Copyright 2007, Sarah Hartwell

Many, many years ago in my student days, I dated a fellow student in my home town. Back then, Anglia Ruskin University was The Chelmer Institute of Higher Education and didn't have the campus or halls of residence that are now a familiar part of Chelmsford. I was taking Law and Economics and my date was an electronics student sponsored by RHP Bearings (coincidentally the University campus is on the site of the old RHP factory). He lodged in a house in Old Springfield where his landlady was a large woman in her 50s whom her lodgers nicknamed "Mother".

"Mother" owned a big tabby cat that was only allowed indoors when someone could keep an eye on her. This maladjusted moggy, whose name I don't recollect, was renowned for being "an evil b'stard", constantly fighting other cats, none-too-friendly with people and harbouring an unhealthy interest in Mother's beloved blue budgie, Joey, who lived in a cage in the kitchen. Nevertheless Mother loved her cat and it had a blanket in the disused coal bunker between the kitchen and the tool shed (the latter having once been a privy).

One New Year's Eve, my date and I were getting ready to go to a New Year Party at the Students' Union. Mother and her husband had already gone away to babysit their grandchildren while daughter and son-in-law went to a party. Being the only lodger in the house over New Year (thanks to a lack of money for the train journey to Newcastle, in turn due to rerouting of the "train fund" into the "beer fund"), my date was instructed to make sure the cat was put outside when he went out because the evil b'stard had been eyeing up Joey all day and would get him for certain if left unsupervised.

So there we were at 8 p.m. dressed in our party clothes and ready to roll. My parents had given me the taxi fare because they didn't want us wandering round late at night so we were just waiting for the minicab to fetch us. In the meantime, my date switched off the various lights and put the evil b'stard out the back door.

The taxi duly arrived outside the house and the driver parped his horn. The moment we opened the front door, the evil b'stard shot between our legs and into the house. This was not an acceptable state of affairs due to the cat's designs on Mother's budgie. I went out to the minicab while my date raced back into the house in search of the cat.

"Make a suitable excuse!" he said, knowing taxis were hard to book on New Year's Eve and the driver would be keen to get to his next fare and would not want to be kept waiting.

"My boyfriend's just going upstairs to say goodbye to his mother," I said sweetly as I climbed into the minicab, "He won't be a minute."

Minutes passed and the driver began to fidget impatiently, "Is he going to be much longer?"

"She's not been very well, so he probably just wants to make sure she's okay," I said in placatory tones.

A few more minutes passed before my date emerged triumphantly from the house and got in the taxi beside me. His once neatly combed hair now looked dishevelled and he had some nasty scratches on the back of his hand.

"Everything okay?" asked the driver in long-suffering tones.

"Sorry about that," said my date in his Newcastle accent, "The evil b'stard was hiding under my bed. I had to poke her with a coat hanger to get her to come out. I had to grab her by the neck when she tried to leg it into Mother's bedroom ...."

At this point I began to cringe and the driver began to glare, my date's description not consistent with my excuse about his sick mother.

"... then I had to wrap the old b'stard in a towel to stop her scratching me ..." he said, flaunting the bleeding cut on his hand, ".... But it's okay, I wrestled her out the backdoor and left her in the back garden. She was spitting blue murder, I can tell you!"

At that point, the driver narrowly missed hitting a parked car. The rest of the journey was undertaken in silence.