Monday, January 30, 2017

Mr Cheeky 2013-17 RIP

When something very bad suddenly happens, it can be very hard to cope with the resultant anxiety and fear. Then, when a second terrible thing subsequently occurs, the shock, pain and grief can be unbearable.

That is how I feel about the theft, on Sunday, 4 December 2016, and death, on Saturday, 28 January 2017, of our beloved ginger cat, Mr Cheeky.

Mr Cheeky was the most loving, charismatic, characterful and loyal cat that I have ever known. By sheer dint of personality, he ran his manor around Brunswick Street East, Hove, Sussex, with an iron paw. He knew everyone - and went everywhere. A crack in a doorway or an open window was an invitation to Mr Cheeky. He saw it as his catly duty to visit, engage with and entertain all the people in his territory - the three-and-a-half streets around our home.

There was a quiet dignity about him, an undeniable presence. Whenever I went out, strangers would come up to tell me stories about Mr Cheeky's visitations: how he had played with their small children, patiently sat in on band practices or picked up their previously timid puss to join his feline gang, prowling the streets of Brunswick. Never would they say he had come begging for food or been a nuisance.

The simple fact was Mr Cheeky loved people - and people loved Mr Cheeky. One of his many haunts was G-Whizz Cycles - an Aladdin's cave of a secondhand bicycle store - which Mr Cheeky loved to inspect on his rounds. The owner told me that Mr Cheeky had a remarkable confidence and fearlessness; he was proud of every square inch of his territory and, while always friendly and affectionate, no one could doubt that has was master of all he surveyed.

Mr Cheeky also loved other cats. He was a born leader - not a loner. He sought out like-minded felines and recruited them to Mr Cheeky's Army - for daytime fun and noctural manoevres. Most notable of his comrades was Django, a sleeky black cat who lived on the next street along with three daddies, all young musicians and graduates of the local pop music colleague, BIMM. Within days of us adopting Mr Cheeky, he became fast friends with Django. They would hang out together on street corners, go round to each other's homes for play dates - and drop into the local pub, The Bottom's Rest, where they would work the room and were greatly adored by clientele and staff alike.

When the three musicians moved out of their house and were unable to take Django with them, Mr Cheeky invited him to move in with us - and he has been happily living here ever since. Mr Cheeky and Django were in total harmony, although there was never any doubt who was top cat. Django played Sergeant Wilson to Mr Cheeky's Captain Mainwaring. Mr Cheeky would show him the way, however ill advised. And shy Django was happy to oblige, always allowing Mr Cheeky to eat first or instigate a game of chase. Whenever we went out, Mr Cheeky and Django would follow us like our shadows until, eventually, we gave them the slip on the edge of their territory.

We had got Mr Cheeky from Hove charity Lost Cats. I will never forget our first meeting. Going from cat to cat at the sanctuary, you received a mixed reception: some were painfully nervous, others bored. We were told that Arnie, as he was then known, had returned from an operation and would be tired. However, he made an enormous effort to be affectionate, and I immediately took to him. In the adjacent hutch, an identical ginger was even more enthusiastic. You could almost hear him say: "Take me home, Daddy, take me home!" Then we realised that it was the same cat who had merely nipped round the back to have a second go at enticing us. He succeeded and soon Mr Cheeky, as we renamed him, was coming home with us.

Mr Cheeky's backstory was that he had been abandoned and lived on the streets for a month or so before being handed into Lost Cats. The young Mr Cheeky was an adventurous and daring kit, anxious to explore and make his mark on the world. Indeed it took him some time for him to get used to his new territory and he did have a near-miss soon after he came to live with us. But once he had recovered, he became very streetwise on his patch, which is not busy with traffic, and really seemed to enjoy his life.

Of course, there were alarming moments, including the time he climbed more than 100ft. over a Brunswick Square house, sliding down scaffolding on the other side. Or when he entered a neighbour's house through the open upstairs window. But steady-footed and fearless, Mr Cheeky knew what he was doing.

He was a great comfort. When he first arrived, I was on gardening leave and then I spent more than a year working from home. Mr Cheeky was my constant companion. When he had been out for a patrol, he would stop at my desk upon his return - to give me a detailed update of what he had been doing, what was going on. It really was as if he was briefing me. And if I took a power-nap or siesta, Mr Cheeky would join me, often putting his head on the pillow and stretching out like a human. As my girlfriend Laura King has explained in her account of Mr Cheeky's life,  he loved to cuddle up.

When he disappeared in December last year, it was very worrying. Mr Cheeky had been sleeping on his favourite chair in our living room. It was the end of the evening and we were just about to close the cat flap. A few days on, it came out that Mr Cheeky had been stolen by a young couple - the theft had been recorded on the CCTV camera of the neighbour who lived opposite. Trusting and friendly as always, Mr Cheeky had been caught and, although he struggled to free himself, the evil couple took him away. Although we didn't know it at the time, by snatching him those scumbags had signed his death warrant.

Laura and I did everything in our power to publicise the case - to try to get him back. There was a lot of publicity, including on regional ITV and in Mail Online and The Sun online. For a day, Mr Cheeky was the most famous cat in the world, even appearing on a breaking world news website and an American news site. The media were on the whole extremely professional, although I was staggered by an Italian reporter from Brighton's fairly amateurish Latest TV who asked if the people who had snatched Mr Cheeky were not rescuing him (although, to be fair, the news editor, having viewed the tape, later phoned me to apologise for his reporter's misconduct).

But when the blaze of publicity failed to yield immediate results, lazy Sussex Police reacted by immediately closing the case. In truth, they had never attempted to investigate the crime or had any intention of doing so. To describe the call centre-based civilian assigned to us as an "investigator" is beyond a joke. The investigative skills of a baked bean were on display. These days, it appears, policing is all about doing it yourself.

We trudged on without any help from the police, searching for Mr Cheeky, putting up posters, handing out flyers and following up any leads that came our way. But it seemed there were a lot of ginger cats out there - and none of the tips produced Mr Cheeky.

As the weeks turned into months, I felt despondent. I wondered if Mr Cheeky was still in the country. I was mystified as to why the £300 we had offered had failed to generate a single hot lead. The CCTV footage had proved too poor to get a decent-quality screen grab of his abductors, but surely someone knew something about the crime?

Then - seven weeks and five-and-a-half days after he was stolen - came the terrible call.

Mr Cheeky had been found in Cromwell Road, less than a mile from home. Dead.

He had been run down by a motor vehicle, and, we believe, killed instantly.

Was Mr Cheeky trying to escape his captors? Had he panicked and run? We still don't know. He was killed trying to cross Cromwell Road at around 11am on Saturday (28 January 2017). He was so close to home, yet so very, very far.

A kindly passer-by took his crushed body to the nearest veterinary surgery, Wilbury Vets, who checked his micro-chipping, found it was Mr Cheeky, and called Laura.

We went to the scene of the crime, next to 100 Cromwell Road. It has been a hit-and-run driver. We talked to some locals who thought Mr Cheeky may have been living in one of the houses around there - big, bedsit-land abodes occupied by the peripatetic and anti-social. Laura told our Sussex Police "investigator" who true to form suggested that we investigate - more DIY complacent Sussex policing.

Today, devastated, we picked up Mr Cheeky's little body from the vets. They were very kind. Looking at Mr Cheeky's face, there was a grim determination, captured from the moment he died. He was trying to get away, but it was not to be. His trusting, daring nature had been his undoing in a world not as pure as his. A world sprinkled with evil people.

We took him home. Over the past seven weeks, I have often wondered if Mr Cheeky would return home. But I never imagined the terrible sadness that would accompany him.

We put him, shrouded in the blanket from the vets, on his favourite chair - the one he had sleeping on during that fateful night of his abduction - and lit some candles and incense and placed beside him the flowers kindly brought by our neighbours.

His friend, Django, came in. Django slowly walked up and put his nose near Mr Cheeky's. Joy turned to sadness and fear as the truth dawned: his companion was back but was gone. Ever so gently, Django walked backwards and sat in the hall, his fur standing on end, looking at his friend for the last time and saying: "Goodbye, old chum."

After an hour, we took Mr Cheeky to his final resting place where he was buried deep in the Sussex soil with my grandfather's Russian spade. Mr Cheeky was interred in his blanket and a Jump The Gun cloth bag, with full Mod honours.

We are going to plant a flower bed on his grave - the sort of display he would have loved to bask in.

 As we laid him to rest, I read:

We have entrusted our brother Mr Cheeky to God's mercy,
and we now commit his body to the ground:
earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust:
in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who will transform our frail bodies
that they may be conformed to his glorious body,
who died, was buried, and rose again for us.
To him be glory for ever. 

My voice was cracking and tears were steaming down my cheeks.

It is hard to credit the bad luck that befell the innocent, lovely Mr Cheeky. To be stolen. To be taken from those he loved most. To be mown down in his prime.

Mr Cheeky led a good life and I believe that for the years he was with us, it was a happy one. He was a little being with a big heart who has died far too young. His presence and spirit lives on and we will never forget him.

Mr Cheeky 2013-17 REST IN PEACE

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