The British do not like to be separated from their pets and you might be surprised if you knew just how many of us tuck our little Fidos and Felixes in wooden boxes and take them with us if we get posted to foreign lands. I was no exception and, when we were posted to Zambia my wife gave me a non negotiable ultimatum. “Either me AND the cat or you go on your own”. The decision was made and Judith, me and a small bundle of furry hell prepared for our big adventure.
Sooty was his name and he was mad. We bought him from a farmer in Kent and he was clearly half feral(the cat that is not the farmer). He made his mark on the way home from collecting him when he broke out of his transportation box and ran amok in the car whilst I was trying to navigate through heavy traffic. Anybody nearby would have seen flailing arms and flashes of fur as we tried to catch him until finally he jumped on my head, stuck all four sets of claws in my scalp and refused to move. I had to drive to the nearest pet shop looking like Davy Crocket in order to buy a ‘Sooty proof’ wicker box. The guy behind the counter barely kept a straight face as he helped peel the spitting cat off me.
I went out ahead of Judith and Sooty to ensure everything in the house and garden was ready for their arrival. Having located our new house which was in the north of the country on the outskirts of the Copper belt town of Kitwe I started to prepare. The house had a servant called Silas and a gardener called Patrick. Silas was a giant of a man with a nasty bottle scar across his face. I took him aside and told him the raw facts of life
I explained that Madame was bringing her cat. I then told him he had two choices. He could protect little Sooty and make sure he did not end up maimed, poisoned or eaten and, in return he would be the best fed, best paid house servant in Kitwe. Alternatively he could let something happen to Madame’s cat and become instantly out of work.
He took the point so well that I started getting complaints. Apparently Silas, supported by Patrick had been touring the area beating all the other house servants to a pulp and explaining that if anything ever happened to ‘Madame’s pussy’ he would be back to finish the job. Not quite what I had in mind but very effective. Not only did Sooty remain undamaged and uneaten but, if he disappeared for the shortest of time the neighbourhood would echo to the sound of searching servants calling ‘here pussy pussy’.
Zambia Airways lost Sooty. Unfortunately they found him again in his box on the tarmac next to some pallets destined for Abu Dhabi. Apparently someone tried to stroke him by poking a finger through the bars only to have it shredded. So, off he went and finally arrived with us after two flights and a 24 hour delay. He was not happy and resorted to tormenting Silas by leaping on his head and tangling his claws into the curly hair. Our bar-room brawling giant was absolutely terrified and remained so for the two years we were there.
The average life expectancy of an English cat in the snake infested, hungry and wild area we were living in could be measured in weeks. Clearly they had not seen a cat like Sooty before. He laid waste to a wide area around the house, neighbouring gardens and the surrounding scrubland. After a couple of weeks there was nothing left to crawl or slither around the place.
He got bored and started new games like taunting the next door Doberman guard dogs. He would sit on an overhanging tree branch just high enough that the dogs could not quite reach him. They tried and tried until finally Sooty lowered himself a little further. The dogs never knew what hit them. As their slavering jaws strained upwards he simply raised his paw and slashed his claws across their noses. The neighbour presented me with the vet’s bill and had to admit that our three kilo cat had hospitalised his two guard dogs that both needed stitches. We did not speak much after that.
Sooty had loads of adventures in Zambia before we returned with him to the UK. He got stuck in drains, choked on a preying mantis; fell into the pool and everything in between. I will describe some of the mayhem he caused in another episode! Finally we had to get him out in a hurry because of a spreading outbreak of rabies and he ended up with his own seat on a light aircraft out of the country. Only the best for Madame’s cat!
He died a few years later at our home in Hampshire. The vet said it was feline leukaemia. I reckon it was more likely to have been boredom. He had a great life as his passport will testify!
As I said at the very beginning the British are mainly very attached to their pets but that can equally be said of a German I met in Zambia. He had bought a local German Shepherd as a guard dog and fell in love with it. He went on leave back to Germany and returned with a young and very attractive bride. Unfortunately the dog did not think so.
Every morning he would set off to work and his wife would have to lock herself in the house as the dog would try and set about her as soon as the car was around the corner. When he came home again the dog would be sweetness personified and go to her to be stroked. This went on for over a week until one day the dog got in to the house and bit the poor girl quite badly. Enough was enough and she gave him an ultimatum. It was her or the dog. He thought for the briefest moment and she caught the next flight to Germany.