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Guide Cats for the Blind - The Launch
by Ian Hutson

Doris Mildenhall, ninety-one, was chuffed to bits when the freshly, hastily and ill-advisedly re-named Guide Cats charity asked her to help launch the new range of animals for the visually impaired. They sent a taxi just for her, would award her a bouquet at the end they said, and her photograph would be in all of the newspapers.

Asbo was a re-purposed domestic rescue-moggy with a cute little nose and pert whiskers, fresh from training school. Albert from Animal Research & Development calculated that Asbo would consume just twenty percent of the food an old-fashioned guide dog would require and cats also presented the advantage of being pre-equipped with night-vision, thereby doing away with the need for expensive doggy-goggles. Moreover, as any cat person will tell you until you beat them into blessed silence, cats are much smarter than dogs so they had been able to condense the whole orientation programme down to a snuggle, a nose-bump and a few simple pictograms drawn with a stick in a litter-tray.

While the Mayor in full regalia cut a lovely blue ribbon for the Press, Doris took the handle of Asbo’s hi-vis harness, smiled for the cameras and pushed forward gently. R&D had advised that working a guide-cat was much like riding a Segway Scooter (which was exactly why Doris had been chosen for the launch).

Asbo proved a difficult scooter to start, hunkering to the ground and twisting around to scratch and bite at the harness, then sinking his fangs for some probably political reason into the Mayor’s nearby, almost wholly innocent ankle (as opposed to the slightly guilty, further away one). Albert whispered in Doris’s ear. She pushed again, slightly harder, and this time gave a double tongue-click, rather as one might in order to engage first gear with a horse.

Paparazzi reports claim that Doris then flailed around like a helicopter in some distress, with Asbo at the end of his harness wailing ultra-sonically, scratching everything and everyone within reach. According to R&D’s notes the reach radius was approximately (Doris’s-Arm)+(Harness-Length)+(fully-extended-cat) wide by (Doris’s-height)+(Doris’s-reach-with-a-dislocated-shoulder)+(bent-harness)+(gravity-defying-cat-length) high; a truncated sphere of blurred cat and mildly incontinent guest of honour – an ethereal English doughnut with damp Doris as the jam filling.

As suddenly as Asbo had become a tethered banshee he stopped dead, arched his back to the Board of Directors, hissed, shat and spat all at once. Doris, thus unexpectedly still alive and freed from the strictures of centripetal counter-force, flopped onto her backside with legs akimbo and was lost in a cloud of Harris Tweed twinset fumes and M&S gusset dust. Her Sunday-best velvet hat was askance and her magnificent butterfly-frame spectacles were hanging from one ear. She was glassy-eyed and grinning.

Quite frankly, she was spontaneously multi-reminiscing about a hasty seven minutes and twelve glorious seconds spent in flagrante lend-lease delicto with an American pilot behind the NAAFI one late summer evening in nineteen forty-three, or possibly forty-four.

‘I’ll take one’ she said, blinking. ‘No, in fact – I’ll take two please.’