For many years, I thought that I was allergic to cats, or indeed any animal with long fur. Whenever we would go and visit my Nana, my time by the sea, so otherwise rewarding, would be affected by the certain knowledge that, come bedtime, my eyes would be raw and itching and that I would be sneezing until my stomach ached.
Although I suffer from hay fever, these symptoms occurred no matter what time of year I visited. Not unnaturally, we all put this down to the presence of Nana’s two cats – a large black one named George and a smaller, ginger, one named Eliot. As George’s immediate reaction upon seeing anyone other than Nana was to make a run for it, I always presumed that Eliot was to blame, thereby beginning early the customary prejudice against all things ginger.
This was a little harsh on Eliot, who was much friendlier than George and who was therefore paying the price for not being an antisocial lump.
After a time, I took to dosing myself up – or, rather, my parents took to dosing me up – with antihistamines whenever we were there, so it was many years before I had to face the problem again.
This didn’t come in New Zealand, where our rented house came with a cat curiously named Rabbits. Rabbits was so antisocial that he made George look like a networker supreme – the occasions when he ventured into the house were so rare that they are mentioned in my diary of the time. And I don’t remember there being a problem when my flatmates and I at university acquired an illicit cat named Hemlock, who I refused to have anything to do with other than when I was alone in the building, for fear of sneezing my way through my final year.
No, the problem only occurred again when my sister Lisa left home and my parents acquired her black and white moggy, Willow. Willow was the world’s hungriest cat and the only one I have ever seen beg for food. Towards the end of her life I nicknamed her ‘Gran’, because she sat in a chair all day and only ever moved to be fed or to use the bathroom. But somehow – I have no idea how – she cured me of my allergy to cats.
I don’t know how it happened (and I wish I did, because I could make a fortune). My Grandad once told me that, back when he was a child and anti-histamine had not been invented, they cured hay fever sufferers by locking them in the hay barn overnight, but I didn’t see Willow that often and anyway, my parents’ house has always been so clean that I doubt that a stray cat hair remained in my room longer than humanely possible.
Nevertheless, I suddenly noticed that the sneezing and itching had stopped returning whenever I went near her. Which meant that when Caro suggested taking in two RSPCA rescue cats, I no longer had a valid excuse (other than my deep rooted belief that pets you can’t either use to catch food or eat yourself are a bit pointless) for refusing. I’m pleased to say that the only detrimental effect so far has been on my sanity.