Your Holiday Disaster

... and William came too. How the family tom cat became an unexpected companion for Elizabeth Guill

It Was to be our first family holiday. Just myself, my husband, and our baby daughter. After an exhausting year adapting to our role as parents, we were more than ready for a break. We rented a cottage in the Auvergne (we live just outside Paris), had our ancient Renault serviced, and arranged for a neighbour to take care of William, our ginger tom. The first setback came the night before departure when our neighbour's daughter came to tell us that her father had been rushed to hospital and couldn't look after the cat. It was late, other neighbours were either on holiday or owned ferocious Alsatians. A boarding kennel would be ridiculously expensive. Too bad, William would have come too. We rummaged around for a suitable cat conveyance and came up with the perfect answer - a wicker picnic basket with "windows" on either side.

We set off at 4am; husband driving, me in the back with baby and a mewing, panic-stricken animal who immediately set to work to demolish his basket. Five minutes later he had bitten through the "bars", but unable to squeeze through, started hurling himself against the sides, sending the basket crashing to the floor. The lid snapped open and he was out, leaping round the car, spitting and scratching, finally coming to rest on my husband's shoulders, claws deeply embedded in his neck. All hell broke loose, husband cursing, baby howling, and car weaving all over the road.

We stopped, plumbed the suitcases to find a belt, forced a furious cat back into the basket, and secured the lid. Fifteen minutes later our feline Houdini was free again. It was half-past five and we had travelled 30 miles (50km). Resigned, we stopped at the next town, found a pet shop, and parked outside to await opening-time. Four hours later, our repertoire of nursery rhymes, our snacks, and our patience were exhausted - but we were the owners of a proper cat box, plastic with transparent windows at either end.

Half-an-hour later these were steamed up and cat was gasping pathetically, looking set to expire. Despite assurances from husband that this would be best for all concerned, a further stop was made to buy a collar and lead. The rest of the journey was punctuated by half-hourly stops to walk the cat.

Hours later than planned, we arrived at the cottage. Wearily, we unpacked, fed and bathed the baby and introduced William to his holiday accommodation. Later, sitting outside sipping a glass of chilled rose and feeling that our holiday had begun at last, our peace was disturbed by a furious hissing and an orange streak flew past pursued by a skeletal tabby and three mangy kittens. The garden was inhabited by a family of wild cats. Result - William remained obstinately indoors and a cat tray and litter was purchased. We needn't have bothered. He pointedly avoided it, expressing his malodorous disapproval wherever it suited him. Kennels would have been cheap at any price.

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