Writers, like witches, seem to get on with cats. And not just slinky, sexy writers like Colette, of whom you might expect it, but grumpy old war-reportin’, game-fishin’, hard-drinkin’ Hemingway, of whom you certainly wouldn’t.
I’ve lived with several cats over the years. I can see that it’s not for everyone. But I find it fun. Basically, it takes negotiation.
My present feline companion, TK, arrived with a bad case of nerves and the hump. He hid behind the books in the bookcase, only emerging to throw up. Hid again. When I left the room in search of cleaning materials, he made a dive for some high ground and set up camp, prepared to repel all comers.
His little face sprouted whiskers roughly comparable to five o’ clock shadow. He looked like a bottle brush. A fierce bottle brush.
Eventually, we went to the vet for TK’s checkup and injections. Were the vestigial whiskers genetic, I wondered. When the vet stopped laughing, he gave me the bad news. “He’s obviously the runt of the litter. HIs brothers and sisters have chewed them off. You’ll have to be gentle with him.”
OK. I can do gentle. Alas, it wasn’t reciprocal. As TK’s whiskers grew, so did his confidence. And curiosity. A writer’s study is good for that sort of thing. There were books to push onto the floor, audio speakers to be wrestled into submission, and a computer screen he could Take With A Single Pounce. Twice I lost serious wordage. He was a menace.
Only he was — well — sweet. When I didn’t chew his whiskers off, he decided I was A Wonderful Friend, the first he’d had. He would put his head in the palm of my hand, look up at me adoringly and tell me so.
He stayed with me all day. The moment I stopped typing, he bustled up for a head-rub. If I sat back in my chair to contemplate the next plot twist, he climbed onto my shoulder and purred bronchially, digging his claws through several layers of sweater, as he swayed. If I went on too long into the night, he would climb onto the pages I’d printed off and Wait. Ostentatiously.
His whiskers grew. He developed a routine. He has trained me to observe it. He still regards most of the world with suspicion and has a series of bolt holes round the house just ready for the Invasion of the Gas Men.
These days, however, he has — cautiously — made a few friends. One with whom he flirted shamelessly when she was staying here, now calls him “MyCatt”. Another sent him a gift of an additional bolt hole, in the shape of a blue mouse-shaped house. He thinks it’s a toy. He rolls around in it happily, snorting and chirrupping to himself
… until he manages to unhook the supporting strut. That makes it collapse like a punctured balloon. After that, he wades happily out of the deflated canopy and yells for me to Stop Writing and Put It Up Again.
Doesn’t that disturb the concentration? Well, yes, a bit. But it also makes me laugh. Nothing like a dose of cat stand-up to set you up for another round with recalcitrant characters.
And he does so want to be helpful. I tried to photograph some books for my website. (I’m a bad photographer.) TK took ownership of the whole project, rushing about and changing my various arrangements. I clocked up many blurred photographs of books tumbling, books being nosed around the desk, books with a great furry tail draped across them. At last he collapsed, exhausted by a job well done, and I collapsed with laughter. Result!
In sum, he’s companionable, funny, purrs like a pile driver and earns his cat food on a daily basis by keeping me in touch with real world issues like food, warmth and love.
Oh, and these days he has a very handsome set of whiskers, too.