Hilary Fannin: I recently shelled out 200 quid on cat paraphernalia

“I got a new kitten,” I said. “I need cat lit.” “Clumping or non-clumping?” he asked

Not too long ago I found myself in the market for a bag of cat litter. Finding the cat-lit shelves of my supermarket surprisingly empty, and with a brand-new kitten in a box on the back seat of my car, I hopped across the road and visited my local pet shop.

I don’t particularly like pet shops. That vague tincture of fear and faeces in the air, combined with the sight of dry-looking old snakes curled up behind glass and bewildered hamsters revolving on plastic wheels like aghast commuters rushing for the last train to oblivion, sparks a feeling of hopelessness in my sluggish ticker.

When I was a child though, there was one pet shop I did truly love, called Uncle George’s, on Dublin’s Marlborough Street. A tantalising emporium of crittering delights, the shop – musty, noisy, fascinating – was right beside the place where our city-bound bus stopped.

Most of all, I liked the boxes of mewling kittens, squirming up against their sanguine and indifferent mothers

I used to cajole my mother to go inside, pulling at her leather-gloved paw to push open the heavy door and look at the animals. I enjoyed standing by the cage and waiting for the wrinkled bald head of the tortoise to pop out from under his shell, like the pate of an old priest darting out from the confessional to make sure you were doing your Hail Marys.

I liked to glare at the dyspeptic budgerigar in its cardigan of yellow feathers. The bird reminded me of my Irish teacher, hopping up and down on her perch in frustration at my doltish inability to understand her squawks.

Most of all, I liked the boxes of mewling kittens, squirming up against their sanguine and indifferent mothers; mothers who probably just yearned for 10 minutes’ peace to make a quick phone call and put on their lippy and draw on their eyebrows in a sceptical arch to face the frosty day.

Uncle George’s Pet Shop is gone now, of course. You’d need to sell more than three blind mice to come up with Dublin rents these days. It’s a city now of cranes and craters, a city like a ravaged gum, where great gaps have opened up in the earth, to be filled with luxury hotels and the inhabitants of those luxury hotels who can all go sightseeing to look at other luxury hotels.

Anyway, back in the pet shop in the modern-day ’burbs, which had no dusty snakes nor heart-sore hamsters in sight, and which smelled oddly if reassuringly of wet hay, I found myself standing in front of an exotic array of cat lit.

Each sack of optimum-moisture, low-in-dust, gentle-on-the-paw sanitary kitty product was more alluring than the last. I’d just driven all the way from Donegal, having picked up the little black kitten in the box from a friend of a friend, and my eyes were bleary. (I swear to the great unicorn in the sky that there was not a kitten to be had in Dublin at the time. There were waiting lists as long as alligators’ tails for every cat-rescue operation in town – I reckon it would have been easier to score a Bengali tiger in a tutu last summer than a short-haired domestic moggie.)

In the terribly nice pet shop, some of the available products were infused with aloe vera, others with scented pine. Others still must have been constituted of material stripped from the bark of Madagascan baobab trees by the pearly teeth of rapacious elves, such was the startlingly inflated price of the sanitised chippings.

I’d already recently shelled out 200 quid on cat paraphernalia (if that’s the right term), after being inveigled (not by the vet, it should be said) into having the ashes of my deceased grimalkin (her ashes and hers alone, apparently) mailed to me in a quaint cylindrical box with a picture of a rainforest on it. (I decanted these ashes into a terracotta pot and planted above them a wisteria, which promptly slumped over and died. A disappointing horticultural outcome given that I’d previously put a fair whack of my mother’s ashes in a pot of yellow roses, which had bloomed until November.)

I stood, vaguely paralysed in front of the cat lit, thinking about my deceased moggie and my deceased mother, until the assistant, a boy with a sweet smile and a spacer, came to my aid.

“I got a new kitten,” I said. “I’m starting over. I need cat lit.”

“Clumping or non-clumping?” he asked brightly.

To clump or not to clump, I thought. Is there ever a right answer?