17 July 2003
It must have been about 4 years ago that Ugly first appeared in the greenhouse. At the time I was already feeding a stray cat that I had called “Peaches”. He was an entire tom, with the most beautiful cream coloured coat that had small flecks of peach – hence the name Peaches – short for Peaches and Cream. He had bright blue eyes and had obviously been a very loved house cat; he showed no fear and enjoyed being handled.
A few weeks after the arrival of Peaches I noticed a second resident hiding from me under the plant benches, this cat was timid, very cowed and hid from view. After many days of sitting quietly beside the food bowl I managed to see this new cat for the first time. He was another entire tom, with the very wide face that you associate with toms – he was black and white and rather bashed about, his ears were tatty and he had obviously been in the wars. My heart went out to him – he was too ugly to have ever been really loved – so I called him Ugly Bugly.
Having two tom cats in the greenhouse proved to be difficult. I fed them at opposite sides and whilst Peaches would cuddle, Ugly still hid when I came in, only gently creeping out when he thought I was looking the other way.
It wasn’t long before Peaches went off on his way, we were obviously just a resting point on his journey from and to who knows where, but Ugly stayed – and got braver day by day. Eventually he would eat at his bowl whilst I stood and watched, then one day he let me touch him. It wasn’t a good experience for either of us – he was greasy, dirty and very “buggy”. I was obviously the enemy and it was another couple of days before we repeated the exercise. After much cajoling and patience Ugly would accept his head being stroked and even allowed me to treat his flea problem, we were really making progress.
Many of you may know that at this time Bron was the MD of Decorfolia and her constant companion was (and still is) Skully, perhaps the biggest German Shepherd dog you have ever seen. Skully and Ugly agreed to tolerate each other’s presence. Ugly would slide out of the greenhouse whenever Skully came in and the dog agreed that cat food and biscuits were out of bounds (most of the time anyway!)
And so it was that Ugly became part of the Decorfolia family. He earned his keep by keeping the rodent population out, although there was one incident where Mark and I saw a mouse eating left over cat food from Ugly’s dish!
He also shared his food with our resident robin, although I am not sure that the S.C.U. (Stray Cats Union) would have approved of his actions. Ugly became well known on the nursery, even getting brave enough to creep into Dawn’s home to help himself to her cat’s supper!
When Mark joined us at Decorfolia he was also captivated by Ugly and he became the cat’s champion when I suggested that if he were neutered (Ugly-not Mark) he wouldn’t stray so far. Mark said that the cat’s charm was his fat face and “boyish” looks. So I accepted the fact that for days and sometimes weeks on end Ugly would go off looking for lady cats… the problem was always that when he returned he was thin, beaten up and very hungry – so much for sex!
So life at Decorfolia evolved. Mark and I took turns to feed Ugly at weekends and even over Christmas, when he got turkey and extra cuddles. By now he would allow a few of us to pick him up and would even accept being treated for fleas, ticks and the various other livestock that he attracted! Mark’s girlfriend Carrie was his special friend, she was good at removing ticks, cleanly and painlessly, and for this she was often rewarded with a greasy “head rub”.
Despite numerous warnings about the dangers of the road, Ugly was often spotted on the main road into New Milton, usually on the other side from the nursery. We can only assume that he knew where the best meals were to be had and had to visit each establishment on a regular basis, but it was always back to Decorfolia when the going got tough and he needed extra TLC, or taking to the vet.
The vet. On his first visit I was unsure of how he would react, so having borrowed my cat Felix’s basket I armed myself with a pair of stout gardening gloves and off we went. When Mr. Hughes first saw my armour he was most concerned about the contents of the basket. He was amused at the name, but not sure how well this “wild” cat would react to having his temperature taken – anyone out there with cats will know what I mean. We gingerly opened the basket and up popped his battered ears, with a fine purr. He allowed me to hold him whilst Mr. Hughes checked him over and was the most well mannered cat I have ever seen!
Following that visit he was known to the vets in the practice, plus the nurses at Highcliffe, as that lovely but very ugly “Ugly Bugly Butt”. He was one their best customers when it came to flea and tick treatments, but he drew the line at regular worming – hissing and spitting and saying things like “cissy” and “wus”.
Many of you, our friends and clients, have heard of Ugly’ s exploits and have even read a little about him in a previous Newsletter. It is with regret that I have to tell you that having been poorly for a little while, and despite the vets best efforts Ugly died in late Spring. We don’t really know how old he was, but we know that for the last years of his life as a feline “gentleman of the road” he found warmth, shelter, plentiful food and lots of love. We will miss him in the greenhouse. It was Ugly that made sure you all had the best plants, and it was Ugly that gave his approval of the displays before we loaded them into the van. But most of all it was Ugly that listened when any of us needed that kind of conversation that no one else can be part of. If any of us felt unhappy about anything it was Ugly that would come over, sit on your lap and let you tell him all your troubles.
Mark and I have laid him to rest in one of his regular sun bathing spots, and have made sure that there will always be a good display of daffodils to mark the start of his “wandering” season every Spring.
There is a PS to this story – today is Sunday and out of habit I popped down to “feed the cat”, and to check on the plants. Imagine my surprise when I found the lid on the bin that holds Ugly’s dried food had been knocked off and food eaten… has he sent a new friend to us already? Or has someone found the Situations Vacant sign on the glasshouse door - "Stray Cat Wanted”...
Following a whole winter without a cat, I telephoned a local cat rescue, who said yes, they had just the chap. The next day Pia from the cat rescue arrived for a "site inspection". She checked us out - thank goodness the human element of Decorfolia was not found wanting, then she visited X Block, the greenhouse. "Oh yes!" she exclaimed "I think Scruffy will love this". It would appear that this cat's CV included quite a time on a building site in Poole and he wasn't over keen on enclosed spaces. All I can say is that four weeks later he has taken up residence in the office, never wanting to leave at the close of business and ensuring that Margaret keeps his food bowl well stocked.
We don't know how old he is, but his purr could drown out Mark's motorbike - he can eat for England and has generally taken the place over. Even the postman greets the cat before any of us in the morning!
His name is now Harry Houdini... (but that is a story that will wait for another issue of the Decorfolia Newsletter).