Felix joined us in the spring of 2001. I’d seen her eating the foxes’ dinner in the garden, a sturdy, solid black and white cat with the most adorable markings – it looked like God had painted a line across both legs. When she stood up, the slash of black met exactly where her legs separated.
I knew very little of her story except she was an obvious stray. Her head green from the moss she used to sleep in under my lilac tree, she avoided the cats I had and me and only really emerged at fox dinner time. Somewhere I have a marvellous piece of video, of Felix and Mommi Fox, eating together, their heads in the plate side by side.
Dad came over in the autumn of 2002 and called her the Pain Cat as it was clear she wanted to move in. The previous winter, she had slept on the top shelf of my conservatory, snuggled away, catching the late sun’s rays for warmth and it appeared she hoped I would not notice her. She wasn’t particuarly keen on making friends.
I couldn’t let her see out another cold winter sleeping on a box on a shelf so gradually started to entice her indoors. Surprisingly, she didn’t need a lot of coaxing and was quite prepared for my lot, who gave her a bit of a hard time. It was before the days of the boys and Guin being used to strange cats in the house and a fair amount of hissyspittythatsMYcouchGERROF went on for a few days. She gave as good as she got and soon settled in. My Dad, on hearing me explain that I now had a fourth cat, sighed and said “I told you he’d do it”.
He had to be revised to “she” and Felix became Felicia at her first vet visit :). It never caught on though and she was quite happy to be called Fee or Felix or Feefihunnybum.
As she was used to being outdoors, she was the first cat I let out in the morning and called for at night and she was as regular as clockwork. Until a year later when she didn’t come home. The next day, I went around the neighbourhood, dropping flyers in people’s posboxes and putting posters up. I went around to the allotments to ask if they had seen her and was greeted by “oh, you’re the lady who took her in. We thought someone had, as she is looking so much better”. I then got to hear some of her story:
She had been abandoned by a family (the only desription I have is that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses) who lived on the other side of the allotments, and subsequently looked after by an old man called Frank, who had held his allotment for many years, through the war, through raising a family and having them fly the nest and through his wife dying. He was lonely, he saw Felix hunting amongst the plots one night, where she had up until then been an infrequent visitor and recognising loneliness, realised what had happened.
He started feeding her and she became his muse and his love. Every day, he would walk around to the allotments and she would be there to greet him. He’d made a cup of coffee on his stove and she would sit on his knee and have great conversations with him, him with his soothing words and well-worn hands and she with her bright eyes and face and great purr.
Soon she was adopted into the life there, with good people who always kept an eye out for her. She retained her hunting skills, she was loved and wanted as much for her ratting as her lovely personality and she started walking around looking at everyone’s plots, as if inspecting them.
She only ever once blotted her copybook, when she was found fast asleep on someone’s prize shallots and they only once blotted hers, when she came too close to inspect a hole that was being dug and got accidentally clipped over the head with a spade.
When meetings were held, she would join everyone in the hall, sitting on Frank’s knee or on a chair next to him. When a bonfire lit up the autumn sky, she would be found near to it, her eyes tigerish in the flames.
She had an idyllic life for a cat – in winter she would sleep in the warmth of one of the number of compost piles, in the summer, on newly turned over beds. She and Frank spent many hours together in the Springs, planning what they would plant and she would dance around the flowers in the summer, as if admiring them.
When competition time came around, she’d escort the judges onto every plot, as if introducing each one to them.
One day, Frank died. I am not sure whether he died at home or died on the allotments but suddenly there was no one to care for her, no lap to sit on, no planning to do, no conversation to be had. Only Felix, bereft all over again, sitting by herself in the sun, as if unsure of her reception now that he had gone.
The allotment holders fretted over what to do. Whilst fretting, they stroked her, cuddled her, tried to make her feel welcome. Soon she settled back into her routine, but a little quieter and with some of the happy light gone out of her eyes.
A year passed and then another, whilst everyone debated and agreed that she loved the allotments and it would be cruel to take her away from them. None of the group who lived around the edges of it could take her, having their own cats who would not appreciate an interloper or having allergies. However she seemed healthy and happy so the situation was left.
Time moved on and as the seasons rolled into winter, she started getting thinner and older and concern rose again. No-one wanted to see her going to a rescue and going into a cage in the hope that she might find a nice home with someone who wanted an older cat.
She was as free as a bird on the plots. But she needed something more than another set of winters where the ground and water would freeze and the winds would make a fully clothed person shiver.
Just at the point where she was looking a bit too thin and a bit too ragged and the decision all but made to call up a rescue, she started looking better and there was a great relief felt. Unbeknown to them, she had moved in with us. As time went on, she spent her days on the allotments but disappeared at night and one day someone heard me calling “Feeeeeliiiiiix Fooodeeees” and she bounced up and away and the mystery was solved.
The whole time the story was being told, in bits and pieces by the people gathered around me, my “missing” cat was sitting on a shed roof in the sun, eating a rat and looking rather pleased with herself. I told her to come in for dinner and in she duly came, eating a full dinner despite her rat snack.
Not however before I had taken several phone calls from people who had missing black and white cats and picked up a note put through my door to call the Working Mens’ Club, which was on the far corner of the allotments, near the main road.
Confusion reigned as I wasn’t sure why I was calling them and also when I realised that the person I was speaking to knew me. I had put my address on the poster and it had been recognised. The person I was calling said “that isn’t Len Roger’s granddaughter is it? I heard you had bought the house off his family.”
Indeed it was me and the person I was speaking to had been a great friend of my step-Grandfather’s and taken a lot of time and trouble to visit him in his last years. He told me not to worry about Felix – he had seen her that morning at breakfast. Apparently, she would leave mine, go across to the Working Mens’ Club, have bacon and eggs there with some of the allotment holders and then go over to the plots for the day.
The plot holders were so pleased she had a home and one in which she could still be a part of the allotments. I, seeing what a lovely place it was asked about a plot but unfortunately there was a huge waiting list.
Several years later, I got one. I rather imagine Felix had a fair amount to do with it.
Felix, with both her worlds merging, was ecstatic and the moment I set foot on the ground would come running towards me, greeting me loudly and lead me to my plot. We had a schedule. I’d put a chair and table out and open my flask of tea and she would sit on my lap whilst I drank it, drinking the dregs once cool.
I’d work, she’d inspect and then we would take a break together. I had the allotment from 2004 until 2012 and we spent many hours together there.
There was the day she came proudly out of the long grass to show me her catch which was massive. I’m not sure whether it was a rat or not because it was huge and because there were bits missing but I shooed her away (I am fond of rats) and she re-emerged some time later, her mouth ringed with grey fur, to jump up and give me a kiss.
For both of us, it was time away from home and the other cats, where she got undivided attention and love. Its fair to say Felix blossomed. I wasn’t sure how old she was but put her age as around the same as the boys, who were 6 when I started the plot.
Time moved on, Oscar came to live with us and many a scrap was had over the allotment territory. They got on okayish at home but he had to stay well away from her on the plots or else there was hell to pay.
Gradually though, he won more and more of the territory and they would glower at each other, from the borders of it, with the path running between the plots a “nocatsland”.
Felix and Oscar were curled up on the sofa.
Felix looked like she was laughing at Oscar, who was greatly perturbed but welcoming of the cuddle.
Felix disgraced herself a few times over the years. She loved catnip and I successfully grew a whole lot one year before she trashed it all in one day, coming in high as a kite and warbling.
I underestimated what an idyllic life we had in those days. My health was better, I was still able to dig and plant and we worked hard the two of us – her ratting and me hoeing; watching the sun go down after a long day and then I would walk the long way around and she would jump over the fence and be there to greet me as I got home.
The winter after my father died and my husband left was hard. It was cold, unforgiving and the tears I wept over both thawed the frost-laden ground. Felix was a great comforter. The allotment folk, recognising pain when they saw it, gave me space as I railed against an unfair world, digging and snivelling. Felix did no such thing, sticking by my side like glue.
Keeping me cheered at home was a little robin who would follow me around the garden, chirping as if he was talking to me. He had a mate, a little brown robin who was more reticent, but who dutifully followed him, a few hops behind, as he followed me.
In the Spring, one day whilst I was washing up, Felix walked into the kitchen and proudly deposited his body onto my bare feet and was most perturbed as to why I was upset when she clearly had brought me a present.
I stood there with the poor bird still on my feet and realised that snotty shouting wasn’t going to change anything and was jst confusing the hell out of her. From a cat’s point of view, she had seen me near him all winter, unable to “catch” him, so did it for me.
In a calmer voice, I told her what a good cat she was and congratulated her and asked her to take it outside. This she did, neatly picking the poor bird up off my feet and noisily eating it outside.
After I left the allotments, she visited there less and less and occasionally I would get a call asking if she was okay. She was clearly ageing, but gracefully so, her years living rough and her muscle tone helping.
She is the only cat I have ever known who would nestle next to me without going through the whole settling down, tamping away period. She would snuggle up, my arm would go around her and she would lie down, with no fuss, purring away.
My kitchen tap downstairs is partially kaput and only gives out warm water. Soon she was asking for warm water upstairs too. It had to be a particular temperature (baby bottle warm, tested with my elbow, the way I used to test my brother’s and sister’s bottles) otherwise she’d sniff, sit back down, indicate her disapproval with a meow and we’d be asked to do it again. Of course, we did.
Felix had a particular fondness for men and whilst she would cuddle up to me, in the main, it was men who visited who got most of her attention. She even preferred male cats, apart from Jaggie, with whom, up until today, she was still capable of and willing to, exchange words, paws and spit with.
She loved the luxury of a warm bed, even better when there were human water bottles in it.
The flash of black across her paws is just evident in this photo as is her gorgeous, lush tummy fur which enticed you until you got four sets of claws around your hand for your trouble.
It was only on talking four years ago to two ladies who live down the road from me, who are also longtime allotment holders that the first clue as to Felix’s actual age came about.
I had always asssumed that Frank had died only a year or two before Felix came to live with me. I knew she had been left as an adult and had been spayed, so had calculated backwards to estimate that she had been about 1 when dumped and a few years with Frank meant 3-5 when she came to stay with us.
As it turned out, that calculation was all wrong. Frank had died several years previous to her coming to live with me and she and he had spent several years together. At the time of the conversation, I had to add 6 years to her age.
Also, no-one was sure exactly how old she was when she was dumped. I was flabbergasted. It had only been in the previous year that she had shown any signs of ageing at all. I basically had an at least nineteen year old cat who looked 12/14.
In all that time, she had been ill only once. So when we took her to the vet the other day, she was less than impressed. When she went back for a checkup, she was even less than impressed with any of us.
The vet remarked on how lively she was despite having no really discernible kidneys and so thin. She growled at him in a voice that she had only previously reserved for Jaggie-in-a-snit.
The last few weeks have been trying to strike a balance between letting her do her own thing and keeping her safe. She went outside this weekend briefly both days, shepherded by Merlin.
Last night I took her outside where she would be more comfortable and watched over her whilst she slept in the grass.
Whilst she has had an incredibly happy life, the loss of her is tremendous.
She made a space for herself in a home which was full of CatsAmongstCats; she challenged Oscar for years until she gracefully conceded her territory to live closer to home, she loved Mommi Fox, who would share her dinner with Felix and tolerated the foxes who came after her.
Even last night, she tried to get up to watch the cubs as they came over for dinner, giving up when her left paw just wouldn’t get up with her, her face pointed in their direction as they enjoyed their noms.
Choosing when to put a cat to sleep is probably the hardest decision I will ever make. I still think I should have given Guin a day or so to give her the chance to recover and I still think I should have let Arthur go a day sooner.
It’s never perfect and I prayed my ass off last night that Bast would just take her whilst we were outside, to avoid me having to do this again, for the third time in six months.
Such a selfish thought amongst so many memories, but in truth, I did not want to put her through the trauma of a carrier, the vets, another cat put to death whilst her love for her life shone through her eyes, even as her body was giving up.
I guess in the end, all I have to say is this:
“Frank, I’ve taken care of and adored your beautiful girl for thirteen years. In return, she has given me love and cuddles and care, dead robins on my feet and rat kisses. I think that’s a fair exchange.
You’ve got her back now and whilst I am bereft, it’s a lovely thing to think that she might be sitting right now on your knee, as you drink your coffee and talk to her about the flowers you’ve planted. Take good care of her, because she is precious and she is mine as much as she is yours and I’ll be coming to claim her again, bringing my flask of tea with me and we can watch the sun go down, together, as she brings us her newest find and decides on whose lap she wants to sit today.”
Run free beautiful girl, you are so loved and will be missed beyond measure.