This month’s competition was to write about an object.
My brother recently put an old photo of me up on Facebook. I was pleased to see that I looked glamorous. I was in my mid twenties out in the back garden sitting on a stuffed leopard and cradling a rifle in my lap.
The rifle was an old one of my grandfathers. It had been kept by my mother in order to shoot the neighbours if Armageddon came and they moved in on her food store.
The leopard brought back happier memories. I found him in a junk shop in Chelsea. My heart leapt when I saw him – a magnificent six foot leopard lying stretched out with his head raised and green glass eyes gleaming in the shadows. I had to buy him. The shop keeper took my money and agreed to hold on to him while I arranged transport.
I was sharing a mews flat with three other girls. Luckily one of them had a boy friend with a sports car. He agreed to collect the leopard and we all piled into his car.
Those were the days when a petrol company’s ad campaign had captured the imagination of the nation. “Put a tiger in your tank.” Nearly every car had a little furry tiger tail tied around the petrol cap.
We drove down King’s Road with an entire leopard tied across the boot of the car. People were staring and pointing and taking photos. It was a high moment of my life. I still hope that I will appear on one of those old news reels that celebrate the fun times of the mid sixties.
When we got back to the flat I realised that there was absolutely nowhere to keep the leopard. Four of us in a flat designed for two were squashed at the best of times. I appealed to my father, who came up from Essex in the family car. It was a big car but it took much manhandling to fit the leopard in.
When we got home my mother was aghast. “Why ever did you buy that moth-eaten old thing.” I looked at the leopard with new eyes. It was dusty and faded. The journey had dislodged a couple of claws and a trickle of sawdust fell upon the Axminster.
“I love it!” I cried. Defying my mother had become a habit.
“We have nowhere to put it.”
“It would look great on the grand piano,” said my father, ever the conciliator.
My mother capitulated and the leopard found a home on my aunt’s grand piano. My unfortunate aunt was in reduced circumstances after a messy divorce, which is why her piano had found temporary lodgings in our rarely-used drawing room.
Occasionally the leopard would be brought out for games and photo-opportunities and to tease the dog. But it was becoming increasingly fragile and, after the novelty wore off, it was left in peace.
My time at the teacher training college in London ended and I went on my travels. When I came back I found that my mother had got rid of the leopard. She had also got rid of my geology collection – but that is another story.