I like animals, I really do. But I don't believe in getting all sentimental about them. As an avid consumer of beef, lamb, chicken, pork etc - I just think it would be a bit hypocritical to pretend to be an animal 'lover.'
But then I don't think animals should be caged either. A python or a rabbit or whatever looks far better in its natural environment than behind bars or glass. A bird looks better flying free than it ever could caged.
Anyway, we had this cat. Typical alley cat. Female, black and white, not very pretty and certainly not cuddly at all. We called the cat Beryl. after the wife's sister. It was a kind of in-joke. Mrs Skoob's always kidding about her sister being a greedy mare, and the cat was the same. When it was a kitten it once stuffed itself so full that it had to lie down for a couple of hours. Literally could barely move.
So the cat was Beryl.
We didn't get Beryl to be a pet. She had to graft for her dinner. We live close to a railway line, so everybody on our street keeps a cat. They work for a living and they keep the vermin out.
Beryl was very successful in this endeavour. A hyper efficient predator. If it moved, she killed it. And none of this bollocks about bringing 'little presents' home. She ate what she caught.
The wife once recoiled when she felt something as she was putting her shoe on. It was a gnawed off rat's tail. No sign of the rest of the rat, just the tail.
There were times when our back garden looked like a charnel house. Mice, rats, birds, shrews - you name it. From the state of the bodies I would deduce that Beryl was a bit of a 'breast' cat.
Legs too, if she couldn't find anything else to kill in the meantime.
There was only one neighbourhood creature that Beryl wouldn't try to take down, aside from dogs and foxes of course (even Beryl wasn't that gung-ho) and that was a big black crow.
Now this crow, he really was something else. He used to stand on the apex of our house roof taking the mickey out of all the cats and dogs. Then when he got bored with that, he'd swoop down and go for a walk. He'd literally march about for anything up to half an hour, challenging all comers. Nobody's pet had the bottle to take that big old crow on. If a dog oe a cat tried it on, he'd sort of hop towards them flapping his wings and cawing.
Nothing messed with that crow. He was one experienced old bird. But that's another story.
We were talking about Beryl the killer...
Never took to people at all. She'd spend a little time with Mrs Skoob and myself from time to time, and surprisingly our son in law. Everybody else was fresh out.
She hated kids with a vengeance. Once planted her claw into our granddaughter's head and would not let go. Didn't scratch or bite, just the claws in the head routine.
I had to pry her off and chase her out - the cat that is, not our granddaughter - but Beryl didn't give a damn. Kids went near her at their own risk.
Only time I ever saw that cat at a loss was when she rolled into the back garden with a slow worm in her mouth. She couldn't figure out what the heck to do with it. When she tried to bite it, it just squirmed out of her jaws, when she tried to pin it down it just squirmed free of her claws.
But the old psycho did have something of a sensitive side. She gave birth to kittens one night, and just purred throughout. Most dedicated cat mother I ever saw. One day, when she had the kittens, a big old tom cat came poking around and she fought the hell out of him. Saw him off.
Another time, I was laid really low by some virus or other, and that damned cat lay beside me on the bed for three solid days. Only left my side to attend to nature's business, and to eat or drink. I tend to think it was just because she was worried that her main food source was laid up and she was worried about where her next meal was coming from. But she was being fed regularly, she stayed with me for some reason known only to her. In those three days, I think the longest time she was away was maybe twenty minutes.
When I recovered, things just went back to normal. But there were odd times if I was feeling a little down, she'd come and sit with me for a while. Same with the wife. She never really had much time for humans, but from time to time she'd bend the rules a little.
Her other foible was that at the end of a hard day prowling the streets, she seemed to like to watch TV for an hour or so. She'd sit and watch the screen, all rapt attention, till she got bored with it and went off to do something else.
Another thing which was weird was that if we were ever away for any length of time, she'd always be there when we got back. She'd come in the house with us like she was some kind of supervisor, and then when she was satisfied that things were back to normal, she'd be off again.
Usually killing things. Like the mouse she shredded and kept tossing in the air so that the wife's laundry got spattered with mouse blood.
She really was a part of the family, like some favourite psychopathic relative who you just know is as nasty as can be, but can't help kind of respecting for all that.
It all came to an end one day about three years ago. We went to London to bring our eldest granddaughter back for a school hol break with her nan and the old man.
When we came in the house and went to the back door, there was blood spattered all over the back door, and against the walls in some places.
First thought was that Beryl had brought something in.
Then we saw Beryl.
She was lying on the kitchen floor. Her mouth blood-flecked, her breathing rapid and shallow. This was at about 11pm and there wasn't much we could do. There were no signs of injury, no wounds, just the blood flecks around her mouth. And then she started to cough. More blood.
I made her as comfortable as I could, bedded her down in some old sweaters and checked her regularly through the night. To be blunt, the poor old girl had had it. It was game over.
The next morning we called the vet and explained that she wasn't going to pull through, and that she was obviously in great pain. I asked the vet to put her to sleep. The vet agreed and had an assistant meet us at the back door so as not to distress the cat by exposing her to other animals. I was grateful for that.
I wrapped Beryl in a blanket as gently as I could, and held her close. She didn't resist at all. Which was unheard of. She hated being picked up or mollycoddled.
My wife drove the car, me with Beryl in my arms and our lovely granddaughter came along too. The vet's assistant was waiting for us when we arrived.
Wife and granddaughter went to wait in reception while I took/carried Beryl for her last walk.
I didn't put her on the table, I held on to her. The vet gave her an injection which he said would relax her, then he said he'd be back in a couple of minutes...
Old Beryl looked up at me as the first shot took effect. She kind of snuggled into my arm, and her eyes crystallised again. I talked to her and stroked her head.
Then it was time for the big one.
It wasn't dramatic, she just gently faded away, and her claw kind of gently dug into my sleeve. I held her for a minute longer, said my goodbyes, and left her body with the vet for incineration.
She went quietly, with no fuss. I consoled myself with the thought that at least she hadn't died a lingering painful death, curled up alone and hurting under some bush.
Back in reception, the wife and our granddaughter were in tears. It felt like a part of our family history was gone.
Beryl was 16 years old.
To this day we don't know what killed her. It could have been poison, or maybe she got clipped by a passing car. Whatever, I'm glad we were there for her when she needed us. Because that wasn't too often.
So, am I an animal lover?
I don't think so.
But maybe I loved Beryl.
Even when she was scratching the shit out of me when she had her annual battle with the flea spray.
No other animal made me feel like that cat did. Even the wife loved her. She thought I didn't notice these things, but Beryl always managed to sneak off with a chunk of the Sunday roast.
We still have Beryl's daughter with us. Scrappy her name is. She's a bit more ladylike than her mother. She's about 13 now. She's as smart as a button, and she loves the grandchildren. Unlike her mum, she's really patient.
Maybe I love her too.
Like her mum, she's very good at killing things.