We called him Compo. His real name was Peter but as we already had one of those in the shop, we needed to differentiate him from the other, who was rapidly falling out of favour with us. We knew he was retired and he had an air of “old man” or more accurately “old woman” about him – he was a chatterbox, would keep you talking for up to an hour or two at a time, in a busy shop, as luck would have it, normally at the busiest time.
He looked a bit like Compo from Last of the Summer Wine. It was an affectionate nickname that stuck and we were very careful not to say it to his face.
He was small and slim and dressed casually, always neat and clean. Over time I got to know him, got past the “oh my god its Compo again, here we go” and got to value him for the insight he had. He never talked much about himself, just the animals. He knew so much about wild creatures.
He had a cat and when his cat Tinker, went missing, I had a big printer and was pressed into service, printing posters and leaflets for him. He went everywhere, talked to everyone and soon there were very few people in the neighbourhood who didn’t know about Tinker and didn’t know Peter.
Tinker had gone missing late one night. Peter had got into the car at 2am, as was his nightly ritual, to feed the foxes on Clapham Common. Tinker had sat in the driveway, watching him go and Peter had had an odd, nervous feeling.
Totally immune to bullshit, he passed it off as a fancy, and drove on. His guilt when he got home and Tinker was not waiting for him, increased as it became clear that Tinker was nowhere to be found. Tinker was, along with the wild animals he fed and cared for, his whole world and he grew morose at the possibility that his companion had come to harm.
He was approached in the supermarket whilst putting up fliers by a woman whose husband was a psychic. Would he pay for a reading? She was sure her husband could help. A cynic by nature, Compo went anyway and was distraught to be told that Tinker had been abducted and was dead.
In emotional pain, he came back to the shop to tell us. M and I refused to believe it. Going out on a limb, we both said we were sure Tinker was alive. Hearts in mouth, we both felt it but did not want to give him false hope. We were sure the psychic was a charlatan.
Weeks passed and Compo worked methodically. Two streets around his home became three, became four. When he had put a flier up in every postbox within a mile radius of his home and posted on lampposts in the same area at regular intervals, he started again. Eight weeks went by and he lost hope, gained it in an instance and lost it again. He went to every single callout and sometimes they came in at two or three a day.
He spared no effort whilst inwardly he grieved. He asked us how to keep going when life seemed so empty without his Tinker. We encouraged him, scared that we were continuing to feed his trauma when instead perhaps we should accept his cat was dead, but knowing that he would most likely top himself if he gave up.
I had never seen someone work so hard to get their beloved pet back.
Every day he came into the shop and reported back. He still kept up his routine of feeding the wildlife, the squirrels and the birds and the foxes. Sometimes, his interactions with them were enough to keep him going. Sometimes they were not and he got very down.
He kept referring back to the blasted psychic and by now, eight weeks along, M and I were wondering if we had got it wrong. We had not been wrong before and this was not the time for us to be wrong now. We worried and fretted about what to do. We decided to remain resolute.
Compo heartbreakingly said one day “I know my time is limited and I got my boy at the right time, as I know he will be my last cat and I didn’t want to leave a cat behind when I went. He’s five now, nearly six, too late for me to get another. I’ll never be able to replace him.”
The thought of Compo sitting for 10/ 15 years on his own spurred me on. In the middle of wedding preparations, up to my ears in lists and drama and work I persuaded him to have one more go. I sat up night after night printing flyers, thousands of them.
Tinker’s sweet little face stared up at me as I railed against my own limitations. I did card readings, journeying, you name it, I tried it but nothing came through.
At the same time, M persuaded him to try one more thing. She knew of someone who did readings from photographs, normally of rescue animals with behavioural problems, so new owners could have an insight into what had gone on and have a bit of help in trying to fix the past.
She had a rock solid reputation and when she couldn’t help, she said so. M wondered if she could help. Compo went for it and 15 quid was mailed to the lady, along with several photos of Tinker.
The reply came back – “your cat is alive, he is being looked after by a lovely lady about two miles from you. I am not sure what happened, but he is quite far from you and I don’t think he got there on his own.”
She went on to describe the concrete wall around the house, its curve up a driveway and the exterior of the front of the house. We redoubled our efforts, me printing like a demon and Compo spending his days putting fliers in the second mile radius around his home. We waited and nothing happened. He continued, pushing the boundaries just out of those two miles.
The calls started to come in again. A lady called. She had been looking after a cat for a few weeks. The cat was in her garden and was timid and would not approach but would wolf down the food she set out for him/her. She described the cat. It sounded just like Tinker. But so had all the other calls.
Compo had a feeling though. She sounded nice. He wondered. He agreed to go round at the time she normally saw the cat.
He went off and got Tinker’s favourite treat – prawns from the supermarket. He drove over to the house.
When he saw the concrete wall and the way it curved up into the driveway, he knew. The lovely lady in the house said that she had not seen him yet. She and Compo went out into the garden and Compo called him. A very frightened bundle of fur came belting out of the bushes towards him and into his arms. Tinker and Compo were reunited at last.
I went up to meet Tinker a few months after that. Wedding over, and heartbreak already winging its way to me in the form of infidelity and my father’s death, I snuck some time to see him. Compo made me tea and showed me his garden, with all his dead pets. Everyone had a gravestone. He said “I want to be buried here with them, you know.”
He had come out with food and whistled. The next moment, we were surrounded by squirrels and birds, who knew what that whistle meant. Like a latter day St Francis, Compo was in his element, caring for the animals he felt for so much. I was amazed at the lack of timidity. The squirrels and birds would not come near me, but they surrounded him and he chuckled. I had not heard him laugh so freely before and we laughed together before I made my way home.
I saw Compo fairly often on the street after that. He grew a beard, which took 10 years off him and in the summer he sported a tan, which made him look like a salty sea captain. Ever active, he was still trotting up and down the hill to the supermarket. In time, he persuaded the other Peter to give him one of his cats and Muffin joined Tinks, giving Compo a family of two.
Tinker then suffered from awful digestive problems and Compo was struggling to keep him healthy. But over time, he got Tink’s diet right and he started to thrive again.
Compo could not thank M and I enough for our help and he remembered us every Christmas, right up until the last one. We wondered about that but not for long because the other Peter, the one I mentioned at the start of this story, had died and Compo had gotten in touch. I won’t go into the other much Peter here, suffice to say that Compo was everything Peter pretended to be and was not.
Peter’s cats were elderly and in bad shape and Compo was doing his best to rehome them. With long-established links with every cat and wildlife sanctuary, he was still struggling. We didn’t hear the end of the story however and were waiting for news. Compo and his friend Ron were doing their best to clear Peter’s flat, not an easy job when the place was covered in cat excreta (I can, now that he is dead, explain that Peter was the cat collector I have referred to previously on this blog).
M and I declined to go to Peter’s funeral – we could not stand there and mourn someone who had caused such harm.
H called the other day. Compo was in hospital. He had no other news. But he was in the Royal Marsden which was not a good sign. M and I worried. Ron was taking care of Compo’s cats in the short term.
H called back today. For two years Compo’s doctor had told him he was suffering from indigestion, until he could not longer eat. Instead he has inoperable stomach cancer.
When I hear stories like this, not the first or second or third or fourth time, I want to round up and shoot every single one of our local doctors.
He has no family we know of. Ron was continuing to take care of the cats and had cleaned Peter’s flat up, waiting for him to come home.
Except Compo won’t be coming home. In one of those awful fucking twists of fate, a good, good man is now lying, waiting for a hospice space, away from his beloved cats, knowing he is going to die.
The conversation we had all those years ago came back to me today – “Tinker was to be my last cat, so I didn’t leave any behind to face an uncertain future“.
Compo will know full well that his cats will be hard to home. They are nearly 14 and around 8 now, with Tinker having special dietary needs. I dread having to find them homes. I am full and can’t take them in. I don’t know anyone who could or who would.
Next week, we are going to see him. A true near-saint, who got on far better with animals than he ever did with people, who was beloved by the animals he looked after and cared for. I don’t know what to say to him or how to reassure him, I will just be praying for a miracle that includes a lovely person and a great home.