An Irishman's Diary


DRIVING ALONG a wet road in Tipperary recently, I narrowly avoided crossing what looked like a piece of turf. That it was turf was entirely plausible. This was a bog road, near where my in-laws live, and turbary debris is so common there that, en route back to Dublin once, I collected the makings of a fire from sods that had fallen off trailers.

But this was just a scrag-end of turf – and a soggy one at that. So I nearly drove over it. And I was glad I didn’t afterwards, because just as I passed, out of the side of my eye, I thought I saw it move.

Studied in the rear-view mirror, the turf was still on the road. But was it my imagination or had it now developed a small head and pointy ears? I stopped, did a U-turn, then drove slowly back to the spot. And there, on close inspection, the turf turned out to be a kitten.

It wasn’t more than a week old and its eyes were half-shut from infection. Its ears, apparently the only thing alerting it to traffic, didn’t look good either. It was wet and mucky. And oblivious to its location, or aware and petrified, it was sitting precisely in the middle of a two-lane secondary route.

On a scale of one to 10, where 10 is the most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen, this was an eight-and-a-half. But how had the kitten even got there? There were no houses nearby. Had it come down in the last shower? Or had some black-hearted monster dumped it from a car? Even as I pondered these questions, I was also considering the consequences of bringing the kitten home. After all, as long-time readers may know, I needed a cat like a hole in the head.

We already had one in Dublin, or it had us, to be more correct. It used to belong to someone else and then devolved into community ownership before, several years ago, choosing our back garden as a permanent home.

It’s now very ancient – about 105 in human terms we think – but thanks to the excellent diet I’ve been guilt-tripped into providing it, continues to enjoy good health and threatens, for several more years yet, to make us feel bad every time we go anywhere.

As I’d told my children repeatedly, we didn’t have room for a second pet. And if we did it would be for a dog, not another bloody cat. So looking down on this soggy ball of flea-bitten fur on the road, my feelings of empathy were not unmixed.

I tried telling myself that its appearance of helplessness was in fact a clever Darwinian survival strategy honed by cats at the expense of humans over countless millennia. If so, admittedly, it was a very high-risk game for a browny-black kitten, even one with lives to spare, on a turf-strewn road.

And in any case, of course, it worked. I picked the little critter up, still not totally sold. But that’s when I noticed he had been sitting on one of those road safety devices we call “cats’ eyes”. I swear.

The terrible thought occurred to me that, with his impaired vision, he had mistaken the cats’ eyes for his mother. On which note, the pathos-ometer briefly hit 10, and by the time I copped myself on again, it was too late. I took him back to the in-laws’ house, where my children had been ensconced for a holiday. “We’re not keeping him,” I told them. “We’ll just fix him up and then find a home.” This was agreed in principle. As luck would have it, an acquaintance had been inquiring about getting a cat. So with her in mind, the feline intensive care unit swung into action.

A visit to the local vet resulted in no fewer than three prescribed medications: for the kitten’s eyes, ears and general wellbeing. Just to be on the safe side, he was also treated to an old Tipperary hot-drink recipe involving milk and whiskey.

Within days, now back in the city, I was informed by phone that the kitten was on his way to full recovery and looking cuter every day. “We’re still giving him away,” I warned, but resolve was weakening all round. Never mind veterinary expenses.

In terms of emotional investment, my children were already in over their heads.

When they came back to Dublin, so did the kitten. And I was resigned to keeping him even before he looked at me with now-wide eyes that seemed to say, “Thank you for not squashing me under your car.”

The worst part was introducing him to the existing cat. It went as well as could be expected, in the circumstances. The relationship is a cool one, so far, although the old-timer is still an outdoor creature, mostly, and their paths don’t cross much.

As for naming the kitten, that was easy. Dried out, his coat has resolved itself into a very dark brown: part shiny, part matt. With apologies to a former bass player in the Boomtown Rats, he could only be “Pete Briquette”, although we call him “Pete” for short.

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