Copyright 1992, Sarah Hartwell

The car handbook says to check Petrol, Oil, Water, Electrics and Rubber hoses before setting off. It says nothing about checking for cats. Affy has this thing about cars. She loves them If there are any car-manufacturers reading this, please take note: cars are mobile sunlounges, designed entirely for the comfort of solar-powered cats. For a start she is addicted to car tyres; she nuzzles them, mews at them, chews them and when they fail to respond she charges them head-on. Many puzzled people have gone to their cars in the morning to find lumps of chewed rubber and a dazed cat sitting by one of the tyres, having charged head-on into it.

She adores doing the checklist. Tail in the battery acid and nose against the oil dipstick, she experimentally taps the spark plug leads and bites the rubber hoses. I bet not many VW mechanics are called out to dismantle an engine and extricate a blissfully happy cat from the depths of the engine where she is investigating some esoteric component. Vorrsprung purrs technik. And yes, I know thereís ginger cat fur in the air filter. If you look closely youíll find thereís a whole cat in there ... somewhere.

Going out is a hazard when you have a car-crazy feline. If she sees me carrying car keys, she takes up position by the garage door. Once the car door is open sheís on the parcel shelf, nose pressed against the back windscreen waiting for the funny black thing that comes out in wet weather to start moving so she can watch it move hypnotically to and fro.

On sunny days I leave the car on the drive with the windows open - that way I know that Miss Vorrsprung purrs technik is in OUR car, not anyone elseís. She stretches out on the parcel shelf to toast herself and amuse neighbours who should, by now, realise they have eccentric neighbours with even more oddball cats. I have this nervous habit of glancing in the rear-view mirror expecting to see a ginger cat grinning manically at me, hoping I will turn the rear wiper - in-car entertainment for cats - on.

The problem comes when I actually need to use the car and daffy Affy is comfortably ensconced on the back seat. Not even pieces of chicken can induce her to move. Brute force is the only option, but sleeping cats have an ability unparalleled by science - they can control gravity. A one stone ginger auto-maniac suddenly weighs ten times that much and is NOT moving from the car.

Sometimes the car is apparently empty. No cat basking on the parcel shelf or laid out on the back seat. Halfway up the road, a dishevelled face emerges from under the passenger seat to complain about the noise.

My mechanic tells me to listen out for unusual noises which might indicate engine trouble. I can describe a whole new range of noises which indicate trouble, but not of the mechanical kind. That scuffling or thudding noise from the roof for instance. I know it isnít the roof-rack because I donít have one. Itís an Affy cat which has jumped from a fence-post onto the car roof as I reverse up our long drive. This diagnosis is immediately proven correct by a pale ginger belly sliding down the windscreen. She then sits on the bonnet staring reproachfully at me through the glass. In my old Fiesta the washer jets worked independently of the wiper blades and cured most fluffy bonnet ornaments. The VW washer doesnít work quite the same way. I just end up with an unimpressed damp 1 stone cat playing catch with the wiper blades.

So if you see a little white VW, being driven slightly erratically in the direction of Chelmsford, look out for two ginger heads. One of them will be me. The other will be a stowaway. And before you ask, weíll be headed home because despite her love of cars, Affy is not a good passenger.

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