It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Shop fronts were shuttered, restaurants sat empty and playgrounds were closed. Brick Lane, a street so famous for its irrepressible spirit and bustling energy that it’s often likened to a river, saw its usual flow of activity reduced to a trickle… and at the end of it, the café at 152-154 Bethnal Green Road was quiet. No cheerful chatter, no skittering of paws on linoleum.
However, at a cosy flat on the other side of London, a family of four was settling into a new routine. Senior Cat Carer and Keeper of Wiggly Worms, Amy, had brought her two fur babies home for the duration of the lockdown. Her love for these cats, a brother and sister named Peter and Wendy, had always been strong and was matched by their affection for her. Although the circumstances surrounding this serene family tableau were far from ideal, everyone on the Lady Dinah’s team agreed that it was the heart-warming story they all needed! Knowing that Peter and Wendy were happily ensconced with their favourite human and her lovely partner brought a wobbly smile to everyone’s faces.
Lady Dinah’s presents, a tale of two kitties!
(A note from the editor: You’ll have to allow me this indulgence. The more time I spend inside, the more florid my prose becomes. The nod to Dickens is probably a result of feeling like Miss Havisham… if Miss H. wore a big T-shirt instead of a musty wedding dress and was pining for a fourth season of Anne with an E instead of her fiancé.)
Finding Neverland in Ealing
I started working at Lady Dinah’s as an apprentice in animal care in the winter of 2016. Peter, Wendy and their sister Tinkerbell were almost a year old at this point and had been living in the café for a few months. I had already formed an attachment to them during my visits as a customer, and I still have plenty of photos of an adolescent Peter (a little bit surly and characteristically vain) spreading his fluff out across my table. We’ve grown up together over the years as I’ve graduated from Levels 2 and 3 in Animal Care to becoming Senior Cat Carer, and they’ve matured into adult cats with unique characters! Wendy is so popular with regular guests that she’s amassed a cult following, she even has an Instagram account dedicated to her facial expressions and general eleganza: @wendy.faces. Peter, meanwhile, is known as our resident supermodel and has a rather intimidating pawtfolio. I love all of the cats at Lady Dinah’s, but it’s no secret that I have a soft spot for these two! This is partly because I’ve previously fostered them both on separate occasions: Peter for two weeks in October 2018 and Wendy for almost two months from December 2019 to February 2020. We send our cats on “holiday” for a variety of reasons; perhaps they have undergone a medical procedure and need to recover, or maybe (as in Wendy’s case) they’ve been eating more than their fair share of biscuits and have to attend Fat Camp! Once the lockdown was announced, I was excited to take Peter and Wendy home as a pair!
The drive home with them was as I’d expected: Peter cried like a baby for the duration of the trip, demanding to know where he was being taken and perturbed by the lack of a horse-drawn carriage. Wendy only whined a little bit at the start. After about twenty minutes, she was rolling around belly-up in her carrier as she purred and chirped for attention. It had only been a couple of weeks since she’d last stayed at my flat, and I think she was excited to return and see my partner!
Before their arrival, I did what I could do maximise the space in my rather small abode. I did this by clearing shelving and windowsills, providing them with as many points of interest as possible. It’s important for indoor cats to have access to elevated places since this facilitates exercise (jumping, scaling) and also gives them a sense of security. I moved some of my plants away from the windows so that the cats could have a people-watching and sun-bathing spot, but also because I wanted to safeguard my plants from getting chewed! Although I had fostered Pete and Wendy before, I knew that things would be different this time around since I would be at home all of the time and they’d also be sharing the space with each other. For this reason, I’ve provided lots of areas for them to retreat to when they’re sick of having company! I made them a cave by covering a box with an old T-shirt (the neck of the shirt is the entrance/exit and the space itself is very exclusive) and also a tepee which, of course, has been completely ignored. I also laid out blankets, more boxes and a yoga mat for them, so now my floor is overrun by their stuff!
Although the cats know me and are familiar with their temporary lodgings, I wanted to minimise any anxiety they might experience by keeping to a routine. I have done this by maintaining the schedule to which they’re accustomed at Lady Dinah’s, which means sticking to certain feeding times and ensuring that we play a lot. Because they’ve grown up around lots of people in the café, they aren’t fazed by my near-constant presence. Just as with their previous visits, they are laid-back and affectionate. It didn’t take them long at all to settle in!
A PETER’S PROGRESS
Pete is enjoying having less competition for the limelight, though the number of human admirers at his disposal has decreased significantly! One of his favourite pastimes these days is to lounge around on the dinner table (which is actually a makeshift desk) - he is very particular about this, and insists on lying on an empty backpack, at the corner of the table which is closest to the window. He loves to bask in the sun, watch cars roll by and listen to the trees whisper to each other. Whenever someone sits at the table, as I am doing now, he interprets this as an invitation for fussing. He will disrupt whatever work I’m trying to do by rubbing his considerable fluff along my face and flicking his tail at me.
Aside from this, Peter is content to do his own thing. During his last visit, he would join me and my partner in bed at night, but Wendy has appointed herself Chief Bedtime Cuddle Bug and this has driven Pete to make the living room his bachelor pad once the girls have retired to Snoozeville. One way in which he differs from his sister is that he’s always itching for something to do, so it’s a good thing that I’m around all the time and can give him the enrichment he requires via lots of playtime. Sometimes his desire to play leads to manic bouts of running around and he’ll try to amuse himself by chasing and annoying Wendy, who is often patient but has been known to swipe at him!
Wendy is a true indoor-lifestyle guru and has been thriving during this lockdown. She absolutely excels at napping and is so accomplished that she likes to demonstrate her ability all over the flat, but she’s particularly partial to laps. Her favourite place for dreaming is the lap of my partner, Annabelle, though she also clambers onto my legs and belly for affection. When we’re not available or she wants some time to herself, she occupies a fleece “doughnut” bed that sits on top of a shelving unit, under a slanted window. This area has essentially become her “room,” and she likes to watch the clouds drift past.
As you may have gathered from the above, Wendy is quite lazy! She was a bit more playful during her last stay but Peter has a way of commandeering toys and attention. There is, however, one game that Wendy likes to play which is all her own: fetch. Annabelle and I throw a red felt ball down a few steps and Wendy dutifully brings it back to us, the cycle repeats until she gets tired. If she feels the urge to play at night, she brings the ball to us in bed! Otherwise, she makes herself comfortable with us and we all sleep together until 8:30 when she wakes me up by standing on my chest. Breakfast is always served at 9am and she’s taken it upon herself to act as my alarm clock!
When it’s time for these guys to reunite with their friends at the café, I will miss Peter’s goofy moments and Wendy’s cuddly ones. I will miss having a warm friend curled up beside me on the sofa, a buddy at my workstation, and the sound of purring in the morning accompanied by a furry, expectant face. The only thing I won’t miss is the TONNE of fur everywhere! Peter might have hoped that he could escape being brushed regularly when he left the café, but he was mistaken!
Here is an unbearably cute photo of Wendy and Peter as tiny kittens. I’m not crying, you are! Okay - we’re all crying.