A Very Purrculiar Practice: A Kitten in the Cleavage
Copyright 1997, Sarah Hartwell

It's official - kittens can ruin your love life. First there are the hourly feeds, then the two hourly feeds; which can take over an hour with a litter of five kittens. How is a busy mother going to fit any form of social life, let alone a love life, inbetween all that? Later, you have to keep an eye on them as they stumble and clamber around and when they become mobile you have to keep them entertained and make sure they don't come to harm. After 8 weeks, with any luck they are ready to leave home, though some stay with mother until three or four months old (or even longer - like forever), and by then there's another litter ... and another.

Not a pleasant thought if you're a cat. If you're a human it's no better. Falling out of bed every two hours when the alarm goes off, leaving behind a bed and a slumbering partner who mumbles "feeding time already?" in his sleep. And sharing the duvet with a bunch of juvenile delinquent six week olds does not aid restful sleep and you might as well give up any ideas of an intimate encounter until the kitten season is over. Performing in front of an audience of five is off-putting for even the most liberal-minded couple and audience participation doesn't bear thinking about.

Sometimes it's nice to sit on the sofa, watching the late film and getting cosy with one's partner. Just as the scary bit, or romantic bit, gets going and you're cuddling up or feeling a wee bit amorous there's a squawk from your cleavage. Partner moves his hand away, thinking "it's never done that before" and you mumble "Oh I forgot - I had to stick that runty little tabby kitten down my bra for warmth." A disgruntled partner shuffles to the far end of the sofa and sulks through the remainder of the film, wondering why the only things to snuggle up to your cleavage nowadays are runty kittens.

At least a partner can be put "on hold" till next time, but for human kitty-mothers who are single and stalking their prey metaphorically speaking, well, a cleavage inhabited by squawking kittens smelling faintly of sour milk doesn't exactly enhance your prospects of a long term relationship with Gorgeous Grant from the Accounts Department. You'd be lucky to get a second date and you'll never again enter the Accounts Department with your head held high. And men being men, your tendency to tote kittens around in your bra has already done the rounds of the company.

You end up in Mothercare looking at papooses. Lined with Vetbed, one of the front-facing baby-carriers will be ideal for carrying that litter around during household chores - or when driving from home to the surgery (not too bad when it's the vet surgery, but a excruciatingly embarrassing when it's the dental surgery). You choose a nice sturdy one in hard-wearing fabric and, brain on autopilot, head for the checkout.

"Aah," says the Mothercare assistant peering at your waistline which is no fatter than other chocolate fudge addicts, "planning well ahead?"

"Oh no," you reply absently, "They're about two weeks old." Kitten-fosterers forget that other women think in terms of human infants when confronted by a baby-carrier.

"They?" she asks, "Maybe you need one for your partner as well."

"I'm not married," you reply, wondering if Gorgeous Grant would look quite as desirable wearing a five-kitten papoose and hopefully not a lot else; after all, we all have dreams and most kitten-fosterers dreams involve kittens somewhere along the line, however improbable the situation.

"Oh well, that doesn't mean anything nowadays. How many did you have?" asks the assistant, checking the price tag.


"Five? You've recovered very quickly."

"They're not mine. Their mother died shortly after they were born."

"She must have been a close friend of yours," says the assistant admiringly.

"Well no actually, I only took her in about a week before they were born."

The assistant looks at you as though you are some latter day saint.

"Goodness. Are you involved in charity work?" she asks, visualising some poor Big Issue vendor collapsing barefoot and pregnant in your doorway and extracting a deathbed promise that you'll take on her children.

"Well actually yes," you reply truthfully as you sign the credit card slip. Being on completely different wavelengths she's thinking along the lines of Crisis and you're thinking along the lines of Cat Sanctuary.

"That's wonderful, so generous," and she wipes a tear from her eye, "To think that you've taken them all. Do you have any of your own?"

"Four," you say, thinking of blind Tootsie who will probably end up being papoosed around the house when the kittens are gone, the geriatric Domino, manic Chloe and the monstrous Hugo who was a runty little bra-dwelling kitten from a previous fostering, but is now regularly mistaken for a black panther when he takes a hike on the school playing field.


"Well, it shouldn't be too hard to find them homes - they're really pretty."

"Oh you're fostering rather than adopting. It must be so difficult to let them go."

You consider that sometimes it's a darn relief - for a start Gorgeous Grant might give you a second chance.

"What are they? Boys or girls?" she asks, packing your papoose in an oversize carrier bag.

"Three boys - all black and two tortie girls."

"Sorry, tortie?"

"Yes, their mum was a tortie, but really far too young to have a litter."

"Litter? Sorry are we talking about the same things?"

"Kittens," you say, wondering what on earth she was thinking of. After all, you've forgotten that most buyers of baby-carriers actually have babies, that is human babies, to go in them.

"Oh, I thought ...." and she turns abruptly to the next customer who is buying a mega pack of Pampers and a box of Babywipes, thinking that at least SHE'S normal.

It's not just kittens of course. There was that day when you had finished your Saturday morning stint at the shelter and dashed into town to do a spot of shopping on the way home. As you're standing in the checkout queue you notice a distinct odour of tomcat from in front of you. The well-dressed woman in front is loading what appears to be a year's supply of cat food onto the checkout conveyor belt.

"You must be quite a cat lover," you remark, thinking that her Christian Dior outfit would be better accompanied by Christian Dior perfume.

"Oh yes, I breed and show Havanas," she smiles, "I see you're a cat lover too; do you breed or show?"

For ten minutes you chat about your respective cats as her mountain of tins are processed and you think how obsessed she must be with those Havanas to not notice the whiff of tomcat on her clothing. It's only when she departs and the pungent smell doesn't that you remember being sprayed by one of the not-yet-chopped toms at the shelter and you enter a state of mortal embarrassment. Hurriedly paying in cash, you realise that that's the last time you'll dare to shop at that particular supermarket and you hope to goodness you never meet the Havana breeder again; not because she was an awful person but because she was such a nice person - far too nice, in fact, to remark upon your strange choice of perfume. And just as you leave, you bump into Gorgeous Grant from Accounts, who will certainly not be giving you a second chance now. And by Monday lunchtime, you'll be requesting a transfer to an office as far away from the Accounts Department as possible.

Ah well, at least the cats don't mind that you carry kittens in your bosom, smell of sour kitten formula milk and as for the odour of tomcat, blind Tootsie finds it more intoxicating than catnip. It's the nearest to a romantic encounter she'll ever get, and probably the nearest to a romantic encounter you'll get for a long, long time.

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