Geoffrey has two cats. Suki is a heavyweight, silver grey affair, sprawled on the seat of Geoffrey’s four wheeled walker like a luxuriously furred but rather bedraggled cushion, one paw draped over the side, an expression on her face of the purest hatred for the world and everything in it, especially Harry, the kitten. Harry is as hyperactive as Suki is inert, seemingly on a mission to destroy the bungalow, in such random bursts of activity it’s like watching a film that slows one minute and speeds up the next. Harry attacks the curtains, my bag, a pile of rubbish, the TV cables, winding himself up for each assault with a tensioning wiggle of his hips, whipping his tail from side to side, then skittering across the carpet – this time to take out a little stuffed dinosaur, rolling over and over with it, coming to a stop on his back with the dinosaur in its teeth and front paws, brutally pedalling it to death.
‘He’s having a funny five minutes,’ chuckles Geoffrey from his riser-recliner throne, King of Catland, packets of fishy favours to hand on the cantilever table.
But I’ve already been here ten.
‘Are you okay with dogs?’
It’s an article of faith to say yes, because Leila’s brindle staffie Frankie is hurling himself against the baby gate so violently you’d think he hadn’t eaten in a week and a leg of mutton just walked in the door. Before I can answer either way, Leila unlatches the gate and Frankie bursts out. I stand my ground and ignore him – and, thank god, it works. In fact, it’s extraordinary how quickly he changes mode: from Hound of Hell to Snuffly Chump.
I scraggle him behind the ears, and he seems to like that. Then suddenly he’s reminded of something, and hurries off into the sitting room.
‘Oh no,’ says Leila. ‘Wait for it.’
There’s a plaintive squeak or two, then Frankie comes trotting back into the hallway to sit at my feet with a blue ball clamped in his jaws.
‘Oh for God’s sake,’ says Leila. ‘Him and that ball. I wish I’d never got it.’
Frankie bites down on it twice in quick succession, to emphasise.
‘It was funny the other night, though,’ says Leila. ‘He fell asleep with it in his mouth. Then he started dreaming, doing that spooky eye-rolling thing they do, twitching and jerking, and then the ball squeaked, and woke him up, and scared the bejeesus out of him. He fell off the sofa and the ball squeaked some more and he dropped it and ran behind the curtains. I thought that might’ve cured him. But no, he was straight back on it. Poor ol’ Frankie. He’s like me – an addictive personality.’