When Maui and Rua died we realised we could not immediately get any more cats but would have to wait several months. This was because we were both commuting to London and would not be around to feed them several times a day as kittens. Also the week that Rua died I was told I was being made redundant. This was because of general budgetary cuts but I had already decided that four hours a day commuting was too much after having been ill. I was given several months’ notice of my redundancy which was to include ‘gardening leave’, i.e. some time when I was paid but did not have to work. This meant we could settle the kittens during that time. Of course I still needed to work and I did apply for a couple of full-time jobs but given I had had cancer and was 55 I decided it would be better to ‘retire’, take my pension and then freelance. Because it was a redundancy I did not have any actuarial reduction to the pension but giving up the full-time job meant that I was ten years short of pension contributions. I told myself that as I had not had any time off for motherhood, I would be in much the same position as virtually everyone I knew. In the seventies everyone had had to stop work when they had children, had usually had a gap of several years and often a lot of part-time work before they got back into full-time employment. It is all very different for the next generation.
It was now 2001. We decided to get two more Siamese in the summer but had to find a breeder. We bought various cat magazines and in the end found someone about an hour’s drive away. This was much better than the previous occasion. We were able to go and visit the kittens before we took them and chose the only boy in the litter and a seal point girl. She was very tiny and I later learnt that seal points are generally the smallest in the litter. The boy was the biggest kitten and was blonde.
We were told he was a seal point tabby but this was not true. He was a blue point (like his mother) tabby but he stayed very pale and never got really dark points. Of our seven cats he was the only one who was not seal point. Then we had to choose Maori names. We opted for Nui for the boy and Iti for the girl. We learnt that Nui meant ‘big’ and Iti meant ‘small’ so when they were fully grown we realised we had chosen well. Iti appeared to have a slight eye infection when we went to collect them but we decided to risk it. She recovered but only lived until she was eight so it is possible that there were long-term effects from this infection.
They adjusted to life in a Northamptonshire village well and by our standards were lucky to have me at home some days, although I still did work in London so there were days when they were on their own for extended hours. We trained them onto leads which meant they could not ‘escape’. This was important as we had no gate and although we lived on a dead-end lane it was quite busy. We also used to play with them in the garden after dinner in the summer. The house was built right alongside the lane so the garden was all at the back. They used to love this summer playtime as we had a lot of cosmos and they could chase the flowers in the dusk. We did have the usual adventures. On one occasion we had let them into the garden on their leads on a Sunday morning. I suddenly saw that Nui was foaming at the mouth! It turned out that a frog had got into the border and he had found it among the flowers.
The far end of the garden gave onto fields as did one side of it. Nui was not averse to getting through the fence and wandering around among our neighbour’s chickens and pheasants, not to mention the cows he kept there. We learnt that male cats will wander but not females as Iti never did this. The first summer, we had visitors and one evening forgot to shut all the windows on the garden side. Nui wandered off during the evening and we had great problems waiting for him to return, not least because if one cat is inside you want to shut them in but cannot easily do this without shutting the other cat out.
Because they were on leads we thought about taking them for walks. Iti had no interest but I used to take Nui along the lane to where there was a path up to a field. He enjoyed exploring in there but there was always the risk of another cat appearing. The neighbours immediately opposite us had a large area behind their house that was full of rubbish. On more than one occasion he managed to drag himself still on the lead across the road, up their drive and then begin to play among all the rubbish. Rescues were needed and I was always a bit concerned that the lead would become so entangled that he would be strangled but fortunately that never happened. On the whole they were happy to sit in the garden chairs with their leads ‘anchored’ to the ground.
These cats were also keen on sitting in cupboards as well as sitting up high. They enjoyed Christmas and the decorations. By this time we had digital cameras so we have a photographic record and I have made photobooks.
Form the beginning they came to Cornwall. We had the journey well organised. Often, we stopped at Waitrose in Cirencester to buy food and have lunch. There was a large car park and we would park at the far end of it, then let them loose in the car. There was also the time that we were driving back from Cornwall at New Year when we ‘lost’ the spike that sealed the door to the cat basket. We had stopped for lunch and then started off again and in the middle of Bodmin moor, Nui got out of the basket, climbed into the front of the car and started walking around in the footwells! Not good news so we had to stop (it was beginning to snow) and get him back into the basket. No sign of the spike but fortunately I had some knitting with me so we were able to close the basket with a knitting needle. We then had to phone the place where we had had lunch. They found the spike and posted it to us.
In Cornwall they had their favourite places and once again these tended to be up high.
Nui rearranging the Christmas hangings
Iti on top of the TV in Cornwall
In the summer of 2002 we went to Norway to visit my sister and her husband who were living there. We sent the cats back to the breeder where they did well although the breeder thought that Iti was not litter-trained. She was. It must have just been the stress of the ‘holiday’.
We moved to Cornwall at the beginning of 2006. The garden here is walled so it seemed safe to let them off the leads but we always kept a close eye on them. Now it is we who have problems getting around the garden. Nui was always keen on climbing up the wall at the back and going to visit the neighbours. This meant our going out the side gate which we never use and walking up the road and into the neighbour’s garden to collect him although on some occasions we managed to talk him down from here. As I said earlier, Iti only lived till she was eight. She developed the dreaded kidney failure and died one very cold Christmas. Fortunately she was not ill for long although we realised that she had probably been ill for some time as she used to spend a lot of time in the airing cupboard and not want to go in the garden, even to eat grass. We did not think too much about this because the weather was getting colder and colder.
Nui lived till the day before his thirteenth birthday. We got him two sisters when Iti died and this worked out very well. He was particularly close to Hinemoa, the smaller of them. His health was not brilliant as when Iti took ill he also developed something which gave him awful diarrohea. This recurred at intervals of several weeks. It meant the laundry was constant and there were times when I had to shut him out of my bedroom so that he could not get on the bed. He was also on steroids for several years as the kidney complaint kicked in.
In summer in Cornwall we could let them loose in the garden because of the wall and they used to enjoy lying in the sun and sleeping the afternoon away. They also enjoyed walking around the beds.