I have written a couple of times about the little feral cat that I adopted, or who adopted me; and the posts received quite a lot of responses. Cat, as I simply called him at first, was tiny, battered, wild and terrified of me and everyone else when he first turned up in the back garden. It took months of patience to even tempt him into the house, and begin his rehabilitation. He is now, within certain boundaries, domesticated. He loves to be stroked and brushed, but doesn’t like to be picked up and handled. He is a very clean little chap, house proud one might say, but there are little unpredictable lapses when it comes to soiling, which is probably because he has tummy issues caused by Feline HIV, a legacy of his wilderness years. For this reason he has to sleep in the rear porch at night, but I have made special provisions to keep him warm. Not simply an insulated basket and comfortable blanket, but also an electric heater of the type used to keep greenhouses frost-free, and a clever little advice that looks like a big plastic saucer. You heat it up in the microwave and it slow releases the heat over hours. A perfect hot water bottle for Cat.
I found some great meaning and purpose is saving and domesticating Cat, and it had something to do with repairing myself. A couple of years ago he was joined by Lucy, the cat from next door. I say cat, but when he first turned up he was a tiny, slender thing, barely more than a kitten, and because he was so slender I assumed he was female, and called him Lucy, after a beautiful black-haired girl I was briefly met on a train (back in the days when trains worked). In fact, I can be charitable to myself about my mistake because when my beloved friend the vet Dr Pesta came to stay and examined him it took her five minutes of examination to work out that “she” was a “he” who had been spayed. I was worried that his owners were not capable of looking after him correctly, and began to look after him. He appeared to find this attention, and my lodgings, very appealing. Old Cat, as I then came to call him, has put up with a rival tolerably well, although there were some “incidents” at first. Cats are territorial creatures, and I can’t blame him for worrying that he would be displaced from his new refuge. They are sort of buddies now, however. They seem to go off and hand out together at times.
The two cats are in many ways chalk and cheese. Old Cat is rather small, and although he now has a sleek coat (he eats like a king) he still has a weepy eye and rather battered look to his fur. Lucy, or Young Cat, is a now gorgeous, jet black, powerfully built miniature black panther. Old Cat does not make a sound unless you touch a sore spot which I suspect is caused by arthritis, in which case he will squawk with pain, although he has learned to purr. Young Cat has no problems in vocalizing when he is hungry or wants attention. Old Cat sits and waits patiently for food like a quiet, very polite old man glad of charity. Young Cat thinks nothing of trying to raid the shopping like a bandit. Old Cat has never learned to play, and I don’t think he has ever caught anything at all. There was a mouse once, but I think it was dead when he found it. Young Cat is a naughty, playful scamp. He loves to climb, investigate and tumble around on the stairs and play games. He is, fortunately fitted with collar with a bell to help prevent the massacre of the local bird life. Occasional incidents still occur, in which case I have been the recipients of local wildlife, somewhat dismembered. I believe the theory is that this is a sign of devotion by the feline in question.
Now, both cats have come to play an important part of my morning ritual. It goes as follows. After years of sleeping in as a sort of proxy teenage slob, I now like to rise relatively early, when the most of the rest world is sleeping. I have the good fortune to be self-employed when not messing about on the interweb thing, and to work a lot from home, and this permits a certain pleasant routine. At this time of year always pull my woolly dressing gown on a pair of the thickest, warmest socks available, then pad down stairs. Off with the alarm, and into the kitchen. Heating and hot water get switched on. Radio (news) on. Unbolt and open the kitchen door. There I will find a small black and white cat having already risen from his own bed (as long as I haven’t been ultra quiet) and waiting to slink in, which he’ll do directly, before a good stretch.
I always greet him with “good mornings” and pet him and stroke his forehead and his back – gently, this, because of the suspected arthritis in his rear legs. He likes this and purrs. Then there is the ritual of the table-cloth. A piece of kitchen towel is laid down on the kitchen floor as his “table cloth”. He knows this and sits patiently by. Then I get his ceramic dish, and open a packet of something – usually in gravy for two reasons. One, he has lost a lot of teeth and I worry about him with biscuits. The second is he is on meds (steroids I think) and I need to mix them in his food; force feeding a tablet is out of the question. It works fine. The porcelain dish is placed on the “table-cloth” and feeding begins at once, with more purring. I should say that he has particular tastes in cat food – some are acceptable, other brands are not unless he is very hungry. I have been well-trained. With the first course served I am free to get a brew on; Yorkshire tea with lemon juice, no milk. However, a second course is usually required.
He is a hungry chap, possibly due to thyroid problems of some such. Sometimes this involves a second pouch of cat food, and sometimes more inventive things. If there’s any leftover roast chicken from the day before, that goes down well, provided it’s soft. One unusual day a while ago I found him striving to get at the remains of a poached egg. So, on some days I poach him an egg and carefully open up the yolk, which he likes to lap up. But he doesn’t like that too often He likes variety. When sated – but not before – he quietly slopes off out of the kitchen, into the front room, and there to his allotted armchair with a blanket and newspaper on top (in case he has tummy problems). And he settles down to sleep again for the morning.
I am now free to perform stage two of my ritual, which involves retiring to my study, firing up my steam-powered computer and reviewing the world. I have my “quiet hour” before the day proper begins, I am at peace, and sip my tea, and then start work. Usually about 8 am stage three of the ritual begins with a plaintive cry outside my study door. Young Cat will have crashed powerfully through the cat flap and sped up stairs to where he knows I will be, and announce his request for breakfast, of, as I suspect, second breakfast. I read recently that cats have evolved to make their cries on the same register as human babies to make their cries more evocative. It works.
And so downstairs I go, Young Cat galloping ahead anticipating more breakfast for him in some shape or form, maybe biscuits, maybe a treat. I return to work. Sometimes when Young Cat is sated he goes straight off for some adventures or a third breakfast – who knows? More often, and particularly if the weather is off, I will be joined in my study by this curious, playful feline. Fun and games ensue. These include: biting my socks; jumping on the work desk and stalking about (particularly standing on the key board); investigating behind the computer screen (which is on the window ledge) and peering out the window to survey the street below (fascinating world); investigating the miracle that is the bathroom (how do taps work?) and wriggling about full stretch on the bathroom floor. There are also interactive sports such as playing with and chasing string, or a ball with a jingly bell in it.
These quiet, simple little rituals are nothing in themselves, but they seem to give meaning, solace and comfort in what can be a harsh and troubled world; a sort of handrail along the slippery stairs of life. I find as much meaning and certainty in these as I do in any religious rites, notwithstanding my monastic status. I also used to have a bedtime ritual in times gone by. Don’t be alarmed! Very simply it involved turning down the lights, lighting a candle, and playing a beautiful and relaxing piece of music whilst savouring a wee dram of single malt. My favourite was work by Jan Garbarek & the Hilliard Ensemble; a strange hypnotic blend of medieval plainchant and free saxophone – otherworldly and beautiful. I think I should re-instate it.
Have a lovely ritual of your own today.
Gildas the Monk