Cats and Books

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Virtual Cat-Basket

Oatmeal the cat has discovered string and, as with most things, his approach is off the norm. Cats chase string – that's a given, a part of nature, the spawning ground for a profitable business in cat toys. The obliging human tugs the string/ribbon/clever-elasticated-cord, the cat leaps on the end as if it were prey. Cue biting, patting, tossing and general balletic exuberance as if the string were a devious, fighting member of the local rodent population. Then, the cat releases its prey and the obliging human starts all over again.

The most obvious question at this point is what does the human get out of it? The fun seems to be mostly on the cat's side. Tug string, wait, tug string again... ad nauseam.

Now turn to Oatmeal. He doesn't chase string, exactly – he catches string. Once he has it – game over. He holds on, pins it down and waits for the other player to let go. Forget the exquisitely choreographed display of cat agility. The uncharitable view might be that Oatmeal, with his generous figure and short legs (and weighing in at over 6kg) doesn't have agility. However, when he has a mouse (most probably stolen from Ginge, rather than a DIY capture) he tosses it about and performs his own version of Muhammad Ali – float like a bucket and sting like a tree. What he lacks in agility, he makes up in enthusiasm.

So back to the string. He catches it, pins it down, out-waits the human and then... he takes it back to his basket. Our cat is a beige retriever. Fortunately, we have plenty of string, aka baler twine, and we cheat by rescuing string he has already caught. But I have never heard of a cat taking string back to its basket.

Except that Oatmeal doesn't actually have a basket, except in a virtual sense. Currently, his virtual basket is the corner of the corridor from the bedrooms to the rest of the house. Not tucked safely out of the way, but perfectly positioned to trip up the unwary human heading for the bathroom in the middle of the night. For a while, he used the stack of sheep feed sacks against the wall of the corridor (it's a relatively rodent-free place to store 150kg of feed), but we kept taking bags away to feed the sheep. Before that, it was the laptop-case, and before that just a random patch of carpet in the lounge.

The virtual basket is fragile. Adding an old towel, or padding, or something to define the edges destroys it completely and he moves on to a new one.

So Oatmeal has a virtual basket, which can be something as well defined as a bag, or uncertain as a patch of carpet. It doesn't matter. So long as no-one else interferes, the basket is good and safe, and wherever the current virtual basket might be, that's where captured string will be taken.

Of course, I don't have a virtual basket. I just always sit at the same end of the sofa, sleep on the same side of the bed. And that's my seat – I always sit there.

Perhaps the only strange thing about Oatmeal is how often he changes his virtual basket.