Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Milk Of Human Gullibility

My other half calls me the cat whisperer, but this business of cat whispering runs both ways. The cats exert some mysterious, mesmeric influence which forces me to tolerate behaviour that would elicit a robust verbal refusal otherwise. Unless you have encountered cats, this might sound unlikely, but for the cat-aware reader this will be perfectly familiar.

It goes like this: Can I sit on your lap… and drool on your trousers… and sharpen my claws on your skin… and now we will go to the food bowl… move your feet over, this bit of bed is mine…

The obvious response should be NO. But this is a cat, so the power of the subliminal whispering subtly shifts that sharp refusal to: not really… prefer not to… I'm not really happy about this… I suppose it would be OK… sure… yes…

That is the whispering cat… a patient predator. But sometimes they just pounce, catch you out with the surprise manoeuvre, just like the one Ginger pulled on me to prompt this chain of thought.

Both Ginger and her stalker, Oatmeal, have moved out of the barn and into the house, although Ginger likes to spend her time outside, you just can't beat a good comfy chair on a cold, wet day. We have now reached a significantly inequitable division of furniture – Ginger has my chair, my wife has her own chair, Oatmeal has the sofa and I learn to type standing up. All this close interaction gives the whispering cat time to study her prey.

I was making the porridge for breakfast – not hard-as-nails, real-man, Scottish porridge, but poncy English stuff with milk in. Ginger was in the kitchen, deciding whether or not the biscuits I had just put in her bowl were fresh enough. A perfectly ordinary day, until I started pouring the milk, and then she launched into the circling dance, staring straight up, the sure sign that your cat has seen something infinitely desirable and the usual softly-softly catchee human approach is not sufficient. This is the feline version of gimme-gimme-gimme.

The thing is, I know cats don't really like milk and are often lactose-intolerant. I am sure there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, and cats conditioned to drinking it by owners who have bought into the classic stereotypes. Our own experience has been somewhat different. Milk? Bugger that and fill my water bowl… too slow, I'm off to slurp at a muddy puddle. And cream? That rare moggy treat at Christmas? Most of our cats over the years just walked away, one or two would have a quick lick and then opt for something more tasty such as washing chicken poo off their paws.

I told Ginger it was milk. I told her cats don't like milk, but she didn't believe me. I followed the standard advice to writers – show not tell – and put a small amount of milk on a saucer. The only thing I didn't do was think it through. Ginger recognised a plastic milk bottle, she knew what it was, what it contained, and it turns out she adores milk. Every last drop was scoured from the saucer and I heard the determined rasp of tongue on glaze.

That was the pounce. The psychological killing blow. Now the pattern is established – milk bottle, dancing cat, saucer… If only I had just thought it through and said no. Too late now, because I said yes. I have fallen victim to the milk-shark.

Cats are inextricably linked with quantum physics – seriously, you don't think it was just chance that led Schrodinger to pick on a cat? Whispering is a non-localised effect, and the persistent influence from Ginger has rubbed off on Oatmeal. His pale fluffiness had no interest in milk before Ginger first lulled me into the world of the milk-shark, but now he has learned the habit from her we have gone beyond the cold, ruthless milk-shark: Oatmeal is a total milk-junkie. He now wails if denied the chance to bury his nose in a saucer of the white stuff. He recognises the sound of the fridge door opening, and can hear it, in his sleep, at the other end of the house. We ration him, but when the whispering is not enough, when the wailing rises to deaf ears then there is the special, attention-grabbing cat talent of being where your feet are about to go. Lactose intolerance? No, lactose impatience. Not meow, but me, now!
If you whisper to cats for long enough, the cats whisper back.

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