When Jess, our neighbour’s cat, sits on our fence with every muscle taut and only the tip of his ginger tail showing any signs of life; he thinks that the birds haven’t seen his large, white body waiting to pounce. But the pigeons have done the maths. They have calculated that by the time Jess gains enough momentum to launch himself from the fence; while he is still in mid-air; all four paws spread to the winds; they can take a simple line of trajectory to the nearest tree and be there in time to watch him land with a plop on the now empty patio. Perhaps, Jess has worked this out as well, as he has never yet tried to grab himself a takeaway.
Not like the cheeky chap who lived up the road. In a covert operation he positioned himself just inside the cat shaped hole in the shed door. He may well have stuck out a paw to make sure there were some tasty seeds right in the entrance way; then he watched and he waited. I didn’t know a thing until I saw a small black and white cat rocking up the road with a huge, limp pigeon in its jaws. We closed the hole up after that, so now our cats have to go up and over the fence if they want to go roaming.
Sooty, our second-hand cat, never wants to go roaming. She won’t even sit in the safe confines of our garden unless I am out there with her. If I come in to fetch some washing or make some tea, she comes in behind me; carefully stepping around the back door mat. One day I put my bike out the back ready to cycle to work. We have an alleyway behind our row of houses where the bins are kept and closing the gate behind me I noticed that Sooty had followed me from the garden and was now trapped in the alleyway looking this way and that. I was sure she was going to be in a right old stress unable to get back to the safety of the house. I left my bike, walked round to the front door, let myself in with my key, opened the back door, went across the garden and through the shed to find that the alley was empty. I looked up and I looked down, I called her name and looked behind the bins. Nothing. I was late for work by now, so I went back through the shed into the garden and there she was, sitting in the middle of the patio looking at me in a quizzical manner.
Woody is a beautiful ginger Tom cat with the most exquisite, fluffy tail. He wears a blue collar to match his blue eyes and despite his demure appearance he is the street bully. My cat Oscar is terrified of him and will come flying in through the cat flap as soon as Woody appears. I’ve given Oscar a talking to and told him it’s his garden and he’s bigger than Woody and he has my permission to see this interloper off, but none of it has done any good and Oscar still slinks in under the table with his tail between his legs as soon Woody arrives on the scene. But every cat has his day and I was fortunate enough to witness the occasion when my fearless boy rose up into a perfect yoga arch as Woody approached along the wooden fence. Oscar did have the advantage of height, as he was up on the shed roof dozing in his favourite sun spot. Woody, taken by surprise at the turn of events, froze and the staring began. The piano player stopped playing and somewhere a tumble weed turned over and over to the sound of an eerie whistling wind. Still the stare out continued. Oscar, to his credit, did not flinch and then slowly, very slowly, Woody looked down at his feet and in freeze frame motion turned one paw at a time to make good his retreat. I was so proud.
We don’t get so many cat visitors since we closed up the hole in the shed door. The large monochrome cat with the big appetite doesn’t come in at night to chew the fat with the guys or help himself to their leftovers. I don’t wake up any more with Scamp, the kitten with nine lives, stretched out on the bed beside me with his head on my pillow and his paws down by his sides like my shadow. He was a wonderful character and all the neighbours knew him as he would boldly introduce himself to everyone in the certain knowledge that he was totally adorable. He got through his nine lives rather too quickly though and one night decided to cross the main road without using the pelican crossing. A short but eventful life and I for one will never forget him.
Despite the propensity of prowling felines, the birds can usually outwit them. The starling will give off a loud warning signal if any cat is in the vicinity and for a while all the others will just watch and wait. Once they realise it’s only Oscar they all relax and get back on with arguing over the bird seed. I think that they can detect a certain Zen like quality about him. He has been practising the art of meditation for years and is now a grand master in the achievement of mindfulness. He will retreat to the shed roof for hours on end with his front paws crossed in his preferred yogi position and through half shut eyes he lets all thoughts drift away into a pure white vapour. Focusing on his rhythmic breathing he quickly slips into a state of inner awareness as he locates a low burr of contentment. He is able to move so quickly through his chakras due to the hours of practice he puts in.
Just as Oscar had found enlightenment through his dedicated pursuit of meditation, Sooty has spent many years perfecting the art of mesmerism. By focussing all the powers of her mind into a single, penetrating stare, she is able to open locked doors and fill empty bowls with food. At no point in this exercise is her concentration broken by any distraction such as the unlocking of the door, or pouring of the food. She maintains her visual vigilance at all times and can indeed make her thoughts materialise.
Sooty’s favourite spot is to lie in the sun on the back door mat, half in and half out of the house. One warm Sunday afternoon as I was out in the garden planting the new bee friendly plants, Sooty decided to join me. She watched attentively while I dug over the troughs, sniffing at all the bulbs and roots that I put onto a sheet of newspaper. She took a particular interest in the positioning of the cat mint and it seemed to be to her liking, right in the front where she could brush her whiskers against it. Then, exhausted by her efforts, she settled down with the paper. After I tidied everything away, I took advantage of her good mood and followed her round the garden with the metal fur brush, removing great wads of black hair. After that she sat reasonably still while I trimmed up her back claws with the clippers, but then totally refused to have anything to do with the nail varnish. That’s cats for you.