Or, the long saga of Heidi the wandering cat


Welcome to my revamped newsletter! The old Tinyletter was getting a bit glitchy, so we’re now over on Substack, which has already been 100% easier to handle, and will let me do far more. Hello to my lovely new subscribers and thank you to everyone who’s stuck with me so far :)

Anyway, back to normal business…

On Thursday afternoon, I was just trying get out of playing with my son when the phone rang. H answered it and I could immediately hear the confusion in his voice. ‘What? Say that again? Really? Er, okay, we’ll come straight away.’

He put the phone back in his pocket. ‘Someone’s taken Heidi to the vet,’ he said.

Heidi is our tortoiseshell cat. Fourteen years old and in possession of an extraordinarily glamorous coat, her presence in the front garden often means that we have complete strangers leaning over our fence and cooing while she displays herself like an ornament on the shed roof.

‘Is she okay?’ I ask, panicked. ‘Has she been…’ I mouth the words, Les Dawson-style, over Bert’s head: ‘…run over?’

One of Heidi’s more infuriating habits is to play a kind of dancing Russian roulette with passing cars. She’ll wait until you’re a couple of metres away and then dart out in front of your wheels, forcing you to slam on the brakes. By the time you’re parked, she’ll be sitting on a nearby fence looking for all the world like nothing has happened. I honestly don’t know how she’s lived so long. I can only imagine that her timing is very precise.

‘She’s fine,’ says H. ‘Someone thought she was stray.’

Heidi does not wear a collar. We did try, in her early days. As concerned new cat parents, we bought the easy-release ones, but after a week in which she managed to jettison a pack of ten, we gave up. We then tried one with a buckle, only to have her limp in an hour later with one arm stuck through it, as if sieg heiling. We have not brought up the matter of a collar since.

I pack Bert into the car with the cat box, and drive over the to vet. I can’t decide whether I’m mortified or furious: someone has kidnapped our cat. (‘Catnapped,’ says Bert.) They have bundled her up into a box and driven her a few miles down the road, which is a heinous insult to her dignity. Anyone could see she’s well looked-after, surely. I am ever so slightly outraged.

At the vet, the receptionist takes our cat-box out the back, and emerges a couple of minutes later with a very offended-looking Heidi. She is clawing at Bert’s old Spiderman towel as if this were the final straw.

‘Why did they bring her here?’ I ask. ‘Was she shut in someone’s shed?’

The woman shrugs. ‘God only knows. They reckon she’s been living in their garden for three months.’

‘THREE MONTHS?! She slept on my bed all last night! And I’m pretty sure she ate her breakfast this morning.’

‘I know!’ says the receptionist. ‘Just look at the size of her! Anyone could see she’s not a stray. Probably eats at every house in the street by the look of her.’

I want to tell Heidi to cover her ears to avoid any further mortification, but I thank the woman and make good our escape. Heidi yowls all the way home, and when I finally let her out, I expect her to run straight back out of the window to go and protest-sleep in the garden from which she was extracted. But instead she rolls onto her back and spends the rest of the afternoon catching sunrays in the deep pile of her belly fur. ‘Don’t stroke her,’ I say to Bert. ‘It’s a trap.’

I suppose you have to know Heidi to know that she always comes home eventually. She likes to stroll, that’s all. A few years ago, she went properly missing, and after the second night of calling her, we put posters all around the neighbourhood asking people to check their gardens. We had barely got home before the phone calls started rolling in. Several different people thought they owned her outright. We learned she she was working to a very particular rota in the surrounding streets: a couple of hours each morning sleeping in the conservatory of an elderly woman; lunchtime in a bungalow near the town centre. Every afternoon, she positioned herself on the doorstep of a house just in time for the children to come home from school. There, she would play for a while (they called her Chocolate Fudge Cake) before curling up with the family dog. Heidi is not the kind of cat to be pinned down.

And that’s not to even mention the time she tried to stow away in the Sainsbury’s van, leading to a slightly panicked call from the driver half an hour later, asking if we owned an orangey sort of cat?

So I probably can’t stay outraged with her catnapper for long, because they did nothing that Heidi herself would not have done with great enthusiasm. She is a wanderer, an adventurer, an untameable spirit. But, as today’s escapade proved, my number is on her microchip. And that, at least, is something.

My News

Despite all my wailing about not having enough time to work, lockdown has actually been quite productive for me. I haven’t had loads of time to write, but research on my next book is underway (more news soon!), and I’ve had lots of thinking time, which means that I’m full of the urge to reform everything.

I was really excited to share the US cover of Wintering last week (from now on, I promise you’ll see it here first). I adore it and can’t wait to see it on an actual book. It publishes 1st December, and pre-orders are open if you’re really keen.

I’m VERY pleased to tell you that I’m recording the first few episodes of a new podcast this week. In The Wintering Sessions, writers will be sharing their own wintering moments and we’ll be digging deeper into the different ways we survive through the cold seasons in life. Episode 1 is landing imminently…

I’ll also be launching my first online course soon, for people who want to write memoir or narrative non-fiction. I’ll let you know about a separate mailing list for that *cough* just soon as I get organised *cough*.

What I love right now…

I’m currently obsessed with 60s electro pioneer Suzanne Ciani after watching the documentary A Life in Waves, so I’ve been listening to her Buchla Concerts on heavy rotation. I’ll be carefully avoiding her 80s New Age phase, though.

I also watched - with sweaty palms - Free Solo, a documentary about climber Alex Honnold’s attempt to scale the sheer rockface of El Capitano in Yosemite without ropes. It’s terrifying. Someone asked if he set off my A-dar (that’s the autistic ability to spot other autistics), and the answer is yes he does absolutely - gloriously so. That focus, commitment, humility and joy at doing what he loves: hell yes.

I’ve also been reading Jini Reddy’s Wanderland, which is a search for mysticism in the British landscape, and a great exploration of outsidership too. I’m most of the way through Mike Jay’s Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic, which is a fascinating account of the psychedelic of choice before LSD. And I’ve been immersed in Terry Castle’s The Professor, a memoir of her postgraduate years in a relationship with a female professor, who is apparently Susan Sontag. Not easy to get hold of in the UK, but worth the effort.

That’s me just about done! I hope you’ve liked the new format newsletter - and don’t forget, I still love hearing from you. Just hit ‘reply’.

All good wishes,


Instagram: @katherinemay_ | Twitter: @_katherine_may_ |

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