Steve Pope Barbel Fishing

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A Forty Year Feline Love Affair

This story was first published in the Summer Newsletter of The Northern Birman Club of which I’m proud to be a member.

Can you remember the very first time a Birman came into your life, cast your mind back?

I can and it made such an indelible mark so profound that it has stayed with me to this very day.

Take a seat, get your cuppa and I’ll tell you my story.

Back in the summer days of 1982 along with my dad I ran a medium sized construction business that was based in Essex.

We had recently purchased a detached property in Barkingside which had a shop on the ground floor and we converted the upstairs into offices, one of which was mine.

It was a decent size, a double bedroom at least and had two windows overlooking the main road.

One morning I was sitting at my desk sifting through my paperwork when out of nowhere this vision of absolute beauty suddenly appeared in front of me, I wasn’t dreaming and it wasn’t Stevie Nicks!

It was something far more special, it was a cat that looked like no other feline I had ever seen, I fell in love in that very instant!

This creature then proceeded to walk around my domain with an air of nonchalance that only cats possess.

He or she instinctively took ownership of the place and far more important they captured my very soul.  Animals, cats especially, they find us!

Eventually this incredible ball of fur approached me and I could see that there was a collar hidden in the dense mane and on inspection it was clear that this cat hadn’t wandered too far from home, their house was just a few doors away.

By this time the cat was on my lap and in my mind I wanted to keep him (for the sake of this article we’ll say he was a boy!) but I’m not that sort of person and so somewhat reluctantly I carried my new friend back to his home which I suppose was about fifty yards away.

I rang the bell on the front door, a lady answered and was visibly surprised to see me standing there with what I hoped was her pride and joy in my arms.

I remember gently placing him inside the door and he immediately ran off down the hall, none the worse for his little adventure.

After reciting the short story of how I came to be standing at the door I asked what sort of cat it was and where did she get it because I wanted one, like right now!!

She said he was a blue point Birman and then she gave me the details of the breeder who supplied him and fortunately their home wasn’t too far away – in Radlett, Hertfordshire.

Back in my office I gave the breeder a call, I told her how I had come by her number and by an incredible twist of fate she said she had a litter available for adoption and I was more than welcome to come over and have a look.

That evening when I got back home, I lived in a lovely old sixteenth century Hall House in the Essex countryside, I said to my wife that I had experienced some kind of epiphany and we had to have an immediate addition to our family.

I should point out that at this time both myself and my wife were in our very early thirties and we had three young daughters aged seven, four and one, so it was going to be another responsibility and most of that would fall on my wife as I was busy working in the family business.  

Everyone was in agreement, even Katie our youngest who made approving noises when we put another furry cat toy in her cot to get her used to the idea!

We set off on the road to Radlett and eventually arrived at this huge imposing house with a very impressive drive, I knocked on the door and then this magnificent lady appeared and beckoned us all to enter.

She was quite special, a throwback to the old Hollywood days, huge blond hair, expertly made up with a bubbly personality that exuded warmth and charm.

We went through to the enormous lounge and that’s when it hit us, this person was the ultimate Cat Lady!

There were kittens, there were Kings and Queens ( I had studied the language), there was a huge garden with exquisite cat houses where I spotted pure white Chinchillas, we had definitely stumbled upon the feline version of Hollywood in the depths of Hertfordshire!!

While I was taking it all in one of the kittens had already introduced itself to my wife and daughters and that was it, he was going to be ours, once again the cat had found us, that’s the way this thing works.

I received all the documentation, wrote out a cheque for something like eighty pounds and we drove away from this cat wonderland with Smokey, our Birman, who was now part of our little world.

After he had been with us for a year I had another of those crazy moments when I decided we needed a dog as well, so Tara our golden retriever girl joined the family.

Smokey and Tara became the best of friends and Smokey completely ruled the roost. It was so funny whenever Smokey jumped into Tara’s bed, Tara would just lay down next to the bed and she waited until Smokey deigned it was okay for her to reclaim her territory, Tara would never upset the cat!

Outside the house Tara did not like cats at all but at home it was pure love between her and her boss!

Smokey was with us for eighteen wonderful years, a beautiful soul who gave us no trouble at all and endless hours of fun and love. He enriched our lives and also for those who met him.

The years went by, our children grew up, left home, married, had children of their own; our two eldest never forgot their attachment to cats and adopted their own. Amy, who lives in Dubai, really embraced a full on cat experience and has rescued two who now share her life in the sun. We had long since moved from Essex to the Welsh hillside where we enjoyed life in our small cottage with sheep and cows for neighbours.

Four years ago whilst in Australia, where our eldest lived, our lives changed forever, my wife died, suddenly and totally unexpected. The shock was enormous.

Back home my life was falling apart, I am quite a strong person but the loneliness and sadness was hard to bear. I had a good support network but the house was just so empty, I had to do something because I knew I was sinking.

A bell inside my head started to ring and it was telling me I needed a pet. A dog would be too much of a tie, I had loved our golden retriever but approaching seventy I knew that wouldn’t be right.

A cat, I needed a cat, not just any cat, the time was right for me to have a Birman once again.

Smokey was very much my wife and children’s, I was just too busy but now it was different, I needed a companion and I remembered just how wonderful our Birman had been and so the decision was made.

Now came the hard part, how do I find one?

I began to read up on the Internet, it became apparent that I was very lucky first time around and these days people had to wait perhaps for many months.

I mentioned to my daughters that I was going to get a Birman and they said they would buy it for me as a seventieth birthday present, I was very pleased.

I found the Birman sites on Facebook and joined the various groups, from that and what I had read it became obvious that I really needed two!

Again I told my daughters and they were very positive and basically said if you’re happy then we’re happy.

I think it was around the beginning of 2020, I put a post up on Facebook explaining my situation, I didn’t know what to expect because I realised that Birmans were now very much sought after and an added dilemma was the Covid problem had just begun to impact on us all.

Good fortune was on my side, two breeders contacted me saying they might be able to help, I was ecstatic!

The one who caught my eye was Angela, this was my wife’s name, and to me it was a sign.

I had set my heart on a blue point and a seal point and Angela said it was highly likely that both would be available towards the end of the year.

We kept in contact via What’s App and then the moment suddenly arrived when I received photos and film clips of the kittens that would one day be mine, I was in dreamland – they were exquisite!

A couple of weeks before Christmas I set off early in the morning and headed off towards Kendal in the Lake District.

On the back seat were two brand new carriers, in the lead up months I had spent a small fortune on all manner of cat’s toys and my cottage was now suitably transformed into a kitten’s haven!

After a few hours on the road I eventually pulled up outside Angela’s house, my excitement was off the scale, I can’t really put it into words but imagine being a child again and it was all those Christmas Eve’s times ten!

Angela opened the door; I introduced myself and nervously handed over the carriers and waited outside because we were all wary of the pandemic.

A few moments later Angela returned with my carriers and inside each one was the most gorgeous balls of fluff I had ever seen, I was overjoyed and thanked Angela profusely as I carefully took the carriers back to the car and fixed them safely on the back seat.

We then set off for home, me constantly checking to make sure my new travelling companions were okay, and they were certainly making a lot of noise!

Back indoors I had decided that they were going to stay in one room for the first week and I had bought a large net cage which I thought would keep them out of any trouble!

It worked well until they discovered that they could chew through the mesh and escape into what used to be my study, it’s now the cats playroom!

Eventually I let them out to explore a bit more of their new domain, Angel my little girl, was quite shy but The Boss, my boy, was far less cautious.

More than two years have now gone by and my two Birman’s are my life and not just that, they have literally been lifesavers. I don’t mean to sound over dramatic but I’m being honest when I say they have saved me from sinking into depression.

They give me purpose, they give me love and affection, they are my whole being and I am theirs.

They have given me more joy than I could ever have imagined, each day we draw a little closer, they both lay on my chest, my lap, they love to be cuddled and brushed and they sleep on my bed every night, in short we are inseparable.

I could write many more words about my life with my Birmans, but this has already gone on too long, perhaps another time.

So this is my story and I’ll end by saying a huge thank you to Angela for having faith in me to look after the little kittens she brought into the world, I’m forever in her debt, and another big thank you to the Birman community, a nicer bunch of people would be hard to find.

Love to you all.


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