This photo is unusual in that it has a date written on the back, in my mother's handwriting, 'August Bank holiday, 1967. It shows my brother and me - I am in the foreground - with three kittens. It was taken on holiday in Hastings, Sussex, on a farm where we were staying in our caravan.
The odd thing about this - apart from that Mum chose to date it, which was almost unheard of with our family photos, so that puzzling out the wheres, whens an sometimes even the whos of them is an endless source of frustration - is that I was fairly certain until now that we got our ginger cat, for he it is who is on my lap, when I was six, but I would still only have been five in the summer of 1967, at the end of my first year at school. Once again, the rather dour and mistrustful frown; Philip, my brother, looks much cheerier.
I think I'm a year or so older than in the previous photo I posted, I look it and also by that short hair, which I got just after my sister Alison (Az) came back from visiting our older sister Helen in London with her dark hair in an urchin cut. I immediately wanted one too, though I remember Az lamenting the passing of what must have been the last of my infant blond streaks.
Another thing I remember particularly were the black denim jeans I am wearing in the picture, no white knee socks here, though still the Clarks t-bars. We didn't wear trousers that much as little girls, certainly not to school where they were rather frowned on by stuffy head-teachers, I think. But those I loved, and I have always had a penchant for black denim jeans ever since, though you can't always get them. I've had three pairs in my life, including one now, and I've felt good in all of them. I wouldn't mind a black and white striped t-shirt like that either, but I could probably no longer really carry off such broad horizontals these days.
So Ginger came home with us from Hastings. We hadn't had a cat since the black one, who had been brought home from another holiday and another farm, that of my Dad's Aunt Ethel in Somerset, had been run over on the aforesaid lethal A41 some three years before. Mum vowed we wouldn't have any more dogs or cats, but her resolve weakened when these orphans presented themselves. The farm had a number of cats; the mother of these kittens had given birth to them in a haystack and kept them secret from the farm owners, but had then been run over when they were about six weeks old. That might have been the end of them, since no one knew they were there, but our Ginger had found his way out and his sisters had followed him, so the story went. He was, then, a hero, we were told. We took him, I think some other holidaymakers took the other two.
The naming of cats is a difficult matter, it isn't just one of your holiday games... Ginger was endowed with an embarrassment of rather grandiose names, none of which stuck. I think Mum wanted to call him Hastings, for obvious reasons, and she was fond of the place having spent her nursing training years, some of the best of her life, there. I favoured Orlando, after Kathleen Hale's marvellous creation, and Philip, on account of the hero thing, wanted to call him Perseus. In fact he really had no name at all for about the first six years of his life other than Puss or Pussy, and was only slightly less vaguely dubbed Ginger when we acquired a second cat, Tiggy, to distinguish him from her.
He was a clever, somewhat eccentric cat, inclined to be quite deadly and uninhibited with teeth and claws if you looked at him over the back of the sofa or through the banisters, but a great playmate, loved to dance around the rim of the tub at bath times, would attentively watch us playing board games then reach out a paw and move the pieces, and accompanied us on all our holidays, taking car journeys in his stride as long as he could curl up as close as possible to my dad's feet while the latter was driving. Once as a kitten he shinned up Az's legs in their skinny trousers which made me squeal with delight and her with pain. He used to knock at the back door to come in (the knocker was at waist height) but never if you were outside watching; try as I might, I only caught him in the act of doing so once. He was kindly and solicitous towards Tiggy when she was a kitten and peaceable and companionable with her when she grew up. In the last year or so of his life he co-existed in rather curmudgeonly tolerance bordering on armed neutrality with my collie, Phin, once he had sent him flying with a clawed swipe on the first day of the puppy's arrival.
He once climbed up onto the kitchen counter and curled up asleep on a warm Victoria sponge cake on the cooling rack.
He never did meet his end on the A41; one evening a man came to the door having hit him with his car, we brought him in with his eyes all wonky and a bit of blood on his face, put him in the warm dark cupboard under the stairs and he sauntered out the next morning and ate a healthy breakfast, he always liked his food and grew rather fat later in life. He didn't venture much towards the road after that, though I always dreaded any knock on the door in the evening. He moved with us to Brighton when I was sixteen, but didn't have a very long life by cat standards, living to about twelve. His eccentricity turned to dementia, accompanied by incontinence, and one morning my dad slipped away with him to the PDSA to have him put down without telling any of us.
I was sad, but maybe not as sad as I am now thinking about it. It's a long time between five and seventeen, and the focus of my affections had moved to my first dog, then to my first serious boyfriend, more worthily in the former case than the latter, I must say. I've always had a fondness for ginger cats though.