‘Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us.’
There are several large domestic cats that roam freely around here. There’s a tabby, a Persian and a ginger that share two common – and no doubt related – characteristics: a sleek, healthy appearance and an utter lack of compunction in stealing anything we put out for the birds.
These creatures are not feral by any means: they are well looked after and, to judge by their size, perfectly capable of looking after themselves. With caring owners and abundant small wildlife from a few steps down the food chain to hand, being a cat in Tranquility Base isn’t exactly a hardship posting.
Not long ago, though, a new kid arrived on the block. One afternoon a small tortoiseshell cat appeared in the garden, eagerly hoovering up some bird-intended leftover sweetcorn. We opened the back door, which is usually enough to make the locals head for the hills, but this one was not to be shifted. Getting closer, we could see that she was very thin, although still well groomed. Not begrudging her a feed, for which she was clearly pretty desperate, we left her to it.
After that, we couldn’t get rid of her. Whether first thing in the morning or last thing at night, whenever we opened the back door she would be there, sitting on the step and miaowing piteously. In between times she didn’t stray far, rolling around in the sunshine or lying meditatively on the windowsill. It seemed that we had been adopted.
I was not minded to offer any encouragement. We had thought about domestic pets, but had decided that the commitment would be too great. Sugar Magnolia, however, is a much better person than I am and (luckily for me) far more sympathetic to the plight of waifs and strays. So the cat got milk – for which she demonstrated a voracious appetite – and food.
Inevitably, this proved to be the thin end of the wedge. After a few days, I decided that the best policy was to declare victory and retreat, so grudgingly allowed that the cat could stick around, on the understanding that it stayed outside. Not that it showed any signs of going anywhere anyway. And it was quite a pretty little cat, it had to be said.
By this time, the cat had also got a name. Of my own suggestions, ‘China Cat Sunflower’ was met with a blank look, while my preferred choice,‘that bloody thing’ got one of the old-fashioned variety. Both were overruled in favour of Coco.
After five or six days, the scrawny creature we had first encountered had been transformed into something verging on the sleek. But what if this was a sign, not of improved nutrition but advancing pregnancy? Kittens would be a definite deal-breaker. We took her to the vet, who confirmed not only that Coco was not enceinte, but was never going to be, bearing the scar of having been spayed.
The wedge continued to thicken. Dishes and a litter tray were bought. A scratch between the ears was rewarded with a deep-throated purr. Occasionally, stroking took place. It was even suggested that the neighbours wouldn’t mind putting food out if we were away.
The cat got invited inside. Although reluctant at first, she deigned occasionally to bestow upon us the benison of her presence indoors, although never for any length of time and disdaining the basket and cushion, so thoughtfully provided, in favour of a dining chair in front of the Rayburn.
Then one evening the back door was pushed open and in she trotted, of her own volition. Parking herself in front of my chair, she looked up at me, a la Antonio Banderas, and – this a first – jumped up into my lap. Shuffling around to find a comfy position she turned her back to me, lifted her tail and, with great delicacy, passed wind and, as it proved, an opinion.
She went to sleep. I went to sleep. I woke with a start and grabbed involuntarily at what I could feel was on my lap. This did not go down at all well and, after administering a reproachful clawing, she headed for the door, demanding to be let out.
We haven’t seen her since. Perhaps she found her way home, or maybe she just decided that, as servants, we didn’t meet her exacting standards. Who knows? She’s a cat.