“When I play with my cat, who knows whether she isn’t amusing herself with me more than I am with her?” – Michel de Montaigne
Nothing cosies a home quite like a cat. They’re cute, they’re cuddlesome and they clean themselves so their owners don’t have to. So when, recently, the opportunity arose to adopt one, we did so. We called her Mavis.
A two-month-old stray from a tough London postcode, Mavis was – unsurprisingly – shy on arrival. She spent much of her first week bunkered behind the sofa, emerging only to nibble gingerly at her Iams and claw curiously at our ankles. But by and by she grew bolder. Before long she was mistress of the house, nestling into laps, meowing outrage at not being allowed into bedrooms, and generally gliding around with a queenly disdain for lesser mortals.
The curiosity of cats is proverbial. What we do, what we eat, where we go: Mavis needs to know it all. Worse, she’s meddlesome, cuffing pens, candles, books and glasses aside with an inconsiderate paw. She scampishly jumps into bed as a power play, and grudges me any time I spend in my own company (namely: a few snatched seconds here and there). Patience she has none; social tact, very little. But for every peccadillo, we love her to distraction.
In fact, we’ve spoiled her. Not that she’s thankful. In anticipation of her arrival, we bought the plushest cat bed money could muster (from Argos), only to watch her settle, night after night, onto the sofa, onto the windowsill, onto the floor – onto anywhere, in fact, that wasn’t the cat bed. Only later did we realise – upon finding a covering of Mavis-coloured fur – that she had rested her head on the thing after all. But only under cover of darkness, naturally, so we wouldn’t know it. I’m a cat, do you see. I answer to a higher authority (my own).
Another thing. Mavis is omnipresent. Her movements are silent and swift. She might be in a different room, or outdoors, or sound asleep, but you’re not safe. Suddenly, with a quickening of the air, and a screeching of claws-on-carpet, she’ll make an entrance – leaving you with barely enough time to brace for the worst and commend your soul to heaven. The only proof is a shut door, which meets with a barrage of ill-tempered meowing. You might assume, then, she’d be happy to see us when we get back after being away – but no. While now and then she might meow a cordial welcome, her general response is one of studied indifference. Such is the Mavis way.
But the thing is, we do get on; we click. We share the same passions and pastimes and appetites. She likes tuna, I like tuna. She’s broody, thoughtful and lazy, so am I. She never shirks an opportunity to drowse the day away – you should see me nursing a hangover. But not all our amusements are exactly alike. When I’m watching TV, she’ll be in the kitchen, inspecting the washing machine for signs of mice. When I’m reading a book on the sofa, she’ll be perched on the windowsill, watching the birds with unblinking Bill Oddie eyes. And when I’m sipping a cup of tea, she’ll be taking deep, quenching draughts from the bathroom tap, her whiskers jewelled with droplets.
But our biggest dividing line concerns our respective policies on violence. If I’m wimpy and effete, she’s forceful, bloodthirsty and cunning. She possesses a cultivated taste for the arts of killing. Her claws, strong as tempered steel, are lethally efficient dealers of death, vanquishing enemies with a single pulverising blow. (Admittedly, the sole ‘enemy’ killed so far have been toy mice, each costing 50p from the pet shop. But woe betide any actual rodent that rears its whiskers in her presence.)
So far, so feline. Cats, I concede, will be cats. And Mavis is still finding her paws. Ten months old, she’s a furrball in prime fettle, a kitten on the very threshold of cat-ulthood.