Cats and Books

Thursday, 31 January 2019


No two cats are the same, but an awful lot of them are very similar. Faced with an inward-opening door, most will press their nose against it and decline to back up. Our little ginger will indicate a food bowl needs topping up, but then is in such a hurry that only the first few biscuits make it into the bowl, with the rest bouncing off her ears. As for pointing – you can’t point to something for a cat’s attention, because they stare at your moving finger.

Then there’s Piper, six and a half kilos of black-and-white, ex-feral tom cat, the cat with a difference. Actually, multiple differences. Just like any of our cats, he will sit and stare pointedly at a door, expecting it to be opened, even if there is a perfectly functional cat-flap. Just because he can go through without troubling his people doesn’t mean that he should. And then when you open the door, he actually steps back, if necessary giving an impatient stare if the gap isn’t wide enough fast enough. This is not what I regard as conventional cat behaviour.
Piper (rear) and Oatmeal, or Heavy and Heavier.

As for the food-bowl... We have a diet arrangement, because although Oatmeal is now down from being a seven-kilo bundle of fluff, he still needs calorie control. The high-calorie food is in a bowl on a window cill on the principal that when Oatmeal is light enough to jump that high, he’s allowed the good stuff. Piper, who may now actually be heavier than Oatmeal, can jump that high. In fact, he tries to lead his people round there so that if the bowl is inadequate once he’s up, the service staff are on hand to fix it. Unlike Ginge, he sits back and waits for the filling to be done – no kitty-nibbles bouncing off his ears.

Piper with a book - he can't read, but it adds an air of sophistication

In fact, Piper also has his own unique set of communications and processes for ensuring the correct level of service. Perhaps the most notable is I want something.

Casual but persistent stropping round ankles usually means walk with me to the window and attend to that food bowl. That’s just the basic brush-past, not that different from what the other cats do.

There are higher, more aggressive levels.

After brush-past is figure-of-eight, which is fast and sufficient to upset my balance. It starts with a more forceful brush-past, which is noticeable from a tall, six and a half kilo cat, and then a quick turn to make another pass, then turn again to come back. It’s like being buffeted by waves on a sea shore. It usually happens when I’m cooking and the approximate translation is I really want that, whatever it is, put some down and let’s find out if I like it.

Then there is a heavy-treading variant of the figure-of-eight, which usually means I already know I like that stuff, put some down. It’s a slower cycle which goes something like this: step up, stand on the human’s foot, brush past, beat the shins vigorously with the tail, step down, turn and repeat. It’s surprisingly uncomfortable when Piper puts most of his weight on one paw on my foot. The furry truncheon makes an impact as well.

Finally, there are the two absolute-extreme-urgent put that stuff down for me now signals. First, there’s the scratching post, the sharp attention-grabber. Reach up, rest paws against the human’s knee, extend claws and pull down, adjusting grip like playing with that that rope-covered post that's been mauled almost bare.

Secondly, there’s the culmination of the heavy-treading figure of eight. This final trick is where the repeated impacts makes the human move, creating just enough space for the Piper-nose to pass between the legs, and then work like a wedge until the rather wider waist can follow through. In the most extreme version, the front paws can hold down one of the human’s feet, and then the tail starts lashing – not a genteel waft but laying it about with the furry truncheon, swaying hips to get the motion going – more like a dog wagging its tail – until the human’s knees are ready to buckle.

Just a normal cat, really.

I don’t always understand what he wants, and I would love to point out to Piper that sometimes he mixes his signals. I know what the answer would be. Understanding is not required, just prompt obedience.

Of course, I can’t point anything out to Piper. For all his differences he’s just like any other cat when you try to point, staring at the finger and wondering what new game is about to start.