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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.