Ticklish day when Penny met Oscar
It started way back in 2004 one morning when Lady Waterford informs my wife: "Oh, Colleen, I think I heard a cat meowing in the hay barn behind your house." Which is surprising, as cats have never been welcome on the estate.
In short order, my wife clambers up bales of hay, bowl of milk in hand, to discover a very timid and probably feral grey cat tucked well out of reach behind the top bales.
When, after a couple of days, the hand-out becomes bowls of milk and cat food, I'm told: "She's in a desperate state, just skin and bones, and I think she's nursing newborn kittens."
How a very pregnant moggie arrived on a busy working farm is still a mystery. Ongoing regular Labrador, Spaniel and Beagle training for the various shooting seasons, plus his lordship's well-known dislike of felines, makes the estate really not conducive to the species. After a month or so, food cunningly set in a gamekeeper's trap ensures mother and kittens are nabbed for hauling to the vet for "fixing".
Good homes are swiftly found for the five chubby pitch-black kittens, but mother, now called Penny, "because she cost nothing", is quietly brought into our home: "Just a temporary measure, to recover from being spayed."
A week later, her ladyship's highly pedigreed Teckel, Oscar, arrives at our house for his usual morning treat. Standing just eight inches from shoulder to ground, Ozzie is not fazed by his lack of stature. In his prime and never having been 'fixed', he'll seize every opportunity to show how well endowed he is. On this occasion, he flops over on to his back, spreads his legs and stares up at us for approval.
And now, a slightly more curious than timid grey form steals down the stairs to investigate the hairy being on the landing. A glance to his nether region elicits an astonishing reaction, because whiskers tickling the family jewels belong to a foreign creature he's not ever encountered before.
With a yelp, Oscar levitates high above the carpet and exits hastily, never to return.
Over the years, Penny will become the most loved pet we've had in more than five decades.
The constant flow of small creatures brought in as mostly recyclable 'gifts', plus unstinting affection, will help us appreciate why 'aristo-cats' have staff, not owners.
Finest hour: Seeing off intruder Oscar
Likes: Sleeping during Countdown
n If you would like your pet featured in this column, please send a story of 440 words and a photograph to firstname.lastname@example.org clearly labelled MY PET