because I was on my own.”

“Exactly,” said Sheba. “The new cats and kittens who are coming will be feeling the same way. They too will have left behind family and friends and hoomins who loved them and they are feeling very sad and confused right now. So, we come to the bridge to meet them, so they can begin their new journey in the company of friends, just like you did.”

“I don’t remember so many…” said Peter, gazing over the multitude. He recalled his own journey across the bridge, confused and lonely, missing his mother and brothers and his cosy nest. Even though there were other cats making the crossing with him, each of them was focused on their own feelings of loss and their apprehension about what awaited them at their destination. Each of them walked alone through the shimmering mist, eyes fixed straight ahead, lost in their own thoughts. Peter rarely allowed himself to recall that long, sad walk.

He much preferred his next memory, which was of emerging from the mist into a strange land lit by moonlight, a velvet sky scattered with a million jewels, a warm breeze carrying the tang of summer meadows and distant oceans and…a round, fluffy kitten face with huge blue eyes, neat white whiskers and a laugh like the tinkling of a bell…. He remembered his sadness dissolving as the laughing kitten kissed his nose and licked his ear and scampered off to show him where the best climbing trees were and how he could shake the branches of a bush to make a cloud of butterflies emerge…Honey had been his big (and bossy) sister ever since and he adored her.

“Keep your flower safe,” said Sheba “and go and play until it is time. When the sun goes down, the Circle on Earth will meet and sing to the Moon to help our kitties on their way, then we will be ready.”

“Why do they sing?” asked Peter.

“It’s the way of cats. The Circle is the whole community of cats all over the world, and when a cat or kitten reaches the end of its life, the Circle sings to the Moon, so that She will know of their passing and be ready to receive them and so that She will know of how they spent their time on earth, who they loved and who loved them. The song is sung everywhere – beneath the clear skies of the desert, in the land of the Midnight Sun, in the icy dark where the Aurora dances, in the heat and thunder and lightning of the tropics, amongst the noise and grime of the city….everywhere. When the song finishes in one part of the world, it is picked up in another and continued as the Moon makes her way around the Earth. It is an endless circle, like birth, life and death. A life is lost but, somewhere, a new life begins. The song never ends.”

Peter looked over to where Honey and Jean Luc were playing with the other kittens. He had loved listening to Sheba, even if he didn’t understand everything that she said. Instead of joining in with the play, he sat on the cool grass and watched as the clouds turned from white to pink, all the while dreaming of deserts and auroras and thunderstorms. As the sky turned to deep indigo, there was a noticeable shift in the atmosphere. The hubbub ceased, sleeping cats awoke, chatting cats became quiet and there was a ripple of movement as they all formed themselves into a semi circle. The air was alive with anticipation and Peter was almost beside himself with excitement, shifting from foot to foot, eager to know what was going to happen next. Sheba sat down next to him. “Ok, Peter,” she whispered, “back straight – whiskers forward. Here they come.”

The mist on the bridge began to ripple and swirl and shimmer in many different colours, then out of the fog stepped a handsome black kitten. He paused tentatively on the bridge before stepping off onto the grass. Behind him came another young cat, black and white. Jean Luc ran forward to greet him and Peter watched as the two frantically washed and groomed each other, clearly overjoyed to see each other. Now, all around him, cats were walking forward to greet the newcomers as they stepped off the bridge. All the meetings seemed to be reunions of family members or old friends, full of affection and familiarity. Peter wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. There would be no friends or family of his coming tonight – he had looked in on his family earlier that day and they had all been fat and healthy and happy as usual. He looked back at the handsome black boy who had been first across the bridge. He was standing alone, looking sad and confused. Remembering how relieved and safe he had felt the moment he had been greeted by Honey, Peter at last knew why he was there.

A firefly danced in front of his nose. Trying to focus on it made his eyes go crossed, so he eyeballed it with just his right eye. “I pounce you later,” he hissed. “I’m busy right now.”

Peter stood up, straightened his back and stiffened his whiskers then, clutching his daisy, he stepped forward towards the black kitten

On the passing of Peter…

Tonight we sing to the moon

Come to your windows, come out to your gardens, your yards, your balconies, your roofs, and your walls. Put the word out to your families, friends and neighbours. Everybody is welcome, mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, for tonight the Great Circle is coming together to commemorate and celebrate the life of a tiny kitten whose time on earth was too short for Her Ladyship to have named him, but who was called Peter by those hoomins who knew and cherished him.

Welcome, Miranda and Ellie-Marie, Rosemary and Ripley, Laika and Kari, Hazel, Glados and Dory and all of your children, for you have a special connection with this little lost one and his mother. Let us send our thoughts to Janine tonight, to comfort her and to give her strength to nurture the little ones who still need her. We will call her into the circle soon, when the time is right.

Look up and to the left hand of the Lady Moon. There is the group of stars we call The Queen, which is the manifestation of the great she-cat who protects and cares for those who have crossed the bridge. She will have sent an emissary to the end of the bridge to greet the one who is coming, for he should not start this journey alone and friendless. Soon, as the sun goes down and the sky blackens, we will see him arrive and we will name his star and he will twinkle and glitter in the night sky as he plays with his new friends.

And we shall also turn and seek out in the sky the two constellations which our sister Rosemary named and added to our pantheon a year ago. They are the ones named The Father and The Son. We will bow our heads and pay homage to the good, wise and compassionate hoomin for whom The Father is named, for he did his best for Peter and he will continue to do his best for Janine and her boys, and his best is very good indeed. His praises have been sung in The Circle many times before, but tonight we also send our love and our strength, for this is not an easy situation for hoomins to accept.

But first, let us sing to The Moon in praise of little Peter, whose life was so short, but so full of potential. He will live on in his brothers and his mother and in our memories and our hearts. And he will play among the stars and watch over his family and the hoomins who cared for him.

Look – the stars are fully out now and Peter is arriving, to sit beside our little friend Honey and to look down upon his family with love. Janine will understand all of this soon. And, maybe, so will the hoomins. His star is named. He will never be forgotten.

The Cat Owner’s Guide to Gift Wrapping

Well, folks – it’s that time of year again, and I’m sure some of you are less than confident when it comes to producing the perfect looking Christmas present for your loved ones. Well, stop worrying. I’ve been doing it “my way” for years, so I thought I’d share my twelve-step method with you all, with a few extra hints and tips for sharing the task with kittie.

You will need:

A suitable gift, wrapping paper, sticky tape, decorative ribbon, scissors, your beverage of choice, miscellaneous comestibles (chocolate, sticky sweets, toffees, cigarettes), one or more cats.

1. To prepare, light fire, put “Now That’s What I Call Christmas” on the stereo and sit down on the floor. Make sure beverage and comestibles are within easy reach. Smokers – now is the correct time to light up.

2. Unroll a length of wrapping paper. Reach for scissors. Unroll a length of wrapping paper. Unroll it again…repeat until you realise you need to weight it down to stop it rolling up again. Your beverage can be used for this, although the cat will probably volunteer.

3. Cut paper. Make sure the first piece you cut is far too large for your parcel. Trim off the piece the cat has chewed. Remove cat from wrapping paper and replace with gift.

4. Remove cat from gift box. Attempt to bring two ends of wrapping paper together around the gift. This should take approximately twenty minutes, after which time you should realise that the sticky tape is on the other side of the room. Fetch tape. Remove cat from box. Attempt to bring ends of paper together again. This time, you will have the tape close at hand, but the end will be stuck down. Frantically pick at the end of the tape with your fingernail until you manage to free the end. Tear off a piece using your teeth. Remove cat from box. Bring paper ends together again, hold them down with either foot, knee or large vase and jam the sticky tape over the join before it can ping undone again. Remove sticky tape and undo paper. Remove cat from box. Repeat.

5. Take a slurp of beverage. Hydration is important. The tricky bit is coming up.

6. Fold the unstuck ends of paper into points. If you have followed Step (3) correctly, there will be far too much paper to achieve this successfully. Grapple with paper in a futile fashion for approximately 30 minutes, before reaching for scissors and trimming the ends shorter WITHOUT removing the paper from the parcel. Yes, your cat is laughing at you at this point.

7. Repeat Step (6). The paper will now be too small to achieve the desired effect.

8. Have a short cry. Re-balance blood sugar levels by consumption of comestibles. Smokers – this is the point at which you will realise that your wrapping paper has caught fire. Smother the flames, liberally spray air freshener (maybe something with Christmas Spices, to get you in the festive mood) and proceed to step (9).

9. Beat the unstuck ends of paper into submission with fists, head or conveniently located blunt instrument. Select random spare pieces of paper to patch any gaps. Search for tape for approximately ten minutes. Locate it either stuck to the back of your sweater or stuck to the back of the cat. Cocoon the whole parcel in vast quantities of tape. Carefully peel your limbs away from parcel. Solvents should not be required. Use a spatula or strong pallette knife to detach the cat. Ignore the large quantities of cat hair now incorporated into the parcel. This gives it the homely touch.

10. There is no parcel that can’t be improved by a touch of glittery ribbon. Your cat agrees with this. Locate roll of ribbon under the sofa where the cat has swatted it. Unravel a length long enough to go round the parcel twice, remembering to leave enough to tie a bow. Reach for scissors. Note that the length of unravelled ribbon has quadrupled and there is now a cat attached to the end of it. Gently pull the ribbon away from the cat. Retrieve roll of ribbon from kitchen, pick up crockery, fetch dustpan and brush to collect the shards, retrieve cat from ceiling fan. Once again, gently remove ribbon from cat. Now, gently remove cat from face – don’t worry, there’s antiseptic in the bathroom! Tie shredded and mangled remains of ribbon around parcel in two directions and tie in a bow, remembering to clean off excess cat spit. Hint: use remaining ribbon to tie the cat to the leg of the table until you are finished.

11. Well done! You’re almost there! All that remains now is to marvel at how your square gift now resembles a television aerial being struck by lightning. Place under Christmas tree at the bottom of the pile, so no-one can see it. Untie cat and cuddle liberally. Pour yourself a large one, put your feet up and relax, for approximately one year.

12. Oh, and don’t forget to have a good Christmas!

Not related to The Critter Room, this one was written during the last weeks of my mother’s life

Edward and the spider

Edward is my mother’s cat. Now aged 14, he’s never been the most sociable or cuddlesome of cats. He was one of two brothers adopted by my parents, and their history with my family goes back to my mother’s 70th birthday celebration, which took place on a beautiful Thames sailing barge called, curiously, “Hydrogen”, moored on the River Blackwater. The June day was attended by many family members and friends. Dress code for the boat was casual, with flat, sensible shoes.

Well, there’s always one, isn’t there? And, on this occasion, the one was my mother’s friend Sue, who arrived looking like the Queen Mother on an official visit to Ascot, a vision in mint green suit, strappy high heels and an enormous, formal hat. She swept aboard, made herself as look as regal as she could while sat on a storage bin in front of the wheelhouse, and proceeded to put away several gin and tonics from the complimentary bar on board. As she gradually became more and more tipsy, she cornered eight-year-old Joanna and began to regale the child about her cat. Sue’s cat was a pedigree seal-point Birman called Princess Yin-Yang (I kid you not), the queen of a breeding pair whom Sue had acquired when their owner had fallen foul of the local Constabulary and been invited to spend a little time at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Princess Yin-Yang was “with kitten”. Sue was thrilled by this, and you could practically see the pound signs rolling up in her eyes at the prospect of a litter of four or five highly saleable pedigree cats. She happily described to the enthralled Joanna how Princess Yin-Yang would give birth to her kittens on a red velvet cushion, and they would be fed morsels of roasted chicken on tiny forks and sleep on feather beds (she’d had quite a lot of gin and tonics by this time) and how they would have the very best of everything until it was time for them to leave home. At this point, Sue would collect handsomely and spend the resulting dosh on a sumptuous trip to Thailand.

Jump forward to September. Awaiting the birth of her Far Eastern holiday, Sue had prepared a luxurious nest for Princess Yin-Yang, her partner had been banished upstairs (the cat’s partner, not Sue’s) and all was set. One Saturday morning, Sue came downstairs early as usual to see if “it” had happened yet, and the cat was nowhere to be seen. However, she could be heard – purring. In the broom cupboard. Sue opened the door and there, among the brushes, dustpans and bottles of cleaning fluid, lay a blissfully happy Princess Yin-Yang, nursing two brown tabby kittens – the apparent result of a single night of unbridled debauchery in the garden.

Princess Yin-Yang was immediately retired from stud duties in disgrace (and subsequently became a much-loved pet) and Sue lowered her sights a little and enjoyed a week in Italy the following spring. And, the two brown tabby kittens were named Edward and William and went to live with my parents.

The brothers couldn’t have been more different. Edward was a large, marbled tabby with a fantastically soft coat, a permanent, slight scowl and a tendency to be stand-offish. William was a smaller, salt-n-pepper tabby with a cute, kittenish face and a happy-go-lucky disposition. William was most taken with my step-dad, which thrilled him to bits because, as a large man with a tendency to crash about the place, most cats treated him with suspicion, even though he adored them unreservedly. During my stepfather’s final illness, when the end was in sight for him, my mother asked him if there was anyone he would really like to see, expecting him to ask for his son or his sister. He said “just Wills”. So William was brought and he slept on the chair next to my stepdad’s bed until the end. William himself died three years later from congestive heart failure.

So, Edward was my mother’s cat. Aloof and independent, he lived life on his own terms. No purring or ankle rubbing for him, nor chasing after birds in the garden nor catnip mice in the house. No hours spent snuggling on a friendly lap, or curling up on the end of the bed or presenting his belly for rubs. That stuff was for saps.  No, Edward sat apart. My mother and he shared a mutual respect, but rarely any physical affection.

But now, my mother is herself reaching the end of her life. She is no longer the strong, capable woman that she was. She is no longer able to provide Edward with the precisely seven-and-a-half minutes per day of scritches and cuddles that he would permit, nor is she the one filling his bowl with food, then refilling it with snacks, as she used to. Edward’s home is filled with unfamiliar smells and sounds and beseiged by strangers who arrive, don’t introduce themselves, then go. Things are not in the same place any more, there is no more routine and no more certainty. There is, however, a new worst enemy – the wheeled commode which rattles and bumps over the tiled floor, apparently completely out of control, and which sends him scuttling under the sideboard for cover.

I guess it was while under the sideboard that he flushed out the spider. I was alerted to its presence by the sound of my mother’s floor-standing planter being sent flying, followed by the skittering of claws on tile. Round the corner and into the living room came a fleeing house spider pursued at break-neck speed by a swivel-eyed, flat-eared lunatic, with a lashing tail, extended claws and an expression on his face of pure, unadulterated joy. I wish I could say it ended well for the spider. Ed pounced, he retreated, he lined up on target and pounced again. He arched his back and danced around on tippy toes. He floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, before finally mashing the hapless creature into the carpet. He was on an adrenaline high for some while after, rushing aimlessly up and down the passageway and diving under the furniture. That was earlier this evening. When I finally came up to bed, Edward was snuggled on my mother’s bed, leaning up against her leg, purring.

He and my mother do not have much longer together. Do you think he knows?

Holly’s Sleepless Night

In the middle of the night, when the room was quiet and the kittens were slumbering in a heap, Holly’s ear twitched twice, and he opened an eye. “Hal…leave me alone..” he mumbled. There was no answer. He opened his other eye and lifted his head and saw, to his surprise, that his brother was fast asleep. Holly rested his head on his paws and closed his eyes, but found he was unable to go back to sleep. He tried using his brother Jarvis as a pillow, then he tried using his brother Eddie as a pillow then he tried turning round and round to find a more comfortable spot on the blanket. One rotation, two rotations, three…and he suddenly found himself staring, at point blank range, into a pair of blue, saucer eyes. He blinked. Above the eyes there were furry ears. Below the eyes there was a leathery nose and the neat, white whiskers of a kitten – a kitten he had never seen. “Hello” said the kitten. Bewildered, Holly looked over to where his brothers lay asleep. He counted. Hal, Eddie, Jarvis…they were all there. “Who are you? Have you just got here? Did they bring you in a box?” he asked.

Holly heard a sound like a tinkling bell as the new kitten laughed. “No.” she said, “I’ve been here lots of times.” “Why haven’t I ever seen you then?” Holly demanded, but the kitten was off, scampering across the floor in pursuit of a pink soccer ball. “Play with me!” she called, from the other side of the room, and swatted the ball at Holly. Half-heartedly, still a little baffled, he batted it back, but the strange kitten was no longer there to receive it. “Whaaaaa…Chickenfish!” She dived into Chickenfish, paws outstretched, and ran round and round the room with the toy wrapped round her waist like a corset, giggling all the way. Suddenly, she was in front of him again. “Don’t you want to play with me?” she said, sounding a little sad. Holly put his head on one side. “OK, but you’ve got to tell me who you are and what you’re doing here.” “I just want to play.” she said. “Let’s have a game, then I’ll tell you where I come from”.

So, the two kittens played. They rushed around the room, they dived in and out of Fishbed, they swarmed up and down the Tardis, they pounced on the mice, they pounced on each other, they wrestled, bit and bunnykicked and they had a fine old time. All the while, the little kitten giggled and squealed in delight and the room seemed to be filled with the sound of babbling streams and birdsong and the scent of meadows in the summer. And Holly’s brothers slept on, undisturbed. Finally exhausted, the two kittens flopped down in the middle of the floor. The strange kitten began to vigorously wash her paws. “You promised…” said Holly.

She stopped mid lick, back foot still stuck up in the air. “OK”, she said. She stood up and walked towards the window. “Come over here. Look out there, and tell me what you can see.” Holly sat up on his back feet and craned his neck as far as he was able. He had never really noticed the window, nor what lay beyond it before. His whole world up to that point had been the cosy room, his family and games of chase and tag with his brothers among the toys and towers. Stretched up as high as he could go, he saw the expanse of black behind the glass, and the million tiny, sparkling jewels strewn across it. He drew in his breath. “It’s beautiful,” he whispered. “It’s where I live.” said the little kitten. “I’ve waved to you before, but you’ve never noticed me….you’re it!” She whapped him on the nose and bounced off across the room. Unable to resist his exuberant new playmate, Holly gave chase. She was fast and she was agile. She swerved, turned, span and doubled back and, however hard Holly tried, he was unable to catch her. She stopped suddenly and hunkered down flat on the floor, front paws splayed out, claws extended, her tail lashing. Her huge eyes sparkled with joy. “Now I chase you!” she squeaked, and off they both went again..up the towers, through the tubes, crashing side-on into the fences….

”Holly, what are you doing?” his mother’s head appeared above the rim of The Enterprise. He stopped in his tracks and sat down. “We were just playing..” he replied. “We?” Holly looked around and was surprised to find himself alone. The room suddenly seemed very empty and very silent. Holly’s eyes filled with tears. “Where did she go?” he wailed.

Glados hopped down from the tower and sat beside her smallest son. “She went home,” she told him. “That’s all.”

“So you saw her?” Glados nodded. “She said she lived up there…how can she live up there?” asked Holly, gazing through the window.

“Well, you’re probably a little young to understand all this, but we cats believe that we live on earth nine times. There is no way to predict how those lives will be…some may be long, some short, some difficult, and some comfortable. When those lives come to an end, as they all do, we cross over a huge bridge to a happy place full of soft beds, good food and good companions, until our time comes to return to earth once again.”

“Are there games and toys?” asked Holly,

“Yes, there are games and toys too. At night, we can look down on our sons and daughters, and their sons and daughters and see the whole of the earth laid out below us like a huge carpet, and our eyes are visible to those down here as stars in the night sky. Sometimes, earthly lives are cut very short. Nobody knows the reason, it is just the way of things, so some of the stars you see in the sky are the eyes of kittens, no older than yourself. And, as you know only too well, sometimes kittens don’t do what they’re supposed to, and some like to come back to earth to find new friends. This doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a very strong-willed kitten will defy the rules and come down in search of a friend whose will is as strong as theirs, for only the toughest and bravest will be able to see them and not be frightened.”

“I wasn’t frightened” said Holly

“Then you are, indeed, the toughest and bravest of kittens”, said Glados, smiling.

“But I’m sad for her” said Holly, his eyes filling up again. “She never got to play in the rings or in the Tardis or to go to sleep in the Chickenfish or to lay upside down in the big hands and play with the mousies, or…”

“Shhh…” Glados booped his nose. “There’s no need to be sad, little one,” she said, nodding towards the star-filled sky. “Look at how many friends she has up there…” Holly tried to count them, but got lost after five. “…and now she has you, too.”

“Will she come to play again?” Holly began to brighten. “I’m certain she will, sweetheart” said his mother. “Look, she’s saying good night to you.” Against the dark sky, one star sparkled brighter than the others. It shimmered, it glittered, it winked three times, then it faded. “Now, come and lay down with me and get some sleep”.

Holly laid down, his back against his mother’s stomach. She reached round and licked her little boy’s ear, “Goodnight, Holly,” she whispered. As Holly drifted into sleep, he thought he heard the tinkling of a tiny bell in the distance.

“I like Holly,” said the kitten, “we had fun.”

“I told you you would,” said Glados. “and I promised him you’d come again”

“I will.” she said. “Ummm….before I go, can I snuggle with you for a little while?”

Glados reached out with her paw and drew the little kitten towards her until she lay, a warm, purring bundle, tucked against her chest. She licked the little woolly ears affectionately.

“Goodnight, Honey” she whispered, and closed her eyes.

Mafdet’s Journey – How Glados came to the Critter Room

Dark of fur, and golden-eyed, the young she-cat sat, paws tucked under her, dozing lightly in the late afternoon sun against the wall of a suburban house, no more than a shadow amongst the dark green leaves of a garden shrub. It wasn’t her house..she didn’t belong there. She belonged nowhere in particular. As the sun went down, she dreamed…dreamed of a cool, dark space in a hot, hot land far from the place she called home. She dreamed of the same place most evenings and often, as she patrolled her territory in daylight, she looked for it – or somewhere like it – but had never found a place that even remotely resembled it.

The sky darkened and the temperature dropped. The cat shook herself awake, sat up and looked up at the sky. The Moon was still low on the horizon and not yet ready for communication, so she passed the time making her customary greetings to those of her ancestors who were already visible. She located The Great Cat’s Eye and looked across to where Old Tom lay on his back, sleeping away eternity. She loved to look at Old Tom. She imagined him to be a big old red cat, fat and contented, but still wise and kindly, like the old boy she had met behind the seafood restaurant. He had invited her to shelter from the rain and had shared his bowl of fish heads with her and told her all about his youth as a ship’s cat sailing the Caribbean Sea. She hadn’t believed his stories, of course, but she was far too polite to say so to a generous cat who had shared his meal with her. And anyway, the stories were fun. She left Old Tom to his infinite slumber, and scanned across until her eyes alighted on the faint cluster of tiny stars that made up The Kittens. Seven of them. She hoped it wasn’t going to be seven… Finally, she found her favourite constellation, the Diamond Collar. Yes…she would look good in a diamond collar…

By now, the sky was alive and sparkling with the eyes of her myriad ancestors looking down upon the world. It was a significant night for the young cat. The Moon had turned twelve times since her birth and the days had gone from long and balmy to short, cool and wet and back again. Today was the day she left her kittenhood behind forever and she was in need of guidance. She had never been afraid of being alone in the world. The Lady Moon had guided her often and Her wisdom had kept her safe. But now, things had changed. She was no longer going to be alone, and those that were coming would need her protection. The Moon was high now and She was looking the young cat squarely in the face so, glancing quickly around to ensure that she was alone, she began to sing her question. And, on this special night – just as her mother had predicted – The Moon sang back.


She had expected a little more than that, to be honest. However, one did not ask Her Ladyship for guidance only to ignore it once it was given, so she moved herself to the top of a wall where she believed she would be able to hear…whatever it was… a little better. After a while, during which she could hear only the wind and the usual sounds of the hoomin world humming through the night, she rested her head on her paws and drifted into sleep. She felt the heat of a blazing, noon sun on her back and dust beneath her paws and heard the sound of voices and the chink, chink of hammers working rock and a low, low rumble which she couldn’t identify….she jerked awake and lifted her head. The rumbling sound wasn’t part of her dream. It was real, but very faint and very distant. She listened intently, swivelling her ears to catch more of the sound. The rumble resolved itself into the murr of a cat, a long, long way off…and the cat was calling her by name. Startled, she responded, keeping her voice as quiet and low as possible. “Hello..?”.

“Welcome….” said the distant cat, “ The Great Circle”.

It was a thrilling night. She had heard of The Great Circle, of course. Most cats knew of it, though not all were immediately invited to participate. There were many smaller, local networks who preferred to keep themselves to themselves but, in times of crisis or great celebration, all she-cats were welcomed in. She was excited to be able to talk again to her mother and her sister and she heard news of her brothers. She listened while the Circle exchanged news, gossip, information and some surprisingly filthy jokes. Emboldened by her joy at reconnecting with her family, she contributed the story of the rat in the drainpipe and was relieved when they laughed, despite her having messed up the punchline a little. Then, the atmosphere turned more serious and a hush fell over the circle. Each cat was invited to give thanks to Her Ladyship for something or someone who had made their lives a little better during the month (she chose the red tom who had shared his dinner with her) and then many of the sisters gave the names of cats and favoured hoomins who had recently been taken up. They were properly commemorated, and their eyes were identified in the night sky, and named. It was a touching ceremony, and she felt a lump rising in her throat as she listened, even though she did not recognise any of the names. The Circle seemed to break up into smaller groups after that – friends sought out friends, family members got together, and she found herself in conversation with the cat who had first called her name.

“Your name is interesting” the far-off cat said. “Why were you named after an Ancient Egyptian deity?”

“I’ve no idea. There is a naming tradition in my family, going back generations. My mother is named Ubasti, as was her mother before her. My sister is Pakhet and I am Mafdet. Many in our family have had the same names. Where is Ancient Egypt?”

“Ancient Egypt was a hoomin culture in which cats flourished. They were considered sacred and were protected and worshipped. The goddess Mafdet was a slayer of scorpions and snakes. She protected the Pharoah’s palace and she protected the sacred temples, where the hoomins worshipped. She was also a goddess of justice and retribution.”

“I like the sound of her. I often dream that I am in a hot and dusty country and I am catching scorpions and snakes. They try to sting and bite me, but I slay them easily with my claws. Actually, I’ve never seen a snake or a scorpion in my life.”

“Well, you see, we cats have two types of memory. There is the memory you keep in your head, of your life since you were born, of family, friends, enemies, places, favourite meals, best naps…and then there’s the memory you carry in your bones. Those memories are passed down through so many generations that nobody can now remember where they originated. They are the echoes of your ancestors and they tell you who you are and where you came from. They also tell you how to be, how to think and what to do – provided you interpret them right. They are the very core of who you are. There were cats living in the temples of Ancient Egypt, keeping them free of vermin. They were revered and venerated. Maybe you are descended from an ancestor who guarded the halls of Mafdet’s temple”

“How do you know all this?”

“Easy,” said the far-off cat. “My hoomins have this machine. I’ve figured out how it works. Tells me all kinds of stuff…Anyway, have you made a decision as to where you’re going to birth your kittens?”

“I asked The Moon for guidance,” said Mafdet, plaintively, “but she just told me to listen. I don’t know what to do.”

“She told you to listen to us, for no-one can advise you better than your own kind. You have a choice. You can take your chances living wild in the city and hope to find a warm, safe place to raise your family, and hope to find enough food for yourself and them by hunting and scavenging, or you can put your faith in hoomins. Life in the hoomin world can be very easy, very rewarding and very comfortable…if you find the right one, of course. We can guide you, and make sure that you do. You will be safe, warm, well-fed and loved, and so will your babies. I found a happy home in the hoomin world, by putting my faith in one man in particular. If you look up and to the left of The Great Cat’s Eye, you will find a constellation of eleven stars and, near it, another of four stars. I myself named these The Father and The Son as a tribute to the hoomins who saved me and set me on the path to happiness. If you choose to do so, and if The Moon and the fates are smiling on you, you may find the real father and son on earth. Then your future happiness will be assured. However, it is up to you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my daughter has recently joined The Circle, and I am anxious to talk to her before the sun rises. Think carefully, young Mafdet, and choose wisely.”

“Wait…” said Mafdet. “You never told me what you dream about, and I don’t know what your name is..”

“I have filled my head with many things since I was your age, so my dreams are often full of calculations and machine designs and star charts. But…sometimes, I see a dark forest in a northern land, with a cold, running stream from which I am drinking…” she tailed off and was silent for a while, before she shook herself out of her reverie. “I go by the name the hoomins gave me these days, because it is who I am. It’s a warm and friendly name and I like the way it sounds when my people speak it. I am Rosemary.”

The two cats bade each other good night, and Mafdet jumped down from the wall and once again took up her position amongst the plants next to the house. Her head was buzzing with the excitement of the night but, as the dawn came up, she began to doze…

She was walking through a cool, dark space…on either side of her, great columns rose, columns covered with intricate, carved patterns. There was a fine dust beneath her paws. On her lips, the taste of a recently consumed rat. She walked on, past a tall plinth on which stood a gleaming, black effigy of a handsome, fine-boned cat. Suddenly, the cool hall was behind her and she was outside in heat and blazing sunlight. All around her were hoomins, shouting, laughing, chipping at slabs of rock with tools, carrying bundles, cooking over small fires. As she walked on, every hoomin she passed bent down to stroke her head, or tickle her chin, some even lifted her up and spoke to her with affection in their voices. One offered her a small fish from his cooking pot, which she did not refuse. She came upon a small, clear pool and, bending her head to drink, she saw her reflection for the first time…a slim, long-limbed cat with large ears and fine, high cheekbones. Her coat was black and glossy and shot through with silver. Her almond-shaped eyes were the colour of the sun and…yes, she wore a diamond collar.

Mafdet awoke suddenly to the realisation that the sun was sinking once again, and that she had slept through the whole day without eating. It was hunger that had woken her up. She stretched and emerged from her hiding place, to find herself face to face with an unknown tabby cat.

“The Circle sent me to find you.” said the tabby. “Have you reached a decision?”

Mafdet smiled. “Yes,” she said. “I know now where I belong.”

“In that case…” said the tabby, “…follow me. Your journey home is about to begin.”