For most of my life, there’s been at least one cat living in my house. Generally speaking, there are three types of people, those who own dogs, those who own cats and another group of people who prefer neither.
Lady Barton St Mary is one of the latter. As far as the cats are concerned, she just about tolerates them, is frequently irritated by them, will occasionally show them affection but often states she could quite happily live without them. I sometimes wonder if she has the same opinion of me.
So, why choose a cat over a dog? Several reasons:
- Dogs need lots of maintenance. Maintenance means money.
- Dogs demand a lot of attention.
- Dogs need exercising.
- When a dog poops, you have to clear it up.
- When you go away for any length of time, you have to house the dogs with willing friends/neighbours or in kennels. Kennels mean money.
- Cats need less maintenance.
- Cats decide when they want attention.
- Cats exercise themselves, thank you.
- When a cat poops, you don’t have to clear it up. However, we’ll discuss this point later.
- When you go away for any length of time, chuck the cat out and tell a neighbour to feed it now and again.
Obviously, these arguments are simplistic, but really show why I prefer cats. The upside to living with a dog is that you have a loving, loyal friend who, if trained properly, will do exactly as it is told.
The downfall of having a cat is that you are living with a creature that fundamentally thinks you’re a pain in the arse 97% of the time. They’ll ruin your carpets and furniture; occasionally, they’ll shit on your duvet. If you have a cat in your house, just observe it for a moment. Is it regarding you with a look of disdain? An expression that says, “You big dumb monkey?”
Unless it’s hungry. Then you’ll get all the leg rubbing treatment and the cutesy cat behaviour, until it has eaten. Then it will find your favourite cashmere jumper, knead some lovely bobbles into it with its claws and go to sleep.
Anyway, for most of my life, cats have been around. They’ve all had different personalities, but always had one thing in common. They’ve all been nuts in some way. Let me take you through a few of the cats I’ve lived with.
When I was 5 years old my parents brought home a black kitten and named him Jinx, the cat in the ‘Pixie and Dixie’ cartoon (kids – Google it). Jinx had to get used to kids quickly. But he was definitely nuts. He would tolerate me for so long, before his ears would go back, his eyes narrowed and he lowered his haunches. At this point, I would run away as fast as I could, pursued by a wild eyed, angry cat, who would often wrap his frame around my leg. For many years I would regularly have fine red lines on my body, a result of teasing Jinx too much.
I also owned a penny whistle, which when played, sent Jinx into a strange trance. He would wander over, dribbling and crossed eyed, rubbing his muzzle against the whistle as it emitted its undulating tones. This could last as long as you liked. I often wonder now what would have happened if I just continually played the whistle – would Jinx get fed up or run out of saliva and collapse from dehydration?
When it came to cats, my dad was a bit like Lenny, the character from Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’. He wanted to show Jinx affection, but always played a bit too rough. Consequently, Jinx would often sink his claws and teeth into dad’s arm, resulting in a) dad shaking his arm up and down to try to release the offended moggy and b) once achieving this, punching the cat in the middle of the back for its transgression. When my dad was at home, Jinx regularly looked like a black, hairy ‘U’ shape. Most of the time, dad didn’t call him Jinx, preferring ‘That F***ing Cat.’
I have one particular memory of the battle of wits that went on between my dad and Jinx the Cat. Dad used to work shifts, which meant that when he was on early shifts he’d have to leave the house at 5.30 am. One December morning, I was awoken by the plaintive cries of dad in the darkness downstairs. It transpired that at some time during the night, Jinx had crept into the back porch and shat in dad’s boot. Because dad was used to slipping his shoes on in the dark, this fact was unknown to him up until the point his toes felt the offending lump in his footwear.
Jinx looked like a big hairy ‘U’ shape for a fortnight after that, but had a decidedly satisfied look on his face.
Early on in his life, Jinx took a trip in the back of a neighbour’s car. Halfway up the A1, Stan was rather alarmed to discover there was an unidentified animal in his vehicle and stopped his car on the hard shoulder. As he opened the door, Jinx leapt out and scarpered into the long grass. Stan returned home to inform my mother of the unintentional abandonment. Undeterred, mum asked Stan where the incident occurred. When dad returned home, he reluctantly agreed to transport mum to the A1 to the area where Stan claimed he had stopped. Armed with a tin of Whiskas and a fork, mum stood on the hard shoulder called for Jinx. He immediately appeared from the long grass, jumped into my mum’s arms and was given a lift home by my bemused father.
On his return, dad smiled and gave Jinx an extra hard stroke.
“Another life gone for that f***ing cat,” he observed.
Jinx and I grew up together, until eventually I left home.
With all the children gone, Jinx was given the five star treatment by my mum. Warm milk on a winter’s morning, fresh meat for tea and a steady supply of his favourites: cheese and onion crisps. In fact, as far as treats and affection were concerned, he was still ahead of my dad, who by this time had softened his opinion of Jinx and had all but given up making him into a U shape.
Time moved on. I met Lady Barton St Mary. We got married and bought our own house. Then, one weekend, mum and dad visited us with the sad news that Jinx had died. Although 21 years old, with his once black whiskers a snowy white, he still managed to jump onto the six foot fence in the garden. Then, one day, he fell asleep on the fence and fell off, seriously injuring himself. Mum and dad, who were both retired by this time, took him to the vet, but it was too late.
I wouldn’t like to say for sure, but I think there was a tear in my dad’s eye for that f***ing cat.