March 19, 2012
by Jude Ellery
Hey diddle, diddle,
A cat on the fiddle.
Something was up, Prunella’s ears told her that much. Exactly who was up to what, however, was a mystery. Excited children’s yelps were a familiar sound, but this time they were more urgent, more intense than usual. The two boys were laughing like seagulls, watching a box through the shop window, only interrupting their hysterics to beckon over two bigger boys. Yes, something was up alright.
The bigger boys made their way across the shopping centre. Prunella waited till they had joined their friends, then approached cautiously, so as to not to draw attention to herself. Nipping in between a pram’s busy wheels and a suited, strange-smelling gentleman, she plodded into the building and across its cold, black and white chequered tiles.
From outside, she’d been able to see that the box was showing a large lawn, surrounded by men, all shouting and waving their arms. It might have been the show her husband had taken to watching in his last few weeks, she’d never really paid attention. The focus had then changed from the lawn to a large object; this was when the real commotion had begun and she’d been compelled to investigate. Very unlike her to risk being seen in these kinds of places, but desperate times called for desperate measures. She’d have to step up, he’d said, start making the calls. Have to get out the house and into the real world, be a proper role model, now he’d gone. Fighting every urge in her little body, she ventured even nearer.
All the people on the box were mirroring the boys in the shopping centre, doubled over, slapping each other on the back and pointing at the object. What exactly this hilarious object was, though, Prunella couldn’t decide. It looked like the shiny metal things up on the high shelves in her house, only much bigger, and much shinier. Draped down each side was bright red hair, though it wasn’t a living thing, she could deduce that much. Nevertheless, it was wearing a hat, jauntily balanced to give the impression it would lose its battle with gravity at any moment and clang to the ground. Yet, surely this shiny object could not be the source of the merriment?
No, there was something else. Protruding from underneath the hat was a pipe, just like the one belonging to the old gentleman who took the landlady out on Mondays, only this one was the wrong way around. Then, as the picture got bigger, Prunella had such a fright she nearly hit the ceiling. But for her arthritic knees she probably would have. The pipe was being brandished extravagantly by the small, straggly face of a tabby cat. Not just any old tabby cat, though. Her very own estranged husband, Mister Green.
Well she never, he’d only gone and done it. Ten years of marriage and now, only after he’d deserted her, had he finally seen something through from start to finish. Prunella had to admit he did look awful grand, sitting there in his metal throne and grinning like the Cheshire Cat, with all these humans surrounding him, flashing away with their cameras.
With her husband now pictured on every box in the store’s window, a single tear rolled down Prunella’s nose and nestled among her whiskers. Shaking it off irritably, she turned her back on the stunt and slunk away from the increasing crowd. That was quite enough sentimentality, she had more important things to see to these days. Back to the house, now. Dinner would be expected on the floor any minute.
Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?
I’ve been to Anfield to cheer on my team.
It all started when Mister Green found out he was dying.
At least, that’s what he’d have everyone believe. His latest ordeal in the basket had seen him arrive at that horrible white room again, with the large white table and the white lights. He’d been prodded and poked and jabbed and stroked by a new fellow this time — dressed head to toe in white like the rest of them, of course. The room may have looked clean but it smelled of a thousand cats, not to mention the foul stench of dogs, too. Mister Green had always been too preoccupied trying to hold his breath to show the probing man what damage his fangs could still do.
Then, back in the magic basket, and the next thing he’d known his dinner was all speckled and tasting funny. He’d started to cough up fur balls like nobody’s business too, and his wife had joked he could make a mint if he set up a yarn company, what with all the free raw materials he had coming up from his gut. Simply clearing them off their marital rug might be a nice gesture, she’d said. Hardly fitting words for someone in his condition, he’d thought, and he’d told her as much, too. It was then that Mister Green had discovered Prunella was perhaps not buying his morbid diagnosis: her chastisement had come in the form of an untrimmed claw, scraped across his nose. Then she’d refused to talk to him for two days.
Convinced of his condition, Mister Green set about planning a big farewell do, with or without his wife’s help. As proud as he was stubborn, he didn’t want Prunella to suffer the indignity of caring for him when he became sofa-ridden. He’d seen it play out like that when his own father was on his last paws. Poor old ma had spent every hour of her waking day (and most of her sleeping day, too) helping old pa, chewing his chunky food for him, grooming his awkward spots, bringing him dead mice when he was long past catching his own.
No, that was no way to go. When Mister Green’s ailment — whatever it turned out to be — made him a useless bundle of fur, he’d slip off into the night and end his days in dignity, alone. But, before that day came, and when he still had all his faculties, he’d give himself such a send-off he’d go down in tabby folklore.
Eventually, Prunella forgave his melodramatic ways and joined in, drafting letters to his distant cousins and nearby alley cats, knowing full well that the party would never come to fruition. It would go the same way as the milk bib, the whisker comb and the catnip rack. Deep down, Mister Green probably knew it, too.
That was, until his moment of grand inspiration.
The landlady always had the box on, pumping out sounds and colours that shattered the tranquility of the Greens’ beautiful Dorset home. It was a horrid affair, featuring raucous singing that sounded more like Aunt Hyacinth being bathed. This evening the deaf old dear had gone out to bowls (whatever that meant) with the pipe-wielding gentleman, and had left the damn thing on after it’d finished. About to trade the warmth and comfort of the living room for the peace and quiet of the basement, Mister Green stepped on a plastic wand on his way out, and the unattended box flickered, then started showing quite a different show.
It was some kind of action movie, Mister Green presumed. He’d seen this kind of tripe before too, men in grey suits sat about talking and looking all serious. But then, as he made his second move to leave, a fresh scene lured him back to the box again. Some other men, kitted out quite differently, chased each other about, like a litter of kittens all excited to see their first mouse. Intrigued, Mister Green decided to give this show a chance, and to his amusement he found the funny dance continued for the best part of the evening. It was accompanied by cheers and jeers from thousands of other men, some of whom were dressed like the running men, all watching but not offering to help kill the bouncy ball, which was being mercilessly kicked about a large green carpet.
Mister Green was a curious cat indeed! When the action got closer, he noticed the carpet was in fact grass, fresh as the stuff on the other side of the swinging door. He toddled off outside, but soon returned after finding no such action in his back garden. So, there he sat, sphinx-like, captivated by the box.
Then things got really weird.
Marvin — yes, little Marvin, who used to live next door — appeared on the big lawn! This obviously wasn’t part of the game as the men all stopped, and some more men, dressed in black and orange and looking like they meant business, came over to have a word with Marvin. The tabby had a little run around, then a sit down, then finally complied and went over to the serious-looking men, who picked him up and took him off the lawn and off the box.
Well, Mister Green was sat bold upright now. Never had he seen such peculiar events in all his fifteen years. What in his nine lives was Marvin — little Marvin Whitesocks — doing at this funny show? An investigation was in order.
Nine little kittens;
Old ladies smitten.
Three weeks later, Mister Green’s investigation hadn’t got very far. That was to say, it hadn’t got anywhere. Prunella had taken one look at her husband’s new favourite show, turned up her nose, and strutted off outdoors. Without a sidekick to bounce ideas off, Mister Green was struggling to formulate his next step.
What he had managed, though, was a basic understanding of this game the humans played with great regularity. He’d mastered the plastic wand and had become a regular viewer of the runarounds. The men got very excited when the ball went into one of the nets at either end of the lawn, and even more excited (or angry; he was still only half way through Know Your Human) when one of the men fell over. There were still all sorts of features he didn’t understand, for one, what role the older, red-faced man was playing. He jogged backwards, whistled at the other men and waved yellow and red things in the air, but nobody really seemed to take any notice of him.
Anyway, though Mister Green hadn’t a clue where Marvin’s cameo came into things, he’d begun to enjoy the games. They were a right laugh, he decided. After a fourth week he eventually managed to come up with something which resembled the faint outline of an idea of the thinkings of a plan.
Then, two bombshells dropped.
First, Prunella was pregnant.
Or, to be more accurate, she wasn’t any more. No less than nine mini Greens popped out of her one afternoon, when Mister Green was out food shopping. He came back from the street empty-mouthed, and it was a good thing too; his jaw almost hit the floor when he saw his darling Prunella lying there, all tired and straggled, with this cacophony of little kittens mewing and nibbling at her belly.
Mister Green had just thought his wife had let herself go a bit! He had too, if he was honest. Still, nothing wrong with a curvy feline, he’d told her. All the more to fondle! At least the pregnancy explained her moodiness of recent weeks, anyway. Maybe she’d even start helping a bit more with the party preparations now, when she was back up to full strength…
But he was getting ahead of himself. The next day, when they were trying to get the newborns off to sleep, a couple of old dears who looked like the landlady turned up. They made funny noises at the kittens, waking them all up, and then, damage done, they left. Just like that. They repeated the performance a few more times, always cooing and pointing and generally disrupting bedtimes. It wasn’t till eight weeks had passed that the motive behind their annoying behaviour became apparent.
Just as Mister Green was beginning to revel in fatherhood at this grand old age, the crones turned up again, this time each armed with baskets. Now, baskets were never a good omen in Mister Green’s experience, and he was to be proved right again — this time to devastating effect. Without warning, the two old bats swooped down on the sleeping kitties, and bundled all but one into the wicked wicker baskets, then scuttled off out the big room and out the front door before Mister Green or Prunella could offer so much as a nip on the ankle. Who would’ve thought they could move so fast?
All that was left was little poor Tiddles, the runt, and she didn’t look much like making it through the winter. Prunella was numb with sorrow for her sudden loss, and refused to talk to anyone, let alone her husband. Distraught himself, Mister Green shed a few tears in the privacy of the garden shed when his wife wasn’t looking. They were a family torn apart. Then, as if this wasn’t enough bad fortune for a cat of his advanced years, the second bombshell dropped on Mister Green, this one so drastic that his mind was immediately made up about his plan.
He really was dying.
He didn’t like to admit it, but he’d not been totally sure of his dismal prospects when he’d last encountered the basket. This time, however, when he’d been unceremoniously shoved back in after seeing yet another different man in white, instead of the soft purring of the engine all he could make out was the old landlady sobbing. Then, when she’d flipped open the lid, and before he could escape, the old dear had fallen upon him, smothering him with kisses and hugging him so tightly she almost squeezed the life out of him then and there. Having just got to the chapter in Know Your Human entitled ‘Emotions: Sadness’, he knew that this display didn’t bode well.
There was nothing for it, he’d have to fast forward his exit, and he told Prunella as much that evening. Like their landlady, Prunella cried her eyes out, then begged him not to go, saying he was being awful beastly leaving her to raise little Tiddles on her own.
But, when she calmed down, Prunella admitted her husband’s reasoning was good. It would only be heart-wrenching for all concerned if he stayed and got to know their one remaining daughter, only to kick the basket a few weeks later. There they were again, those dreaded baskets, turning up and ruining everything. It was then that Mister Green came to his conclusion: baskets really were the root of all evil.
The little old pussycat went by the sea
In a beautiful pea green train.
Trains, they called them. You needed blimin’ training to work the things out! Studying the colourful charts didn’t seem to help much either. You’d get your route all sorted in your head, then a tree would fall on the track and you’d go about as far as a flea on a dead rat.
Still, he’d made it there in the end. Liverpool, Marvin called it. A right paw-punisher, Mister Green thought. All that hard, concrete floor, and barely a back garden in sight. And, what was worse, water everywhere! Marvin had never mentioned he was moving next door to the Great Blue Beyond. All in all it was enough to make a cat’s milk turn sour in his mouth.
As Marvin scurried off to fetch some more nibbles, Mister Green took a moment to gather his thoughts. This was far and away the furthest he’d ever been from home. To be honest, he’d passed that milestone at the first train station, but now, surrounded by these gigantic grey buildings and unfriendly, trampling feet, he was really starting to feel it. He slunk into an alleyway to escape the wind, but the wind must’ve had other ideas, as it chased him in and flung a piece of paper into his face. Pawing it away, he was about to discard it when the picture caught his eye. Surely that wasn’t… it was! Marvin’s face was popping up everywhere, these days. First on the box, now on this paper. He’d come to the right cat alright.
An hour later, Mister Green’s head was spinning. Marvin’s tale wasn’t only extraordinary, it was downright groundbreaking. A cat — a tabby, no less — had not only got onto a big lawn, but had also become a minor celebrity in the process. Following his clever little exhibition at the nearby ‘Anfield’, Marvin had since been kidnapped three times, only to escape each time to the comfort of the street. Well, it was comfortable for Marvin, apparently. Since he’d scrammed four years ago he’d gone on many an adventure, and that’s how he’d ended up here, in bleedin’ Liverpool. Now, living with a human landlord just made him feel cooped up.
Each to their own, Mister Green thought, as he chewed over his plan again. Giving him no little encouragement, Marvin was sad to hear that he had to leave post haste. He did, however, have some useful advice to impart.
First up, Anfield was off limits. They’d been keeping a sharp lookout for tabbies there ever since Marvin’s break-in. If Mister Green was planning a similar stunt, the capital was the place to go. There, these lawns — they were called stadiums or stadia, Marvin couldn’t quite make up his mind which — were two-a-penny. Also, apparently there was a big game coming up in May. This lead to Marvin’s second piece of advice.
If he was going to do this, if he actually wanted to go down in tabby folklore, he’d have to really go for it, even bigger and better than Marvin’s prank. Just walking out onto a lawn wouldn’t cut it any more. The two cats put their heads together and, after two more hours and two more cans of tuna, they’d cracked it.
Now, if Mister Green could just find a train service that was running on time…
Pussy, where have you been today?
Under a park bench, acting the stray.
Mister Green sat under the wooden bench, licking his wounds. Without Prunella to trim his claws they’d become unmanageable over the past week, and had started curling and really digging into his paws. Where he’d once had smooth skin on his pads, soft as the leather on a brand new sneaker, he was now bloody, scarred and sore. Paved with gold these streets were not. Boots, that’s what he needed. Old Puss had known how to play ball with the humans alright.
He winced as he rose to leave his makeshift bed. Not only were his paws giving him grief, but his tail was practically stripped of fur where it’d been repeatedly stamped on. It was painful to give it even a little wiggle. Better give it another five, wait till the sun was properly out. A shiny black van pulled up, mounting the kerb and providing a mirror for the bedraggled cat. He looked even worse than he’d imagined: his fur was all dishevelled from sleeping rough, and the nip on his ear where that nasty dog had had a go at him looked like it was turning septic. Mister Green decided he really wasn’t cut out for life on the streets, though that hardly mattered now. He wasn’t cut out for life at all any more. The fur balls he was coughing up were now tinged with red, and with each one he could feel his strength ebbing away. It was now or never.
Here in London there had been talk of others trying similar stunts since Marvin had rocked the world at Anfield. All the alley cats were really quite excited by it. They’d all been small-timers though, with about as much imagination as a mouse eyeing a block of cheese on a trap. The humans had barely batted an eyelash. The best effort had been by a squirrel, Hector, he went by. He’d had a run around on a lawn right here in London, somewhere called Loftus Road. What was old Hector planning on doing though, burying a nut in the grass? He probably didn’t even had a plan, the silly beggar. No, you don’t score points for being a copycat. Mister Green’s plan was quite different altogether.
Flattening the fur on his head into something resembling neat, he braced himself, then emerged from his temporary sleeping quarters to examine his surroundings. This area was a lot more built up than he’d realised; last night he’d assumed he was still on the outskirts when he settled down to sleep in a park. Casting his eye around now, all he could see were tall grey buildings, like the ones in Liverpool, only bigger, and a lot more of them. The black van pulled away, spattering the poor cat with mud and grit.
Ignoring his new dirt coat and trying to forget about his imposing environment, Mister Green got out the checklist Marvin had tucked under his collar. It hardly filled him with hope. He’d failed to find an old rag to keep him warm at night, and he’d failed to find a single morsel of food — his rumbling stomach was a timely reminded of that. He’d managed without them so far, though. He couldn’t pull this off without the pipe.
Well, not having the foggiest where to find one, Mister Green did what Mister Green did best: a little wander down the road. The first open door he came to was a grotty establishment, all broken stools and ripped carpet. Still, there was hardly a soul inside, so in went the inquisitive cat.
Sitting atop on one of the few stools that was still standing on all fours was an old gentleman. That was to say, it was propping him up, and, as Mister Green discovered when he ventured nearer, he was no gentleman, either. He may not even have been that old, the beard and the scruffy hair just gave that impression from a distance. One thing was sure, though: he just so happened to have exactly what Mister Green was looking for. This sleeping, bearded fellow had just bought one elated cat a bonus life.
As he reemerged onto the street, almost to be decapitated by a speeding bicycle, not for the first time that week Mister Green took a moment to compose himself. Closing his eyes, he prayed to Prunella that the rest of his quest would be this straightforward. Next up was deciphering this map Marvin had donated. What in Garfield’s name did an ITV Television Studio look like?
Big old football trophy, soon for all to see,
Up went the pussycat and in went he.
Darkness. Surprisingly warm in here, though. Smelt a bit funky, but, overall, a cat couldn’t complain. He’d slept in worse than this! In fact, that wasn’t such a bad idea. Now he’d made it into the Cup he was due a little respite. All that stress getting through security was almost enough to topple him over the edge before he’d got inside. Marvin hadn’t told him the studio was inside the stadium! Yes, just forty winks to gather his strength for the finale…
Woken three hours later by the sound of a grunt from outside, Mister Green sat up sharply, banging his head on the metal ceiling. The clang was echoed by another as the pipe dropped from his mouth. Fortunately the man was making enough noise on the outside not to notice.
In his metal chariot, Mister Green wobbled this way, then that, and at one point was convinced the man would drop the thing, spill his stowaway and ruin the whole plot. But, no, the man just about managed, though by the sounds of it, it’d nearly killed him. After all that rocking about, and what with his frail condition, Mister Green didn’t feel much better himself. Still, at least he didn’t feel like he was at sea any more.
Though everything was muffled, Mister Green heard a car door being shut, an engine start, and then it all went quiet for another hour or so. That’s what he guessed it was, anyway. Hard to tell how time’s passing when you’re asleep.
The whole wobbling game was repeated at the other end of the trip, but he guessed two fellows had hold of the ears this time, so all in all it was a much smoother ride. He’d made sure to flip the pipe around, too, big end in to his mouth, and just a nose’s width poking out the top. Might’ve been nicer if he’d picked a pipe that wasn’t half filled with this funny smelling green stuff, but street cats couldn’t be choosers now, could they?
Feeling more than a little light-headed now, probably due to the half-blocked pipe not letting through much air (and what it did let through not tasting very good at all), Mister Green thought it sensible to have another nap. Conserving one’s energy was of the utmost importance in such precarious situations, he didn’t need a Marvin or a Puss to teach him that. No, this cat didn’t need no advice from no-one, man. He suddenly felt very relaxed about the whole thing, like it would all just fall into place from hereon in. And it really was awful cosy in here…
Ref’s blown up!
Pussy’s in the Cup!
Little Tiddles was wailing right into his ear, the blasted thing. He did love his daughter, of course, but at the same time he didn’t half hate her when she was playing up like this. What did she want from him? Ma had gone out, had some errands to run in town. No, he couldn’t help that. No, he couldn’t go and fetch her, who would look after Tiddles then?
Then he could see Prunella, out of a window or something, he wasn’t sure how. She was in a shopping centre of all places, he knew how she hated them. What was that playing on the box? It was certainly grabbing her attention. He smiled at the way she tentatively plodded up to the glass and pressed her cute little nose up against it. Timid as a dormouse she was, but she’d never lost her looks, old Prune. Pretty as the day they’d met.
That screeching, though, would Tiddles never let it drop? But where had the nipper gone to? And now she wasn’t screeching, but whistling. How was she…? Three short blasts, then finally she stopped. Thank the… now what was that? Cheering? Who were…? Where was…?
Mister Green woke, again banging his head on the lid of the cup. He could already feel a bump coming up, but that didn’t matter now. He had timed his return to consciousness perfectly. Tentatively lifting his head above the rim of the Cup, he was met with quite a scene! This was the right stadium alright. Streams of red paper littered the sky, music was coming from somewhere, and people, thousands of people, were dancing, and crying, and laughing — there was a lot of laughter — and… they were looking at him, and cheering! Oh the cheering, it was the most wondrous noise a cat ever did hear! With the silver hat balanced upon his head, he looked left, then right. His dazed old eyes took their time to fully adjust to the colourful surroundings (the one drawback of sleeping in the Cup was that it was awful dark in there), but he could make out the smiles, camera flashes and laughter alright.
Far away, somewhere, he could sense someone else watching him, too. Someone very small and insignificant to this world. Perhaps it was that funny stuff in the pipe, or perhaps it was his famous sixth sense that he was always boasting about, but he could really feel her with him just then. And that was enough.
Taking one final look around at these friendly people, their cheering, their laughter, their beautiful, boisterous faces, he pictured her face in his mind’s eye — not forgetting little Tiddles, too — took a deep breath, and ducked his head back into the sparkling, silver cup once more, replacing the lid neatly as he went.
Then everything went all dark again. He’d take this over a blimin’ basket any day.
The cats went out to serenade
And on a fishbone sweetly played.
That bright spring night they joined to sing,
“Old Mister Green, you were the King!”
Mister Green’s Big FA Cup Finale by Jude Ellery is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License