Sunday, 16 September 2007
Cat Stereotypes: The Nobleman (with a nod to my childhood cat, Monty)
Picture the scenario: You have never much cared for cats (far-fetched, I know, but stay with me). You view them as terminally selfish creatures, always ripping the furniture with their claws and making those horrible, foraging noises while they industro-clean their rear ends. Maybe you prefer a less willful sort of family pet - a pre-trained red setter, perhaps, or a porcelain horse. As a rule, anything feline barely comes under the category of wallpaper in your universe, but one day, you're at a party, or a barbecue, and a flash of fur surprises you, capturing your imagination and respect. It's such an alarming sensation, this sudden feeling of seeing whiskers and not wanting to reach for a squirt gun, and you can't quite put your finger on what has inspired it. Perhaps it's a certain quiet, watchful dignity, a new kind of independence that you hadn't suspected a cat could possess... a more self-assured posture. Chances are, you've just been hit right between the eyes by the irresistible aura of The Nobleman.
The Nobleman is the cat that cat haters happily co-exist alongside. Wild animals smaller than an average pheasant fear him, other cats desperately want to be him, divorced book group members with hennaed hair desperately want to be with him. A wearer of spiritual breeches, he is an expert hunter, without quite being a serial killer, a steadfast companion, without being a kiss-ass. When he raises his imperial wet nose to nudge your hand, you know you've earned it. Frequently, but not exclusively, lightly-coloured, he tends to be big and lean, with skin that vets come to dread on vaccine days. When you return from a family holiday - no cattery for the Nobleman, who, given a nearby pond and a biscuit dispenser, can take care of himself - he's there waiting faithfully in the window, gazing beatifically out at you, but if it were remotely convenient or appropriate to his kind, he'd be there on the holiday itself, playing lifeguard and cheerfully permitting those closest to him to bury him in sand by day, reading War And Peace next to the woodburner by night. Be that as it may, it's doubtful that, even in the highest of holiday spirits, he'd let you cuddle him, because, as every Nobleman knows, cuddles are just for pussies.
Some have made the mistake of writing off The Nobleman as "snotty" or "aloof", but the chances are these are people whom, due to long-standing personal issues, require a needier cat. Either that, or they're just needy cats with long-standing personal issues themselves. The Nobleman has no truck with grasping, neurotic hands or nervous, skittering claws, but do not let it be said that he does not know how to have a good time. One only has to check out his legendary "mouse keepie-uppies" to see he has a sense of humour. Sometimes, he can overstep the mark, with inappropriate padding sessions and uncontrollable protuberances, but those around him view these lapses in the most positive light. How could you see him as seedy? He's The Nobleman! When the creatively-inclined see him lazily licking a paw, their fingers itch for a nearby brush or pencil. If these aren't around, they'll sometimes grab a bit of coal and get busy with a post-it note. The Nobleman is in Control and we are here to serve him, whether it's as his artists in residence, cooks, photographers or cleaners. We look into his eyes, and we see something just and strong and enduring - something wild yet controlled. If he had a song, it would be "You've Got A Friend' by Carole King or 'Theme From Shaft' by Isaac Hayes. Not that he would really, in the words of Hayes, be "the cat who would risk his neck for his brother cat". After all, even The Nobleman can't transcend the self-absorbed limits of his species. But if he could, he would, and it would be a spectacular, dignified thing to behold.