Sarah Hartwell, 1996

The classic cat-share scenario goes something like this:

Lady owns cat which likes to spend daytimes or evenings away from home doing whatever it is that cats like to do when out of sight of their owners. One day, cat returns home wearing a collar which the owner promptly removes. A few days later the cat returns home wearing another collar, which the owner removes and replaces with her own collar. Over a period of time the cat exchanges the owner’s collars for collars mysteriously provided by someone else. Eventually the owner traces her cat to its second home with a male neighbour and, if the scenario goes according to the textbook scenario, the two ‘owners’ promptly fall head over heels in love and become co-owners of the errant two-timing cat.

That, of course, is fine in theory. In practice the two persons cat-sharing the wandering feline are either incompatible as regards age or gender, hate one another on sight or take the matter to court in an attempt to gain sole custody of the cat. Thankfully, no cat is reported as having been physically torn in two in such tug-of-love cases, but most have wisely been cultivating a third home away from the immediate area, to which they sensibly disappear after starting a custody conflict which looks set to escalate into World War 3.

In Trish’s case the cat-share tale didn’t quite run according to the classic scenario. She traced Basil to her next door neighbour’s home and, although she hit it off with Justin immediately, it turned out that he lived with his significant other, Davy, and they had taken to caring for a marmalade ‘stray’ cat they called Garfield. Once the cat’s double life was exposed, both households agreed to have him on a timeshare basis and Trish gained two valuable friends to call upon when a male presence was required - anything from a pair of chaperones on dark nights to someone able to locate the blown fuse when all her lights went out, with the added advantage that Davy was a chef (Trish’s culinary skills soon went from 0 to 8.5 on a scale of nought to ten) and Justin a mechanic.

Not content with finding safe and useful male company for his owner and bringing a great deal of pleasure to Justin and Davy, who thought of him as a surrogate son, nearly a year later Basil went on to get Trish into trouble with the law. It wasn’t that Basil, or for that matter Trish, had any criminal tendencies; other than Basil’s occasional theft of something particularly tasty from Davy’s kitchen.

Basil, you see, liked to climb trees as a hobby. Unfortunately he was not as good at climbing down from trees as he was at getting 12 foot up the beech tree in pursuit of squirrels. Part of the attraction of tree-climbing was the fact that Justin had to climb up after him and rescue him and Basil invariably got a fuss and a treat when he returned to ground level. Since discovering that Justin was a soft touch when it came to rescuing stuck cats, Basil got stuck up trees three times more frequently than before. In a good many cases he was able to scramble down of his own accord, but he worked out that if he could hold out for an hour or two and meow piteously, Justin would turn into a knight in shining armour wielding a long ladder instead of the more traditional long-sword. If he climbed up one of the trees shortly before Justin got home from work, he could convince Justin that he’d been stuck all day and only that leftover fillet of poached Rainbow Trout which Justin and Davy had intended to have for tea would save him from starvation.

Late one evening, Basil’s plaintive tones could be heard from the ivy on Justin’s front wall. Unfortunately, Justin and Davy had gone on holiday to Portugal, so there were no knights in shining armour able to come to his aid. Trish didn’t have a ladder and she didn’t have Justin and Davy’s front door key so she couldn’t rescue Basil by leaning out of the upstairs window. And for once in his life, Basil was not feigning being stuck in order to get treats and sympathy. He really was a stuck pussycat. The only option was for Trish, who had no head for heights, to scale the ivy herself and rescue Basil that way.

Luckily the ivy was very mature and easily supported Trish’s weight. It also seemed to be very well anchored to the wall and Trish made tentative, but safe, progress up to Basil’s level. Unfortunately, just as she reached out to grab her errant cat, a powerful torch-beam shone in her direction and an authoritative male voice called out at her.

"Okay, hold it right there."

Halfway up the ivy-covered house-wall, Trish froze. Basil’s eyes gleamed an evil luminous green in the torchlight. Trish ventured a look over her shoulder and saw a policeman and his female colleague standing at the foot of the ivy, staring up at her. It appeared that she had been mistaken for a burglar and attracted the attention of the local constabulary.

"Come, down - slowly," the policeman instructed, his torchbeam not wavering.

This was easier said than done. Trish now found herself in a similar position to Basil - able to make relatively easy upwards progress, but not easily able to descend. To make matters worse, the ivy was creaking under her weight and beginning to pull away from the wall.

"I can’t!" wailed Trish, "I’m stuck!"

This was obviously not a situation the policeman and his colleague had anticipated - a stuck burglar.

"You should have thought about that when you started casing the house," he said humourlessly, "Now let’s see you come down."

Trish took one step downwards and with a wrenching sound, the ivy pulled completely loose and Trish, a mass of Hedera helix ‘Goldheart’ and a panicky Basil fell earthwards. Trish’s fall was broken by the policeman who was flattened by the combined weight of Trish, a great deal of ivy and a well-fed marmalade cat which did GBH to his cap before running hell for leather back to his own home (where he dived through the cat flap and was later discovered sitting on the sofa with a butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth expression totally unsuited to someone who had just got his owner mistaken for a burglar and caused her to ‘assault’ a policeman). The policewoman, showing more presence of mind when confronted with a mass of falling greenery, managed to jump clear; thus avoiding the uncomfortable predicament of her colleague.

When Trish finally disentangled herself from the mass of Goldheart ivy and helped the policewoman disentangle the still flattened policeman, she hastily explained that she was not a burglar, but the owner of a daft cat which thought it was Edmund Hillary but had become stuck halfway up the south face of Everest aka her next-door neighbour’s ivy-covered wall which was, sadly, no longer ivy covered and now in urgent need of repointing.

Luckily the mauled policeman’s cap and the fleeting glimpse of an orange lightning bolt which had vanished from the scene of the ‘crime’ bore witness to her testimony and no charges were brought. Unluckily, Sgt Bell, on whom she had landed had sustained a couple of broken ribs, an assortment of bruises, possible concussion and a broken arm from being landed on by the aforesaid cat owner, her demented cat and a huge and heavy mass of ivy. His female colleague was having problems stifling a serious attack of giggles. The very dented Sgt Bell escorted Trish to her own home, questioned the cat (which merely looked at him quizzically before making himself comfortable on the policewoman’s lap) and phoned for police assistance i.e. someone to take him to the local A&E department.

After a follow-up visit and lecture from two other police officers whose sense of humour was sadly lacking, a very guilty-feeling Trish visited Sgt Bell in hospital with a peace offering of cat-shaped chocolates. Luckily he was a cat lover with a sense of humour, unlike the two who had lectured her about climbing house walls in the middle of the night, and could see the funny side of the situation even if his sore ribs prevented him from laughing about it for the time being. Equally luckily, Justin and Davy were not terribly upset about the ivy which had become rather overgrown and had needed pruning, although they had not originally planned such a drastic pruning.

Trish’s second brush with the law was several months later as a direct result of Basil’s mountaineering tendencies. She was escorted, by two officers in a police car, to the local register office where she was ‘taken into protective custody’ by Sgt Paul Bell. Her bridal bouquet and the floral decorations at her reception (catering organised by Davy next door) contained a larger than strictly necessary amount of Hedera helix Goldheart and a lifesized toy marmalade cat. She may have been a cat owner rather than a cat burglar, but she had stolen his heart - or maybe she had simply fallen for him.

While Basil was evidently well content with his role in the matchmaking, he was less enthusiastic about Paul junior who arrived the following year and, in an amicable agreement satisfactory to all parties, he moved in permanently with Justin and Davy next door.

Back to Main Index