Talk to the Tail: Adventures in Cat Ownership and Beyond (30 page)

BOOK: Talk to the Tail: Adventures in Cat Ownership and Beyond
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Melissa has been working for me for eighteen months now, and with that comes a certain pride. I might not have successfully sustained a relationship, but I am, finally, finding the formula to successfully sustain a cleaner: something I’ve found surprisingly hard in the past. I know Elaine loved my cats and left only because she retired, and, for Grace, cleaning was just a stopgap between other jobs, but Valerie, who simply did not turn up one week and was never heard from again, remains a mystery. As for Michelle, the company she worked for told me she’d left to pursue ‘other options’, but I can’t help thinking back to the packet of condoms Dee and I once left out by mistake on cleaning day. And as regards the handcuffs on the kitchen table the following week, the truth is that they were a promotional item, sent by a DVD company promoting a police-themed TV show I was reviewing for a newspaper, and I never even troubled to unlock – let alone use – them. I suppose, though, that Michelle wasn’t to realise that. Who knows? Perhaps she simply got a better job, or didn’t like cats, but I do wonder if Gay Talese’s book
Love Thy Neighbour’s Wife
might have had just a little to do with it. It’s really a very intellectual and sober examination into the 70s’ sex industry, but a person might not necessarily assume that from the racy cover of my paperback copy of it. I hadn’t really thought twice about leaving it open on the bed, but arriving back home and seeing that it had been tidied to the bedside table, and remembering that the handcuff episode was still fresh in the memory, I began to re-evaluate my decision not to put it out of sight.

I don’t leave my collection of 1970s
s lying around when Melissa cleans and, even if I did, I doubt I’d feel the need to explain that I read them for the high standard of investigative journalism and short fiction within. Also, I know Melissa likes cats – none more so than Janet. The two of them have cultivated a close and rather unique bond over the last year and a half. When she arrives, she will go and find him, and scruff his chest: his favourite manner of being stroked, ever since his heart began to murmur. Then he will follow her around as she cleans, inspecting her work. Most cats are scared of vacuum cleaners, but Janet views Melissa’s as an opponent more than an enemy, and, in order to vanquish it, he will leave large clumps of fur in the exact places it has just cleaned.

I’ll generally tidy up quite thoroughly for Melissa before she arrives, and carry out a thorough vole scan, but sometimes, during her two hours here, Shipley and Ralph will leave her little offerings. As someone raised deep in the countryside, Melissa is not fazed by these. Sometimes, she will tell me about the ferret one of her friends keeps near-permanently in his pocket, or her early childhood, living in a house with two dogs and a fox called Penny that her dad had found abandoned as a cub and raised as a canine. Hearing these stories, I’ll realise how fundamentally unadventurous I am as an animal owner, and begin to get ideas. ‘How easy,’ I muse to myself, ‘would it be to transport a goat down the spiral staircase outside my bedroom?’ Or: ‘When people say that, in owning donkeys, a person can never keep just one donkey, and must keep a donkey pal to keep the first donkey company, do they exclusively mean “ donkey” when referring to the second donkey, or do they actually also mean “cat with some extremely donkeyish aspects”?’

Despite not having the rational voice of Dee around to tell me why I can’t follow through on any of these ideas, I’ve surprised myself with my self-restraint. For now, instead of filling the house with animals, I’ve filled it with people.

I always used to think I was very bad at hosting parties. I would get too worried that I wouldn’t get to speak to everyone there, too concerned that everyone was having a good time, but recently, I seem to have got myself on a good run. I still have more than my share of neglectful moments as a host. I probably should have told the comedian who stayed at my house that I had four cats before, without the help of Piriton, he spent a wheezing sleepless night here, rendering himself ill-prepared for his spoken-word event in Norwich the following day. Also, looking back, leaving thirty leftover chicken wings on the dining table, uncovered, overnight, with four sets of whiskers in close quarters, while guests slept on the same floor, was something of an oversight.

I also have a lodger now, Katia. She’s a Dog Person, but seems to be coming round to cats – especially now she has realised the fundamental rule that, in a house containing four of them, it’s best not to walk across a room barefooted in the dark. There are also signs that she is starting to gain a fundamental understanding of mine. ‘I’ve started to realise,’ she told me recently, ‘Ralph is like the guy I fancy, but The Bear is the guy I
. The other two are cats.’

I have done my best to make this house my own, but there have been times when everything in it has seemed to lead me back to Dee. Beyond the décor we chose together and the remnants of the furniture we bought, I have walking reminders of us around me on a daily basis, and even they bring their own, other, half-walking reminders: the moor hen that I chased around the room that made me think of its predecessor whose legs the two of us found sticking out comically from behind the sofa when it was ‘having a rest’ from a somewhat Benny Hill-style chasing episode with Pablo and Shipley; the heartbreaking teenage rat Shipley maimed, which reduced me to tears even before it reminded me of the story Dee had told me about Dylan, the rat she used to keep as a teenager, which would pick up a tiny brush between its teeth and bring it to her so she could stroke him with it. Inevitably the passing of time will make me – is making me – miss her less than I once did, but in my cats I have a lasting connection to her. When I answer people’s questions about them, she is an indelible part of the story. There is, after all, no way to explain that one of your cats was your ex’s ex’s favourite pet, without mentioning your ex.

I sometimes start answering one of these questions with the word ‘We . . .’, then check myself for a moment, having an instinct to change it to ‘I . . .’ At the time, my house will frequently have various people milling round it. Downstairs, my new lodger Katia will be telling a guest about Ralph’s sideburns. In the kitchen, four or five conversations might be going on at once, and in the midst of them might be found Shipley, concerned about not being the loudest individual in the room and making his yapping, swearing demands like some kind of proletarian Siamese with Tourette’s syndrome. It’s unlikely The Bear will be around, but just occasionally he might be spotted looking deep into the eyes of a rare melancholy guest, or surveying the room from beneath the stairs, while perched on top of his Kitty Boutique Disco Scratching Pole. Janet will often not be far away – either suffering from the debilitating condition known as ‘sour cream chin’ having raided the dips, or playing a game of ‘Prison’ with a couple of guests between the bars of the stairs. I’ll look around for a moment, considering my options. The word ‘we’ does feel odd on my tongue, and my throat catches as I play around with it. But would it be a lie, or a complete delusion, to use it in these circumstances? I decide it wouldn’t.

Then, pressing forward, I’ll tell the story.


  This had been a pain at the time, but over the years I’d come to miss it.

  The bleeding stopped after a couple of hours, and I suppose I could forgive him the error: my hands, while not remotely tabby, are quite oversensitive and narcissistic.

  Samson’s favourite brush, that is; I didn’t know if Daniel had a favourite brush and, if he did, it was none of my business.

  Legendarily unwashed band from the early 90s: perhaps best known for starting a trend among middle-class teenagers from well-off households for attaching the family dog to a piece of string, dreadlocking your hair, and walking around your local city pretending to be homeless.

  A deliberately vague Facebook status, often serving as a cry for help, or attention, and prompting your friends to ask you what is up: e.g. ‘Sadie is so fed up with *some

  I don’t believe the pot-bellied pygmy goat is an actual breed; these are just pygmy goats who eat a bit too much.

  See the ever-popular ‘Fruzz Bird’ – for which you will need the following ingredients:

1. A rubber-dimpled pet mitt.

2. A cat.

3. A light breeze.

4. An open first-storey – or higher – window.

5. Some fruzz.

BOOK: Talk to the Tail: Adventures in Cat Ownership and Beyond
7.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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