Oliver the Cat Who Saved Christmas

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Oliver the Cat Who Saved Christmas Page 8

by Sheila Norton

  ‘Oh, Mummy, that’s exciting,’ said Grace.

  ‘Yes. I’ve been looking for a new interest, something I can do to help the village community.’

  ‘And it’s all because of Ollie. We got the idea of meeting in each other’s houses because of him, didn’t we?’

  ‘Yes, he’s a very special cat,’ Sarah said, smiling at me. ‘Because of Ollie, it seems lots of people in the village are getting together now. Only this afternoon I heard one of the young mums, Hayley, saying some of the mother-and-baby group have started meeting in each other’s houses now. She seemed convinced Ollie had introduced her to two of the other ladies.’

  And I purred with pride and happiness. But you know what I’ve heard some humans saying? Pride comes before a fall.


  The following day, I overheard Sarah telling Martin she’d be going out for the day while the children were at school.

  ‘I’m going to start the Christmas shopping,’ she said.

  ‘What?’ Martin said. ‘It’s only the middle of November!’

  ‘I know, but Anne and I are going to have a day in town together and just make a start on it. We’ll have lunch out. It’ll give us a chance to have a good talk about Brownies, too.’

  ‘Fair enough. I suppose Christmas will come round quickly, like it always does.’

  ‘I know.’ Sarah was quiet for a minute. ‘I only wish it could be a happier time for our neighbours. Young Nicky isn’t even looking forward to it. I don’t suppose they’ll be buying presents.’

  ‘No. Daniel was telling me they still haven’t told her parents their visit’s off, either.’

  Nicky and Daniel had been getting very chatty with Sarah and Martin. It was nice to see my two sets of carers becoming good friends.

  ‘I’ve been thinking about that,’ Sarah said. ‘Mart, couldn’t we offer to have Nicky’s family to stay here for a couple of nights?’

  ‘What, over Christmas?’ Martin said, frowning. ‘Won’t that be a bit much?’

  ‘I don’t see why. We haven’t got anyone coming this year, have we? They can spend the day with Nicky and Daniel and just come in here to sleep.’ She shrugged. ‘We could at least offer. I’d really like to help them out.’

  ‘OK, I guess it’d be a nice offer.’ He gave her a kiss and pulled on his jacket ready for work. ‘Let’s ask them round again this evening, and put it to them then.’

  * * *

  ‘I’ll be out all day today, Ollie,’ Sarah said, as if I hadn’t already heard. ‘I’ll leave some dried food down for you in case you get hungry. I’ll be back in time for the children.’

  I felt fed up and lonely after the door closed behind her. I wasn’t in the mood to see Tabby – he’d got really annoying ever since he’d been courting that Suki. I didn’t even feel like spending the day asleep. I jumped through the cat flap and wandered down the road, looking for something to do. It was a bright sunny day, but very cold, and I had to do a brisk little trot to keep warm. Before I knew it, I found myself heading up the hill towards the place Tabby had called the Big House. Despite my bravado when I’d been talking about it to Tabby, I hadn’t actually been back since my first visit, but now the memory of those huge grounds with all the bushes and trees to run and jump around was tempting me back. I bounded through the big iron gates and, keeping a watchful eye out for scary male humans waving sticks, trotted down the driveway and into a particularly exciting shrubbery where I had a lovely time investigating the scents, jumping over branches and disturbing a few dozy birds who were trying to shelter from the winter cold.

  The trouble is, little kitten, playing on your own is never as much fun as it is when there’s another cat to run around with or a human to provide entertainment. Oh, I know it’s great when you’re little like you. You kittens can spend hours just chasing your own tails or jumping at your own shadow – I know, I’ve been young myself, don’t forget. But when you’re grown up, running around on your own can get a bit boring after a while. If Tabby was too much of a scaredy-cat and too busy showing off to his girlfriend to come with me, perhaps it wasn’t really worth going to the Big House any more. I decided to have one more look around before heading home.

  This time, I ventured right up to the house, keeping to the long grass wherever possible in case the bad-tempered man came out. As I’ve already told you, the house was huge, with red brick walls and great big tall chimneys, the biggest I’ve ever seen. At the back of the house were lots of very tall windows with crisscross patterns on them. I was attracted to the biggest windows, which looked like they would open out onto the gardens in the nicer weather – because I could see the glow of a lamp in the room beyond, and the flickering of a fire, which reminded me of the nice cosy fire George used to make in the pub.

  Another thing I’ve heard humans say, little kitten, which I could never understand but has always bothered me, is Curiosity killed the cat. I’d like to know which cat, and how did he get killed? But nobody has ever elaborated on it. Well, on this occasion I was feeling particularly curious – downright nosy might be nearer the truth – and I forgot about the possibility of it killing me. I sneaked right up close to those glass doors and stared in. I’d half expected to see the angry man Tabby warned me about, and my little heart was racing with adrenaline as I prepared to do a runner as soon as I caught sight of him. But I was in a very daring mood as well as a nosy one, thinking about the story I’d have to tell Tabby and Suki next time I saw them. Luckily I couldn’t see any bad-tempered male in the room, just a female in a kind of white overall, sitting by the fire, holding a book. Her lips were moving, and when I pressed my ear against the glass I could hear her talking, as if she was reading out loud. She kept looking over to the other side of the fireplace and smiling. I turned to see what she was looking at, and at first all I could see was a pink blanket on a sofa. Then I noticed a pale, thin arm resting on the blanket. And as I watched, the blanket shifted slightly and a head popped out from the top of it. It looked like the head of a female, about Grace’s age or maybe a bit older, but the face was very pale, with dark rings under the eyes, and where the hair should have been, there was just a plain bare top of the head, like the heads of some of the older males who came to the pub. I felt myself squeaking in surprise, and I was about to run off, but the young female must have caught sight of me because she pulled herself further up out of the blanket and through the glass I heard her say:

  ‘Oh, look, Laura. A pretty cat!’

  Well, I was never one to walk away from a compliment. I hesitated, still poised to run, my muscles quivering in anticipation of being chased off the premises. The one in the white overall put the book down, walked over to the window and looked straight at me. For a moment, our eyes were locked on each other, while I waited to be shooed away – but suddenly she smiled, bent down and actually spoke to me through the glass.

  ‘Hello, little cat. Well, yes, you are a pretty one, aren’t you? I wonder where you come from.’

  ‘He must be so cold out there,’ the one on the sofa said.

  ‘You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Well, he’s got a collar on, and he looks well fed so he must belong to someone in the village.’

  ‘He’s come to say hello. Can’t we let him come in and get warm by the fire?’

  There was a moment of hesitation before the one called Laura replied. ‘No, Caroline, I don’t think so. You know how your father feels about cats. And it wouldn’t be right, anyway – he’s got a home to go back to. His family might be missing him.’

  ‘Oh.’ The girl laid back down again, looking disappointed. She gave me a little wave. ‘Bye bye then, little cat. I wish I could have a cat, Laura.’

  ‘So do I, love. But your dad doesn’t like them, does he. Now then, let’s get back to this story, shall we?’

  She went to sit back down again and picked up the book. I stayed for a little while longer, watching, and the girl with no hair gazed back at me as she listened to the story. But then I
started to feel too cold, quite apart from having serious worries about the father-who-didn’t-like-cats (who, it didn’t take much intelligence to work out, was the same as the bad-tempered-man-with-a-stick), appearing around a corner of the building at any moment. I might have been feeling brave, and I’d definitely been feeling curious, but I didn’t want to be the cat who got killed for it. I scarpered.

  * * *

  I might not have thought any more about it until the next time I saw Tabby. I’d already got my story all planned out for him, admittedly with a few exaggerations about my bravery. But that evening, Martin invited Nicky and Daniel in again for drinks, and I stayed in the lounge with them, dozing in my hammock on the radiator, listening to their conversation. They were all sounding happy – Sarah because she’d had a good day shopping and said she now had the Christmas spirit, whatever that was – and Nicky and Daniel because Martin had made them the offer of putting up Nicky’s family over Christmas.

  ‘We can’t let you do that,’ Daniel had said at once. ‘No way!’

  ‘Why not? We’ve got room,’ Sarah said, and Martin was smiling and nodding. ‘The two girls share a bedroom. We keep the third one as a guest room, and we’ve got nobody staying with us this Christmas.’

  ‘The boys could sleep in the little study,’ Martin suggested. ‘There’s an old sofa in there, and room for a camp bed. It’d be a bit cosy, but…’

  ‘But it’s too much to ask of you,’ Nicky said. She looked like she was going to cry.

  ‘You didn’t ask,’ Sarah pointed out. ‘We offered. Honestly, it’d be a pleasure.’

  And eventually it was all agreed, and Martin poured out more drinks, and the talk turned to things going on in the village. Once again my heart swelled with pride as they related stories to each other about the meetings being arranged in the various villagers’ houses – all of which seemed to be attributed to me.

  ‘I’ve even heard talk in the shop,’ Sarah said, ‘that Barbara Griggs, the miserable old woman who lives in the cottage down Back Lane and shouts at everyone, has invited Stan Middleton from across the road to play rummy with her in the evenings since the pub closed, and they’ve been heard laughing their heads off. And there are empty sherry bottles in the recycling every week.’

  ‘Yes, and apparently Stan’s joined the pensioners’ club, which he swore he’d never do, because they were all stupid old women talking about their knitting, and is letting some of them have their meetings in his house,’ Martin joined in. ‘And he says it’s all because he found Oliver being shooed out of Barbara’s garden.’

  ‘Good old Ollie,’ Daniel said, when they’d all stopped laughing.

  ‘It’s all very well, though,’ Martin said, suddenly sighing, ‘holding meetings and get-togethers in each other’s houses when it’s just a few people at a time. But what about all the Christmas parties coming up?’

  ‘They’ve all had to be cancelled,’ Sarah explained gloomily to the others. ‘My Women’s Institute one has already been called off. And the Brownies’ one of course. And the pensioners’. All of them.’

  ‘What a shame,’ said Nicky. ‘There isn’t anywhere else in the village big enough to hold them, I suppose.’

  ‘No.’ Sarah shrugged. ‘Well, there’s only one place of any size, of course – the Big House.’ And she laughed, and Martin joined in. ‘There’s no way anything festive is going to happen there.’

  ‘What’s the Big House?’ Daniel asked.

  As you can imagine, I was wide awake by now, listening with great interest.

  ‘Broomford Hall. It’s just outside the village, going up the hill towards Great Broomford. Used to be the manor house. The last owner was a kind old chap who used to let us hold the summer fair in the grounds. But the new owner…’ Sarah smiled and shrugged again.

  ‘Is a downright miserable git,’ Martin finished for her. ‘He’s a widower, apparently, and lives up there all on his own. Doesn’t often come into the village, but when he does, he’s got a face like thunder and not a good morning for anyone. Nobody’s ever seen him smile.’

  ‘Oh. Well, that’s not a possibility then, is it?’ Nicky said. ‘He doesn’t exactly sound like someone who’d be prepared to hold any Christmas parties.’

  ‘No.’ Sarah shook her head sadly. ‘We’re all just going to have to go without our Christmas festivities this year, unfortunately.’

  I couldn’t help meowing in sympathy, she sounded so gloomy. They all turned to look at me, laughing again.

  ‘And even you can’t help out with this one, Ollie,’ Sarah said.

  As I said, I was probably getting a bit too puffed up with pride for my own good. I had this reputation now, it seemed, of being the Cat Who Got People Together. And I felt like I’d been given a challenge. Could I do it? Could I actually become the Cat Who Saved Christmas? I didn’t know how, but I was determined to give it a go.


  Although Martin kept complaining that it was only November and ‘ages’ till Christmas, it seemed like everyone had started talking about it now. The children were getting excited about things like Christmas plays that were going to happen at school and apparently involved them dressing up as shepherds and angels, and Sarah having to make strange costumes out of sheets. Every time they got silly and rowdy, they were warned that Father Christmas wouldn’t come unless they behaved themselves. I’d actually heard Grace and Rose whispering together about not believing in this Father Christmas person anyway, so I wasn’t sure why they pretended they did. Perhaps it’s a bit like us with the Nine Lives story. A legend – part of their culture. I could understand that. Anyway, they still seemed to be excited about him coming, whether they believed in him or not.

  All the talk of Christmas was making me feel homesick. When I lived in the pub, Christmas was such a lovely time. George put lots of decorations up, with holly and other greenery all around the fireplace, and a really big Christmas tree in the corner, weighed down with shiny baubles and tinsel and sparkling lights. I can see what you’re thinking, little kitten. A tree, indoors – yes, it’s what everyone does at Christmas. I keep forgetting next Christmas will be your first time. Well, take a hint from me. When your humans bring the tree indoors, they’re going to tell you not to touch it. But then they’ll hang all the sparkly things on it, putting temptation right in your way. If they don’t want these things played with, they shouldn’t hang them there. Believe me, it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to jump up and swat those sparkly baubles with our paws. I almost brought the whole tree crashing down when I was a little kitten like you, on my first Christmas. It frightened the life out of me and, after that, George hung the sparkly things higher up on the tree so I couldn’t reach them. I still tried, though. Some things just can’t be resisted.

  It was so pretty and cosy in the pub in the evenings, with all the lights, and the flickering of the fire, and although it was true there were a lot more strange people in the bar, which made me a bit nervous, they were all usually in really happy moods. George used to say it was his favourite time of year. And now I couldn’t stop thinking about him, living somewhere far away with his sister and her cat allergy and without me. It made me mew sadly to myself as I lay in my chair or on Rose’s bed snuggled up with her teddies, and sometimes the girls would stroke me and wonder why I didn’t seem very happy, and I wished I could explain.

  To take my mind off it all, that week I went every day on my little jaunts to the Big House. I didn’t waste time playing in the bushes anymore, or at least, not for more than a few minutes. I ran straight up to the big windows where I’d seen the girl and the woman before. Sometimes they were there again, and the girl called Caroline would call out hello to me and watch me with that sad little smile. Once or twice, there was nobody in the room so I guessed they must be somewhere else in the house. It was so big, they could have been anywhere. One day I got even braver and trotted round the side of the house and all the way to another big door, with steps going up to
it. From the top of the steps I could jump onto a wide windowsill and see into another room. It was a huge room, bigger than the bar in the pub, and it was almost completely empty. I couldn’t help wondering what on earth it was for, and why anyone would want a room of that size, especially if they didn’t have any furniture to put in it. Humans never fail to surprise me. And then I remembered that conversation about the Big House being the only place large enough to hold a party. It was true. Everyone in the village could probably fit in that one huge room.

  I didn’t hang around. I was always nervous that the angry man who didn’t like cats – or humans, by the sound of it – would turn up and catch me. I couldn’t understand why Martin had said he lived there on his own. If that was the case, why were the girl and the woman there? Perhaps they were trespassing, like me, and perhaps I should stay well clear of the whole situation. But something made me go back again the next day anyway.

  * * *

  Sarah seemed to be very busy these days. She was always in the kitchen, making things that smelt lovely and spicy and putting them in the freezer.

  ‘More mince pies for Christmas, Ollie,’ she’d say as another batch went in. ‘It might still be a long way off, but I’ve got so much baking to do, I need to get ahead of myself.’ I wondered whether she was expecting to feed the whole village rather than just her little family.

  ‘I’ll be hosting a little Christmas lunch for the WI,’ she explained one evening to Nicky. ‘There’s obviously not going to be a formal party this year, so we’ll just meet here for sausage rolls and mince pies, and people will bring their own drink. It’ll be crowded, but who cares? Why don’t you come and join us? It’ll be on a Saturday.’

  ‘Oh, but I’m not a member,’ Nicky protested.


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