Our old cat, Baldrick, was a real character. For most of the thirteen years he spent with us he acted like a kitten. When he passed away in October 2017, we thought we would never have another cat with such personality, but only a month after his loss, my wife Lisa met and fell for a tabby kitten at the Cats Protection branch where she volunteers. He was known as “Gatito” (little cat) because he was so small, and had to be kept in a cage on his own at the rescue centre because he kept biting his mother. He soon adopted us and was renamed “Edmund” after a character from the TV series Blackadder. The moment we released him from his carrier he was like the Tasmanian devil, twirling and jumping all around the bedroom, and we joked that he would become the most photographed cat in the world which is probably not too far from the truth.
His first toy was a small ball that he kicked all round the room, showing dribbling skills that would put some soccer players to shame. I say “a” small ball but really it was a big bag full of balls that Lisa bought for him and which he left in random positions on the stairs for me to step on. He especially loved chasing the balls down the stairs at speed then waiting for us to throw them to the top again.
He also had Mousie which was almost as big as him and a toy Santa with a furry tail which he adored. He would bounce all around the bedroom for hours chasing it.
It soon became apparent that his jumping abilities were beyond those for an ordinary cat. Baldrick had jumped around quite a lot, but he was positively earthbound compared to Edmund. As he grew, Edmund could jump about six feet straight up or eight feet sideways from a standing start and without much apparent effort.
Our other cat, Melchett wasn’t overly impressed with the new addition to the family. 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.
It became quickly apparent that Edmund was smarter than the average cat. Most of our cats were at the back of the queue when brains were being handed out, but Edmund could open cupboards, drawers and treat containers with ease especially if there was catnip inside. We bought him a treat tower which was supposed to provide hours of stimulation for a cat to work out how to get the treats out but Edmund treated it as a vending machine and flicked the treats out without a second thought. We once made the mistake of leaving our rent money in a drawer that had had catnip in it and came home to find Edmund chewing on a bunch of twenty-pound notes that he had removed from the drawer.
When he was young Edmund had a tendency to bite everything he saw, particularly my nose. He also loved bare feet and would attack any that he saw on the edge of the bed. As Edmund grew older, his biting habit reduced although he never lost his love of attacking bare feet.
Edmund had a cat tree that he would spend hours playing on. He loved sitting on the top level looking out of the bedroom window dreaming of the day he would be allowed outside. On bonfire night we were worried he would be scared by the fireworks but we found him sitting in the window fascinated by all the bright objects in the sky.
He spent almost as much time on two feet as on four and a lot of the time looked like he was dancing.
He seemed to think that his tail was nothing to do with him and would attack it mercilessly and try to beat it into submission. It never seemed to sink in that when he bit his tail it caused him pain, it just seemed to confirm his suspicions that the tail was up to no good.
All of the other cats we have known have hated soap bubbles even ones with catnip mixed in, but Edmund loved them. He would leap and chase them all around the room but could never understand why he never managed to catch one. This just seemed to make him more determined with each new attack.
He was also the only cat that loved running water and loved drinking and playing with it.
Edmund also loved eating plants. He was particularly fond of an aloe vera plant which we had to get rid of because they are poisonous to cats, but also a coffee plant that Lisa had been growing from a seed for years and was still only a few inches high.
Edmund had a fondness for sniffing cat litter. He would bury his nose in the tray and sniff around for ages which would then make him sneeze for hours. He would sit at the top of his cat tree and sneeze on the bedroom window which we had to clean repeatedly. We tried some “low-dust” litter which was a pink colour in place of the wood pellet litter we normally use, but all that happened was he started living pink snot on the window instead. Thankfully as he grew older he grew out of this habit.
Just after Christmas a black cat appeared at the back door. The 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. As Edmund grew older, we started to take him outside on a harness. The first time we put it on him he immediately collapsed and would have won the cat Oscar for “most dramatic performance” if there was one. We really thought the harness was stopping him breathing, but soon realised it was just him pretending to swoon. Fortunately, he soon realised that the only way he was going to get to go out was with the harness on and he calmed down a bit.
He loved exploring the garden even in his harness, but was embarrassed having to wear a pink harness and leash in front of Bob and Melchett and complained about it frequently. He was particularly unimpressed when it started snowing and he couldn’t understand what the cold stuff was that was falling from the sky and landing on him.
Once we were fairly confident that Edmund could be trusted without the harness we set him free. He immediately disappeared down an old rabbit warren in the corner of the garden and did not return for about a quarter of an hour. That was one of the longest fifteen minutes of my life, but became a familiar feeling when watching Edmund outside. I blocked up the entrances to the warren but he would always find other ways to scare me half to death. Bob and Edmund soon became best friends and would chase each other up and down the garden and as parts of the garden were vertical, they literally chased each other up and down at terrifying speed and apparently little thought for the dangers involved. At the end of each chase there would be a big “fight” that involved lots of rolling around and all sorts of facial expressions but little real violence apart from when Edmund sometimes got a little carried away. Bob would soon let him know that he had overstepped the mark and then normal service would be resumed.
We decided around this time to move somewhere with more open space for Edmund to run around in. He was built like a miniature cheetah and really needed a field to run in. We managed to find a mobile home next to a field and some woodland. It was just outside a village and seemed like the ideal location for Edmund and Melchett.
There was already a cat living on site, an elderly one-toothed ginger rat-catcher called Simba, and Edmund idolised him. Edmund would follow Simba around at a safe distance and would even just sit and watch him while he slept. He knew not to get too close because Simba would give him a smack but there were never any fights between them. Simba’s owner worked long hours, so we often ended up feeding him (Simba, not his owner) and Simba gradually moved in with us.
Most of our cats have not been keen on wide-open spaces, with Baldrick in particular liking to lurk in the undergrowth, but Edmund took to the field like a cheetah on the savannah. He would “hide” behind small tufts of grass and then set off across the field at speed and a fair speed it was too. We often wondered if Edmund had a bit of Savannah, Bengal or something more exotic (possibly alien) in his DNA, as he was certainly not an average moggy.
He soon discovered the woodland on the far side of the field, and would happily climb large trees as well as vanishing inside a hollowed-out tree trunk that he would emerge from several minutes later after his travels in the underworld. It was scary to watch him in action, but he had such a lust for life and was a real force of nature. He would chase pheasants in the woods, and every now and then came close to catching one. I had visions of one day seeing him flying across the field sat on the back of a pheasant and wouldn’t really have been surprised.
There were a couple of old vans parked in the field and Edmund had great fun climbing on them while Melchett was happy to sit under them and watch the world go by. Edmund soon discovered that he could jump from the roof of one of the vans onto a barn roof where there were sparrows nesting and would hang over the edge of the roof trying to catch the birds as they emerged but fortunately they were always just out of reach.
Although most of our cats have loved cardboard boxes, Edmund was the only one who loved eating them. We often had piles of stuff in boxes, and he would gradually reduce them to piles of stuff on the floor surrounded by bits of half-eaten cardboard.
The field had three sheep living in it and Edmund had great fun chasing them as he thought they were just big woolly mice. He got away with it the first couple of times as the sheep were taken by surprise by this new menace and ran away. However, they soon realised how small he was and started to stand their ground. This led to a series of stand-offs which he mostly lost but he still kept trying. When the sheep had lambs in the spring, he tolerated them approaching him and would happily rub noses with them which was his favourite greeting.
There was an old tennis ball in the field which Edmund would happily chase and pounce on, but when the ball bounced up he thought it was attacking him and he would run away again.
He would chase butterflies and bumblebees and catch them under his paw then look totally confused when he lifted his paw and they would fly away. He loved chasing things but never developed a killer instinct.
Simba’s health gradually deteriorated, and he was with us when he passed away quietly one morning. We buried him under the apple trees where he used to sleep in the evening sun. He was a refined old gentleman who had welcomed us into his home in his twilight months.
We had one snowfall during our time in the caravan, and Edmund made the most of it. He ran, jumped and skidded all over the field and seemed even less likely than usual to stay still. Melchett just sat under one of the vans scowling at the inconvenience of it all.
One of Edmund’s favourite pastimes was sneaking up behind me and jumping from the ground onto my shoulder from where he would started rubbing his head against mine. This was slightly disturbing if I thought I was alone in the dark outside the caravan, and even more disturbing when I was using the toilet inside, which nearly caused a few accidents.
After a long cold winter, we found out that our landlord was planning to sell (a familiar theme), and so had to move again. We managed to find a small cottage next to a field, and although it was next to a road it was a small, very quiet country road where only a handful of vehicles passed each day and we thought it would be safe for the cats. There was even less traffic here than there had been at the caravan so off we went.
There was already a cat called Benji living next-door, and he regularly goes to sleep in the middle of the road so we knew it was fairly safe and that the neighbours would be used to having cats around. Benji is a un-neutered Bengal tomcat and we knew we would be moving into his territory so our boys would have to be careful with him.
As soon as we let Edmund outside he started climbing onto the outbuildings around the cottage. He realised that they were close enough together to allow him to jump from one to another until he reached the highest. Not for the first time, I had to watch him risk life and limb while he thoroughly enjoyed himself.
There was a stack of straw bales in the barn next to the cottage that became prime real estate for all the cats. It was ideal for sleeping on while the sun was out but also for hiding behind, hunting around and also for watching bats flying around the barn in the evening. Edmund and Melchett would often appear at the door with bits of straw stuck to their whiskers or sticking out of their ears.
At one point, Edmund caught a vole upstairs and brought it down to release in the kitchen. The vole tried to run up the wood panel at the side of the stairs but just ended up running on the spot while Edmund watched it. I managed to pick it up and was bitten in return and released it outside where Edmund just followed it around. Once again I started to wonder whether Edmund was part cartoon cat.
We get many spectacular sunsets and Edmund often spent the evening jumping around in the field while I watched the sunset and took photographs of him.
Edmund found himself a favourite piece of machinery in the barn – an old cement mixer. He could sit inside it when it was raining and sit on top when the sun came out.
Benji and Edmund would often start squabbling which sounded dreadful but rarely amounted to anything too serious. At the sight of Melchett, Benji would roll over in submission even though Melchett wasn’t really much of a threat to him. If Edmund was inside when he saw Benji, he would throw himself at the window, he was always very brave from behind glass. We eventually found a way to achieve a kind of peace outside by putting three old mats down on the gravel so each of the cats had his own mat but could keep an eye on the other two.
One day I was at work and received a phone call from Lisa which rarely happened so I knew it must be something fairly serious. All sorts of thoughts came into my head – maybe something had happened to Melchett, maybe something had happened to one of our parents who are all at the sort of age where you start to brace yourself for the inevitable bad news. Maybe she had had problems with her car or the heating had stopped working. The one thing I never thought of and was totally unprepared for – “Edmund’s dead”. Two short words that carried so much weight. He had been hit by a car which never stopped on a road that has only a handful of vehicles each day. He must have run out at just the wrong time.
I drove home in a daze, stuck behind a tractor at ten miles-per-hour and convinced myself that it must all be a misunderstanding. It wasn’t of course although it seemed impossible to accept. Edmund was so full of life and such a force of nature it didn’t seem possible that he could be taken from us so suddenly. We have always allowed our cats to go outdoors if they want to and accept that one day we may pay the price for allowing them this freedom, but in twenty-two years we had never lost a cat this way before and this was the quietest place we have lived.
Since we lost Edmund, 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.