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Monday, 6 April 2009

Anthromorphising Cats

The mighty Warrior was, in every sense alive; a brutal killing machine, dark nemesis of anything he met, deadly, silent, fearsome. He glided invisibly to the crack in the rocks at the end of the valley and searched, with a hunter's tuned senses, the terrain ahead - the unknown, and unknowable, savage country that screamed danger. But this was no time, or place for the fainthearted, the Warrior was committed, so with a mightly roar and a huge leap he sprung out of the crevass, landing on the valley floor. He was quite literally in a land no-one had ever seen.

I watch as Toshack, his little pink nose constantly sniffing, cautiously pushes the back door open with his paw, and after what seems like an age of hesitation,tail twitching, and with a kitten-like mewl little miaow, falls off the step and out of the back door. Like most animal owners, I suppose, I often wonder "What, anything, is the cat thinking?".

Suddenly the Warrior froze. A dark inimicable shape thrust out of the foliage that scattered untidly across the distant foothills. Knowing (with an instinct borne of a heritage of genetic research spawned in the Badlands of Ontario)that the deadly creature had seen him, the Warrior gave a mighty roar of defiance and screamed his challenge:

"I am Tiddly Om-Pom-Pom, otherwise known as Toshack the Pink! What manner of creature are you and what do you want? Know this well, Black Beast from Hell, I will sell my life dearly, as I have claimed this territory for the Red Haired God who gives me KittyBits. Salmon flavoured."

The creature paused in its headlong rush:

"I'm a cat, you idiot. Just like you. My name's Max, and I want to know what you think you were doing yesterday playing on my slide. And the day before that you were messing about in my paddling pool. "

I see Tosh and Max meet, and start hissing and yowling at eachother. For the last few weeks, as Tosh has gradually become bolder he's expanded his territory. Or at least tried to, because most of it is occupied by Max, a lovable little moggie owned by our excellent neighbours, John and Leila. In a very English conversation, we've discussed the specific Turf War between Max and Tosh('over the garden fence' as they say in the UK) by never actually referring to it:

"Hi Leyla! Beautiful day ! How's it going?"

"Oh, fine. Thought it might rain later, so just putting the washing out"

I glance upwards, and regret doing so as I am blinded immediately by a brilliant sun.

"Yeah. It could rain. I'm just letting the cats out now, in case it does".

"I've noticed their getting out more. How they doing?"

"Fine. Calli's a little nervous, but Tosh is beginning to throw his weight around."

"Well, when we moved in Max used to get beaten up all the time by next door's cat, then it stopped after a few weeks. After that, they got along fine. Anyway, must dash, see you later. Say 'hi' to Nel. "

Each culture has it's own way of communicating, but the English, like the Innuit, specialize in never saying anything directly, but communicating an awful lot while appearing to say absolutely nothing. Leyla and I come away from the conversation knowing that we've just reached agreement that any damage either cat causes the other will not be reflected by a deterioration between us as neighbours, and furthermore, we've agreed that neighbours who have "their noses put out of joint" by silly little things are a bit pathetic, and that if any issue does arise between us in future, we'll talk about it sensibly, and also we've agreed that we'll watch eachother's houses when one or the other is absent and that we're both a bit too busy to talk right now, but we'll have a word with our respective partners and get together for that cup of tea we've been saying we'll have. Furthermore, as advanced English speakers, we've agreed that the Obama Presidency might actually represent a ray of hope for humanity, Post-Modern Marxist analyses notwithstanding. It would be impolite at this stage in our neighbourly relationship to actually say any of this directly.

Meanwhile, Tosh and Max keep ratcheting up the tension. Max climbs onto our extension and sits, provocatively on Tosh's favourite window-sill. Tosh sneaks into Max's and eats all his food. There is, unfortunately, no meeting of minds to be found here. Some would say, that as these creatures are cats, there are no minds at all at work here, but I feel that is a trifle harsh. I do accept that humans are vastly superior and that one would have to trawl long and hard through the pages of history to find a dispute over territory between two human neighbours (or groups of people for that matter) that resulted in behaviour as shockingly violent as hissing loudly at one another.

The smaller of our two cats Callisandra is, unlike Toshack, completely unpredictable. This is possibly because she is as mad as a hatter. Incidentally, hatters were called "mad" because of the chemicals involved in the making of hats - things like mercury, lead and bromine, which eventually led to madness. Calli, unfortunately has no occupational related excuse - she is just plain crazy. She is by far the smallest cat in the neighbourhood, but this does not stop displays of aggression that are fearsome to behold. In the photos that follow, she spots two cats in the neighbour's garden who are cautiously encountering eachother, engaging in the ritualistic dominance/submissive behaviours that allow a balance of power to proceed, uninterrupted by psychopaths. Calli spots the peace process unfolding, gets curious, and then from 6 feet away starts hissing, spitting and growling with all the venom of a 5lb cat in full attack mode.

RHB is slightly critical of my anthromorphising the cats, perhaps a bit worried that I am spending too much time alone, but I've tried anthromorphising humans and it is just so much more believable with cats. At present, due to being on easter vacations, I spend about 16 hours a day oin the cats company, not counting sleeping. I wish I could reprot that they are endlessly fascinating, complex creatures, but alas, like the humans with whom they co-habit they just want a nice place in the sun to sleep, some food and a relatively easy life. Complications arise mainly through their own stupidity - as I mentioned earlier, anthromorphising cats is very beleivable.

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