Review: Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat by Rae Andrew

HENRY WOWLER & THE MIRROR-CAT: A Whimsical Tail for Readers aged 9+ Years & Cat-Fans of All Ages

Author: Rae Andrew

Publisher: Herstory Writing/York Publishing Services, 2021, paperback, 62 pages, b & w illustrations, RRP £6.99

ISBN: 978-0-9928514-2-2

Available from: www.ypdbooks.com, www.amazon.co.uk, by order from any High Street or independent bookshop. UK Customers: Order signed 1st editions at £6.99 inclusive of P+P direct from the author on her.story@hotmail.co.uk

One of the perks of self-publishing is being able to review your own books, and this one will always be particularly special: my first children’s fiction, first collaboration with an artist, and, (alas), the first and only Wowler book to appear during the lifetime of its feline Muse.

Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat is a traditional tale set in a time and place like, and yet unlike, our own. It’s inspired by fantasies I loved as a child, including Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and the TV series Mr Benn, but the idea mainly came from watching our ginger-and-white tom, Henry Wowler, watching himself in the glass back of the electric fire while I fussed him on the fleecy hearthrug. What was he thinking, I wondered; what did he make of the Other Cat he only saw in certain places, like this one? And what would happen if he could go through and meet it? There’d have to be some inversion, something topsy-turvy about it… and it didn’t take long to come up with the first two chapters, self-contained adventures in which Henry learns to join his reflection – MC, the Mirror-Cat – on the Other Side of the glass.

Because no mirror ever shows the same reflection twice, Henry can never be sure exactly what he’s going to find there. On his first visit, he’s very keen to hunt lots of great big mice in the darkness behind the fire – but is shocked to discover quite how big the Other Side mice are, and after he and MC have a narrow escape from two school-mice planning to keep them in a cage as class pets, he’s very keen to get back to his own side!

In Chapter Two, Henry’s relieved to discover that the Other Side of the wardrobe mirror is much less dangerous. Cats there walk on two legs, and wear clothes, and have jobs just like people; MC goes to school, and runs errands to earn pocket-money to spend on his hobby of caring for the Bright family, three miniature Oomans he keeps in a big furnished hutch in his bedroom. Henry Wowler feels tempted to stay with MC and his parents for dinner, maybe even longer… but when he hears a faint echo of his Ooman calling him, he rushes back home to eat his own cat-food instead.

Chapters Three and Four introduce new characters and form a continuing story. The third mirror is the hardest to reach because it hangs high on the living room wall; but Henry manages to leap through to find a roomful of pedigree show-cats, all very famous and worth awful lots of money: Skin the Sphynx, Tammy the Scottish Fold, Dancy the Siamese, Bobby the Manx, and Stevie the Maine Coon, with their self-appointed leader Queenie, the white Persian. After enjoying their luxurious quarters, Henry gets the ladies so excited with his mouse-hunting tales that they start caterwauling – which brings their owners running, and once again Henry Wowler only just manages to avoid being trapped on the Other Side.

The fourth and final chapter begins with Stevie stuck half-way through the mirror, trying to follow Henry so they can go hunting together. The cats hatch a plan for her to return late that night, and they Go Out properly for the first time in Stevie’s life. She gets startled by a low-flying bat; briefly meets Ginger, Henry’s father, (probably); sees off a fox; argues with a grumpy owl in the woods; then to her great delight, catches a mouse on her very first try. Henry Wowler is disgusted when she refuses to kill and eat it, and the cats go back home – only to find that Henry’s Ooman has got up early, and is in the same room as the mirror Stevie needs to return through! She makes a mad dash for it while the Ooman is dozing, but it seems she was spotted… and though the Ooman thinks she must’ve dreamt seeing Stevie, Henry Wowler knows better!

All the chapters are brought to life by my dear friend Janet Flynn’s superb illustrations. Some are drawn from photographs of Henry in real settings, (above left, and the lovely watercolour on the front cover). Others, drawn from her fertile imagination, are full of such wonderful detail, down to the labels on the tins in Mrs Mewly’s corner shop, you can study them for hours – just as I used to with my favourite books as a child. We took care to include anything with a complex description, like the Bright’s hutch, or things which might be unfamiliar to young readers (an old-fashioned spring mousetrap, and all the types of animal featured), so hopefully it’s educational, too – and Janet’s portrait of the fox is a masterpiece. As to whether my text does them justice: that, dear Reader, you must judge for yourself.

The photo on which Janet based her cover painting

HW&MC has been warmly received thus far by readers young and old; although unfortunately, any success it may enjoy will be posthumous for its hero. Henry Wowler, my beloved companion and constant inspiration for ten years, was struck down by a fatal blood clot on New Year’s Eve, 2021, within a month of his fictional alter-ego emerging in print. So the book will now be his legacy and, I hope, the first of many if it proves popular enough; and a tithe of any profits will be donated to Cats Protection and Syros Cats (a charity local to Janet’s home in Greece) in Henry’s name. So I do hope you’ll buy a copy and help me to help other cats in need like he once was, as a stray kitten lost in the woods – and here’s an extract to whet your appetite!

Chapter 1: Cat in the Hearth

Henry Wowler sat on the old sheepskin hearth rug, gazing into the fire. It wasn’t lit. It wasn’t even real. It was just a black metal grate, with shiny black glass at the back, and dull black plastic coals at the front. He wasn’t interested in the fire itself. No, he was watching the Other Cat, which he only ever saw at certain times and in certain places – like right here and now. With the same stripy ginger heads, long, stripy ginger tails, and ginger-splotched white bodies, they looked like identical twins – except that where Henry was soft, furry and warm, the Other was flat, hard and cold, with an odd, dusty smell quite unlike a cat. Today it was there as usual, wide eyes staring back through the glass, copying his every move as he squished the fleece rug with his forepaws. Henry wondered if it was purring too, but as usual, he couldn’t hear a sound. So imagine his surprise when the Other Cat suddenly spoke.

“Good morning.”

“What?” gasped Henry Wowler. “Um- I mean, good morning. I, er, didn’t realise you could talk.”

The Other blinked. “What gave you that idea? I can talk as well as you can.”

“Then why didn’t you say something sooner?” Henry asked.

“I did, every time you spoke to me,” it replied. “If you didn’t hear, it’s because you weren’t listening properly.”

Henry thought about this. “Well, I seem to be listening now. So tell me, please, who are you and what are you doing in my fireplace?”

The Other seemed to smile. “I could ask you the same question.”

 Henry puffed out his white chest. “I’m the Wowler – Henry Wowler – at home in my Third Favourite Sleep-spot, getting ready for a nap.”

“Same here. And I’m the Mirror-cat. You can call me MC.”

“Alright. Pleased to meet you, MC.” Henry squinted through the glass. “Is it still night where you are? It looks pretty dark.”

The Mirror-cat nodded. “It’s always dark here.”

“Oh?” Henry’s ears pricked up. “That must make for good hunting. Do you get many mice on your side?”

“Oh yes, lots,” said MC, “great big ones! Why don’t you come through and have a look?”  

“Me- how?” Standing on the coals, Henry touched noses with the Mirror-cat, then patted the glass with a paw. “I can’t, I’ve already tried.”

“But you haven’t tried in the right way. Trust your whiskers, close your eyes, and don’t open them again until I tell you.”

Henry Wowler didn’t like being told what to do. But he was so curious about the Other Side, and so keen to hunt lots of big mice in the dark, that he obeyed without making a fuss.

His whiskers quivered. For a moment, nothing happened. Then the

fire-back seemed to dissolve. A chilly space opened in front of him, filled with the scent of well-fed tomcat. Then his nose collided with another, not glassy and hard now, but warm and alive like his own.

“There! It’s easy when you know how.” No longer muffled by the glass, MC’s voice sounded loud and clear. “Now just follow me down – but remember to keep your eyes closed.”

Eyes shut tight, Henry followed the Mirror-cat’s nose through the fireplace, over the cold hearth tiles, and down onto a deep, fleecy rug.

“Well done!” said MC. “You can look now.”

Henry did, and immediately noticed three things. Firstly, the light on the Other Side was very strange – not the luminous darkness of true night, but dull, flat and grey as if seen through tinted glass. Secondly, it all smelt very strongly of Mouse. And thirdly-

“Wow!” he gasped. “Either I’ve shrunk, or everything through here is big.” He felt suddenly nervous. “Very big.” He glanced at the Mirror-cat, the exact same size as himself. “Except you.”

“Yes. But don’t worry,” said MC, “it’s safe enough. Are you hungry?”

Henry nodded. It wasn’t long since his breakfast, but he could always squeeze in a bit more.

“Right then,” said MC, “let’s go and eat!”

Henry slunk after him, past a skirting board that towered over their heads. He sniffed. Through the strong mousy scent, he could smell something else – something tasty. Then, tucked into the corner, he saw a strange object – a wooden board, longer and wider than he was, with metal bars at one end attached to a spring in the middle. Beside the spring was a round brown thing on a metal plate. It smelt like a cat-biscuit, the sort he ate every day by the handful – but this one was the size of his head and looked as if it could feed him for a week.

“Wow! That’s the biggest biscuit I’ve ever seen!” Licking his lips, Henry rushed eagerly forward.

 “S-stop!” hissed MC, pulling him up by the tail. “It’s a trap. Stay back, I’ll show you.” Crouching low, he carefully stretched out a paw and gave the biscuit a poke.

Swish-WHACK! A bar whizzed over and smacked down hard on the board – just as it would’ve smacked down hard on Henry Wowler, if he’d been standing there.

“Ugh.” Henry shuddered. “I thought you said it was safe here!”

“It is… more or less. And this thing’s safe now. See?” MC crunched into the biscuit. “Yum! Come and tuck in.” 

Very cautiously, Henry Wowler stepped aboard. Nothing nasty happened, so he crouched beside MC and started to munch.

“Mm-num-num-num,” he purred. “Very good.”

Extract from Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat @Rae Andrew and Janet Flynn, 2021

Obituary: Henry Wowler, 2011-2021

Henry ‘Archie’ Wowler came into the world on a forgotten date in August 2011, possibly sired by Ginger of Woodmoor Road, (the only other cat in the world he liked enough to give free rein of his garden). White with ginger splotches and a temper to match, this kitten of determined and singular character was christened Archie by his first family, and spent his first twelve weeks or so of kittenhood living Up the Road. Then in late October 2011, he ran away from this loving home simply because it didn’t suit his very particular tastes. With great courage and tenacity, he survived in the wild through Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night, making his way Down the Road through the woods, and taking refuge under a bush in the garden of an empty house on the cold dark night of November 10th. There he started shouting, over and over, until the Ooman next door came out to find him; and after putting up a brief but spirited resistance, the young tom returned to a life of warmth, comfort and plenty.

Finder & Foundling, November 2011

For such an anti-social kitten, this new billet was perfect: one of the two quiet Oomans who lived there was home to attend him pretty much 24/7; it was silent all day while she was working, and they rarely had company round. He at once took them over completely, and insisted on being placed immediately into an intensive ‘Learn to Hunt’ programme: six hours of training with She-Ooman from c. 3 – 9 am, sleep, lunch, lap, dinner, four hours with He-Ooman from c. 6 – 10 pm, supper, solo practice in kitchen with toys from c. 10.30 pm, sleep, repeat. A stern warrior, the briefly anonymous Kitten took things very seriously; after Finding Night, he didn’t purr again for two years, (except quietly and privately while squidging his fleece), and refused to let the Oomans pet him even when he occupied their laps.

Over the next six weeks, re-christened Henry Wowler and kindly released by his previous family to stay permanently Down the Road, he systematically acquired The Knowledge: Stalk, Wiggle, Chase and Catch, Pouncing from Concealment, Pouncing on Concealed Prey, Batting, Biting and Ripping, Catching Airborne Prey, and all associated techniques. He was also conspicuously unimpressed by his first Christmas, though he loved the big sheet of bubble-wrap from a gift packaging (indeed over the next several months, he loved it to bits).

A 4-month-old Wowler hides from Christmas in his bubble-wrap tepee

In January 2012, aged around five months, Henry Wowler attained his degree of Master of the Cat-Flap within two days of installation – a remarkable success he announced to the Oomans with a lap of honour and a ‘R-r-rowl!’ of triumph. Simultaneously gaining the Key to the Door and Freedom of the Garden, Henry’s adult life as a free-range cat had just begun. At last able to explore at will, he put his new skills into practice, proudly displaying his first catches – earthworms and a big lawn caterpillar – on the kitchen floor, only to be consistently disappointed by the Oomans’ response. In Spring 2012, soon after ecstatically mistaking a puff of blackbird breast from a sparrowhawk kill for his first bird, Henry truly made his bones with the first of many mice, sundry small rodents, one juvenile rat, one well-timed juvenile Easter bunny, and a mercifully small number of birds he would bring down over a decade. As his hunting prowess grew, his interest in toys correspondingly diminished, although he was always partial to a fresh catnip mouse, and ‘Bang-Window-Run-Away’ would remain a favourite game until the end of his life.

Live prey: a mouse barricaded into ‘Mouse Motel’ behind the fire, awaiting humane capture and release; and right, the stinking small rodent cemetery batted out of reach under the fridge

Qualified and blooded, Henry Wowler then embarked with great zeal on his chosen career in Homeland Security. As self-appointed Pest Control Officer, he demanded regular access for loft, cupboard, drawer, and wardrobe inspections; and in his joint capacity as Garden Guard, spent long hours watching from vantage points high and low, front and back, and repelling all invaders from squirrels to enemy cats with verbal and physical violence. A specialist hunter of small rodents and large spiders, in later life Henry also developed a regrettable talent for catching birds, and an equally regrettable tendency to cause, rather than prevent, infestations of small rodents (and occasionally fleas).

Cupboard Inspection and going Up to the loft

By the age of two, Henry Wowler had fully grown into his bat-ears, big paws, long legs and tail. Strong, handsome and solid, (a little too solid), he looked in perfect health despite a Grade 2 heart murmur which apparently cleared up by itself; thereafter he barely ailed a day, never showed any heart disease symptoms, and rarely needed a vet except for his first essential operation and one tooth extraction.

In maturity, abandoning all hope of finding mice, Henry retired from Cupboard Inspection, though he continued to make general rounds, especially Up in the loft, until his last week, and to guard the garden until his very last night. Increasing age brought increasing contentment; he discovered the joys of being fondled, groomed, and Put To Bed With Love to such extent he would summon the She-Ooman loudly and insistently to minister to him as required, (usually several times a day). With minor variations according to weather and whim, his life settled into a pleasant routine of days asleep on the bed, (quiet please, Oomans), up around 2 pm for a snack, guard duty, inspections, garden ablutions and patrol, dinner around 4 pm, repose on/with Oomans till late, night-time cat-stuff, bedtime treats, breakfast between midnight – 4 am depending when She-Ooman rose, more outdoor cat-stuff interspersed with Meeting, Greeting, Love On The Rug and cat-naps on the couch, at last to bed c. 5 am, wash, sleep, repeat. As a senior cat, Henry was an unabashed hedonist with a fresh cat-mint habit, who enjoyed watching birds in the garden and nature documentaries on TV, especially about polar bears or animals hunting. During his last summer, he experienced a ‘second kittenhood,’ rediscovering the delights of play and diving into games with reckless abandon bordering on the dangerous. A slinky string gave him much pleasure in autumn ‘21, as did being Cat in a Bag again; and the combination of string and bag drove him wild with joy over his last festive season.

Love On the Rug, an all-over body fondle

Throughout these ten memorable years, Henry Wowler had become an extremely popular feature on his She-Ooman’s website and Facebook page, where he first appeared in January 2012: Ginger-white Henry Wowler slinks invisible through the sodium-lit snowscape thinking, ‘Wow, this is my kind of night.’ From then on, his escapades, from ostensibly meaningful conversations to screaming arguments and cat-fights with the neighbours, vet visits, tussles with Oomans over prey, Night of the New Cat-flap, disputes over the patio door, (Henry – open; Ooman – shut), his mastery of The Annoyance, and many more exploits became firm favourites with Wow-fans. His fascination with his reflection in different surfaces even inspired the She-Ooman to create a fictional alter-ego, and her book about Henry Wowler’s adventures with the Mirror-Cat was officially released on 1st December 2021, just thirty days before its hero’s untimely death.

The end for Henry Wowler began suddenly, on the morning of New Year’s Eve. Struck while asleep by a saddle thrombus, (a blood clot pressing on his spinal cord), he developed full hind-end paralysis and breathing difficulties. A painful and distressing condition, cats rarely survive unimpaired even if immediate surgery can be performed, which in this case wasn’t an option; and so, with both Oomans by his side and Mummy-cat’s hands on him, Henry Wowler Gingerson (probably) was eased by a kind vet from his suffering body, and into eternal life in the hearts and minds of those who love and read about him. After lying in state for 24 hours, Henry received an organic burial with due ceremony in his beloved garden, next to the She-Ooman’s tea-break bench and the patio windows which can no longer shut him out, interred with seasonal flowers and the following poem enclosed in a jar to identify him for posterity:

Here lies the great Henry Wowler:

Sleek white cheek pillowed on fleece,

Softly enshrouded by linen and pink woollen blanket,

Breathless nostrils bathed in the sprig of nepeta

Clasped between motionless paws,

And wreathed round in holly – prickly as he often was.

Our mice, birds and spiders are safe now

From his ever-sheathed claws

And I’ve no Breakfast Cat to trip me while making the coffee,

No Teatime Cat presenting for lap the moment he hears the TV,

No Evening Cat to snore in tandem aboard me

Or nestled beside on the couch,

No more nocturnal companion for night-shifts of writing,

No more need to leave space on the sill for a big ginger bum –

No-one wants to sit looking out of the window.

He was a treasure, a cat like no other –

I was entirely his, as he was mine,

Sugar Paws, Sniggle-puss, cat-son.

Henry Wowler would no doubt consider the great outpouring of grief and fond tributes from his bereft Oomans and fans to be his natural due as a truly unique and magnificent cat: adorable, irascible, verbally abusive, cuddlesome, wilful and playful by turns, he was an irreplaceable character and will be sorely missed… although he’s still very much alive on his Henry Wowler Facebook page and in ‘Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat’ (available at £6.99 plus P+P from YPD Books, Amazon UK or through any High Street/independent book seller). As always intended but now also in memory of him, a tithe of any profits from sales of the latter will be donated to Syros Cats sanctuary in Greece, the charity supported by illustrator Janet Flynn, and to Cats Protection UK. As a former lost kitten, the late, great Henry Wowler would no doubt consider that to be natural and fitting, too. Sleep in peace, Snugglepuss.

Hedgehog Lives Matter

Now is the time of year you’re liable to see small hedgehogs bumbling about in the daytime (and all too often getting squashed on the road). These unfortunate youngsters, born late in the season, haven’t had enough time to fatten up sufficiently for winter, forcing them to forage in daylight, and making them vulnerable, in their weakness, to disease and pest infestation. So the hard truth is that most won’t survive hibernation – especially sad given that this iconic British animal is now an endangered species due to habitat loss, deliberate human cruelty and misplaced human kindness (never, but NEVER, give hedgehogs bread and milk! They’re lactose intolerant and it kills them. Don’t give dried mealworms, either, only meat-based cat-food – not fish – and biscuits, or special hedgehog food).

So yesterday afternoon at Beckside, Hubcap wasn’t entirely surprised to see a young hedgehog wandering about in the open, being plagued by a swarm of green-bottles (‘fly-strike’, a horribly apt term). Needless to say he retrieved it, shooed off the flies, and brought it home in a bucket of hay.

Neither of us had great hopes for its survival. Although we couldn’t see any obvious wounds, it was covered in fly eggs (plus a couple of ticks), lethargic, and small; we hoped it was just cold, hungry, thirsty and disoriented rather than sick. We knew from experience, (having found a young hog of similar size but in even poorer condition a couple of years ago), that our local vet couldn’t do anything for it. Luckily, as we have resident hedgehogs in the garden which we house and feed year-round, we were reasonably well-equipped to try some DIY; so rather than risk Hoggie dying before we could get it to a sanctuary, I Googled ‘remove fly eggs from’ and ‘emergency first aid for’ hedgehogs and acted on some refreshingly simple information I found on britishhedgehogs.org.uk.

First I prepared a bed in an old washing up bowl, lined with a warm hot-water bottle wrapped in a tea-towel, topped it with a pad of hay, and laid the patient on it to start slowly raising its body temperature. Then I assembled my instruments: a small artist’s paintbrush, cotton wool swabs, and tweezers and forceps from my old museum conservation toolkit; set up the illuminated magnifying glass Hubcap uses for tying fishing flies; and with some trepidation, set to work. Bar the odd flinch, poor little Hoggie was too exhausted and torpid to protest, which made it relatively easy to spread its bristles and find the disgusting yellowish-white masses of fly eggs laid close to its skin; luckily these stick together and can be extracted in big clumps, (as satisfying as squeezing pimples!), rather than picked out individually, which would have taken all night. As it was, I spent the best part of an hour tweezing out all but a couple of stubborn single eggs adhering to the bristles – by which time I (and probably the hedgehog) had had enough, and I hadn’t yet found, let alone removed, any ticks; but hadn’t seen any fleas either, which was good news.

While I’d been thus occupied, Hubcap had sorted out a recovery ward in a large plastic storage tub lined with newspaper, with a pile of hay and bits of old sheet for bedding, a dish of water, and a dish of Henry Wowler’s chicken-flavour cat-food. In went the hog, on went the lid, and we left it in peace and warmth in front of the stove.

A couple of hours later it started scrabbling around and polished off the cat-food – an encouraging sign. I gave it some more, plus some dry hedgehog kibble. It liked that a lot, proved by the soon-emptied dish. I gave it some more. Meanwhile I’d found lots of excellent advice from Hedgehog Bottom, Berkshire’s Hedgehog Clinic, a voluntary group whose delightfully witty website https://www.hedgehog-rescue.org.uk/ is worth reading purely for information and enjoyment, and resolved to put it into practice ASAP. 

And contrary to our initial gloomy predictions, Hoggie did last the night, alternately stuffing its face then sleeping it off tangled like a teenager in a horrible mess of bedding; and by next morning, curled adorably on its side like a tiny bristly cat, looked bright-eyed and remarkably perky. We duly went straight out to buy pet-safe disinfectant, proper food bowls, a bag of hay, (Hubcap cursing because we’d just had a field full at Beckside, but not foreseeing a need, hadn’t processed any for storage!!) – and lots more hog-food. Then, as recommended by Hedgehog Bottom, while Hubcap did the mucking out I popped Hoggie onto my digital kitchen scales: only353 g, at least 250 g below the minimum for successful hibernation. That answered our first question: yes, we need to keep it indoors and let it pog until it’s practically doubled in weight, when we can move it out to a luxury wooden Hedgehog Hotel, complete with bed compartment and dining area, under our new lean-to in the garden. I also tried to find odd fly eggs (or, God forbid, maggots) and the ticks Hubcap mentioned – but by now the full and feisty Hoggie had enough strength to ball up tightly, contracting its skin and pulling the bristles together wherever I probed. I’ll have to keep trying this every day until, hopefully, it becomes sufficiently accustomed to handling to relax and let me examine and treat it properly. Meanwhile my best hope is that the loosened eggs fell out and were thrown away with the soiled bedding!

Finally, we installed hog-home in the hobby room and put it in as recommended, with chopped-up old fleece and shredded newspaper for nesting. Looking in an hour later, I saw it snugged into a hollow in the hay, sound asleep, breathing deeply – completely transformed from yesterday’s limp scrap into a warm, fed, watered and healthy-looking (if no doubt highly bewildered) little creature. It was a joy to see, especially knowing that Hoggie would surely have died in this big, cold, wet storm if Hubcap hadn’t found it; and even if it doesn’t survive till next spring, we’ll have the consolation of knowing that its days ended in comfort and safety.

But so far, so good – a cycle of eating, sleeping and evacuation has been established, with an immediate and very noticeable improvement in Hoggie’s energy and appearance, (needless to say, if we’d seen any sign of disease, like crying or wheezing, we’d have taken it to the nearest hedgehog specialist). Hopefully this regime of warmth, restricted movement and plentiful food will allow it to gain up to 10 g per day (indicative of good health) – in which case it could be outside in the Hotel by November, with a chance to hibernate naturally, find food nearby if it wakes, and be restored to Beckside next spring to help raise a new generation of these delightful creatures.

In short: if you find an ailing hedgehog, don’t panic! Look up and apply the emergency first-aid procedures, they’re quite simple. Then if you can’t provide the requisite ongoing care, contact the RSPCA or your local hog sanctuary – because every one matters, now more than ever, and we need to save their precious little lives wherever possible.

Amazingly Fat Cat

This week saw our Henry Wowler’s least-favourite day of the year: the day he gets poked about by a stranger then jabbed in the neck. Yes, it’s annual medical time!

We heaved his cat-basket into the van with considerable effort, braced for a scolding about his heaviness; and in the vet’s waiting room I read a poster, ‘How to Tell if Your Cat’s Overweight.’ Can’t feel its ribs? Check. Saggy dewlap? Check. Lack of interest in playing? Check – sort of. As soon as Henry learnt to kill things, he went off toys, although he still enjoys savaging his Christmas catnip mouse, playing ‘knock on the patio window then run away when they open it,’ and chasing the odd leaf or twig round the garden; but on the whole, if it doesn’t bleed, he deems it not worth bothering with. Lazy and lethargic – um, how do you tell with a creature that spends 18 out of 24 hours asleep?

DSCN2654

With Wowler, it depends on the weather, (when it’s fine, he spends more time outdoors doing cat stuff ), and whether anyone’s at home, (Mummy and Daddy-cat’s arrival means dinner, irrespective of how early we finish work – cue for him to wake and start prowling round hassling for food). So no check here – I’d call him averagely active for a cat of his age and temperament. Hesitates before jumping up onto furniture? Check. Mind you, Henry does like to consider the pros and cons – often at some length – before he acts, to avoid any taint of slavish obedience when invited to jump on the bed or onto Mummy-cat’s lap for a cuddle. I’m not sure if that counts as ‘hesitation’ – he’s perfectly capable of jumping without it when the occasion demands, and agile enough to make a standing leap onto the kitchen worktops (attested by the trail of small muddy rosettes I find after rainy nights). And he still has a visible (if substantial) waist, and no problems with flexibility or grooming his hard-to-reach areas. How overweight can he be?

We soon find out – 6.9 kilos! Amazingly, despite receiving exactly the same diet all year – a half-tin of meat and two handfuls of biscuit a day, plus his ration of toothy-bics (ie the dental-care type) – he’s gained 500g since his last weigh-in. Oops. Henry Wowler is, once again, officially Too Heavy; although to my great relief, he hasn’t topped his highest weight of 7.2 kg, recorded three years ago. But despite being a big, solid cat, he should weigh nearer six than seven kilos; so we discuss his intake with the vet, who recommends that I weigh the handfuls and cut back to no more than 30g of dry food per day.

OK. Next morning I duly chuck two heaping handfuls onto the scale, nervously wondering how much we’ve been over-feeding him. It weighs 35g. In other words, the absolute maximum he’d get on the rare days he succeeds in whingeing extra breakfast out of Mummy-cat and conning his bedtime biscuits out of both cat-parents, is a paltry 5g more than the vet’s recommendation. I reduce it to 25g, which looks more like his average daily portion. Phew. I’m delighted that we generally give him less than the recommended 30g – but amazed that, notwithstanding, he’s still managed to put on a pound. How did that happen?

Um. I guiltily recall the odd scraps of Spam or chicken he gets off our plates; doesn’t happen often, but that’ll have to stop – as will giving him any chance to steal scraps I put out for the birds. Plus I suspect he recently went through a phase of pinching a feline neighbour’s food, because he kept coming home in the afternoon looking smug and suspiciously fat, (but still demanding his usual dinner). Luckily, if that was the case, I think the neighbour must’ve got wise and either stopped leaving food outside, or started locking the cat-flap when they feed their own cat. And we can’t control the number of rodents he pogs overnight, (or even necessarily know about it, unless he leaves bloody remnants in the kitchen) – but however good the hunting, it never stops him demanding his full daily ration of cat-food. (Perhaps he thinks mice contain no calories, like chocolate eaten in secret).

Whatever, the upshot for Henry Wowler is no more unscheduled treats, and no more than a measured 25g biscuit and 12 toothy-bics with his meat every day. I’ll also try to make him run about a bit more, (although that only seems to sharpen his appetite). Then I’ll keep my fingers crossed that when we take him to have his teeth cleaned in the New Year, the vet will find our amazingly fat cat has shed a few ounces…

Animal Costumes = Animal Abuse!

Imagine I have a small child who can’t communicate with me verbally, or prevent me from physically abusing them. Imagine I buy that child a hot, uncomfortable, ludicrous comedy costume for my personal entertainment. Imagine I force it onto the child’s body, and when they wriggle and struggle and cry, I say, ‘Oh, never mind, you’ll soon get used to it.’ Imagine I then take photos of their baffled, miserable little face, or videos of them struggling to move around in said ludicrous costume. Imagine I splatter these all over social media, inviting the whole world to mock and laugh at my child, and inspiring others to torment their own helpless children in similar fashion.

What would you think of that? You would, I hope, be horrified and disgusted, report me to social services, get my child removed to safety, and me banged up in prison.

Now substitute the word ‘pet’ for ‘child,’ and suddenly it’s all OK. ‘Oh, how cute, how funny, how precious!’ you may cry when you see images of unfortunate pets suffering in ludicrous costumes. ‘Just look at the expression on its face! Oh, I must share this with all my friends! I must torment my cat/dog/hamster with one of these ludicrous costumes so I can get lots of likes on Facebook and YouTube!’

Well, you certainly won’t get any ‘likes’ from me – in fact, if costuming pets to make them a laughing-stock is your idea of fun, I want nothing to do with you. I deplore, loathe and detest this stupid fad. It may be pretty low down on the continuum of grotesque cruelties humans inflict on animals every minute of every day; nonetheless, it is a cruelty, part of a mind-set that believes animals exist purely for our pleasure and entertainment, so it’s fine to do whatever we want to them irrespective of the effects on their well-being.

Don’t get me wrong: I completely approve of clothing and/or shoeing animals when it’s necessary for their warmth or protection, or as part of their work. But this silly, growing dressing-up trend has nothing to do with animal welfare, and everything to do with human whimsy and fundamental misunderstanding of animal needs and rights.

For instance, yesterday I was particularly appalled to see a Hallowe’en costume for cats that makes them look like a giant spider. Sure, on the most superficial level it does look very funny, and lets you play hilarious practical jokes on people; but if you stop to think from the cat’s point of view, it’s a total disaster. Even if the cat is placid and doesn’t overtly object, once it’s been put in this costume, it’s stuck. It can’t scratch if it gets itchy. It can’t groom without choking on synthetic fibres. It can’t remove the ludicrous costume when it gets too hot. And if (like the cats in the advertising video) it’s allowed to go out and about, it’s in constant danger of getting caught up, injured or killed – especially if someone freaks out at the sight and attacks it. What a great Hallowe’en decoration: your cat-tarantula kicked to death on the street outside your house, or dangling, strangled, from a tree in your garden – just imagine how your kids would love it!

No. Animals are animals, not small furry people; they deserve to be respected and treated according to their nature, not hurt and held up to ridicule. Animals don’t want, don’t understand, and seldom need, clothing. Animals don’t ‘get into the spirit’ of human festivals; they don’t understand what’s going on, and are more likely to be frightened or agitated than to enjoy wearing a festive sweater or having a pair of foam reindeer antlers strapped to their head. They don’t understand – nor do humans who dress up their pets understand, or apparently ever stop to think – that apart from being uncomfortable, these ludicrous costumes are terribly dangerous, that they can catch on objects, or brush against candles/heaters and burst into flame. Imagine how well that’d go down at your birthday party: a terrified, agonized cat in a blazing tutu doing the wall of death round your lounge, or your dog’s elf costume snagging on the Christmas tree and pulling it down in a great smash of baubles on top of itself and your children.

And I don’t understand why anyone would wish to torture a beloved animal companion by inflicting this kind of thing on them. Animals are, in their own right, beautiful, cute and frequently very amusing; they need no artificial embellishment. As readers of my blogs and Facebook posts will know,  I love to share the doings of our Henry Wowler with the world, and many people seem to enjoy hearing about them – but it’s all his own, pure feline behaviour while he is, and always will be, dressed only in his own fur (oh, and a microchip, the only thing we’ve ever succeeded in making him wear – he won’t even tolerate a collar). I mean, look at him: I wouldn’t dream of insulting such a perfect being, demeaning his natural dignity, or making him unhappy/uncomfortable, by forcing him to wear some ludicrous costume for foolish people to laugh at.

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Last but not least are the environmental considerations. While our planet is on fire and we’re facing a massive global climate crisis, pet clothing companies are wasting untold resources of energy, water, petroleum by-products etc on producing this pointless, non-biodegradable novelty tat for people with more money than sense. It’s the kind of consumerism that has GOT to stop if humanity, collectively, wishes to survive into the next century.

So I implore you: please, please, if you care about your pets, don’t dress them up! Boycott these harmful, wasteful products, delete images of them from social media, and discourage other people from buying them. If you’ve got that sort of money to spare, give it to an animal welfare charity instead – and do join me in campaigning to at least raise awareness of the dangers and undesirability of pet dressing, and at best, getting these horrible products taken off the market altogether.

Cat-sick

Today, 4 am: ‘Waaoow!’ The gentle patter of rain is rent by mournful cries as Henry Wowler yells his ‘wet-wah’ up at our open bedroom window. ‘Waaoow?’
Hubcap sighs. ‘Shall I give him his breakfast?’
‘If you like,’ I reply.
Hubcap returns in due course. ‘Soaked, starving and hysterical,’ he says. ‘There was half a mouse and a big pile of mouse-vom in the middle of the rug – It’s a wonder I didn’t step in it.’
It makes such a nice change for Hubcap to rise first and deal with one of the early-morning horrors our cat-son regularly presents me with that I laugh in the dark. ‘Welcome to my world.’

4.25 am: ‘Waaow! Waaaooow!’ Oh God, not again… it’s going to be one of THOSE nights. Before he wakes the entire neighbourhood, I stumble out of bed and say, ‘I’ll go downstairs and sleep with him.’
To my surprise, I find Henry isn’t particularly wet – but he claims, loudly and repeatedly, to be insufficiently fed. Guessing that Daddy-cat forgot to give him dessert, I administer his daily ration of dental biscuits and a little extra cat-food, then tuck myself up on the couch. Normally, Henry would leap aboard in great delight and sleep in my armpit for as long as I’d let him – but not today. No, today he prises the living room door open, scratches noisily on the hall carpet and thunders upstairs.
In a vain attempt to stop him disturbing Daddy-cat again, I follow, return to bed and invite him to lie on my chest. Henry tramples it briefly then retreats to lie on my feet in the most uncomfortable position possible. I move to make space for him at the foot of the bed. For five minutes it seems he’s gone to sleep. Then thu-dub! He lands on the floor and starts shouting again.
‘*%!?@*!!!!’ Daddy-cat shouts back. Henry flees. I follow him down to the kitchen, (good grief, he thinks he’s going to get more food), shut the door on him, go back to bed and callously shut the window against further outcry.

6 am: The alarm goes off. Feeling jaded and irritable, I head downstairs to make our breakfast and discover that Henry Wowler, in great chagrin, has scratted up the duct-tape repair on the old lino ripped by previous scratting (roll on retirement/installation of new kitchen with tiled or laminate floor) so that I struggle to open the door between living room and kitchen. Threading dangerously between my feet, he pleads loudly for yet more food. On the basis that he had, after all, sicked up last night’s supper, I relent and give him a little – for which Daddy-cat rebukes me. It transpires that actually, as well as a generous breakfast, he HAD given Henry his dental biscuits – so as well as both of us being disturbed and sleep-deprived, I’ve been conned out of extra extra food. So when the cat-pig finally settles down in his accustomed place on our bed and goes smugly to sleep, I take revenge and apply spot-on wormer to the back of his head – and laugh when it makes him get up and go off in a huff.

Henry Hates Firework Nights

Now that Slack-jawed Selfish Morons’ Firework Season (run-up to Hallowe’en, Hallowe’en, run-up to Bonfire Night, Bonfire Night, numerous extra Bonfire Nights for people unable to celebrate on November 5th, run-up to Christmas, Christmas, post-Christmas, run-up to New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Eve, post-New Year’s Eve, plus random explosions in between times) is in full swing, Henry Wowler has to spend most evenings cowering in his safety box under our bed – and given the propensity of said selfish morons to continue letting off bangers till midnight, we don’t have the heart to evict the poor little chap.

On such occasions, when he eventually feels it’s safe to emerge and wants Mummy-cat to take him downstairs and administer bedtime biscuits, he usually sits at the foot of the bed whispering, ‘Mrrp? Mrrp?’ in a very small voice until I awake. But last night, he mrrped to no avail – both worn-out cat-parents were too fast asleep to hear him; so the first I knew of his wakefulness and desire for attention was when he jumped on the bed, landed on my feet and snuggled down in the space between our legs. I stroked him. He purred. I thought, ‘Aw. This is OK – I can cope if he settles there,’ and went back to sleep (after throwing back the bedspread and sticking one leg out from under the duvet to compensate for the extra heat generated by his large furry presence).

But he didn’t settle there, of course. Night is his time to do cat stuff; so shortly he got up, went out in the pouring rain for a while, then came back upstairs shouting, ‘Wet!’ I ignored him, and- aha! Instead of pestering on to be mopped dry, he dealt with the situation himself, allowing me to doze off again to the slight, soothing sound of a washing cat. But of course the peace didn’t last – soon Henry was wowling again, obliging me to arise before he woke Daddy-cat too, escort him downstairs, give him some fuss, then lure him into the kitchen with the usual biscuit bribe and shut the door firmly behind me.

All this took place between 10.30 pm and 1.40 am; and this, dear reader, is the reason why on normal nights, if Mr Wowler tries to evade the normal nightly routine of being confined to the kitchen by hiding under our bed, he gets prodded out with a longbow…

Feline Friends!

Henry Wowler doesn’t take kindly to strangers on his patch. If visitors are human, his normal response is to hide in his safety box under our bed and sulk until they go home. If they’re feline, he’ll caterwaul terrible songs of hate and retribution at them; and if that doesn’t work, he takes more positive action. Given that he’s twice the size of most of our neighbourhood moggies, seeing the feline equivalent of a Rottweiler (sixteen pounds of spectacularly fuzzed-out Wowler) charging towards them at high speed generally suffices to see them off the premises pretty damn quick – and if that fails, he won’t baulk at resorting to violence.

So it was with some trepidation that I noticed the new kid on the block – a sparky ginger tom-kitten – had taken to exploring our garden. Last week he got stuck on the roof of our wood-box, and was so over-excited, fighty and bitey when I tried to rescue him that I had to don heavy leather gardening gloves in order to pick him up. Yesterday afternoon GK (Ginger Kitten) was back again; and when I went upstairs I was surprised to find Henry sitting on the bedroom window-sill watching him potter about down below. Not fluffed up, or growling, or even lashing his tail – just watching with mild interest, which was extremely unusual.

At tea-time, with Wowler in his customary early-evening position on my lap, the young intruder returned. This time his reaction was what we’ve come to expect: he sat bolt upright, glaring; then dismounted and sat by the patio window, yowling.

“I’m not letting you out, Henry,” said Daddy-cat. “If you want to see him off you’ll have to use your cat-flap.” While Henry thought about this, the undaunted GK came up and inspected him through the glass, then began frolicking around the patio clearly wanting to play. Henry stopped yowling and watched. Intrigued, I took a jingly ball outside and entertained GK with it, wondering if Wowler would follow; but no, he just continued to watch.

I petted GK as he twined round my ankles, then went back indoors. “This is what he smells like,” I said to Henry. He sniffed my hand. Finally, as the kitten went on cavorting, he could stand it no longer. Hubcap and I looked at each other as the cat-flap clicked, expecting the usual mayhem and braced to rescue GK if the Wowler tried to savage him. But to our utter astonishment, he simply strolled up and held out his nose. So did GK. A mutual bottom inspection followed. “They’re greeting!” I gasped. Then came a slight laying back of ears and batting with forepaws; then Henry bounced away with his tail in the air, hotly pursued by the kitten; then the kitten came back into view, hotly pursued by Henry.

Hubcap and I watched entranced. The only other cat Wowler normally tolerates is the ginger tom from three doors down, who we’ve always jokingly referred to as Henry’s dad (as he may well be); but they don’t cosy up or play together, they just hang out in a companionable, blokey sort of way. So this was the first time in six years that we’ve ever seen Henry larking about with another feline, apparently enjoying its company, (admittedly, he did fetch GK one good clip round the ear that elicited a cry of protest, but it was no more than an uppity kitten deserved).

Delighted, I went out to fuss them both, and my amazement was complete when Henry flopped down on his back, giving the full social roll. Playful chasing then continued until Henry, in wild excitement, leapt into Hubcap’s wheelbarrow so forcefully that it overturned and scared him back into the house.

The episode was no fluke or one-off. This morning GK came back, peering in through the patio door obviously looking for his playmate. I let him in, entertained him with a piece of string, then led him to our bedroom where the Wow was asleep on the bed; and when he eventually woke and condescended to notice, another amicable meeting and greeting took place, followed by more outdoor play. It can’t just be down to GK’s youth and smallness – Henry has hated our opposite neighbour’s lovely lavender-grey pair, Boris and Doris, and chased them off with extreme prejudice ever since they were the same age as this little lad. So I can’t help but wonder whether they belong to some secret League of Red-headed Cats – whether Henry recognises GK as a fellow ginge and, like Tormund in Game of Thrones, finds him ‘kissed by fire’ and beautiful.

Whatever, at long last it seems our anti-social Wowler has a real cat-pal – and I’m chuffed to bits!

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Henry Wowler has a Hissy-fit

Once upon a time, a long, long time (well, 18 months) ago, The Cigarette was the siren-song that lured Hubcap back to the house from wherever he happened to be. Yes, whatever time I chose to come down from the office for a fag-break, the minute I began rolling it he was guaranteed to turn up: on early/late lunch, to get changed/clean his teeth before a doctor/ dentist appointment, to pick up/drop off gear and have an unscheduled cuppa or loo-break while he was at it, or because he’d finished the day’s jobs/was rained off/had randomly decided to knock off early or take a half-holiday – thus obliging me to either wait for the fag until he cleared off again, or have it outdoors, or sit uncomfortably at the end of the kitchen, blowing smoke out of the window. I kid you not – it was like some weird psychic whistle calling him home.

But now I’ve given up (by and large), the lure has changed to Henry Wowler’s tea-time. No matter at what point in the cat-son’s permitted feeding window (any time after 3.30 pm; or 3 pm, at a push; or even 2.30, if his demands become too unbearably annoying) he wakes and decides that he’s hungry, the minute I dish his food out Hubcap’s van is sure to roll up – whereupon the trauma starts.

Mr Wowler dines in the kitchen, you see, not far from the back door – and like any cat, he dislikes being disturbed while he’s eating. Unfortunately, Henry finds Daddy-cat extremely disturbing – sometimes by his mere existence and proximity, especially when he’s dressed in his boiler-suit and big clumpy work-boots, which are clearly very dangerous for cats. Then there’s the noise factor as heavy feet tramp up and down the garden path unloading gear from the van to the shed, passing a bare metre away from Henry’s bowl; and the ultimate horror of the back door opening and shutting, often repeatedly depending on what needs bringing into the house – firewood, coal, shopping, armloads of soggy clothing etc – before Hubcap is finally finished and can divest himself of the scary work-wear and sit down for his own meal.

If Henry’s really hungry, he might dare to snatch a few mouthfuls while this is going on, tensed to spring away at any moment should the door open; but sometimes it’s simply too much for a cat to cope with. Like yesterday, for instance, when I was making dinner and (surprise surprise) the arrival of a soft pressure against my calf and a long orange tail curling round my leg coincided almost to the second with the sound of an engine drawing near. I dished Henry’s food out as he dashed into the living room, then followed to give him a reassuring stroke and encourage him to eat before Hubcap came in. He duly jumped down from the armchair only to halt dithering in the doorway, caught between the sounds of trundling lawnmower wheels and clumping boots ahead, and Mummy-cat’s urging from behind.

I should’ve known better. Henry Wowler does not like being told what to do; and when he’s in a Mood he does not like people dogging his paw-steps and invading his personal space. And of course, now he was in a Mood, baulked of the pleasure of stuffing his face in peace by his horrible, inconsiderate cat-parents. ‘Ssssssssss!’ he said to me crossly, ‘Wrow-row-row-row-row,’ then turned tail and fled upstairs.

None of my previous cats have ever hissed the way Henry does. But being a cat of decided character and voluble expression, the Sound of Extreme Wrath and Displeasure is quite a common part of his vocabulary; and he usually gets away with it with me, although Daddy-cat objects and has been known to swat his little ginger bum for using bad language. And I let it go this time because I felt quite sorry for the little chap – not to mention impressed by the admirable clarity with which he made his feelings known.

(For any reader concerned by Mr Wowler’s hungry plight, the story does end well – within half an hour he’d managed to fill his belly and curl up on Mummy-cat’s lap, and we all lived happily ever after – or at least until I had to get up and go for a pee…)

Catty Christmas

Even as a kitten, Henry Wowler hated Christmas. At the age of four months, when a proud new Mummy-cat tried to involve him in our first festive season together – rolling wrapping-paper balls and trailing lengths of ribbon for him to chase – he just stalked off and sulked in his tent. (His tepee, to be precise: a big bubble-wrap sheet draped over his scratchy-post, one of his favourite hidey-holes). He didn’t like the alien objects invading his living room playground; some smelt funny, and none were connected with his comfort or pleasure. The rattle of paper sheets and ripping sound of sticky-tape were most unsettling. And as for the shiny, dangly things that later appeared everywhere – pooh! He couldn’t be bothered to lift a paw at those (thank goodness – no Christmas trees or mantelpiece swags would bite the dust in Helmickton).

Needless to say, he didn’t mellow with age; and at four years, he finds Christmas simply a Nuisance. The fetching of materials from the loft disturbs his sleep with noises overhead; it’s also dangerous for cats, (we might bring the ceiling down), obliging Mr. Wowler to retreat to his safety-box under the bed, leaving a sad little depression in the duvet to reproach us when we descend. Postmen and couriers knock more frequently with parcels, producing a similar result (Stranger Danger! They’ve come to take him away – better hide!). Then there’s the space invasion: the influx of cards and gifts received and yet-to-give piled on every available flat surface, and worst of all, visitors… yes, it’s Extremely Distasteful for a gentlemog of Henry’s refinement and retiring disposition.

Still, our vulgar festivities hold some compensations, like his dinner of fresh raw chicken moistened with turkey cat-food gravy and, of course, presents. As a successful mouse-mass-murderer, the Wow has largely lost interest in play substitutes, but this year he’s rather taken with the run-around mousie-on-wheels from a gift-box of treats given by a friend, (for reasons I can’t quite fathom, family and friends often give presents to the moody fatso). Our gift goes down well with him too – a minute after I filled it up, in fact…

Yes, in lieu of his usual sturdy brand of catnip fishes, (of which there were none to be had), I buy a fluffy hedgehog about the size of a real mouse, with a Velcro slit in its tummy and a tube of catnip to stuff in at home to ensure maximum fresh aroma. A split-second after I toss it to the Wowler – who promptly goes into nip-frenzy, growling and biting and rubbing it over his face – I realise my mistake: Hedgehog is a toy for kittens or small polite lady-cats, not our huge strong tom. Engulfed by his jaws it looks pathetically tiny and so like his usual prey I half-expect to hear it squeak; and as he clasps it in his forepaws and rips into its belly with his hind claws, the Velcro parts slightly and bleeds a little catnip onto the carpet.

Oops – I need to get Hedgehog back before it all pours out and makes a real mess. Of course, Henry Wowler’s having none of that; as I attempt to snatch it, he swipes at my hand and hooks a claw in the side of my thumb, deeply and painfully. Involuntarily I yank my hand back, which only makes matters worse. ‘Argh!’ I cry. Startled, Henry rears up, dragging my impaled digit with him. ‘Argh!’ I repeat as the pain worsens, then try desperately to soothe the cat, rescue the hedgehog and unhook my thumb before any more damage is done.

Five minutes later, Hedgehog is sporting a tight girdle of bootlace to stop its flaps opening while it’s being savaged by the Wowler, I’m sporting a plaster on my throbbing, oozing thumb, and I’ve learnt a few useful things:

  1. Never give a tom-cat girly presents
  2. Never try to part a Wowler from his nip
  3. When snagged by a cat, never yell or pull; remain calm, treat the claw as a fish-hook, and gently push to release your pierced flesh
  4. Remember these points for Christmas 2016…