Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Janet Joins Bill Bryson's Keep Britain Tidy Campaign!

It's now been a few weeks since empty sweet and crisp wrappers started turning up outside the backdoor of my house, and the mystery of their source has caused much paranoia. The way that the building is positioned dictates that, barring the event of extremely high wind, if there's a packet of spicy tomato Wheat Crunchies on the flagstones outside my study, it's almost certainly the result of someone sitting on the flagstones outside my study, eating a packet of spicy tomato Wheat Crunchies. Disposing of soggy Mr Kipling packets (the litter is almost always soggy) and crinkled, greying Sunblest bags has recently become no less an intrinsic part of my morning ritual than making coffee, turning on the kitchen tap for Bootsy and shouting at the presenters of BBC Breakfast for speaking to me as if I'm simple.

What is almost as spooky as the appearance of this litter is its notable vintage quality. I mean: I know that there are some fairly timeworn products knocking around the market town where I live - one of the kebab shops only recently got rid of the last of a supply of bright red coke cans that my wife and I suspected were "retro" in a worryingly genuine way - but some of the brands currently residing in my flowerbed haven't been widely available in supermarkets since 1998. "Do that many people still really eat Curly-Wurlies?" I found myself asking, last Thursday. At one point over the weekend, I half-expected (well, hoped, really*) to see a packet of salt and vinegar Odd'Uns.

Of course, I'd seen Janet lazing about next to the rubbish as it appeared, but it didn't occur to me at first to connect the pile of litter with the pile of cat alongside it. Janet, who's more of a dozer than a sleeper, can do his lazing in a remarkably eclectic array of habitats, and his penchant for hard surfaces is one the major quirks of his middle-age, right up alongside his ever-loudening yawn and the new "fart-hiss" he has been perfecting for times when he is angry or frustrated**. Even now, I haven't actually caught him with any rubbish between his jaws, but since I saw him loitering just inside the house, with a full, sealed bag of pre-Lineker Walkers sitting behind him on the tiles, I have come to the conclusion that the only explanation for the fly-tipping is this: he is fishing the litter out of the lake of the bottom of my garden.

If so, this is very kind of him, since I usually spend an hour or so each month doing the same thing, particularly at rainy periods such as now, when the lake gets high and washes its innumerable crap up in the reeds beyond my lawn. Though in many ways the most uncomplicated of my cats, Janet has always been an enigma, from the summer romance he once sustained with a decrepit neighbourhood fox to the strange way that he drops to the floor, jellylike, when you tickle in him in a particular spot behind his right ear. My best explanation for his actions is that his litter picking is his form of "presents": a feline pacifist's (with the possible exception of a meddlesome polystyrene bead, he's never killed anything in his life) version of the headless voles Pablo leaves at the beneath my work desk. This explanation also accounts for the plaintive wail I heard him making the other night, as he sat alongside his latest stash of archaic firelighter packaging: a wail not dissimilar to the one Ralph makes when he has a mousetache. Where will this end? I do not know, but I spotted a faded can of Lilt in the gutter near my front door yesterday, so it's possible he could be expanding his repertoire.

*Does anyone lament the 1985 demise of these on a daily basis, or is it just me?
** Particularly baffling to be around, considering the amount of time he now also spends actually farting as well.

Friday, 8 August 2008

The Rescue Cat Of The Year Awards

When a person thinks of the term "cat show", they might be forgiven for thinking of musty smells, displaced mothering instincts and simmering caged fury anthropomorphised as competitive pride. You will not, however, find any of these things at The Rescue Cat Of The Year Awards. In fact, there’s another notable absence from Cats Protection’s alternative cat ceremony: the competitors. This might seem to defeat the object of a celebration of the feline spirit, but probably only if you’re the kind of person who’d claim that your Brown Tabby Maine Coon genuinely appreciates the Breakfast At Tiffany’s theme you’ve given his diamante-studded carry case. While not altogether averse to the idea of the day trip, cats traditionally tend not to be huge fans of the package version. This probably goes double for the kind of moggies that vie for the Rescue Cat Of The Year Awards, many of whom not only have numerous missing body parts but probably have minimal interest in receiving a personalised food bowl from Sally Gunnell OBE.

Gunnell, who recently adopted three kittens found in a box in the car park of her local Tescos, was one of five ailurophile celebrities presenting the prizes last week at the fourth annual staging of what Cats Protection have dubbed “The Feline Oscars”. The term is not strictly accurate, since you won’t find any moggy Clooneys or Paltrows here (although the inclusion of a feline Daniel Day-Lewis is not completely out of the question). The only nips and tucks are medically necessary ones: those, for example, performed on Felix, who lost his tail and one of his back legs when he got caught in the blades of a combine harvester, or Oliver, who had to have his right eye removed after being shot repeatedly at point-blank range with an air gun.

The awards are divided into four categories: Ultimate Survivor, Best Friends, Hero Cat, and Most Incredible Story. A couple of years ago, I entered my own “troubled and artistic” moggy The Bear into the fourth category, but he didn’t make the shortlist. Watching videos of Noah from Leeds and Lucky from Amersham, I began to understand why. Being found in a plastic bag on the hard shoulder of a motorway then becoming allergic to both fleas and your flea treatment is fairly remarkable, but it’s arguably not as remarkable as escaping from the 2007 floods on a raft or surviving a 280-mile journey from France to England whilst trapped under a car bonnet. As Mandy, the owner of Ultimate Survivor winner Felix, told me: “the problem is that when you enter, you have to tell your cat’s story in only 200 words, and that’s not much, when you consider what these cats have been through.” By the time she’d described Felix’s combine harvester horror, Mandy was already up to 198, so how would she find space to explain that he subsequently suffered from (and, unbelievably, conquered) near-total paralysis from tetanus – a disease that cats aren’t supposed to be able to even contract?

In a week when the RSPCA announced a 24% increase in cases of animal cruelty in the UK, stories such as Felix’s and that of overall winner Speedy – a remarkably intelligent-faced tabby who provides endless comfort to his severely disabled owner and is able to alert her parents when she is about to suffer an epileptic seizure – seemed all the more poignant. Presumably both of them were curled up on a duvet somewhere at home as their victories were announced, but the roaring, lionish presence of Hero Cat category presenter Brian Blessed endowed proceedings with a certain amount of feline authenticity. After an anecdote about having his kitchen invaded by a Shetland pony, Blessed also very publicly offered a saucy, purring come-on to Ultimate Survivor category presenter Prunella Scales. The Supreme Cat Show might have the 3D fluff, the extra-strong imported catnip cigars and the spangly cages, but as far as winningly unrefined feral behaviour is concerned, The Rescue Cat Of The Year Awards would seem to have the market well and truly cornered.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Witless-Looking Cats: The Winners

This was difficult. Not just Tough Cats Competition difficult, but REALLY difficult. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because witlessness is a slightly more subtle feline trait than straightforward hardness. Or maybe it's because I'm having a particularly indecisive kind of week (I went to the Rescue Cat Of The Year Awards a few days ago, and I wouldn't have been able to pick a clear winner out of the nominees there either). Whatever the case, after much deliberation, and experimentation - things really got desperate when I showed each of the top three photos to my own King Moron Pablo and ask him to headbutt the one he liked best, only for him to simply look vacantly at me with his tongue sticking out and fall asleep on my keyboard - I've decided that, instead of awarding first, second and third places, joint first place will be awarded to the following three beautiful simpletons (although it should be stated, just for the record, that when it comes to littlecatdiaries' "special" achievers, every feline cretin is a winner).

So, in no order whatsoever:

1. Spam (okay, so maybe the bag was placed there by his owner, Bill, but we have no proof, and it's very funny anyway).

2. Mitchell (don't you just sense that Mitchell has a totally demented meow?).

3. Murrt (one littlecatdiaries reader remarked on the resemblance between Murrt and Zoe Wannamaker, which is indeed uncanny: no insult to Mrs W herself, but it takes a special cat cretinosity to be that wonky-eyed, and I speak as one with daily firsthand experience of some pretty bozzed up moggy peepers).

A huge thanks to everyone for their pictures, and congratulations to the respective winning owners, Bill, Jane and Lisa. You'll each be receiving a signed copy of Under The Paw: Confessions Of A Cat Man very shortly.

Friday, 1 August 2008

The latest instalment of Simon's Cat

Of course, the whole thing's genius, but it's the tone of that meow that really makes it: Who is responsible for it? (The sound is credited to "Shrooty" but a quick Google search reveals that this is a sound design services company, and not, in fact, a cutely named mog.)