Night times have become a chore.
Having fallen victim to Restless Leg Syndrome, each evening before I go to bed I am forced to go for a walk around the neighbourhood else any attempt to go to sleep is doomed to defeat as my legs jiggle about like I am an extra in Riverdance. This exercise - I must point out - is by no means an attempt to stalk the streets of Fleet (officially kinky sex capital of the United Kingdom if you are to believe a recent survey based on credit card receipts found in my recycling bin) for glimpses of naked people through upstairs windows, a view sadly not shared by the local constabulary, magistrates and upset naked people.
Be that as it may, every night at around 11pm, just as your average Fleet resident is standing proud and in a state of undress in their bedroom window, I must pound the pavements to rid myself of this impossible-to-scratch itch in my knees and the urge to dance, dance, dance that takes over my feet.
So, it was as I stepped out one clear evening, the full moon of Ramadan high in the sky, and my eyes below first floor level as per the court order that I caught movement in a nearby hedgerow. My evening forays have brought me closer to the night time fauna - the hoot of an owl, the scampering of a fox, the slugs rutting away on the pavement like a the stars of a specialist film I once saw by accident on the internet. Movement in a hedgerow can be any number of things. A gust of wind, a drunk bowking rich brown vomit after a night exercising his drinking muscles down the Prince of Wales, or fast spiky death eyeing my throat like a fat kid eyes the last Pepperami in the fridge.
A cat. An absolutely massive black cat, eyes glinting orange in the street lights, a fearsome growl that I felt all the way to the bottom of my spine. Three, four, no - five feet high, menace seeping from every hair on its black, black body. The creature turns its head to face me and my blood runs cold at what is surely some sort of panther, out on the town for fresh meat. And - at the present moment, the only meat - fresh or otherwise - on this particular street in North East Hampshire is me.
Remembering my classics (Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park II and Jurassic Park III), I freeze. If I do not move, surely the huge animal cannot see me. Unfortunately, this good work is completely undone by my involuntary ejaculation of the words "Nice kitty," which - as final words go - are a pretty poor choice. (In fact, my last words in this instance are more likely to be "AAAAAAAARGH!")
And then... It moved. It moved, one step, two steps towards me, my mouth dry, my bowels turned to mousse, my usually hyperactive legs glued to the pavement, my body frozen in fear.
And then... Everything snapped back into perspective. The fearsome best stepped out of the shadows and into the truth of the street lights and revealed its true form. Its true form as Next Door's Cat That Looks Like Hitler, a nervous little thing with an uncanny resemblance to the late Fuhrer, its hideous growl being mews of appreciation for the meat products that the woman upstairs routinely throws out of her kitchen window into our front garden.
Tonight's special: Half a Ginster's Meat Feast Slice. Mmmm.... tasty.
It fled. So did I.
The Fleet Panther is real. It's just rather smaller, cuter and Nazier than expected.