Little Purring Heart


If I walk into a room where there is a person, or people, and a cat, or cats, I always try to notice the forms of synchronization taking place. Often this is hard because cats seem to detect the presence of a new party entering a room very quickly, and they adjust to that extra presence almost at once. So, when trying this at home, I would advise you to carry a notebook and note down what you see independently of an observer. Also do this without a notebook because doubtless your cat will adjust to being noted and perform some kind of feline intervention of her or his[1] own.
Perhaps the best example of synchronization (Fig 7) I can think of involved a friend of my mother’s, a very famous Tory politician better known for her handbag than her cats. She had two cats, in fact, whose names I have forgotten. Depending on how she was getting on with either her home secretary or her chancellor anyone visiting her house would find one of these cats sitting dejectedly on the doorstep. I imagine few people noticed this; but on the occasions I visited her I witnessed this performance being played out with impeccable accuracy.

fig 7

There was more to it.
My mother’s friend terrified me. She would make a habit of interrogating me about how my university studies were going not to get into conversations about the subjects I was studying, but to query me about where I bought my weekly groceries.
Enough of that person. Let me tell you instead about someone else and his cat, and something about synchronization. Cat-Cat was the companion of John, who at the time sang with a notorious punk band. I had rented a first floor flat just off the Kings Road, and below me lived John. One day there was a knock at my door. I opened it to find John standing looking very aggravated, although I have to say I have never seen him not look like that, even when we have been discussing things I am sure he finds soothing.

‘Do you live here?’ he asked me.

‘Yes I do,’ I replied.’

‘You’re very quiet,’ he said. ‘Unnaturally so, and my cat doesn’t like it. Nor do I.’

‘Oh dear.’ I struggled to understand why he was telling me this, and to adjust to the way in which he was telling it to me. ‘I do live on my own.’

‘That’s not the problem.’ John looked impatient. ‘Can I show you the problem?’

‘Of course.’

‘Thank you. It’s downstairs.’

‘What is?”

‘The problem.’

So I followed him downstairs, into his flat. It was a minimalist affair. His front room had only a rug, a couple of pictures on the wall, what looked like holiday snap-type photographs, and a large couch.

‘There,’ he said. ‘You see the problem.’

A shaggy black cat sat in the middle of the rug staring up at the ceiling.

‘When you’re quiet, especially when you’re completely silent, as in when you aren’t at home, he just stares upwards.’

‘Are you sure that’s about me?’

‘Oh yes. If you make a noise he goes to sleep in the corner. But if you’re quiet, and you’re there, or you’re quiet because you’re not there, that’s what he does; and it’s driving me crazy. I keep tripping over him.’

‘But when I’m not there … that isn’t me being silent.’

‘Tell him that. He’s a nosey little bastard.’

I wasn’t sure what to make of this, although I think without doubt it meant something, and so I thanked John, told him I would think about how I could make more noise, and returned to my flat.

Whatever else it is true to say about cats I would round this section of by saying this: cats adjust themselves to the presence of those around them. Whatever a cat is doing, this in some way interacts with the humans (and other animals[2]) it regards as its immediate clan[3].

What does my tale of John and Cat-Cat suggest to me? Imagine if the scene of John and Cat-Cat was action on a stage. What would this tell us about John’s mind? Cats allow us to synchronize ourselves with something in our minds (as I shall describe more fully when I write about Kendo and his cat Buttons, later).

[1] I use the feminine and masculine pronouns here and in other places, you will notice. What maleness or femaleness means to a cat is still subject to investigation. All I can say is that when I used the word ‘it’ on one occasion I was bitten not by the cat but by its owner, a young girl called Isabella, who found the term very unfriendly to her cat. She refused to let go of me until I promised never to use that word again. I agreed. ‘What shall I use instead?’ I asked her. ‘Him or her will do,’ she told me. ‘A cat would be happy with that, I am sure’. And I am a man of my word, so Isabella if you are reading this you can see I respect the promise I made.

[2] I have seen cats develop meaningful relationships with rabbits, a tortoise, dogs and cattle. These creatures tend not be ones a cat can eat, the problems of which are self-evident. I have seen a cat cavorting with a field mouse, in what appeared to be, in that moment, a non-threatening encounter. I wouldn’t however, have liked to bet on the relationship being especially enduring.

[3] I deliberately intend a ‘Scottish’ inflection. There is something unimpeachable about the sight, for example in a lowly Highland croft, of an old cat dozing by the fire while the owners go about their humble routines. A Scottish cat will always be welcome in ‘the clan’. Conversely, in Mississippi I once saw a small black cat maul a member of ‘the Klan’ so horribly I could only conclude that the animal’s psychic mechanisms were somehow unable to tolerate the behaviour of a bigot wearing a tablecloth. I have seen cats also do this to spiders.


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