THE SAGA OF THE KITTENS AND OTHER CREATURES

Preamble

Two weeks or so ago, I said to Lena that I thought the cat, Lola, was pregnant, despite the fact that I had kept her in during her last period of heat and dosed her with something to bring it to a quick end. My reward at the time was 2 to 3 days of almost constant complaint from a seriously-deprived and unhappy Lola. Lena assured me that she probably wasn't pregnant but going through a period of unexplained high eating and subsequent obesity, just like her mother had done a few times.

Since then, I had become more and more convinced that Lena had been talking rubbish, as Lola became wider and wider. So the events described below were not a great surprise to me, though no less unwelcome.

Sunday, 28 July 2002

Lola had not been very active for a day or two and I suspected her time was near. Apart from being inert, she had seemed anxious to be able to find cool surfaces on which to rest her considerable stomach.

Around 11.30 pm, Lena said she thought the time was very close as Lola, making the occasional meow, was clearly scouting for somewhere appropriate to lie down. So we followed her into the garage, where she went into Ryan's airfreight crate. I took her gently out and placed her in the special 'birthing box' I had created two weeks previously, out of the box for the new VCR and a couple of my old white shirts. Up to this moment, this custom made 'farrowing unit' had been studiously ignored by Lola, who had  much preferred the top of the washing machine.

Then we waited patiently for an hour or so while Lola purred and occasionally pushed and then licked her nether regions. We decided to bet on the colour of the first kitten to emerge but this plan fell foul of a shared belief that it would be ginger. As to numbers, Lena thought that she might only drop one, like her mother the first time, but I felt she was big enough to accommodate 3 or even 4. We compromised on 2 or 3. But Lena refused to take a bet.

Understandably, Lola seemed a tad confused and clearly welcomed our human presence, and the stroking and gentle words she got.  Or that's what we thought. Around 12.45, she stopped purring for the first time and concentrated on obeying the instructions to push. Something appeared to emerge but disappeared again. This happened a couple more times before we had sight of a tail and a back leg or two. As Lola seemed to be struggling rather, I took the liberty of giving a gentle tug on the two feet, whereupon a slippery bundle of pure beige fell out and started twisting and turning, doubtless in search of both air and a teat. Lola immediately cleaned up her first-born and then - to Lena's disgust - quickly ate the afterbirth and placenta, releasing the kitten from the umbilical cord at the same time. The next two drops were much quicker and easier as in each case the kitten was more enclosed in the slippery birth sack than the first one had been. We wondered what would have happened if we hadn't been there to provide a lit bit of help. The second one - to Lena's relief and pleasure - was mostly black, with the occasional white bit on its face and right foreleg. The third one was an absolute twin of the first - pure beige or magnolia.  Lena wondered whether these two would have blue eyes, like their all-white uncle, Lola's brother. My concern - as someone who has to find owners for them - was that Lola had been got at by the ugly, tail-less ginger tom next door and that, like the unprepossessing progeny wandering around in their garden - they would have, at worst, no tail at all and, at best, a twisted half excuse for one. But there was nothing to worry about; they all had tails as long as their mother's.

Contrary to Lena's experience and expectation, Lola had made virtually no noises of pain or complaint during the whole process and lay quietly afterwards, completely unconcerned at our handling of the kittens. We tried to sex them - especially as Lena wanted a female and was concerned that the beige colour was really light ginger and that Lola had given us at least 2 and possibly even 3 males. But we gave up on this and decided to await further developments. Initial indications were that they were, indeed, all male but Lena didn't really want to accept this.

Eventually we retired to bed, leaving Lola with her brood of voracious guzzlers, each of whom had wasted no time in instinctively searching out the food supply.

Monday, July 29, 2002

Rising at 8.30, I found everything to be OK down in the garage but was rather horrified - on picking up each kitten - to see 3 to 6 fleas running (fleeing, even) from the stump of the umbilical cord. Presumably they can tell that this is a rich supply of blood. I did my best to catch a few but they are difficult quarry, losing themselves in the longer hair as soon as they are exposed to the light when the kitten is turned over.

When Lena came down and saw the fleas, she thought that they were smaller even than the normal cat fleas, raising the possibility that parent fleas had bred broods of young to coincide with the birth. Who knows? Anyway, I nipped down to the supermarket at 10 and bought flea collars for both Lola and Ryan. The former has to be a natural product-based one and I am a bit sceptical of the claim that the - admittedly pungent - smell of eucalyptus, mint and lemon drives off the fleas. If it does, they only have to go as far as the uncollared kittens. So I spent some time doing a chimpanzee act with the kittens, turning them over one by one to surprise and catch the fleas out in the open. I had quite some success but they are even harder to kill than to catch as nothing put pressing them between one's nails kills them off. If you try to squash them between your fingers, they just leap off as you part your digits.

One session of flea-hunting took place in the sitting room and I took the opportunity to put the kittens on a towel outside on the step and to take several pictures of a rather concerned Lola trying (and failing) to pick them up and bring them back inside - something which we eventually did for her. At this point we were joined by Ryan, who had been alerted by the considerable amount of squealing which took place each time a kitten was picked up and turned over for de-fleaing. Happily, Lola made not the slightest objection to his sniffing the newcomers and lay back unconcernedly, awaiting his congratulations. I doubt that other dogs will be accorded the same freedom. Being the jealous sort, Ryan didn't give his congratulations but wandered off - in a world-weary sort of way - after only the briefest of inspections.

Lena had told me that Lola's mother had presented her with one of the kittens quite soon after giving birth and that this was common in cats. Given Lola's pathetic and unsuccessful attempts to bring the kittens back in from the step, this seemed unlikely in the near future. But as Lena was showering only half an hour later, she heard a squeak outside the bathroom door and saw Lola carrying one of the beige twins into her room and then up on to the bed and beneath the coverlet - her normal diurnal resting place. She gave every impression of wanting to stay there and leave the other 2 kittens asleep in the garage but we thought this rather unfair and returned both mother and kitten to the nesting box in the garage before leaving the house. Plus we didn't want the privileged beige kitten dropping off the bed onto the hard wooden floor.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Everything was OK this morning and the flea count is appreciably lower.

I moved the box into the dining area and put a dish of food beside it and went to make some coffee. When I came back, Lola was wandering the garage, clearly looking for the box of kittens which it had previously been. She must be on autopilot. Perhaps this is a side effect of being a milk machine.

One of the beige twins has small patches of white on its back and Lena wonders whether it will change colour entirely. I rather think now but vamos a ver!

I'm not sure Lola has got this mothering stuff quite right yet. I was writing in my study just now when I heard a squawk from the sitting room. Going downstairs, I saw that she was standing above one of the beige twins - now called 'Patch' - on the little red rug by the dining table. Seeing me, she picked up the kitten by the neck, ran up the stairs and deposited him/her at my feet as I was coming down. She then rubbed herself around my ankles and demanded attention, leaving the somewhat disorientated kitten to hover on the edge of the stair.

I have now moved the box to my study but she is still making the occasional vocal demand for more attention. Maybe she is getting bored with it all. As I write this, she is out of the box, cleaning herself in the middle of the room, looking back at the box and sort of demanding of the kittens that they get off their increasingly fat arses and do something other than eat. Fat chance.

It's mid afternoon and the Flea War has taken on new dimensions. Having noticed that there are always 2 or 3 of the creatures leaping about on the towel when I lift Lola off it and put her on an alternative bed, I resolved to hoover them up with a mini vacuum cleaner I have in the garage. But there are two problems with this. Firstly - and predictably - the towel disappears up the nozzle and blocks it. Secondly and rather less predictably - Lola loves to be vacuumed and leaps back into the box to install herself underneath it as soon as it is switched on. So, I will probably have to abandon this tactic. Fortunately, I have accidentally discovered an alternative. Kneeling down just now to switch on the hi-fi, I noticed that there was a flea crawling up my right leg. Having disposed of this, I then found another four. And as I have been typing this I have dealt with a sixth which had reached the top of my knee. So, just by positioning myself near the bed, I can attract a fair proportion of the fleas, like filings to a magnet. What fun! In fact, this might be a harbinger of good news, if it means that - thanks to the pungent smell - the fleas are abandoning ship and taking to the tiled floor, from which they will leap in perpetuity until they reach me, Ryan or death. Ryan would probably be their preferred choice but I aim to deny it to them, in search of victory on the Home Front.

On a happier note, perhaps, I noticed this morning that there were 2 Siamese cats on the wall near the community swimming pool. With luck, Lena has shown a bit of taste and the two beige kittens will develop Siamese markings. In this snobby town, this could be the saving of me. Not to mention them.

On an even happier note, my pre-siesta inspection left me assured that none of the fleas had ventured past the top of my knee.

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

I'm a bit concerned that Lola is beginning to show the sort of do-lalliness we have all come to know and love in Hannah.

Generally, if I move the box out of the garage, Lola will later return to the garage and search for it, even if has been sitting in it for hours somewhere else. Specifically, when I came in from a walk in the old quarter last night, I found Lola sitting on only two of the kittens. The third - Sandwich - I saw lying a few feet away, in the middle of an old sleeping bag. So I put her back in the box. Some time later, Lola emerged from the garage and asked to go outside, where she relieved herself - in my plant bed! - of more solid matter than I would ever have imagined possible. Then she took to wandering about the house making the
occasional meow and clearly in search of something. I took her back to the box but this didn't do the trick and she continued her worried explorations. So I had the bright idea of picking up Sandwich and showing her to Lola. This worked  and Lola settled down for the night. She must have recalled dumping Sandwich on the sleeping bag but got confused when she couldn't find her there, failing to realise that she had been lying on top of her in the box. I suppose this argues for me leaving things as they are.

5 more fleas were killed first thing this morning, 3 from the box and 2 from my legs. The final count for yesterday was an astonishing 53. Since I only started to mark up the score at 3 pm, this means I must have killed close to 100 in all since Sunday night. I wonder now how many more of the bastards there must be. And how many the forever-scratching Ryan is playing host to, notwithstanding the dustings of the last 2 weeks. The good news is that I have developed a new slaughter technique.

Once I have caught a flea between my fingers - either because it is on the towel in the box or crawling up my leg - I take it into the dining area, where the tiles are white. I then drop it and let it hop around for a second or two, clearly visible against the white of the floor. Then I crush it with a fingernail. With some people it's ferocious tigers from the back of an elephant; with me it's fleas on my tiles. Anyway, I am now going to refine this technique by replacing the towel in the box by a white sheet. I figure this will make it easier to pick up the quarry that drops off Lola or the kittens since it can't then hide in the tufts of the towel. Of course, the result of all this rampant success is that the floor of my dining area is covered with corpses. Some people have trophy heads mounted on the wall. Me, I have the entire floor given over to whole carcasses! This is some compensation for my abject failure to trap the mole which has been taking the piss out of me for the last month or more in the back garden.

You'll be interested to know that, whereas fleas - because of their vertical design - can only hop on hard surfaces, they can run like greased lightening through the fur of a host animal. As I have said, this makes them very hard to catch in situ.  Much bloody good this will do them, though!

 The kittens, of course, will be blind for a week or more. And also deaf, though I had forgotten about the latter. The amazing thing is how pugnacious the scrunched up eyes and flat ears make them seem. Especially the beige twins, for there is no change of colour on their faces to soften the effect. Another amusing aspect is their instinctive ability to form an intertwined heap whenever their mother leaves them. Of course, someone has to be - at least partially - on the bottom of this heap but they actually seem to take turns for this. A third valuable instinct - or fifth, if you count eating and sleeping - is to squirm out from under their mother whenever she flops down on them. I don't know whether Lola is worse than average on this but they certainly get lots of practice at this defensive response.

As Lena pointed out on Monday morning, some of the fleas are very small indeed. These may just be young ones but I am reminded of a little piece of doggerel which I seem to recall enjoying when I was at primary school, though this may be fanciful:-

        Big fleas have little fleas
        upon their back to bite 'em.
        Little fleas have littler fleas.
        And so ad infinitum

Right now, there appears to be more than a ring of truth to this, as the kill count inexorably mounts, leaving me wondering where on earth they are coming from. Perhaps they are breeding faster than I am slaughtering them. Does anyone out there know the gestation period of a flea?

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Well, the flea count fell to only 38 yesterday. I'm not sure what this means, if anything, though there is some superficial evidence that the remaining bastards are very small. Now, if I could just prevent them courting and breeding... Mean-while, I have passed a brush over the graveyard of my dining area, to save my cleaner the trouble.

 Lena is completely unimpressed with my hunting exploits and tells me - in her blunt Spanish way - that I am wasting my time. In the wild, she points out, they would be infested with fleas and yet survive. So, why bother? Of course, being a woman, she has no understanding that the whole point is the thrill of the chase. The size and nature of the quarry is immaterial. As is the probability of success. After all, I haven't given up on the mole despite the fact that it has been making an idiot of me for months now.

When I entered the garage this morning, Lola and the kittens were nowhere to be seen. The box lay glaringly empty, even of fleas. I guessed that they would be in the folds of the old sleeping bag and, sure enough, that's were they were. Quite why she has moved them I have no idea but I resisted the temptation to put them back in the box. For one thing, it will now be harder for the fleas to leap off their hosts and populate the entire garage. I will, in due course, chuck out the sleeping bag.

The good news is that a neighbour's daughter says that one of her friends might want one of the kittens. With Lena planning to take Sandwich - provided that it is female - I might be down to only one. If I didn't have Lola, I would be tempted to keep the pure beige one as it is such a beautiful colour. But not if it is another bloody female.

Lena says that their faces are less scrunched up than they were only 2 days ago so I have taken photos this morning to try to capture their grimaces. No fleas put in an appearance, which is just typical of them. En passant, I have realised that it was the black kitten and not either of the two pale ones which Lola dumped out of the box yesterday and left on the sleeping bag. I hope we don't get any more of this blatant racism. Though it may well be that there is something akin to Feline Institutional Racism at work here.

En passant 2, I have taken so many fleas off my bare legs that I am now hyper-sensitive to any sensation amongst the hairs of said limbs. I have long understood that there are two distinct types of flea - human and animal. The former, I was told, are more flat and the latter more vertical, to accommodate the type of undergrowth in which they respectively operate. This may well be true. But I was also told that one can be assured that cat and dog fleas will not bite humans. This, I am here to tell  you, is decidedly untrue. Given the chance, they will bite anything and anyone. So, whatever Lena says about me wasting my time, this is a good enough excuse for me to continue with my campaign of genocide. No one fools with my legs with impunity.

 It's day 4 and Lola has clearly decided that there are limits to being a good mother. Around 10am, she decided to leave the kittens in the folds of the sleeping bag and to go for a walk outside. Shortly after, I wanted her back at her post as I needed to take Ryan for his morning walk. Not seeing her anywhere, I took one of the kittens into the front garden, down the side of the house and on to what the mole has left me as a lawn. Hearing it squeal, Lola arrived promptly at my feet and I put the kitten down on the grass to see what fist she would make of getting it back to the garage. For a few minutes this was quite painful to watch, as Lola attempted to lift up the poor, vociferous creature by every part of its body except its neck. But in due course she got the hang of it and trotted back up to the garage, only dropping the unfortunate kitten twice en route. I imagine that this was not done because it was the black one.

A theory is developing that the kittens have been hidden in the depths of the sleeping bag simply to allow Lola to be able to wander around the interior and exterior of the house without worrying too much about their safety. Sitting near the window, she pricked up her ears a little when Ryan wandered in from the garden but then re-assumed an air of nonchalance as he lay down under the dining table. In fact, Lola is now so relaxed that she has clearly once again forgotten when she has deposited her charges. As I write this, she is again wandering the ground floor - and the stairs to the basement - with her explorative expression of face. I have decided to see just how long it will take her but suspect it will be until the kittens' cries of hunger alert her to their location.

I have had to clear up something of a mess from next to the litter tray in the garage. As this is the second time, it is clear that motherhood has cost Lola some of her accuracy. Or concern for others. It is at times like this that I recall that she is really my daughters' cat and turn to plotting my revenge.

Friday, August 02, 2002

Yesterday's flea count was down to 35 but I'm not convinced this means that they are reducing in number. I suspect that the gestation period of a flea is around 10 seconds and they are breeding faster than I can kill them. Perhaps they are actually reducing in the box and on the felines themselves but the (very) bad news is that my legs are attracting the bastards wherever I sit or stand in the house. It very much seems that the entire building is infected, all four floors of it. Thanks Lola!

I am now washing everything I think she has a lain on in the last few months. And dusting with flea powder everything which can't be shoved in the washing machine.

And I have bought another 'natural' flea collar for one of the kittens to see whether this is at all effective in stopping the flea stampede that greets me whenever I turn one of the kittens over. Actually, this is so big that I have been able to make collars for two of them. Naturally, I have not excluded the black one from the experiment but one of the beige twins. Needless to say, I have become paranoid about the likelihood of guests on my lower legs and am checking every few minutes. At the send of each sentence that I type, I automatically save what I have just written and cast a glance at my shins. If there is anything there, I take it to the 'Chamber of Death' I have constructed out of a jam jar and some flea powder. This affords me the pleasure of watching them jump themselves to a quick death, which is both cleaner and more satisfying than crushing them on the white tiles. I very much look forward to doing much the same to the mole. Which reminds me, my mother has gone to the trouble of recording and sending me a segment of a TV gardening programme which tells me:-

1.        moles are very clever,

2.        moles are very hard to catch, and

3.        moles drive some people mad

 As if I didn't bloodywell know all this already.

Like yesterday, Lola took a morning stroll down the side of the house. And, like yesterday, she stopped to look down on the two kittens in next door's garden, which is several feet below mine. And very visible now that the idiots have destroyed their honeysuckle hedge. She appears to be quite concerned for their welfare. Perhaps this is - misplaced - maternal concern. Or possibly just confusion. The look on her face and her  taut posture do seem to say, How the hell did they get down there? And how come they have become so ugly? And which racist bastard has made off with the black one? Not to mention all their tails.

I guess the kittens are growing but it's imperceptible to me. And I am not going to go to the trouble of weighing them on my kitchen scales just to confirm what is inevitable. But I can detect other small signs of progress. Like human babies - but rather earlier - they seem to be embarking on a crawling stage, after the let's lie on top of each other phase. The black one, Sandwich, seems to be the most adventurous in blindly crawling away from the safety of the pack. Perhaps it has been told to piss off. Anyway, yesterday it squirmed to the edge of the sleeping bag and then up a little slope of material. It then promptly fell from this and decided that this was quite enough for one day. I put it back in the kitten pile, squealing. Sandwich, not me. The other apparent sign of progress is the small gap appearing between the two glued-up sides of their still-flattish ears. Once these are fully open, the fleas will have somewhere else to spend the night.

 I find that I'm sneezing a lot. I guess this means either that I am allergic to fleas or that the powder I have sprinkled everywhere is getting up my nose. Just like the mole, in fact. The thought occurs I wonder whether I can get the mole to crawl into the Chamber of Death. I guess not; it has refused to crawl into everything else I have inserted into its runs in the earth. In fact, it has invariably added insult to injury by filling these with soil as a token of its disdain for my pathetic efforts.

Friday, August 09, 2002

I see that the said mole had raised another lump in the garden, after a few days off.

It's almost 2 weeks since the kittens were born and, at last, there are signs of development. They still, of course, do very little more than eat, sleep and expand but it's clear that things are happening around them.

The first thing to happen was that, in their insatiable greed, they started to knead Lola's mammaries. Sometimes with just their two front paws and sometimes with all four. Meanwhile, their ears began to slowly de-flatten and are now quite erect. It's not yet clear that they are unblocked but there are one or two signs that a sense of hearing had made its appearance. As for the eyes, only Sandwich has made real progress. He has the right eye semi-open and gives the impression of being able to make out things in front of him. It looks to be blue but this could be true of all cats' eyes at this stage.

All of them have moved through the 'sitting up' stage and have begun to move in a way which is half way between their original squirming and their future walking. 'Squalking', if  you like. For a while, they have been using their stomachs as a fifth limb but this is reducing as their legs get stronger. It is hard to believe that these virtually-immobile creatures will soon be leaping around the furniture.

As for size, they have all at least doubled in weight/volume and now resemble large rats, especially the beige ones.

Their capacity to squeak has likewise at least doubled in strength, especially if they are picked up in any other way than by the scruff of the neck.

They still sleep most of the time wrapped round each other but can occasionally be seen to be lying in parallel, like three corpses.

Them most engaging change has been in their scrunched-up faces, which at last have begun to look like those of gentle kittens, not aggressive - if microscopic - bulldogs. The opening of their eyes will be the final touch.

I have tried again to sex them and am increasingly convinced that only the beige one with white patches is female. This will disappoint Lena a little as she was hoping to take the black one.

As for the fleas, I have given up counting them. They are certainly replenishing themselves at a rate greater than the 25-30 a day I am dispatching to the happy biting grounds. I have killed over 200 of them in total but Lola is probably giving refuge to many more. I have lost what little belief I had in the in the 'natural' collar which she wears, given that fleas wander over and around it at will. The smaller versions of this I put on two of the kittens, she promptly chewed off and, in one case, ate.

Lola has not developed into a better mother than she was at the outset. She has yet to master the picking-up-by-the-neck technique and gives the clear impression that she can't really be arsed. She simply sits a few yards away from the kittens and instructs them to squalk towards her. She spends longer and longer periods away from them, mostly in the garden squeaking at the birds she can't catch and terrorising the insects that she can. She has yet to figure out the next door kittens and gives them a daily stare on the way down to the back garden. Oddly, she has taken to lying behind one of the armchairs in a corner. This is either because she just wants to get away from everything or because the cool wood of the floor is a comfort to her stomach/ chest.

Hannah duly arrived from Olviedo on Tuesday evening and I took Lola and the kittens to meet her at the coach station. I had to put Lola in her carrying basket but, as ever, she made no complaint and lay still. For all of two minutes. Then she started to cry a little and I became aware of a terrible smell in the car. Yes, she had crapped in a corner of the basket. Fortunately, this was on an old shirt and I was able to jettison this once at the station. Plus the bit of faeces that fell out and went under my seat.

Hannah, needless to say, was enraptured to see them and has hardly left them alone since she arrived. Thanks to her, the fleas have now taken up residence in the settee. I suppose she will be taking them upstairs soon. Oh happy days..

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Progress continues, of course. Though with Tom it is taking a different form than with the other two. Unlike them, he is still virtually blind. But he is almost twice the size. His energies have obviously been going in different directions.

Thanks to Hannah's constant attentions, at least one of the kittens appears to have had human palms imprinted as its mother. When approached, it insists on being picked up. God help its eventual owner. The second consequence of Hannah's 24/7 attendance is that Lola has virtually abandoned any pretence of being a mother. As soon as anyone enters the garage, she takes the opportunity to exit at speed and only returns to either take some of her food or to dole some out to the kittens before departing again as soon as she can. Late last night, Hannah found her hiding in the inner lining of her suitcase in her bedroom.

On the subject of food, neither of the kittens with vision is at all interested in the solid stuff Lola wolfs down but blind Tom started to lick it - perhaps even eat it - as soon as it was offered to him. He should be the size of his mother soon.

Talking of toms, I saw this morning the male cat whom I believe to be the father. He lives next door but this is his first appearance since the baleful night several weeks ago that Ryan chased him down in the community gardens after he and Lola had enjoyed their brief fling and then got down to screaming at each other. As if they had been married for years. Anyway, he is a pale beige/white for the most part and has green, not blue, eyes. He looked up at me with them and gave me that look of quiet disdain that tomcats have. He is probably spraying in my garden as I type this.

On the subject of fleas, I will merely add that Hannah has paid the inevitable price and woke up yesterday with seven bites on her forehead. She says that this will not stop her lying with the kittens on their infested towel. In the infested garage.

The kittens have started to hiss if they are approached and woken up. I haven't yet confronted them with Ryan but that should be interesting. The other noteworthy activity - which started when they were still blind - is their dreaming of nightmares. It is very hard to imagine what they dream about, other than the milk supply drying up, given that they hadn't seen anything at the time this started. Maybe the 'natural' flea-collar on Lola is pickling their brains.

And then there is the scratching. This was inevitable but has taken its time in coming. Perhaps they needed to improve their co-ordination capabilities. And the occasional biting of a sibling, which will probably increase as they can see who is beating them to the milk pump and the food bowel. I don't fancy anyone's chances except Tom's. He looks like absolute bruiser already and today he has one eye open at last.

Well, Faye is due to arrive in an hour or two. So this is the last chapter in this kittens saga as both she and Hannah can witness future developments for themselves. And I am getting bored with them. For now, at least.

Lola sends her regards to everyone and says that the kittens can be taken at any time now. The sooner the better, though you may need to do a bit of bottle- feeding for a week or three.