Wednesday, 8 August 2007
The Colonel In Crisis
Ralph is the most highly-strung of my cats. He most resembles one of that special breed of rock stars who somehow manage the feat of being simultaneously majestic and slightly fetid. I hope that one day he will be the kind of self-assured cat who demands a nickname like "The Colonel". In the highly unlikely event that I ever show off one of of my common-or-garden moggies in a cat show, he'd be the one I'd want to enter, though I'd probably earn his lifelong scorn in the process. I may already have his lifelong scorn. At the time of writing, there's a fair amount of doubt about the issue. He's always been easily upset, but normally Dee and I deal with his mood swings with a delicately-balanced combination of head-scratches, extensive sessions with the JML pet mitt and buttery treats. It's a fine line between "Dribbling Paddy Ralph" and "Celebrity Tantrum Ralph". We usually manage to just about walk it until July comes around and the great depression arrives and Ralph goes next door and hides in a bush where, for the next four or five weeks, until the weather cools, he will make distressed howling noises suggestive of a minor nervous breakdown.
I've never heard of a summer version of Seasonal Affective Disorder but, if it exists, Ralph almost certainly has it. I thought we'd been lucky this year: July arrived, and he was still his usual intermittently affectionate, intermittently panicked, narcissistic self - half Jim Morrison, half Beaker from The Muppets. Then, when the hot weather arrived a week or so ago, I heard a "heeooouurrrw" noise and, although for a moment I mistook it for the sound of one of the kids nextdoor-but-one falling off their new trampoline, I very quickly realised that Summer Ralph had once again arrived.
I know the only thing to do is wait this out. Three years ago, when the problem began, we took him to the vets, where he was diagnosed with feline depression and prescribed a course of female hormones. I'm not convinced these had any effect - although Dee claims she could detect that his howling had gone up an octave - and I don't really want to add to the gender identity issues of a cat who, for his first three months with us, was largely referred to as either "Prudence" and "our only girl". Nonetheless, I worry about him. It does not help that the few times he has ventured towards the house he has quickly been set upon by the pygmy Bootsy. Watching these episodes of Napoleonic tyranny, with their accompanying mewling sounds, is can only be described as a truly awesome and comic experience and gives me a new insight into the origination of the word "sourpuss". How can one so small and brittle-boned cause so much fear in the heart of one so chunky and beefcakelike? It's impossible to say, but I'm not completely convinced that it's Bootsy's reign of terror that's responsible for the shrubbery-based strops. After all, Bootsy slaps Ralph about in the winter too, and he doesn't run off in the manner of a spoilt seven year-old girl - or at least not nearly as often. Perhaps it's a hair issue: Ralph has a wonderful, lionish coat, and is the only cat I've ever had who can be described as having sideburns and you can see the heat getting to him, but Janet is much fluffier, and you don't see him throwing a hissy fit about it.
Maybe Ralph is pining for his long lost sister: the other tabby who came from his litter, who we decided to not take home with us after seeing her curl up and go to sleep in her crud tray. Who knows? Perhaps he's not howling at all, but singing to an imaginary pride: a cat version of the kind of girls who didn't let the smell of Jim Morrison's leather trousers deter them from seeing him as athe ultimate tousled pin-up. There is no doubt, from the way Ralph beams at me in his calmer moments, that he is happy being him - in fact, he couldn't seem happier unless he had a thought bubble above him saying "I am Ralph! I please myself immensely!" - but his self-love is a precarious commodity. It needs to be fed and that feeding is not always just about the leftovers from my Taste The Difference waffles. It is about a slow, steady massaging of the animalistic ego. I'm sure Kate Hudson and Pamela Des Barres have had similar experiences with their menfolk. I'm also sure that one autumn day, not far in the future, the old Ralph will walk back confidently into the house and begin padding my or Dee's stomach in a frighteningly vigorous manner. We'll know that he's shaken off his demon - and probably a few fleas at the same time - but we'll also know that, with another summer gone by, our hopes of ever getting our robust, level-headed Colonel are just that bit more unrealistic.