Feline Tales from the Hamlet with Cassandra Campbell-Kemp

Feline Tales from the Hamlet

The leaves have changed colour, the nights are chilly, the days bright and clear and it is time to drive home – back to the UK – but first there’s 1700 miles of Europe to get through!

My neighbour from home, who has become a friend and who has never visited Italy, is coming out for a few days’ holiday before we point the car northwards…! I’m determined to show her the best of our magical mountains with its hidden valleys where, seemingly, life hasn’t changed for centuries yet there is superfast fibre optic broadband being installed in the area, mains gas has reached my local village and the farmers are having to learn English in order to deal with their computerised farm management systems!

There’s so much to do before I leave, a couple of the farm cats to sterilise, kittens to rehome and a lot of clothes to be vacuum bagged until next summer.

Signore S sits looking despondent in his chair by the fire. I ask him what’s wrong and he sighs deeply before answering, “I’m going to miss you”… I assure him I’m going to miss him too, though my stomach and liver will be relieved to be having several months off from his wonderful culinary generosity ! He is a superb cook but one who has never heard of paleo, Keto, low carb or indeed moderation in any form!! Everything is delicious, the ingredients local and fresh and of the highest quality, but the butter, oil and cheese are used in generous quantities, the wine from the well-stocked family cantina, strong and delicious and the “torta nera” dark chocolate tart, simply too good to refuse. My guts roil noisily and he chuckles delightedly! I shall miss him a lot and not only for his cooking, for he is a hugely erudite and widely travelled man and used to speak 5 languages (including the local mountain dialect!). We have had some memorable conversations and I hope there will be many more to come.

Mimi the Manor House cat jumps up into my knee and dribbles ecstatically as I stroke her, her razor sharp claws kneading my thighs as she purrs like a Diesel engine.
I shall miss her and “my” semi feral feline family a lot. There’s something quite wonderful about gaining the trust of such animals and I allow two, Ombra and Tiggy, into the house where they eat delicately from adjoining bowls and take it in turn to use my sadly now-departed Siamese’s litter box. Twice, for medical reasons, I had to keep one or other of them in the house overnight and both have settled into Geisha’s old bed, purring contentedly on the chaise longue beside me as I drift off to sleep, marvelling at the magic of such a bond of love and trust.

Needless to say, they sleep less than I, so several times I’m woken by soft miaowing as they want to go exploring outside. But since they’re recovering from surgery I can neither feed them nor let them out until the morning, all I can do is show them the water bowl and stroke them until they drift off again. But they seem to trust me and as morning comes I open the door and with an affectionate head-butt they’re off exploring, none the worse for wear.Ombra, heavily pregnant and seemingly channelling the more Imperial traits of my beloved, demanding Siamese, Geisha, uses my little house as a sanctuary from the other cats, and the heat. I dig out one of Geisha’s old beds and Ombra settles in wearily, her big belly exposed to the breeze. She sighs deeply, and with a little sound of contentment, drifts off to sleep, knowing that she is safe.

Later, restored after her nap, she investigates the possible birthing places I have made for her around the house. But I know she will give birth in the old, dusty cantina of the Manor House, safely hiding her babies from predators and the other cats – even from me, until such time as they’re old enough to be moved. Sadly I will be back in the UK by then and I won’t see them. But there is the Housekeeper and the Kitten Lady who rehomes them and who Ombra trusts.

Meanwhile, Tiggy, the pretty tabby cat, has given birth and is seemingly always hungry. Sitting outside the door and miaowing for extra food. I give in, not least because she has five naughty, healthy and totally adorable bundles of fur to feed. 4 boys and one little girl. Despite still breastfeeding, the boys adore the leftover food that the farm cats are given and I am amused to watch them fighting over cold ravioli and meat bones, growling like little tigers. The fifth kitten is slightly smaller and a female, I name her Romi and she and I form an instant bond.

My neighbour’s daughter decides she needs a little gazebo of her own, to protect her from the hot sun, so a gorgeous gold and pink house is constructed from old patisserie trays and furnished with a pink brocade throw, complete with flower for her to play with. Just like a princess from The Arabian Nights, she lies in silken splendour, deeply asleep, her adorable little tummy, spotted like a little leopard, exposed to the sun.PhotoFrom time to time, I hear a noise outside my door and to my astonishment Romi has crossed the great expanse of the yard, past all the other sunbathing cats, and has arrived at my door. She’s not eating solid food and doesn’t need bottle feeding, so I can only assume she has come for a cuddle. So, picking her up, I carry her inside and she snuggles down into my lap for a sleep. This happens on two or three occasions, especially since we have now rehomed her brothers, so I think she has decided that I’m her new playmate. She’s wary of my neighbour’s daughter, who in her enthusiasm can be a bit rough with her. So for several days she and I provide companionship for each other, with Ombra and Tiggy popping in and out as they feel fit.

One morning I get into the car to go and buy more cat food, as I reverse back, there is a high-pitched shriek. Heart in mouth, I stop the car and leap out. Romi was, seemingly, under it, by the engine when I moved. Blinking back the tears I try to find her, convinced that she’s not survived. The other cats rush up looking concerned and as I shoo them away, I use a long walking stick to heck under the car. There is a hiss of indignation and Romi runs out. I am so relieved that she’s ok, I pick her up and put her into her pink palace where she sleeps for the rest of the day. I decide that the next day I’m taking her down the mountain to be rehomed. So that night she sleeps in Geisha’s old bed, on a puppy training nappy, the tip of her tail kinked by her experience under the car.

She seems none the worse for wear and purrs contentedly as I tickle her. I shall miss this stalwart little being and, as we drive the long road down from the mountain the next morning, she is totally unafraid and snuggles up to me trustingly as I carry her into the house of the (other) crazy cat lady. I cry as I drive home.

Tiggy, her mother, is looking for her when I get back, so I pick her up and bring her into the house for cuddles. She smells Romi and emits a soft snuffling noise, but seems to understand that she has gone to a life to love and cuddles and not one where she has to hunt the farm vermin – for that is the role of our little colony of cats – to keep the place rat, mouse and snake free. Which they do. Because they provide such a service the Italian government has rules governing feline colonies. They are spayed and microchipped at the local authority’s expense and a government vet comes to take them down for surgery and I have become the recovery unit.

One of the first to be rounded up was William the magnificent Tom. He is the father of all the kittens, yet he is a big old softy who purrs mightily when I give him his supper, slightly apart from the ravening hordes. Despite being the Alpha male, he is a slightly shy gentleman and waits patiently for his bowl, while the others all fall over each other in their enthusiasm for food. He lets me stroke him as he eats and, almost without realising he is shut into the carrying cage and put into the cool of the log shed to await collection. He has to have nil by mouth overnight and my heart breaks as I hear him miaowing pitifully. From time to time there is a mighty thud as he uses his back legs to kick the door of the cage and I talk softly to him, telling him it’s for the best, as he is getting older and the younger male, his son, a magnificent grey tabby, is already trying to establish his position. I would hate for them to fight for dominance, so castrating William seems the best way of avoiding this.

The next morning I go into to get him, as the cat lady has arrived. As I carry him towards her car, he gives one almighty kick and the door of the cage flies open and he is out and off into the trees. She is furious, but I point out that terror he escaped when he did and not while in the car for she would surely have had an accident with a terrified and enraged Tom in close proximity. I am informed that he will never forgive me for incarcerating him and, for two days, he was absent. On the third morning he appeared for breakfast as normal and didn’t shy away from me, instead leant into me as I stroked him. I guess love counts for something. For I do love these cats very much. They have given me so much, especially after the loss of my Geisha. Their presence, antics, trust and affection have meant so much to me and I shall miss them hugely until I return next year.



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