THE COAL-BLACK CELLAR KITTEN
We were staying in Manchester with my brother and sister-in-law and their family of 5 children, 2 cats, 1 dog, 3 guinea pigs and a budgie, when Byron came into our lives.
My daughter (aged 12) and I had gone with the children to a nearby record shop where they were collecting a record for their father’s birthday. While we stood in the shop one of the assistants came through from the back with a cardboard box in her arms from which could be heard plaintive mewing. We all crowded round to see a tiny black kitten crouched among crumpled newspapers and the young lady explained that they had found a kitten that morning in their coal cellar under the shop. Someone had lifted the manhole cover in the pavement and dropped the kitten through, probably the night before.
My daughter without hesitation asked me if we could take it home to Colchester and my niece and nephews backed her up - quite sure their parents would not object to another mouth to feed in the meantime! We already had a little she-cat at home where we lived with my parents and I was none too sure what their reaction would be. However, in the face of six pleading voices and with the shop assistant’s approval, we left the shop with 1 new record and 1 minute kitten in a large cardboard box.
All the way to where we were staying I was trying to work out how we were going to get the kitten home on the train and tube and how I was going to gain my parents’ acceptance of the newcomer. As we walked along I noticed a PDSA Surgery and shot in quickly for their advice on how to handle the journey. They were very helpful and gave me a few tablets to keep the kitten soothed, plus other advice on a suitable container and what food and drink to take. First hurdle over I thought.
The second hurdle came along quite unexpectedly. As we walked through the garden to the back door, my sister-in-law came out and before I had had a chance to speak, the children rushed to her "We’ve found a kitten and brought it home". Her face was a picture, "No, no, I can’t - we’ve got too many pets now! You’ll have to take it somewhere else."
Once I had managed to explain she’d had only another ‘lodger’ until we went home, everything was fine and in no time at all our wee black kitten was being fussed over by her 2 cats who took turns to wash it. To our astonishment, we discovered we had a white kitten with black patches and a very prettily marked kitten at that. Frances (my daughter) immediately named him Byron after a little ginger kitten she had owned and which had been killed by a wild cat. My brother-in-law had ‘sexed’ the kitten before the naming, although we had all decided from first sighting that it was a ‘he’.
We made a very posh travel conveyance for him from a basket I bought at a local market covered with a home-made oil-cloth lid elasticated to fit round the top, with a slitted flap going over the handles which allowed us to put our hands in and stroke Byron if he became upset. We had to keep him quiet because I could not afford to pay for a ticket for him. Over the oil-cloth we rested a few newspapers and magazines. On the train we took him to a toilet compartment to give him a saucer of milk (he had taken a tablet crushed in milk before we started out and this kept him quiet and sleepy for most of the journey). The PDSA had advised a meal early in the day, then no more until we arrived in case travelling upset his tummy. We held our breath every time we had to change trains and stations, but apart from a little mewing as we walked along a street between stations, he was no trouble at all.
Now, as we reached home, came the last hurdle - how would my parents feel about another cat in the household? Thankfully, it all went surprisingly well. After listening to Frances’ woeful tale of how Byron had been discovered and after a sleepy wee kitten had emerged from the basket and promptly gone to sleep in my father’s hands, we were truly "home and dry." Our other cat, Tamsin accepted Bryon even when he grew and grew until he was three times her size. She still made him mind his manners in all the 13 years we had them together. Byron outlasted Tamsin by 3 months and we never once regretted housing our "coal-black" kitten.