One evening, a face suddenly appeared looking in through our back door. This was not as dramatic as it sounds, as we had recently moved into a log cabin which had a feral cat living underneath who often appeared at the door waiting to be fed. However, this face was younger and considerably more male than “Mrs Miggins” the resident feral, so we realised we had a new visitor. The cabin was built on stilts on a riverbank, with a covered verandah at the back overlooking the river, and this visitor was sat on the verandah staring in at us and our resident cats, Baldrick and Meg. I carefully opened the sliding door and went out to greet our visitor. He was a little shy, after all, he had no idea what sort of reception he would receive. At first sight, he seemed almost portly, but I soon realised he had a very broad chest but was thin around the waist, and was obviously hoping for food. Of course I obliged, as we always have spare food available for anyone in need of a meal. At first he was wary, as he had heard stories about “crazy cat ladies”, but he was fairly sure that I didn’t fit at least one of those words.
He tucked in, but kept one eye on me to make sure I wasn’t up to no good. I slowly reached out to him while he was eating, and he stood up ready to take flight if necessary, but graciously allowed me to softly stroke his back as long as he could continue to eat. We had an old sofa on the verandah, and I sat on it while he finished polishing off the food in the bowl. He climbed up on to the arm of the sofa and sat there licking his lips while judging me. He sat there belching a few times (something we would become all too familiar with) and then strolled off down the verandah and disappeared into the darkness. I didn’t know then whether he would be one of the many feline visitors we have had over the years who only appeared once or twice, or if he would be a regular visitor. We didn’t see him again for a few days, so I thought that was the last we had seen of him, but then one night he was there at the door again hoping to be fed.
Over the next few nights, we settled in to a kind of routine. The resident elderly feral Mrs Miggins would occupy the verandah during the day, and our new visitor would move in in the evening after Miggins had gone to bed under the cabin. We nicknamed them “the day shift” and “the night shift”, as they seemed to change over so that they were never on the verandah together. Miggins was deaf, and would sit outside our bedroom window in the early morning and meow very loudly until breakfast was served. We had to think of a name for our new visitor, and as we name all our cats after characters from the TV series “Blackadder” and he had a tendency to belch a lot, he became Melchett otherwise known as Belchie Melchie. He would arrive for dinner each evening and then sit next to me on the sofa. As the evenings gradually became colder I would sit on the sofa with a blanket over me, and Melchett started to lie on the blanket on top of me. If I tried to stroke him he would lash out, but if I left him in peace he would settle down with me on the sofa. It was the start of a long cold winter and it looked like I would be spending many evenings outside before Melchett started to trust us. If I picked up my camera he would hide as if he was used to someone throwing things at him, and if I tried to walk past him he would cower as if he was used to being kicked.
Our oil tank was in a shed built on stilts, and one night I found Melchett lying on top of the tank in one of Miggins’ favourite sleeping spots. He wasn’t agile enough to get down, so I started to lift him down. He had previously allowed me to lift him for a couple of seconds, but the few seconds it took to get him down from the tank was obviously too much and he turned and bit me hard on the left hand right down to the knuckles. He dropped out of my grip and ran off in to the darkness and did not return that night. The next night he returned and after he had eaten I tried to get some photos of him. He was still scared of me picking the camera up, but he sat in my lap and I managed to get some photos of both of us. You can’t see it in the photos, but the hand I was holding the camera with was by this point badly swollen and bandaged after plentiful applications of antiseptic. These are still some of my favourite pictures of Melchett and I like to think he was sorry for hurting me.
After a few weeks, Melchett decided to have a look inside the house. He managed to find a cardboard box filled with biodegradable packing materials hidden under the TV table which has a tablecloth over it. The contents were a bit like white-coloured Cheetos or Wotsits and he decided this must be one of those “litter trays” he had heard about and made full use of the facilities. Since that night, we have always kept a litter tray hidden under the TV and it is still the only one he will use. Years later he is still nervous of using litter trays, and we suspect that in his early life he was shouted at for doing anything indoors.
One evening I came home from work to find the road to the cabin flooded as the river had overflowed. I ended up wading a mile through waist deep water by the light of the full moon to get back to the cabin. For most of the winter we spent in the cabin, the river was in flood. The garden was under water, and the river flowed under the verandah and the back of the cabin. One night I arrived home from work after dark, and went through the side gate straight onto the verandah. Melchett was taken by surprise, panicked, and ran straight off the end of the deck and dropped into the flood-waters in the dark. He didn’t appear for the next few nights and we really thought that was the last we had seen of him but then one night he suddenly reappeared as if nothing had happened. We never found out how he escaped from the river.
Not long after we moved into the cabin, we found out that our landlord had decided to sell the property and we had to look for somewhere else to live. At this point, Miggins had only just moved in and Melchett was still just the night shift so this was a bit of a shock. We didn’t know whether we would be able to take Melchett with us, and we didn’t want to leave him behind. We managed to find a bungalow on a cul-de-sac with woodland behind it and open fields to one side. There was a garage which we would be able to keep Melchett in while he became accustomed to his new location. As the weeks passed upto the move, I spent every evening on the verandah with Melchett as he gradually became more used to us. I started putting his food bowl inside a cat carrier so that he would get used to going inside it. A few days before the move, Melchett stopped visiting and we did not see him once before we moved and we thought we would not get chance to take him with us.
After moving everything else, I went back to the cabin with the carrier and a bowl of food hoping to find Melchett. The local farmer had moved his cows into the field surrounding the cabin, and there was no sign of Melchett anywhere. I sat on the verandah in the dark watching across the field and waited for him. When I was just about to give up, he suddenly appeared on the river side of the cabin and climbed up onto the verandah. He must have been scared by the cows and had to take the long way round. I managed to tempt him into the carrier with a bowl of food, and we finally left the cabin behind.
We put Melchett in his new garage home with a bed and litter tray, as well as the old sofa from the verandah at the cabin. Lisa and I would sit with him each day as we hoped he would settle down. Unfortunately, the garage had a clear plastic roof, and after a few days, a spell of very warm weather started (in April!) and it soon became apparent that we would not be able to leave Melchett in there. We put a collar and tag on him and let him out into the garden from where he promptly disappeared under the hedge and into the woodland at the bottom of the garden. Once again, we thought we might never see him again, but after a few hours he returned for his supper. There was a covered seating area at the back of the bungalow, so we moved Melchett’s sofa into that, and this became his ‘home’ for the next few months. We started to leave the back door of the bungalow open at night so that Miggins could go out and we left food just inside so that Melchett would start to come in to feed.
Unfortunately, the local magpies soon discovered that there was free food on offer, and early one morning I was woken by a loud squawking in the kitchen. I jumped out of bed (not wearing anything) and found a young magpie panicking in the end of the kitchen which had windows on three sides and it was trying to get out through the glass. It was making a heck of a noise, and just as I caught it Melchett panicked and jumped up and sank his claws into my bare behind. So I was stood there in the early morning light with a panicking magpie loudly trying to remove my fingers and a panicking tomcat holding his whole weight on my bare bum. Oddly enough, you never see scenes like that on adverts for cat food on TV. Having removed enraged magpie from kitchen and enraged tomcat from bare buttocks, I cleaned myself up and went back to bed.
Melchett gradually started to settle down and spend more time indoors as he started to trust us more, although one day he went to hide behind the fridge when I walked into the kitchen whistling so we think he may have been mistreated by someone who whistled. It is so difficult to guess what has happened to stray cats before they cross paths with us. At this point, he was still a “whole” tomcat, and each day he would set off across the fields by the house to visit a nearby stables. This was home to several cats, and he would often come home looking a bit the worse for wear, and was picking fights with Baldrick as well, so he went for a visit to the vets. After this, he calmed down a lot and was soon being bullied by Baldrick rather than the other way round.
One day, our neighbour decided to cut down the middle of the hedge between our garden and her field and put a wooden fence up instead. Unfortunately, she left a gap at the end of the fence and her horse pushed through into the garden and trampled all the plants. The fence became prime territory for Baldrick and Melchett as it provided great views across the field and resulted in plenty of cartoon chases between the pair of them.
Around this time, Baldrick and Melchett decided to start their own Facebook page and continued their descent into catnip addiction. Melchett really started to settle down, and gradually realised that he could play with toys. The new favourite toy was “Hedgepig”, a toy hedgehog on a string, although a succession of “Mousies” also came and went. Melchett also had a soft spot for a catnip fish called a willow kipper.
After a couple of years in the bungalow, we found out that our landlord wanted to sell, so it was time to move again. We found a house on a hillside above a village, with a garden on several levels up the hillside. It was like an adventure playground for cats and was on a no-through road. Baldrick had great fun jumping around on the pile of boxes as we were packing, but Melchett could sense that change was about to happen.
Baldrick and Melchett had great fun exploring the new house, which had stairs for the first time in a few years, and views of the neighbours from the upstairs windows. They soon decided that the prime location in the new house was the radiator shelf in the living room, which had the advantage of underbum heating and was next to the windowsill eating area from where they could keep an eye on the neighbours. Next best was the “catservatory” at the back of the house with panoramic views of their new garden and from where they could keep an eye out for intruders.
Once they had settled down, we allowed them outside to start exploring the garden. At the bottom of the garden there was a wood panel fence beyond which there was a drop of about twenty feet to the garden below which was lower down the hill. Melchett climbed up onto the fence and then immediately jumped off the other side which looked like he had dropped straight down into the other garden. Fortunately, there was a bit more of our garden behind the fence before the drop.
Near the top of the new garden was a flat patio area which we nicknamed ‘the platform’ which the cats loved because it gave views all around the neighbourhood and beyond. This became the prime area for games and catnip binges over the next few years.
Once again we had a range of birds visiting the garden, most of which didn’t seem too bothered by the presence of the cats and would happily sit watching the cats while I watched the cats and the cats watched me to see if I would do anything entertaining. One day, Melchett discovered some bird food pellets on the garden table and decided that bird food must be made from birds. Judging by the look on his face that was not the case.
Our neighbour had a young tabby cat called Tommy who started to spend time in our garden mostly because he shared his garden with another two cats, two dogs, several ferrets, ducks, chickens and pigeons, so our garden was a haven of peace and quiet for him. He idolized Melchett, and used to follow him around the garden staying a respectful couple of feet behind. Melchett likes a quiet life and tolerated his new apprentice as he did his best to show him how to behave.
Unfortunately, Baldrick was not so tolerant, and one day chased Tommy from the garden. Melchett then attacked Baldrick and a real scrap started at the bottom of the garden. At one point Baldrick lifted Melchett up and body-slammed him on the path in a move that a pro wrestler would have been proud of. At this point I managed to separate them but it seemed that Tommy’s apprenticeship was over. He still came to the garden especially if there was catnip on offer, but he stayed away from our cats after that.
During one of his more adventurous moments, Melchett was walking across a wooden fence and slipped off. He ended up hanging on with his front paws and thrashed around wildly trying to climb back on when he was only a couple of inches above the ground. It took him quite a while to climb back on and then he stepped off onto the ground. Baldrick was never very bright, but there were times when Melchett was a pretty close second.
Around this time, we noticed that Melchett’s right eye was becoming discoloured and we took him to the vets a couple of times but the vet assured us it was nothing to worry about. We took him again months later only to discover that he had a cataract in his right eye and were sent off to see a posh eye specialist. All the other patients at the specialist were pedigree dogs with inherited eye problems, so Melchett was a bit out of his depth but maintained his usual level of dignity. After thirty minuted of poking and prodding in a dark room, the vet told us (well she told me but Melchett was listening too) that he had a cataract in his right eye and glaucoma in his left. He had no sight in his right eye but the sight in his left was still OK. He had to have eye drops several times a day, steroids to stop inflammation in his right eye and pressure-reducing drops in his left. He hated the steroid drops as he said they tasted funny (he had to explain to me that it is possible to taste eye drops) but he doesn’t hold a grudge for long so usually forgave me within a few minutes of me giving him the drops.
Just after Christmas, a black cat started appearing at our back door hoping to be fed. He was pretty thin, very cautious and very hungry. Over the next few weeks he visited every day for food, and would sometimes let us stroke him but not when he was eating. He was very possessive of his food and did not take kindly to cat or person approaching during feeding time. However, once he had finished eating, he would allow Lisa to stroke him, and every now and them he would allow me but I always ran the risk of getting scratched if he took offence. He gradually started to get used to lying on the old sofa in the catservatory and seemed to be getting ready to settle down, but then one day he stopped visiting and we never found out what happened to him. There was a whole tribe of black feral cats in the village so it was difficult to find out if he had moved onto someone else once the weather improved.
Melchett wasn’t overly impressed when Edmund the kitten arrived. Edmund decided early on that Melchett was entertainment and would jump on him at every opportunity. Melchett is usually fairly peace-loving but his patience was worn very thin. For the first few weeks, Edmund slept in a cage that was originally home to a German shepherd dog. This allowed Melchett to get some sleep and stopped Edmund doing anything too suicidal.
Just after Christmas a black cat appeared at the back door. This was exactly a year after Bubbles had appeared at the same place and we thought he had returned but it soon became apparent that this was a different cat who was more friendly than Bubbles had been. This cat was quite small and slim and we named it “Bob” after a female character in the TV show Blackadder. We soon discovered that Bob was actually a young neutered male cat, but Bob in Blackadder was a woman pretending to be a man, so the name somehow still seemed appropriate. He would visit us every morning for food before disappearing in the afternoon.
During Edmund’s first winter with us we had several snow storms including one which was dubbed “The Beast From The East” by the UK media. Melchett was quite happy trundling his way through the deep snow, and Bob loved it. He was almost as agile as Edmund and would run, jump and slide all around the garden.
We noticed that Melchett was drooling so took him to the vets to find out that he needed a couple of teeth removing. Shortly after that, he had his six-monthly check at the eye specialist where we found out that his cataract was deteriorating which was causing a big increase in pressure in his eye so it needed to be removed. He was already blind in that eye so he didn’t lose any vision. He had to wear a cone for three weeks which he really hated and Edmund thought smelled funny. The first time Melchett went out after his cone came off he got into a fight with Benji and ripped out one of his fangs and had to have an operation to repair the damage. Then his eye scar became infected and had to be restitched. In the space of a few weeks he had fourteen vet visits and four operations but throughout it all when I asked him how he was, he replied “mustn’t grumble”. His generation had fought in the war and didn’t hold with making a fuss.
We lost Edmund to a car accident at the start of the year, and since then Melchett has done his best to keep the spirit of Edmund alive. He has been playing with toys that he hasn’t looked at for years, running up and down the stairs, and sitting halfway up the stairs at the spot where Edmund used to sit and watch us in the living room. But at heart Melchett realises that he is destined to be the unappreciated sidekick, like Alfred with Batman, Penny with Inspector Gadget, Teller with Penn, Wise with Morecambe or Crosby with Hope. He doesn’t really seek to be in the limelight, and in time we will probably be adopted by another cat or two. They won’t replace Edmund, just as Edmund didn’t replace Baldrick, but hopefully they will get to experience some of the joy that Edmund found in his short life, and maybe set an example for the rest of us.