arah Hartwell, 1994

Every schoolday, Tobermory arrived at Manor Road Primary School in time to help the caretaker unlock the gates. He had been attending school for almost four years and had an attendance record envied by many parents. The staff register listed the black-and-white cat as 'Cat, Tobermory; classroom help' to the great amusement of his owner who lived nearby and who called him 'Tobermory, pest and scrounger'.

After patrolling the corridors he settled down in the Headmaster's office where the door was left open a cat's width for him. He dozed in the guest chair until morning assembly by which time he had heard Mr Butler read the lesson aloud several times. At 9 o'clock Tobermory followed Mr Butler to the school hall and onto the stage, setting the newer children giggling and their teachers hissing 'shush'. With his white shirt and socks he resembled a diminutive after-dinner speaker as he sat to attention at the edge of the stage.

After morning assembly, Tobermory joined the crocodile of children back to their classrooms. Some mornings he did reading and writing with Mrs Gillard; sometimes he improved his arithmetic in Mrs Hall's maths class though he never bothered with P.E. or Singing. In the afternoons he favoured Science or English and occasionally agreed to do a sitting for the Art class if given suitable bribes.

He was so well-behaved and attentive that teachers often used Tobermory as an example to the children. He was also a great favourite with the younger children some of whom liked to confide in him, or hug him for reassurance, or even surreptitiously finish off their morning milk.

Unknown to the teachers, Tobermory had an ulterior motive. He knew his paws were not designed to hold a pencil, but he wanted to be able to read the side of cat food tins. Within two years he had graduated from 'Ant and Bee' books in the infant class to books like 'Black Beauty' in the top juniors. He could also add and subtract with ease although his multiplication and division was shaky and whenever he needed to count on his toes he had to feign washing his paws.

He soon discovered that he enjoyed reading and at playtime he went to the staff-room to read the newspapers and Mrs Hall's nature magazines.

"Get off, won't you - look June, he's sitting on my newspaper again!" complained Mr Berry, the Science teacher.

"He wants you to make a fuss of him," replied Mrs Gillard who had unknowingly taught Tobermory the alphabet.

Tobermory disliked being fussed when he was reading as it upset his concentration, but put up with it in case they found out what he was really doing.

On Wednesday afternoons the whole school did sports and Tobermory had the school to himself. Sometimes he pulled books from the shelves and read them from cover to cover. Putting them back was more problematical and Tobermory was ashamed to say that the children often got the blame.

It was when the school got a personal computer that Tobermory suddenly developed an interest in Science lessons and started staying after school to watch the teachers typing up school reports on the word processor. Although his paws were unsuited to holding a pencil, computer keys were another matter altogether.

"You're staying late tonight, Toby," said Mr Butler tickling Tobermory under the chin, "Lonely at home?"

"He's probably fascinated by the letters flashing up on screen," said Mrs Hall sagely, "or else he's attracted to the heat generated by the monitor."

Tobermory's mind was focused on much more serious matters than flashing letters as he memorized how to turn the computer on and off, how to use it as a word processor and how to operate the printer. He just purred enigmatically and continued watching with his inscrutable feline gaze. After a fortnight of extra-curricular word processing classes he felt confident enough to try for himself when everyone else was at sports.

Using a computer was easy, Tobermory decided, you just had to press the right buttons. At first he tended to press several keys at once, but he quickly learnt to extend one clawed toe to tap smartly on a single key. Even printing out was easy as the paper fed itself into the printer at one end and was churned out at the other.

He thought he had been found out when Mr Berry complained that the computer had been left switched on all afternoon even though no-one needed to use it.

"Sorry, it must've been me yesterday lunchtime. I was doing the agenda for the PTA meeting tomorrow," said Mr Butler apologetically, "Unless Tobermory's started taking typing lessons!"

Mr Berry snorted derisively and went away, leaving a relieved Tobermory to approve Mr Butler's morning assembly speech.

During March, Tobermory saw something that excited him. Mrs Hall, who loved all animals, but particularly cats, had started buying a magazine entirely about cats. It was inviting readers to write stories about cats and win a word processor. With his own word processor Tobermory could start writing in earnest. After playtime, Tobermory hid the cat magazine so that he could refer to it later.

There was a terrific hoo-ha at leaving time when Mrs Hall couldn't find her magazine and the following morning's assembly was about theft. Tobermory, who had endured three practice runs in Mr Butler's office, was too ashamed of himself to attend.

That night, he contrived to get himself shut in overnight to work on the story of how he became an educated cat. Typing it was easy enough, but to print the address he had to unravel the paper from the printer and put in an envelope instead. He had watched Mr Butler do this, but Tobermory had paws, not hands. The address was a little lopsided and putting the story into the envelope was even more fiddly. Next came the stamp, borrowed from the secretary's desk drawer which didn't close properly.

Although he couldn't put the paper back in the printer, he was very careful to switch everything off after use. He put the cat magazine behind the bookshelf in the staff room so that it was just visible and Mrs Hall would think it had simply slipped off the shelf. The next morning he slipped his letter in among other correspondence and watched with satisfaction as the postman collected it. Then, tail in the air, he sauntered nonchalantly off to the infants class where it was almost time for morning milk and he was sure to get a late breakfast.

And that, dear readers, is the tale of how I became an educated cat,



Back to Main Index