I've known Craig Shaw for donkey's years, he's a brother from another mother. We met in a Harlesden bar. He was the resident frontman in an open mic jamming band. I jumped onstage one night, and unwittingly commandeered his microphone stand. 54 46 was our number. I apologised afterwards, and struck up a lifelong friendship. His partner Fleur is a committed homeopath, they have a daughter Ella. Ella was a smiley faced toddler when Craig and I first met. Nowadays she's our go-to photographer whenever we need artwork for a music project. They've always been a cat family.
Back in the day, they lived in one of the olde railway cottages of Goodhall Street, Harlesden. Florence and Zebedee were the family cats of that era. Fleur rescued them in 1992 from a man who had threatened to throw them into the Thames. Ten years later, Tiger Lily joined the family. Fleur picked her up from a local vet.
Florence and Zebedee both lived to the grand old age of eighteen. Florence died first, and Zebedee went just months later. Tiger Lily was put down, aged fourteen, after a short illness. Zebedee's departure gave rise to a family tradition of grieving for a period before replacing. After the passing of Florence and Zebedee, Fleur picked up Skitzo from a local care home. Skitzo, petite and affectionate, was soon pregnant courtesy of Mr Tibbs, a hench ginger tom. Mr Tibbs ruled Goodhall Street from his throne, the windowsill of the house opposite. Skitzo gave birth to Smokey Bear, Little Mo and Smudge. Poor Little Mo died young. Shortly after Little Mo's passing, the family sold up and moved out of London. Goodbye Goodhall Street, after 25 years. With Skitzo, Smokey Bear and Smudge tucked up in baskets, they headed west to Hanham Abbots, a quiet suburb of Bristol. Their new house sits a five-minute stroll away from the breathtaking Avon Woodlands. Craig converted the spacious top bedroom into a fully equipped recording studio. I visit as often as possible, and happened to be there on the sad day that Skitzo was put down. She'd been diagnosed with incurable cancer. The family mourned for a couple of months and then recruited two more kittens: Rizzo, black and shorthaired with beautiful copper-coloured eyes, and Babooshka, a breathtakingly pretty tabby. They were sisters. Never have I seen a pair of kittens more devoted to each other. Day and night, they remained inseparable. Wherever one scampered unsteadily, the other would follow. Upstairs and tumbling down, they play-wrestled and explored. When tiredness set in, you'd find them fast asleep together, often in the same box.
Babooshka's tiny nose and facial markings were the golden hue of autumn's fallen leaves. The patches on her paws looked like little white ankle socks.
The adorable pair of fluff balls made a welcome addition to the household. One year before the family moved to Bristol, Ella left home to live in student accommodation. Her sudden absence seemed to affect dear Smudge. By the time Rizzo and Babooshka arrived on the scene, she had retreated to the rear wheel of an abandoned jeep in the access road behind the house. Protected by the overhanging wheel arch, she stays out there in all weathers. Smokey Bear has always been happiest up on the kitchen table, just as her mother once was. Rizzo and Babooshka enjoyed the run of the house. They shared a vigorous penchant for adventure. Whatever it was, they'd find a way to climb it together. Up and over tall bookshelves, on top of the fridge, you name it. Eventually they were allowed out into the back garden - on leashes at first.
Craig and I spent the summer of 2019 working flat out on a recording project. We'd be upstairs in the studio for hours on end. During tea breaks, I enjoyed being led around the back garden by the cuddly kitten sisters. Once outside, Babooshka became the more venturesome. Tugging and straining, she made repeated beelines over flowerbeds towards wilder areas.
Autumn drew in, and the leashes came off. The kitties learned how to use the catflap by watching Smokey Bear and Smudge coming and going. Babooshka relished being outside in the big wide world, climbing trees and patrolling the garden's high fences. She quickly aquainted herself with the narrow passageway alongside the house, it leads out to the front garden. Craig and Fleur took turns intercepting her before she could venture any further. The road out front is not a particularly busy one, but it's a road nonetheless. She'd also abscond through gaps in the back gate and skip down the access road as if she owned it.
At some point during the evening of December 26th 2019, Babooshka nipped out on another territorial expansion mission. This time she didn't come back. Fleur routinely calls the cats for mealtimes by shaking a box of cat buscuits. When she did so the following morning, Smudge emerged from under her wheelarch, and Smokey Bear jumped down from the table. Rizzo appeared, but there was no sign of Babooshka. Fleur repeatedly shook the biscuit box, to no avail. Rizzo finished her breakfast, and lingered by the cat flap.
Fleur threw on her shoes and embarked upon an extensive search, front and back. Babooshka was nowhere to be seen. With Craig on the M4 driving his mother home to London, and Ella, out at work, Fleur endured an increasingly fretful morning alone. Little Rizzo sat out in the garden and waited.
A second search in the afternoon only served to heighten Fleur's anxiety. As cold evening fell, Ella posted an appeal on The Bristol Cat Community's Facebook page. Within half an hour a comment appeared.
A woman driving home with her family from a Boxing Day party, had found a terribly injured kitten lying in the road, it matched Babooshka's description. She parked up and did all she could to help. The kitten died in her hands. This all happened at around 2AM. At 9AM, she took the dead kitten to a local vet.
Ella left for work in the morning with butterflies swirling in her stomach. Craig who'd stayed overnight at his mum's in London, sat nervously in her kitchen waiting for news. Ella's boyfriend Bill drove Fleur to the vets. She took one look. It was Babooshka.
Oblivious to danger, her adventurous spirit had carried her to the wrong place at the wrong time.
Stunned and heartbroken, Fleur brought Babooshka home so she could be buried in the back garden. Craig and Ella arrived in the late afternoon. Out of the blue, their Christmas holiday had been overwhelmed by sadness, and the nagging torment of sheer bad luck. Happy new year died in the road.
Rizzo continued to search for her sister. Whenever she caught sight of her own reflection in the patio door windows, she'd scamper towards it excitedly.
Before Babooshka was buried, her broken body was laid out in front of Rizzo, for the purpose of closure. Rizzo made only a brief inspection before turning and walking away.
The family said a tearful prayer for Babooshka's little soul before Craig lowered her into the Earth. And just like that, the lights went out on 2019.
On the afternoon of Wednesday 23rd September 2020, Craig spontaneously decided to go out for a drive. Ella hopped into the passenger seat, and suggested they head to a neighbouring suburb for a change. Craig slotted a CD into the player, and off they went, while discussing possible destinations. Some twenty minutes later they pulled into a supermarket car park in Brislington near Bath. They visited the Post Office before moseying into a charity shop for a good old rummage. After an hour or so in overcast Brislington, they decided to call it a day and head home. Timing is everything.
On their walk back to the carpark, they noticed a commotion in the road, about twenty yards ahead of them.
Traffic had come to a standstill causing tailbacks in both directions. People were climbing out of their cars to look at something. Craig initially feared somebody had been run over. He and Ella quickened their pace. As they approached, Craig caught a heart-stopping glimpse through a gap in the huddle of people.
There, in the middle of the road, was a tiny kitten.
Two elderly women made repeated attempts to pick it up, their clumsy efforts terrified the poor thing. Nobody had the slightest clue where it had come from. The frightened kitten bolted away from the growing throng, across a pavement and into a chip shop. Craig instinctively followed while everybody else stood rooted.
The chip shop was strangely empty, no staff or customers. Once inside, the kitten darted behind the counter, meowing desperately. Craig walked around and gently picked it up. He looked into its eyes, and whispered, “Babooshka, you've come back".
A takeaway to remember
At once, the kitten stopped meowing and scrambled up onto Craig's right shoulder. Craig walked out of that chip shop with a takeaway to remember. Nobody in the perplexed congregation outside asked any questions - so he kept on walking. With each step, he fully expected somebody to call him back, but nobody did. When Craig turned around to look, the throng had dispersed and traffic was flowing as if nothing had happened. The gorgeous little kitten fell asleep in Ella's lap as Craig drove home.
Now that's what you call a sudden turn of events.
Fleur welcomed the little newcomer with open palms. She struggled to process the story as Craig relayed it. Craig and Ella could hardly believe it either.
The miracle kitten was male, and extraordinarily handsome. His facial markings were not dissimilar to Babooshka's.The markings on his right flank formed a perfectly shaped love heart. They named him Ziggy.
Ella noticed, during the drive home from Brislington, that the pads on the underside of his paws were badly grazed. Had he jumped, or been thrown from a moving vehicle?
"Babooshka, you've come back"
Ziggy settled into his new home straight away. He's a friendly, bouyant character who is completely at ease around people. Rizzo was initially a little wary, but that didn't last too long.
Craig and I spent the summer of 2021 locked into another recording project. If not upstairs, we'd be down in the back garden watcthing Rizzo and Ziggy stalking bugs and butterflies. They're a ruthlessly effective tag-team. Sometimes they fall asleep side by side.
A couple of days after Ziggy came home to stay, Craig recieved a £45 fine for overstaying in the Brislington supermarket car park.
Like they say, nothing in life is free.