"A Winter's Tale"
Or "The Mating Game"
It all began with a calling queen! Sorcha, or Champion Pyjamarama Theda, to use her full Sunday name, had just come into season (referred to as "calling" in the cat fancy) it was 3 weeks before Christmas and I was beginning to panic. She hadnt called for a full year, not since her first litter of kittens had been born in the November of the previous year, when "Murphys Law rules OK" came into effect and this was her third call in 6 weeks! Her daughter Leyla (Champion Feorag Bohemian Rhapsody some "Rhapsody" as you will discover later), who was still a maiden queen was due to have her third call at any time and both the studs I wanted to use for the girls were some 300 miles away in Gloucester (not a lot of open studs about in those days!). Now do you see my panic?
"Ill have to go straight away" I said to my husband, Barry, "If we leave her until her next call itll probably be Christmas". Knowing that nothing can be planned around children and animals, I then had visions of my going off to Gloucester, having Sorcha mated and coming back home to find Leyla merrily trying to seduce Pasht our Aby neuter (I dont know what hes got, but when our girls are in season, hes the one they fancy, not any of the Somali neuters). So I hastily telephoned Emma Hutton (now Watts) of the Emanan Somalis who owned both studs to discuss the pre-nuptial contract (in other words "Im on my way, make up the spare bed, get out the red carpet") and between us we decided that the best plan of action would be to take Leyla down too, in the hope that being around the studs would encourage her to come into season (big joke!)
So on Wednesday 9th December, Sorcha, Leyla and I set off on the big journey south with high hopes at least I did, Sorcha thought she must be going to a cat show and promptly went into a huff! Nearly 7 hours later we arrived at the House of Hutton ready to play the mating game. The first problem arrived as Emmas mother, Ann, and I carried the girls upstairs to the bedroom I was to have during my stay. Leyla decided she wasnt particularly impressed with the accommodation she could smell other cats and promptly changed from a placid, furry, cuddly bundle into a spitting, growling, snarling virago even her mother got the brunt of her temper and retired to the top of the wardrobe for safety! When Emma came home from work that evening we took Sorcha out to introduce her to her future husband, but quite understandably she wasnt too impressed she was still trying to get over the "bitch" upstairs! Emmas stud pens are in a block of 3 pens, with a stud cat housed at either end and an empty pen for the queen in the middle. By late evening Sorcha was calming down and so we left her outside for the night sandwiched between a hunky usual on one end and a handsome sorrel on the other (with me suffering a slight case of paranoia in case the long journey, followed by Leylas objectionable behaviour had knocked her completely off call).
On the following evening, however, it was apparent she was still calling and quite keen (our first bit of luck) so Emma and I went out to "do the business" and here we hit our second problem. My original plan had been to mate Leyla, who was a maiden queen, to Nuts (Ch Emanan Squirrel Nutkin), Emmas experienced stud and "experienced woman of the world" Sorcha to Potty (whose real name has been withheld to protect the innocent), who was a "first-timer". At this point I would like to mention that Sorcha is an extremely amiable queen when she goes to be mated and most stud owners say she can come back at any time as she is very unaggressive towards the male. Anyway in accordance with my plan (why bother making plans I asked myself later!) we duly took Sorcha into Pottys pen, whereupon he adopted the "No thank you Ive got a headache" approach and vanished into his bedroom! Emma then carried him out and we gave them a formal introduction, but Potty (aptly named I think) remained unimpressed (or was it overawed?) by my girls beauty, beating a hasty retreat to his bed every time Emma let go of him.
Imagine the scene .. There was my beautiful, irresistible and very keen girl down on her elbows, bottom in the air, tail to one side, just as all good queens should do, me kneeling on the ground in front of her, keeping her quiet and still, with Emma on her knees behind her, pushing Pottys face into Sorchas rear end and Potty, with a pained, almost disgusted, expression on his face staring with glazed eyes at the cement floor which was obviously the less daunting view! Meanwhile Nuts (another aptly named cat!) was cooing sweet nothings across from his pen and Sorcha was fluttering her eyelashes and chirruping back at him. "Oh, oh" I said to Emma "I thing these cats are trying to tell us something". Finally, we admitted defeat - there was no way that Potty was interested in doing anything, whereas it was obvious that Sorcha and Nuts had something going and so we put the two of them together and, almost immediately it was flash, bang, wallop consummation! It was love!
That was the easy bit. On the following Friday morning after a night of passion we swapped females. Sorcha, with a last lingering glance at Nuts was taken upstairs to my bedroom and Leyla was brought down and put in the centre pen, whereupon Nuts went into shock! Where had his adorable ladylove gone and what was this snarling, ginger monstrosity that had taken her place? Then we all settled down to play the waiting game. (Another suitable tile for this little story). Day followed day with my delightful, purring bundle of love (when I was with her) terrorising both her prospective husbands, should either of them try to speak to her through the mesh or even dare to jump down off their scratch posts! Potty, he of faint heart, took up permanent residence in his bedroom, while Nuts, who was obviously made of sterner stuff, made several attempts at seduction through the mesh all consistently knocked back by severe outbursts of best Somali-ese swearing and boy, could my Leyla swear!
On the following Sunday evening I made a "Help- Im getting desperate, make some suggestions" telephone call to my friend Daphne Butters who breeds Maine Coons. Following one of her suggestions and Anns detective work in finding a local homeopathic chemist the following day, we managed to get a supply of a remedy which we were assured by a friend of Daphnes would bring Leyla on call within 10 days. Another suggestion Daphne made was to swap their pens. By then we had decided that there was absolutely no way that Potty was going to go anywhere near Leyla and so poor Nuts got the short straw. The job was allocated to him and so we put Leyla into his pen and him into hers for a couple of hours to settle. Then we brought Nuts back into his pen to join her, whereupon her language upgraded slightly and she proceeded to cast doubts on the legitimacy of his parentage. By Tuesday they were "living together", but certainly not "in love" and there was still no sign of her coming into call. Potty by now had decided that, with the safety of an empty pen between him and "it", he could come out of his bedroom and sit on his scratch pole, but every time he jumped down, Leyla screamed at him across the empty pen and so frightening she must have been, he then took up permanent residence on top of it! Nuts, in the meantime, carried on his "Joe Cool" act (all that was missing was the sunglasses) calmly chirruping away to her (I just love that cat!), taking the abuse and biding his time.
After a week major panic was beginning to set in. I was thinking about all the myriad jobs I had to do for Christmas it was now only 9 days away and I hadnt a Christmas card written or a gift wrapped. My husband was missing me, the cats were missing me, the son was missing my cooking (not me just the cooking!), Sorcha was in the huff again shed had what she came for and now wanted to go home and the Huttons were beginning to think they would have us all for Christmas.
Finally, on the Friday, 9 days after we arrived, I admitted defeat and returned home, one queen mated, one not, and began the business of trying to catch up on all the things I should have been doing the previous 9 days. I did consider leaving Leyla behind with Emma, but apart from not liking my girls away from me any longer than is absolutey necessary, both Emma and I agreed that the cold weather may have knocked her off coming into call for the rest of the winter.
Remember the poem "To a Mouse" which quotes "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley". Well Rabbie Burns must have bred cats as well!!! On the Sunday morning, the day after Boxing Day and 9 days after I left Gloucester, we came downstairs to find Leyla frantically chasing Pasht around the living room like a clockwork banana, chirruping at him with a glazed look in her eyes! An interesting point here is, did the homeopathic remedy work, maybe taking very slightly (3 days) longer than the 10 days predicted, or was it simply nature taking its course? So, believe it or not, at 6:00am on the Monday morning, Barry and I set off, together with Leyla, for Gloucester once again. To be quite honest as I walked into the house, I felt as though I had never been away no doubt the Huttons felt the same!
This time we put Leyla straight outside into the centre pen, giving her no opportunity to become objectionable about the inside accommodation and left her to settle. Im sure at this point both boys were arguing as to which one wasnt going to get her!
Finally, on the following Tuesday morning, all Nuts patient wooing met with fruition and while Leyla was "slightly distracted" he managed to mate her, although she was most certainly not impressed with "the deed" and promptly told him in no uncertain terms that there was no way she was going to do that again! That evening, after both Emma and I failed to encourage another mating, Barry was sent outside to try to "get her in the mood" she just adores Barry! He sat outside in the freezing cold with her for almost an hour, cuddling her and talking to her and generally improving her not exactly benevolent mood, with Nuts indicating his approval from a safe distance and finally we managed another mating. Quite frankly by then that was definitely enough for me and for Leyla and most certainly for poor old Nuts what a star! The following morning we headed for home, arriving there only hours before our New Year visitors from London, who naturally found us in a state of total disarray.
The final update of this whole pantomime was that Rabbie Burns was definitely right! The best laid plans of mice and men definitely do go wrong! After all my time and trouble Sorcha wasnt pregnant, although both she and I thought she was for about 4/5 weeks. Leyla on the other hand was extremely pregnant and presented us with 5 delightful kittens on the 5th March right on target! One usual boy who was a dead ringer for his dad, two usual girls, one of whom made Champion and two sorrel girls who were dead ringers for their mum and one of whom was the first Somali in the UK to win the double title of Champion and Premier and then went on to become a Grand Premier.
I need hardly tell you how delighted all the Huttons were when I telephoned them with the good news. "Sorcha can come back here any time" they all said, "But the bitch well thats another matter!"
So now you all know where Leyla got her unfortunate nickname of "the Bitch" from, but to be fair to her she isnt really she is one of our most affectionate cats, strangely enough preferring men to women, as long as shes not within sight, sound or smell of a male stud!