About twenty years ago I married the most kind, caring, wonderful woman who has ever walked this planet. At that inspirational moment in time I inherited an already constructed family, consisting of a teenage boy and a girl. I’ll give the children fictitious names in order to spare their blushes; Jack, who was tall, laid back and lean, and Jill, a Leo like myself and feisty with it.
I was in my early forties, set in my ways, having an opinion on most things I came across. Everything to me then was a distinct black or white. My father had died when I was sixteen and that tragic event changed the direction of my own path dramatically, from being a ‘bit of a lad’ in the sixties, into a responsible Metropolitan Police Cadet. My views on being a teenager were cemented into my mind by those years spent with a degree of discipline and a sense of function to my life. I was a universe away from where both Jack and Jill were.
They had lost a father to another woman, not the same as my loss, but nevertheless difficult to assimilate and come to terms with especially when they saw him fairly regularly and had grown, over the eight years of his absence, to accept the situation of having a single mum estranged from a coupled father. Now a stranger had descended into their confused world; me Danny Kemp, but I don’t think that was the only name they called me!
I never understood their stock answer of “I want a social life” whenever I told them to study and work hard at School. I never understood why a ‘lay-in’ was preferred to getting out of bed at the weekends and help out around the house or, perish the thought, earning their own money by getting a Saturday job.
I tried to appreciate their needs and wishes, I did, but I never succeeded. We lived together, the three of us, in a state of at best, tolerance and at worse, open warfare. Battle fatigues, with tin hats, were often the dress code adopted by me and them through necessity. My wife, their mother, was forced to become referee, adjudicator and administrator of justice.
The areas of conflict ranged from: The heating thermostat, which they seemed to prefer turned to the highest notch. Lights that were left switched on all over the house and acted as guide path for planes heading into Heathrow and the bathroom, where wet towels were strewn everywhere and taps dripped incessantly.
I was to them, picky and a tyrant. They were to me, a waste of space. Both these stances and opinions were wrong, but I’m getting to that.
There was another member central to this idyllic situation; a cat named Sylvester. Sylvie, to all that had knowledge of him, had a worse disposition and intolerance level than any of us!
Unlike Jack and Jill, he accepted me quite readily, as I was the first up in the mornings and normally the person to feed him. Perhaps things may have been different, for me and my opponents, had I taken them breakfast on a tray each day, but then I doubt if they would have repaid me in the way that Sylvie did. He was a nocturnal cat, preferring to stamp his authority in conquering a radius of some six gardens away from his and our own. Fighting was his nature and he was good at it, as the nightly screams and shrieks from battered foes disturbed all that tried to sleep on a regular basis. He did not confine himself to his own feline breed. Oh no!
When the mood took him, and he ventured out on occasional daylight sorties, attacking three dogs to the dismay of their distraught owners, leaving them, and their pets, in no confusion over who was in charge of the neighbourhood.
He was a black and white fluffy bully.
As by now you will have noted, I was not an easily adaptable person, nor willingly open to change, being stuck in the ways of a self-opinionated fool. I took no account of Sylvie’s demeanour, but I did to the rat that he brought home to me one morning as a gift.
I had won his heart. Now for Jack and Jill.
I had a brain wave! What better way was there I thought, than the introduction of a stump wagging, all licking, bendy Boxer dog to win their affection and hearts. It worked on them, but not, as you would have told me, on Sylvester.
When the house was occupied by one or more of us humans, the glass doors that permanently separated the cat from the dog bore the brunt of Sylvie’s attack, as the gouge marks and scratches on panes of glass lay witness to. When no one was in the house the cat was dislodged, unceremoniously dispatched from his home.
Did he suffer from an attitude problem? Read on, and find out.
Jill named our red puppy dog, calling him Rex but she had no inclination as to that name’s relevance. Rex took a long time to approach Kinghood in our home, and that was only at Sylvie’s forbearance. I’m getting to the point of this anodyne tale, so bear with for a few moments more and I’ll show the purpose to all this.
Sylvester died peacefully from old age one evening whilst lying across my lap, giving out a final sigh as he said his farewell. Rex died a few years later, suffering a massive heart attack, first thing on a sunny summers morning, with me looking on helpless holding the other end of his lead. They had lived together for five or six years eventually tolerating or, more often than not, getting along fine, but acutely aware of the pecking order inside the home.
Sylvie, for example, had first refusal in front of the roaring fire on winters nights, with Rex standing above him waiting until Sylvester was nye alight before vacating the rug. They had to be fed in different areas of the home, otherwise the insatiable King would hover by the delicate nibbling warrior and then, if lucky, escape his wrath without injury.
Rex would make sure that he was first on my lap, the same spot where Sylvie was to die, when we returned from afternoon walks, only for the cat to walk across his prone back and nestle into the crook of my arm. Both would nuzzle against me until my arm went numb.
Sylvester learned how comfortable the fur on a dogs back can be and how hot a fire can become when being stubborn. He found a new companion as well, and another kind of exercise when the rats were no longer catchable, and the fights became no longer winnable. His first attempt faltered. Whether through boredom, or his short legs and rolling walk were not conducive to such exertion, I’m not sure, but the second time he overcame whatever it was.
My first task on returning home from work was to hitch up Rex and take him for his constitutional walk, whenever he allowed himself to stop turning in half, when seeing me and jumping all over the place. It took a while to harness him, as he was a big brute of a dog. Shaking and chewing his lead was part of his fun. Sylvester was calmer.
By now both were allowed to stay in the shelter of home when empty of humans and on my arrival the cat would stretch and perhaps meow in contentment.
What then happened was the unusual thing.
Sylvester walked with us.
At first, as I said, he gave up, and done his own thing then waited on the doorstep for our return. The next day, and from then on, he came the full distance with us. Sometimes he waddled behind, sometimes, as if to exert his authority, he would scamper in front, but more often than not he would travel through people’s front gardens. Sylvester had come to terms with Rex you see, adapting to the changes that had gone on and embracing them you might say, in finding another interest.
I have tried to explain how intractable I was in my relationship with two teenage children. I, and they survived, we don’t always see eye-to-eye now, perhaps we never will, but we have learned how to live alongside each other, leaving air to breathe and room for growth. In their own homes lights are hardly switched on and towels are dry and soft. Maybe their children will revert to their parents ways, but at least in the meantime, things I moaned about, have left a resonance.
How different would life be for us humans, if given the same chance as Sylvester, we were to embrace change and thrive! Hang on there one-second, we are given opportunities to change are we not!
What’s stopping us?
Why so much suspicion, so much mistrust?
Where is the value in resenting so much?
If we were blind what matter each creed?
But we, who can see, find fault in each breed.
What matter what skin? What matter what colour?
Why can we not live in peace with each other?