The Princess and the Cat (memoir)

It was a hot summer’s afternoon back in 1981, the day on which Diana was marrying Charles, a marriage made in heaven, or so we thought. I was a young lecturer, but back home on the farm with my Mum to enjoy the royal event. We sat watching the build up to the ceremony. For some reason my Mum popped outside, perhaps sensing something was amiss. What happened next needs a little background explanation.

We had approximately seven cats at that time. They were ratters, yes, there to kill rats and mice, to eliminate vermin. They were very efficient and therefore were also fed cat food and milk to supplement their live diet. The cans of cat food were my Dad’s responsibilty, but feeding the multitude was a task that he, as a farmer of 250 acres in Yorkshire, didn’t take too seriously. He had a stack of cans in the empty part of the farm house, next door as we called it, but never used a can opener. He had his knife. He would stab the can lid and work his way round it jaggedly until he could prise it open. He would then shake the meat out, resulting in cat wars between seven competing felines, push the still attached lid back into the can and toss it onto the ground, usually near the garage and granary. This was an old fashioned farm yard. The garage was, in fact, just a big brick farm bulding with double doors, and the granary was a room above, reached by a stair in the adjoining building, where corn had been stored years before. What happened on that historic day was simply a result of my Dad’s poor can opening technique.

As I sat watching Di on the box, my Mum burst back into the living room.

‘There’s a bloody cat going mad in the granary, lad. Never heard a noise like it. Come on, we’ll have to do something, even if we kill it!’

I ran out of the house after my Mum. You could have heard the cat’s screams and howls a mile away. We went through the half open granary door and ran up the rickety stairs. I’ll never forget the bizarre sight that awaited us.

The spitting, hissing, yowling grey tabby cat stood with its legs spreadeagled for balance, its head moving rapidly from side to side, sensing our presence. But its head was not visible – it was firmly stuck inside a can of cat food. The cat had obviously tried to extract the last remnants of the meat and its head had gone beyond the jagged edged lid pushed into the tin by my Dad, in his usual way. The lethal sharp edge was pressing into the cat’s throat. No way out! As we closed in on the cat it attempted to run, banging into any of the ephemera lying in the unused granary.

‘Get that sack , lad, or it’ll rip us to shreds when we get hold of it.’

I quickly got the small corn sack lying in the corner. My Mum seemed relatively calm. Me? Panic stricken with the certainty that either we, or the cat itself, were about to slit its throat. My Mum pounced on the cat, pressing it to the floor with both hands. The cat screamed in terror, seeing nothing.

‘Hold the sack open in front of it and close it fast if I get the cat in’, my Mum ordered.

I did as I was told. My Mum gripped the cat’s fur and threw it into the sack. While the cat struggled and spat I tied the sack with string. For about a minute or so we stood looking down on the sack as the cat writhed around inside. And then – it seemed to calm a little, staying relatively still but yowling in fear.

‘What can we do Mum? Should I get Dad? There’s no way we can get its head out. We’d kill it.’

‘Get Dad?’, shouted my Mum. ‘It’s his bloody fault in the first place. Lazy bugger! Get the Mini keys. We’re off to the vet’s.’

I ran into the house and got the keys to the Clubman. Glancing at the television screen I could see that the royal wedding was going along nicely.

Five minutes later we had put the angry sack in the boot and were on our way down the farm track.

After a bumpy four miles we climbed the hill below Leyburn and turned right along a short drive to arrive at the newly built vet’s practice, next to the newly built vet’s bungalow, with marvellous views of Wensleydale across to Middleham and Penhill. I followed my Mum up to the entrance to the bungalow, carrying the disgruntled struggling cat in the corn sack. We were met by the vet. It was a Saturday but he recognised that we had a problem and exuded bonhomie. Admittedly, he did laugh when my Mum explained the predicament.

He walked us into the surgery and I laid the sack down on a table, still holding on tight.

‘Well, let’s take a look’, said the vet, taking over. He removed the spitting tabby cat from the sack and got me to pin it down with both hands.

‘Mmm, interesting’, he continued as he carefully examined the cat’s neck.

‘Yes, you’d have virtually decapitated it if you’d tried to pull the tin off this angry beast. We’d better knock it out.’

He walked away from the table, making me feel exceptionally nervous that the cat might escape my grip, but returned quickly with a hyperdermic.
Within seconds the angry moggy was silent and fast asleep.

My Mum and I stood back, not knowing how the vet could get the tin off without dire consequence. To this day I cannot understand how he did what he did. Do they practice getting tins off cats’ heads endlessly at vet school? It was like a magic trick. He simply twisted the can and pulled at the same time. The cat was free and undamaged. I felt like giving him a round of applause but, instead, we just stared open mouthed in admiration.

‘Right, I suggest you put the cat back in the sack. It’ll come round within half an hour or so, so you better get it back to the farm quickly. No charge. An interesting problem. Must go, got to get back to the wedding on the telly. Aren’t you watching it?’

My Mum looked daggers at the vet.

We headed off as fast as we could, relieved at the outcome, the cat in the sack in the boot as before.

About fifteen minutes later we were back in the farmyard, Mum had opened the boot, and I was undoing the string with which I’d tied up the sack.

There was a lot of slurred anger coming from the sack, as if the cat were drunk. I poured it out onto the ground. The cat stared at us both, full of hate, and ran like hell towards a wall some three feet high to escape. Normally it would have cleared the wall with ease. But the anaesthetic hadn’t quite worn off! It leapt about two feet off the ground and smashed its head into the stone wall, instantly knocking itself out again. We looked at each other and fell about laughing. No, it wasn’t funny, but we couldn’t stop laughing.

We walked back into the farmhouse.
Princess Diana was now married to Prince Charles.
The cat came round and was none the worse.

‘That bloody cat!’, said my Mum, summing up our afternoon.


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