Cool for cats

news: Cool for cats

CERTAIN ELEMENTS of my growing legions of fans have suggested to me in recent weeks that I should join a dating service rather than pour out my heart on these pages! Oh ye deluded! Nothing could be further from my mind.

Please go back and read between the lines as well as the stories as a whole. In the piece entitled ‘Where are all the nice women?’, I am assuming the role of a feminist while trying to explain the male, often two-dimensional, mentality.

‘Speedball’ relates to a personal brief encounter during which nothing actually happens, a frozen moment in time that serves as an entrée to exploring one aspect of the dating game, something smothering that occupies an awful lot of people a great deal of the time.

Lastly, my most recent attempt at writing a real story, ‘The beauty and the beast’, a fable of sorts, is a wonderfully descriptive piece (even if I say so myself!) paraphrasing an extraordinary romantic adventure that I am currently involved in – and that is making me very happy. Publishing it in the form I did, sharing it with you, the reader, is merely one way of exploring the complicated nature of matters of the heart, a small insight into what lies beneath the surface – a human condition, if better understood, that could help bring people closer together everywhere. And, by the way, I have no control over those exquisite if “mushy” pictures that grace these pages – I fear we have a closet romantic sitting in the Editorial Department.

But I am getting sidetracked. This week, I love cats. In fact, I have always loved cats. The first one that decided to give me the benefit of the doubt was a tiny ginger bundle abandoned in a suburban dustbin. Kazimir was a wonderful cat, who showed his appreciation for being allowed to swap his dustbin for my equally cluttered bedroom, by dropping some of his feline characteristics.

We had a house with a garden that backed onto my other gardens. At bedtime, I would call him and, from a great distance, my childhood friend would vault wooden fence after wooden fence, shoot past me and run up the stairs to wait for me on my eiderdown. Kazimir actually came when I called him, every time, and changed his instinctive nocturnal habits – more un-catlike!

When my parents decided that it was maybe unhealthy to have him sleeping in my bed every night and put him in a cardboard box in the kitchen, Kazimir graphically made his displeasure known. The box (boxes!) that started the evening as perfectly sturdy containers, welcomed my mother in the mornings, fiercely shredded and scattered all over the kitchen. Needless to say, the experiment was soon abandoned and Kazimir returned happily purring to my bed.

I think I was 16 when I returned from a party one night to find him crying in the flowerbed in the front garden. His eyes were broken and mine still fill with tears as I am writing this.Our neighbour, a poodle owner, had inadvertently reversed over him in her chunky Swedish Volvo. Nothing against poodles or the Swedes, but I hated her for many years after that night. We took Kazimir to a nearby pet hospital but, when I rushed back from school the following afternoon, he was no more.

Cats have a way of capturing your heart in a seemingly effortless way, their paw marks remaining long after they have departed. In many ways, our feline friends – for they are not pets – are unique. Throughout history, they have played a special role in people’s lives. Thousands of years ago, for example, cats were worshipped as gods, a fact, some say, that they have never forgotten! In ancient Egypt, the death of a cat provoked the owner’s whole household to remove their eyebrows as a sign of mourning. The cat’s body was then mummified, left and buried in a cemetery alongside embalmed mice – a feast for the afterlife. In the remains of one temple that was uncovered in the 19th century, the preserved bodies of more than 300,000 cats were discovered. Even today, Summum Modern Mummifications in Utah will mummify your pet for 3,700 euros.

In the Middle Ages, cats were believed to have healing powers. Patients diagnosed insane were given cats to own as a means of treatment, modern scientific studies bearing out their beneficial powers. ‘Owners’ suffer fewer minor health problems and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than non-cat owners.

In Transylvania, it is said that if a cat jumps over a corpse, the dead person will rise again, albeit as a vampire. Italians believe hearing a cat sneeze is a good omen, the Dutch refuse to have cats present at family discussions as they will spread gossip, and in France carrying a cat across a stream is considered to bring bad luck.

During the First World War, 500,000 cats were enlisted by the British forces to serve as ratters in the trenches, where they also alerted troops to poisonous gas, saving thousands of lives. Their contribution in hunting vermin in food stores during the Second World War even merited the award of their own powdered milk ration. Tyrants have never been fond of anything but submissive creatures. Julius Caesar, King Henry II of France, Mussolini, Hitler and Napoleon Bonaparte all hated cats. The French Emperor was once found sweating profusely wielding his sword at a tiny kitten!

My most recent companion, Timmy, is a good example of the adaptability and strangeness of the feline race. He came to me in a box via the vet. Maybe three months old, run over, and still recovering from a potentially deadly illness, the silver grey fluff ball was seriously pretending to be invisible, dug into one corner of his temporary housing, eyes squeezed shut.

Over the next few weeks, I spent hours locating him in his various ingenious hiding places in my small apartment, in order to give him his penicillin. Only when I went to bed and put the light out, would he scramble under the cover at the foot end, nestle in and remain motionless. Visiting friends were beginning to whisper behind my back about my ‘imaginary’ cat, for Timmy was never to be seen. I named him for his timidity, by the way.

When I decided to move in with my then girlfriend, her lively daughter and boisterous greyhound, almost four years ago, I thought that would be the end of him. Far from it! It was as if Timmy had viewed the whole horror of his new environment and decided to live, not die. The dog was quickly taught a few harsh lessons about the relative standing of the two species – the humans were won over, the sofa claimed. Timmy never hid again. He is still there, king of the castle, although I am not.

Author Jeff Valdez once said that cats are smarter than dogs. You can’t get eight cats to pull a sled through snow. This is borne out by tests conducted in the UK that have shown that a dog’s memory lasts five minutes while a cat’s recall can be as long as 16 hours. Anyway, the fundamental difference between the two is perhaps in their way of thinking. A dog thinks: “They feed me, they shelter me, they love me – they must be gods.” A cat thinks: “They feed me, they shelter me, they love me – I must be God.”

I think cats are extra terrestrials, a fact that may explain my special feeling of kinship for them. Please don’t give them chocolate – as little as a pound can kill them, one aversion I do not share with my furry friends!