Saturday, 20 December 2008

Jake: The Ultimate Cat Man

I mentioned this video about Jake, the Texan hermit who has adopted over five hundred cats from his local shelter, in my post a week or two back about old cats (Jake owned Creme Puff, the oldest ever cat, and Grandpa, who wasn't far behind him in years), but I thought I should post the vid itself, which is weird, macabre and inspiring at the same time, and almost certainly hasn't yet found its true audience...

Pouncing In The Name Of...

I've mentioned the Panic Mouse - the expensive toy that my cats comprehensively ignored - many times on the blog, and a few people have asked what's become of it. The answer is that about six months ago Dee gave it to Louise, a cat-owning friend at her workplace. "This looks great!" said Louise. "I bet my cats will love it!" It saddened Dee to see such hope in her eyes, knowing what a disappointment she was headed for, upon getting the Panic Mouse home. However, the other day, Louise's other half, Daniel, sent us a video of their cat, Daisy, with the Panic Mouse (and other, less highfalutin toys). As you can see, it's quite a contrast. That said, Daisy still seems more interesting in mauling her non-mechanized toys...

Our Panic Mouse video:

Louise and Daniel's:

Friday, 19 December 2008


Just to let everyone know that Under The Paw is now back in stock at amazon - and not a moment too soon, since today is the last day to order first class before Christmas first class (express delivery can be ordered until the 23rd). As a notorious gossip at my school said when she heard that her former best friend had snogged the least popular boy in the third year, one of whose parents worked part-time at the local refuse centre: "Spread it!".

Friday, 12 December 2008

Slides: For Cats Whose Parents Can't Afford A Treadmil

Cat Boxing Videos: The Top 3

3. Tactical Cruiserweight Bout Between Gingers.

2. White Tabby Matches Himself Blow-For-Blow.

3. Fat Ginger Mobster Decides That He's Not Going To Take The Younger Generation's Nonsense Any More.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Broccoli: The Secret Ingredient In All Good Cat Food?

funny pictures of cats with captions

I've already mentioned The Bear's odd fondness for broccoli. I like to think this makes him unique, but perhaps not...

Under The Paw update

Thanks to everyone who's emailed regarding Under The Paw's recent disappearing act. Just to let you know, it is currently being reprinted, and will once again be available from all good booksellers - including amazon - by next Weds (Dec 17th).

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

"About fifteen of them are the same leopard."

Frankie likes to nick toys from other cats' homes. I particularly like the bit where his owner, Julie, says "about fifteen of them are the same leopard". Still, I can't help noticing that even Frankie has been careful to eschew the dreaded Panic Mouse.

Update: here's the video of Frankie from BBC News.

RIP Bagpuss

Very sad to hear that Oliver Postgate, the folksy genius behind my favourite ever kids tv programme, Bagpuss, died yesterday, at the age of 83. Here's Postgate talking in The Guardian about some of his favourite creations (it actually turns out that the character of Bagpuss came from the imagination of his artistic partner, Peter Firmin).

Saturday, 6 December 2008

I truly do has a sad...

Over the last couple of days, a small publishing nightmare has struck. It's a nightmare that could be looked upon positively, since it's transpired as a result of Under The Paw's popularity, but it's nonetheless a frustrating one: the book has a) run out of copies and b) not been reprinted yet! To everyone who has emailed to say that they can no longer order it on Amazon - I'm sorry about all of this. Apparently a few remaining copies can be found at Waterstones.

In the meantime, it would be lovely if you could help me let Simon and Schuster know if you need to find a copy; maybe if they hear that enough people still want to buy it they might speed up the reprint! Their email:

In addition, just like the typical twelve-year-old that he is, Janet has come up with a Facebook petition. Please sign it if you're on there...

Friday, 5 December 2008

Retro Cats

Earlier this year I read an excellent novel called The Confessions Of Max Tivoli, by Andrew Sean Greer. Tivoli is the victim (or should that be beneficiary?) of a rare syndrome which causes him to age backwards: he's physically more or less an old man when he's born, but by the time he's in his sixties, he has the appearance of a little boy, although coupled with the standard wisdom of anyone else in early old age. It turns out to be a clever way for Tivoli to address that eternal "If I knew what I knew now and had a young person's body!" conundrum, but, as is so often the case with dark, intellectual matters, it also got me thinking about The Bear. It is entirely possible he might be suffering from the cat equivalent of TIvoli's condition. When I met him, way back in the autumn of 2000, he looked positively geriatric, but he seems - with the exception of a few flea allergy-based hiccups - increasingly pristine as time goes on. Dee's not very good with dates, but she's fairly sure she got him in 1995, as a kitten, which puts him somewhere in the middle of his fourteenth year. People tell me this is "a good age" for a cat. When they say this, they don't mean that thirteen is the age when a cat comes into his own, consolidates his finances, finally gets to drive the automobile that becomes him, and learns to be comfortable with his foibles; they mean that he'd done well to get to that age. Quite frankly, this terrifies me, as I fully expect The Bear - a cat who has already shown astonishing durability in using up approximately forty three of his nine lives - to be on this planet for at least another three decades.

There seems to be a great divide of opinion regarding cat life expectancy, and it's a topic that fascinates me: some cats seem rickety and exhausted when they are eleven, others seem like they're such warming up for the true moggy action when they're sixteen. Yesterday, I read a news article about the world's current oldest cat, Mischief (pictured above), who's 27. He appears remarkably fresh-faced, although I wouldn't put it past the Telegraph to have used a backdated shot of him (after all, they were still using a byline shot of me taken in spring 2001 as late as autumn 2006).

I suppose 27 could be seen as just a few limping, blind, farting years on from the age that my uncle's cat, Black'Un, lived to (21), but then I started thinking about what I was actually doing in 1981, when Mischief was born*, and I started to get a true sense of just how long he'd been around. This prompted me to do some more research on old cats, and led me to various DIY youtube tributes to heroically longlasting moggies, which is not the kind of thing any animal-lover should do late on a Thursday night, whilst feeling tired and not particularly emotionally resilient (the croaky meow on the end of this one really killed me - don't watch it unless you're feeling strong, or at least make sure you watch Maru to cheer you up afterwards), after a day featuring an unexpectedly large workload. It also led me to Creme Puff.

Creme Puff, who died at the age of 38 years and 3 days, was the oldest cat ever. On her wikipedia page, it says that there have also "been reports of cats living well into their forties, however this is rarely proven, and is considered extremely unlikely", which is the equivalent of if the people who wrote the wikipedia page for the world's biggest beanstalk had decided to add "oh, and there was also this really, really massive one that led up into the clouds to a giant's house where there were gold coins and stuff, but most people think that's just, like, bullcrap." To speculate about a cat older than Creme Puff seems downright greedy. I mean, even I'm not 38 yet, and I own three pairs of Totes Toasties.

If you'd spoken to Creme Puff not long before her death, in 2005, and she'd been able to speak back, she would have been able to tell you about a world before The Manson murders, a world before Led Zeppelin, a world before The Three Day Week, a world when the JML pet mitt and the happy paws bungalow were nothing more than the wild dreams of some crazy-haired feline science fiction writer. There's a video which includes actual footage of her here. I consider this a bit of a find, not just because at the time of writing it's only had 491 views, but also because Creme Puff's owner, Jake, has the amazing distinction of having been the owner of not one but two of the oldest cats ever - a vet speculates that the secret to the longevity of Jake's pets might be the fact that Jake feeds them "bacon, eggs, broccoli and coffee" every morning - and may be the ultimate Cat Man, complete with tragic backstory. He also has a cat called Red Dog, which is the best cat name I've heard this year. I especially like the bit where Jake talks about having adopted "over five hundred cats" from the local shelter in his casual, Texan way, sort of like he's talking about how many times he's bought cigarettes from his local 7-11.

*In the main: trying to build my own space rocket from a piece of balsa wood and a loose plank from the garage roof, and striving to coerce a neighbour's tabby to "make friends" with my first cat, Felix.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Some Not-Quite-So-Obvious Cat Book Ideas For Christmas Shoppers

So you've (hopefully) bought your copy of Under The Paw, but you're still looking for some moggy-themed reads for your nearest and dearest, and you fancy going a bit beyond the usual cat-lit canon and the gift book table at your local branch of Borders. What do you do? If it's something a bit different and a bit special that you desire, you could do far worse than begin by investigating the three titles below....

Ernie: A Photographer's Memoir by Tony Mendoza.
My favourite cat book ever. Ernie was the ultimate tough guy New York cat, and Mendoza's pictures of him capture the essence of the feline spirit like nothing else. I gaze at these expressive photos, which document the full gamut of streetmog experience, at least once a week, and not just because Ernie is my kind of cat (big nose, black - well, more grey, really - and white, lots of cattitude). I wrote some more about him here.

Why Cats Paint: A Theory Of Feline Aesthetics by Heather Busch and Burton Silver (who also wrote the equally marvellous Dancing With Cats).
Ever wondered what is about Van Gogh's Sunflowers that gets your tabby's creative juices flowing? Or what the patterns your cat leaves in your litter tray really mean? Read this, and meet Minnie, the furry white abstract expressionist easing herself back to the easel after a creative hiatus following poor reviews, and Smokey, the romantic ruralist who tells his owner where to leave his paints by marking the spot with urine. An art world spoof to rank right up there with William Boyd's Nate Tate: American Artist.

The Sophisticated Cat: A Gathering Of Stories, Poems and Miscellaneous Writings About Cats edited by Joyce Carol Oates.
Peerless collection of cat-themed writings which Oates, remarkably, found time in her 167-Great-American-novels-per-year schedule to edit. Includes PG's Wodehouse's wonderful The Story Of Webster, as quoted in Under The Paw, and prose and verse by many other masters whose penchant for the whiskery kind you might not have suspected (e.g. John Updike, who I'd always pegged as a die-hard Dog Man).

Monday, 1 December 2008

Guest Cat Of The Month For December: Bosshog (like Ron Burgundy, he's kind of a big deal round here and probably has many leather-bound books..)


The Hog, Hogger, Boss And Gorgeous Boy.

Age is but a state of mind, dude. I are seven and a half.

Pah, as if! The provider of food is Lindsay, we live in Orkney.

"I am Bosshog, hear me roar - meeeep!"

Favourite habits?
Sauntering, cleaning myself, sitting on roofs, being gorgeous.

What constitutes a perfect evening for you?
Have a bit of a saunter around the property - we've just moved to the country and I've now got about 60 acres - have a snooze in my little nest I've made in the straw shed, fish for tea and a good chin rub.

Favourite foods?
Fish from the chip shop.

Defining moment of your life?
My naming ceremony - before that I'd apparently been another "welfare case'" she'd taken home from work (she's a vet nurse). Once the name was given I knew my place as King Of The Castle was secured and I was able to begin behaving as such, after all I'm kind of a big deal.

Any enemies (including people, animals and objects)?
Not really. I'm nearly 7kg, y'know - I'm like, totally, awesome! I don't like cars - I once got run over and needed emergency surgery. It was touch and go for a while but I took it like a man - after all, chicks dig scars. And what is it with horses? You dig a nice comfy bed in the straw and some horse comes along and poops in it - how rude!

If you could do one thing to make the world a better place for felines, what would it be?
Opposable thumbs.

If you could meet one celebrity, who would it be and why?
Rolf Harris - I think he would love to paint my portrait.

Which One Of The Cats In Under The Paw would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?
I think probably The Bear - anyone with "The" in front of their name is usually cool. We could discuss how hilarious it is to disappear for days at a time and the finer points of "superpurrytramping" on their belly or thighs while really digging those claws in but knowing they won't put you down cos they're so grateful you're actually talking to them - mwah-ha-ha-ha!

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Nora The Piano Playing Cat

The world and her husband have seen this, but I thought I'd post it anyway...

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

One Toke Over The Line

The top of my fridge has always been a hangout spot of intrigue and kudos for my cats. This is not only the place where Dee and I keep the cat food before we take it out the box, it's also a convenient spot for surveying territory, pouncing on your inferiors, and generally plotting world supremacy*. Janet's the number one fridge cat. The place has extra sentimental value for him, going back to when we lived in a rented flat in Blackheath (borders), London, and he would perch on top of a stack of 1970s copies of The Beano, watching wood pigeons through the window.. Much water has passed under the bridge since then: some of it being the very stuff that made the Beanos so damp and mushy I had to throw them out. Janet's wood pigeon obsession, meanwhile, has never been as strong since the time he forgot he didn't have wings and jumped out of a third floor window in an attempt to "make friends" with one of them. Still, one can often find him perched on top of today's new, better, non-rented fridge, possibly deep in thought about such topics as the strangely adhesive properties of his tail, and why, on the sixth day of every week**, his owners keep passing beneath him, opening the door, and popping the top off so many of those weird transparent things with the shiny, fizzy liquid in them.

It's perhaps Janet's vacant, oh-so-predictable love of the fridge that makes The Bear so disdainful of it. When he chooses a place to make his new lair, it's invariably highly original: the result of weeks of intense planning and research. Hence when, a few days ago, I went to retrieve some leftover lasagne and spotted him sniffing around above me, I knew there was some ulterior motive. I don't usually have the self-discipline to save toys that I buy my cats "for later" but The Bear had rooted out an oversight: a catnip cigar ordered from America several weeks previously and since left in its box and forgotten. For me, this was a little like feeling around in the pocket of a long-neglected coat and finding a five pound note. I would apply the same simile for The Bear, if not for the fact that he doesn't have pockets and, even if he did, would never be so fiscally remiss as to mislay a five in one of them.

I've now been buying catnip cigars for my cats for about two years, and their effect seems much more extreme than that of other catnip toys. It's probably unwise to read anything sinister into this: just because something is in the shape of a cigar, it doesn't naturally mean that it contains harmful drugs, but one might be forced to think again upon surveying the scene in my living room just after I've unveiled a new stogie. The Bear loses his cool to an extent, certainly, but it's nothing compared to the interaction between Ralph and Shipley during these occasions, which is perhaps most reminiscent of a fight I once saw between two meth-addled tramps near some bins behind Nottingham's Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. There's always seems to be the possibility, in Bootsy (pictured above) and Pablo's case, that after half and hour rolling around on the floor with their cigars, they might go off to Katmandu to find themselves, or at least stagger blearily over to the shelves where I keep my vinyl and pull out one of my Crosby, Stills and Nash albums.

I've also noticed that each brand of cigar has a very different effect. Last year, I brought a batch with "El Gato Muy Loco" written on them. Since this translates (I think) to The Cat Is Mental in Spanish, one might presume that they offered the ultimate cat high, but I'm convinced that there are harder catnip cigars on the market: one particularly undiluted batch of Ratherbees I purchased, for example, or the brand that I bought at the 2007 Supreme Cat Show which I can't for the life of me remember the name of (I would read the label, but it's been chewed to a pulp by Shipley and Bootsy), but which will forever live in the memory, if only for the reason that its mysterious chemical properties prompted Ralph to pick a fight with an entire four foot-high antique chest of drawers.

I'm also certain that the market for catnip cigars has got a lot bigger since I was last buying a batch online for my cats. A brief Google search today results in the following, to name just a few:

YEOWWW! 100% organic



Should cat-owners be warned by a concerned right wing newspaper about this new craze? Is it about time we introduced a system for classifying cat drugs? What are actually in these things? It's certainly made me want to further investigate the making of catnip. What are your experiences with the stuff? Is there an ultimate catnip cigar of all catnip cigars out there? And are there any banned types of catnip?

I'm off to buy some more now. It's going to be a drawn-out process, involving much prevarication, but you can bet that when the product arrives, The Bear will be first to sniff it out. He won't hurry in with the masses for the first toke, but at some point when the two of us are alone in the kitchen, he'll give me a look, along with a tiny, just-perceptible nod in the direction of the jiffy bag containing the remaining, untouched cigars, and I'll know what to do. Then, when he's had his fill, Bogarting the item just enough to make it lose its ultimate potency for those who come after, he'll let the braindead masses descend. I suppose you might call it the cat junkie's version of Setting A Pissident (see previous blog post).

*And the cats like it, too!
** Before you ask, yes, of course my cats know what weeks are. They may be truant-playing trailer trash, but they know a calendar when they see one. I've got SOME self-respect, you know.

Image courtesy of Jason Bye.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008


Air Scratch
To flail wildly and absurdly at the air with one's back leg as one's owner attempts to "help" by scratching an itch which, in all honesty, you had perfectly well covered. Some say the air scratch is not as involuntary as it seems, and is actually an obscene gesture whose roots stretch back as far as ancient egypt: a kind of feline version of a two-fingered salute, but much, much ruder. Others just decry it as another forlorn symbol of man's increasing interference in cat culture, a debasement of nature that will ultimately send us on a road to a dark place where a word like "natural" no longer even has any meaning.

Setting A Pissident
To urinate in a completely new and innovative place, instigating a trend for such action amongst your fellow felines. Born leaders but also generally kind of snotty, cats who set a pissident know that their originality comes at a price, and, upon seeing others follow lamely in their wake, can often be heard to mutter comments like "here come the mindless vultures, picking over the corpse of my brilliance" and "now I know how The Beatles must have felt when they heard the Marmalade's cover of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da."

Thursday, 13 November 2008

The Knack... And How To Get It

When announcing that it's dinner time for my cats, I've always felt that a simple high-note, low-note whistle gets the job done most effectively. It's simple, saves me having to embarrass myself in front of neighbourhood ruffians by calling six faintly ridiculous names in a soppy voice out of the back door, and, after more than three decades, I can up its volume impressively at will (or perhaps not so impressively, if you are one of the women who play bridge at the Conservative Club nextdoor). However, I recently decided it was time for a change, so, for the forseeable future, when feeding Shipley, Ralph, The Bear, Pablo, Bootsy and Janet, in place of the "somewhat overexposed and grating" (Whistle Monthly Magazine, 2004) Tomwhistle, I've decided to play my vinyl copy of 'Get The Knack', the 1979 album by The Knack - more specifically, their American number one single 'My Sharona'.

I can't explain quite how this started, other than to say one night I just happened to be listening to the song at jellied meatslop dispensing time, and its addictive, jerky (some would say spastic) rhythms seemed somehow highly appropriate to the whole manic process of feeding half a dozen manic furry forces of nature... particularly when Pablo misjudged a jump from a chair to the kitchen worksurface, and ended up divebombing unceremoniously into a shelf of cookery books.* There's also the fact that, if you're going to train your cats to come to the call of music, you've got more chance of doing it with a rudimentary three and a half-chord geek anthem than with something from the third Van Der Graaf Generator album.

I know that moggies have sensitive hearing, but I'm still not convinced of just how sensitive those same ears are to the nuances of power-pop melodies. A few years ago, when I lived nextdoor to a wannabe techno DJ noise pollutant, and his racket was at its most Satanic, Shipley, The Bear and Ralph often scuttled out of the house with their fur standing on end. That said, if you were to ask me whether, say, Pablo preferred The Romantics' 'What I Like About You' or Badfinger's 'No Matter What', I couldn't tell you. The early signs, though, are good. I've only been playing 'My Sharona' for about a week, but Dee reported that tonight, the second the opening chords kicked in, The Bear's ears pricked up, and within a few seconds he was ambling up the stairs (like Paul Cicero in Goodfellas, The Bear don't move for no-one). It's hard to tell just how well they're responding, since all six of them are permanently hungry at the moment (Dee claims this is because they are "making sure they're well-upholstered for winter", I claim it is because they are increasingly indolent and spoiled), but I'm going to persevere, and report back on the experiment's progress in a month or two. By which time I will almost certainly be wishing I'd opted for 'Surrender' by Cheap Trick instead.**

* I probably should also point out that I was drunk at the time.

** Already, I'm getting a little too familiar with The Knack's underage girl-obsessed lyrics (in case 'Sharona' wasn't enough, just to make sure they got their point across they also put out an album called '... But The Little Girls Understand'). How did I not previously notice the full extent of how dodgy they were? "Such a dirty mind/always get it up for the touch of the younger kind". First my reworking of Foreigner's lascivious 'Hot Blooded' into 'Hot Tabby' for Ralph, now this. Is this really the kind of thing that innocent felines should be exposed to? The lusted-over Sharona in question, incidentally, now works as a successful realtor.

Images courtesy of Jason Bye.

Missing Cat Returned To Owners After Thirteen Years!

Beats The Bear's six week hiatus...

Monday, 10 November 2008

Japanese Agraphobic Kitteh!

Maru, the japanese cat who loves to leap in tiny, tiny boxes, practically has his own channel! I'll take this over Dave anyday...

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Monday, 3 November 2008

Guest Cat Of The Month For November: Draino

1. Name
Draven aka Draino

2. Nickname
Mr Man, Fat Cat and many more!

3. Age

4. Owners?
Nancy and Eric from Canada

5. CATchphrase?
"Feed me before I fade away."

6. Favourite habits?
Eating, sleeping, talking and sunning myself.

7. What constitutes a perfect evening for you?
Getting my meal on time, with treats and a good belly rub.

8. Favourite foods?
Pizza, lasagne, raw beef, banana muffin and assorted human food.

9. Any enemies (inc people, animals or objects)?
Certain rude people who make fun of my tail and weight (21.6 pounds/just under 10 kilos). I don't like other cats and I despise car rides and my dog carrier.

10. If you could do one thing to make the world a better place for felines, what would it be?
I would invent auto-feeders for wet cat food so cats would never have a late meal again. Also automatic groomers and brushers for when the humans are too busy.

11. If you could meet one celebrity, who would it be, and why?
Rin Tin Tin because I think this dog may have been as smart as me.

12. Which one of the cats in Under The Paw would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?
Well... I don't like other cats or enclosed spaces but if I really had to be stuck with one of them it would be Ralph, because being sensitive and artistic, he may understand why I would be so upset.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

The House: A Machine For (Cats) Living In

Cool blog My Cat Goma shares a cool new Japanese housebuilding development - a house built to suit a cat's needs as much as a human's...

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Some Recents Excerpts From My Cat-Watcher's Diary

Today I entered the kitchen to find Ralph and Pablo both simultaneously suspended upside down, in mid-air, three feet off the ground. From what I could work out, no string, rope or pulley system was in place. These two are frequent sparring partners and it's my usual habit to hurl myself between them and break up their scraps, but this time I held back, unable to stop myself admiring the ballet of the whole thing. I swear it was a full three seconds before both their heads hit the ground. It was like something from the Matrix. The main exceptions perhaps being that, post-fight, characters from the Matrix don't a) violently shed fur all over the floor and b) go and sulk behind the sofa.

In her column in the Mail On Sunday's You Magazine, the infamously divorced, infamously childless, infamously cat-loving Liz Jones observes that her old English sheepdog has begun to misbehave. "He jumps at me all the time," she complains, "even when I am wearing my Dries van Noten jacket, which I have just had dry-cleaned." This is an intriguing sentence on a couple of levels, but in the end it's the use of the word "even" that really does it for me. One would have thought dogs would know a top designer jacket from normal daywear, but no. Cultural cretins! I am just glad that, having stuck to cats, I own animals that I can rely on to stop and distinguish their Kurt Geiger from their French Connection rejects in their more muddy-footed moments. It's a bit bitchy to say it, but between you and me I wouldn't be surprised if that sheepdog hadn't even read the September issue of Vogue.

Another monumental punch-up between Ralph and Pablo today. Why is it that they don't see eye-to-eye? Is it a long-standing race issue between tabbies and gingers? Or does Ralph's narcissistic, pretty-boy hipster outlook on life simply refuse to brook the vulgar, feral bumpkinish ways of Pablo? I'm sure there was a period when, had Ralph backed off, Pablo would have happily let the whole thing go, but that time has now passed, and the mere sight of the the tabby is enough to make the ginge start making a terrifying yipping feral war cry that has Ralph looking even more worried than he was the time we paid a man to use a big loud shampoo-dispensing machine to get Janet's puke off our carpet. Of course, the whole disagreement is more extreme at this time of year, since Winter Pablo - the mysteriously chunky ginger cat that begins to take the place of the scrawny one we've hosted through the summer months - is looming, threatening Ralph's fragile masculinity still further. I also noted with interest that Bootsy found a good vantage point, on the bookshelf, to observe the battle, adding to an overall impression that, ultimately, as ever, she's the one pulling the strings here.

Fell over on the stairs today, whilst running for the door to get a package from a courier, and trod on Ralph, eliciting one of those "hurt" looks of his that twist their way inside my chest like a rusty screwdriver. Came out of this with a bruised shin and a chunk of skin scraped off the palm of my hand, but what was the first thing I did, after falling? Ran for the door, in an attempt to stop the delivery driver driving away with the DVD I'd ordered from amazon? Went and sat down with a calming cup of tea? No. I chased after Ralph, telling him how sorry I was, never stopping to think that it was his own dumb fault for always sitting on the stairs and never budging for human traffic. As a result of this, I will have to wait a whole extra day to watch Harold And Kumar Get The Munchies.

The Bear ate the last tin of his special Applaws food today. He meeooped all the way through it, as if to confirm just how mandatory it is that we reorder some of it at the earliest opportunity. I have known cats to meow for food before, but he is the first I've known to meow during it.

Ralph bit me quite hard today, when I made the unforgivable error of only using the pet mitt on him for seven minutes, instead of the twenty stated as required in The Big Book Of Spoilt Oversensitive Feline Idiot Therapy. More effective than a brush, the pet mitt elicits very different responses from all my cats, but each has the common factor of being extreme. Janet mewls helplessly at its merest touch, before laying on his back and trying to bite it. The Bear runs away from it in a manner that, even for him, is notable for its campness. Bootsy and Pablo seem to simultaneously like and hate it, scarpering from it but also returning to ask for more of its sweet embrace. Ralph and Shipley just want to be mauled by it on a round-the-clock basis. I haven't tried it on myself, since I'm a bit worried about the results, but I do enjoy the way the fur comes off it in one perfectly intact, perforated layer, which I invariably drop out of the window as a peace-offering to local nesting birds whose families have fallen foul of Shipley and Pablo's leisure pursuits. In every way aside from the fact that it cost more, this pet-mitt is a cheap imitation of the original (see pic below), which was two-sided (one side tough and dimpled, the other soft and felty) and which Dee made me throw away because it had got "too skanky"*. I can see that it's effective, but I could live without the puncture wounds. When I looked down at the two small but surprisingly deep holes in my finger, I pictured a couple of furry ears and a small-twitching nose above them, and was able to feel new empathy with the wretched hand that the south Norfolk vole is so often dealt in life.

Note to self: must keep fewer black things - or fewer black cats - in my living room. That is the third time in the last week that I have called "Shipley!", "Janet!" or "The Bear!" to a dark cushion or a stuffed toy otter, only to be disappointed at its aloof, supercilious attitude.

Cat Words That Should Be Invented, Number 187: What do you call it when a human scratches an itch on a cat's behalf, but the cat still cannot stop its own leg from doing a flailing "air scratch" at the same time?

* My argument was that any replacement pet mitt would very quickly get equally skanky, thus rendering it redundant, and I feel this has only been reinforced by the state of the current, inferior pet mitt.

Monday, 27 October 2008


Congratulations to Martine (1), Luli (2) and Jo (3): you will all receive a copy of Under The Paw and I Can Has Cheezburger: a LOLcats Colleckshun.




It wasn't a strictly official entry, but a special extra mention goes to winner Martine's caption for Bootsy's pic (what I think of as her "I'm really holding a machine gun under here" photo), which was also rather good...

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Under The Paw: currently with 50% off...

Click HERE for more info.

What people have said about the book so far:

"Tom Cox is a very funny writer, and he knows his cats." - Kate Atkinson, author of Behind The Scenes At The Museum and Case Histories

"A brilliantly funny and moving book which will act as an antidote to all the soppy, sloppy, spinsterish rubbish written about our feline f(r)iends in recent years." - Julie Burchill

"Middle-aged spinsters move over; Tom Cox loves cats and he's not afraid to show it! I laughed a lot and cried a little when I read Under the Paw - what a great testimony to the pleasures of sharing your life with cats." - Vicky Halls, author of Cat Confidential

"Fascinating insight and anecdotal musings.... Never mawkish or sentimental but filled with the respect, love and regrets all cat-lovers know so well. Purr-fect for the Christmas stocking." - Ian Anderson, Jethro Tull

"Tom Cox is a very funny cat addict. I laughed out loud." - Celia Haddon (ex Daily Telegraph pets writer and author of many cat books)

Join the Under The Paw group on Facebook and invite all your cat-loving friends.

My piece for The Times on icanhascheezburger

Check it out here.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Make A LOLcaption for Shipley!

ENTER the Under The Paw icanhascheezburger competition on Facebook and invite all your friends!

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Thursday, 16 October 2008

My First Ever Lolcat (With Shipley's Help)

To vote for Shipley and his impeccable taste in music go HERE.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

This Month's Unlikely Prog-Rocking Cat (And Under The Paw) Fan: Ian Anderson From Jethro Tull

As someone who lives musically in 1971 on a near-permanent basis, I was extremely pleased to get an email yesterday from Ian Anderson, the lead singer of one of my favourite bands, Jethro Tull, about how much he'd enjoyed Under The Paw...

"A man who knows his cats - almost as much as the cats know the man!" wrote Ian. "Fascinating insight and anecdotal musings.... Never mawkish or sentimental but filled with the respect, love and regrets all cat-lovers know so well. Purr-fect for the Christmas stocking."

It turns out Ian's interest in cats goes further than just writing a song called Cat's Squirrel. He keeps Bengals, and even has a kitten advice page on the Tull website, for "new parents"! What with this and my discovery last month of Rick Wakeman's secret feline love, it's clearly only a matter of time before we find out that Keith Emerson owns his own cat sanctuary, where Mike Rutherford and the guitarist from Greenslade help out with poop patrol.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Some More Random Selections From The Cat Dictionary

The quality of feline true grit in the face of adversity (e.g. managing to stoically wait out the twenty minutes between the biscuit dispenser becoming empty and your human serf abandoning his overdue, half-finished piece of journalism to hotfoot it down to the pet store for replacement supplies).

Feline scholars are split upon estimating when the ancient language of dsdasighgdshsddc first emerged. Some put the date around about 1983, during the rise of the BBC Micro and the ZX Spectrum. Others claim that techno geek cats in San Francisco's South Park district were communicating in it as far back as 1974. Whatever the case, it is generally agreed that dsdasighgdshsddc has been in regular use since the early 90s. While often written off by humans as a random, unintentional series of letters generated by the patter of mischievous paws across a keyboard, what many people don't know is that dsdasighgdshsddc actually forms an entire exclamatory, often insult-heavy, feline language: a kind of profane moggy binary, if you like, being sent to other cats across the globe via a complex email system invisible to the human eye. Popular examples of dsdasighgdshsddc "dissing" include auoagfoylhgo ("Eat my tail scum!") and oiaiuhagiuggghafug ("Your mum was a Griffon Bruxellois!"). Of course, with the rise of the Internet, dsdasighgdshsddc has evolved, mutated and, some would claim, been irrevocably dumbed down. For example, jhjdhjdhdddddddvvvd ("Oh my god! How much do I want my owner to get off this computer and let me pad his stomach!") is now lazily abbreviated by many Generation Y cats to to a simpler, less poetic jhdvvvvd.

A half-hearted version of the Nuggin (see Random Selections From The Cat Dictionary Part One), The Grudgin more often than not marks a bargain between cat and owner: "I am feeling too bored/self-important/generally unarsed to push the side of my nose into your hand, but will do so, half-heartedly, knowing that this is the price one must pay for leftover, past-its-sell-by-date honey-glazed turkey."

The kind of middling, tepid water still bafflingly placed by humans for cats in a combination of receptacles all over the globe, in spite of empirical evidence suggesting that the favourite tipple of most felines is a) water straight from the tap (see below for demonstration from Bootsy), or b) stagnant pond soup, seasoned with the death juice of as many tiny creatures as possible. It is felt by many cats that the continuing marketing of Litebeer encapsulates humans' overall failure to understand a fundamental fact of feline nature: that cats are animals of extremes, unwilling to accept the middle-ground and eternally fearful of the mediocre.

The one dried, blackened gribbly bit at the bottom of the food bowl that a cat will always leave behind, no matter how hungry it seems to be before (or after) feeding time. The legend of Satan's Coal, which hasn't got anything to do with coal whatsoever, goes all the way back to the time when Osiris, a farm cat in 18th Century Yorkshire, found a nugget of dried shrew corpse on the floor of a neighbour's barn that had been mysteriously ignored by whichever animal had caught it. So moggy folkore says, Osiris was "dared" to eat the tempting nugget by a local witch's cat, and subsequently keeled over and died. Even pragmatic, hardheaded cats who view the story of Satan's Coal as "gobbledigook" often find themselves steering away from that last gribbly bit at feeding time, putting a paw to their stomach and offering such transparent excuses as "I'm on the Catkins diet at the moment" and "No, seriously, I'm podged - I found a smoky bacon-flavoured crisp on the floor earlier and, as you know, those things are surprisingly filling".

Monday, 6 October 2008

Piece About Men And Cats From Yesterday's New York Times

It seems that a man's best friend is no longer a golden retriever, but a creature named Fluffy, writes Abby Ellin...

Shipley, Ralph, Janet, Bootsy, The Bear and Pablo would concur...


Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Cat Of The Month for October: Fluffy-Nuts




"Kristian and Diane from Victoria, Australia."

"Admire me, I am beautiful"

Favourite habits?
"Scratching, preening, snuggling and boxing with my brother"

What constitutes a perfect evening for you?
"Being fed a meal of Fancy Feast at an appropriate hour - I don't like waiting around to be served - before cleaning myself in front of the heater and then letting my she-slave brush my coat to a glossy perfection all the
while cooing about how beautiful I am"

Favourite foods?
"Fancy Feast and raw chicken"
Defining moment of your life?
"Discovering the she-slave was more likely to meet my demands more often and more swiftly than my beloved he-master."

Any enemies (inc people, animals or objects)?
"Zoe, my sister. My she-slave gives her too much attention for my liking. Hence my repeated attacks when she comes out of hiding. Also, I do not like strange people entering my domain. My she-slave and he-master are adequate human companionship for me."

If you could do one thing to make the world better for felines, what would
it be?
"Rid all supermarket shelves of any brand of cat food other than Fancy Feast."

If you could meet one celebrity, who would it be, and why?
"Cesar Millan. I would like him to help me further understand the canine mentality. Living with dogs is often challenging, although a quick swipe to their noses and the corresponding squeals is always enjoyable."

Which one of the cats in Under The Paw would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?
"Initially I would say Ralph, but on second thoughts Bootsy and I would probably have more in common. We could swap masterful human manipulation stories."

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Seven Art Installations My Cats Have Been Working On Recently

1. 'Mouse-En-Scene'
One toy rodent placed in perfect symmetry with a real rodent, at the bottom of my stairs.
Pablo: “I suppose my initial inspiration from this came from the famous scene in Goodfellas, when Joe Pesci shows off his mum’s painting of two dogs to Ray Liotta and Robert De Niro: ‘One dog goes one way, one dog goes the other way’. My twist on this classic motif is that I didn’t use dogs, I used mice, and both are facing in the same direction. In the end, the fact that one mouse was freshly killed by yours truly the previous morning and the other was bought from a pet shop in Swaffham in June 2002 is immaterial. Both animals yearn for the same thing - the top of the stairs, and whatever lies beyond – but are ultimately doomed to find that what is there is not the promised mouseian Utopia, but more cats and the restrictive barrier of a ceiling. These rodents face a realisation that has haunted every idealist from Francis Bacon to Britney Spears: that there is only so much “up” in any life. More receptive, intellectually inquiring students of the piece will notice an extra theme: that of The Permanence Of The Transitory, expressed in the juxtaposition of the “real” mouse – soon to be placed in a plastic bag and put in the wheelie bin to quickly rot – and the “fake”, “ephemeral" mouse, still going strong and, amazingly, still squeaking, despite its mass-produced origins and early Noughties vintage.

2. 'The Venerable Bead'
Somewhere between five and seven thousand tiny polystyrene beads from a recently split bean bag, with a fluffy black cat lolloping about in the middle of them.
Janet: “Surely my most ambitious and dramatic composition to date. One of the questions I've most been asked about 'The Venerable Bead' is, 'Why put yourself in it?'. I suppose the most concise answer is that, despite its universality, I always saw it as an ultimately autobiographical work. I would also say that, in the five minutes between the bean bag's contents pouring out onto the floor and my owner returning with a bin bag and a vacuum cleaner, I played around with various other arrangements and none quite felt as true to me; they just didn't have the same sense of journey. A room full of beads: well, that's just, y'know, a room full of beads. But with my startled face in the midst of the chaos, beads stuck all over it, you get the duality of all maelstrom: the sweet release from convention ('Yay! Little white things to twat around the floor!') and the humiliating hangover that inevitably follows ('Bugger! What's this weird stuff stuck to my chin and nose?!").

3. 'Scum Shadow'
A cushion festooned the various miniscule debris of a hard cat's night, but leaving a perfect sleeping cat-shape within its centre.
Shipley: "See my scabby detritus, my sticky buds, my stray, dried eye bogeys, my scurf and dead cells, feel the negative space they create. See me, then see my outline. Who is the real one? Who is the clean one? Ask yourself: what are we all, but outlines, waiting to be filled in?"

A single Pets At Home Pet Mitt, placed on the other side of a window to a gardening glove
"Sometimes - and I say this not just because of my own personal sleeping habits - the best art is about doing nothing. It was not me who placed my favourite pet mitt on the window ledge, any more than it was me who dropped the lone, crusty gardening glove on the garden path on the other side of the glass, yet by being there to witness their strange symbiosis, I feel I can claim a kind of ownership. Turn your fingers into a letter box and look through it: the framed scene is perfect.. preordained, one might say. The contrast is fecund and evident. On one side of the glass: the pet mitt, better than any brush, perfectly dimpled for his or her pleasure. On the other side: the gardening glove, provider of a more invigorating stroke than a bare human hand, maybe, but ultimately always the pretender, always feted to be on the outside, looking in."

5. 'Protection'
Two ancient crisp packets, once respectively housing near-forgotten lamb and mint- and spare rib-flavoured snacks, rescued out of the lake at the bottom of my garden, standing half upright against one another.
Janet: "Who says the commercial and throwaway has no place in art? Not Andy Warhol, and not me. What is most interesting to me here is not the outdated nature of the products on offer, but the way they appear to lean on one another for support. They are, if you like, their own teepee, built against the inexorable forward press of potato-based snacks. Designed to withstand an eternity spent submerged in water, to stay crinkly and robust against whatever the UK's landfills have to throw at them, they nonetheless have their own fragility, their own worries about an uncaring, harsher future. They must hide and regroup, and for this regrouping, they choose a spot to the left of the outside drain, beneath the buddleia, before the crazy paving begins: cool, tranquil, reflective."

An aging, stuffed toy otter, abandoned on the floor alongside a favourite armchair.
Bootsy: "I think of this as not just the dispatching of the unreal (i.e. that bloomin' otter that my human slaves always put on top of that expensively covered chair so I don't ruin it) by the kicking, vibrant legs of the real (i.e. me), or even as a statement against the futility of materialism, though it could be argued to be both. I also think of it as my own little joke on those of my peers who choose to cruelly speculate on my lack of bowel movements, simply because I spend an abnormal amount of time indoors. It is a metaphorical silencing of the doubters. It is proof that, despite what my impeccable, Queenly deportment would suggest, I do, just like everyone else - like even the Queen herself - sometimes squeeze out an otter."

7. 'Once-White towel, Now Black With Fur'
A once-white towel, now black with fur.
The Bear: “Genius does not need to justify itself.”

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Guest Blogger: Tim Relf

The latest littlecatdiaries post is a very generously donated guest blog from Tim Relf, cat-lover and author of the novels Home and Stag. I've also included a picture of Tim's ineffably cute (now fully grown) kittens Nutmeg and Parsley below. If you'd like to know more about Tim, visit

"My work colleagues have introduced a ‘cat tin’.

So bored are they of me talking about my two that they’ve put said item next to my desk. The deal is simple: if I mention Nutmeg or Parsley, I have to put a quid in for charity. Let’s just say the local hospital got a nice donation last Christmas.

I talk about them a lot, I know that. Friends have started using the word ‘obsessive’. It’s not normal, they whisper, for a man to talk about his cats so much (“banging on about them”, is an expression I’ve heard used).

In hushed tones, they say it’s gone beyond a joke. That it’s not quite right for a supposedly professional man – a man with a mortgage and a Ford Focus, for goodness sake – to stand on a shed under the light of the moon shaking a box of Go-Cat.

A cat on a shed, people tell me, is not interesting as a topic of conversation. It’s merely, well, a cat on a shed. Somehow, however, when it’s your cat, it can be.

Trouble is, I find them fascinating. Fascinating, funny and relaxing. Spells of illness and expensive vets’ bills (distressing as they’ve been, both to the cats and to my credit card) have only made me more fond of them.

Plus, this past 18 months since we got them has been a series of milestones, so there’s been plenty to talk about. Their first day out. Their first foray beyond the garden. Their first ascent of the shed/ extension/next door’s garage. Their first kill (a slug under the patio table – hardly reminiscent, admittedly, of their noble cousins on the Serengeti, but one they were proud of nonetheless). Their dietary habits (Nutmeg goes wild at the smell of curry), their markings, their interaction with each other and neighbours’ cats. Anything, pretty much, given the chance.

I should explain. I’d always wanted cats, having grown up with them – but living in a succession of upstairs flats, shared houses and places near busy roads had prevented it happening.

So, when we moved to a quiet street last spring, I wasted no time. I opened negotiations with my other half, Isabel, asking for three. As a confirmed dog person, she had only reluctantly agreed in fairly vague terms to discuss the prospect of ‘a cat’. She was adamant we should limit it to one. In the end, we settled on two (the killer blow came when a friend of mine who works at a vet’s said it could be cruel to get one as it might get lonely.)

Since then, my ‘interest’ has snowballed. Friends email me daily links to cat websites. Post me stories cut from newspapers. I didn’t get a single card for my birthday this year that didn’t have a cat on it. Christmas presents – mugs, calendars, ornaments, paper knives – are without exception cat-related.

I’m on first name terms (mates, almost) with the vet and the lady who runs the cattery. I still swap the occasional email with the lady we got them from.

I’ve found myself sharing in great detail, often before I’ve realised I’m doing it, their little triumphs and tribulations with anyone in the vicinity. One colleague has taken to calling me ‘The Cat Man’.

Yesterday, it occurred to me – and even I had a flash of panic that maybe it was getting out of hand when it did – that perhaps I could have Parsley’s miaow as my phone’s ring-tone.

So, I breathed a big sigh of relief when I read Tom’s book. I mean, it wasn’t just me. There were other people out there who were the same. This was normal (well, relatively normal.)

I saw a woman on TV recently who had 30 cats. I thought immediately of the phenomena Tom mentions: Mad Cat Woman.

‘You’re exactly like her,’ Isabel said. ‘Only you’ve got fewer.’

‘I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,’ I replied. I’d been waiting to catch her at a weak moment to float the prospect of a third. Or possibly another two. That’s the thing about cats: they’re addictive.

‘No chance,’ she said, having heard my suggestion.

Clearly, there’s still some negotiating to be done (so any advice on persuasive arguments I could employ would be much appreciated!)

Two more cats. Can you imagine. I suppose at least the local hospital would be guaranteed another good donation next year."

A Different Kind Of Muppaphone

My father-in-law claims this really existed, but then this is the same man who once claimed to his daughter that he was "famous in Germany" as a result of writing a book about cigarette packets....

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Pussies Galore (Channel 4, last Friday)

I only caught the last fifteen or twenty minutes of Channel 4's Pussies Galore documentary, which followed three women whose lives are dominated by their cats, but what I did see was fairly troubling. Perhaps most grotesque of all was the moment when, not content with having endlessly rewashed her fluffy white chinchilla (not an ACTUAL chinchilla, a chinchilla cat) Mr Darcy, his owner, Julie, proceeded to rub what appeared to be talcum powder on his bottom. I probably would have been more shocked, had this not been the same week that I witnessed a man at my gym blow-dry his pubic hair, but I was still alarmed - as, it seems, were the numerous members of Facebook's Under The Paw group who wrote to Janet to express their outrage.

I'm not sure that the documentary ultimately proved anything, other than that Channel 4's researchers' are increasingly adept at hunting out human extremes for their reality shows. Almost as disturbing as Julie was Kelly, who thought nothing of taking her Mr Bigglesworth-style pedigrees out into the neighbourhood in a pushchair. If you had any prejudices about cat-lovers, this programme was not going to disarm you, although the case of the final member of the ailurophile trio, Anne, was actually rather sweet. I wouldn't like her cleaning bills, but her 20 acre Welsh farm, which houses 83 cats, came across as something of a Utopia. There appeared to be a sadness at the heart of Anne's cat love, but in sharp contrast to that of the documentary's other subjects, it was obviously not a selfish sadness. What was also impressive was how well the cats all seemed to get on with one another. It reminded me a bit of the video below, which proves that, while Feliway and Valerian have their uses, there really is nothing better for encouraging feline mellowness than repeatedly playing them the beatific sound Talking Heads' 'This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)'....

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Bob and Mitchell RIP

They say you should never meet your heroes and I'd agree with that, unless your hero happens to be a) a cat-lover, or/and b) a keyboard-playing man of the people, who once sneakily ate a whole curry live on stage and cheerfully turns up at in your local town every December to turn on the Christmas lights. With this credo in mind, I recently played golf with the prog-rock raconteur Rick Wakeman. I'd always thought of Rick as a Dog Bloke, but it turns out that he and his wife have three rescue cats, all of which wake Rick up at quarter to six every morning by crawling all over his still-impressive seventies rock mane. Rick kept me entertained with lots of rock'n'golf anecdotes*, not all of which were about cats, but nearly all of which left me laughing so much that I spent much of the round in serious danger of falling into the course's numerous greenside bunkers. He also told me one very sad story, which concerned Bob, the club cat at Diss Golf Club, the Suffolk course local to the two of us where Rick is now a member and which I used as a practice facility whilst conducting my year as the UK's most inappropriate golf professional for my book Bring Me The Head Of Sergio Garcia.

Bob was not a conventional golf club cat, in that the club didn't own him in any official sense (not, of course, that you can own any cat in an official sense). He simply wandered over from a house in the nearby village one day, liked what he saw, and decided to stick around. There was always at least one bowl of milk, wet cat food or biscuits waiting for him outside the pro shop, and during 2006 I spent many an afternoon sitting on the practice ground tickling his neck: time I should really have been devoting to a different kind of grooming - that of my own swing in preparation for trying to qualify for The Open. Had it not been for the fact that the editor of Bring Me The Head Of Sergio was a card-carrying mogophobe (and, very sensibly, saw little correlation between overfed tabbies and the rigours of PGA life), I imagine Bob might have played a fairly prominent part in its early chapters.

I've previously written about how the not particularly animal-friendly nature of my favourite sport can frequently put me off it, but I was far from the only golfer at Diss who was regularly cheered up by Bob's bright-eyed presence. Further proof of this is the fact that, when he was facing an operation a year ago, the club had a whip round, and came up with a total sum £1200 greater than the one required.

When I stopped playing at Diss, last year, I knew I'd miss its signature hole, the vertiginous dogleg par four 13th, not to mention its par three predecessor, where I'd had my first hole in one, but I also knew I'd miss Bob more. Heartbreakingly, though, a few months ago Bob was hit by a car on the road that bisects the course. According to Rick, by the time a kindly member had rushed him to the vets, there was nothing to be done to save him. But as the news of his demise funneled its way down the fairways, each and every golfer there - a sizable club tournament had been in progress at the time - abandoned his or her round and made their way back to the clubhouse in tribute. Nobody wants to be reduced to a wibbling, pathetic globule of fruit preserve in front of a titan of mystical man rock, less than an hour after making his acquaintance, but as Rick conveyed this information, it took all my steeliest inner resolve not to break down right there, over my tricky eight foot par putt on the fourteenth green - even more so when Rick added that he had recently inaugurated a competition called The Bob Cup in memoriam. I asked if I might be permitted to play in it. "I'll see what I can do," he said, "but it's heavily oversubscribed."

More sad news: my condolences go out to littlecatdiaries reader Jane, whose beautifully dunderheaded Mitchell (see below) was killed by a car recently. Those who followed littlecatdiaries' recent Most Witless-Looking Cat competition will remember Mitchell as one of the three charismatic winners. I never met him in person, but felt like I knew him, so wonderfully, effervescently bonkers did he appear in Jane's photos. Anyone who, like me, read Jane's Facebook status updates with a lump in their throat in the days following his disappearance would have been left in no doubt whatsoever that here was a cat who was, in his unjustly curtailed life, truly loved and cherished.

*If Rick is reaching his anecdotage, rest assured it is a vastly more entertaining, discerning kind than that experienced by the rest of his musical generation.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Vicky Halls

Vicky Halls, the UK's foremost cat behaviour counsellor, came over to my house the other week. We had a very pleasant and enlightening afternoon together, and I wrote a piece about it for the Daily Telegraph, which ran today, and you can read HERE. I had been a bit worried, since beforehand Vicky had read Under The Paw, which is not exactly a "how to" manual of feline ownership, so it was a relief to find that she didn't think I was the feline-loving world's answer to Fagin. Vicky sort of reminds me of the mystical golf coach who moved my right hand half an inch on my club and had me hitting the best shots of my life within seconds: her technique is all about lots of observation (she can watch a cat's actions in great detail whilst looking almost 90 degrees in the opposite direction), and a few small but crucial adjustments. The Bear must have sensed he was about to be commercially exploited again, since he disappeared as soon as she arrived, but my other five cats all took turns attempting to get inside Vicky's magical (and self-confessedly grungy) bag of unknowable cat treasures. I can honestly say I've never seen them as mellow as they were for the week following her departure.

Vicky's new book, The Complete Cat, has just been published. Her others are Cat Counsellor, Cat Detective and the classic, bestselling Cat Confidential.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Bean Bag Mayhem Almost Scuppers Radio 4 Interview

A fairly eventful catty week, this one. On Thursday, I found myself in the BBC's very 1970s* Manchester studios being interviewed about Under The Paw for Radio 4's Woman's Hour, which was holding a discussion regarding "a pet's place in the family" in the wake of a recent survey that had found that around a fifth of all mothers loved their pets as much, if not more than, their children (!). Before that, however, I had a bit of a domestic disaster: my bean bag exploded.

I don't mean this euphemistically: one of my bean bags actually did explode. I'd taken the cordouroy cover off to wash some particularly adhesive cat vomit off it, and it turned out that one of the bags inside holding the beans had come undone. I'm not sure if this has ever happened to you, but the carnage is quite mindboggling. Who knew there were that many beans in there, that they could be so hard to get out of the bristles on a vacuum cleaner head, or that they could move twenty feet across a room of their own volition, jump into the air, and secrete themselves in a plate of quiche? Janet - whose love of budget, alternative playthings has already been documented here - was very impressed, and celebrated by jumping into the middle of the vast, seemingly ever-expanding puddle of tiny beads on my dining room floor. Sadly, I couldn't find the camera in time to capture him leaping joyfully through this "indoor snow" - a particular disappointment, in the case of the moment when he looked up at me with his tongue sticking out and three beads stuck to his chin, nose and forehead in a perfect line. The experience made me realise how Woody Allen must have felt in Sleeper when he had to tackle that giant instant pudding. Of course, Woody had sort of an advantage, in that he didn't have three small dumb animals attempting to variously bat, skate on and eat the pudding: had The Bear, Bootsy and Ralph not been asleep downstairs at the time, the mayhem that ensued could have been enough to put an end to this blog, my love of mogs and, well, me. It took me almost two hours to clear up, and I made it to my Manchester-bound train with only about 30 seconds to spare. I didn't find the last bead until I ran my hand through my hair somewhere in the region of Macclesfield.

I've done quite a lot of radio in the last couple of years and always look forward to it - in a way I can't ever imagine myself doing with TV - but I was oddly nervous in the run-up to entering the WH studio. Perhaps it was because Woman's Hour was the first programme I'd been on that I could actually imagine members of my family and friends listening to. I forgot to say most of what I wanted to say, simultaneously probably said a bit too much about the way I talk to and about my cats, but still had a very nice chat with Jenni Murray, who's got a lovely soothing, familiar voice. Apparently Jenni is allergic to cat hair, but not, weirdly, the hair of black cats. Has anyone else heard of this condition? I'd never encountered it before, but it seems to be more proof of the magical nature of the darker feline. Jenni admits she does refer to herself as the "mummy" of her dog and cats. However, I didn't get chance to ask her whether she sings to the latter animals, and, when she does, she sings the same song that littlecatdiaries reader Natalija admitted to singing to hers this week.**

* I didn't think there was anywhere in Britain that still had that Life On Mars lighting in its corridors - bar the Life On Mars set - but I was wrong. When I went to the toilet, I half-expected to find one of Joy Division in there, smoking a cigarette and looking shifty.
** James Brown's 'Say It Loud (I'm Black And I'm Proud)'.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Janet Joins Bill Bryson's Keep Britain Tidy Campaign!

It's now been a few weeks since empty sweet and crisp wrappers started turning up outside the backdoor of my house, and the mystery of their source has caused much paranoia. The way that the building is positioned dictates that, barring the event of extremely high wind, if there's a packet of spicy tomato Wheat Crunchies on the flagstones outside my study, it's almost certainly the result of someone sitting on the flagstones outside my study, eating a packet of spicy tomato Wheat Crunchies. Disposing of soggy Mr Kipling packets (the litter is almost always soggy) and crinkled, greying Sunblest bags has recently become no less an intrinsic part of my morning ritual than making coffee, turning on the kitchen tap for Bootsy and shouting at the presenters of BBC Breakfast for speaking to me as if I'm simple.

What is almost as spooky as the appearance of this litter is its notable vintage quality. I mean: I know that there are some fairly timeworn products knocking around the market town where I live - one of the kebab shops only recently got rid of the last of a supply of bright red coke cans that my wife and I suspected were "retro" in a worryingly genuine way - but some of the brands currently residing in my flowerbed haven't been widely available in supermarkets since 1998. "Do that many people still really eat Curly-Wurlies?" I found myself asking, last Thursday. At one point over the weekend, I half-expected (well, hoped, really*) to see a packet of salt and vinegar Odd'Uns.

Of course, I'd seen Janet lazing about next to the rubbish as it appeared, but it didn't occur to me at first to connect the pile of litter with the pile of cat alongside it. Janet, who's more of a dozer than a sleeper, can do his lazing in a remarkably eclectic array of habitats, and his penchant for hard surfaces is one the major quirks of his middle-age, right up alongside his ever-loudening yawn and the new "fart-hiss" he has been perfecting for times when he is angry or frustrated**. Even now, I haven't actually caught him with any rubbish between his jaws, but since I saw him loitering just inside the house, with a full, sealed bag of pre-Lineker Walkers sitting behind him on the tiles, I have come to the conclusion that the only explanation for the fly-tipping is this: he is fishing the litter out of the lake of the bottom of my garden.

If so, this is very kind of him, since I usually spend an hour or so each month doing the same thing, particularly at rainy periods such as now, when the lake gets high and washes its innumerable crap up in the reeds beyond my lawn. Though in many ways the most uncomplicated of my cats, Janet has always been an enigma, from the summer romance he once sustained with a decrepit neighbourhood fox to the strange way that he drops to the floor, jellylike, when you tickle in him in a particular spot behind his right ear. My best explanation for his actions is that his litter picking is his form of "presents": a feline pacifist's (with the possible exception of a meddlesome polystyrene bead, he's never killed anything in his life) version of the headless voles Pablo leaves at the beneath my work desk. This explanation also accounts for the plaintive wail I heard him making the other night, as he sat alongside his latest stash of archaic firelighter packaging: a wail not dissimilar to the one Ralph makes when he has a mousetache. Where will this end? I do not know, but I spotted a faded can of Lilt in the gutter near my front door yesterday, so it's possible he could be expanding his repertoire.

*Does anyone lament the 1985 demise of these on a daily basis, or is it just me?
** Particularly baffling to be around, considering the amount of time he now also spends actually farting as well.