I’d love to have a cat now we’re getting on for 90 and don’t go abroad anymore. We don’t enjoy long airplane flights and schlepping our all-too-heavy baggage around, but we live on the 9th floor with a balcony and I couldn’t face a repeat of my experience with Rupert when I was a child and lived on the third floor with a balcony in Wentworth Dwellings in Petticoat Lane.
Rupert was a gorgeous black kitten who was as curious as are all baby animals. I was in tears remembering as I wrote about it in my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’.
Excerpt from Chapter2
It was wonderful coming home from school to be greeted by Rupert who would wind himself round and round my ankles, delighted to see me again.When I went to the toilet on our little balcony, Rupert would follow me and walk along the brick support at the bottom of the protective railings. As he grew bolder, he started climbing over the coal bunker and up to the bar at the top, weaving in and out of the upright spikes. I could hardly bear to watch him. Sometimes he walked along the railings to our neighbour’s balcony. She usually had a few scraps for a cat who was always hungry, even when he had just been fed.
‘Be careful,’ I told Rupert. ‘I know you’ve got nine lives, but we’re on the third floor, and it’s a long way down.’
Rupert said nothing and stalked into the kitchen, but when I did my homework he came to sit on my lap, purring loudly.
One day, when I was standing on the balcony watching as Rupert put one careful foot in front of the other on the top bar of the guard rail, my mother called me.
‘Abby, come in at once. What’s all this?’ she said, pointing to the scrunched-up drawings I’d left on the kitchen table.
As I turned towards her, Rupert lost his footing and fell. I was paralysed; couldn’t move.
‘Mummy, come quickly,’ I screamed. ‘Rupert’s fallen off.’
‘He’ll be dead, for sure, but you’d better go down and see.’
I raced down the six flights of stairs, out into Goulston Street, round into Wentworth Street and into the entrance of our courtyard. Rupert was sitting there, nonchalantly licking a paw, as if falling from the third floor was nothing.
‘You’re a naughty, naughty, kitten,’ I said, as I picked him up and hugged him.
The nosy old woman who was always sitting on her first-floor balcony, looking out and gossiping about everyone, said:
‘They’ve got nine lives and no mistake. You should look after it better, Abby. You tell your mother I said so.’
Rupert licked my hand with his rough little tongue.
‘You’re to stop walking along the railings,’ I told him.
But an hour later he was winding in and out of the spikes again, as if to show he wasn’t a scaredy cat, even if I was.
And I thank all you lovely people who bought copies of ‘Woman in a White Coat’.’