I’ve not really been writing about cats for the last couple of years, what with being so busy on 21st Century Yokel and Help The Witch and the early stages of the two books that will come after that, but inevitably cats will sneak into my writing in cameo form – as they did years ago before I’d even written a book with any feline theme – and so many people who’ve read my books about my cats and my parents’ cats have asked how they are, so I thought it high time I did a little update:
Ralph is seventeen now. Until about a year ago, strangers who met him assumed he was about four. He has a slight limp and his customary self-celebratory meow – “Raaaaalllllph!” – is a little croakier than it once was, but he’s in excellent, if often overwhelmingly needy, spirits. From early March until the end of last month, Ralph, Roscoe and I were living in a cabin on the edge of Dartmoor. We didn’t have a garden as such, but at the back of the building was a patch of woodland, within which lived a couple of pigs belonging to my landlord. Ralph didn’t stray far from the house but I would sometimes spot him about fifty yards away in the woodland, sitting and staring at the the pigs, and I don’t think at any time in my life I have ever seen a cat more poignantly evoking the spirit of an old man who has learned to appreciate the simpler things in life. It was quite uncatlike for Ralph, who remains very catlike in most ways: his fur is a repository for lazy travelling insects, he is motivated by soft furnishings and cleans his arse loudly in public. Because he’s my largest cat, he has often been saddled with the job of Defender Of Territory, but it’s often seemed a reluctant task for him: he is a lover, not a fighter, and in all of his seventeen years I have never heard him growl or make any other noise suggestive of anger. Fortunately, there is no fighting to do right now for Ralph. The only rival nearby is a timid Cornish Rex nextdoor. But at the cabin one of my neighbours had a massive posh pedigree who was throwing its weight around a bit. I don’t know what breed it was. I just know it was one of the ones who meow like a horse. Ralph tolerated it’s bullshit for many months before finally losing patience and comprehensively kicking its arse, just before we left. After which, he hurtled through the cat door with a triumphant “Raaallllph!’ then celebrated by padding my chest and dribbling on me for an hour. Ralph’s current favourite albums are ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name’ by David Crosby and ‘Court & Spark’ by Joni Mitchell.
Clifton, the stray I took in in Devon last autumn, went off to Nottinghamshire to live with my parents in February, after being bullied by my other female cat, Roscoe. Clifton, now intermittently renamed Bridget – Clifton Bridge(t) – has had a few problems getting on with George, my parents’ other cat, but it seems to be resolving itself, judging by the photo I was sent the other day of them both asleep on my mum’s lap. Clifton has always had a strong, undimmable wanderlust and sometimes vanished for up to three days at the height of summer, being spotted three villages away by a fellow member of my mum’s pilates class. Sometimes my mum will drive to the other village to collect her, as you might with a naughty child, and Clifton – who has a long lanky figure reminiscent of Florence Griffith Joyner – will spend the return journey with her paws eagerly up on the dashboard. Clifton Bridget’s favourite sleeping place is my mum’s sewing box, under the spare bed, where she can happily stay for up to sixteen hours. Before she was allowed to go out, my dad, who is closer to her than he is to George, took her on a tour of the garden, showing her the main landmarks. “THIS IS THE COMPOST HEAP,” he told her. “I SOMETIMES SLEEP HERE. AND THIS IS MY PUMPKIN PATCH. I’M TRYING TO GROW THE BIGGEST PUMPKIN EVER.” But Clifton had her sights set further afield already. At one point in the summer she turned up in the middle of a class in the local primary school. She adores strangers and her love can be bought for a competitive price, but can be more expensive and elusive to hold onto.
George, my mum and dad’s other cat, is now five. Or is it four? Or seven? Nobody will ever know for sure, nor what the story of his early life was. I doubt he was long out of kittenhood when I found him in a bush in the garden of my house in Devon in spring 2014 and gradually won his trust with chicken and country rock. He’s physically almost unrecognisable from that stringy, scratched up stray now: a plush, solid cat whose fur always looks tumble-dryer fresh. My mum describes him as “inherently conservative”, despite the bouncy exterior. He rarely strays beyond a three garden boundary and reports of him chasing rabbits around the village churchyard, half a mile away, turned out to be false; the work of a mere lookalike. George always remembers me when I see him and thwacks his thick tail possessively against the back of my legs, and I tease my mum that he still loves me best, but he and her have a very strong bond, albeit a bond based to a large, unhealthy extent on the distribution of Dreamies. George’s meow remains undeveloped and ineffectual, just like the meow of his boyfriend, Casper, the all-white cat from next-door. George and Casper broke up for a short while late last year but have been back on for over six months now, with Casper submitting and allowing George to wear the trousers in the relationship: pristine white ones that look like they have been treated with expensive fabric conditioner. George can share, when it suits him, but likes to be in charge, and is mostly driven by material possessions. He is, by nature, a capitalist, and if you met him you would probably never suspect his low birth or humble roots, on the mean lanes of Devon.
Roscoe, former reluctant love interest of George, is on top of the world right now, but it’s been a long hard climb for her to get there. After narrowly surviving a dog attack in late 2015, and pulling through two hugely expensive rounds of surgery against the odds, a determined, industrious Roscoe recovered, had a period of peace, then came with me, Ralph and Clifton to the Peak District last winter, where she had to put up with the fact that it snowed almost constantly for three months, plus the new and unpleasant phenomenon of having a younger cat of the same sex living with her. After shipping Clifton off to my mum and dad’s, we then moved back to Devon, to the cabin, which – being effectively a giant scratching post – Roscoe seemed not displeased about, as pieces of architecture go. But we were living in an unenclosed space, where kids and dogs roamed free, and a husky belonging to one of my neighbour’s came within an inch of eating Roscoe. After that, my landlord’s terriers – two extremely sweet dogs, on the whole – seemed to sense Roscoe’s fear, and enjoy winding her up, and she rarely ventured outside. Roscoe tends to resemble a skittle in a cardigan in winter but becomes more svelte over summer. This summer was different: her winter weight stayed. Her reaction upon arriving at our new house in Somerset, two weeks ago, was pure ecstasy, and has been ever more so since then: I have never seen a cat more visibly elated at a new living situation. She belts around the garden at a speed I didn’t think she was still capable of since the surgery on her back half, then comes in and shouts her head off at me in pure excitement. She eats with gusto and has big long sleeps on a sofa she once wouldn’t go near. She is more affectionate than ever, no longer looking nervously over her shoulder as she once did. At our new cottage she has a large amount of outdoor space, with no foes (if you overlook a couple of nosey badgers), and a house free of furry drama. Ultimately, Ralph and I have always known our place in the hierarchy of things: we’re Roscoe’s employees. But while that structure remains firmly in place, right now we – and I feel like I can speak here for Ralph, who is often found sitting companionably beside her, overseeing their new domain – feel like something else, as well, perhaps for the first time: we feel like her friends.
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