Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Difference Between a Cat and a Sentence

One has a pause at the end of its clause...

...and the other has claws at the end of its paws.

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Roof War

Before my boyfriend and I moved house, we lived in a flat above our landlady's bungalow.

We were living there when we first got Mouth and Tail, so it was the first home they ever knew. And as everyone knows, a cat's home is his castle.

Tail took her castle-guarding very seriously.

She would spend hours sitting at the window, surveying her domain.

Tail would fight tooth and claw to defend her territory against evil intruders like the postman, the electrician and that odd-smelling bearded chap who came to fix the boiler.

Now, something you need to know about our flat is that it was a loft conversion with dormer windows. The windows looked out onto a low, shallow-sloping roof.

We hadn't really thought about it, but the low roof was fairly easy to climb onto. Especially if you used the tree or the wall by the side of the house.

We remained in blissful ignorance of this fact until one fateful night, when we were woken up by a bloodcurdling yowl.

It was a truly terrifying noise.

I went into the living room fearing the worst. Judging by the sound effects, a full-blown massacre had been taking place around the dining table, and I would surely find bloody corpses strewn across my lovely new Ikea rug.

What I found, instead, was an extremely distressed Tail.

Thinking that somebody must at the very least have stolen her dinner and questioned her parentage, I cast a wary eye around the room for signs of forced entry. But there was nobody there.

Tail seemed to be harbouring particular disdain for the window, so I peered out into the night.

What peered back at me, improbably enough, was a brown tabby face.

For a moment I thought it was Mouth, but this tabby was all too evidently in full possession of his faculties. Looking more closely, he also had bigger black splodges and a general thuggish air about him.

He was the quintessential bully of the feline world. A trespasser, voyeur and marauder of the worst sort.

Before I could counsel him on the errors of his ways, the Striped Bandit had disappeared into the night.

He'd be back, though. They always come back.

And over the weeks that followed, come back he did.

I could tell when Tail had glimpsed him because she had a slightly shell-shocked look. Her fur would be spiky and dishevelled and her whiskers just a teeny bit frazzled.

But the Bandit was sneaky. He waited until we'd gone to work before attacking. We would have to trick him.

The first way we tried to trick him was by sprinkling the contents of Mouth and Tail's litter tray around the windows.

At the time, of course, this seemed perfectly logical and appropriate behaviour. Besides, our tenancy agreement said nothing about the acceptability (or otherwise) of adorning the guttering with faecal matter.

But the Striped Bandit was unfazed by Mouth and Tail's poo. Quite the reverse: he seemed to relish its presence. He made his own generous contributions to the pile, thereby fashioning something of a bizarre shrine to feline excretia.

The next thing we did was try to catch him off guard. We crept home from work early on a Thursday. (On a THURSDAY! we thought, chuckling to ourselves. That'll get the scallywag. He knows we're late home on Thursdays.)

Lo and behold, as we crawled through the undergrowth disguised as shrubs, he was there - sat bold as brass on the roof.

We had sighted our nemesis, and by golly, we were going to vanquish him.

We jumped out and shouted loudly to catch him unawares, but he didn't bat an eyelid. (The neighbours did, though. I think they were a little alarmed by the sight of us dressed as trees and shouting raucously, but it may have been because it was a Thursday.)

"Wait here," my boyfriend said, "I know what to do."

He came back seconds later with a bucket.

"A bucket?" I said.
"A bucket full of water," he winked.
"Oooh," I said.

It was a bit mean, yes. But this cat had no morals. He had terrorised poor Tail for weeks on end, and now he must pay.

My boyfriend raised the bucket and swung it in the Bandit's direction. A great torrent of water shot into the air.

There was no going back now.

I stood there, frozen to the spot. I could see what was about to happen but I was powerless to stop it.

The water did not land on the Striped Bandit.

It did not land on the floor.

My boyfriend had thrown it straight up into the air, and what goes up must come down.

Yes. It landed on us.

There are times in life where you evaluate your actions. You stop and take stock; you learn from your mistakes and you emerge from the experience a wiser person.

This was not one of those times.

My boyfriend and I were standing in our landlady's driveway, utterly drenched, while a gatecrashing tabby sniggered at us from the roof. He knew what he had done. Oh, he knew.

When he had watched us suffer for a while, he turned and walked lazily down the other side of the roof. Taking his time, you understand.

For him, it was a sublime victory.

Oddly enough, we never saw him again. Maybe he had decided we weren't enough of a challenge. Maybe he had found a new family to harass.

Whatever the reason, Tail is a much calmer animal these days. She still gazes out the window, but she's a lot more casual about it. And if we catch her looking too serious, she'll pretend she has some urgent paw-cleaning to attend to.

Paw-cleaning is a serious business.

Friday, 25 January 2013

The Awkward Moment with the Prawn

Mouth and Tail have a well-rehearsed eating regime.

They have dry food for breakfast, because I can leave it out when I go to work. (This has never been an issue, though. Mouth and Tail inhale it within about 30 seconds of me putting it down.)

Then they have a wet pouch when I get home at night.

I am a bit suspicious of their wet food, because it all looks the same. It can claim to be cow or sheep or bird or fish, but it's always the same sludgy brown stuff.

I got excited once because I thought the salmon-flavoured sludge looked a bit pinker than the beef, but it turned out to be Mouth's tongue getting in the way.

Another thing I can't understand is why they put cows and sheep in there. I doubt any cat has ever caught and eaten a cow.

But they adore their sludge.

Anyway, for Mouth's birthday I decided to buy him some prawns.

These were not just any prawns. They were ultra-expensive, Taste the Difference, you-have-never-eaten-anything-so-good prawns.

A real treat, I thought. His little tabby tastebuds won't know what's hit them.

I placed an experimental prawn in his bowl.

Mouth waddled over to inspect it.

He leaned in closer to give it a tentative sniff.

Mouth was not sure about this prawn. As he looked at it, it seemed to be looking shrimpily back at him.

He glanced at me.
"Go on!" I said encouragingly. "It will be delicious. You'll see."

Dutifully, Mouth extended an intrepid paw.

There was a split second when nothing happened. The tension was so palpable, you could have sliced it with a litter scoop.

Then the next thing I knew, Mouth gave an involuntary shudder of revulsion. His paw panicked in its haste to detach itself from this slimy pink monster and the prawn went sailing over our heads.

It was a crustacean aerodynamic display the likes of which my kitchen had never seen before.

Eventually, the prawn came to rest on the floor in the corner of the room.

Mouth had hidden under a nearby chair and was now growling in a very un-brave and whimpery way, as if in acceptance of certain death.

Sighing, I picked up the prawn and threw it away.

Normality was restored.

Mouth wound himself round my legs with new respect. I was his saviour. I had conquered the pink demon and obliterated its very corpse.

I fetched some rabbit-flavoured sludge from the cupboard and dished it out for him.

Mouth tucked in delightedly.

As he ate, his little body reverberated with happy purrs.

Salvation AND a nice rabbity supper! It had been the best birthday EVER.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Epic Tale of the Car Park Cat (or, Cat Among the Peugeots)

I don't go looking for cats to rescue. They just seem to find me.

It is an odd gravitational phenomenon.

One Saturday afternoon, I went shopping with my boyfriend. (It was fun. I bought exciting things, like shoes.)

We'd gone to a big shopping park near the motorway. The shopping park is called Fosse Park and it is surrounded by fields. There aren't any houses for miles.

So you can imagine my surprise when, walking back to the car, I saw a fluffy white cat sitting next to someone's Landrover. I did a double take. Yep, definitely a cat, albeit a slightly confused one. It did not have the look of a creature that regularly spent its spare time in the company of Landrovers.

"Um," I said.
"Um?" my boyfriend said, getting that worried look he gets when I have an Idea.
"There's a cat under that car," I said.
"A cat? Here? Don't be - Oh."

And there he was.

On closer inspection, he was a bit of a mess. He was thin with a bent tail - Tail would have been appalled at such disregard for his finest appendage - and his miaow was all croaky.

We decided to help him.

Helping him, of course, meant catching him.

This was easier said than done.

The car park was full of nice car-shaped places to hide. Every time we got near to him, he darted out from the other side of whatever vehicle he was tickling the undercarriage of.

I kept worrying he might run in front of a moving car, so I ran after him.

Before long, we were chasing him up and down the rows of cars. There were hundreds of them.

Of course, from the path next to the shops you couldn't see the cat. People stopped to gawp at the two weirdos apparently doing marathon practice around the car park. Honestly! Young people these days. We weren't even wearing tracksuits.

It wasn't working, anyway. The cat didn't seem to be getting tired, but we were. We needed a strategy.

We started trying to head him off. I would herd him towards a car and my boyfriend would go round the other side to intercept him. It was an excellent idea. But it failed miserably.

By this time, we were closer to the shops and a few passers-by started to notice what was going on.

"You shouldn't bring your cat to a place like this," one woman tutted.
"He's not my cat," I said.
"You STOLE him?" shrieked the woman, her hands flying to her face.

It wasn't worth explaining.

"I see you have a cat there," another girl said.
"Yes, we're trying to catch him," I said.
"I have a cat too," the girl said helpfully, and wandered off.

It was beginning to get dark. Once the shops closed and they switched off the lights, we'd have no chance.

I remembered I had some cat treats in the car (you never know when you might need some), so I went and fetched them. We started laying trails to try to entice the cat away from the road.

"Look at those idiots trying to feed the cars," I heard one lady mutter to her friend as they walked by.

I was close to giving up.

Just then, a member of security staff appeared. He had probably received reports of crazed marathon-running car feeders alarming his customers.

"Excuse me," I said, "But we're trying to catch this cat. Can you help?"
"Ah, you shouldn't bring your cat to a shopping park," the security man said.
"He's not my cat," I said wearily.
"Well, you shouldn't bring anyone else's cat here either," the man said, but he agreed to help.

The cat was under a nearby car. You could see his tail poking out.

I bent down and tried to grab him, but he shuffled just out of reach.

We were contemplating the best approach when two worried-looking ladies came over.
"I'm sorry, but I think there's a cat under this car," said the one in the blue jacket.
"A white one," added her friend, who was wearing a purple poncho.

I explained that we had spent the best part of two hours trying to catch it.

"Well that's very good of you," said Purple Poncho Lady, "Can we help?"

The security man, Purple Poncho Lady, Blue Jacket Lady, my boyfriend and I were all wriggling under the car when we heard someone clear his throat.

"Excuse me," a voice said, "But if you're trying to steal my car, you're not doing a very good job of it."

You had to laugh.

"There's a cat under your car," I mumbled from somewhere near the exhaust pipe, "And we're trying to get it out."

To his credit, the man immediately understood the problem and went round to the other end of the car to assist.

Between the six of us, we managed to get a hold of the cat and haul him out.

A great cheer went up from the crowd of people who had gathered unnoticed and were now surrounding the car.

"Now what?" I said, after taking a small bow.
My boyfriend wrapped the cat in his jumper. "Well, he can't live with us. Tail would eat him alive, and if that didn't do for him, Mouth's drool would finish him off," he said. "I think we'd better take him to a vet."

We put the cat in my car. He looked a bit dazed.

We tried our vet. We tried another vet. We even tried a local pet shop with a microchip scanner. Nowhere was open at 8pm on a Saturday night.

"I guess he's coming home with us," I said.

When we got back to our flat, the cat promptly made himself at home in the bathroom sink.

There were worse places, so we left him there while we had dinner.

When I went to check on him, he was fast asleep.

We took him to our local rescue shelter in the morning. I told the lady his story, but she didn't seem to be listening. I don't know if she believed us.

A few weeks later, I was passing by the rescue shelter, so I nipped in.

"I was just wondering what happened to the cat I brought in?" I asked the lady on reception.
"Which cat? We have a lot of cats here," the lady snapped.
"The white one with the bent tail. We found him at -"
"Oh, the one from Fosse Park! Why didn't you say!" cried the lady, her face breaking into a smile. "He was famous, he was. We don't get many all-white cats come in."

"Is he still here?" I said.
"Oh no," the lady said. "He's gone to a lovely new home. He's living in the lap of luxury now. They've called him Fosse."

Well, you can't beat a happy ending.

I just hope he uses his remaining eight lives wisely.

And confines his cargazing to the driveway.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Time I Saved a Cat's Life with Vinegar

This is a true story about the time I saved a cat's life using vinegar.

First I need to tell you about the cats who used to live on my road.

A few doors down from us was a house where two black-and-white cats lived. They were large and contented-looking. They looked like they had seen the world and were now settling down to a nice quiet retirement, thank you very much.

We named them Un Puss and Deux Puss.

I would look out for them on my way to work. In the winter, one of them might be sitting in the window.

Sometimes they'd both be there.

In the summer, chances are one of them would be snoozing in the garden...

...or even both of them.

Whenever we passed the house, we'd do the Puss Count.

If I came home from work feeling stressed, my boyfriend would say "Combien de puss?" And I'd smile and say "Un puss," or "Deux puss." And all would be well.

(I don't know why we did this in French. But we did. And it seemed somehow appropriate.)

One day, we were driving home late at night when we saw something in the road.

It was Un Puss.

I got out to see what he was doing.

He had found a dead bird. The bird was squashed and smelly and definitely dead. Un Puss was besotted with it.

The trouble was, the bird was in the road.

I tried to nudge it out of the road with my foot, but it was well and truly frozen in place.

I picked Un Puss up and deposited him on the pavement, but he strode purposefully back to his bird.

Meanwhile, another car was trying to get past. "Sorry, there's a cat in the road," I said.
"Well, move it then," said the driver, reasonably.
"I can't. There's a bird frozen to the road," I explained.
The man looked like he was going to say something else, but thought better of it. He shrugged and turned his car round.

"We need a strategy," I said to my boyfriend.
"We could call the police," he said.
"They don't do cats," I told him, but I called the non-emergency number anyway.
"We don't do cats," said the bemused-sounding lady on the end of the phone.

Probably just as well.

I had a think.

We needed to stop Un Puss wanting to eat the bird.

We needed something that wouldn't poison him, but would make the bird less tasty.

Suddenly I had an idea.

"I'll be right back," I said, "I think we have some vinegar in the cupboard."
"Vinegar?" my boyfriend said doubtfully.
"Trust me," I said.

While my boyfriend explained to another driver that we had a Frozen Bird Situation, I fetched some vinegar from our house. Then I doused the bird liberally with it.

Un Puss was looking at me as if I had gone mad.

I admit, it is one of the more bizarre things I have done. As life experiences go, applying condiments to decaying wildlife is certainly a low point.

Un Puss sniffed the vinegary bird and recoiled in horror. His face was a mixture of anguish and betrayal.

Then he slunk back into his garden.

I felt like the worst person in the world. I had ruined his bird. But I had also saved him from being squished.

I don't think he appreciated this.

We don't live on that road anymore, but I still drive down it now and then. I always look out for Un Puss and Deux Puss.

Un Puss has never forgiven me.

That's cats for you.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Embarrassing Millipede Story

I am going to tell you a story about the time Mouth met a millipede.

It was embarrassing for all involved. All except the millipede.

I still giggle to myself when I think about it.

One day when Tail, Mouth and I lived in my old flat, a millipede crawled in through the window. It was being innocuous enough, millepeding around on the windowsill and thinking about whatever millipedes think about. Its legs, probably. It was minding its own millipedey business.

Then Mouth saw it.

Now, Mouth likes to think of himself as a brave animal. (He isn't.) He prides himself on being totally unafraid of things, except the Hoover. (He is an utter wimp.)

But he had never seen a millipede before.

He had seen plenty of spiders. He had even played Spider Tennis* with Tail on occasion. But this was not a spider.

For a start, it knew how to curl itself into a ball without leaving any bits sticking out.

This frustrated Mouth immensely. (He had spent months trying to accomplish this himself, but someone's tail kept refusing to tuck itself in. He wished he knew whose it was, so he could write them a strongly-worded letter about their tail's behaviour, or at least chew their ear a bit.)

Mouth responded in the most sensible way he could think of. He deployed his Sideways Head of Confusion.

Strangely, the millipede did not seem to understand the Sideways Head of Confusion, so Mouth considered other tactics. He decided the best way forward would be to place his paw on the millipede and squish it, thereby eliminating the doubtless terrible threat it posed.

The millipede, however, proved a cunning opponent. It was fast. It was agile. It could fit in the cracks on the windowsill. It was the ninja of the millipede world.

There followed an epic battle betwixt paw and 'pede, with Mouth swatting maniacally at the wily bug and the wily bug dodging with ease.

(Mouth refused to entertain the possibility that it had not even noticed his Paw Onslaught.)

Poor Mouth had no hope. Not only was he balancing precariously on the windowsill, his opponent also had approximately twenty-five times as many legs.

(How did it manage? Mouth had enough trouble controlling four.)

The outcome of the battle was inevitable. Mouth gave in with grace, watching glumly as the millipede crawled back out of the window.

He knew this was an historic victory. For generations, millipedes would laugh at cats in the street. Millipede children would be told the story of the Great Tabby Defeat. Mouth's species would be scorned by the insect population for all time.

As Mouth saw the millipede disappear under a roof tile, he could swear he saw it stick its tongue out.

These days, Mouth sticks to spiders. He knows where he is with eight legs.

*There is no net, but otherwise it is just like person tennis. You just have to figure out if the spider is a crunchy one or a splatty one, then you're good to go. The spider always loses.