(This story was prompted by a friend who told me of a family cat who had joined her in bed early one morning – the cat was called Dave, but his full name, apparently, was Captain Davy McBoing Boing)
“Shiver me timberrrrs!”
A booming salt-caked gruff voice bounced off the pitch pine panels that lined the cabin walls, rattling pipes in a silver mounted pipe rack on the mantel.
“Avast there ye creepy landlubbers”! “Stand to and prepare to haul away, for we sail for the Spanish Main at midnight”.
Captain Peregrine McHardy threw back his head, ran his fingers through his long greying hair, tweaked his even longer yellowing, and tobacco stained, beard. Then, “Step thud Step thud”, he stomped across the deck on his wooden leg to the leeward rail of his barquentine, The Dark Lady, raised a telescope to his one good eye and purred with satisfaction at the view.
The view was across the neatly clipped lawns of the Cedars, a Nursing Home for retired seafarers or their dependants, not the quayside of a Caribbean Island, but did nothing to penetrate the illusion. The Dark Lady rode easily on the calm waters of Captain McHardy’s imagination.
“Did you hear Mr McHardy this afternoon, Matron, he was really away with the fairies at teatime? I’m afraid he’s getting worse.”
Matron Jeanne sighed, then shifted her considerable weight uneasily, her heavily carved antique chair squeaked in protest on its four brass castors.
“I agree Marianne, but The Captain’s condition is benign, so far at least. You haven’t been with us long, but the duty doctor examined him only last week and, apart from his eccentricity, said he’s harmless enough and pretty fit for a 99 year old, even with a leg missing. As long as he stays fit, and his fees keep being paid, there’s no harm and The Cedars will cope. We’ll keep him under review.”
“Actually, I’ve been thinking that we might get him a pet, something to focus on that’s real, not imaginary. Since the parrot we used to have in the residents’ lounge died he’s seemed a bit sadder somehow. The local Cats Protection down the road have lots of demand for kittens, especially round Christmas, but they’ve put round a flyer about a poor old ginger tom called Dave that they can’t find a home for. Partly it’s because of his age, but also he only has three legs and lost an eye – results of a hit and run – so he wouldn’t be a wanderer and he might be good for the home more generally. What do you think?”
Three weeks later and preparations for the Cedar’s Christmas party were almost complete, but it was going to be a challenge to coax all the residents out of their rooms. The prospect of two hours of carols, and sing-along show tunes, led by Leonard Pomfrey, his ‘swinging’ electric organ, and his glamourous assistant Mabel, were disincentive enough but, the idea of pushing peas and carrots round the gravy for their old relative was more than many sons, daughters, nieces, or nephews could contemplate. For the most part they had politely declined the invitation, citing a variety of reasons, some more convincing than others, preferring instead to visit before their own home celebrations, or rushing off to an airport to escape entirely in the warmth of a Spanish or Portuguese villa. And so the party would lack the joie de vivre engendered by fresh conversation and new faces but, as well as delivery of frozen turkey-filled vol-au-vents, individual pavlovas, cubes of pre-cooked roasted potato and, of course, peas and carrots, The Cedars had taken possession of Dave, as had Peregrine McHardy, or perhaps it was the other way around.
Peregrine McHardy had elaborated Dave’s name, and given him the honorary rank of Captain: Dave had become, to McHardy at least, Captain Davy McBoing Boing. McHardy had tried at first to appoint him as his First Lieutenant, “Number One” to his own command, but Dave would apparently have none of that as he would not respond to any call other than “Captain”. As for Davy, well it seemed more piratical than Dave, and right for his one-eyed confederate whose scars gave him the caste mark of a buccaneer.
He had added the patronymic ‘Mc’, to align with his own Mc – though truly that was also a fiction because Peregrine’s real name was Hardy. He’d felt the need to differentiate himself from Nelson’s Captain Hardy, because being a Hardy had been the source of recurrent and irritating “kiss me” jokes throughout his own maritime career.
Quite where the “Boing Boing” part came from he could, or would, not explain. Instead, he left it to speculation, with a knowing wink from his good eye, saying “That’s for me to know and you to find out”, with more than a hint that it might be something ribald or risqué in some Caribbean patois. Within two weeks of his arrival at The Cedars the two Captains would stroll the garden decking outside McHardy’s room, between them their uneven gait giving an uncanny impression of a ship in motion. At other times they could be seen sitting side by side, at the railing, apparently reminiscing about past adventures or sharing more intimate moments as Captain Davy rubbed his ginger head through McHardy’s beard.
Once established at The Cedars, and trusted almost as a member of staff, Captain Davy was allowed to walk the corridors, visiting the other residents room by room dispensing, not medication but something just as powerful and though there was never any doubt about McHardy’s primacy, Captain Davy’s independence was also never in doubt. He went where he pleased, when he pleased, but also where he was needed.
In the days between Christmas and New Year the Cedars drifted, becalmed in a kind of social doldrum. Not much happened, no-one much visited, even the doctor stayed away, and it was a time that Matron Jeanne, Marianne, and her other colleagues always valued as an opportunity to review, but this year there was something unusual to discuss. Stocks of some medications were not declining at a normal rate. Of course, that might be a natural cyclical phenomenon. As residents came and went the need for medication varied, but there had been a decline in the need for anti-depressants, for sleeping pills and so on. Even call for routine medications for Parkinsons and Alzheimer’s seemed to have reduced. The doctor’s surgery had noticed that the regular dispensing of repeat prescriptions had dipped and, concerned, had enquired as to why.
It was Marianne that spoke up.
“I know this sounds silly, Jeanne, but I think it began when Captain Davy came to live here. I know we got him for Captain McHardy, and that’s worked, he’s definitely happier, but all the residents love him. We’ve all noticed that when we do the blood pressure checks, especially after Dave has done his rounds, most of the readings are down and they are staying down. Not much, but they are down. We’ve also noticed the residents are sleeping better, some of them even grumble when we wake them up for breakfast!
Meanwhile Captain Peregrine McHardy had begun to leave his room more often too, and sometimes would patrol the corridors and lounge in company with Captain Davy. He would stomp around, and could be heard issuing orders to Captain Davy, for example to “batten down the hatches” or “reef in the sails”, when the weather forecast was bad.
On Captain McHardy’s 100th birthday he was found on the deck, in full dress uniform, surrounded by photographs of some of his ships. He had cast off for his final voyage. Captain Davy sat by his side, quietly mewing for orders. He attended the funeral, along with Matron Jeanne, Marianne and someone from the Seamans Mission, but though Captain Davy returned to The Cedars he didn’t stay, and one night he just slipped away. But the gifts he had brought to The Cedars did stay, and a new cat came from the shelter, a female, that they named Lady Mary Killigrew. As the years passed other cats came and went, but a tradition had been started. Out of respect to the two Captains who began it, but especially Captain Davy McBoing Boing, however many legs or eyes they had, they were always named after pirates.
Andrew Gold ©