It’s so hot, even Reg’s cat Lionel barely has the energy to look up as I come into the little back yard. Don’t mind me he seems to say, just go ahead and ring the bell and he’ll be with you presently. Then blinking once, to seal the deal, and yawning broadly with a funny little snap of his jaws, he collapses back into the shady patch beneath the cotoneaster, and immediately falls asleep again. He’s a magnificent animal – just like Orlando, the marmalade cat, rich stripes of apricot and orange flowing down his sides.
If Lionel is an object lesson in glamorous health and vitality, his owner Reg is the complete opposite. In fact, Reg is so banged up, with so many wounds and dressings, he looks like an extra in a horror movie unexpectedly called to the door of the make-up wagon. The worst is a palm-sized gash to the right of his forehead, stitched up as vigorously as a rugby boot, the hair shaved around it in a punky and free-ranging kind of tonsure. He has two black eyes, swollen cheeks, a thick wodge of plaster over the blackened steri-strips holding his nose together, a split lip, and bruises in every hue and colour between black and yellow roiling up and down his arm.
‘Yes?’ he says, pulling his dressing gown together and swaying in the doorway. ‘Can I help you?’