Saturday, 3 October 2015

Biffo - The Missing Weeks...

I was browsing on-line, as I do when plot-wrangling threatens to
implode my brain, and I came across this, questioning whether putting up posters about your missing cat ever helps you regain the cat.
     It reminded me of my beloved ex-cat, Biffo, and the time he went missing.

     It wasn't long after he moved in with me. I followed the rules for a cat-move. I kept him strictly inside for the requisite two weeks, buttered his paws and gave him cream and tuna, and other treats, designed to convince him that he'd fallen on his paws, and there was nowhere he'd rather be.
     But I had to open the door and let him out eventually, because he'd always had freedom to come and go as he pleased before.
     His first ventures into my back-yard and street went well, and he returned to base for food. And then he went out and didn't return. Not that day, not that night, not the next morning. 

     I knocked on doors and asked neighbours to check their sheds. Still no Biffo.  I concluded that, sadly, Biffo had probably been killed by a car.

But Davy, who was Can-Opener No. 2 (I was No. 3) refused to accept this. He was very attached to Biffo. Davy persuaded me to print off some flyers and we posted them through doors for several streets around.
     The result, after a week, was one phone-call from a concerned man who asked if we'd found our cat yet. He and his wife, he said, would be distraight if they lost their cat, and they felt for us. But no, he'd seen no cat like the one we described.

     Davy still refused to give up. On his insistence - Davy is really the hero of this story - we toured the neighbourhood again, talking to people we met in their gardens, asking if they'd seen our flyer and if they had any news. It was a warm, sunny autumn Saturday, in late October or early November, because the annual barrage of nightly fireworks had been going on for, well, nights.
     We wandered onto a patch of overgrown waste ground that backed onto some gardens, because it was the kind of place that a lost cat might hide during the day, or hunt at dusk. We stood there for some while, talking. Davy seemed sure that Biffo was simply exploring his new area. I argued that he was more likely trying to find his way back to his previous home, and was disorientated in the strange streets.

     We stood there, talking, for some time and a woman came out of her house into her back yard, which we appeared to be staring into. Could she help us, she asked, in that special tone that means: 'What are you up to, you suspicious types?'

     I apologised, and explained that we were looking for our cat. Mollified, she said she'd seen a cat, one she hadn't seen before, sitting on the fence posts at the edge of the waste ground, staring into the scrub. In other words, a cat hunting.
     I asked what the cat had looked like. 'It was a big cat,' she said. Now, on seeing Biffo for the first time, people said either, 'Oh what a beautiful cat,' or 'Oh, what a big cat.' Sometimes, both. I asked for more detail and the description - grey, striped, big bushy tail - all fitted Biffo.
     We thanked the woman, and returned to the road. I was thinking hard. A lost and scared cat, forced to find its own food, would want, I thought, somewhere quiet and hidden to lie up and hide during the day; somewhere there were plenty of small mice and other little creatures (and Biffo did catch mice and rats) and somewhere that people put out food.
     Assuming that he was continuing on down the hill, was he going to find anywhere like that?
     Yes, he was. Near the bottom of that very hill was the house where a good friend of mine lived. It was a corner plot, raised up above street level. Most of its long garden consisted of a steep bank sloping down to the street, thickly grown with trees, bushes and briars. There were apple trees, and plum, hawthorn and wild roses: a miniature urban wood. My friend had never tried to do anything with it: had simply left it to itself.
     She's also keen on wild-life and birds, and puts out food and water, every single night. She makes up sandwiches for the foxes (I kid you not) and sets out cat-food for the hedgehogs. There are peanuts for the badgers. If Biffo was still alive, I reckoned he would have sniffed out my friend's place - and once he'd found it, he'd stay there.
     I knew my friend had guests that afternoon, so didn't interrupt her, but I phoned her as soon as I could and described Biffo. A very large cat, a tabby, mostly grey but with a sandy undercoat. He has the look of a wildcat, I said, with a very thick, bushy grey tail, ringed with black. Amber eyes. Very upright, pointed ears. A big fluffy snow-white 'shirt-front.' Big paws. Hind legs longer than his front legs.
     That was Saturday evening. The very next morning, early, the
phone rang and it was my friend. She asked me to describe my missing cat again. Then she said, 'I got up last night to watch the foxes - ' Which she often does, because she's a life-long insomniac. 'And there was a cat just like the one you described eating from the hedgehog's bowl.'
     So I phoned Davy, and he grabbed his cat-basket and drove over immediately. As soon as his car pulled onto my friend's drive, Biffo emerged from the bushes, wailing. A very bright cat, he recognised individual car engines, and he knew rescue had arrived.
     There was no palaver, that day, about catching him and getting him into the cat-basket. Davy said he almost threw himself inside, purring with relief and gratitude. You know, freedom is one thing - the sky your roof, and your candle a star and all that. But a nice warm sofa and as much cat-food as you can eat is not something to give up lightly.
     After that adventure - he was on the loose for three weeks, with fireworks exploding every night - he stayed much closer to home, though he still spent most of every day outside.
     He's been gone for good since 2010.  I still miss him. In fact, as I lay in bed the other night, I heard him licking his paws beside me, as I did immediately after he died.
     So, did the flyers succeed in reuniting us with our missing cat? No. But Davy's determination to look for him, and asking questions around the neighbourhood - and my doing a bit of writerly imagining on, 'How would a cat think?' - led us to recovering him. And to eight further years of very happy cat life.

     He's welcome to come back in the night, and lick his paws and wipe his ears as often as he likes.


madwippitt said...

Lovely post. Lovely pics too ... And I'm sure posters do help - if nothing else it makes people aware of checking their sheds. Glad you were reunited ... and enjoy the night time visits. Remind me to show you the piece that John Galsworthy wrote about Chris. And to tell you sometime of the ghostly dog that lay on my bed one night at a friend's house ... More things, Horatio, more things ...

Joan Lennon said...

Made me cry - and go stroke my boys -

Susan Price said...

Oh yes, give your lovely boys several strokes from me, Joan. The feline ones, of course.

And Madwippet - I'll be able to listen to your ghostly tales in person tomorrow night, I hope.

Penny Dolan said...

Oh dear. What a story. Feeling a bit sniffly here, reading all this about the magic of Biffo - and the persistence of you & Davy.

Katherine Roberts said...

Lovely that you found Biffo again! If I see a missing cat/dog flyer on a lamp post, I always keep half an eye out... though your post proves word of mouth and determined searching is more effective in the end.

Jenny Alexander said...

I really enjoyed this - well, I do love a happy ending. And what a beautiful cat!

Susan Price said...

Thank you, all. He was a big, beautiful cat, Jenny. Your fingers would sink into all that thick fur and disappear - and his fur was soft as thistle-down. He had a double-coat. He once slept under a hedge in the snow - because he was a dirty stop-out. When he got up the next day, the snow underneath him was unmelted.