Sunday, June 22, 2008

Macavity - take 2

T. S. Eliot created the unforgettable feline assocation for the name Macavity in his "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" . His Macavity was a "Napolean of Crime", but recent events have suggested to me a new interpretation of the name.

A little while ago, we realised that our cat Millie was pregnant. Brains were racked. Arithmetic was done - and we realised that the kittens might just be born on Jessica's birthday (our nine year old daughter). What a present that would be!

The day comes ... and it happened! Birthdays for nine/ten year old girls don't get much better than that do they?

For the next seven days, Millie and her four kittens settled very contentedly in their luxury kittening suite (old cardboard box with a hole in). Pure sweetness and charm. Eyes still closed.

Now this may not seem immediately relevant, but at this time, the hole leading to the attic in the ceiling of Jessica's room was temporarily exposed - waiting for me to finish fixing up a trapdoor.

Five O'Clock in the morning. We are woken by disgruntled kitten squeeks and squawks. Pretty reasonable reaction I'd say - as we see them being unceremoniously 'flown' up to the attic. I say flown because this journey entails a four foot vertical-take-off leap from the tiny launch pad offered by the top of a bed post.

Forty eight hours later, I've finished the trap door and can now attempt to extricate them without them being taken straight back again. The first challenge is finding them up there. My attic is let's say 'well stocked'. Let's also say that it isn't perhaps as well-ordered as it could be.

May I just return for a moment to the theme of Jessica's birthday. This is the day we've organised a bit of a party for her. She's invited most of the girls in her class to a swimming-pool party, followed by a smaller group supping at the local Italian, and finally a couple of them coming back for a sleep-over. Well the kitten extrication exercise is going on about half an hour before we should leave for the pool to anticipate the arrival of her friends.

Millie is eventually persuaded to join us in the attic and soon reveals the hiding place, but we are initially confused because there are only two kittens there - not four. We hunt around the immediate vicinity, but the awful realisation gradually dawns on us that the missing two have gone AWOL.

We need to search the more inaccessible places where the joists are not boarded over, and there is very little room. Jessica is pretty small and can reach these places without falling through the ceiling and she very nobly tries to help, but she's not daft and realises that we may be facing a horrible prospect. After a while the emotion gets the better of her and she retreats distraught.

I think I can hear the occassional faint cry in the attic, but I can't tell where it's coming from.

Jessica's friends will be arriving at the pool in about ten minutes. We quickly decide on a contingency plan. Another of the mums kindly steps into the breach to explain the situation to the arriving families at the pool, and we divide and conquer. My wife Ali leaves to take our tearful children to the pool, while I stay behind to see if I can do anything else.

Now the house is silent, I persuade Millie to come up again, in the hope that she too will hear something and give me a pointer. After about 20 minutes of waiting it pays off, there's a tiny peep, and Millie is suddenly very alert and darts over to a tiny space under the eaves - and focusses all her intense interest - looking downwards.

The horrible truth is suddenly revealed. They've fallen down inside the cavity wall!

On the RSPA's advice I call the fire brigade - who are very willing to help. They arrive quickly - and to my amazement, with the full treatment of flashing lights and sirens. I learn the next day that the driver - who has to remain in the vehicle, spent his time entertaining the other local children by letting them get in.

I greet the firemen with a wringing of hands and 'thanks for coming'. The bossman sets the tone for the afternoon by responding with 'well, thanks for inviting us'.

The four firemen are soon stuck in with fantastic professionalism and gravity. We do much detective work - tapping walls and trying to work out the implications from the way the house is built - greatly assisted by one of their number who is something of a part time building expert.

We form a hypothesis about where they are most likely to be, and the bossman suggests that by removing a few roof tiles and some felt - it might be possible to see down inside the cavity wall with a bright light. This plan works brilliantly. With the aid of their powerful lamp - they can see down. And they can see the kittens too - stuck on top of a lintel at first floor height - but crucially moving a bit.

Expectations soar. I 'risk' the thought that it might turn out ok.

They set about measuring where the kittens are exactly using the latest high tech fire brigade equipment(bamboo sticks and insulating tape - you work it out). The suggestion is to remove a block or brick from the outside wall at a position we reckon will be above them and to one side. They're soon up a ladder chiselling and drilling away. You get a sense of the team work that must be so valuable in really serious situations - when they spontaneously offer help to each other taking turns with the chiselling.

The point is reached when a long drill bit can penetrate into the cavity, and for the first time the bossman looking down from above can see if we are in the right place. He warns the guy down below that he is much closer than intended - and suggests he checks what colour the drill bit is coming out. (Ugggh) (Women and children still at pool fortunately).

15 minutes later the block is out. 5 seconds later again, the first ball of AWOL fluffiness is also out. Appears to be in working order, but they were black before. Now they are white? One fireman's lungs worth of puff puts that right, creating a cloud of concrete dust. The second one takes a little untangling and leverage, but emerges in due course similarly unscathed.

Four burly firemen ascend stairs to see Millie re-united with her errant offspring - under a bed. All four lined up in a row at the milk bar (the kittens). Deafening purring. Firemen make well controlled ooh-ing and aagh-ing noises - within the limits that fireman-dignity permits.

I ring mum and our three children - who are now at the Italian restaurant. Spectacular loss of composure at the other end. What must the restaraunt staff have thought I was saying!

Firemen get back to business and make very helpful suggestions about how to repair the hole in the wall by fitting a ventilation block into it. Much gratitude all round. Bossman says there will be no charge, but would we 'like' a home fire-safety visit in due course? After all, there are quotas to be attended to, and the other watch are creeping up on them!

Thanks chaps.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


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