There are three questions we’re commonly asked about life on a boat by those who have no boating experience:
1. Do you have a toilet?
2. What do you do in winter when it’s cold?
3. Do cats make good pets on boats?
Well, yes we do have a toilet. And a shower. And a washing machine. And a dryer. We also have a TV, a microwave, a fridge and a cooker. This isn't the Dark Ages, don't you know? We can't use all the electrical appliances at once though. That would cause the universe to implode. When it’s cold outside we shut the doors and when it’s really cold we light the stove. When we are two foot deep in snow and frozen in our mooring we also switch on the diesel heater – or just when we want to have a shower; it heats our hot water. Cats are like people; some like boats and others don't. My neighbour is currently out searching for his as she didn't fancy a boat trip and has gone into hiding. I imagine a lot of cats do make good pets and crew members but ours doesn't - she’s rubbish. She never helps at locks and if you pass her a mooring line she stares at you before walking nonchalantly away. A dog would probably be better. At least dogs look enthusiastic most of the time.
The last answer isn't quite good enough for the enquiring people of this world. Why, they demand to know, do we make her live in such abject poverty and pikiness?
Well, truth be told, I think she secretly likes it. She’s still here for a start and since she’s a squatter it’s obviously a step up from where she came from. I’d usually go on to tell the unsuspecting passer-by Lolly’s life story but they’re no longer listening. No. They’re too enamoured by the cat lolling at their feet waiting for her belly to be scratched and have, by this time anyway, lost the ability to talk properly. “Poor kitty-catty, do the nasty-wasty people make you live on a boaty-woaty?”
It's at this point that I threaten mutiny unless Lolly tells them the truth. She never does and I never mutiny. Who would own me if I did?
So, this is the story of Lolly’s boating career otherwise known as How We Came to be Owned by a Cat.
She found us on a warm September day in 2005. We’d gone for a walk to take advantage of the late summer sunshine. I like to think that we were putting the world to rights and making last minute wedding plans as we strolled but a) I can't remember and b) I was excused from wedding planning on the basis that I was useless.
Cue the entrance of a little scrawny black and white cat. She pounced on us from out of the hedgerow. We had no warning other than a harrowing “eeerrrrrgh” as she charged at our ankles.
“She’s broken.” I remember saying as a furry mass of bones with massive green eyes looked up at us, for that wasn't a proper meow.
“Eeerrrrgh.” She confirmed.
We decided to work on the basis that she was lost. It never occurred to us that she could’ve been abandoned or never had a home at all. So, we led her back towards town in the hope that she’d find her bearings and return home. She didn't. She stayed with us that night.
When we led her to our boat she uttered a pitiful “eeergh!” I think she was hoping for a house. I could tell that she wanted to know whether we had a toilet and was conrned for our well-being during inclement weather.* "It’s okay,” I soothed, “we do in fact have a toilet. It flushes and everything.”
I lied to her to get her onboard. I told her we had cat food (we didn't) and that we in no way whatsoever had any other pets (we did). Eventually she followed us in.
“Oh,” I said feigning surprise, “we have rats. Did I mention the rats?” Nobby and Tain eyed her through the bars of their cage. They were expecting dinner. Her eyes grew in size when she saw them. I think the rest of her head disappeared at some point because all I remember are those massive green eyes. Still, she was only going to be with us overnight – how could the rats possibly eat her in that space of time (I neglected to tell her that they could open their cage by themselves and that Tain, the smallest of the two, already had an appetite for spiders – not their legs though. He’d leave them in a neat pile once he was done. I had visions of waking up the following morning and finding a set of cat legs)?
Since we didn't have anything even vaguely resembling cat food I gave her a bowl of Cheerios. “Eeeergh!” She said, but she ate them regardless.
The following day I took her to the vet’s. The receptionists declared that she was the most beautiful cat they’d ever seen. Of course she is, I thought, she’s our- I had to stop myself there. She wasn't ours and we weren't keeping her. The rats would eat her, I reminded myself. She’d hate living on a boat – everyone knows cats hate water...
There was much “oohing” and “ahhing” by the nurse too. She told me the cat was at least six months old (or thereabouts) and had either just had a litter of kittens or had reabsorbed them because her body couldn't sustain them in the condition she was in. And “ooh, doesn't she have big, beautiful eyes?”
“Kittens? But she IS a kitten?” I pointed at the tiny bundle of fluff. They start young, apparently.
“You’re a right proper Lolita.” I told her as we left the surgery. I decided against leaving her there after all.
We took her back to where we’d found her in the vague hope that she’d lead us to any kittens if she’d had any. She never did and after a thorough search we came to the conclusion that she’d never given birth.
Once we were home I made posters to put up around the town. Rob phoned the Cat’s Protection League. If she had owners we would find them - Someone somewhere would be missing her.
We thought we’d better name her in the interim. Calling her Kitty and Hey You only went so far (and she ignored them) and she wasn't so keen on Lolita. I think she was worried about her reputation. “Too late for that.” I reminded her, but still, she never answered to Lolita. My dad suggested shortening it to Lolly so we tried it out on her. We waited until she was distracted and I called “Lolly”.
She turned and looked at me.
That was probably a fluke so I tried the name out on her again. She responded. I later tried out a variety of other names and words that sounded similar. She didn't care for Molly, Brolly, Tolly, Colly, Dolly Holly or Polly. Ok, some of those I’d clearly made up.
“Lolly” I tried again.
She turned her big green eyes upon me.
That’s just not normal. Still, Lolly it would be. I tried calling her again just to make sure. She actually got up and walked over to me. I guess she liked that name... Or was expecting food.
No one ever did come forward to claim her and after a couple of weeks Rob declared that he’d found her a proper home – a home with a garden and a home that didn't move or was surrounded by water. Everybody knows cats hate water, he reminded me.
It was time to say goodbye.
Only I couldn't. I did try but I was in love and Lolly had settled in (if you didn't count being chased by rats and the odd tumble into the water).
I decided to sit her down and have a chat.
“There’s some people who want you to live with them.” I told her as calmly and with as few tears as possible. “They have a garden. And it isn’t full of water”.
“Eeerrgh!” Lolly said.
“Blame Rob.” I replied. “He obviously doesn’t love you as much as me.” Really, I wasn't at fault for giving her up.
She looked at me.
“I think cats like water just fine.” I said, knowing full well that this particular one didn't.
“If you stay and you’re sad or you’re eaten by rats you’ve only got yourself to blame.” I really would feel responsible. “Are you telling Rob or should I?”
It turned out that it’d be my job. It also turned out (as I suspected all along) that Rob too had fallen in love with the scrawny bag of bones that had come to stay and our life would no longer be defined by us alone. No, we had inadvertently become human pets. Cunning. Cats are nothing if not cunning.
(She was never eaten by the rats, just in case you were worried. They did chase her a lot though).
* I may have made that bit up.