Yowls, plaintive meows, and purrs greeted me as I hurried to the vet check-in line that snaked out the hall door. Holding the carry cages tight to the trolley, I looked down at my darlings in their covered, snug carriers, hoping all would be well this time. A few waves and many scowls directed my way. Ah, the joy of showing purebred cats. Thank God, this was the last show of the year.

The queue shuffled forward.
“They’re taking too long,” someone ahead of me said.
“I heard that Mary Smith had ringworm,” Rachel said to me. “You’re friends with her, aren’t you?”
“I’ve talked to her before, but we’re not exactly friends,” I replied.

“So, you don’t know if she has ringworm in her cattery?”
I shook my head. “No, Rachel, I don’t.” She pressed her lips together, disappointment etched on her face.

The hunt for gossip that can damage a rival more than ringworm, the nemesis of cat breeders. A bit ridiculous, considering all the other things that can go wrong with the cats. Yet, if you have ringworm identified, you are persona non grata until you have a complete veterinary and medical clearance for you, your cats, and your cattery. Some people don’t even want to take phone calls from you.

I moved up in the line. “Watch it,” snarled Gale as she walked past.

I finally made it inside the door and looked into the hall. “Cat of the Year,” the banner read on the stage, reminding everyone what was at stake today. I lined up for the vetting. My girl meowed. “It’s okay, Oolie,” I said as I patted her through the bars of the carry cage. Starry Knight looked at me and let out a big yawn, while Mooncharmer sat at the back of his cage and let out a plaintive meow.

The Oriental cats behind me yowled, and I looked back to see Sue, who gave me her manicured smile. Yes, my cats and I were being watched today. I half-smiled to myself, thinking back to when I bought my first Persian show cat. I thought it would be fun and certainly not this taut atmosphere. Di waved to me from inside the hall. She had arrived earlier and had already set her cats up. Stefan walked by me, nose in the air; I don’t exist in his rarefied place as a judge.

My turn arrived, and I placed my finely groomed Lady Ooh La La on the vet table, and the procedure started in earnest. Ears and teeth were checked, claws were pressed open to ensure they had been trimmed, and the black light was run over her for a ringworm check. Thumbs up from the vet. One through, good. I placed the girl back in her carrier and picked up Starry Knight and received a big smooch across my face from him.

“He’s a sook,” said the vet.

“Certainly is,” I replied.

Star purred into the vet’s hand and started cleaning himself. “More brushing for you now,” I said. I heard snickers behind me. Star was passed back to me, complete and cleared — good, one more left.

I put him back in his cage. I grimaced as a foul smell spread; one of them had defecated. Someone had cleaning to do.

I opened the last cage and started lifting out my beautiful cameo boy Mooncharmer. He has a white coat but with bronze gold tips instead of silver, like chinchillas do. Except down his black legs, there was a lovely brown stain. “Moonie,” I moaned. God, I’ll have to give him a quick bum and leg bath, I thought. I had spent about 7 hours preparing him last night. The joys of cat showing — nothing like it.

I grabbed a towel from my bag and wrapped his back legs in it. Gingerly, I lifted him out and handed him to the vet.

“Ah, the smelly culprit is found,” said the vet. “I’ll be quick.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Get that stink out of here,” said Gale.

“I will,” I sighed.

Sue handed me some tissues so I could clean the cage a little. “It can happen to any of us,” she said.

“Thanks for that,” I said with a small smile.

Moonie was handed back, and I placed him in his cage. I grabbed my initialled clearances and cage numbers and rushed in. Di met me, and I handed her the bag of curtains, with the cage numbers. I followed her and

“I’ll set them up,” said Di. “You go, wash and dry the little bugger.” “Thanks, mate.” I grabbed the combs, towel, baby powder, and hair dryer, along with Moonie, and headed to the bathroom. At least it was a big one, in a school hall. I went to the trough and turned the water on. It was cold.

I carefully sponged his coat clean of poo and chided him with, “You couldn’t hold on a few more minutes, boy.”

He let out a plaintive meow and looked at me with his big eyes, and I softened, “I know you didn’t mean it.” I decided then that this would be his last show, and I told him as much. My sweet boy didn’t need all this primping and preening. Neither did the others, I realised. Lady Ooh La La was easy to prepare as she was a solid cream-coated girl. It only took three hours to wash, blow-dry, and groom her. Starry Knight was another story entirely. He was a black bicolor, what is known in the US as a tuxedo. He had to undergo not only washing, drying, powdering, and grooming but also plucking with a pair of tweezers of every white hair that grew within a black area and vice versa.

This is standard practice in the showing world. I continued blow-drying Mooncharmer, rubbed baby powder into the freshly washed area, and then combed it until his coat was all fluffy again. He smooched me, purring his little heart out, and I smiled. “I love you too,” I said and rubbed my nose against his. His eyes closed, and he purred louder; he sounded like a small engine. “Ready for another show, sweetie. It’ll be your last, darling.”

I gave him a couple more brushes to make sure there was no loose powder in his coat. I gathered my stuff and pushed myself out through the swinging door. Stefan stopped me with a hand on my shoulder, “You cleaned him properly, I assume,” he said. “Of course, I did,” I scowled at him.

“Make sure you remove those smelly items from the hall.” I narrowed my eyes, “I intend to do that as soon as Mooncharmer is in his cage.” I strode off with barely concealed contempt for the condescending creep. “Did he actually say what I think I heard,” said Di after I had put Moonie in his cage.

“Yep.” “I always knew he was a bastard, but that’s unbelievable, even for him.” “Really makes you rethink the whole showing business.” “Don’t let them push you out.” “Yeah, they’d win then.” “Exactly,” said Di. “Well, I better get this stuff out to the car. I’ll put Moonie in with Oolie in the carrier when we leave.” “I’ll watch them for you.” “Thanks, mate.”

Di really made the shows worth attending. Fran was a good friend as well, but she hadn’t been around since she came down with cancer. I missed her presence. She had been a calming influence on some of the more temperamental elements of the show world. I gathered the cage and dirty towels and left the hall. There were some drinking fountains and taps in the schoolyard. I headed over there and washed the cage out, drying it off with a clean towel. I rinsed out the dirty towel as best I could. I headed towards my car, opened the boot, and tossed the dirty stuff inside it. I looked around and noticed that Julie had some people over by her car.

She pulled out a beautiful Somali kitten. “Ah, kitten sale,” I thought. “Good on you, Julie, you need the money, and you take such diligent care of your cats.” I better not stare, though; she’ll think I’m spying on her. Too much paranoia in this world. I walked back into the hall and headed straight to my cats, checking each one in their cage. As expected, Starry Knight was sitting up and looking around, proud as punch, that one. Lady Ooh La La was hiding behind her curtain, away from public view, and Mooncharmer was curled up, purring, and peeping up at people.

He sat up when he saw me and smooched into my hand, purring his little heart out again. “Hey, Darling, it won’t be long. You be good for the judges.” Di walked over and handed me a takeaway coffee. “Thanks, just what I needed.”

We wandered over to observe the judging, where it seemed some owners were primping more than their feline companions. As the judge evaluated the cat destined to win this section, the mutual admiration between Louise and Stefan was glaringly apparent through their exchanges of smiles and winks.

“Now, this is the quintessential example of an odd-eyed white Persian,” Stefan announced. “The eye colour is vivid and distinct in both the amber and blue eyes. The coat is lush and plush. The grooming and presentation are impeccable.” His gaze met mine as he emphasised the last point, while Louise smugly reveled in her triumph. I couldn’t help but think she believes she’s above reproach.

Di nudged me, and as I turned to her, she gestured towards the exit. Agreeing silently, we left the hall, a tension headache brewing above my eyes. Di was visibly upset, her body language radiating frustration as she clenched her fists.

“I can’t stand that hypocritical sod,” she burst out. “Just three months back, he was all over us, and now look. Ugh,” she vented, taking her irritation out on a nearby stone.

“He’s after something from her. Be it a mating, kittens, or something more.”

“That ‘something more’ wouldn’t shock me. He did try asking me out a few times, three years ago.”

“That doesn’t shock me,” I responded. “But there’s little we can do about it.”

“I’ll have a word with Kirsten,” Di resolved.

“I reckon she’s already in the loop.”

“Oh, definitely. She misses nothing.”

“Let’s go check on our little ones. I’m in dire need of some paracetamol too.”

“You take all this too personally, Lisa,” Di observed.

“Perhaps I do.”

Returning to the hall, we noticed Di’s Birman, Annabelle, under judgement, her demeanour perfect, making us proud. Ensuring our cats’ well-being and presentation demands our all – grooming, vet visits, and their diet. We’re there through their birthing, aiding with delivery complications, a testament to our dedication.

After watching Anna being judged, I headed to the canteen, Di joining shortly with coffee and snacks in tow.

“Thanks,” she appreciated.

“How did Anna fare?”

“Perfectly, she was all purrs and affection.”

“George is fair; he doesn’t play favourites,” I noted.

Shouting breaks into the canteen from the hall and we all turn towards it. Gale is on one side of the hall holding her shaking cat and Marjorie is five metres away from her holding her frightened cat. The two women were screaming at each other.

“Oh god,” I said.

The three of us got up at once, just as Marjorie’s cat managed to get out of her arms.

“Cat loose.” The cry went up. “Shut the doors.”

“Now look what you’ve done Gale, you’re a bitch,” screamed Marjorie.

Kirsten stalks over with a look on her face that any army sergeant would have been proud to wear.

“Enough of this childish behaviour, both of you. Marjorie go and catch your cat. Gale take care of that terrified animal now, “said Kirsten. As show manager that day she was the ultimate authority. Once she spoke everyone calmed down.

Marjorie caught her loose cat and put her back in her cage. Di and I talked to our cats, as did many other owners. There was a great deal of meowing, almost crying cats after the incident and a lot of whispering owners, glaring at the two women. It took about an hour to calm all the cats down. The judges took their lunch break in this time.

I looked around afterwards and realised that both Gale and Marjorie were absent. Kirsten must have asked them to leave, I thought. It had reminded me of an early childhood song my grandmother had given me, called the Local Baby Show. The lyrics came to mind,

“There were long ones, short ones, thin ones, and fat ones,

At the local baby show,

Some were farty, some were burpy,

At the local baby show.”

The key thing was at the end of the song was that they were all beautiful.

 Something that I as a four-year-old could have told people that day. The day of my last cat show.