Friday, 9 August 2013

Some Questions And Answers, For People Who'd Like To Find Out More About @MYSADCAT, aka The Bear

Who is @MYSADCAT and where can I find out more about him?

@MYSADCAT is my seventeen (eighteen in October!) year-old cat, The Bear. He spends his days on the floors, bookshelves, chairs and freshly washed towels of my house here in Norfolk, UK, with three other cats of significantly lesser intellect: Ralph (tabby, narcissistic, aka MYSMUGCAT), Roscoe (black and white, a tomboy, a bit like a living cartoon) and Shipley (black, sinewy, foulmouthed). He is one of the stars - the star, many would argue - of my last two books, Under The Paw and Talk To The Tail, and my upcoming one, The Good, The Bad And The Furry. The best to place to start reading his life story is Under The Paw. There is also a potted history of it of sorts in this This Guardian column I wrote at the end of last year.

What made you set up the @MYSADCAT Twitter account?

Everyone who meets The Bear in real life (and in Internet life) comments on the amazing soulfulness of his eyes, and he spends a lot of time following me around the house, looking directly into my own eyes, as if he has just heard about all the sadness in the world and is wondering what I can do about it. I had the idea a couple of years ago of a Twitter account where I listed all the things The Bear was sad about, but I prevaricated over it for various reasons - being shy about the idea of showing strangers bits of the inside of my house, respecting The Bear's privacy, not wanting to fritter away valuable writing time on the Internet, not wanting to read comments from people making cruel comments about The Bear (this is the Internet, which means that they do happen, although they're soon forgotten about, mercifully, with the great love The Bear's followers show for him). But then I changed my mind, and decided it would be quite fun, and creative, both comically and photographically. So many people had already responded to the melancholy and magic of The Bear's character after reading my books and asked to see him, I thought it would be nice to share him and that if it were up to him, he would probably have approved. After a fairly troubled early life, he'd probably be pleased to know he was being widely adored in his later years: the years when he has really come into his own, in terms of both looks and personality.

How on earth have you managed to amass so many photos of him?

I started taking a lot of photos of The Bear around New Year 2013, when I began trying to get a new cover shot for my book to send to my new publishers, Little Brown. The paperbacks of my last two books, which came out via Simon And Schuster, feature posh actor kittens who I've never met, and don't really sum up the spirit of the books at all, which is something I wrote about here. By taking lots of shots of The Bear and starting the @MYSADCAT project I hoped I might be able to redress the balance, not only getting him on the cover of the new book (done!), but perhaps eventually prompting my previous publishers to see sense - and the enormous love people have for his beautiful, somewhat human, face - and reissue Under The Paw and Talk To The Tail with him on the cover (not done yet!). On a personal level, having got an old, better quality camera working again, I wanted my own, half-decent photographic record of what an incredible, one-in-a-billion cat The Bear is, and what a great friend he's been, through thick and thin - something (albeit much, much more amateurishly) in the spirit of the wonderful book Ernie: A Photographer's Memoir by Tony Mendoza. That said, some of the photos stretch back much further. 

Are you doing this because you're bored?

No. I think the last time I was bored was in the summer of 1983, when my friend Adam was going to come to my house to play snooker, but got nits and stayed at home. My head is so full of so much stuff so much of the time (not including nits) and I'm so constantly, desperately in need of more time for all the stuff I want to do, all the stuff I want to read, all the stuff I want to write, every day that I sometimes crave a taste of boredom, just for a nostalgic, sweet memory of what it actually felt like. I knew I'd want to do MYSADCAT properly, if I did it, and it would take up a fair bit more time, which was another reason why I hesitated about it. At the same time as tweeting on behalf of The Bear and Ralph, I'm writing a new (non-cat) book, redecorating a house and fulfilling my monthly journalistic obligations. Much as it might look like it through the vastly reductive prism the Internet makes of strangers' lives, I do not just sit about all day, hanging around with my cats and taking photos of them. I enjoy doing @MYSADCAT, but, if I'm totally honest, it's not for the simple pleasure of it; I also have an agenda. I want my books to find their audience, because I put a lot of hard work into each of them. This also comes back to The Bear as well, in that it will ultimately be beneficial for him, as well as for me. As a humour writer in a severely ailing journalism industry who has no interest in a) writing celebrity puff pieces or b) stirring up hatred with polemic, my annual earnings are a fraction of what they once were. Without wanting to go for the sympathy vote (far better, far more stubbornly artistic writers than me are struggling more than me in the publishing industry's current climate), I am also suffering the financial repercussions of buying someone out of a mortgage not all that long ago. I don't want to have to sell my house and move The Bear when this has become such a happy retirement home for him. It now looks like there's nothing I can do to avoid that, and my house is now on the market, but if my books sell healthily, my girlfriend and I can at least move The Bear and my other cats to another place where they'll be happy: somewhere, like here, with green space, where they won't be on top of each other, and where they won't be in any more danger of being hit by a car than they are here.

Does he mind you taking all those photos?

He doesn't appear to. His habit of looking directly at me means he is also often looking directly at the camera, and he's very happy to pose. Sometimes it feels a bit like he... knows. I don't stalk him with it all day. I don't want to piss him off, or keep waking him up from his many naps, so I take a series of different shots at times in the day when he's alert and friendly and I have a free moment or three. I do keep the camera handy, though, just in case I happen to find him doing any weird and mystical stuff, which he often does. 

There is a dead rodent in that photo! Did The Bear kill it?
No, The Bear is a lifelong pacifist. He would like, if he could, to be a friend to all rodents, and read them poetry. My other cats, however, are homicidal maniacs.

Why is the wallpaper in the background in the photos so old-looking and great?

Because I chose it and I'm not bad in some ways, if you like those kind of people who do things like that.

Why is the wallpaper in the background in the photos so old-looking and rubbish?

I don't know. Why was your mum so convincing in her role as Chewbacca in the original Star Wars trilogy? Life is full of unanswerable questions.

Are your opinions The Bear's opinions?

Sometimes, but definitely not always. We agree on a few things. We both obsess over books. We're both fairly old-fashioned, and worried about the Americanisation of everyday British dialogue. But he's far more serious than me, with far less tolerance for low culture. We both like melancholic country rock. He adores Leonard Cohen and The Smiths. I quite like both of them but prefer 70s disco, British acid folk and good time 70s rock. He can't get on at all with the first Foreigner album, whereas I believe it to be a snobbishly overlooked classic rock masterpiece, and arguably the best album of 1977. I like comic fiction and big, character-based American novels, but he prefers magic realism and anything with a gothic element. We both love historical fiction and epic, wordy HBO TV dramas such as The Wire and Deadwood. All in all, we can find plenty of common ground, but if we were out in a pub together, talking to some cool people about the stuff we like, he'd probably be a bit embarrassed by me.

How does The Bear feel about Internet trolls?

He has been known to respond to the odd one, out of sheer grammar pedantry, but he mostly ignores them. He knows it's best not to feed a troll - something he's learned from his real life troll, Shipley.

What are The Bear's favourite sad tweets?

He changes his mind from day to day about it, just as he changes his mind from day to day about whether he likes The Smiths or Leonard Cohen best, but at this point in time, some of his favourites are:


Is he REALLY sad?

The Bear is sad only in the sense that anyone of high intelligence is prone to melancholy and overanalysis. On every other level, he appears to be by far the happiest he's ever been in his life - sometimes in a very intense and clingy way. I suspect not moving house - an activity he likes even less than having a vet's thermometer up his bottom, the rigmarole of which he has been put through too many times - for over nine years has helped. He was rather troubled, and not a little bit scheming, when I first met him, but over the years has mellowed, and would, I suspect, dearly like to be my only cat, so he could sit next to me for a large portion of every day, undisturbed by low lives and wannabes. No other cat I've ever known can purr for such sustained, lengthy periods and, because of his age, he does get a few more treats than the other cats who live here, though they're all spoilt rotten. Of course, he ultimately believes that the planet is on a fasttrack to oblivion, but that's a separate issue, which he is able to compartmentalise, and in terms of his own day to day existence, he's having a great time.

Read the first part of The Bear's life story in Under The Paw

Read the second part of The Bear's life story in Talk To The Tail

Pre-order The Good, The Bad And The Furry


sheepy said...

I am sad that The Bear has to move. I know just how he feels.

Smithy3201 said...

No wonder I love this cat so much! We have very similar likes, right down to TV shows. I worry about you moving house & The Bear going walkabout for an extended period though. He really is a one in a billion, very special little guy.

Gregory Spawton said...

Thank you for for the interesting post. I wondered about the history of the Twitter account and photos. The music industry is going through similar change with musicians needing to work hard for decreasing rewards and I think your use of Twitter has been very clever (and it makes me laugh a lot.) I have already pre-ordered the book and I wish I could buy enough copies so that The Bear didn't need to move house again. Good luck with the move.

Kate said...

Such a lovely and honest piece. I know how stressful moving can be for both humans and animals, so I hope all are starting to settle in.