Tommo the cat

… taking your life in your hands with an ancient, but loveable feline…

Some years ago, during my time in Wellington, I had the great pleasure to lodge with a good friend of mine, way up in the Brooklyn hills overlooking the capital of New Zealand, not far from the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary. His house, which stood perched on the very edge of the hill, afforded spectacular views of the harbour and surrounding countryside. It also came complete with a menagerie of elderly animals, including two cats and Daisy the dog (more about her in a future post, no doubt).

The two cats were called Basil and Tommo. Basil was the epitome of refinement, spending his days sitting quietly in the living room, grooming himself just in case anyone important should visit and want to take his picture. Tommo, on the other hand, was the street’s tough guy. In his prime, no other cat could beat him and he ruled the tarmac from one end of the road to the other without mercy. Unfortunately for Tommo, by the time I met him, his mighty reign was over and he had been forced to retire to the safety of the house, where he proudly prowled the hallways or slept in the sunshine dreaming of long past victories.

Now, I’m sure that you’ll agree with me that Tommo certainly wouldn’t have won any prizes for ‘best in show’, but there was something loveable about his worn and scarred appearance that completely won me over. At the time, I wasn’t really a ‘cat person’, but in Tommo’s case, I made an exception. I had to because for some reason he’d taken a liking to me and had decided that my bed was also his bed. Don’t get me wrong, I tried to gently shoo him off the bed and out of the bedroom many, many times, but without success. For one thing, he was still a pretty big cat and I was a big softie (and still am). And he wasn’t averse to using his claws when he got upset. So, in the end, after having been scratched and mauled beyond all recognition, I decided to just put up and shut up, and get on with it.

From then on, whenever I retired for the night, I would be greeted by a happily purring Tommo, as he jumped up onto the bed and settled himself on the duvet by my side. No problem there, you might say and you’d be right. The real problem started when I turned out the lights. I’m not sure whether Tommo was scared of the dark (probably not) or just a bit odd, but as soon as darkness descended on the room, he would get up from the duvet, trot casually over to the pillow and lie down right next to my head. It didn’t matter which way I turned, Tommo would turn with me so that I got the full force of his cat breath and purring in my face for most of the night. I say most of the night because, during the winter months in particular, when the temperature dropped sharply, Tommo would clamber underneath the duvet in the middle of the night for more warmth.

It was on one such occasion, a Sunday night (I remember the incident that vividly) that Tommo made his way beneath the covers and stretched out beside me to take advantage of the nice, snug space that I’d been warming up. I didn’t realise it at the time, but elderly cats can apparently have trouble retracting their claws, especially their rear claws and Tommo, being reasonably ancient, was thus afflicted.

My scream at having the side of my body raked by his claws, while he was dreaming about some previous conquest or other, woke the entire household and caused me to rise about three feet off the bed from a lying position. I don’t think that I have ever felt pain quite like that before and hope I never will again. I remember looking down at my exposed side and seeing two little rows of red lines opening up where Tommo had innocently clawed me in his sleep. Of Tommo there was no sight, the wily cat having fled at the utterly inhuman noise I had made. All I could do was reassure my friend and his family that I had not been the victim of an attempted murder and try to stop the bleeding with a strategically placed handkerchief (a clean one, of course) around my abused and tattered midriff.

Fortunately, Tommo and I quickly forgave each other and within a couple of days, normal service was resumed; a state of affairs which happily continued until I moved into a flat of my own a couple of months later. Sadly, however, Tommo passed away a little while ago, old age finally catching up with him. But every time I rub my side or get a stitch from trying to do too much, I am reminded of Tommo and smile at the thought that inadvertently and completely by accident, I was probably his last ever victim.

Rest in Peace, Tommo. You will not be forgotten.

Enjoyed this blog? Then, why not read more about my time in New Zealand, here: