My mother used to tell me the story of when she was a little girl.
She had a cat, or to be more accurate the family had a
cat called Patch.
Being a female cat, and this being oh, 1940, when
working class families didn't bother with vets and
suchlike, and certainly never had the money to spend
on getting their pets neutered; so Patch followed
nature's plan and got pregnant. Patch duly delivered
up a batch of half a dozen fluffy little kittens, who
squirmed about in an old box next to the kitchen fire
and all the traditional kitten type things that
kittens have done since time immemorial.
But this was 1940. There was a war on. Pets were
something of a luxury. Patch was supposed to leave the
chickens alone and keep the odd mouse in order. No one
needed half a dozen extra mouths to feed. No one
needed six extra cats running around the place that
needed to be taught not to scare the chickens. My
mother didn't really understand all that at the time.
She was only seven or eight. She knew they couldn't
keep all the kittens, but hoped that she might be able
to keep just one.
But then one day they were all gone. Her mother said a
lady had come to take them all away. Stay inside and
play and don't bother your father who's working in the
garden. Then someone was at the door to see her
father. She ran outside to the back garden to fetch
her father. She stayed behind, perhaps curious and
suspicious. He'd been digging at the bottom of the
garden so she crept up and peered into hole that he'd
There at the bottom of a short trench, lying on a bed
of yesterday's potato peelings were six little bodies
with empty little eyes staring up at her. Their bodies
dripping wet and their fur clustered into little
spikes. A pile of kittens where next years runner
beans would be planted. That was the way they did
things in those days. No need to spend precious money
on vets to put them to sleep when water came from a
tap, and all that was needed was a firm hand to grasp
a small bundle of fur and thrust into a bucket for
just a few precious minutes.
My mother remembers Patch spending a week wandering
about the house and calling every other second as she
searched for her missing brood, before she forgot all
about it and went about her business as usual. My
mother said she doesn't remember being upset about it,
just disappointed that her parents never allowed her
to keep just one kitten for herself, although she
never was particularly keen on runner beans.