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The Cat Lady of London NW6
by Jilliana Ranicar-Breese

It was 1974 and I lived on the third floor of Alexandra Mansions, West End Green, West Hampstead, London. Property prices had soared and so I could not afford to buy in London NW3, Hampstead Village, my dream destination.

My flat was bohemian. Tongue and Groove wood pine wood walls was the fashion and my flat was covered in ethnic handcrafted trophies and textiles from travels in Morocco, Brazil, Greece and Poland. The flat was very mystical and colourful. The bedroom had been designed by a Brazilian interior decorator from Sao Paolo who had been one of my English language students. It was turquoise and purple with material attached to the walls and cascading from the central Moroccan light from the draped textile ceiling.

My French fiancÚ Philippe Amos had moved in and painted Greek influenced icons on the pine walls in the lounge and decorated the antique wardrobe in the bedroom.

No room to swing a cat! But that was the problem, there was no cat in my life! How I yearned for an affectionate pussy!

One evening I wandered into the local pub on West End Green next to the fire station. I got into conversation with a young girl and told her I longed for a pussy. A Mrs Hoe was the immediate answer as she lived in Catlandia around the corner.

Off we went round the bend literally. We arrived at an ordinary looking house in the dark. The girl had a key. I think she lived on another floor in the same house. The hall reeked of cat pee! Mrs Hoe lived in the garden flat and was recovering from a hip replacement operation. She was a nurse and had been married to a Chinese doctor - hence her Chinese surname!

We entered the pussy galore large studio. Mrs Hoe was in bed with about six cats nestling around her prone body. She didn't seem surprised that a stranger had entered her sanctuary.

"I've brought you a cat lover who wants a cat", announced the girl. "No cats here", Mrs Hoe replied, looking me up and down making up her mind if she was going to accept me or not.

I wandered round stroking pussies on the mantelpiece, on shelves, on top of cupboards like an idiot saying Miao to each one. I was in a Catlandia Wonderland. And I was Alice!

The room stank! I had to go out into the patio. There in the darkness of a moonless night, I saw a huge greenhouse with all the windows covered with newspapers. The cats housed inside had scratched the newspaper away to look out perhaps at their indoor neighbours. I strained to see inside in the dark of the night and saw pairs of bright eyes looking back at me caught by the light from the studio meters away.

When I came back into the room having had a cat fix, I was smiling. Mrs Hoe had brightened up.

"Well, you could borrow a cat for a week and see if he likes you". I hastily agreed. I was attracted to a tabby called Stripy. I already knew I would change his name to Sesame.

She gave me a bowl, a collar and a carry cage and off I went around the bend to my lair three flights up to heaven.

Sesame and I lived happily for a good year. He would run up the bedroom wardrobe and peek out at me in bed parting the turquoise material to Miao at me from high up.

In 1975/76 I rented out my flat to spend six months in America and six in Mexico to a gay doctor ironically at the same hospital as Mrs Hoe. It was a proviso that he should look after Sesame but if he was ill or there was any problem, then he should contact Mrs Hoe.

Six months later when I was in Mexico, I received a letter from Mrs Hoe saying that Sesame had come back into the fold and that she had given him away to the owner of a house in Sussex with a big garden.

Bye Bye Sesame. I was devastated and did not have another cat until many years later when another tabby, Tiger, came into my life.