Wednesday, 1 December 2010

House of Hair

First published in issue 379 of Cat World (October 2009). In case you're wondering, yes, it is possible for shamelessly rude, incompetent people to make a cuddly magazine for people who want pictures of cats being loveable but don't have an internet connection. They still owe me either full payment (I have part of it now) or an explanation of what the devil they think they're playing at.

But here's the article, anyway.

House of Hair

After a few years floating between flats in London, a fellow really starts to miss his cats. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you about the strange emptiness of a house that isn’t covered in fluff and discarded toy mice. That’s why, when hunting for my last move, I found myself powerfully drawn to the adverts saying things like ‘must be cat-lover’, ‘to share with two professionals and one hairy mog’, or ‘not suitable for asthmatics’. In the end, I found myself in West London, in residence with an excitable tabby and its owner.

At first, everything was ideal. The wee beastie did all that a cat should do: chased dressing gown cords, jammed his head into glasses of water, hid from the hoover. This was all as it should be, and the world was a brighter, albeit hairier, place. However, soon I realised that something was wrong.

London can be a wild and dangerous place if you’re only two feet long and have a sadly incomplete understanding of the Green Cross Code. This, and the fact that the flat’s on the top floor, probably explain why this little fellow is what I am told is called a ‘house cat’. He’s only been outdoors once, and that was when he fell out of a window. Occasionally he escapes through the front door onto the staircase, and then stands around, bewildered by the extent of the universe, like an astronaut looking at the earth from space.

The problem is that I’m rapidly coming to realise that there’s no such thing as a ‘house cat’. He’s just a cat, and so isn’t suited to being locked in four rooms and abandoned for most of each day. An indoor cat is still a small inquisitive creature that would really rather like to try climbing some trees. I know this because in the absence of trees he has attempted to climb almost everything else, resulting so far in the destruction of one mirror, one lamp and several tumblers since my arrival a few months ago. You shouldn’t cage a cat up, even if the cage is comparatively large and contains a substantial number of cushions. In his stir-crazed state, he is never tired, and spends hours running back and forth, crashing into furniture and doors, and scampering noisily around in the middle of the night. He seems to be entirely inexhaustible. It he were a rabbit, he’d be auditioning for Duracell adverts.

This imprisonment also means that he will panic at any efforts to further shrink his diminutive world. For instance, if you want to have a shower, and happen to close the bathroom door, there will, soon enough, be a frantic and persistent scrabbling. If you give in, clamber out of the shower and open the door, the fuzzy creature will proceed to sit in the sink and stare at you. I don’t know why I should find this embarrassing, but showering under the watchful gaze of a cat feels like being the subject of a particularly disdainful edition of How to Look Good Naked.

Worse than the bathroom, however, is the bedroom. I’ve lived with cats before: I know that if I leave the door open I will be woken at dawn by something standing on my head or trying to eat my toes. So I close my door. However, with claustrophobia cat, this is isn’t an option: on the hour, every hour, there will come a forlorn scratching and battering at the door, quite capable of waking anyone with even vaguely functioning ears. As you might imagine, I haven’t exactly been sleeping well.

But my woes are obviously insignificant compared to those of the poor mad feline. A house without windows would be a pretty miserable place, but I’m tempted to say that for a house cat it would be a small mercy. My fellow lodger spends hour after hour perched on sofas staring from the window, admiring the trees, counting the clouds, and wondering what pigeon tastes like. True, most cats enjoy a spot of window-gazing, but this little chap has the mournful gaze of the condemned prisoner, watching a world he might never tread foot in again. He might never have experienced the outdoors, but he still has to stare at it, and imagine what it feels like.

There’s a practical side to this, too: without the experience of trying to eat anything that jumps, flits or scuttles, my feline associate doesn’t really understand how food works. Without the experience of discovering that although frogs bounce, they don’t make good snacks, and that there’s only a certain amount of grass a stomach can take before it all goes horribly wrong, a cat becomes about as discriminatory as a Hoover. Aside from his cat biscuits, his diet consists of flies, wasps, flower petals, bits of thread, and anything he can steal from a plate. Nothing seems to be off-limits: I’ve had to confiscate hair-clips, and he chews up ballpoints faster than a sub-editor. In other words, this isn’t a cat that could be renowned for his digestive stability. There’s nothing like trying to eat a bee for small piles of yellow goo on the carpet. I’m no vet, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t healthy.

There’s a final, more selfish side to the cat conundrum. Without an outdoors, there’s nowhere for a cat to deposit its regular cargo of hair. Leave the house for a few days and there’s so much fur in the air that the indoors looks like it’s foggy. Recently, the vacuum cleaner has given its notice and threatened to call union action, so now the problem grows worse practically by the minute.

This is the first time I’ve lived with an indoor cat, and perhaps these days its a fairly wide-spread phenomenon, but every evening I come closer to forming a feline liberation front, possibly involving rope ladders, balaclavas and helicopters. I can’t help feeling that the invention of the house cat is a dubious extension of the ‘pet as cuddly toy’ mindset. Yes, it’s great to live with a cat about the place, but a single floor of a small flat is hardly the best way to keep a mog healthy, happy and non-psychotic.

And I haven’t even mentioned the litter tray...

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