The matriarch

We had a variety of pets when I was a child, all of whom came to manifest their individualities as time went on. I remember one particular pet, a cat of ours called Mutti, who during the course of her life went on to exhibit a genuine intelligence and at times, sheer cunning.

Mutti was born underneath a friend's house and was not handled very much as a kitten as no-one could get a hand to them until they were ready to come out of their own accord. My Father speculated that this was the reason behind Mutti's notable choleric streak. I think it was her innate character, as much as anything, being a naturally feisty cat and given to rapid and alarming mood swings. As she aged, she mellowed somewhat, particularly after she had her first litter of kittens.

Her four little offspring were a delight to us and provided a great opportunity to watch animals grow and develop from birth and see the powerful bond between mother and young. But, like any mum, Mutti grew weary of the four demanding, incessantly hungry and playful kittens and yearned for some respite. And she found it in the form of a hanging basket.

Pergolas and patios were the rage in Perth back then, the warm climate being perfect for outdoor living. And my parents duly planted theirs' out with rows flowering hanging baskets and a bouganvillea vine.
Mutti, who'd never shown any interest in the baskets prior to her litter, spied the twirling baskets, took a weary look at her kittens and proceeded to climb - up the bouganvillea, along the timber beam and into a basket and the peaceful sunshine. Kitten-free for an hour at least. The little one's clocked where Mother was but couldn't make the climb out to reach her. And Mutti lay there, contentedly alone for a while, her triangular grey ears deaf to the mewing of her babes. (The kittens did get something back on the universe for being deserted. In trying to climb the bouganvillea, their claws became tipped with the irritant in the sap of the vine, and when they scratched us in their play we came up in round, red welts from the poison.)

Mutti was not without tenderness, either,and probably formed the closest bond amongst us with my Dad. He is very much a cat person but not above a little bit of meanness either. I remember an instance from later on in her life where showed a devastating cunning. She was perched on the kitchen bench, regally minding her own business when my dad went to give her a stroke, which she clearly didn't want. Laughing at her touchiness, my dad went on to tease her, poking around her ears and back as Mutti swiped increasingly angrily at him, not liking my dad's sport at all. Eventually, the crowing from my father became too much and she leapt from the bench and stalked across the room to lie on the carpet, glaring furiously at him, her tail twacking at floor. My dad, sensing a complete win, haughtily crooned at her, and offered her a consoling hand out for a stroke. Mutti got to her feet and padded across the room, tail up in affection, eyes wide and loving until she got within reach of the hand. Then, lightning quick, she lashed out and slashed a large cut through the back of his hand, turned on her heel, back to her place on the floor and lay down with the dirtiest glare, tail thrumming against the deep pile, THWACK, THWACK, THWACK!(The blood from my father's cut was only staunched with very large squirt of savlon cream which turned a rather pretty shade of pink). Cat; one. Human; nil.

BEn Foley-Jones
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