When I bought 381 Pilton Vale it came without carpets and curtains. The sellers had even removed the light-bulbs. But it was a happy moment. My first house. Those I’d bought it from had paid only £3,500 for it. (So they could have afforded to throw in the light bulbs) I paid, £10,500 for it, and soon after that the property market exploded, carrying me up with it. It was like surfing on money.
Still, it didn’t seem like it that first night, walking on bare concrete and chip-board floors with a candle in my hand. Neighbours must have thought Quasimodo had just moved in, or Wee Willie Winkie.
Stuart and Jennie next door came to my rescue with the gift of a coffee table and a very old black couch. As Stuart said, ‘you have to start somewhere…everything gets better given time’. He was a gentle and dry philosopher was Stuart.
And it did get better.
Somebody gave me a tiny grey kitten. It was small enough to fit in the palm of my hand and stared up at me, a ball of fluff with wondering eyes. The kitten, not me.
I called it Gladstone.
It seemed to me that something so small demanded a weighty name. We sat most nights on a rocking chair watching TV until it was time for bed. Gladstone slept in the hallway at the foot of the stairs.
When I came home at night I was forced to open the door slowly, inch by inch, because Gladstone, eager to see me (and be fed) was pressed against the other side, and didn’t have the brain to move.
Every night followed a similar pattern. We watched some great TV together, and I got used to the smell of cat-food. But Gladstone resented being left downstairs.
In bed, I’d hear a desperate scrabbling, then a bump; more scrabbling and a final bump. In the morning I’d find him splayed out on the second step of the stairs.
As the days passed he made it to the fourth, and then the fifth. Sometimes he’d wake up in the early morning and make it to another step before passing out.
One Saturday morning, pondering as to whether to sleep in for another hour or two, I heard a desperate scrabbling and a thump that seemed very close. He’d made it to the landing. I was sure of it. A moment or two later the bedroom door creaked open. I lay there, content. Gladstone had climbed the Matterhorn. What character. True grit! But wait, he hadn’t finished.
The scrabbling continued and stopped just below the bed. Part leap - part abseiling -claws raking duvet, Gladstone made the final ascent and landed on the bed.
His triumph and mine were short-lived. The effort proved too much for him and he pissed on the bedding. I grabbed him – still a neat fit in the hand – and went to hurl him off the bed. But he looked so happy, so pleased with himself; he stayed. I went downstairs and made some porridge.
Gladstone was a favourite with the children next door, who played with him in the garden when I wasn’t there. One day Gladstone vanished. Shane and Michelle scoured Pilton Vale, knocking from door to door and, to my great astonishment, Gladstone was found.
He’d been discovered coated in mud on the river bank, as though somebody had thrown him there. The poor thing was shivering but he was dry,hot to the touch, as though burning up.
I had no telephone, didn’t know where to find a vet, so that night I knocked the local doctor out from his bed and confronted him with my feverish cat.
The doctor, a gentle man close to retirement, treated Gladstone as though he was treating a child, and I left, fairly hopeful, with some tablets and a prescription for more. Unfortunately my kitten never made it to cat. The following day Gladstone died.
It was winter, icy, the ground rock hard and I didn’t then possess a shovel or spade. Every so often I looked at him. He lay stiff as a board, a tiny grey streak on the kitchen floor. I didn’t want to touch him, didn’t know what to do.
Eventually I put on my coat and walked out into a freezing cold night. A lane took me close to the river and a dense bank of nettles. I looked at him one last time, this cat that had once climbed the Matterhorn, and tossed him into the nettles. I cried.