The ghost of Thorney Island

I’m not afraid of ghosts. These past few weeks I’ve been living with a very lovable one and I don’t think he’ll disappear until all the boxes are packed and the removal van chugs off down the road.

It’s three years since we arrived to live on Thorney Island, in the heart of Chichester Harbour. I never expected to become so attached to this place, but it has a way of seeping into your soul. I’ll miss the rattle of the halyards from the boat yard, the whirr of planes overhead, even the noisy chatter from the squirrels.

Most of all I’ll miss the shoreline; its rhythmic beauty as the tide slides in and out, alternately masking and revealing the bright green grass and muddy banks that lie beneath. I’ll miss my walks to the beach, watching white sails glide past the fields and breathing in those big skies that stretch right out to the Isle of Wight. I’ll definitely miss the swimming at all heights of tide and in all temperatures – including Christmas Day – knowing a hot shower awaits just around the corner. I’ll also miss the serenity and the sound of nothing but birdsong, most of the time.

Today, as I wander through the empty rooms of magnolia walls and beige carpets, merging into one, it feels as if our time here has been sucked up with the final hoover. There is barely a sign that our family, and particularly our cat, ever lived here.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw him around every corner. I heard the rattle of the cat flap – even when it had been removed. I heard his meowing chatter as he arrived in from a night of hunting and saw his face at the window peering in. It has been like living with a ghost – the ghost of Simba past.

Simba was the Cypriot cat who arrived without warning in our garden in Cyprus one morning, and who for the past five years has been a big part of our family. None of us are keen on cats and yet he found his way into our hearts and it was very painful to see him waste away over the last few months and eventually succumb to his illness.

Simba was a character. He accompanied us on walks beside the sea, he scared off spaniels beside the sailing club with his massive mane spread out and back arched high, he stalked squirrels, caught mice, sunbathed on the decking and was the longest cat living when he stretched out on the settee. He was also very beautiful and loved to cuddle up close, nestling into your neck on a cold winter’s night. He was known as the ‘Lion Cat’ by our neighbours – knick-named for his fantastic mane and lion colouring.

Now it really is goodbye Simba and farewell Thorney Island. The two will stay together and when we return, as I’m sure we will, we’ll pause by his favourite pine scratching tree and remember our time here with one member of the family who is sorely missed, but not forgotten.




‘floody hell’ and mad pets

Dear Agony Aunt – my cat loves cleaning, should I be worried?

We have a cat we call Simba. He arrived uninvited over a year ago and seems to have employed us as his hotel staff. We provide simple B&B – food and water and a warm bed for the night – he pays us… nothing. But today he did stand by me in a mini crisis.

Many of our visiting guests have found his strange ways amusing – one describing him as ‘more dog than cat’ and others have been surprised, almost choking on their drinks, when he pokes his head through a flap in the top of the gazebo, which he illegally uses as a hammock in the summer.

Last night he excelled himself by waking me up in the early hours. I ignored him at first, but eventually gave in by about 6am. Padding in to put the kettle on and cat food out, I realised my feet were wet. There was a flood in the kitchen and it might have been what all the crying was about. Hearing the wind outside I assumed water had blown in under the back door and so I spent some time laying out newspapers to soak it up. Strangely, when I looked outside the terrace wasn’t very wet at all, but I carried on with the newspapers, still half asleep, thinking the wind must have dried up the rain!

I didn’t think cats were supposed to like water – but Simba seems to break all the rules. In fact he loves to sit or lie in it and get his tail wet. Rather than drink out of his water bowl sedately, he climbs into an old bucket partly filled with rainwater to drink, or dips his paws into the swimming pool. His favourite games are flicking the water from the water hose or sitting on the laundry basket to push open the doors of the shower when it’s running. If you are in the shower it’s an annoying game. Oh, and another watery pastime is trying to catch the mop when anyone is cleaning the floor.

Back to the flood. The more newspaper went down, the more water appeared. Eventually I thought, I’ll have to get the mop out. Opening the cupboard door I was greeted by a mini tsunami, as water was pouring from the boiler into an empty cat litter tray and flowing over onto the floor. So not rain after all. Before I could get the mop out, Simba was in the cupboard, paddling in the water, shaking his paws and then swiping anything that moved. There were quite of a lot of soaked objects to be removed and as I went to pick up a drenched half empty bag of cat litter, it split, spewing the contents into the floor. Unlike the more expensive brands, it’s main ingredient turns out to be mud. There was now a lovely slippery mud bath in the entrance to the cupboard. Never fear, Simba was there skidding around in the brown gunge and as fast as I tried to scoop it up with a cloth, he was catching the cloth in his claws and spaying the mud even further. At 6.30am I was struggling to see the funny side of this, being slightly concerned about the boiler and the amount of water everywhere. Words like ‘floody hell’ or worse were being muttered frequently. Still, on my morning of mopping I was never alone and at least there was someone else to laugh at. My feline helper was always by my side, trying to catch the mop, trying his hand/paw with a cloth or simply running in and out across the wet floor, back legs skidding out behind him – a soft landing guaranteed on his enormous fluffy tale.

By the time an electrician, two plumbers and a boiler technician (significant Cypriot labour forces) had arrived, the two of us had attempted to hang wet materials outside or upstairs and most of the mud had been cleaned away, bar a few paw prints here and there.

Come to think of it, Simba isn’t the only eccentric pet we’ve had… I once had a cat that turned a bit mad when I moved him to live in a flat in the East End of London from rural Kent. He used the back of our toilet as a urinal and had a habit of smacking people that he didn’t like. An ex-boyfriend, who will remain anonymous, was sitting on the carpet one evening by the slightly ajar lounge door, having just made an uncharitable remark about the absent cat. A second later a black and white paw shot round the edge of the door and dealt him a punishing swipe. Our first dog, a golden retriever, was a canine Houdini. He used to escape through the cat flap to go begging scraps at the local abattoir. Our second dog, Copper …where do I start? Because that requires a whole new post!

a life of crime

I’m feeling a tiny bit guilty about not reporting a crime. The trouble is the perpetrator is so cute.

I have to confess I am living with a ‘cat burglar’ and we have so far been hiding his crimes.

You’d never guess by looking at him that this sweet little almost one-year-old cat, with his butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth, big golden eyes could possibly be up to no good. But the evidence is there as clear as anything just outside our front door.

He started his criminal career with small items, but he’s now progressed and I can see the slippery slope of a life of crime ahead.

At first it was the odd hair bobble left on the arm of a chair, that was surreptitiously picked up in his mouth and taken off to a corner of the room to play with and eventually ended up under the settee. Then he moved on to slightly larger items, like pens or bracelets or necklaces, anything that jangled and has string and tassels.

This wasn’t so bad if the stolen goods were from our own house and we’d usually track them down in a corner of the room or with a pile of hair bobbles under a chair. But the other day we heard a clatter through the window. Looking round we saw him prancing through the room with a string in his mouth and behind him he was dragging a very large paintbrush. It was brand new and smelt of animals – probably the badger hair bristles. The special find was taken away to be stored with all his other stolen goods in a bush by the front door.

Ethical dilemma… do we try and find the owner of the brush? Or do we just let him keep it?


I’m thinking, keep it…. partly because we don’t know whose brush it is and no-one has reported one missing. And also who would ever think, that new brush they left by the back door could have been picked up and stolen by a cat? But then, they don’t know Simba.