Terry Pratchett is credited with stating… ‘In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.’ I reckon he was onto something.
Until one particular stray cat wandered into my life, I disliked the supposedly domesticated version of the feline species with a passion bordering on paranoia; in hindsight this was mainly due to ignorance on my part. The problem was that if I was in a room with a cat and several cat lovers, whilst I studiously ignored the cat and avoided eye contact, the cat lovers would be trying all kinds of attraction techniques to entice the feline onto their lap. Invariably the cat ignored all welcoming gestures and made a beeline for me, where it would sink its claws through my trousers, into my thighs and then pull and plump with a look of sheer bliss on its face, before settling down for an untroubled nap. I would be paralysed with fear; a state that the human contingent invariably found highly amusing. My problem was that cats hate being stared at or cajoled; everything they do is on their terms. My show of disinterest had exactly the opposite effect to what I intended.
Even I, a hardened ailurophobic, became briefly seduced through a chance encounter with a litter of kittens though. I was with my stepfather; we were on a narrow-boat cruise and the pair of us had escaped to the pub while dinner was being prepared. It was a chilly autumn evening and the remote inn had a log fire going with a couple of comfortable armchairs strategically positioned for the enjoyment of a well-kept pint by the fire; dad and I duly obliged. I had noticed some kittens curled up in a heap with their mum as we entered the pub and resolved to adopt my usual ‘don’t you dare come near me’ attitude, so I was somewhat surprised when a tiny bundle of fluff made its way onto my lap and immediately settled. Some moments later a second kitten joined its sibling and very soon the whole brood had chosen some part of me to snuggle into. Their mum, having been deserted, decided she too would join us and took up a position along the top of the chair back. By this time the other customers were enchanted; I however was afraid to move, but after dad had replenished my beer glass a few times, I gained some courage and egged on by a desperate need to take-a-leak, extricated myself from the chair and headed for the gents. The cats jumped off. At this point, the cuteness of the situation became too much for several other patrons as various people tried their luck in the comfy chair. The kittens were having none of it; people tried scooping them up and sitting in the chair. The kittens immediately jumped off. By the time I returned, the animal lovers had given up and vacated the armchair, so I sat down again with my pint. Within seconds the whole feline family was back on me.
So, by the time Tuppie turned up some years later I had mellowed slightly, but not by much.
During March 1993 we moved into a newly built house on the outskirts of Whitstable. We were the first people onto what was a new development, set amongst woodland on the edge of a golf course. Tuppie turned up in September and stayed with us for twenty years.
Although I was anything but a cat lover, my wife Glenys was completely the opposite. On this particular late summer morning I was standing by the open bathroom window having a shave as the unmistakable sound of mewing wafted up from below. Glen heard it too and quick as a flash she was out of the back door with a tin of salmon. My fate was sealed.
There was no way I was going to let a young flea-infested stray cat onto my new carpets, so we compromised by me building the visitor a kennel while we attempted to find out where she had come from. We travelled around the neighbourhood, knocking on random doors, asking if anyone knew of someone who had lost a tortoiseshell cat; no one had; I was lumbered; Glen was delighted.
Tortoiseshells are noted for their ‘attitude’. Our new resident was delightfully friendly as she inveigled her way into her new home. Once the hard-sell had been completed she turned into a typical snooty cat. She absolutely adored sitting on my lap while I administered the nit-comb though. She would purr contentedly as I carefully combed out her matted fur and then, when she’d had enough, without any warning she’d turn around and bite me. Over the years she learned how to moderate the severity of her bite so as to avoid drawing blood, and for that, I was grateful.
For all her fractious behaviour, thanks to Tuppie, our house became a home. Oh yes, the name, why Tuppie? Once it became obvious that our furry ball of teeth and claws had been abandoned, we took her to the vet for a check-up. The vet needed a name for registration, so I insensitively tendered ‘Turnup’. By the time we left, the vet had changed this to Tuppie; the name stuck.
And as for the handle ‘mystical cat’, there are several slightly odd tales to relate.
Although Tuppie always remained aloof she did seem strangely attached to us. She had turned up from who knows where and although immediately after she’d adopted us she would wander far and wide she very quickly restricted her roaming to the immediate vicinity, even to the extent that when we went for a walk across the golf course she would follow us as far as the garden gate and then wait until we returned; we could hear her pitiful wailing from some distance away. She had no problem with us leaving by the front door and going to work because she seemed to know where we were, even to the extent that despite our odd hours, she would take up a watchful position on the front windowsill and after about five minutes, one of us would arrive home.
Tuppie was never a ‘lap-cat’. Generally, the only time she’d sit on my lap was when I was brandishing the nit comb. As a back sufferer, I went through a daily stretching exercise that involved lying face down on the floor; the cat ignored this. However, my back problems worsened to the extent that major surgery was required and on discharge from hospital I was instructed to continue with the usual exercise, which I did immediately on arrival home. As I lay on the floor I was aware of gentle footsteps along the back of my legs as Tuppie made her way to the problem area. She positioned herself immediately over the part of my back that had been operated on and lay down. Her warmth was soothing and her presence comforting. This daily ritual continued for several weeks until the scarring had healed. I continued with the exercise, but Tuppie never again took up position on my back.
It was a similar story when Glen underwent major surgery. On arrival home from hospital, as soon as she sat down, the cat was on her lap; Tuppie continued this therapy until Glen had healed and once she had, Tuppie’s ministrations immediately ceased.
Strangest of all was the cat’s reaction to Geoff, my stepfather. Geoff loved animals but try as he might, Tuppie was having none of it. He’d approach her with friendly gestures, she’d hiss and walk away. When my mother died the depth of dad’s sadness and despair was palpable. We arrived home from mum’s funeral in a haze of confusion. Glen and I knew how much Geoff had relied on his wife and we wondered how he was going to manage. Glen put the kettle on, Geoff sat down and Tuppie gently made her way onto his lap. The change in his mood was dramatic; I could see his anxiety melt away, he sat back, closed his eyes and stroked the cat; Tuppie purred reassuringly. Although Geoff never fully recovered from the loss of his dear wife, this mystical cat had somehow understood his grief and pain and did her best to ease his suffering.
We moved soon after Tuppie died; the house was empty without her.
When Mike showed up we were living in temporary accommodation on the Devon/Dorset border, searching for inspiration about where to settle permanently. Mike’s companion needed to make an extended trip to America and was looking for someone to provide lodgings for this huge tabby cat while she was gone. Someone had mentioned that we were ok with cats and so Mike’s companion popped the question and we said ok.
Cats get attached to their surroundings and although Mike had originated in the USA and moved about a bit since, he was initially very disturbed and unsettled. Most of our belongings were in storage, but we had kept some things in boxes stored under the beds and Mike hid among these boxes until hunger, thirst and curiosity drove him from his lair.
Having shared my home with a cat for twenty years, I had naturally overcome my fear of them and was confident that Mike and I would strike up a reasonably comfortable relationship; how wrong I was. Mike stayed with us for several months and during the whole of this time he treated me with complete and utter contempt!
Once Mike plucked up the courage to leave the boxes, he clapped eyes on Glen. It was love at first sight; the old boy was totally besotted. This huge beast would trail around after my wife all day. The instant she sat down he was onto her lap and when she went to bed, he’d ‘spoon’ along her back with his arm (it was big enough to look like an arm!) around her neck. When I attempted to get into bed he’d turn his head and fix me with an icy stare which said ‘she’s mine now, bugger off’. I’d squeeze in next to the pair of them and his distaste for me invariably drove him out. He’d slink off to his room and wait until I was asleep and then creep back in around the other side of the bed and clamber back under the covers, wisely keeping Glen between us.
Mike developed a strange habit while he was with us; he would only drink from a running tap. His tactic was to attract Glens attention and then stand astride the bathroom sink. Glen would turn the tap on and Mike would lap the running water… weird.
Despite our rivalry, for my part I became quite fond of Mike; his antics were an entertaining diversion from the worry of finding somewhere permanent to live. When his companion came to collect him, and took him away from the woman he had fallen in love with, he was clearly distraught. Quite soon after we learned that he had jumped from a first-floor window and landed on a garden bench. Luckily Mike was unhurt, but the bench broke in half under the weight of this huge tabby tom. It was probably just an accident, but the romanticist in me reckons he was trying to get back to his true love, or die in the attempt.
So, have I turned into a cat lover? Not a question I can easily answer. If anything, my encounters with these supposedly domesticated felines have left me wondering if maintaining a reverential respect is, in the long run, the safest option.
How about your own encounter with a mystical cat? If you have a story that you would like to share then please let me know by either leaving a reply or emailing me. If I can make your anecdote fit, then I’ll use it to expand Mystical Cats, so let me know how anonymous you want your contribution to be.