Sunday, December 20, 2009

Guest Post - Cats

This is a piece of writing my brother Chris sent me a week or so ago.  He and my sister-in-law live about a hundred miles south-east of here, in the Mayenne region, they came to France a year before we did, about 13 years ago.  Chris likes to write, and might be one member of my family who could be persuaded to blog and continue blogging, except that he has an aversion to computers and keyboards bordering on the phobic, and tends to like to be outside anyway.

He's never seemed a great cat lover, possibly because my sister-in-law is compassionately devoted to them and he has felt the need to keep a degree of moderating emotional distance from them.  Cats in rural France rather live life in the fast lane, sometimes by their own preference, but also because it's simply hard way of life and people aren't soft on them.  They can break your heart with their combination of toughness and fragility, and are subject to all manner of potentially fatal hazards, which is one reason why we've avoided having one, since the pretty tortoiseshell with half a tail who adopted us in her last year, before we had Molly, died from anaemia probably brought on by ingesting rat poison. This hasn't always been easy, when there is a never-ending stream of kittens with death sentences over their heads and all manner of other waifs and strays, and usually a tender-hearted Anglo wringing their hands about it.  You get the picture?  I'm afraid it's not a pretty one. But we hold out, we couldn't save them all, we say.

But without further ado, here is what my brother wrote. (Cretouffiere is the name of their home.)

Since this appeared, it has received more hits, by a very long way, than anything else I have ever posted.  While I can quite see why this should be the case, I would dearly love to know where everyone is coming from!  Is there a link to it somewhere I don't know about? Surely you don't all arrive just by Googling 'cats'... Please leave a note in the comments if you can tell me how you got here, anonymous comments are allowed so you don't need to be logged in to Blogger or anything.  




Well the last Cretouffiere cat has gone, the last of the originals that is. Hoppy, or Hop as we knew her, like a shadow has departed from the light. She was the dark shape that could be seen at one end of the garden, and seconds later at the other, staring intently into the tussocks before she pounced on some unsuspecting mouse which was pawed, tossed, ignored, shaken and then gobbled up.

She was the creature that emerged from the darkness if we arrived home late at night, more often than not preceded by Fatso (Dublin to her friends) who went to the cattery in the sky only ten months ago. On those dark occasions you always heard Hop before you saw her. Sometimes you thought you saw her when you didn’t, or did you? Mostly she minded her own business, but always knew when you’d cleaned the car, or left a basket of ironing unattended. I know they all do it, have this uncanny knack for finding and walking in wet concrete, but she asserted her rights to make a mess like no other.

She was the last survivor of four, born when we arrived here in ‘96. Jack left home early because he didn’t like Gremlin, who was lovable to those with a preference for the mentally retarded but also had wicked claws. Gremlin wouldn’t have made it in the big wide world so he chose to stay with us. He could be guaranteed to make an idiot of himself, he didn’t even need to try, he didn’t have far to go. Jack just vanished into the countryside to try his luck elsewhere, while Gremlin remained to make a nuisance of himself with his two sisters and old aunty Dublin, who despite her odd name hailed from Gloucestershire. Hoppy was one sister, Silky the other. Dublin was three years older and not happy to share her owner but she got used to it. Bewildered at first, grumpy later, demanding, possessive, tried to act dignified, wouldn’t get off your lap for love nor money until she was good and ready. In later life she competed with Silky for top female cat. Silky was a wise one but a few years back her blood turned to water and she had to go.

Other cats have come and gone. Stray Toms have sniffed us out. Them at La Cretouffiere are an easy touch. Ginger was I believe the first. He never bothered the others and eventually got his nose through the door. We were getting very fond of him because he was so affectionate and harmless when another brute arrived, a white creature with black spots determined to drive the others out. We suspect he was responsible for mutilating Ginger, who was taken to the vet and proved to be beyond repair. More anguish and more determination on our parts to keep the white monster out. One freezing winter night he asked me if he could come in. I told him to piss off. The following morning I buried him.

This year another Ginger (this one with white patches) has been ingratiating himself. For many months he slunk around with his tail trailing the ground so we couldn’t detect the golden balls that we suspected were there. As he became more confident they revealed themselves. Of course, Hoppy didn’t want him around, but we thought they were getting used to each other until Hoppy took sick. Last weekend she lay down. Both Andy and I knew she was dying and should just have let her get on with. She’d never been to the vet and didn’t want to go. What a bloody dilemma. Do you gamble that the vet might have the answer, or do you leave it to take its course. We took her there and I wished we hadn’t. It wasn’t much of a choice. Sorry Hop.

My Mum sometimes appears in my dreams, sometimes my Dad. These cats don’t. I just see them out of the corner of my eye sometimes.



christopher said...

Holy cow! I so completely understand your brother's vision of the cat world. It is the way I approach it too, though maybe with a whole lot more love added in.

There is such an acceptance of the alien way of the the cat in your brother's words. You describe the distance of the humans from the cats in the French countryside and I will add, quite as the cats prefer it, harsh or not. Lovers of cats do them no favors trying to humanize them. Loving a cat properly is to give them easier lives of independence, letting them give back as they choose.

Your brother knows cats. I know people who surround them, declaw them, poof them up, try to extend their lives by removing them from the world. What a travesty.

My last three have proved the opposite. Two have died at twenty two plus and eighteen plus, and the third, who I thought died has come back home, and is still headed toward nineteen, all three living as adults at the edge of the human world with minimal vet involvement in their adult lives. The one who passed at eighteen was blind and deaf when he left, and had been for a few years.

Roderick Robinson said...

And Holy Cow once again. While blogging I too have confined my cat feelings to a closet that is host to many of my secret instincts. But here is an aubade, a savage Stravinskian blast that could free me and allow admission of other antipathies such as ... Well, let's leave them until the weather's warmer. Today, Chris, you have stormed an important mini-Bastille and there will be an unpaid post waiting for you on the Revolutionary Council.

The Crow said...

Make that a third Holy Cow. I've had a number of cats in my lifetime, fewer dogs, but what your brother has written is pretty much the way all my cats have tried to teach me to live with them over the years.

Lovely piece of writing, Lucy. Too bad he has this thing about keyboards!


marja-leena said...

Amazing writing, really stirs up the love-hate! Such a contrast to the saccharine cat stuff that gets sent around the intrawebs. I agree, your brother should be a blogger but how nice to have him as a guest.

Dale said...

Yeah. Cats. They're not really domesticated, whatever people say. & I'm always astonished by people who say they're not social animals. They're just not animals that arrange themselves in a stable pecking order. (Hence, to a certain sort of person, "ungrateful," which in this context means, "more like human beings than like dogs.")

Exasperating, pig-headed, unpredictable, beautiful creatures. I love how they flow under your hand like water.

Unknown said...

That's where cats live. In the corner of the eye. A hit, a palpable hit.

Zhoen said...

Doesn't do to get too sentimental about semi-wild animals. They have their own agendas and values, though they sometimes find us useful.

HLiza said...

For the first time I may use Holy Cow too! We had many cats in and out of our life sometimes I wonder why I bothered blogged about them..they never stay. But they make beautiful pictures when they're in the kids' hands. You and your brother can really write huh..

Rouchswalwe said...

They are amazing creatures. King Harry of Chickadee Hill hasn't asked to come into the cabin yet, even though he's over 10 now. His queen fell ill and left us several months ago. So he faces the winter alone this year. But he's tough. I learn from him. Your brother has captured something of importance with his words, and I thank you for sharing them with us!

Dick said...

So pleasing to read an affectionate but wry and unsentimental account of coexistence with cats. I've always been more cat than dog inclined, but so much of what gets written anthropomorphises and patronises that most species-specific of creatures. Lucy, your brother must be guided into the light. The blogosphere has need of him!

herhimnbryn said...

Bloody hell! I shall view cats with a little more respect from now on.

Lucy said...

Thanks very much on Chris's behalf. He seems to be out of earshot at present but no doubt will pass through and appreciate your comments.

I read it more as an affectionate but candid respect than antipathy. No doubt they won't be catless for long!

Bee said...

I'm so glad that you shared this wonderful piece of writing. As someone who lives in the country, and has a cat by semi-choice (and then lots of other strays who are constantly trying to get at the food bowl), I completely identified with it. Country cats really do have to be canny and quick.

vicki johnson said...

As much as i love dogs--and i really do (i'm "auntie" to several) i've never known a dog who wasn't needy. You can never leave a pet dog alone for an entire day, let alone several, to be fed and watered by a kind neighbor. i envy their independence...and no need for the pack, but willingness to share. it's why i have a slightly higher respect and affection for cats. Of all the mammals i've come to know, they seem to be the most "grown up" and able to take whatever life tosses at them and still maintain their cool.

my cats do seem to get a bit worried when i prepare to leave, but when i return it's "oh. you're back." it breaks my heart a lot less to live with cats.