One of the most stressful things about moving here was what to do with the cats, Jonty and Herschelle (Chool). No-one wanted them – they’re cats after all, and Jonty’s an antisocial prick at that – so we couldn’t leave them in Australia, unless at the pound. And prickery notwithstanding, they didn’t deserve execution as a result of our Oriental seachange.
Plus, we loved them and Rufus was very attached to them.
So it was decided that, at great expense, they would be relocated here using the services of ‘Jetpets’. The astronomical cost (*cough*AU$4000) included custom cat boxes, airport transfers in an airconditioned van covered in decals of suitcase-carrying pets, tickets on a Cathay Pacific flight, and pick-up in Hong Kong.
For the further cost of AU$2000, they were then accommodated for the next seven weeks in a pretty miserable cattery in the country park here in Sai Kung, while we rented an unsuitably small yardless, balcony-less 700sq.foot unit in crowded Pak Wai village. We visited them a couple of times while they were in the cattery – forlorn occasions where I would talk brightly to Rufus about how happy they were living in a box next to 25 other boxed cats, while weeping behind my sunglasses. When we finally moved here to Lung Mei, our permanent house, we were able to pick them up. 10 stressful weeks had passed since they’d last lived with us.
We were exceptionally broke at that time, having only just started work, and the relocation having cost so very much. I resolved that if any cat, having gone through such an expensive relocation process, decided to run away as soon as we opened the cattery box, they would get a punch. In the face. I would chase them from one side of Hong Kong to the other kicking them in the arse.
Our house here – and all Chinese village houses – are Spanish mission-style villas, tiled from top to toe. There isn’t a single area in the whole house in which to install a cat door. Even if there was such a place, it wasn’t safe to immediately let them loose in the village because (a) they were in a foreign place; and (b) there’s lots of dogs roaming the village. So they had to live inside for a few weeks. Herschelle had always been a sometimes outdoor cat and Jonty an entirely outdoor cat. They don’t know how to use cat litter. They were civilised enough to do their business in the bath; but still, when you’re trying to adjust yourself and two little kids to living in a completely strange environment, AND one of those kids is still in nappies herself, the very last thing you want to do upon waking each morning is clean cat shit out of the bath.
I despaired. At one point Jonty found a hiding spot in the kind of storage room under the stairs. When I finally coaxed him out after a week or so, I discovered shits in various stages of fossilisation floating on a shallow film of cat piss. My nostril hairs stung as I kneeled underneath the tiny gap and picked up the turds.
The whole house stunk like cat wee. My mum was staying with us at the time and ain’t nothing like having your mum in the house when there’s the remotest tinge of bad hygiene, let alone a relentless and towering pile of randomly located cat shits (we have three baths here).
And we bought one of those rugs for the kids that’s made out of lots of rubber alphabet letters stuck together like a jigsaw. In the night, Herschelle would claw them loudly until he woke someone up, and Jonty would bite off pieces and chew them up until he spewed all around the place. So my mornings would start off with cleaning shit out of the bath, and then coming downstairs and crawling around on my hands and knees picking up pieces of colourful vomited Ws and Ks and Ls.
Joel and I started to hate the cats at that time. We would say reasonably to each other that it wasn’t their fault we moved overseas, or that they don’t know how to use cat litter; they were struggling to adjust just as much. But fuck. They drove us mental. We tried vainly to think of a cat-door solution, but eventually we just decided that they had go outside at any cost. We started feeding them on our bedroom balcony, and after they ate they would jump off the edge, land on the canopy over the ground floor, leap down via the garden fence to the ground, and then run off. I fretted that they wouldn’t come home, but not too much, because frankly at that time I didn’t care if I never saw them again.
Jonty, whose nature has always been to establish a couple of secondary residences nearby, immediately staked out the abandoned village house three doors down. He began to come home once a day for food, and then sprint back to his bolthole. Herschelle would eat his dinner, then wander the village for a time, and then come back and spend the next 22 hours dozing in the house, moving from one tiled spot to another as he got too hot.
They were both back to living how they lived at home, and it was good. The relaxation that descended over me knowing that I would now only be woken by screaming children! The relief that after all their travails, and our expense, the cats were actually happy here. The dissipation of guilt!
Two weeks before we left for our recent holiday in Australia, Herschelle went missing. He popped out after dinner one Sunday night and never came back. He’s done this before a couple of times for a day or two, but after three days we started to worry. We walked around the village calling for him. We peered down gully traps, inside the abandoned house, down the dense valley leading to Wang Kong village.
We never found him.
I became heartbroken and riven with guilt. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen him (I’d been working in Singapore at the time) or patted him. I fretted that he’d run away because he’d been unhappy here. Everyone loved Herschelle, and Zadie walked around the house calling out “Chool! Chool!” Rufus kept asking to go outside and search for him. He’d lift up bushes and call out “Chool! It’s okay boy, it’s Rufus! You can come home now!” and I would cry and cry and cry. At night I would cry myself to sleep some more.
I held out a tiny – the stronger for its magical unrealism – hope that when we got home from Australia, Chool would be waiting for us outside the front door, with his deep yapping meow. But he wasn’t.
The worst part is that no-one here speaks English so we don’t know whether one of them has accidentally hit him with their car, or their dog has got him, and then they’ve just disposed of him without telling us. We think he might have got chased off by one of the dogs, up into the steep hills behind our place, and then couldn’t find his way home and either starved, or drowned in the flooding rains we have here constantly.
Rufus thinks Chool’s gone to live with someone else “but he still loves us and he’s still our best friend”.
Oh Chool, mate. Where are you?
He was always more like a dog than a cat. He loved company and to follow someone around the house. He was never scared of strangers.
I got him when he was about 1, when I was living in Moonee Ponds with my housemate Jared. My cat Billy had just been run over and we were looking for a new friend for Jonty, and ourselves. A friend at work knew of someone who had found a kind of weird kitten who was really sociable but whom other cats hated. When I brought him home, Jared waited anxiously for me to open the cat box. He was a little disappointed to find that our projected gorgeous tiny kitten was in fact a big, fat, scrubby-haired bristly idiot. He constantly walked into walls, tried to play with dogs, ate cotton wool, and did various other non-cat things. I took him to the vet and they measured his neck and diagnosed him with cat Down syndrome – can you believe that?
He loved a lair. He would push his head under a rug and fall asleep there for hours. Often is the time, when I was at the end of my pregnancy with Rufus and getting up to go to the toilet 36 times a night, I would step on Chool in a badly-placed lair directly outside the bathroom, as per:
Other cats knew something was wrong with him and were always wary of him. He was terrified of catfights. He would come belting through the cat door and sprint all the way up to our bedroom and leap into Joel’s arms like a distressed maiden. One time Joel heard a huge catfight and went outside to investigate. After chasing the duelling felines away, he found Chool on the porch – and he’d pooed himself.
At the start, he was woeful at hunting – and indeed most other normal cat skills. One time he brought a big crackly fig leaf into the house and battered it across the room in front of us in a show of his supposed hunting prowess. Occasionally he’d leave similarly conquered leaves at Joel’s computer chair for a present. Sometimes he did manage to somehow disable a bird and bring it in the house, but he had no idea how to finish the job. He did improve after a few years. One time in Yarraville he hustled a pigeon into the house but let it escape his clutches behind the fridge. As Joel was moving the fridge to release the dumb bird, Chool’s eyes flashed crazily and he ran outside, jumped on top of the shed, and brought down another pigeon, this time making no mistake. 1.5 birds in one day! Killing to order! It was his finest moment.
We miss him so much.
To finish this on a not-sad (or insulting) note, here is the poem I wrote a few years ago at the time of Chool’s castration. It’s all lower case, ee cummings style. Wistful.
billy, my beloved kitty, with me in this house from the start
was run over in june, and it damn near broke my heart.
apart from my love lying shattered as dust
and jared having no cat for his bed, as everyone surely must
since then, poor jonty had been all alone –
no companion to share adventures, no best friend to call his own
our house with two people and one cat was so blue;
we three walked around not quite knowing what to do.
the situation was depressive, overall mood was flat…
..and then i was unexpectedly offered a new cat.
sampson, a young tabby, had my heart on the mend
as i, enamoured, brought him home to introduce to his new friend.
jonty said, “i hate him, what’s with his lame biblical name?
“send him back immediately from whence he came.”
but we couldn’t send him back, for he had nowhere to go –
he was to be euthanased before being saved by jared and jflo
i sat with jonty in my lap and laid down the law –
“sampson stays, he’s your new brother, and i’ll hear no more.”
“i accept that,” conceded the jont, “but i have a caveat to impose:
“he can’t be called sampson – he’s not holy, and it shows.”
“i got saddled with this south african cricketer’s name, an insulting situation
“it’s only right that he should have a matching appellation.”
“good point, and well made,” i reasonably stated
“luckily i’ve got the perfect name already slated.”
a beam of light shone over the cat previously known as sampson
as i declared “he shall be HERSCHELLE, a name that’s strong and handsome”
jonty rolled his eyes and shook his head, was silent for a time –
the new name was bad, and “sampson” and “handsome”, well, they don’t even rhyme.
so sampson-as-was was christened herschelle
allowable variations being hersch, herschey and merschelle
and though jared and i came to love our new son,
jonty didn’t think the addition to the family was much fun.
you see, instead of behaving like a brother
herschelle viewed jonty as a compliant lover
it’s hard to describe in a delicate fashion
the way herschelle mounted jonty with lustful passion
jonty, used to brotherly love with billy,
wasn’t prepared for, at every turn, being speared with a willy
that’s right, mr herschelle was full to the brim
with billions of little spermatozoa that wanted to swim
into the uterus of a sexy girly cat –
but a jonty would do, in the absence of that.
so day after day jonty was poked and mounted and ridden,
and he took it like a man until his discomfort could no longer be hidden
“see here, you two-legged tools, i’m really quite confused
“this is certainly not a way in which i’m used to being used.
“i don’t know what he’s doing, but i’m sick of it, okay?
“i’m fucking not interested in this sort of play
“as evinced by my yowling and saucer-wide eyes
“every time herschelle’s trouser department…er…gets a rise.
“so enough of this intolerable behaviour, i can take no more
“i’m sullied and cheapened and I FEEL LIKE A WHORE”
i concurred, and jared was rapt, since he was the one
always breaking up a pair of shagging felines, one willing and one un.
so local vets were googled, and with a couple of calls
an appointment was made to cut off herschelle’s balls
jared kindly let him give jonty a final rogering the night before;
then he was fasted and delivered to the vets, soon to be hormonal no more
the day went slowly, i fretted until the vet called and said
i could pick him up and bring him home to recuperate on his bed
and lo! the snip, the chop, removal of one’s parts seductive
whatever you call it, herschelle came home unreproductive
so now herschey has no gonads, just an empty space,
and plaintively licks where they used to be, glum look upon his face.
jonty reclines seductively upon the bed,
stretching his paws luxuriously over his head.
“look how sexy i am, mr hersch, i’m posing just for you
“you want me, you need me, but YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO.”
there’s a moral to this story, and one so applicable to my life.
it’s a warning from herschelle, fresh from being under the knife –
when romancing the ladies, even those you THINK are sluts,
ask before you mount or you might just lose your nuts.