An extremely old phone pic of the small tabby, Elsie,who happened also to be the spitting image of my beloved Minnie. The Elsie who wandered off one day and never came back.
I was wandering about the garden earlier, shuffling in the orange and red leaves and watching the sparkly wetness, when white FluffyCat ran through, spitting more wetness with him. Followed by black and white AlfieCat, then the extremely nervous and highly strung ginger and black HuntingCat. They all bombed off before stopping for strokes and helloes, and reminded me that I haven’t put any tuna or mackerel out for a bit. Which I do tend to when I know they are around. They also like mushroom soup. And chasing sticks, and having their furballs trimmed away from their tails.
I seem to have always been putting food out or playing with other people’s cats when I haven’t got any of my own. Cats are just great. The absolutely awesome fluffiness, especially the softer haired breeds (long and short hair), the cleverness spliced with extreme silliness and lack of common sense. The way they have the ability to lie and deceive to the dexterity of a four year old person (i.e. you tell them to not go near something, so they just sidle up to it a different way, from behind, and yet still very obvious…bless). I love the way they sit on your lap when you’re trying to get up, the way they lift their chins for nuzzling. The way they expect stuff from you; the way they give back whatever they please - but it’s never nothing. I regard cats as one of my favourite animals. We get on incredibly well.
When I lived with my parents, and then Troubadour, I always had house cats (cats that were for some reason agoraphobic, who couldn’t/didn’t want to go out), so I always had one very specific cat to pay attention to – all hail Blossom, then the King of All My Cats: Tarquin the Roving Minstrel (Minnie for short), and lastly Zoe (one of those cats who are insane from the start and part feral; they do their own thing, which involves scratching, not sitting on your lap and tearing about at 3 a.m. – all fair enough to the cat lover). I’ll talk about them another day. They are episodes of their own.
When I lived in Vernon Road with Stanley, I noticed the neighbourhood cats started to come to visit.
First there was Bodmin, all black, with a patch of hairlessness on her back that seemed to be bigger sometimes than others. I think it was from a past car collision, and sometimes it annoyed her and she worried at it, pulling bits off with her teeth. Then Elsie, a little tabby with all colours on her, lots of ginger. Bodmin used to behave like she utterly owned the house; just coming in, eating whatever was available, then going upstairs for a nap as if she knew the geography of the place, and had lived there before.
Elsie was warier to begin with, but then ended up even more cuddly than Bodmin – she would come upstairs and sleep with us on the bed. It was wonderful, waking and knowing the dent where you couldn’t move your feet, was in fact her.
Then one day she didn’t come back anymore. It was months. We thought maybe she died; we hoped her human companions had simply moved and taken her with them…Bodmin once disappeared for 2 months, but then reappeared. But it was way longer than that with Elsie. Elsie had a warmth of character that was lovely.
This is why I find outside cats hard. The pain of their just…not coming home one day; and never knowing again if they are alive or dead. I was brilliant with the agoraphobic and nervous cats: I knew where they were, and lavished them with love and attention – apart from their agoraphobia (and all went out to the balcony and sunbathed in the end, they just would startle at noises and run back in), they lost all their fears, and seemed happy and to feel safe. I managed to make their worlds appreciably bigger; while gaining such love in return. It’s a brave person, braver than me, who can have an outside cat for their own companion.
Bodmin, oddly, became a little territorial with age – she started to behave like an old lady cat, who was jealous. Which is very common among multiple cat areas: one area is claimed by one cat, with no word to the others; and suddenly you have a turf war, where previously all were cuddled up together. I never know what sets it off; but if you have multiple cats, it will happen eventually, I have found. Bodmin would suddenly start to bop other cats on the nose that she used to hang out with, hissing at them, refusing to come in if they were there. Yet they showed no superior or dominating behaviour toward her; no suggestion she would have anything to be afraid of. Whereas they…In the end, we could only have Bodmin in when the others were out.
Emmie, the newest cat to visit, was a kitten when she came by. Very wiggly and playful and affectionate – after an aeon of deciding whether or not you were trustworthy and could come anywhere near her. Interestingly, once we tamed her a little with patient love (just sitting near her and not making any quick moves), and lots of food left about, her mother – or big sister – appeared. And Mother-of-Emmie was just as skittish as the kitten Emmie. Her eyes even warier. We lost count of the times MotherOfEmmie would peer worriedly out of our living room, craning her neck to see where her daughter had gone, and not feeling able to come back in herself. Though she did in the end. And once each of them decided it was ok, they were curious indeed. In and out of all rooms, swarming over each other. Sleeping on my lap with the trust of tiny children, using my hand as a pillow, so I couldn’t turn the pages of my book.
Emmie got sweeter by the day, her temperament solidifying into generosity as Bodmin’s gelled to meanness. Though Bodmin remained the cuddliest, in terms of letting us pick her up. I think she must have worried, in her cat way, that the other cats meant less of us for her.
Now we are here, it didn’t take long for cats to appear again. First AlfieCat (who we originally called Felix, as he had no name and address collar and really looked cartoonish). He is majestic and confident and strides about with great dignity; except when he falls off walls and such. When he then sits, twitches his head and cleans his hands and face as if nothing happened, in the way of cats everywhere. We used to feed him often, with the permission of his companions next door. Then there came HuntingCat. She has no tags, and is so monikered because of her starey eyed obsession with all the magpies in the garden. And her stiff bodied manic attempts to get at them that always fail. She always looks very surprised. She is very clumsy, always falling off of things, and extremely nervous. After a year of coaxing, she will not come. So I leave her be, and just leave her treats. Some cats walk alone.
The last cat to come by was the best one, in the sense that she is outrageously friendly, and loves small energetic Fluffhead. White FluffyCat will sit next to him, with her immensely bushy tail and not mind it being enthusiastically pulled in a stroke way, for up to an hour sometimes. She loves to have sticks poked from side to side and chase them insanely. Fluffhead laughs till he gets hiccups; they are great friends. FluffyCat’s human companions are of the extremely laissez faire type. I am annoyed with them. FluffyCat has an eye infection and terrible furballs on her lower back and tail (she is extremely long haired, very fine). When she visits, I comb her fur out (which she loves) and cut away the worst of the tangled furballs. I would take FluffyCat to the vet if I were her companion. I’ve seen that eye infection before (Minnie got it once); it’s not infectious, to either her other eye, or humans – but its sore. They should sort it. I did tell them that – seriously, I was the soul of diplomacy…however. It was one of my less successful human interactions, in that nothing came of it for FluffyCat, and the humans looked at me oddly. I don’t know why some people have pets, if they aren’t going to look after them. (There’s no point me kidnapping her and taking her to the vet, as she doesn’t come regularly enough to have the ointment she needs put on. If she did, I would seriously consider it.)
As I finished my walk, all three cats came back and sat at the foot of the fir trees and examined their paws, embarking on a mammoth washing session. Such are cats. Just watching them makes me smile. I sat and watched my friends for a bit, then went inside to make hot chocolate. If they come back nearer dinner time, I’ll break out the tuna.