(1) Enter the Terminator
Sid appears, uninvited and unexpected, one Tuesday evening in August. It is one of those sultry, breathless summer days when we leave open the doors and windows, retreating to the relative cool of the north-facing living room to drink beer and dream wistfully of winter’s chill. EastEnders is playing out on the box, Phil Mitchell contemplating once again the merits of thrusting Ian Beale’s head down the toilet when, from the hallway, Sid proclaims his presence. “Hello, I’m your neighbour. We haven’t met, but I’m yours to adore. A saucer of milk will constitute necessary but not sufficient proof of adoration.”
I haul myself out of the armchair to investigate. The cat stands on the threshold of the living room, gazing up at me. He is unafraid but alert. He knows he’s taking a chance, strolling into a strange house and making unreasonable demands of the occupants. But he is young and handsome, a black and white shorthair wearing a natty red collar, as dapper as a card sharp at the opera. This cat’s got it and he flaunts it, confident of his power over mere mortals.
Our eyes meet, his so hugely green that I can’t turn away. I am helpless in his thrall. At last, knowing that victory is his, he turns towards the kitchen. “So, what about my milk then?” he demands, tail receding in the direction of the fridge. Like a slave bound to his master, I search out a saucer and do my duty.
I place the saucer outside the back door. He laps vigorously, focussed on the task in hand. Finally, when he is sated and the saucer licked clean, he stands, turns and strolls nonchalantly away. As he reaches the fence he glances over his shoulder. “I’ll be back”, he promises, in the manner of The Terminator.
Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond has entered our lives.
(2) The naming of cats
The next evening the cat is back. The back door is open; it leads directly into the utility room, where the washing machine, freezers, tumble drier and broom cupboard jostle for space. Mrs P has tossed a cardigan on the worktop above the washing machine, ready for the weekend wash. Mid-evening I go out to the freezer in search of ice cream and find our feline friend curled up on the cardigan. “Hello beautiful” I say to him as I fondle his ears, and he begins to purr. It is, without doubt, the loudest purr I have ever heard, the sort of purr that rattles windows.
I call Mrs P and together we admire the visitor. “I suppose you’ll be wanting milk again?” I ask and, if it is possible, the purr gets even louder. He doesn’t just purr, he buzzes and throbs like a turbocharged chainsaw. When he’s feeling really happy about something the borough council’s Environmental Protection Officer reaches for the Noise Abatement Regulations. This is not simply a cat, rather he is a force of nature
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a visiting cat twice seeking sustenance in a stranger’s house must be in want of adoption. We give him his treat, which he enjoys greedily. It is like a contract between us; he is our adopted cat, we are his adoptive mugs.
As we are now in a relationship we agree that our practice of referring to the visitor as “that cat” no longer seems quite right. Mrs P tells me about Six Dinner Sid, the title character of a series of children’s picture books by Inga Moore. Six Dinner Sid is a cat who blags half a dozen meals a day from six different houses; we suspect our newly adopted friend of similar infidelities, so the name sticks. But it gets me thinking also about Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond, a loveable rogue played by Sid James in Carry On Up the Khyber.
So it is decided: to his mates on the estate our cat is plain old Sid, but when he sets out to impress he’s Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond, a friendly soul untroubled by excessive modesty or personal restraint.
(3) Paws on the worktop
Soon a pattern is established. The cardigan has been washed, so Mrs P finds a piece of faux sheepskin that once lined the rabbit’s carrying case and leaves it on the utility room worktop. This becomes Sid’s bed and most evenings he can be found on it, curled tightly with tail wrapped around his nose to protect him from draughts both real and imagined. Like a prim and virginal girlfriend he never stays the night, but leaves around 10pm, disappearing into the darkness in search of pastures new.
Actually, he’s not as proper as he likes to make out. In fact, if I’m honest, he’s a bit of a tart who would happily stay until breakfast if we let him. But we tell him he’s got to go home to his mum and dad, and we give him a saucer of milk to teach him that virtue brings material rewards as well as spiritual comfort.
But soon he’s calling for breakfast anyway. When we stagger into the kitchen shortly after 7am there he is, peering through the kitchen window, a feat he achieves by standing on the garden seat that is situated directly beneath it, so that just his head is visible. Occasionally he excels himself and can be found sitting on the windowsill, making absolutely sure that he’s the centre of attention.
In fact, whenever he’s around he’s always the centre of attention. We spend a lot time in the kitchen and Sid likes to be there with us, where the action is. He is needy and talkative, always wanting be made a fuss of, to have this ears fondled or his forehead rubbed. But he has a sneaky side to his character. One day Mrs P grates some cheese to have with jacket potatoes. She turns her head for a second, and in that instant Sid leaps onto the worktop and starts wolfing it down. Mrs P shouts at him angrily, but he is epitome of martyred innocence. “And your problem is …?” Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond asks as he calmly returns to his Cheddar.
(4) All things must pass
Sid has become part of our lives. It’s almost like having our own cat without all the tiresome business of litter trays and vet’s bills. We even start fantasising about Christmas. We’ve never got into the habit of feeding him – he’s not our cat, after all – but if the rabbit’s getting Brussels sprouts for his Christmas dinner surely we can treat Sid to some nice, crisp turkey skin? Maybe we’ll buy a toy too, a clockwork mouse perhaps, to amuse him while we’re too busy cooking to entertain him in the manner that he has come to expect.
And then, one day, Sid doesn’t come. We assume he’s been kept in for bad behaviour, which is entirely believable from what we know of him. The next day he doesn’t come either, and we begin to worry. Is he poorly? Has he moved away? Is he dead? Every day we hope that he will suddenly appear at the window, demanding entry and the opportunity to tell us about his adventures. But he never does. I check the local Cats Protection and RSPCA websites daily in case he has been put up for adoption, but to no avail. Sid has left our life as mysteriously as he entered it. We never see him again.
But his spirit lives on. Mrs P and I speak about him daily. We miss him terribly, and although we know we can never replace him we agree that it would be great to have another cat in our lives. As full-time professionals we have always shied away from having a cat as we wouldn’t be able to spend enough time with it. Now, however, retirement beckons. When I stand at the open window in the morning and breathe deeply I can almost smell my pension. Soon, in a matter of months, my working life will be over. Mrs P will retire at the same time, and there will be time aplenty for us to get to know and love a cat of our own.
Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond has gone, but his legacy lives on. Somewhere out there is a cat who will soon be in need of new home, in need of a loving family who will fondle his ears, give him treats on demand and not tell him off too sternly if he pinches some grated cheese. Thanks to Sid, who reminded us of the joy that his kind can bring, that cat will come to live with us.