When Ron comes out of the kitchen I immediately know that there’s something wrong. He’s not licking his lips which I take as a clear sign that he hasn’t eaten the remains of the steak and kidney Jimbos I’d deliberately left in my bowl. This out-of-character behaviour is not lost on Squeak who attempts to surreptitiously tiptoe into the kitchen. Squeak can move fast when there’s food involved but he’s not an accomplished tiptoer and ends up doing the sort of summersault action that is usually associated with action-adventure thriller sequences. Something I doubt he would ever be able to repeat. Great tufts of black and white fur are unleashed on the carpet and all he is able to squeak in apology is: “Winter coat.”
“Wintercoat,” says Ron brightening noticeably. “That can go down on the list of ‘Possibles’.”
I obediently add this to the inventory of best ideas for our band name, directly underneath Three Cat Night, The Deaf Leopards, Nuclear Kittens and Stone Temple Cats.
Ron had been depressed for a while now. I’m not sure if it’s true depression or if he’s just undergoing a series of disturbed catnip-induced thought processes. He’s certainly been acting particularly strangely of late. One minute he has this exaggerated view that he is the king of cool and deserves to be highly regarded amongst the fellow cats of our community and the next thing he talks like he’s wallowing in the depths of despair.
“Sometimes I just want to go outside and pay one of those cat-hating locals ten bucks to run over my head.”
This gloomy remark came just after he’d rather clumsily attempted to chat up the ragdoll who had recently appeared on the Diamond Harbour cat scene. I could hardly blame him. She was exquisite with the stunningly blue eyes and silky cream coat that is distinctive to her breed. I have some ragdoll in my lineage, but not to this extent. This cat is all class. Definitely a pure breed and totally out of Ron’s league.
She ran away in a state of fright and I can’t say I blame her. Ron had pounced on her and said something in a breathless pant that sounded like “would you like to lie down with me this evening”. Evidently he had meant to say “voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir” in French but his nervous state had brought about a breakdown in communication between his brain and his mouth and it had come out in English. Even with the benefit this contextual knowledge, I’m not entirely sure how this was meant to be taken, or if this is necessarily a good opening gambit.
Since then Squeak and I have been flourishing endless strategies at him in an effort to distract him from these peculiar mood swings. Serafina too has been active in this regard but her suggestions are limited to vets and anti-depressant medication. To her credit, Serafina has done some diligent groundwork and dug out some useful background information about the newcomer and delights in imparting her “superior knowledge” to Squeak and myself whom she considers to be lesser mortals.
“She’s a pedigree ragdoll called Cookie and she lives with her big brother, Bo in Purau. If you ask me, I’d say Ronald has fallen in love or perhaps developed an unhealthy obsession with her. He’s been stalking her ever since she arrived.”
At this point, Squeak and I establish a sort of masculine bond and unilaterally decide to cut Serafina out of any future discussions regarding Ron’s state of mind. This is a job for the boys. It’s obvious that Ron doesn’t have a shit show with this girl and the idea of him being in love is clearly ridiculous. I shudder at the thought of what big Bro, or Bo or whatever his name is, would do if he found out that a puny orange bitzer like Ron had designs on his little sister. This could involve a fight and I’m glad I have Squeak on my side.
“We need to distract him,” suggests Squeak. “Make him see that there are other things in life besides stalking Cookie and making such a dick of himself that he wants to become roadkill.”
“I agree,” I say and over the next few days we present Ron with a veritable potpourri of invigorating suggestions but the only one to create a glimmer of interest is Squeak’s idea of resurrecting our singing group and doing a live performance on the Godley House grounds.
“We might even get a gig at Live at the Point,” says Ron enthusiastically when we present this idea.
“At this early stage we just need to get one song down pat and decide on a name,” I say with finality before Ron can get too far ahead of himself.
We decide on a barbershop quartet rendition of The Lion Sleeps Tonight and after lengthy debate, settle on The Gingernuts as our group name. Squeak, who is black and white, isn’t entirely on board with the name but Ron is insistent that since Gingernuts are “cookies”, this is the perfect name for our band. So much for distracting him from the Cookie problem.
We ignore this though because Ron hasn’t been this motivated for weeks and Squeak comes up with a brilliant arrangement of the The Lion Sleeps Tonight which is to be sung as a male voice barbershop quartet. We get to work practicing. Ron opens with a falsetto wee dee dee dee dee um bum bah weh. His voice isn’t brilliant but we think we can get away with toning his mic down and having a recording playing in the background. Then I come in with the wim oh wehs and Squeak does the main vocals with Ron and I wim oh wehing and oohing in the background. We’re starting to sound pretty good although strictly speaking we aren’t exactly a quartet yet. Serafina has been standing in but this is only temporary until we can find a male cat with a decent voice and then she’ll take on the role of roadie.
Serafina put the word out that we are looking for a male ginger cat to join The Gingernuts but there hasn’t been much interest and time is running out. The first hopeful was a greasy ginger haired cat called Axel who strode confidently into the house, had a few bites of my Jimbos, farted and asked where the dirtbox was. I said I didn’t use a dirtbox and he pissed all over the carpet, sang a few lines of Sweet Child of Mine and went home. We said we’d get back to him.
That was a week ago and I’m still in the bad books at home after the wee on the carpet.
“Weasley Morley Brown you’re old enough to know better!” screamed Mummy. The disappointed look on her face and the use of my full name for disciplinary reasons tells me it’s going to take some time to work my way back to being ‘Mummy’s little Weaselpoof’.
The second contender, Gary was a ginger cat who we all knew vaguely. He showed promise but unfortunately had to pull out a few days before our gig because one of his kittens had gastroenteritis.
“He’ll have his hands full trying stop the rest of the litter getting infected,” remarks Squeak.
“I didn’t know he had kittens,” I say.
“Yes,” nods Ron. “He shacked up with Blondie last year. They’ve got seven kittens can you believe?”
The three of us happily discuss Gary and his family for a short while before Serafina steps in and says:
“When you three have finished gossiping, we’ve got one more audition before we call it quits and accept that our quartet will have to be a trio.”
“Wheel him in then,” says Ron and a charismatic black cat called Marlon enters. As soon as he opens his mouth the room is filled with his powerful, liquid voice that has a richness and range that none of us had expected. He sang an intense and emotional ballad with a hint of melancholy that he’d written himself. By the time he finishes Serafina is in tears and Squeak is speechless.
“I think he’s a bit too good, don’t you?” I say after Marlon has left. “I can’t imagine him being content with doing the wim oh wehs in our little group.”
“He must have a three-octave range!” says a flabbergasted Squeak.
Serafina still hasn’t recovered properly and all she can say dreamily is: “He’s amazing”.
“Well he’s NOT ginger,” says Ron bringing us all down to earth. “And apart from having a voice to die for he seems like a genuinely nice guy. Definitely the sort of cat that needs to be kept away from Cookie – I mean, The Gingernuts.”
“Would you prefer having Axel farting and peeing? Or Gary fussing over his kittens?” says Squeak. “Besides, I’m not ginger either.”
“Yes but you don’t matter,” says Ron and Squeak skulks off home in a huff.
The day of the gig arrives and our little trio is extremely nervous. Ron gives Squeak and I a wink and says:
“How about a little session in the catnip? Just to calm our nerves.”
Although I’m not fully supportive of this suggestion I could definitely do with something to calm my nerves and Squeak seems keen. I resolve to be moderate.
We’ve been playing in the catnip for about ten minutes and I have to admit it feels good but I notice that Ron is scrutinizing my face more closely than I’d like.
“What’s the matter?”
“You’ve got black gunk in your eyes,” Ron says to me. “Hold still.”
And before I can protest he’s come at me with both paws and attempts to flick it out of my eyes.
“Jesus!” he says and I know what he’s talking about because blood is trickling down my front. “I forgot to put my claws in. Did I hurt you?”
“Not particularly,” I say. “But I can’t go on stage with blood coming out of my eyes.”
“The vet is in the Harbour looking at Gary’s kittens,” says Squeak. “He lives quite near here. Nip in and see if he can see you. You look awful.”
“What are you going to do while I’m away?”
“Squeak, you stay here,” says Ron. “I need to get something from On the Spot and meanwhile Weasley can see the vet. We’ll meet back at your place.”
The three of us separate. Showtime minus two hours. That should be enough time. I race round to Gary’s just as the vet is about to leave. I explain my predicament and he asks Gary if it’s OK to use his bathroom to clean up the wounds. I tell the vet that it probably looks worse than it is and he bathes my eyes with a pink solution that I hope isn’t going to stain. Just as I assume that the consultation is over he looks at me intently and says:
“How are you feeling? Are things OK with you generally”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“No other problems then? Nothing you’d like to discuss while you’re here?”
“No,” I say, wondering if he can smell the catnip. “I’m just about to go on stage actually” and I tell him about The Gingernuts.
I realise it’s a mistake saying this because I imagine he’s now thinking I’m having some sort of rock and roll fantasy.
“Oww kaay,” he says in a patient tone that suggests he thinks it’s anything but OK. “But if you feel the need to … harm yourself or anything, please promise me you’ll come to the surgery to see me.”
I nod in agreement, hastily give my regards to Gary and his kittens, hope like hell I haven’t caught gastroenteritis and hightail it back home. I want to talk to the guys about this vet who thinks I’m a self-harming fantasist, but Ron is hovering over a semi-comatose Squeak ensuring him that he’s just applying a special potion to stop his winter coat from shedding. I seize the bottle from Ron and find that it’s L’Oreal’s Bold and Beautiful Burgundy Hair Dye.
“This isn’t even the right colour,” I hiss.
“It’s all I could get at On the Spot and it’s much better than the wig I tried,” he says and shows me a picture. If the situation weren’t so serious I would’ve cracked up laughing.
“He’s going to be furious when he wakes up!”
“Not after the amount of catnip he’s had,” says Ron and I hope to hell that Squeak is going to be able to sing after all this.
By the time we arrive at the venue Squeak looks like a middle-aged woman trying to cover up her greys but he’s so stoned he doesn’t seem to care.
The wounds round my eyes are starting to scab up a bit and I get Ron to apply some of the pink solution the vet gave me. Ron is scouring the grounds for Cookie. Serafina has set up the sound system and announces The Gingernuts over the PA system. The three of us run onto the makeshift stage and Squeak raises his paws and roars HELLO DIAMOND HARBOUR! as though we’d just been choppered into a packed Wembley stadium. He does the action roll sequence that I didn’t think he’d repeat and I start to wonder if this might be something he’s been working on for quite some time. He seems to have suddenly developed a rock and roll persona and struts around on stage like Mick Jagger, banging his paws on the sound speakers and egging on the crowd.
Just as I’m wondering if this is down to the Bold and Beautiful Burgundy Hair Dye, Squeak has kicked Serafina off the sound system and jazzed up the backing track. Ron screams his falsetto wee dee dee dee dee um bum bah weh in a fairly decent Robert Plant impersonation and then we’re off. Squeak is totally rocking it but this progrock/metal version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight makes me think that the lion is definitely not sleeping tonight and I have no idea where to come in with my wim oh wehs. Squeak gives me a sign and I take centre stage, my eyes looking like a cross between Alice Cooper and Kiss but I do my wim oh wehs in the way we’ve practiced and the crowd go mad.
The last thing I see through my scabbed eyes is Cookie gazing adoringly at Squeak, Serafina cornering Marlon behind the stage and I start to think that this probably isn’t one of our better ideas.
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Thanks to Mark Waterhouse for his help with Squeak’s pictures!