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 dug.

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.