A slightly sordid story of a somewhat scurrilous specimen
Micky the Vicarage Cat
The story of Micky the Vicarage Cat begins, not in Stonnall, but quite far away at St Werburgh's Vicarage, Burslem. It was there that Tim was the family pet cat, whose bed was a hatbox in a rather cosy cubbyhole next to the kitchen fireplace.
One day, early in 1956, it became clear that Tim's name was somewhat inappropriate, because suddenly 'he' had company in 'his' bed, namely a litter of five kittens. Tim took great care of her babies, clearing up their mess, keeping them clean and very well fed.
Image © Julian Ward-Davies
Each one was given a name and, within weeks, new homes were found for all of them, except one, the only tabby one - Micky. He - and, no, there was no mistake this time - was about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
Micky moving on
You see, the Ward-Davies family was about to move from Burslem to St Peter's, Stonnall. Tim was left behind with some caring neighbours for fear that she would not take to a new home easily, while Micky was selected to be the vicarage cat in our new setting.
On the due day a few months into 1956, my father's black Rover 75 set off for Stonnall, with several passengers: my father the driver, my mother, me and Micky, who was still only a kitten. By the time the car pulled into the vicarage yard, Micky was looking decidedly out of sorts, but happily he recovered very quickly and took readily to his new surroundings.
Original image by:- Charles01 - Ref CC BY-SA 3.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4630440
While still a kitten, Micky did all the usual things that young cats do: chase paper balls, fight dangling strings, sit in boxes, climb curtains and, without any warning, climb up trouser legs - ouch! On one such adventure while clambering over some furniture, he happened to spot his reflection coming from the glass door of a curio cabinet. Aha! he seemed to think, an enemy daring to invade his territory - an intolerable provocation. Micky squared up to his opponent, shifting his weight from side to side, getting ready to pounce - and pounce he did! - but only to bash his nose on the door. Falling to the floor in a dazed heap, he picked himself up and shook his head. You could almost see the stars and fairies dancing around his ears.
Well, despite the occasional misadventure, Micky thrived. Fed on a diet of Kit-e-Kat, supplemented, no doubt, with the occasional rodent or bird, Micky grew into a veritably enormous example of his species. He was huge. Goodness only knows where his genes had come from, but his size was exaggerated by an annual growth of long and thick winter fur. This served him well in those far-off days when the arctic circle descended over Stonnall in the darkest months of the year, but there was a downside. In springtime, moulting all that extra fur would cause problems, of which more later.
Micky adapts to country life
Micky took to country living and loved the outdoor life. Without any training, he acquired the ability to dig a hole in any of the garden flower beds, make his deposit and then carefully cover up the proceeds. As we will see, these skills would stand him in good stead when engaged in one of his cat-criminal adventures later on in life.
Micky was very friendly, affectionate and loved being picked up and petted. He was as happy as a lapcat as he was exploring all the hedgerows, fields and farmyards around the vicarage. Yet there was another side to his personality: Micky was a tomcat and that meant that he would inevitably encounter enemies on his excursions around and about. Micky was a warrior and loud, nocturnal sounds of feline confrontation and battle reverberated frequently in the area surrounding the vicarage. Caterwauling, hissing, the unmistakable sound of catfights and his torn ears showed that he squared up fearlessly to his foes when need be.
Image © Julian Ward-Davies
Micky in his element
It seemed that Micky loved farmyards, especially the one across the road at Thornes Hall Farm, the attractions being mice, birds, places to hide and, no doubt, girl cats. The problem with this was that often he would come home caked in mud and goodness knows what else. This was exacerbated sometimes by the knots of moulting fur that gathered on his coat in springtime. And possibly depending on what his hormones were doing at the time, the atmosphere around him could be, shall we say, somewhat challenging to the human sense of smell.
Micky scrubs up
One day, my mother decided enough was enough. Whether he liked it or not, Micky was going to have a bath. She called him over and thinking he was going to get a petting, tail up, he was happy to be picked up. Now most cats hate water, don't they? And Micky was certainly no exception because as soon as he saw the sinkful of sudsy water looming large, that he was heading straight for it and realising what unspeakable horror was about to unfold, he instantly became all hiss, teeth and claws. He stretched his legs out sideways as far as he could, claws straining to their maximum possible extension but, unhappily for him, to no avail. Splosh! In he went without further ado. Micky struggled, but in vain. My mother was determined to clean him up and she prevailed.
Micky shakes it off
As soon as his bath was finished, Micky was quickly wrapped tightly in a towel, because we knew what was going to happen next. Micky was taken outside and as soon as he was released from the towel, he shook himself violently. Everything within a few yards was showered with the resulting spray. Micky then loped away, a mixed look of disgust, outrage and abject despondency on his face, as if thinking: "She put me in water! She put me in WATER!".
Micky takes aim
Micky had one or two other bad habits. Over a period of time, the Rover 75 began to acquire an inexplicable stench, especially in warm weather. The reason for this eventually became apparent when the culprit was identified having been caught in the act. Micky would sometimes approach the car when it was parked in the yard, turn around and then, with unerring precision, shoot a stream of peepee at one of the tyres, simultaneously shaking his tail up and down, presumably in a sort of pumping action. This greatly maddened my father, who had to clean up afterwards. Despite being roundly rebuked for his bad behaviour whenever he was seen doing it, Micky continued anointing the tyres, as if using them for target practice was the most natural thing in the world.
Micky the cat genius
For years, Micky's tyre-squirting activities baffled me. Why did he do it? Was he just relieving himself? Was he scent-marking? Was he practicing deterring his enemies when they might approach him from behind? Then one day the truth dawned on me. Micky realised that the car was frequently a moving object and, that when he marked the tyres, his scent would be unwittingly wafted around by my father, here and there and, indeed, everywhere he went on his travels. Cat genius. Absolute, pure cat genius.
Micky goes to school
Another unfortunate habit was that he would often follow us down to the school in the mornings - and on at least one occasion he managed to get in. The caretaker was summoned to expel him but cats are very adept at hiding and Micky managed to elude him with ease. I should point out at this stage that there was a trolley with a sandbox in the classroom in which he was hiding - and possibly you can guess what was going to happen next.
Image © Julian Ward-Davies
A little later on in the morning, a distinctly cat-like, particularly malodorous smell began to rise in the school.
With accusatorial tones, someone said: "Julian. That's your cat, isn't it?" "No, no", I replied. "It's nothing to do with me", no doubt looking and sounding somewhat disingenuous in the process. But I really couldn't help feeling a rather gleeful admiration for the way he had escaped the clutches of the caretaker, although I must say the stench was very embarrassing.
The reason for the stink became clear eventually. During break time, Micky had emerged from his hiding place when there was no-one around, discovered the sandbox and decided that it was a good place to leave his calling card, which he carefully covered up of course, using the skills he had acquired in the vicarage garden. It was in a way a pity that he had performed his ablutions so discreetly because, later on, one of the children was heard to say: "Please Miss, why has somebody put Plasticine in the sandbox?".
Micky makes a run for it
Anyway, Micky made a run for it at lunchtime when all the doors were left open and he escaped into the playground where a group of children approached him. He decided that a chase was underway, so he started running towards the boundary wall with the kids in full pursuit. Of course, he easily outpaced them and, without so much as a glance backwards, he jumped over the wall with graceful agility. Within seconds he was on his way up Church Lane, heading back towards home territory.
Micky grins and bares it
In those days, the vicarage kitchen window overlooked a small walled garden on the north side of the house. My mother would often open it to throw out bits of left-over bread for the benefit of the many species of birds that frequented the area. Sparrows, blackbirds, robins, thrushes, bluetits, etc would descend to the lawn to partake in the feast, sometimes squabbling over one morsel or another, despite the fact that there was always plenty to go around.
As soon as Micky realised what was going on, he became fascinated with all the fluttering, hopping and pecking and would sit on the windowsill looking out completely transfixed. He would then bare his teeth and make rapid chewing motions, as if imagining a feast of his own - a bird feast. The birds, of course, took no notice and carried on with what they were doing.
Micky comings and goings
For some reason, it was the kitchen window that became Micky's principal means of exit and entry to his home. A desire to go out was indicated by jumping on the windowsill and a desire to come in was indicated by mewing loudly when sitting outside directly below the window.
On entering, Micky usually had just two things on his mind: food and sleep. After a meal, Micky would have a quick clean-up and then take a nap, on the floor directly in front of the Rayburn if he was feeling a bit chilly, or on somebody's lap if all the chairs were occupied. If unoccupied, in a considerable display of unmitigated self-importance, the most comfortable chair was selected for his repose. Unfortunately for Micky, he competed directly with my father for this privilege and he would often find that his catnap would be somewhat rudely interrupted.
Micky the cat burglar
One year, just before Christmas, a very large turkey was placed, as usual, on one of the stone shelves in the vicarage pantry. By the way, the stone, as we used to call it, had the almost miraculous property of cooling anything down that was placed upon it to very nearly 0°C, no matter what the weather was like.
There was a problem with the pantry door: it would rub against the floor tiles at several points in its arc of movement and fairly robust force was needed to open and close it. On this occasion, somebody failed to close it completely and it was left stuck ajar, only by a couple of inches, but that was enough for a determined cat burglar to squeeze through and then help himself to a tasty bit of Christmas fare, much to my mother's fury.
Micky on vacation
For all his misdeeds, Micky was a lovable rogue. Care was taken when the family went away on holiday, sometimes for two weeks at a time and local girls were employed to make sure that food was put out for him every day. On returning home, it was only necessary to shout out his name a few times in the garden for him to emerge from the bushes, tail up and obviously very pleased to see us.
It was probably these experiences that enabled Micky to acquire the taste for independent life. Sometimes we would not see him for two or three days and eventually these absences became more prolonged and frequent and extended to as long as two weeks in duration.
One day, he had been away for so long that we sadly realised that we were never going to see him again. What had happened? Had he decided to become fully feral? Had his luck finally run out? Had he expended all of his nine lives? Or had he simply moved house as some cats do and ended up on the lap of a doting grandmother somewhere? We will never know, but I would like to think that he had a most happy, enjoyable and eventful life as Micky the Vicarage Cat.
© Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons 2016
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