As always the journey to Seabreeze Cottage was arduous. Not only was it a long drive but, as usual, made worse by Jonathan huffing and puffing – to put it politely – at other drivers who, apparently, couldn’t drive as well as him. He seemed to have a real thing against caravans as well. Also, the kids, Summer and Toby were in the back chanting; ‘are we nearly there,’ every few minutes, which even Claire couldn’t put a stop to. But the worse thing was that George and I were in our cat carrier, a tight space for the two of us, and he was in a terrible mood. I had barely heard a sound out of him on the journey. He lay down sulking and no amount of effort on my part could cheer him up. So, of course I was exhausted.
Seabreeze cottage was our holiday home in Devon. We owned it with two of our other families but because of the pandemic and the rule of six – which us cats were exempt from – we had to take turns to use the cottage and this was our turn. It meant we were sad to leave friends behind, both human and animal. I was parted from my lady-friend, Snowball, but I was a grown up so I could cope. I would miss her but it was only a week. George however, was devastated about being parted from Hana and his kittens. The three kittens were still young and Claire said it would be too dangerous to have them by the sea. I agreed with her. Not only could those kittens get up to mischief anywhere but when I first came to Seabreeze with George, we suffered a near drowning, a close call being trampled by a herd of sheep and almost being set on fire.
However, he felt guilty about leaving the parenting duties to Hana. He even tried to hide to avoid coming here but Toby found him because he hid under his bed, which was a pretty obvious place. Hana assured him she would be fine with the kittens for a week, and Snowball was going to help, but still… young love. I understood, I had barely been parted from George since he came to live with me. But there was only one George, three kittens were certainly a paw full.
‘It’s only a week, George,’ I said. I was nothing if not a persistent cat.
‘Yowl,’ he replied, and put his head in his paws.
‘Pickles will miss us,’ I added, thinking out loud of back home. Poor Pickles would have loved the seaside but he was staying with his main family and would get to visit with them at some point.
‘One good thing is if that dog came, we wouldn’t be able to go anywhere,’ he huffed.
‘Or the kittens. And when you go home you can spend all the time in the world with them. I will as well.’ I had to admit I would also miss my grandkittens, they were hard work, but I loved them so much. George possibly agreed with me, but he was a sulker so we spent the rest of the journey in silence.
I was so relieved to get out of the car, although we were still in the carrier until Jonathan remembered to let us out. As the sweet smell of the sea air hit me, I felt happiness wrap itself around me. I loved feeling the wind in my whiskers. George softened too. This place had that affect on all of us. When Gilbert, the cat who lived at Seabreeze cottage even before we owned it, appeared we greeted him warmly, we were all happy to be here.
‘I feel guilty, that’s why I’ve been a bit miserable,’ George said finally. ‘Guilty that I’m here and my kittens are at home. Guilty that Hana has to do all the work for a week.’
‘Well son, that’s parenthood for you; you feel guilty all the time. Besides, Hana might have a holiday at some point and then you’ll have to look after them,’ I pointed out. I shuddered at the thought; I would have to too. Let’s just hope a holiday wasn’t too imminent for Hana in that case.
Gilbert was pleased to see us and it was good to see him, it had been a long time since we were last here.
‘How’s this lockdown business been for you?’ he asked.
‘Well, we had freedom but our humans didn’t, which was weird,’ I replied. ‘Having them home all the time could be annoying.’
‘I was lucky, it wasn’t much different for me. I had the cat flap and of course I got fed every day.’ Gilbert was a funny cat, he was feral when we first met him, camping out in Seabreeze Cottage, and fending for himself when it came to food, but by the time we left, Claire had organised for a local lady to pop round and feed him every day. So now he was pampered. A bit like us.
‘We’ve missed you,’ George said. ‘And I’ve become a dad, I have three kittens. Hard work, but of course I’m so grown up and very good at it. I have to admit that, although I didn’t want to come away, it’s great to see you and actually quite nice to have a change of scene,’ he said, raising his whiskers as if he just realised.
‘Well now, Mr grown up George, we will have to make the most of this break then and make sure we have some adventures so you can go home and tell your kittens all about it.’
‘Just not anything dangerous,’ I said. They both looked at me and laughed.
We settled in quickly, so that we could go out and explore. It was almost dark by the time we did. We were all desperate to go to the beach and feel that sea breeze in our fur, and the sand under paws. When we first encountered sand we weren’t keen, it tends to stick and get everywhere, but now I was quite fond of it despite that. We only went to the beach at night because otherwise we would encounter a number of over enthusiastic dogs who were generally not on their leads and they would try to chase us. We had learnt that the hard way. In the evening though, the beach was pretty deserted and safe.
‘Last one down the sand dunes loses,’ George said. He became childlike when we visited Seabreeze and it made me feel nostalgic for my kitten. Of course I loved him more than ever and was very proud of the amazing tom he had grown into, but seeing him now made me think of how much time had passed. By letting my thoughts of the past take over, Gilbert had already started down, George tried to catch him up but he slipped and fell.
‘Yowl!’ he screamed as he slid down the sand dune on his bottom. On the upside, he won.
The holiday was the tonic we all needed; we began to relax and unwind. George was no longer fretting too much about his kittens and was enjoying the time we spent exploring with Gilbert; sunbathing in the font garden and watching the world go by. He was also relieved, because the old next door neighbours, which included a cat called Chanel, who was his first crush, had moved. It was a very humiliating time for him and although we became civil with Chanel over the years, George now he was a father, felt a little awkward. Now a new family had moved in; Claire and Jonathan met them, they had two older children and a puppy. George and I decided to give them a wide berth.
Mornings at Seabreeze cottage were a little more calm than at home, mainly because Jonathan didn’t have to get to work – and didn’t keep complaining about lost socks and things – and the children didn’t have to go to school, so didn’t rush to get dressed. We all enjoyed a leisurely breakfast as they planned the day’s activities.
We had a few human friends down here now but because of the Covid and the rules, it was decided they could meet at the beach but only with social distancing. The children could play with their friends but only if they stood apart. Jonathan devised a sort of catching game which meant they could all do this safely. We cats were allowed to stand near anyone we wanted, so we didn’t worry about that.
We were lucky with the weather so far, and after almost a year of being cooped up inside, the whole family were making the most of being outside. Long walks, ball games, splashing in the sea – the children not us cats, I can’t stand water – you name it, we were all enjoying the feeling of being away. We all felt very lucky in fact.
Gilbert took us on walks through the safer fields; no charging sheep, unsteady cows or hungry pigs thank goodness. It was actually becoming the perfect holiday. We had fish and chip takeaways and George, Gilbert and I enjoyed a feast of fish. Also, the children managed to get ice creams from the famous ice cream van which was actually on the beach – Hocking’s it was called and it was very creamy. Jonathan would sneak us cats some for a treat. George declared it his favourite food ever, but I found it a bit cold on my tongue.
We were sunbathing in the front garden when there was a rustling in the hedge that divided our house from next door. I ignored it, thinking it was perhaps a butterfly or a bird even, I was too relaxed to chase it. A dark shadow loomed over me and I looked up to see this fluffy puppy, twice the size of Pickles standing over me.
‘Yelp,’ I screamed. Was it going to try to eat me?
‘Hiss,’ George said coming near me to protect me. Gilbert joined us. The three of us stood, facing the dog and ready for battle, although I secretly hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
‘Why are you here?’ the dog asked. It didn’t sound hostile.
‘We’re on holiday and this is our holiday home,’ I said.
‘I live here,’ Gilbert added.
‘But I haven’t met you?’ the dog said.
‘I like to keep myself to myself,’ Gilbert replied licking his paw. It was true he did when we weren’t here. It took us a while to make him sociable even with us.
‘Can I play with you?’ he asked. We relaxed, this wasn’t a danger kind of thing.
‘You can’t. You see unfortunately we are cats and you are a dog,’ George said. He tolerated Pickles but my boy wasn’t the biggest fan of dogs, and I couldn’t change his mind even though I used to agree with him.
‘Why what?’ I asked.
‘Why can’t cats and dogs play together?’
‘You see,’ George said, shooting me a warning look. I raised my whiskers. I couldn’t help it if I was nice to everyone. ‘Cat’s don’t play. We only do very serious things. And anyway, dogs are not meant to be out on their own.’
‘We’re not?’ the dog looked concerned.
‘No, so you better go back home before anyone notices you’re missing,’ George said.
‘George,’ I chastised but he flicked his tail at me.
‘But they’ve gone out and I’m all on my own and I don’t have anything to do,’ he said dejectedly. I felt bad for him.
‘Well-‘ I started.
‘No, you must go home, otherwise you might get in trouble,’ George insisted, almost herding him back toward the gap in the bush, despite the dog being twice as big as him. The dog, who didn’t even get a chance to tell us his name, slunk dejectedly back, squeezing himself through the hole.
‘George that wasn’t kind,’ I said.
‘But he was right, he shouldn’t be here,’ Gilbert said. ‘His owners would be really worried if they came home and he was missing.’
‘And by the way, we should find a way to tell the humans to block up that gap,’ George added. He wouldn’t have said that when he was in love with Chanel would he?
‘I know, you’re right but we should have been kinder. He’s all alone.’ I was definitely getting softer the older I got. I think the effect of having grand kittens. ‘I mean, George, have I taught you nothing-‘ I was about to carry on with my lecture but George interrupted me.
‘Dad, I heard Jonathan said he was getting pilchards from the local fish shop,’ George said, knowing full well how much I loved pilchards. Dog forgotten, I ran to the kitchen to await my favourite food.
Although we missed our other families, and of course Snowball and my grand kittens, we were having a nice break. In fact I couldn’t remember when we had had a more relaxing time. I thought as I lay in the sight of the sun, feeling it warm up my fur very nicely. Just as I was about to close my eyes for a quick cat nap, there was a loud commotion coming from next door. I leapt up and ran to see what was going on. George joined me. Gilbert was in the house. We went to the gap where the dog had got in the other day and had a look. The humans from next door were running around like headless chickens – not that I had seen a headless chicken by the way, but Claire often said it when Jonathan was looking for his car keys.
‘Bailey,’ here doggy, they were calling over and over again. There was a level of hysteria in their voices. I looked at George.
‘Do you think it’s the dog we saw the other day?’ I asked. ‘You know the one you were so mean to?’
George looked contrite. ‘Shall we check round the house in case he came in here again?’ he suggested.
‘Good idea, son.’ I softened. We both ran through the open front door where Claire was sweeping the floor – trying to get rid of the never ending supply of sand the kids and we brought in.
‘What are you doing?’ she said, nearly tripping over us and her broom.
‘Meow,’ I shouted and then she heard the voices from outside. When she went out to see what was going on, George went to look for the dog and I followed Claire. I liked to be in the know after all.
‘Is everything OK?’ she shouted through the hedge when she reached the gap.
‘Oh, we’ve lost our puppy Bailey, he got out. Do you think he’s in your house?’
‘Oh no. Please, come over and we’ll look.’
A woman ran round to the front of our house in record time. Her face was red and her voice breathless.
‘I told my husband and kids to keep looking there, but if you don’t mind…’
‘Course not. I haven’t seen him but he might have got through the gap.’
‘Meow,’ he did, I said. But the woman didn’t seem to notice me as she started calling for Bailey again and running round our garden. I raised my whiskers, Claire raised her eyebrows.
‘Come inside, he might have snuck in,’ she offered. The woman stopped running around and followed Claire.
‘He’s only a puppy and hasn’t been with us for long, we adopted him, oh I’d never forgive myself if anything happened.’
‘I’m sure he’s fine. How long have you lived next door?’
‘A few months now. We moved in the midst of the pandemic which was tricky but we’d already arranged it, so anyway, BAILEY,’ she shouted at the top of her lungs. It made me jump.
I went to find George, who was with Gilbert.
‘No sign?’ I asked.
‘And I was by the back door so I’d know if he came through the house,’ Gilbert said.
‘Everyone is going crazy,’ I explained. ‘Bailey is fairly new to them, he was adopted. I hope you don’t feel too bad about not playing with him,’ I couldn’t help but add.
‘Dad, he went missing today, not when he came over to us, so don’t try to pin this on me,’ George retorted.
‘Right you two, instead of arguing how about we try to find the dog?’ Gilbert suggested. It was exactly what I was going to say actually as I swished my tail.
Jonathan came home with the kids and Claire dragged him next door, with Helen – Bailey’s owner – to see if they could help. From what we discovered, they were all going to scour the village and Claire was going to stay at their house in case Bailey came back. As they all headed off in different directions, it seemed to me that none of the humans had a clue how to organise a search. Luckily, I was an expert having searched for a fair few cats and children in my time.
Some of the searchers headed to the beach, which I thought was the logical choice but we couldn’t go because there were lots of dogs there. We hunted around the house and the garden, checking any hiding places there might be; under bushes, or perhaps he had found his way into a shed or outbuilding but no, there was no sign of him. By the time we returned to the front of the house everyone from next door were even more upset and Claire was going to knock on all the neighbours doors. Jonathan was charged with looking after the children and feeding them. They perked up at hearing this, because he was going to order them pizza. He offered to get some for the neighbours but they said they were too overwrought to eat. I felt very downcast. I didn’t like to think of Bailey lost and alone and I also didn’t like people being upset. Not at all.
It was starting to get dark, but there was still no sign of Bailey. The neighbours had all looked, in fact most of the village had been searching but there was no dog.
‘He can’t have disappeared,’ I said, scratching my head with my paw.
‘What if he went swimming and ended up in the other place,’ George suggested.
‘Can dogs swim?’ I asked.
‘Who knows?’ Gilbert said, ‘but I think they like water more than us cats, because we often see them running into the sea.’
That gave me an idea.
‘Remember when you were chasing Chanel and she tried to hide from you?’
‘Why are you bringing that up now?’
‘Oh I get you, Alfie,’ Gilbert grinned.
‘Again, why now?’ George stamped his paw.
‘Because she hid in a boat and the tide came in, what if Bailey has hidden in a boat?’
‘But the tide is out now and surely he’d have heard one of the adults calling for him, they were pretty loud,’ Gilbert pointed out,
‘Can’t hurt to look,’ I said, feeling excited now.
We bounded to the beach, which was dog free now thankfully. We started checking the boats, carefully trying to avoid the water. Just as we were running out of boats and patience, there was a family standing by a boat with a small cabin. They were peering inside.
‘’Where did he come frome?’ a woman said.
‘No idea, but someone’ll be worried,’ a man replied, and we then saw he reached in, and stood back up with Bailey in his arms.
‘’That’s him, we have to tell them that we know him,’ I said, excited that the dog was safe.
‘But, how?’ Gilbert asked.
‘Leave that to us,’ I said and George and I went over to them and starting meowing at the top of our voices. Gilbert looked uncertain but he joined in. Bailey barked, thankfully showing he recognised us. He wriggled in the man’s arm and tried to get to us.
We carried on mewing, running in circles and scratching at them, trying to convey to the couple to follow us. We yowled, ran around them, leapt up, and just as it was getting very tiresome, the man spoke.
‘Do you think the cats know where the dog lives?’ he asked.
‘I’ve never seen cats on the beach before,’ the lady added.
‘MEOW!’ I shouted, really, was that relevant now?
‘Do you know these cats?’ the man asked Bailey which was far more ridiculous than asking us, but thankfully Bailey barked again which they took to mean yes.
Finally they seemed to get it, which was a relief because I had sand in places where it really didn’t belong. Gilbert, George and I led the way and the couple with Bailey followed us. We took them to Bailey’s house, where we all stood on the doorstep together.
Helen opened the door, and burst into tears.
‘You’d think she’d be pleased,’ George hissed.
‘They’re tears of joy,’ I hissed back.
‘Oh goodness you found him. Where was he?’ Helen asked taking Bailey out of the man’s arms. He wagged his tail like crazy and licked her face. I couldn’t help but feel very pleased with myself.
‘He was asleep in our small boat cabin, lying underneath a blanket so we almost didn’t see him,’ the woman explained. ‘We found him when we went to clean up before a trip we’re taking tomorrow. All curled up he was. We had no idea who he was but then these cats appeared.’
They all stared at us and Helen noticed us for the first time.
‘Cats? They’re from next door, holiday cottage,’ Miranda said, her brows creased.
‘Well they were on the beach which is unusual and then they made an almighty racket before leading us here,’ the man said, scratching his head. You would think they had never encountered cats that saved the day before, the way they were acting.
‘I think we could go now,’ Gilbert said. He didn’t like too much attention. We started to make our way back to our house, Helen shouting thanks after us, inviting the boat couple inside for a drink and saying she had to let everyone know at the same time.
‘If we’d stayed we might have got a reward,’ George said, although he followed us all the same.
‘When Claire and Jonathan hear they’ll reward us I expect,’ I replied. Paws crossed.
Shorty after arriving home, the story of how Bailey was returned home was spread. A few friends arrived for drinks in our garden, all socially distanced of course, and they all talked about how it was thanks to us the puppy was safe. So George, Gilbert and I got our reward. Fish for our main course, and for pudding a lovely bit of Hocking’s ice cream. The couple next door brought Bailey over and thanked us again, although they brought flowers and wine which wasn’t much use to us cats, but Claire liked it. As the sky got even darker, the children sleepy and the adults more lively – which was the wine I think – we three cats thanked the stars for what had been an eventful but fulfilling day. In fact it was the perfect end to the perfect holiday.
© Rachel Wells 2021