Tom would have been a formidable character in his younger years - a tomcat other tomcats learned to step aside from. However, the years and the winters had taken their toll. He no longer gave the air of the cowboy coming in through the saloon doors. The gunslinger walk had long since given way to a painful, stumbling gait. The torn ears and scratched face bore witness to the many differences of opinion with which he had dealt over the years and the patchy, dull coat was all that remained of his former finery.
Tom belonged to nobody in particular but went his own way, sleeping where he could, turning up occasionally and making off again to wherever he knew he could get shelter for the night. It was hard to imagine he had ever sat by a fireside or had a warm bed or a kindly word.
One summer, Tom began turning up in the garden more often. We would watch him as he stumbled wearily through the gate and would stand in the garden looking vacantly around him. We started leaving food out for him and he got the idea that a bite was always to be had with us. He would hirple in at odd hours of the day, slowly eat his dinner and then move off again. He never made to stay around the garden or in the outbuildings.
We didn't actually get on speaking terms for some weeks but he got the idea that we meant him no harm and he would sit quietly nearby while we exchanged a few thoughts on the world. Close up, Tom looked in even worse condition. His eyes were bleary and he was totally listless. A torn ear indicated that his days of conflict were not quite yet at an end. He would eat slowly, always looking around and checking out our distance. Any attempts to get within touching range were met with a cautious withdrawal and a throaty wheeze which had once probably been an ominous growl. We had no choice but to let him go his own way and hope that the food would keep up his strength.
The onset of winter was a problem. We had to be away for most of the time and didn't really give much for Tom's prospects in the hard weather without of food handouts. The weather became much worse into November and he would appear less frequently, always bedraggled from the rain and wind. Some days he would not appear at all. This worried us greatly.
The worst day came in a torrential day-long storm of sleet and wind and, although we always looked anxiously down the road to see if Tom was on his way, we didn't expect we would see him that day at all. To our amazement, as we were looking down the road from the window in the early afternoon, we spied the distant figure ploughing determinedly up the hill in the face of the tempest. He would stop every now and again as if to get his breath. He looked all out. Before he had even come near the garden and his beloved dinner bowl, we had made up our minds. A large sack was grabbed from the shed and I made an unceremonious dive on top of Tom as he was about to start his dinner. We were both blind with the rain and soaked to the skin. I expected strong opposition but it turned out that the old boy was obviously too weak to put up much of a defence. He just seemed to have accepted that another unpleasant thing had happened to him and was lying quiet as wild animals frequently do in these situations.
We talked quietly to him as we carried him in his sack to the shed were we had various boxes. Into a suitable box, still in his sack, went Tom. We then got him into the house in the warm and set the box near the fire as we tried to dry off. There was still no protest from Tom, which was either a good or bad sign.
The plan developed to take Tom to my mother's house outside Edinburgh, where we were going the following day. We peeked into his sack and saw that he was resting quietly, his paws tucked under him, so just let him be and gave him a quiet corner near the fire. We slept briefly, rose early and set off south early in the morning. Tom travelled well. We had let him get out of his sack into a corner of the box and he remained quiet the whole journey.
My mother had always been well supplied with waifs and strays in my younger days and took a big Skye tomcat in her stride. After putting out some food and drink and securing the premises in case of a showdown, we opened Tom's box. We hoped that the sound of our voices would prove familiar as we had been talking to him the whole journey. Tom emerged slowly and warily from his box, eyeing up the humans and keeping his distance as he checked out his new world.
Food came last and he ate slowly and warily. All the time he was hearing quiet and familiar voices and he seemed eventually to realise he was in no danger so there were no saloon-bar brawls or tantrums. Something which particularly seemed to interest him was an old cardigan Mum had put down in a corner for him. He sniffed at this wonder repeatedly and finally decided this was for him and was soon stretched out in the soft bundle, even trying to lick himself clean as though he wanted to look his best in his new surroundings We continued to speak quietly among ourselves and just kept an eye on him. Some time later, when we had almost forgotten he was there, we heard the most unusual noise from the cardigan - something between a leaky beachball and a squeaky bed spring, repeating over and over - Tom was purring!
The days that followed featured vet's visits and various health checks. It turned out that Tom had diabetes and we had to administer insulin daily. All this he endured patiently and with gentlemanly grace. The medication brought about a wonderful change in the old cat with his fur growing in and his appetite returning. Best of all, he developed an expression - gone was the vacant look of abandonment and he looked like he was seeing things for the first time. He was certainly experiencing kindness for the first time and that probably mattered more to him than anything.
All in all, Tom probably thought he had died and gone to Heaven. He would only go out in the garden when necessary and then would rush back in immediately to carry out a careful check on his marvellous new domain and make sure that Heaven was still there, after which he would settle down quietly to enjoy the day.
We used to watch Tom in his wheezy, twitching dreams and knew he was reliving all the battles of long ago but loved to see him wake again and realise that was all done with.
Tom lived to a contented, ripe old age, enjoying his well-deserved comfort to the last.
2021 update (13/01/21)
With the continuing uncertainty in the tourism industry caused by travel restrictions and health regulations, we find it impossible to plan for opening the shop as normal in 2021. We will remain closed this year. We will, however, take the opportunity to carry out a much-needed restoration of the roof of the Old School and a refurbishment of the interior. This will enable us to open again in 2022. In the meantime, Skye Silver will carry on as an online-only business and continue to supply the same quality of service as we have done in the past.
The Case of the Terrified Tourist - a Fable of the Future? (13/01/21)
"The new normal" is the catchy phrase currently in use. Well, what's normal about having the visitors to your shop announce their presence by ringing some leper bell at the door just in case there might be another unprotected human in the shop, being then admitted to your shop and having their temperature taken, asked to wash their hands and fill out a health report?
Meanwhile, the shop assistants, in masks and protective aprons, welcome them from behind a plexiglass screen across the counter. "Mumble, mumble, mumble," says one assistant through their mask. The startled tourist acknowledges the mumble and turns to look at the jewellery, which is all nailed up safely behind glass panels with "Don't touch" written on them.
"I would like to try on that necklace, please," says the lady bravely after a few minutes, indicating a piece behind the glass. The assistants move swiftly into action, asking the visitor to sit which they wheel in the Multi-Frequency Steri-shield Zappomatic Jewellery Steriliser, which looks like a 1950s salon hairdrier. This is placed over the head of the now alarmed tourist by one assistant while the other produces a stock necklace from a sterile tube and places it around the lady's neck.
The Zappomatic sparkles and crackles ominously as it irradiates the petrified lady and her proposed purchase. "Do, do you have a longer chain?" she asks bravely. "Mumble, mumble," says the assistant with a reassuring nod of her head, going off to get a replacement.
Halfway through a repetition of this process, the door bursts open and a large figure wearing a full HazMat suit enters. "I am the local People's Commissar for Self-Isolation, Self Endangerment and Poking Into Other People's Affairs," booms the official, attempting to shove a clinical probe up the nose of the poor lady under the hairdrier. At this stage, she loses her nerve, extricates herself from the contraption, grabs her husband's hand and flees in terror from the shop, quite forgetting to wash her hands three times before leaving. Yes, gentle reader; "the new normal?" We'd rather not, thank you so much.
EU customers now don't pay UK VAT (06/01/21)
Now that the UK is no longer part of the EU, we don't charge EU orders 20% VAT any more! Although the website shows VAT-inclusive prices, you will only be charged the VAT-exclusive price at checkout. For example, the Three Little Penguins piece is shown at the VAT-inclusive price of £68.00. However, if you're from the EU, you will only be charged the VAT-exclusive price of £56.67 at checkout. This puts EU citizens in the same bracket as the rest of the world. Notice, you don't have to do anything - the site software does all this for you. So, the upshot is that only the Brits pay 20% VAT on their purchases (all of which we are compelled to give to HM Government - it doesn't benefit us one penny). Everyone else in the world gets 20% off all of our prices. Seems fair, doesn't it??? And, of course, postage is still free worldwide!