If you came to Highbury to visit the Arsenal Museum with your school class, and were in a queue on the pavement, waiting to go inside, you may have seen Tiggy across the road. ‘Oooo, look at the CAT!’ someone would shout…
Sometimes Tiggy would stand in profile on the brickwork by his front railings and allow himself to be stroked by his passing fans. He would stretch himself out, from his nose to the tip of his tail, so that everyone had a bit of him to stroke. As many as five people, two adults and three children, could stroke Mr Tiggs at the same time.
Tiggy was born across the road from Highbury Stadium’s North Bank in 1987. He was the firstborn kitten of Shan-Shan and a local Tabby, and was named White Tiger. Shan-Shan’s fur was jet black, but white underneath; Tiggy inherited her white under-fur, and his father’s Tabby markings. His affectionate nature set him apart from Shan-Shan and his siblings, who were all eventually found homes elsewhere.
He shared a basket in his human Mum Anna’s kitchen with a dog, Moey. On schooldays Tiggy and Moey had their tea at 4pm, when Katie was home from school. Tiggy arrived via Anna’s open kitchen window, leaping across to it from our extension roof. Roger, our gardener, had set a wooden plank between the extension and our brick wall. Tiggy made good use of it. On hot summer days he liked to sleep in the sun, sprawled on the roof.
Over his lifetime Tiggy met all the local cats, their successors and grandkittens. Close encounters included yowling, fighting and plenty of nose-to-nose confrontations. Mr Tiggs, winner of all his battles, was for some years the unassailable Top Cat. Even the local foxes gave him respect. We saw a few of them wander into his tiny front garden and retreat straightaway rather than confront the Warrior Cat.
Tiggy’s manor stretched from the small woodland behind our house along Elwood St to Avenell Rd, past Highbury Stadium’s North Bank, west on Gillespie Rd to St Thomas’s Rd. Walking down to Monsell Rd, Tiggy then made a left up Quill St to two sets of iron gates: one leads into the Quill St allotments, the other into Gillespie Park. Mr Tiggs visited both, for his special herbs. Many a cleaver (a round seed with hooked barbs) from Goose Grass inside the Gillespie Park gates made its way back here, clinging to his fur. He visited someone on Drayton Park, and sometimes joined us for a walk to the shops – up St Thomas’s Rd as far as the Mosque.
This was his manor, and he walked it proudly, sometimes hissing at any humans who spoke to him, ourselves included. When patrolling his Manor he was no longer the affectionate housecat; he was on patrol, he demanded respect, he was the Top Cat.
Tiggy’s shape changed with the seasons. For winter he grew a thick fur coat, shedding much of it as the weather warmed. He went ‘a bit doo-lally’ in spring; RF reckoned that losing so much fur was part of it. On summer days, intense heat would leave the great cat in a collapsed heap.
Many years ago, Tiggy had to wear flea collars. They were abandoned, but not before the damage was done. The fur never grew back round his neck where the collar had been.
Mr Tiggs was a fighting cat who liked to wrestle. He dealt out pain to other cats, but he suffered as well. He was battlescarred, his furry cheek puffs hiding some of the damage from other cats’ claws and teeth. Brenda said ‘Damage to front of cat = cat winning. Damage to back of cat = cat running away’.
Tiggy rejected food when getting over a battle, losing weight as he put all his energy into healing himself. He might visit the garden to eat a bit of Catmint, or White Campion, or some other plant he knew would help to heal his injuries.
One of his best sparring partners over the years was an ivory and black cat. They might wrestle for a good seven or eight minutes at a time, rolling about on the ground. Then they would get to their feet and each go his separate way. ‘See you next time,’ we could imagine them saying to each other. ‘Show me some new moves’.
Black cats came into Tiggy’s garden. Freddie with the bushy tail, and two ‘Bad Black Cats’, BBC1 and BBC2. BBC1 stalked Mr Tiggs, crouching behind RF’s gladiolas and springing out at him, always trying to inveigle the old boy into just one more battle. It was no good Tiggy saying ‘I’m not quite dunroamin’, but sort of… semi-retired now…’ There was always another young cat who wanted to fight the old champion.
On weekdays, football supporters from home and abroad would come to Highbury to buy Arsenal match tickets. They were often seen standing in the road, cameras and phonecams aimed at the art deco facade of Highbury Stadium’s East Stand and North Bank.
When they crossed the street for a better view, the large, inscrutable grey cat on the mat of the house opposite would catch their eye. ‘Look at the cat!’ we often heard in English, and it must have been said in many another language. Snap! An extra photo on someone’s mobile phone or camera, local colour from the Highbury trip. Mr Tiggs, the proud British Lion, was used to being photographed. There must be snaps of him all over the world.
Mr Tiggs absolutely loved Matchdays. For the whole of his life until 2006, when they moved to the new stadium, the Very Large Neighbour across the street threw a party every fortnight or so and 38,000 people came.
Neighbourhood streets buzz on Matchdays; stalls go up, selling t-shirts, pins, scarves, football kit, flags and sweeties. Police trot by on horseback, patrolling the streets. That Matchday whiff of fish and chips, burgers and pies floats through the air. Tiggy always insisted he be allowed to sniff the essence of Matchday from the open front door before the game, even if he chose to wait till the crowd had gone into the grounds before going out himself.
Sleep was important to Mr Tiggs, and he took his cat naps anywhere he could get them…
He was well fed by his mum Anna, and was persuasive with others. Adopted uncles and aunties in our house, and neighbours, fed him. ‘Have you seen Tiggy?’ one housemate would ask, and the other might say ‘I saw him half an hour ago… he mugged me for fish’ (or ham, or whatever he could get). The mugging involved a relentless Tiggy Barrage of meows, when he wanted to be fed, or to have a door opened for him.
His voice was harsh, a roar with the caw of a crow – repeated over and over, as the local crows do it. ‘ROWR! ROWR! ROWR!’ The moment would come when no further meows could be tolerated, when the door was opened or food was found for the noisy one and he got his way.
One night Anna’s front door opened and Big John’s mighty arm appeared with the Matchday Cat sat on it; he was lowered to the ground and he set off on his rounds. We knew what a relentless barrage of meows Tiggy’s family would have endured before someone had to be his doorkeeper. When we lost him, the silence was overwhelming. What we wouldn’t give now, to hear a Tiggy barrage again.
There is the story of RF the gardener, Tiggy and the defrosting half-chicken. RF had gone into the garden, leaving his kitchen door ajar… Tiggy walked in, opened the fridge door with a mighty paw, seized the defrosting half-chicken and dragged it out into the garden. By the time RF caught sight of him, he had managed to drag his prize to the top of the fence, where he sat tucking into it, half frozen or not… ‘He refused to come down!’ said RF.
When Scurvy was new to the Garden Flat, he came back early one warm evening with fish ‘n’ chips. Sitting down at the blue table in the garden with the rest of us, he found the Matchday Cat climbing onto his lap and being affectionate. It wasn’t that long before Scurve shared some of his fish ‘n’ chips with the Old Boy, and Tiggy knew he had another client…
Paul was new to the Garden Flat a few years ago. He was working into the early hours, having a snack in the kitchen. Tiggy appeared through the new catflap, and subjected him to a Tiggy barrage. Paul gave him some fish, but ‘he carried on, and I told him that that was all there was… I had to open the fridge door to show him I wasn’t holding out on him…’
Tiggy had a problem with tapwater. He refused to drink it. We would set out a bowl of it with his crunchy biscuits, but he never drank from it. He preferred to go outside and drink from muddy puddles, from any container with rainwater in it, no matter what state the water was in, what gunge it contained.
It must have been the taste of rainwater that he craved. We eventually got him to drink from an orange bucket in the garden. We filled it with tapwater that been through a Brita water filter and topped it up with rainwater. Once he’d had a drink, and found it acceptable, that orange bucket became the Tiggy Bucket. We kept it clean for him, refilling it with filtered water and rainwater.
This was all part of his being ‘White Tiger’ Tiggy, a family pet who lived in a city but remained a wild cat at heart. For Mr Tiggs it was important to scent-mark his territory, and he never really took to using a litter tray.
In his later years, Mr Tiggs became the lifeguard for our garden birds, seeing off other cats who might drop in to make a meal of them. He realised that the birds in the garden were important to us. He was deployed, on his footstool or chair, to catch the sunshine… As it moved to the back of the garden, Tiggy was moved as well, to catch the last rays. When his chair was sitting under the birdfeeders, the birds knew that the sleeping one in the grey fur coat was no threat to them; they carried on pecking away at the feeders above his head, but did so quietly so as not to wake him.
Tiggy was the cat detective. His nose was infallible. Even on moonless nights when all was pitch black, he could tell, in the instant the back door was opened, that another cat was out there in his garden. He launched himself into the darkness… There would be the sounds of a skirmish, with snarling and thrashing in the shrubbery. The intruder would be despatched over the fence in seconds. Once his catflap was installed, Tiggy could visit the garden at will and surprise intruders.
He loved the garden. Fresh air, favourite plants (Catmint, White Campion, Clover, Sweet Woodruff) and fragrances, and, on sunny days, a place to bask in the warmth. He stretched himself out anywhere the sun shone.
The little woodland behind our garden, used by Tiggy and other neighbourhood cats, was trashed by a developer in 2003. We met with our neighbours to decide what to do about it. Several of them came round to chat and recognised the grey warrior cat; they said they’d fed him. He must have subjected them to the relentless Tiggy Barrage of roars and convinced them he was starving.
In the days when Tiggy’s walks round his Manor were more predictable, a woman from Quill Street passed by and, seeing Tiggy on his mat, said she’d seen him regularly each morning at 11am as she took her husband out in his wheelchair. A man walking by said his own cat was very similar to Tiggy in appearance, and was now 29 in human years. We hoped that Tiggy could live that long. And once, when he was looking frail and poorly, a woman walking past wanted to know if anyone was taking care of him; she said that she always looked for him when walking down the road, and worried about him… ‘And I’m not the only one!’
Tigg’s pet hates were the saxophone, the vet, and fireworks, especially Guy Fawkes Day. This brave, battle-hardened warrior cat, used to giving and receiving pain, was inconsolable when fireworks were set off. He howled and hid himself away, anywhere that was shielded from the windows, from the noise – under tables, shelves, chairs… If on the stairs when the explosions began, he would stay there, paralysed and howling, unable to move. We had to pick him up and carry him away from the spot.
If you have a pet, remember brave Tiggy when a fireworks display is imminent – keep your pet indoors.
We always said he fought like a Viking, and if there was a Valhalla for cats he would end up there. But his mother Anna says he’s still with us. After 23 years of walking his manor, his Tiggy spirit carries on as before, but invisible now… still walking his manor, the matchless Matchday Cat.