Tuesday 31 March 2009

Monday 30 March 2009

Under The Paw Has Feline Readers Too

Dante From Petra:

Fur Ball From Lindsey:

Lister from Sandy (for some reason this picture won't rotate: perhaps Lister is actually one of the rare, legendary Sideways Cats):

Five Famous Cat Men

A piece I wrote recently for the Financial Times.

Thursday 26 March 2009

You've Got A Friend (And Just Because He Is A Mouse, That Is No Reason To Be Ashamed)

I was very interested to get an email forwarded to me the other day by Under The Paw reader Helen, with a link to a video from the website of the super laid-back singer-songwriter James Taylor. This can be seen here and is probably a better insight into what former seventies pop scenesters do with their free time than any number of VH1 documentaries: first Taylor builds a mouse trap with a tin can, some wood, and an almond embedded in peanut butter. He then promises to take us to "Mouse Heaven", which sounds kind of macabre coming from a garage-dwelling Taylor, particularly when you take into account his headwear, but actually turns out to be a special cabinet where he keeps Evander, a mouse he rescued earlier from his cat, Ray, who is clearly still holding a major grudge about the whole unjust episode.

I'm not convinced that Evander - so named because he has a hole in his ear - actually likes the small ball Taylor has made for him to roll around on the floor in, but the video is ultimately as sweet and gently thoughtful as it is odd. When Taylor talks about his next mouse sitting in his DIY trap and "thinking about what he's done", you realise: this is a guy who could never have been in Aerosmith. It all slightly reminds me of the time I had to interview the pre-punk childman rocker Jonathan Richman, and came armed with forty odd questions about his enormous back catalogue, only to find that all Richman wanted to talk about was his newfound interest in cement.

Taylor also has a video where he demonstrates Ray's special catladder.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Under A Bigger Paw

The week before last, I committed what my cats would probably consider the ultimate act of betrayal by taking a trip to Kent to The Wildlife Heritage Foundation, having been very kindly invited to have a look around by the UK's number one cat behavourist, Vicky Halls. Vicky has been extending her cat counselling repertoire recently by working with Ronja, a depressed, lame, agoraphobic female tiger originally from a German zoo, who's been living at WHF since 2004. Ronja didn't precisely seem overjoyed to see me, but is responding well to the toys and treatments that Vicky has suggested for her, which include extra-strength catnip and spare copies of the Yellow Pages*, which she rips up with her teeth in much the same way that Shipley does with my favourite paperbacks and draft manuscripts.

Since big cats don't meow or purr (although they do something vaguely similar to the latter, which WHF's keepers call "chuffling"), I found the idea that they would go loopy over catnip surprising at first, but less so the longer I spent at WHF. In the movements of the snow leopards, leopards, tigers, lynxes and cheetahs I met, I observed at the lazy swagger of my own cats, writ large. Although I was a bit nervous about putting my hand through the bars and feeding them chicken drumsticks initially, I soon became lulled into what was undoubtedly a false sense of security. Never was this more extreme than in the presence of the Pallas Cats, who, though ostensibly similar to my tabby narcissist, Ralph, would no doubt be more than happy to mess you up, ghetto-style, given half a chance. It was somewhat easier to stay circumspect around the snow leopards, Artur and Artem, whose paws are the size of Ralph's head, and whose tails work as in-built draft excluders (for warehouse fire doors, presumably). I'm glad that Vicky took the photos above, because I can put them on Facebook and make out to my friends that I'm really brave, but what they don't tell you is just how quickly my arm shot backwards 0.00001 of a second after Artem bit the chicken out of my hand.

I also got a peek inside "the dead shed", whose contents probably would have shocked me more were I not currently in the odd position of storing some horse's skulls on the balcony of my house for a family friend (more about this to come in the currently-in-progress sequel to Under The Paw). I've always thought of myself as the most squeamish of people, but I think after a few more hours at WHF, the site of blood, guts and dead rabbits would probably quickly become as quotidian as that of a freshly opened pouch of Felix. Having said this, I did wince a little when the volunteer keeper, Sarah, told me the story about one of the lions being semi-castrated in a fight. Apparently the claw went "all the way through". You could be the most rough and tumble, lion-cuddling outdoorsman, and you'd still find it hard not to suppress a shiver at that.

* It's good to know someone has some use for them these days.

Contribute to a vital cause:

The Wildlife Heritage Foundation.

Call Of The Wild: A Big Cat-Themed Song For Charity By Under The Paw Reader Paul Oakley.

Tiger Awareness.

The Snow Leopard Trust.

Monday 9 March 2009

The "Charley Says" Public Information Films: More Proof That There's A Lot We Can Learn From Cats

For about three months during the mid-Eighties, my schoolfriend Matthew Spitall and I became weirdly obsessed with cat food adverts. On our way to and from the bus stop, we would bellow their theme tunes, which included such unforgettable hits as "Kitty Cat: That's Living!" and "Cats Make Haste For The Munchies Taste (The Munchies Taste Makes Cats Make Haste)". This was in that brief halcyon period before the cruel social hierarchy of an apathetic English comprehensive state school stomps out that last, precious bit of unselfconscious primary school innocence. Back in our village, Matthew went by the nickname "Rocker": not because he liked to listen to rock - he did, and, incidentally, I will always be grateful to him for being the first person to play me These Dreams by Heart - but because he once hit his head on one and claimed not to have felt anything. Later, he would become one of the first people in my school to wear a leather jacket and drift away from me in favour of a gang of kids who smoked behind the local leisure centre. But during the winter of 1986-87, amongst myself and a few others, he was best known for his habit of inserting comedy meows into the popular songs and jingles of the day.

Among the broadcasts that occupied our thoughts - and those of many of our less cat-enamoured peers - at this time were the "Charley Says" public information films. These short animations followed the adventures of a young boy and his alternately killjoy/hedonist pet cat, Charley, and in the process warned of hazards variously overreported (deep water, strangers) and barely suspected (tables). They were originally broadcast in the early Seventies, but were given a rerun thirteen years later, ingraining the message that there IS DANGER EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD AND WE SHOULD ALL STAY INSIDE ALL DAY AND WEAR PROTECTIVE BODYSUITS into a new generation of children, and also giving us a glimpse of the kind of creature that might emerge if you crossed Bagpuss with a Health And Safety Official and a small, moth-eaten tiger.

Essentially, if you were at school in the UK at this point, and wanted to fully illustrate how lame a person was, there was no more cutting insult than repeating back whatever they'd just said to you in the voice of Charley's owner. Other popular parodies of the Charley films in my school year included a) whispering the words "Charley said.." to the person sitting next to you and making them spit all over their test paper, and b) making up endless variations at the bit of the Don't Talk To Strangers Charley film where Charley's owner says "I got an apple and Charley got something he likes" ("I got a blow-up doll and Charley got a crack pipe" etc). At the time, if you wanted an easy guide on how not to be cool and popular at school, you just had to look at Charleykid.

Yet what strikes me now is not the films' lameness, but their rudimentary charm, and, I think, though we weren't self-aware enough to know it, that was a big part of their original appeal for Matthew and me. You're a stronger person than me if you fail to get sucked into the expertly-plotted dramatic climax of the film where Charley falls in the river. And while my own cats run a fair gamut of voice tones, I still hope one day to find my own mog with an admonitory, Charley-style waffling meow who would warn me when danger is on the horizon, rather than just watching me fall foul of it whilst betraying just the hint of a supercilious, knowing smile.

Friday 6 March 2009

Guest Cat Of The Month For April: Nikki



The Tooty, Tooty magooty, Fatty Watty, Tooty boots,
Tooty Fruity.


Samantha and Scott.

Touch me, don't touch me, touch me, don't touch me.

Favourite habit?
Licking the shower.

What constitutes a perfect evening for you?
It's called "Tooty Time". It's when my mom and dad sit
me down on the couch on my custom knit blanket and
scratch my head until my eyes begin to cross and I
start to drool.

Favourite food?
I have a varied palette, but if I must choose, a good
piece of raw or cooked fish goes down the hatch
quite nicely.

Defining moment of your life?
The day I assumed control of the house and its inhabitants.

Any enemies?
Other cats. I know the expected answer is dogs. As unlikely as it seems, I actually quite like dogs
and will tolerate their presence.

If you could do one thing to make the world a better place for felines, what would it be?
Make the world a giant litter box.

If you could meet a celebrity who would it be and why?
Ricky Gervais, because his comic delivery is without flaw.

Which one of the cats in Under The Paw would you like to be stuck in a lift with?
Ooh, that's a tough one. Hhhhmmm...The Bear would
make for some interesting conversation, Pablo probably
wouldn't say much. Shipley may beat me up, Janet may
sit on my head, I have a crush on Ralph, so that’s definitely
out, Bootsy is well Bootsy... As I enjoy a good challenge,
I'm going to have to say The Bear.

I was born in Santa Cruz, California. My mom
acquired me while she was browsing in a 2nd hand shop
and some girl came in offering me up to anyone who would
take me. I was small enough to fit in the palm of a hand
(albeit a big hand, a hand nonetheless...). Life was good living by the ocean, although I never did
get to the beach. I lived there for many years sharing my
abode with another cat called Druid (mom misses her a lot!)
and a couple of big rambunctious dogs, and a family of (wild) Raccoons. Life took a turn when my mom moved to Los Angeles then Australia and I had to go live with her friend in the Santa Cruz hills. I was there for 4 years. I call that my silent period. I lost one of my fangs and my mom doesn't know how it happened and I can't talk about it. Well, 4 years later she came and got me. They took me back to Australia and now I have a huge back yard to myself. Well, actually I share it with a dog called "The Nudge", his real name is Cisco. His a goofy pest, but I tolerate him and his occasional kisses.My mom says I’ve always been a “love” and a “good girl”, not sure what that means, but whatever it is I reap the rewards!

Thursday 5 March 2009

Cats And Moving: A Piece By Me From Yesterday's Independent

A generous photo spread of his grizzled mug on page 46 and 47 of a national newspaper clearly doesn't impress The Bear, although it does provide a good makeshift place mat on which he can drop his gribbly bits.

He is far more enamoured of his new "Kitty Disco Pole" scratching post. Here he is (I know - I could have done with having the flash on) doing his David Blaine impression on it. For The Bear, to just scratch it would be far too simple:

Monday 2 March 2009

Ugly Bat Boy: The Lost Blake's 7 Supervillain?

One day quite soon, when cats finally take over the universe, this New Hampshire cat will surely be our leader, and deservedly so.

Sunday 1 March 2009

Men And Cats: A Site About Men, And Cats

This is quite a cool, smouldering photo, and I'm sure evokes a pretty appealing, romantic 1970s Californian hippie ideal of man-mog harmony for many of Men And Cats' female readers, but you can guarantee that tabby has only jumped on that bloke's chest because it knows he's desperate for a piss.

Check more out HERE (they gave this pussywhipped sap an entry too).