More Feline Stuff

Tom Cox muses on the nature of felines and our relationship with them.

Is there a more divisive animal on earth than the domestic cat? To those who dislike them, cats are aloof and self-obsessed: flighty animals, full of nonsense, who have never really done man much good, aside from the odd bit of low-level pest control.

I have to say that to me, that’s a reason to love them, not hate them. It’s that very aloofness, the indifference and the nonsense that appeals so much to me. A cat at play is full of such stuff and nonsense. Our Louis for example is a clown who will one day break my neck if I’m not careful. His favourite trick is to lie alongside a door and then wrap himself around my legs as I try to walk through. As my foot touches the floor he will deftly wind his body around it, shifting from one tottering appendage to the next. One day his dastardly scheme will succeed. But, one asks, who will then open the fridge?

As for the low level pest control, when we moved into this house, we encountered a veritable infestation of mice. Now, anyone who complains about cat shit in the garden would have something to complain about seeing every work surface in the kitchen smothered in mouse droppings. The buggers were everywhere. The immigration of ten cats soon put a stop to that. Indeed, Ptolemy – sadly no longer with us – had the matter under control within a couple of hours. He was seen strutting about the house with a mouse tail dangling from his chops. That sight will be an enduring memory of a dear friend.

To those who love them, they’re the colourful, unpredictable alternative to staid old dogs: creatures overflowing with comedy and beauty who will prepare you for real life and make every purr feel like a hard-won victory.

Quite so. When they offer affection, it is to be valued. There is something soothing about a cat gently purring as it digs its claws rhythmically into your legs. And, when one is sitting at the computer, composing some thoughtful prose, the helpful additions caused by a cat walking across the keyboard tends to concentrate the mind. I think that’s supposed to be the effect, anyway.

A suspicion of cats as grand manipulators goes right back to the time when we believed they were witches’ familiars. Now, as then, much of this suspicion emanates from men. “Cats are like women – they’re only nice to you when they want something!” opined one particularly idiotic caller on a radio phone-in I was involved in.

I see that Tom has come across the cat-hating idiocy, too. Cats know how to look after number one and that’s good survival.

Cats carry the burden of being superior beings, who also happen to be incredibly vulnerable. Therefore, they represent an easy target for the rage of the inferior, the bitter and the evil.

Ah, yes, it has always been so. As they look disdainfully down at an inferior world populated by hairless apes and propitiative dogs, they have to cope with the evils of man, the inferior beings who complain about shit in the garden of all things. One such creature calling himself private_fraser whines in the comments to Tom’s piece:

Sh*t machines is all they are

So, too, is every living organism that metabolises – as is pretty much pointed out with a suitably curt response from benmaxius.

I suppose you have found some way to process sustenance without defecating then?

Well, quite. It’s no worse than the badger shit I frequently encountered – our house was on their regular run and they use their droppings as a marker. Wonderful.

My cats are a source of great joy. They are clowns and acrobats and they would also like me to believe that they are deep thinkers, but I suspect that most of the time they are just sitting half asleep – or half awake, planning world domination. Or, at least, just how do you get that fridge open?



  1. We have 2 cats, both chalk and cheese to each other and the older resents the younger but they manage somehow, the younger. called whisky is no fool, not only does he set off the radio alarm by pressing the buttons with his paws in the morning when he decides it is time to eat, he can also freeze my new generation mac mini any time he wants as he walks across the keyboard, we are great pals and he is very affecionate, he lies on my wife while she watches TV with his head cradled in her neck; the other tigger is shy but is very vocal with us, meowing his displeasure or demands until stroked and then he purrs remorselessly loudly as soon as I start to stroke him, there are no mice in the house and the rabbits around here are very afraid, I find persons who despise cats are often not the greatest of lateral thinkers.

  2. Did you take that picture?

    I love the way the stalks and the neck and the ear line up, depth of field, all that nonsense. And the way the top of the car’s head is more or less the same colour/texture as the rubble in the top right hand corner.

  3. You take them as you find them, cats, and they’re always on the cusp between domestic and wild. Which is one of the reasons that living with cats is a joy. Your eulogy to their ways and moods is delightful.

    My lovely ancient lady once sent an email, which, alarmingly, consisted of one perfectly spelt word: pin. I still think the recipient regards me as unhinged when I emailed to apologise for the one the cat sent.

  4. Mark, yes it’s one of my pictures. The cat is Nefertiti, our old matriarch. She turned fifteen this year and still skits around like an overgrown kitten. That pose is typical of her – curiosity didn’t kill this cat.

    PT – none of ours have sent an email yet, although my sister’s kitten switched my laptop off last night.

  5. I was going to comment irritably on your previous post and fortunately for everyone thought better of it.

    Now, having just trodden, barefoot, and hungover, in pile of fresh cat sick, on the ****** carpet, It`s time to open the doors on all the forward tubes. Here goes:

    A) Cat shit: ”It decomposes in the soil doing no harm whatsoever.”

    Bollocks. Look up ‘Toxoplasma Gondii’ and find out how many years thee oocytes persist in soil. Having contact with many cats over a long period there’s a fair chance you had the delightful little tadpoles wriggling through bloodstream as you wrote that bollocks. You’re probably slightly loopy because of their toxic effects. It perfectly explains the French.

    B) “…preferring to have felines in the house to a nest of rodents”.

    Irrelevant bollocks. I set traps in the shed/greenhouse and then put the bodies out for my local barn owls, which gratefully wolf them down. Saves a fortune and additonally you don’t find yourself treading in cat puke first thing on Saturday morning. Better still, utterly unlike cats, barn owls remain completely silent nearly all the time. Barn owls don’t prefer killing robins and goldfinches either.

    C) “At least the cats don’t shit inside all over your food stores. “

    Such bollocks that I hardly know where to begin. Suffice to say that they literally do shit all over your food stores.

    D) “There are products on the market that deter them…”

    Strickly speaking true, but, since none of these devices work, still bollocks. A ‘good’ dog (i.e. a proper blood-soaked cat-shredder) will merely confine them to sneaking around your property after you’ve gone to bed.

    E) “…shooting at our cats using a pea-shooter.”

    Good for them. I fire damsons* at the horrible little bastards with a catapult.

    *Greengages are now an acceptable alternative given that they’re in season.

    F) “Without a supply of food and population control from people, their effect on the local wildlife would be significantly worse.”

    Facepalm bollocks. Without domestic cats, the cat population of Britain would be exactly the same as the wildcat population of Scotland (i.e. somewhat less than on the brink of extinction).

    H) “One thing I will not tolerate is animal cruelty.”

    And he likes cat? Where does one begin? I once had one that specialised in bringing home juvenile grass snakes. He just loved the way they wriggled around helplessly as he tortured them to death. Shame we don’t get adders.

    I) “I have not lost one plant due to cats.”

    I have, and quite recently. I don’t like cat shit on my salad crops either. I’m just funny that way.

    J) “The domestic cat has lived alongside man since ancient times.”

    Yep. And they’ve been slaughtering wildlife, shitting on our food and puking on our carpets since ancient times too.

    (finished that sentence to the sound of a cat scraping at the carpet in attempt to cover over pile of sick. Bastard.)

  6. Some utter nonsense there, indeed.

    If in doubt accuse the person you disagree with as being “loopy”. You are in the same gentlemen’s club as Richard Murphy, using the accusation of mental illness as a debating tactic. At which point I can dismiss the claptrap that follows.

    As I’ve lived with cats for the past five decades and experienced none of the assertions you list (apart from the occasional vomit which isn’t a big deal), I’ll dismiss it anyway, irrespective of your ad hominem.

    I will, however, pick up on one of your points because it is so misleading. The Scottish wild cat faces extinction because it has been hunted as vermin, road collisions and dilution from interbreeding with the domestic cat. To suggest that the domestic cat will suffer the same fate is making an assumption. A fertile queen will be responsible for thousands of progeny during her lifetime. I’ve observed feral colonies enough to realise that far from being facepalm bollocks (a stupid affectation at the best of times and makes you look a bit of a dick), the reality is that left unchecked they would do so nationwide. There is only one real check and that is interbreeding, but that takes several generations and assumes no incoming Toms to widen the gene pool.

    One final thing – a friendly warning. Come on here and accuse me of being mentally ill again and it will be the final time, okay?

  7. I think ought to apologise: sorry, please don’t take my comments so seriously. They really wasn’t meant that way. You’re right about it being nonsense. Seconds beforehand I honestly had just stepped barefoot in cat sick and was in no mood for any feline good news. All the invective just came tumbing out. Had the sick still been warm, it might have been even worse.

    In an accidental moment of factual accuracy, I think the bit about T. Gondii might actually be true. I believe it is suspected of causing bizarre behaviour -it makes mice unafraid of cats, for example. It’s also a parasite that a disproportionate number of French people carry, though I’m under the impression diet rather than moggies are to blame, despite cats being the usual host or vector or whatever the proper word is.

    Having said that, honestly, since when has using casual use of the phrase ‘slightly loopy’ amounted to a formal accusation of mental illness? It wasn’t meant seriously and I’m embarassed you took it personally.

    As far as my ‘looking a dick’ is concerned, I fear nature preempted any grumpy comments I might make by a long way.

    (With rodent control, you just can’t win. Even my beloved barns owls turn the ruddy trees white with poo and clutter their own box with regurgitated pellets. If I ever step in either I’ll bitch about them as well)

  8. Dave, Okay, fair enough. The written word can lack nuance and we’ve all said things that have been taken badly, so don’t beat yourself up over it. I probably shouldn’t have reacted so badly – sorry. One of my major irritations is when people – and Murphy is a prime example – use mental illness as an insult.

    No harm done, so don’t worry about it.

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