‘Remember this?’ I said to Bella, pointing at a cute photo in the middle of the page and reading out the caption beneath it –
‘Me enjoying a walk in the Scottish Highlands, August 2013’
Oh and of course, who could forget this day? I chuckled, looking at Bella stretched out on the beach –
‘Me enjoying a little cat nap in the sunshine’
I flicked through the rest of the diary. There was her first birthday cake, all decorated with her favourite little biscuits and a candle on top… and her next to a huge pile of presents. Oh, and another snap of her climbing a tree…
So many special moments, I sighed.
Bella raised her head off the cushion…and purred with happiness. Because although you could be forgiven for thinking Bella is my daughter, she’s in fact my one-year-old cat.
Still, that doesn’t stop us from doing everything together – from trips to our favourite coffee shop to holidaying around Britain in my camper van. Because whilst most cats enjoy the quite life, Bella loves nothing more than hitting the great outdoors in search of adventure.
In the past six months, she’s clocked up some 4,000 miles in road trips around Britain. Everywhere, I go, she goes too. In fact you could say we’re inseparable.
Maybe you think I’m that stereotypical lonely old woman who lives alone with her cat. But you wouldn’t be more wrong. I’m a successful Mum-of-one with a loving partner. In fact, I wasn’t really an animal lover at all until Bella unexpectedly came into my life.
I was enjoying a cut and blow dry at my local salon when a customer turned up with a cage containing an eight-week-old kitten; a little white ball of fluff with huge green eyes. As I sat under the dryer I over heard the customer explain she’d taken the kitten to the animal shelter but it was full and now she’d no idea what to with it.
Don’t ask me why but my gaze kept returning to the cage where the kitten was meowing loudly as if to get my attention.
‘Please take me home with you,’ she seemed to mew.
I shrugged it off at first. I mean, what would I want with a cat? But by the time my stylist had finished my mind was made up.
‘What have you got there?’ my boyfriend Pete, 32, asked when he came to pick me up.
‘A cat,’ I said.
He laughed – until he saw me putting the cage on the back seat.
On the drive home, I started to wonder what I’d done. But when I got through the front door and heard the squeals of delight from my 17-year-old daughter Becky, who I’d always refused a pet, I was smitten. Pete, a real animal lover, adored her too.
With me working from home, Bella and I quickly became inseparable.
I even started taking her out with me in a pet carry bag. People flocked around us, children clamoured to pet her, and soon she was quite a local celebrity.
That May, we bought a camper van and set off on our first trip to Wales to celebrate my birthday.
‘Think you’ve forgot something,’ Becky said as we packed up the car.
I looked down to see Bella sat on the doorstep watching us intently.
‘Can we?’ I begged Pete. ‘She won’t be any trouble.’
‘Do I have I any choice?’ he laughed, already making space for her carry bag and food bowls. And as we sped up the motorway to Rhyl, Bella purring contentedly in the back, I knew we’d made the right decision.
Bella loved her first trip and when we returned home four days later, she was reluctant to leave her space at the back of the van.
Come on, I coaxed. There’ll be other trips…
In fact, we started planning our next one straight away and a few weekends later we waved Becky goodbye with Bella sitting on the dashboard.
There’s a tailor-made space above my seat where we put her cushion for her to go to sleep and Pete’s made some shelves in the back for her feeding bowls and litter tray.
When we reach our destination Bella enjoys days out in her carry bag, much to the delight of other tourists. Sometimes after a long journey we even clip on her pink lead so she can stretch her legs in safety.
We speak to a lot of fellow cat owners who ask how we managed to get her to travel so well, but the truth is she just loves it.
This July we took Bella on an epic 2,000 mile tour from Scotland down to Lands End. It was brilliant. We took in lots of sites along the way and always got pictures of Bella on her travels.
We weren’t the only ones either. One morning we woke up in the car park of a water park to find out that the car were surrounded by tourists taking photos of Bella sat in the front of the van!
‘Quick! Shut the curtains! ‘I cried to Pete, hiding under the duvet.
When we got home I decided to start making a diary of Bella’s road trips so we could keep a memento of her travels. Becky joked we’d taken more photos of Bella than we had of her growing up!
‘You’re worth it,’ aren’t you?’ I said, tickling her under her chin.
Now we’ve adapted the van so it’s fully kitty-friendly we’re planning to go even further afield. We’ve our sights set on Europe so Bella can visit the Eiffel Tower as well as other landmarks in Germany, Spain and Italy.
Bella loves her adventures and she’s such purrfect company we couldn’t imagine travelling without her. It’s like having a second daughter, really. Especially now Becky is off holidaying with her friends.
She’s such a special little cat and I know we have a whole cat-alogue of adventures ahead of us!