Oliver the Cat Who Saved Christmas

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Oliver the Cat Who Saved Christmas Page 5

by Sheila Norton

  ‘That’s a splendid idea.’ Anne was on her feet now, looking like she wanted to jump up and down with excitement. ‘I’m sure Jessica’s mum would be happy to host the Badgers, and I’ll talk to Molly’s parents about having the Squirrels at their house. Leave it with me. Brilliant idea, Sarah. Have you ever thought about becoming a Brownie leader?’

  Sarah was laughing. ‘Well, maybe I should consider it. But it was all thanks to Oliver, really.’

  I couldn’t help feeling a surge of pleasure at this, although part of my brain was still struggling with the issue of the foxes. If badgers and squirrels were meeting at other humans’ houses, and owls seemed to be involved too, why did we have to be the ones getting foxes here, of all things? None of these were the type of animals who should be trusted indoors, but if there was any sign of a fox here, the children could study him for their badges. I’d be hiding next door.

  * * *

  I decided to make it my routine to pop into the little house next door to see Nicky and Daniel most evenings. They seemed pleased to see me, but I felt sad that there was nothing I could do to help them with their worries. If they weren’t talking about how little money they had to last the month, they were worrying about Christmas. Nicky must have told Daniel now about her parents’ planned visit.

  ‘We’ll just have to explain to them about the pub,’ Daniel was saying when I visited that night. ‘Can’t they stay at the hotel in Great Broomford instead? Or one of the pubs there?’

  ‘They’re all fully booked for Christmas week already, even though it’s only the beginning of November. I’ve phoned around all of them. I suppose I’m just going to have to put them off, Dan, but it’s going to make things even worse between us. I don’t suppose they’ll understand – they never do.’

  ‘Well, to be honest, it’ll save us all the worry of buying a big turkey and presents for everyone.’

  ‘That’s not exactly how we should be thinking, is it?’ Nicky said, and I was surprised by how snappy she sounded. ‘It was going to be our first opportunity to try and show them they were wrong, about us getting together.’

  ‘Yes, well, we can’t very well invite them round here for a Christmas lunch of beans on toast, and presents from Poundland, and let them all sleep on the living room floor, can we? Face it, Nicky, you’re wasting your time trying to convince them we did the right thing. Having them stay at the pub wasn’t going to help. They’d still be able to see the state we’re in. We can’t even afford to put the heating on. I don’t know why you agreed to it in the first place.’

  Nicky was sniffing and wiping her eyes. I jumped onto her lap to console her, and her tears dripped onto my head.

  ‘Sorry, baby,’ Daniel said after a few minutes. ‘I didn’t mean it. I just feel so frustrated about everything. I know it’s my fault. I need to get a better job.’

  ‘Well, maybe I should think about getting a second job, doing some waitressing or something in the evenings. If it wasn’t for the fire at the pub, I could have asked there. But I can try in Great Broomford.’

  ‘No. It should be me doing an extra job, if either of us do. I’ll just have to look harder. Something will turn up,’ Daniel said. But he didn’t sound convinced. He just sounded tired, and fed up.

  * * *

  Most of the people I met on my walks around the village seemed to know, by now, that I was staying with my two foster families since the fire. I recognised a lot of the regulars from the pub, and several of them would say hello to me and try to stroke me.

  ‘Same old Oliver,’ one of the domino men laughed with his friend, when I scampered away as soon as he bent down to pet me. ‘Friendly little cat, but timid as a mouse.’

  Timid? A mouse? I quivered with indignation. I’d have him know that in some quarters I was known as a tiger! Feeling annoyed, I wandered a little further down one of the quiet side lanes, and sat on the wall of a little cottage similar to Daniel and Nicky’s, watching some starlings squabbling over a few bits of bread someone had dropped in the front garden. One of them had his back to me and I thought what good fun it would be to creep up on him from behind and pounce. Perhaps if I caught one, I could take it home to Sarah as a thank you for looking after me. I climbed stealthily down from the wall, and lay flat in its shadow with my head down and my rear end twitching in the time-honoured way, waiting for my moment. And just as none of the stupid birds were watching and I was about to go for it, the front door of the cottage was flung open, the whole flock of starlings flew, startled, up into the trees, and a very ancient-looking human female appeared on the doorstep, waving a wooden spoon and shouting at me.

  ‘Shoo! Go on, shoo, you horrible cat, leave the poor birds alone. I put that bread out for them. They’d starve in the winter if it wasn’t for me. Go on, get lost, you scabby old stray. I don’t want your smelly cat pee in my garden.’

  Well! I’d never been so insulted in any of my nine lives. Scabby old stray? I actually had to look around to see if she was talking to someone else. I could only assume the poor ancient creature had problems with her eyesight. How else could anyone mistake a fine, sleek, well-groomed and beautifully mannered cat such as myself, in peak condition and in the prime of my life, with a scabby old stray? It was so ridiculous it was laughable. I decided I should probably feel sorry for her, so rather than take offence and stalk off, I stayed where I was. Pretending I hadn’t even heard her nonsensical outburst, I occupied myself with having a good wash of my face to show the stupid starlings, chattering in the trees above me, that I hadn’t been the least bit bothered about catching any of them in the first place. I wasn’t worried about the woman, even when she started yelling again. After all, she looked far too old to come after me, let alone do me any damage.

  Little kitten, I will never again make the mistake of underestimating an elderly human. I have no idea how she moved so fast. One minute she was on her doorstep, and the next, she was towering over me, her wooden spoon raised, threatening to knock me for six. All I could do was cower against the wall, spitting at her – she was blocking all my escape routes. Had I really survived the fire, and the fox, to say nothing of the terrible thing that happened when I was only a tiny kitten, just to end up being beaten to a pulp by an old woman with a spoon? I yowled out loud for help. Where were all my cat friends when I needed them?

  And then, just as I thought I was done for, she stopped shouting and said: ‘Just a minute. What’s that? A collar?’

  ‘Yes, a collar, you silly old woman,’ I meowed at her furiously in Cat. ‘I’m a proper, decent, clean-living pet, not a stray.’

  Not that I’m prejudiced against strays, you understand. Most of them have fallen on hard times and deserve a bit of help. I was all too aware that I might have ended up in the same position myself, more than once now.

  ‘Let me have a look at that,’ she said, and before I could try to make a run for it, she’d grabbed hold of me in a most undignified way and held me aloft, ignoring my squawks of protest, while she peered at the writing on my identity disc. ‘Oliver, eh?’ she said. ‘Well, Oliver, I don’t know where you come from, but you can bugger off there now, and don’t come back. I don’t put bread out for the birds just for greedy spoilt moggies like you to come sniffing around.’

  So first I was a scabby stray, and now I was a greedy spoilt moggy? I was almost too angry at the insults to be frightened of the rough way she was handling me. Just as I was trying to turn my head far enough to give her a nip with my teeth, so that she’d put me down, there was a shout from a house across the road.

  ‘Hey, Barbara! What are you doing with the pub cat?’

  Another ancient human – a male version this time. Things were going from bad to worse. But at least this one recognised me.

  ‘Bugger off and mind your own business, Stan Middleton! I caught this damned moggy going after the birds in my garden. Or after the bread more likely, the greedy thing.’

  As if I wanted her horrible stale bread, when I had Tesco value me
aty chunks with tuna available to me back at my foster home.

  ‘Put him down, woman, before you hurt the poor little sod. He’s Oliver, George’s cat from the Forester’s Arms. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s probably just lonely.’

  ‘Huh,’ the woman called Barbara said. ‘Lonely? He doesn’t know the meaning of the word. And nor do you, Stan, before you say anything. Off down the pub with your old cronies every lunchtime – I’ve seen you.’

  ‘Don’t talk stupid, woman. The pub’s burnt down now. I’m stuck at home all day every day just the same as you. If the hall hadn’t had to close as well, I might have even been reduced to joining that flipping pensioners’ club of yours, sitting there with you and all the other old women, nattering about your knitting and your TV soaps.’

  ‘TV soaps?’ she shrieked – and I finally managed to wriggle out of her arms and shoot off out of her reach. ‘I can’t even watch the damned soaps any more. My telly’s broken and my son-in-law’s too busy to come round and fix it, the selfish little bugger. I’ve a good mind to send back his Christmas present to the mail order people. I haven’t finished paying for it yet.’

  ‘Same as my selfish granddaughter – no time for us old people, that’s their trouble,’ I heard Stan saying as I slunk away. Neither of them seemed to be taking any notice of me anymore. ‘If you weren’t such a stubborn old woman I’d offer to come and look at your TV for you, but I don’t suppose you’ll let me inside your house. Still sulking about that shrub I trimmed for you, I suppose. Thought I was doing you a favour, but you can’t please some people.’

  When I was at a safe distance I turned back to watch them. Stan, the old male, had crossed the road now and they were talking together by Barbara’s gate.

  ‘Fix TVs, can you? I don’t suppose you’re any good,’ she was saying. ‘Still, you’d better come in and have a try, otherwise I’ll never hear the end of it. I suppose you’ll be wanting a slice of my fruit cake in return. You needn’t think you’ll get it on one of my best plates. And take your shoes off before you walk on the carpet – I don’t know where you’ve been!’

  I was feeling quite sorry for Stan. But, you know what? Even from that distance, I could see he was grinning all over his face as he followed her into her cottage. Sometimes, little kitten, even an experienced cat like myself can’t make head nor tail of human behaviour. I trotted home to Sarah’s house as fast as I could, spent a good long time licking my sore paws where the woman had held me in her grip, and then had a well-deserved sleep to get over the experience.


  The next day was a Saturday. You’ll learn to tell the difference with these human-invented days, little kitten, when you’re a grown-up cat like me. Saturdays and Sundays are when the children don’t go to school and most of the adults don’t go to work, not to be confused with holidays and special days like Christmas and Easter. Yes, I know it’s very muddling but humans don’t seem to be able to manage like we do, with every day being whatever we want it to be. Anyway, on this particular Saturday, I was sitting on Sarah’s windowsill when I saw something coming along the road that made me sit up straight and meow with excitement. At first I thought I might be seeing things, but as it came closer and finally stopped outside the house, I knew I was right. It was the same big old blue car I’d known for nearly my whole life, and there, getting out of it, was my very own human, George.

  I jumped down from the windowsill and rushed for the front door, walking round and round in frantic circles and meowing my head off. Sarah came out of the kitchen wiping her hands on a tea-towel, and the children came tumbling downstairs from playing in their bedroom.

  ‘What on earth’s all the fuss about, Ollie?’ Sarah said, as the children stood there giggling at my excitement. ‘Do you want to go out? What’s wrong with using the cat flap?’

  And then the doorbell rang, and I almost climbed up the door, I was so beside myself.

  ‘Who can that be?’ Sarah said as she went to open it. And then: ‘Oh! Hello!’

  I feel a little embarrassed now, telling you this, but the fact is, I went slightly loopy. I was so overcome with joy when George bent down to stroke me, I leapt straight into his arms, nearly knocking him over. I was climbing all round his neck, licking his face, purring fit to bust. I just couldn’t contain myself. Everyone was laughing, George included.

  ‘What a welcome,’ he said. ‘Whoa, calm down, boy, you’ll have me over.’

  By now, Martin, who’d been outside in the shed doing what he described as his Saturday pottering (I have no idea what it was, and I suspected Sarah didn’t either), had heard the commotion and come back indoors.

  ‘George!’ he said, trying to shake his hand, but having difficulty because I was clinging to him like a limpet. ‘Great to see you, mate. Are you back in the village?’

  ‘No, sadly not. Just visiting.’

  ‘Well, Ollie’s pleased to see you, at any rate. Stay and have some lunch with us if you’ve got time.’

  ‘Thanks, I will, if you’re sure.’

  So we all went through to the kitchen, and George sat at the table with me on his lap, snuggling up to him and purring contentedly.

  ‘So how has he been?’ George asked, nodding down at me.

  ‘Brilliant,’ Sarah said at once. ‘We’ve loved having him here, haven’t we, children?’

  ‘Yes,’ they both chorused, and Rose added quietly, ‘I want to keep him forever.’

  ‘No, remember what I told you?’ Martin said gently. ‘Oliver is George’s cat, and he’s only staying with us until George can come back and look after him again.’

  ‘But that won’t be for quite a long time. And I’m sure he’ll still come and visit you, and play with you, when he’s back with me,’ George added.

  ‘Of course I will,’ I meowed, but needless to say, nobody understood me. Sometimes it’s very frustrating that humans don’t learn Cat. They think they’re so much cleverer than us, it wouldn’t hurt them to try.

  Well, they sat around the table drinking tea and eating toasted sandwiches, and Sarah finally lured me off George’s lap by putting some bits of cheese down for me. Then afterwards the children went off to play but I stayed with the adults, wanting to enjoy every minute of George’s company before he went away again.

  ‘I’m so grateful to you for taking care of Oliver for me,’ he was saying to Sarah and Martin. ‘I couldn’t possibly have had him with me at my sister’s place, and besides, it’s better for him to be here in the village where he knows his way around.’

  ‘Of course it is. And he’s been no trouble at all,’ Sarah said. ‘But he’s not with us all the time. He goes next door to Nicky and Daniel a lot, too.’

  ‘So: tell me who I should make this cheque out to,’ George said, pulling his wallet out of his pocket. ‘I was going to post it, but I really wasn’t sure about the arrangements. Daniel told me on the phone the other day that you were buying all the cat food.’

  ‘Well, it’s probably fifty-fifty,’ Martin said, giving Sarah a quick glance. ‘Don’t worry about us, but I daresay he’s eating Nicky and Daniel out of house and home – you know what cats are like.’

  I was a bit puzzled by this, as I knew perfectly well what the arrangement was, and so did Martin. He’d agreed that he and Sarah would be the ones feeding me. Although Nicky did occasionally give me a saucer of milk or a few scraps, I had a feeling Martin was just trying to be kind to them.

  ‘OK, look, I’ll make the cheque out to you, Martin, if you don’t mind, and leave you to divvy it up between you. And … jump down a minute, will you, Ollie? I’ve got a few things in the car to bring in.’

  ‘This is far too much,’ Martin was protesting, looking at the cheque.

  ‘No it’s not. It’s for the month, all right? I’ll try to get down here roughly once a month to settle up with you, or if it’s easier, I could just buy a month’s supply of food and bring it with me.’

  ‘No, look, there’s no need…’

  ‘But I thought a cheque might be better, so that if I can’t get down here, I can just post it.’

  ‘But, listen, George, I don’t want to be personal, but are you all right for money? I mean, with the pub being out of action?’

  ‘Oh yes, I’m fine, mate – don’t worry about me. The brewery’s looking after me. I’m only a tenant landlord, you know. Straight after the fire, when I told them I’d got to move to London for the duration of the rebuilding work, they found me a temporary job in a local pub close by, that’s just reopened after refurbishment. I’m doing shifts there at the moment, but luckily everywhere is busy, with Christmas coming up, so I should have full-time work soon. They’ve got the chef from the Forester’s a job too, in Great Broomford. I couldn’t do anything for the barmaids, unfortunately – they were just employed on a casual basis. But I’ve heard on the grapevine that they’ve both managed to get some work here and there in town.’

  ‘So, in some ways,’ Sarah said, ‘it’s fortunate that it’s the busy season.’

  ‘Yes.’ He frowned and sighed. ‘But not for the people here who had bookings for meals and parties in the Forester’s, and even rooms booked for family over Christmas.’

  ‘I know.’ Sarah looked sad too. ‘But it’s not your fault, George, and everyone will just have to make other arrangements, if they can. It’s not the end of the world, and the most important thing is that you weren’t hurt in the fire.’

  ‘Thanks to Ollie,’ George said, giving me another stroke now even though he’d made me get off his lap. ‘If he hadn’t woken me up, that night, I hate to think what would’ve happened.’

  Everyone went quiet then, even me, not wanting to think about it. They’d been talking earlier about what might have started the fire, and apparently the ‘investigators’ – whoever they were – believed it was an electrical fault, something to do with some wiring. I didn’t know what that meant, but I was glad nobody thought it was George’s fault. Or mine.


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