Most of us make some sort of effort to get on with people we meet in our lives (I know there are exceptions) and the amount of effort is directly proportional to the importance and or nature of that relationship. So, for example, the effort we make to get along with our work colleagues is naturally going to be greater than the effort we’d make when sitting next to a random stranger on a train and the degree of effort put in to the latter would be proportional to the length of the journey. This is all well and good as long as you’re in control of the situation and every aspect of the situation, which is quite impossible if you own a cat like Gary. For me to tell the story it’s necessary for me to give you a bit of background but, by the end, you will see see what I mean.
When we first moved, ten years ago, to the house we now live in and call home our direct neighbours were, on one side, a youngish couple (couple A) with a child – a son, aged about seven or eight. On the other side was another young couple (couple B) who were childless. Within a few short weeks of us arriving couple A had a massive barney, split up and sold the house. Their problems were quite public and, because our windows look down into their garden, we were privy to a lot of the goings on during their acrimonious separation negotiations. Without going into details here, because that’s not the story I’m telling, let’s just say that some soap-operas left more to the imagination than those two did. Couple B who, it turned out, were a very nice couple from oop naath decided to sell their house and return to those foreign climes just as we had progressed from the nod-politely-to-each-other-on-the-street stage to you-must-come-round-and-have-a-cup-of-tea-with-us stage.
Couple A’s house was bought by a Lithuanian guy, Tomas, who is married with two daughters. We get on reasonably well – conversing from time to time over the wooden fence that divides our two properties – a bit like Tim Taylor and his neighbour Wilson in Home Improvement, but he’s a businessman and travels a fair bit so he’s often not around.
A self-proclaimed prophet (I kid you not) from Ghana bought Couple B’s house but we hardly ever see him or his family because they’re always off somewhere on some mission (prophesying I expect). The elderly guy who lives opposite them despises them. There’s no obvious reason for his dislike but it could have something to do with the fact that they keep strange hours and are quite noisy. The elderly gentleman likes the odd drink and keeps regular hours (from opening time till closing time daily) at the pub, which is a mere five minutes walk from his house (and about fifteen minutes back with all the weaving he does). I was invited to attend a child’s birthday party (at the prophet’s house) so I accepted in the spirit of if one is going to get to know one’s neighbour’s one really should make an effort. I didn’t really enjoy myself – the music was too loud and the food was strange. I later got diarrhoea which may or may not have been from something I ate at that child’s party.
Another elderly couple used to live in the house opposite us but we fell out soon after we moved here (before we’d even met them actually) when they put their excess garbage into our wheelie bin one day without so much as a by-your-leave. I suppose my reaction to it was a little extreme; perhaps I shouldn’t have taken their garbage bags and put them outside their front door. In my defence, where else was I going to put them? I couldn’t leave them in my bin or I wouldn’t have been able to fit own my garbage in it. About two years on he died and his wife sold up and left, which we didn’t know about until one night we were sitting watching TV when we heard someone banging frantically on our door, and ringing our door bell over and over. We muted the TV and heard someone shouting FIRE, FIIIIIRE! I ran downstairs and opened the door to be confronted by the short white-haired, wild-eyed old guy. He said, you had better get out of your house – there’s a fire next door. I stepped out and had a look where he was pointing and, sure enough, there was a fire next door – Tomas’s place.
I thanked him and went back inside, “FIRE”, I shouted “FIIIIIRE” (I had always wanted to say that) and in no time at all we were outside with our most important belongings – our passports and animals.
Tomas’s wife’s car – a brand new BMW X3, parked on his driveway, was ablaze (very suspicious) and I sat in my car with Adam (Lynda was in her car with Leanne and the animals) and we watched the fire-brigade bring it under control and contain it before signalling the all-clear.
It occurred to me, while I was watching the blaze, that I’d never seen the white-haired man before. I was grateful to him for raising the alarm and for coming to warn us (I suppose it was the least he could do) because the angle of our house prevents us from seeing Tomas’s driveway and there was always a possibility that the fire-brigade would not have been able to contain the blaze, meaning we may have been trapped inside and unable to get out. I went and thanked him when the dust had settled and it turned out he and his wife had bought the house from the widow. His name was Terry and he seemed like a nice guy, confirmed when he suggested we get together for a beer at some time in the future. The gesture took me completely by surprise – that was the first overture of its kind from any of our neighbours – including Tomas and the prophet (apart from the child’s birthday party) – since we’d moved in.
“Give us some time to get settled”, said my new mate, “then we’ll get together for a pint”.
I went around to Tomas’s driveway the next day (he had been away at the time of the incident) to take a closer look at the burnt out wreck. I was astonished when I walked round the corner, to discover that TWO cars had burned – both of them new X3’s. I had to conclude that someone must have had it in for him. BMW’s don’t usually combust spontaneously.
A couple or three weeks later I got home from work and pulled up outside my house. I climbed out of my car (a Pepper Red Ford Focus, with stick-shift and alloys), locked it and started walking towards my house when, to my delight, Terry hailed me and quickly crossed the road to stand before me.
TERRY: ‘aw’right Mate (that’s the same in Essex as “Howzit china” in Zimbabwe or “G’day cobber” in Oz).
ME: Hello Terry (Cool, he’s come to make an arrangement for us to get together for a pint sometime)
TERRY: Do you have a minute? (these Poms can be ever so polite)
ME: Yes of course Terry, what can I do for you? (I wonder if Lynda will mind if I go for a pint this evening after supper?)
TERRY: Do you own a black and white cat?
ME: (Huh? What’s he on about?) Erm, yes, why do you ask?
TERRY: He’s been coming into my garden and killing my fish. I wouldn’t mind so much if he ate them, but he doesn’t; he just flicks them out of the water and watches them flopping around till they die.
ME: (He’s confusing Gary with that other black and white cat that hangs out near the vet. Bloody people who can’t keep an eye on their animals) There’s another black and white cat that’s been floating around impersonating my chap. My guy hardly ever leaves the property. There’s no way it’s my cat.
TERRY: (In a tone just a little too snippy for my liking) No, this is definitely your cat!
ME: (Who the hell did he think he was blighting my innocent lad’s good character) You want to be careful making accusations like that without any proof.
Terry pulled his cell phone (they call them mobiles over here) out of his pocket, fiddled with it for a bit in that awkward way that old people have when they use mobile devices, tapped the screen a couple of times, squinted myopically at it and handed it to me. At first I didn’t know what I was looking at because the video was shaking a bit but then it settled down and the evidence was indisputable. Gary! Crouching next to Terry’s fishpond watching a fish flopping helplessly on the pavement. There wasn’t another cat, dog, bird or human in sight.
ME: (Who in the hell would stand and take a video of a cat killing one of his prize Koi. Why doesn’t he go and put the fish back in the water instead of being so callous?) Gosh Terry, that certainly looks like Gary.
A moment later I saw Gary look up from the fish to stare at something and a split second after that Terry, clearly very angry, clad only in a pair of whiter-than-white Y-fronts, white holey vest and a pair of short black socks, entered the frame, waving a walking stick about furiously with one skinny arm and shaking his fist with the other. (Ahhh, it must be Terry’s wife taking the video from the upstairs window)
ME: (Bloody hell, he’s going to demand compensation. I want to kill that bloody cat)
And I carried on watching as Gary, who wasn’t the slightest bit concerned by Terry’s murderous intent, nonchalantly trotted over to the boundary wall jumped to the top and looked casually back at the enraged septuagenarian who had crouched next to his flopping Carp. He carried on watching, his face inscrutable, as Terry picked it up and lowered it gently into the water. Then Gary, who had clearly lost all interest by then, jumped off the wall and out of sight.
ME: (Dry-mouthed and extremely embarrassed) Erm, did the fish survive Terry?
TERRY: No. They’re all dead. I’m not going to keep fish any more. I’ve converted my fish pond into a water garden.
ME: I’m ever so sorry Terry, I’ll try to keep a closer eye on him. (Bloody cat. Bloody, bloody, bloody, bastard cat)
TERRY: Thank you. I’d not like to fall out with you over a cat.
There wasn’t a great deal to say after that. We exchanged a few polite words about the weather then I made my excuses and got out of there as quickly as I could.
Gary, the dickhead, then started bringing plants into our kitchen in the dead of night. Pond plants!
Terry and I don’t talk nowadays and we’ve never shared that pint.