It’s the most wonderful time of year. It’s also the most exhausting. For a cat like me, it’s especially busy. Not only do I have to keep my eye on all my humans – hard work believe me, but I also have an ever-expanding cat family to take care of. My Grand kittens, Santa, Holly, and Tiger are about to turn one on Christmas day. So, not only is it their first Christmas, but it’s also their first birthday. That makes this Christmas even more special for us all.
It has not been an easy year for any of us, of course. I won’t mention the pandemic that has gripped us, after all, you’ve had to live it too, so I know you understand. But apart from that, George took to fatherhood like a cat to pilchards, Hana was the same with motherhood despite the many logistical issues. And if I thought one kitten was hard work, imagine what three was like.
Where Hana lived there was a human kitten; Theo, who was now a toddler, so it was a lot for her humans to suddenly take on three kittens as well. With my guidance, the humans came up with a kitten share idea, where they lived with us half the time, and next door at Hana’s the other half. Of course, that means it’s cat chaos in both houses most of the time. Hana spends time with us and the kittens. George is always over at her house when the kittens are and I am constantly running from house to house to check on them and everyone else. I have a lot of houses, families, and cats to check on. But then I am, at heart, still a doorstep cat after all.
The Christmas trees went up, amidst lots of excitement. It wasn’t Theo’s first Christmas technically, but it was the first when he was toddling about, which meant that the trees were in danger from him, as well as the kittens. Actually, between him and the kittens, the tree at Hana’s house became something of a mess, much to their human’s despair. Theo would try to pull the decorations off, which if he wasn’t being watched meant he was in danger of actually pulling the tree over. We all had to keep a close eye on him. This in turn meant that Santa, Holly, and Tiger weren’t really given many opportunities to do anything to the tree either, much to their disgust. At night, the living room door was firmly shut. I noticed that Santa would look especially longingly at the tree, as he was a climber. Holly would have to resist pawing at the tinsel because she loved anything shiny, and Tiger liked to look at his own reflection in the baubles, which he would then seem to fight – I have no idea where he got his vanity from.
Like human children, I’d come to see that our kittens were very different from each other. Holly was the only female cat and although that didn’t mean anything – we cats are not ones for gender stereotypes – Holly was like her mother, gentle, kind, and calm, or calmer than the boys. She was attracted to pretty things and when she was at our house she loved playing dress-up with Summer and Martha if she was there. She was also very good friends with Pickles the pug, and being kind meant that she gave him the time of day, whereas her brothers, like their father George were prone to tease him. Poor Pickles, although he didn’t seem to realise he was being teased, so he didn’t mind too much.
Santa was a hectic kitten, he would run at one hundred miles an hour, or so it seemed, and then he would curl up and sleep a lot, usually on the most expensive blanket or piece of clothing he could find (ask Jonathan). But he seemed to have his own time clock and he would often wake his brother and sister up when he wanted to play, which would in turn wake George, Hana or myself up. Tiger was a bit like his namesake, my lovely Tiger who I still missed every day, he was fearless, and bossy and clever. He was, kind of, the ring leader of the kittens, although he was the one who would inevitably be too busy having fun to remember to do what he was told.
I loved my grand-kittens so much but I also felt for Hana and George. I thought parenting George had been hard enough, but there were three of them. Just trying to keep track of them could be a full-time job. Looking after them made me feel nostalgic for the days when George was a kitten, but only for a little while, then I remembered how I used to worry about him all the time, panic when I didn’t know where he was. I have to admit I did lose him a few times, but that’s a whole other story; or bunch of stories. I still worried about George now, even though he was a grown cat and a father, I don’t think parents ever stop worrying.
The children were very helpful with the kittens and they adored them. George was put out at first, at how he seemed to be usurped in everyone’s attention by the kittens, but I had found this when he was a kitten so was able to explain and also sympathise. I said it was a factor of growing up, adults were just not as adorable as babies, or children. It was the way of the world. Summer, Toby, Henry and Martha, loved playing with the kittens and that was just how it was. George didn’t want to even play such games but he still felt put out, although he soon learnt to hide that. I also think that as Hana’s attention was now more on her babies, he missed that too. George was a little fond of attention I know, so I understood but of course, he now had children. Being a parent is the hardest job in the world. I was now finding out that being a grandparent was a close second.
The kittens were at our house. Snowball had come over to help me look after them so that George and Hana could have ‘date day.’ They probably just wanted to sleep but at least they could spend some time together and have a rest at the same time. And, well, Snowball and I loved spending time with the kittens, it was always fun. Or, perhaps it’s best to say; there was never a dull moment. All the humans were out, so it was just us cats. The first thing Tiger did was try to climb the tree.
‘Santa, get away from the tree,’ I yowled.
‘Why?’ Santa asked, although we had told him why a million times.
‘Because you might get hurt.’ Snowball – who had much more patience than me – explained yet again.
‘But if I try it, then I will see if I might not get hurt,’ he countered.
‘But then, you might get hurt and where will that lead to?’ Tiger said. He was looking at his reflection in a silver bauble. ‘I must say I do look good in this bauble,’ he added. For a minute I was dumbstruck, and then for some reason, Tiger started pawing at the bauble. ‘Are you looking at me?’ he said, talking to himself.
Then I noticed Holly had crawled under the tree and was pawing at some presents.
‘No, Holly.’ I chastised.
Oh goodness, it was going to be a very, very long day.
‘Holly, those presents are for other people, you’ll get your own presents on Christmas and your birthday.’ I said, keeping my paws crossed that the humans had got them something because as clever as I am, I am still not able to shop.
‘But the bow is so pretty.’ she said, pawing it again, and somehow managing to get her claws stuck. I looked at Snowball who went and helped Holly untangle herself. I smiled. The bow was a little scratched but I used my paw to turn it around so no one would notice. I then realised that, if this wasn’t going to go horribly wrong, I had to take charge. What I needed was a kitten sitting plan. And plans, after all, were my forte. Snowball went to get a drink of water whilst I had some serious thinking to do.
‘Alfie, are you still with us?’ Snowball asked. I realised that I had been thinking so hard I had zoned out.
‘Yes, I have a foolproof plan of keeping those kittens in line for the rest of their time here,’ I replied, feeling very pleased with myself.
‘Well, Alfie that’s great, but you might have to find them first.’ I blinked. The kittens were nowhere to be seen. Oh no, in my thinking I had taken my eyes off them. Which is never a good idea. I checked the tree, but they weren’t there. Thankfully the tree was in one piece and the presents were all there. I think a piece of tinsel might have been missing though…
We ran into the kitchen, even though Snowball had been there already. Although our food bowls were empty the kittens weren’t in there. We didn’t have to worry about them having gotten out as when they were here, Claire had closed the cat flap, which meant we were all housebound. I would normally mind, but not when it came to my grand-kittens, although where on earth were they?
Snowball searched downstairs while I went upstairs. I soon found Holly, she was in Summer’s bedroom, trying to get into her old dressing up box. Although Summer now said she was too old for dressing up, she liked dressing the kittens up, so she kept the box. Holly was now trying to prise the lid open but she wasn’t able to.
‘Holly, downstairs now,’ I said.
‘But I want to dress up,’ she objected.
‘You can when Summer’s home, but now we have a very important task to do downstairs. Now my lovely, go to the living room and wait for me there. Oh and don’t do anything to the Christmas presents, or the tinsel,’ I said.
‘OK Grand-Cat Alfie,’ she replied sweetly, looking at me with her big eyes. I melted. One look and I would do anything for her, I almost tried to open the dressing up box myself. I managed to collect myself as Holly trotted off downstairs and I went to find her brothers.
I made my way to Claire and Jonathan’s room which should have been off-limits but Claire had forgotten to shut the door. Which was a mistake, as I found Santa lying on Jonathan’s cashmere jumper, leaving hair which would definitely be noticed. No doubt I would get the blame for that.
‘Santa, please get off that jumper.’
‘Because it’s Jonathan’s and he’ll probably blame me and I’ll get a lecture about how precious and expensive cashmere is and then I’ll be miserable for a while.’
‘I didn’t understand half of that,’ Santa yawned.
‘Right well downstairs, I have an important thing going on in the living room, and Holly’s already there.’
‘Will it be fun?’ Santa asked.
‘Of course, it will be,’ I replied. ‘I always know how to have fun. Right, do you know where your brother is?’
‘Nah,’ Santa yawned again but he did at least get off the jumper and make his way downstairs.
So, having checked the bathroom I pushed the door to Toby’s room, and after searching under the bed, I heard Tiger. He was on top of Toby’s wardrobe. I blinked, here we go again I thought, I was scared of heights, which I know might not be normal for a cat but I discovered it when I was quite young and trying to woo Snowball, I climbed a tree and panicked. It wasn’t my finest hour, I had to get rescued by a fireman and I still haven’t lived it down. Snowball brings it up at least once a month in fact.
‘Oh Tiger,’ I said, ‘please come down.’
‘But Grand-Cat Alfie, it’s so much fun up here,’ he replied.
‘We have very important business downstairs, please.’ I crossed my paws that he could get down. I was constantly surprised by my kittens but as Tiger easily came down from the wardrobe I breathed a sigh of relief. Otherwise, I would have had to send Snowball up there to get him…
They all sat on the sofa, in a line, as if pilchards wouldn’t melt in their mouths. Snowball had taken the armchair and I was on the ground trying to exert some kind of authority.
‘This is a game, it’s a quiz on being a cat. I ask you a question and then you have to run up and down the room, come back and give me the answer.’
‘That’s a game?’ Santa asked.
‘Do we win a prize?’ Holly asked.
‘Honestly, anything’s better than having to listen to Grand-Cat Alfie’s “when I was a young Cat… stories”.’
‘Oy,’ I said, affronted. My stories were incredibly entertaining if I did say so myself. I also tried to ignore the fact that Snowball was laughing.
‘The prize is some ribbon,’ Snowball said, diffusing the situation. She had found some that Claire had left on the kitchen table. It wasn’t around a present, so as far as I was concerned, it was fair game. Holly’s eyes lit up.
‘We are playing whether you like it or not,’ I said, trying to sound authoritative. After all, I was in charge. Wasn’t I?
It turned out to be one of my better ideas. The running wore the kittens out a bit, the questions tested their brainpower and helped to educate them; although when I asked about the main job of a cat and Santa answered ‘causing trouble’, I had to stop and give a slight lecture. The good news was that they all played well, enjoyed sharing the ribbon, and finally, they curled up and fell asleep, albeit on Claire’s favourite blanket that Santa had dragged from upstairs. On the whole, I was a brilliant kitten sitter, if I did say so myself.
’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, nothing was stirring, not even a mouse. Actually, only some of that was true. It was early evening, and it was Christmas Eve, true. There were no mice to be seen – true – but only because we were a house full of cats. We were at Hana’s house, under strict instructions to stay there and keep out of trouble, while the adults did the last minute wrapping up and the children ran riot with the kittens before they went off to a carol service, which us cats weren’t invited to. If I heard it once I heard a million times; that I was in charge, and responsible for making sure that all of the cats and kittens stayed in the house until the adults got back. Of course, as the oldest, I was always in charge, but I also passed on some of the responsibility to Snowball who pointed out that she and Hana were far better at keeping an eye on the kittens than George and myself were. She kept reminding me of the last time I looked after them and temporarily lost them when her back was turned, but I didn’t lose them. I just misplaced them for a bit. It’s certainly not the same.
Anyway, we were all at Hana’s house, and while the humans were there, it was difficult to keep track of them all so I was actually glad when they left the house, and it was just us cats. Everyone was excited, as was usual on Christmas Eve. The children were beside themselves, knowing that Santa was visiting that night, the adults were excited because the children were and the kittens were excited because not only was it their first Christmas but also their first birthday – which meant that George and Hana were excited because it was their babies birthday and their first year as parents. And I was excited for everyone because that’s the kind of cat I am. But there was so much to celebrate, and we all felt it in our hearts.
When the front door closed and all our humans had gone, I breathed a sigh of relief. I never thought I would say; that being left with the kittens was going to be more peaceful but after all the singing, shouting, cheers and running around, it really was calmer with just us cats. But then we all know what hard work humans can be, right?
‘Um Dad,’ George said as he joined me.
‘Can we sneak out for a minute to remember Tiger Mum?’ It was our Christmas eve tradition. We both missed Tiger’s namesake, Tiger who was my girlfriend, and George’s mum until she passed away. We both loved her very much, still do. What I have learnt in my life is that grief is one of the worst things that can happen to us, if not the worst, but you find a way to carry on. Love never dies, that is another lesson I have learnt. I can love Snowball but that doesn’t diminish how much love I have for Tiger. Life is complex and the rules aren’t always so easy to follow; if there even are any. But love is our greatest gift and if we have lost someone we love, at least we will always have that love, even if we don’t always have them.
George and I stood outside and looked up at the darkening sky. There was one star already and we both spoke to it as if Tiger was sitting on it, which wouldn’t surprise me because she was such a star. George told her all about the kittens and Hana and how having her as his Tiger Mum had helped him so much with the kittens. He said he hoped she looked down on them and how much he wished she could have met them. We snuggled up together as we remembered how much we love her – it was so sad, I felt it in my bones, but it was also happy because we had so much to be grateful for.
‘We better go in, lad,’ I said, although my voice broke.
‘OK, Dad, let’s go and see what my kittens are up to.’ We nuzzled again before we headed back inside. I was looking forward to a nice peaceful family time.
Hana was running round in circles, Snowball was trying to call order. Holly was sitting still, her eyes wide and Tiger was jumping around. The scene was anything but peaceful.
‘What’s going on?’ George asked.
‘We can’t find Santa,’ Snowball said, as Hana fretted.
‘OK, well when did we last see him?’ I asked, trying to calm everyone down. I couldn’t remember but then it had been so hectic earlier and I just couldn’t think.
‘No one can say for sure,’ Hana said sounding frantic, ‘we thought he might have gone out with you but I had a quick look and he doesn’t seem to be out there.’
‘Also, Santa doesn’t like going out on his own in the dark, which is weird seeing as he’s named after Santa,’ Holly pointed out. I confirmed he hadn’t come outside with us, and Holly was right, he didn’t like going out at night unless he had someone with him.
‘Right, search party time,’ I commanded, taking charge. He had to be somewhere in the house, I just knew it. I sent George and Hana upstairs, and Snowball to the kitchen. I was going to search the dining room and hallway. I told Tiger and Holly to stay put in the living room and although we knew that he wasn’t there I told them to look again, just in case.
I checked the dining room, under things, over things, behind things, but there was no sign. I then tried to prise open the cupboard under the stairs, it wasn’t easy but I just managed to hook my paw into the small gap and pull. Having checked it out – and boy was it messy and dusty – there was no sign of him there either.
We all met back in the living room. Panic was growing, it was as if he’d disappeared.
‘Maybe he snuck out with the humans?’ Tiger suggested. He had talked about doing it, but although George and I had done our fair share of sneaking out with humans in our time, that didn’t mean we condoned it for our kittens – we told them to do as we told them, not as we had done. That’s all part and parcel of parenting.
We all lapsed into silence as we thought that perhaps Santa had gone with one of the children – my money was on Toby or Henry who both had a mischievous side to them. I remembered when Tommy, who is one of our older children now, took George to Church with him under his coat, these things do happen.
‘Hey, Dad, mum, Grand-Cat Alfie, Snowball, can you hear that?’ Holly said. She was wearing silver tinsel.
‘Shush Holly we’re trying to think,’ George said.
‘Oh no, Santa can not go missing on Christmas Eve,’ Hana panicked again, we were all so worried we didn’t even realise the irony of her words.
‘No, listen,’ Holly said, stamping her paw, and we all lapsed into silence. There was a faint sound of rustling, along with a muffled mew coming from somewhere.
‘Oh no, it’s coming from under the tree,’ Tiger said and he and Holly started trying to clear a path by moving presents.
‘Be careful,’ I hissed. I knew how much humans could get upset if anyone messed with their presents. I’d managed to open one or two when I was young and trust me, that did not go down well. Holly and Tiger worked well together and they managed to find a wrapped box, that seemed to be moving slightly.
‘Santa, are you in there?’ Hana asked.
‘Mew,’ he replied. I looked at Snowball, horrified. We had found the kitten.
Only he was gift wrapped in a box. And, there was no clear way to get the present unwrapped. We all looked at our paws, not as useful as hands in this instant. Holly tried to get the bow off, but she just managed to shred it a bit. We all had a go at trying to open the paper but we couldn’t do it.
‘Mumppph,’ Santa’s voice came from inside the box, and although we tried to be gentle we did manage to bash the box around a bit. I crossed my paws that he’d be OK.
‘Yowl,’ I heard faintly, over and over again. Oh, how I hoped we hadn’t hurt him too much.
After what felt like ages, we all sat and surveyed the box. The wrapping was looking messy, the bow was half untied and a bit shredded but we were still unable to get into the parcel. It had tape everywhere and trust me when I tell you us cats can’t get the tape off the gifts. That’s why cats don’t ever get to unwrap their own presents.
But that didn’t help, because our kitten was in there. What if there was no air? I glanced at Snowball who was obviously thinking the same as me, there was pure fear in her eyes and I could feel the same in mine. George was still trying to get into the box, he was even using his teeth but I knew it was pointless. Tiger and Holly were frozen for a minute and Hana was wailing. I needed a plan but I knew that; that plan needed a human and that was, for once, something I didn’t have. I couldn’t even send anyone off to find one because the carol concert was not even on the same street. I just had to hope and pray they would be home soon.
As everyone grew more panicked and the box was moving around, I knew I had to do something until the humans returned.
‘Santa,’ I said in my soothing voice. ‘Please, try to keep still, we’ll get you out but the more you struggle or get distressed the worse it’ll be. And that goes for everyone. We all need to help Santa by remaining calm and keeping our cool,’ I instructed. There was something I could do after all.
‘I know why don’t you tell us one of your stories,’ Tiger asked, in a quieter than normal voice. The others looked at me hopefully. Ha, you see, I knew they liked my stories really.
‘When I was a young cat,’ I began.
We were exhausted, worried, sad and full of fear by the time the door opened and I was also hoarse from telling so many stories. I immediately knew I had to get someone to open that present, so I ran out to greet the humans. They tried to brush me off as they took their coats off and got Theo out of his pushchair but I persisted. I did everything I could, I yowled, I stood on feet, I scratched at them, but to no avail. They carried on ignoring me.
Thankfully Theo ran into the living room. He wouldn’t have been my first choice or my last actually, but then no one else seemed to be paying me any attention. I swished my tail, it seemed the youngest member of the family was our only hope. Theo loved the kittens and he stopped where they sat. I pushed the present toward him.
‘pwesent,’ he babbled and looked at it.
‘Meow,’ I said, open it. Holly pushed it toward him, and Tiger tried to help. Although Theo had chubby fingers, he really liked presents and had learnt to open them at his first Birthday party which was a few months ago, which was lucky for us. Thankfully after a few seconds of doubt, he set about pulling the paper off the box like a seasoned professional. It took him a while and he made quite a mess, as Holly helped him and Tiger encouraged him. George was rigid along with Hana.
Finally, the rest of the humans all came into the room, to see Theo about to finish unwrapping the gift.
‘Theo, no, naughty,’ his mum, Sylvie, said rushing over.
‘What a mess,’ Marcus, his dad added.
‘At least it’s not one of our children for once,’ Jonathan added. As everyone crowded into the living room and Sylvie frantically tried to stop Theo, Connie sat down next to him.
‘Meow,’ Theo said and pointed to the box.
‘Meow’ the box said loudly. The room fell quiet.
‘Oh mum, I think he’s trying to tell us something,’ she said, opening the box. Santa practically leapt out and into Connie’s arms.
‘Oh God, mum you wrapped Santa up,’ Connie said. Theo laughed as did the rest of the kids.
‘No,’ Sylvie said. She looked in the box where Santa had curled up on top of a scarf.
‘That was your Christmas present, Marcus,’ Sylvie said, laughing. ‘It was an expensive, pure wool scarf,’ she added.
‘Best Christmas present ever,’ Summer said.
‘What a scarf?’ Claire asked.
‘No, mummy, Santa,’ Summer said, and everyone laughed.
We all recovered, even Santa, who had been scared, but he had learnt a valuable lesson, I hoped. Do not sleep anywhere you fancy, even if the scarf was expensive. The adults could not believe that he’d fallen asleep on the scarf and how Sylvie had wrapped it without noticing. But as we retired that Christmas eve, all was well again and everyone was excited for the following day. If not all a little tired and stressed from all the trauma. But then, we should have been used to it by now.
My family grew all the time, both human and cat. We were the lucky ones, we had each other, which was a lot. But this year, as we waited for Christmas to arrive, I felt extra lucky. And so, dear readers of this story, from my heart to yours, I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a prosperous New Year. With love, from me; Alfie, my humans, my cat friends, Snowball, George and Hana, and of course my grand-kittens, Holly, Santa and Tiger. And I look forward to seeing you all on the page next year.