In the immortal words of Cilla Black, "Surprise surprise! The unexpected hits you between the eyes..."
Or in this case, between the nipples of your overfed stray. I couldn't be more shocked if Lisa had just given birth. At least I knew she was pregnant.
Four weeks ago, I said (in the light-hearted, humorous tone of someone who doesn't believe it) that Shimmy could be stuffed full of kittens. In reality, I thought her bulging stomach was down to copious amounts of chicken and an ability to eat anything within a three metre radius, whether edible or not. She has an appetite like no cat I've ever known. Which makes sense, because she was eating for four.
I was woken up early yesterday morning by Amelie, who fails to grasp the concept of a busy working week, and feels I can afford to be up at 7am on a Saturday. So with Lisa still in bed, I decided to take Am down to Asda for a new casserole dish. On our way back, we popped into Lidl, where they're currently selling chainsaws for sixty quid, and radiator cat beds for seven.
Amelie persuaded me to buy the latter (which was a relief), so we took it home and mounted it on the living room radiator. I happen to have a catnip spray in the bedroom (I like to give Lisa a light misting when she's asleep, so the cats will play with her), so I decided to spray the new bed so that Chloe and Shimmy would fall in love with it. Within a couple of minutes, Shimmy had arrived, and was lovin' it big time...
So with cat and daughter happy, I went into the kitchen to put the rest of the shopping away. Shortly afterwards, Amelie came in to tell me that Shimmy kept miaowing. I followed her to the scene of the disturbance, and sure enough, Shimmy was hiding behind the TV, wailing like a banshee. She emerged a few minutes later, and walked across the living room, still shouting at the top of her voice - behaviour which continued for the next twenty minutes.
All the best cat-care websites tell you that one of the signs of a pregnant cat in labour is "excessive vocalisation", but at this point I hadn't read them. When Lisa popped her head out of the bedroom, I told her that either Shimmy was about to give birth, or she was having a bad trip on the catnip. It was supposed to be a joke.
Amelie was quite concerned, so she went and sat on the floor at the side of the sofa, holding Shimmy and telling her that everything was alright. After five minutes of this, I told her to put Shimmy down, just in case she's not feeling well. Amelie did so (which was a miracle), and thirty seconds later the first kitten popped out...
Just one minute's delay, and the backdrop to that photo would have been Amelie's lap.
To say we were stunned is an understatement. I think I'm still suffering from shock today. I might have to take a year off with post-traumatic stress disorder. I've been making jokes about Shimmy being pregnant for the past month, but at no point did I genuinely believe it.
The gestation period of a cat is nine weeks, and we've had her for just under eight, so she clearly got herself up the duff while she was living on the streets. She's like a pregnant teenage runaway. Her previous owners (if she ever had any) can't have thrown her out for being in the family way, as it would have been too early to tell. Why she hadn't been spayed though, is anyone's guess. Either way, she's been an indoor cat since we adopted her, living with another female, so we thought kittens were something we didn't need to worry about.
Obviously we were wrong. According to a leading cat website, "A very young cat (under one year) may have a hard time with birth, with the possibility of deformed or stillborn kittens, or the death of the queen", which would be a disaster with the jubilee coming up. But despite being a young cat, Shimmy has proved herself a natural mother. With no help whatsoever, she gave birth to three kittens down the side of the sofa, and for much of yesterday afternoon, she was lying there purring at the top of her voice. Motherhood clearly agrees with her.
I went out and bought a hooded cat bed, attached it to a cardboard box, and lined it with old tea towels, before placing it under the living room table. When Shimmy finally ventured out from the dusty birthing corner late last night, she inspected the nursery, and within minutes she went back and carried her kittens across the living room, placing them carefully into the cat bed. I wish I'd got that on film.
So there you go. We're now a five cat family. The next eight weeks could be interesting (especially if our baby comes early), but fortunately we've already taken a reservation on one of the kittens from this lady. That's assuming I can prise any of them away from Lisa. They're not even a day old, and she's already plotting ways to keep them.