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Sting in the tail as new arrivals give jealous cat some paws for thought

SO FAR, the score is one Waterford Glass tumbler, two plates and a cereal bowl.

All sacrificed in pursuit of bluebottles. The good news is that, in every case, the bluebottle died. It’s just that if I had belted them with a rolled-up copy of a newspaper, it would have been a lot cheaper.

Sparky, the stripy kitten, is the bluebottle hunter. She’s not much bigger than a mouse, so has postponed paw-to-paw combat with rodents. Bluebottles, however, can be knocked down from a window and treated like a stunned mouse on the floor, although when they recover and fly out of the danger zone, it comes as a hell of a surprise to Sparky.

Undeterred, she follows the noise to any windowsill, scattering everything in her path, and does it all over again until the bluebottle is good and dead. At which point she eats him. Or her. I have discouraged her on hygiene grounds, but I’m not there all the time, so when I come home to broken crockery, I figure she has disregarded my dietary advice and gone for another one.

The arrival of the kittens resulted from the death of my black cat, Dino, eight weeks ago. His sibling, Scruffy, went into deep depression, sitting in the window, looking out for hours as if he expected Dino to return at any moment and didn’t want to miss his arrival, despite the fact that they hadn’t exactly been bosom buddies since the time Scruffy fell into a vat of diesel and lost all his fur as a result.

When we brought him home from the vet’s, looking like a cat-shaped turkey ready for the oven, his brother took one look and screamed the place down. Every time poor Scruffy nurgled up to Dino to do a Howya, Dino would try to kill him. Even when the white fur grew back, Dino wasn’t convinced that Scruffy was a real cat, had doubts that they were brothers, and clearly expected Scruffy to strip off his fur and do another naked streak at any minute.

You could understand that this would strain any sibling relationship somewhat, although Scruffy never got the message and made constant overtures, which his brother rejected with heavy losses.

Then Dino went and died. But of course you can’t explain that to a cat. For all Scruffy knew, Dino had been put in NAMA and might get time off for good behaviour.

The white cat went off his food. He stopped hunting. He forgot how to purr. When his tail filled up with burrs, he left them there. Radical action was required.

We asked around and a friend of a friend turned out to have a litter of kittens they wanted to give away. We took two of them, believing they would offer a distraction to Scruffy. Something to play with and educate in feline ways; little friends who might amuse and enthuse. How innocent we were.

The response of a jealous toddler to the arrival of a new baby had nothing on the big white cat’s response to the arrival of the two. He spat. He hissed. He threw a wobbler worthy of the Guinness Book of Records. He knocked one of them into the water bowl and chased another into the bath.

The kitten couldn’t climb out and so was in the bath for hours before we noticed, because his voice wasn’t loud enough to be heard over Scruffy giving out. As a final statement, the big white cat got onto a high surface and threatened the kittens with evisceration before emigrating for two whole days.

The kittens, in his absence, shrugged and made themselves at home. The black one, which has disproportionately large feet, ploughed around like a swimmer walking in flippers and fell off everything he climbed onto.

The striped one tried to eat electrical flexes and fought with a ribbon bookmark hanging from a volume on the shelves. If you said hello to either of them, they did an instant tiny purr. If you used the vacuum, they disappeared into a tunnel behind the bookshelves which was so small, they had to reverse back out of it in a kind of tail-first breach birth when the vacuum cleaner shut up.

The spiral staircase had been an enormous challenge to Scruffy and Dino, who had grown up with straight stairs and wanted nothing to do with curly steps that were open at the back. We had to bribe them by putting sardines on each step until they got used to climbing for the reward.

The two kittens had no such interior design prejudices. Two days after their arrival, they hauled themselves up the spiral staircase and romped throughout the first floor. In several places, the first floor is open, with a major drop to the floor below. We have rails to keep humans from falling down, but of course, that couldn’t protect kittens.

We hung towels over the railings. They pulled off the towels and slept on them. We gave up protecting them, but couldn’t prevent ourselves having that back-of-the -mind expectation of the thump of a small falling body. It never happened. They freely fell off chairs, stools and kitchen surfaces, but decided against a 20-foot drop.

When Scruffy came back, they welcomed him with open paws and he snarlingly drop-kicked them out of his way. They patted him and he swatted them. They purred at him and his response was a noise somewhere between a spit and a growl.

They decided they had made nice long enough and started to thump him as he passed, sitting up on their hind paws to deliver what they clearly believed were killer blows. Scruffy ignored them and moved magisterially to his food bowl, having first checked out and rejected their kitten food.

They decided they were too grown up for kitten food and head-butted him away from his own bowl. He said "Arf". They ignored him.

HE WENT back to hunting with such enthusiasm, he made the Ward Union Hunt look like a branch of the Red Cross. Every morning, I come down to an offering. Usually a dead rat the size of a dwarf kangaroo. This may be a reminder to me of his Unique Selling Point, which has always been his strength as a hunter.

"Get rid of those two small annoyances," he may be saying. "I’m the real deal. Have THEY ever brought you a dead thing this size?"

On the other hand, he may be trying to teach the two small ones their job, although I’d frankly prefer if he first taught them to view the great outdoors as a restroom, so I could abandon the horrible cat litter task.

He’s gone from being sweetly sad to being resentfully resigned. I don’t know which is worse.

The more urgent issue is teaching Sparky about wasps. I fear she’ll see wasps as sean-nós singers, the same as bluebottles, only wearing brighter jumpers. The thought of her being stung terrifies me.

Kittens take your mind off your troubles and the state of the economy. Your attention goes to much more important issues. Like sting prevention.