Friday 29 May 2009

Fake Tans: How To Tell Them From The Real Thing

On their recent holiday, my parents took the above and below photos of a black cat they came across. I find that, with them, things like this happen more and more often: they say they're not massively fussed about cats these days, but it's really just a front they put on in the crooked belief that it will be a deciding factor in pulling me back from the brink of getting even more cats than I already have. In reality, they're always off on some adventure, and returning from it with photos like the two here. They call these adventures "walks" but from what I can work out they're essentially moggy-finding missions in disguise. Huge, previously untamable whiskery beasts will just mysteriously "appear" and clamber on top of my dad's back as he sleeps on a remote Derbyshire hillside. My mum will walk down a green lane and suddenly find a needy tabby at her heel. Personally, I don't know why the pair of them don't stop skirting the issue and just go ahead and get another cat to finally replace The Slink, but I suppose they're happy in their denial, and that's the important thing.

Anyway, my mum was telling me about how nice this cat was. "And of course it had that tan that some cats have," she added.

"What do you mean?" I asked

"You know, that cat tan. You can see it there - the ginger bits on the black."

"But surely that's just a black cat with a few bits of ginger on its fur."

"No, no. That's tan. It's obviously very keen on lounging in the sun, and that's why it's got it."

"But how do you know?"

"Oh, you can just tell. It obviously didn't have that colour in its fur originally."

I've done some research on this, and while it's led me to find a few cat forums where people are talking about buying special suntan lotion for cats, they seem to be referring to be stuff to put on their cat's skin, and not their fur. Then again, as my mum pointed out as our discussion continued, human hair changes colour with lots of exposure to the sun. But Shipley spends a huge amount of time basking outdoors in hot weather, and the only difference between his black fur now and his black fur when Dee and I first got him eight and a half years ago is that it is flecked with a few more streaks of grey.

I'm not entirely convinced by my mum's theory, but I'd be interested to hear anyone else's experience of cat tanning. If it is a genuine, common phenomenon, it might also explain exactly why Ralph starts to get so sensitive at this time of the year and invariably heads off to hide in one of his favourite bits of foliage. Maybe he doesn't have a special summer version of Seasonal Affective Disorder after all. I mean, I knew he was vain. But could it be that he's also a spiritual goth, and simply keen to keep his immaculate (and, to be quite honest - though I would never tell him this - not remotely goth in the first place) fur from harm?

Tuesday 26 May 2009

True Tails Of Feline Life: A New Occasional Series

A lot of people have sent me heart-rending or unusual stories about their cats, or cats that have passed through their lives, since I started writing this blog, and I recently decided it might be nice to feature one every couple of weeks or so - a kind of feline-themed version of this book. I don't see these stories as having to be great pieces of prose - although if they are... great! - just simply written little anecdotes about the unusual ways cats can make your life better, or about downright weird episodes with a cat at their centre, that will appear unedited by me. I can't promise I'll include or have time to respond to what you send, but I'll do my best to have a read. The best way to submit is either - and this is preferable method - by friending my cat Janet on Facebook (see link on the left of the blog) and sending him a message or by emailing I think the first story below, from Under The Paw reader Rose Cooney, is a good guide in terms of length and feel...

"I'm in Brighton for work and missing my feline friends who are being well cared for by my neighbours ... but yesterday I witnessed a wonderful thing. I saw a cat in a carry basket and 3 women crouched down looking at the big, frightened tabby and white cat within.

The girl with her hand on the basket had been crying and was telling the cat - Brownie - that she was so sorry she "had to do this to" her. I asked what. The other women said a vet was going to put Brownie to sleep as she is 14 years old.

The girl with the basket wasn't Brownie's owner. She came from Birmingham and had found a new home for her own cat there because she knew she would be unable to bring her feline friend to Brighton and look after her while she is here.

Brownie's male owner had moved out 3 weeks ago and not been in touch, answered emails or calls or text messages when this girl had asked when are you coming to collect Brownie to take her to her new home? The girl had carried on looking after Brownie, including helping Brownie to lose weight by making sure her meals were right for her. She told the other women that Brownie had lost some weight - perhaps pining for the owner who abandoned her.

So, the girl in desperation for Brownie to have a new home where she would be looked after and doted on had visited a local veterinary surgery. The tears came when the vet had said because of Brownie's 14 years, they would choose to put her to sleep instead of trying to find her a new home. The girl was so upset and shocked at this vet's suggested action that she had left the surgery and was wondering the streets in flood of tears with Brownie in the carry basket. So this was how the other two women had met up with her - strangers on the streets - asking why she was crying.

By the time I happened upon them, one of the two women had said she had a cat about the same age as Brownie and would be happy to give Brownie a loving home for the rest of her days.

The girl was so relieved and as they told me the story above, I tickled Brownie under her chin as she sat alert, pining and lost in the basket. Soon as I continued to tickle and sroke to her telling her how beautiful she was, her plaintive meows ceased and turned to happy purrs as she rubbed her face against my hand.

I would have been quite happy to take Brownie with me too but with another night in Brighton in a hotel it wasn't my turn to help this abandoned soul ... so the girl and the woman rehoming Brownie exchanged contact details and I gave them both my card asking them to let me know how Brownie settled in to her new home with the woman and if the girl ever heard from her former flatmate who had abandoned Brownie so callously." - Rose

Sunday 24 May 2009

Charlie The Spider Cat

I always thought it was a bit remarkable the way The Bear, despite being arthritic and struggling to jump up to my kitchen worktop, could scale the six foot fence outside my house. However, it seems a bit less so now I've seen Charlie, the ginger and white cat from Falkirk who is making a name for himself owing to his ability to scale a thirteen foot rough cast wall.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Exclusive Interview With Sockington: New King Of Webkittehs

As many regular Under The Paw readers will know, Janet, who is arguably my most sociable cat in the real world, has for the last year been serving as Under The Paw's feline representative on Facebook. Every day, a few more people ask to be his friend, and he gladly accepts. At the time of writing, his total facepals numbers 2620, which I thought was quite impressive, until I set up my own Twitter profile and came across Sockington, who has arguably now taken over from the likes of Simon's Cat, the talking kittens and that piano-playing moggy as the web's most popular feline. At this exact time of 15.29 gmt on the 20th May, 2009, he has a grand total of 522,668 followers, and his energetic, sleep- and food-obsessed free jazz bulletins (e.g. "hosting drive-time radio show except no radio not drive time just mealtime YES THAT'S RIGHT I AM SIMPLY ASKING FOR FOOD and now these words") are right up there on my must-read Twitter list with @serafinowicz ("Years ago I was very egocentric. I'd spend hours at the computer, Altavistaing myself") and the similarly, though not-quite-so-intentionally, amusing @TimWestwood (a mere 15,146 followers).

Sockington (aka Socks) only communicates directly with other webcats, and not humans, but today Janet was lucky enough to grab a few words with him in a break in his increasingly heavy schedule: a scoop that even The Sun doesn't seem to have been able to get....

Janet: How on earth does a former homeless cat like you go about getting that many followers? How did it all start to snowball?

Sockington: AM JUST A CAT AND AM NOT SURE but at some point I was made a featured twitter cat and EVERYBODY SHOWED UP am perfectly fine with that get hugs get sent stuff in mail

Janet: What is the oddest request you've had since becoming famous?


Janet: Who is your favourite celebrity follower on Twitter, and why?

Sockington: DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE QUESTION people of all types follow me and I follow animals and THAT'S HOW IT GOES PEOPLE

Janet: How does your housemate Pennycat feel about (currently) *only* having just under 4000 followers, in contrast to your 522,668?

Sockington: SHE IS PERFECTLY FINE WI ow ow ow ow ow

Pennnycat: Excuse me, hello. Penny here. I would like anyone reading this to immediately subscribe to @pennycat and stop following @sockington. If you want proper, refined cultural insight from a lady who's known some rough times and yet has come out on top, I'm your gal. That is all.

Janet: Can you give me a short biog, taking in how you came to live with Jason, and your favourite habits?

Sockington: OK SO I AM SITTING NEAR THIS SUBWAY STOP AND IT IS VERY BORING but lots of big people around AND SOME SMELL LIKE FOOD so then all day I'm waiting and WOW SOMEONE PICKED ME UP which was not entirely cool but hey hungry WENT TO A FEW PLACES AND ENDED UP HERE IN LOVELY CATVANYA WITH NICE ROOMMATE PENNY AND FATTY livelong days are awesome with olympic pillow sleep and occasional red dot

Janet: If you could do one thing to make the world a better place for cats, what
would it be?


Janet: The servant of the Under The Paw cats recently wrote a cat dictionary. We six cats aren't so sure about it, to be honest. As someone who probably knows about these things, do you see any drastic errors or oversights?


Janet: Any particular factors you put your incredible popularity down to? Do you think it's more to do with your inquisitive eyes, staring out from that amazingly symmetrical white and grey mask, or your free jazz prose style?


Janet: Where do you see all this Twitter business ending? Has fame changed you in any way?


Friday 15 May 2009

The Notorious Bird Brothers

Above this text, you see a picture of some foliage. Looks ordinary enough, doesn't it? Not the kind of thing you'd expect to walk past and feel a portentous, lower back-based chill? Yet, at the time of writing, it hides an aural tormentor of quite masterful malevolence (and I'm not talking about the covers band that tends to play at the social club nextdoor around this time of year). Within this foliage, somewhere, lurks the unseen bird that, over the last few weeks, has been making a mockery of my cats. I'm not sure if it actually is a mockingbird in any official sense, but it ought to be made an honorary one, even if it isn't, such is its skill at messing with the feline mind. Put is this way: if Pablo, The Bear, Janet, Shipley, Ralph and Bootsy were to co-author a book with the same title as a famous Harper Lee novel right now, it would definitely not be about racial tension in the Deep South.

I've had birds in my garden before that mimic the sounds of domestic life. At my parents' house when I was a teenager, there was one that could do a pitch perfect impression of our ringing telephone. A couple of years ago, when another Telephone Bird turned up in my current garden, I was unperturbed. And a few months later, when another bird arrived with a cheep that was an almost exact replica of one of Pablo's two meows, I had to admire its moxy. Pablo tends to fluctuate between a panicked squeak and a throaty Rod Stewart warble. Frankly, I would have been more impressed if this bird had managed to replicate the latter sound, but you had to give it its dues for its plucky cover version of the former. Did Pablo - who, as regular readers of this blog will be aware, is not my brainiest cat - go out into the garden and stare about him, bewildered, thinking, "Help! I am being followed around by me!"? Probably. But no doubt he and his step-siblings are even more confused by the latest in the local series of avian mimics, who likes nothing more than to imitate the exact sound of me whistling my cats to tell them it is dinner time.

The Foodwhistle Bird is more sophisticated than its predecessors. Its taunts are not only designed to bamboozle; they are premeditated to seriously mess up a cat's schedule. I still think my cats can just about distinguish between the sound it makes and the sound I make, but it's becoming a close call, in more ways than one. As the wretched skybeast starts its merry tune, they can often be seen bolting through the cat flap and into the kitchen, an eager look on their faces. I, in turn, can be seen looking at them in a bemused fashion, and saying, "What's your problem, morons? Do I look like I've got a beak?" Even when its efforts are less strident, or they're not feeling particularly hungry, I'll see them open one jaded demonic eye in slumber as it begins its call. I'm also wondering if it might be responsible for Ralph's current agitated yowling. Perhaps this is an explanation for why he spends hours standing outside the bedroom window, shouting his own name in terror ("Reeawwwlph!")? Maybe the Foodwhistle bird has whispered in his ear and threatened to imitate him next. Will this be the one thing that tips my tabby's summertime Seasonal Affective Disorder over into full-blown madness? Right now, it seems dangerously possible.

From my point of view, it's also a bit of a bind, as scheduled slop-dispensing has become more important in the weeks since Janet was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. But at the same time, I can't say I'm not intrigued. The local birdlife is clearly evolving in leaps and bounds every month in its mimicry skills. "What comes after The Foodwhistle Bird?" I find myself wondering. The Jeremy Paxman Clearing His Throat On University Challenge Bird? The Seinfeld Slap Bass Bird? The Really Hungry Tiger Bird? I can only conclude that, whatever the case, this could be an interesting time to open the windows and revisit my Pavlovian mealtime experiment with The Knack's My Sharona ...

Saturday 9 May 2009

An Open Letter To Bootsy, In The Wake Of Troubling Recent Events

Dear Bootsy,

Congratulations on your piece in the Guardian newspaper this week. I say “your piece” because I know that is what you view it to be. No, don’t protest. It’s okay. We both know the score, and I’m fine with that. I wrote the words, yes, but I realise that in many ways, my job as a biographer is merely the role of Cat Conduit: a brain and nimble pair of hands to translate your needs, your fears, your acerbic critical talents… your ambitions (and god knows you have a few of those).

This is the fifth national newspaper in which you have appeared, and it appears your fame is spreading – to the extent that, just yesterday, I even received an email about you from a lady in Runcorn. Amazing, isn’t it?

I’m sure none of those nice folk who used to look after you at Kentford RSPCA in Suffolk four years ago would have been able to countenance it. And I have to admit, I’ve been caught up in the slipstream of your notoriety myself, beginning to think it completely normal to contort myself for photographers in a manner probably more befitting of a far more photogenic cat slave. (Who would have thought, in 1995, when I was making a living from standing in a skip having things thrown at me that, less than a decade and a half later, I’d be making a living from rolling about in catnip?)

But while I am proud of you, Bootsy, I must offer some words of warning, in the way that only a true servant, who – owing directly to that very servitude - knows you best, can.

Do you remember that first photo session, for The Times, last June, when you followed the photographer and her dad down the steep slope of our lawn, throwing yourself in front of them like an overzealous David Bailey dolly bird (yes, I thought it was odd that she had brought her dad too – but he was a nice bloke, with an enormously trustworthy beard, and we had a good chat about bees)? What did you think you were doing? Auditioning for a furry remake of Blow Up!? Still, considering what has transpired since, that day is framed in my memory under the heading Innocent Times. Since then, you’ve muscled your way to the front of several other photo shoots. There was the one for the Daily Mail where you stood on The Bear’s head; the one for The Independent, where you just “happened to be passing” when the photographer arrived; and the one for the Telegraph, where that nice cat behaviourist lady came to the house and explained the rudiments of the race war between your dry hump buddy Pablo and his step-sibling Ralph.

Oh, and I almost forgot the second one for the Times, shot after they decided that the first batch of photos were not quite what they were looking for (but how could they not be what they were looking for? Their focal point was you!): that was a more democratic effort, with you and your housemates eating in a row, but let’s face it, what the picture doesn't explain is that thirty seconds after the shutter went, your tiny kung fu paws were flying, clearing a space under the spotlight, once again, for yourself.

And it’s been nice, Bootsy – for me, as well as you. It's always nice to read people's compliments about your cats. Which is one of the reasons why it hurts me so much to inform you that it has to stop. I don’t think I’ve ever told you about Icarus – and I’m sure that even if I had, you would have been too busy cleaning your bottom, or making yargling noises whilst running away from that invisible cat that chases you at eleven thirty am on the dot every day without fail – but there is a phenomenon known as "flying too close to the sun", and I think Thursday’s Guardian piece was the moment when you burned your wing.

Just one wing. And more of a singe than a burn, really. It can be saved, and you might fly again, but it’s time to step out of the glare. Give some space to Pablo, or Janet. I know that they leave their tongues out a lot more than you, and seem like inferior, happy morons, but they deserve a fair go. After all, let’s face it: you don’t even appear until two thirds of the way through Under The Paw, so it seems a bit incongruous for you to always be the cat in the foreground of every photo shoot. I would have thought that appearing on the front of the hardback jacket of a book to which you made a relatively paltry contribution was enough.

Let me be more specific: there have been some lovely pictures of you over the years. That one where you’ve managed to get into the wastepaper basket and curled up without it tipping over, and the one where you're cuddling up with the In The Night Garden toy? Very cute. The one where you’re in the box, submerged in polystyrene beads? Neat, in a malevolent, I’ve-got-a-tiny-machine-gun-under-here way. But the fact is that the photo that the Guardian ran with the online version of the piece (see top of this post, in case you’ve forgotten it, but I’m sure you haven’t) was not one of your best. I’ll go further than that, and say that you’ve let yourself down. Yes, I realise you weren’t actually puking on the carpet, and had just overdosed on the catnip I’d sprinkled all around in an attempt to lure The Bear out of his mysterious midday crawl space, but, honestly, who’s going to believe that? You look like you’re coughing up a fat, furry one. It’s not pretty, and it certainly isn’t cool.

And I know that I’m partly to blame here. Maybe I haven’t been circumspect enough in relaying the comments people have made about your other pictures. It probably was a mistake to make public the video of you drinking from the tap, and to let slip that the lady from the first newspaper you appeared in said you were “drop dead gorgeous”. You are, as my dad so subtly pointed out when he first met you, my most “EXPENSIVE LOOKING CAT” but you must remember that the adulation you have received over the last twelve months come from strangers. Such adulation simply does not – can not - have the same meaning when it comes from people who have never smelled your overpowering fish breath or seen the cold-blooded happy slappings you’ve doled out to The Bear and Ralph. It is a mistake to get carried away with it, and you have don just that. This is one of the reasons that, when my publishers suggested a cover shot of you asleep in an ineffably sweet pose on a chair for the paperback, I said I it didn’t look quite right.

Sorry, I never told you that before, did I? I know it must come as a blow. Take a moment to sit down and absorb it (no, not on the keyboard - cant you see I’m trying to write here?). Don’t worry: it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, since a big supermarket said they’d probably only take the book if it had a kitten on it. I know, I know: I’m not massively keen on it either. I cannot quite shake the conviction that it is planning to come and cut me in my sleep, and I have no idea why it is sitting in what appears to be a pair of my nan’s jeans from 1989. But do you notice something else about that kitten? Look a bit more closely. Does it appear to be on the way to a date with Dr Vomit? No. It is sitting upright. And even if it is, as I suspect, thinking about attacking me, it cannot be denied that in this context your barf is worse than its bite.

Bootsy, I hesitate to say this, but people are laughing at you. I know that will hurt, and I’m sure it will come as a shock to read the comments of cat lovers (and haters) on a website whose office is based more than 3000 miles away discussing your digestive problems, but I come to you and show you this as a friend. And it’s a friend’s job to tell another friend when they’ve lost sight of reality. The last thing you need right now is a Yes Man. At the moment, you see, you’re a little like Billy Corgan, right after he and The Smashing Pumpkins made their seminal Gish album (actually, you're probably more like him just after he finished recording the follow-up, Siamese Dream, which was also a pretty good record... but let's not quibble, since you're a cat, and cats, as I have learned to my cost, do not care for the vagaries of Black Sabbath-influenced grunge rock). Like Richard E Grant, after he made Withnail And I. Like Lennon, when he started believing Yoko's hype a bit too much. You think it’s all going to be that easy, that from now on people will love you just for coasting, rather than for putting in the kind of effort that’s got you where you are. It’s not true. And what’s more: there is such a thing as overkill.

So, my advice? Take a break. All sorts of semi-disgraced figures in the public eye have done it, and it has often worked wonders for them. Next time a photographer comes to our house to snap some cats – if there is a next time – try and resist that little impulse that screams “Me!”. Lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to. Find a bluebottle to taunt. Go chomp on some of those special biscuits I bought you that are supposed to make your mouth stop smelling like a shoal of sprats died in it.

Then, half an hour later, examine your feelings. Will you really value yourself any less as a cat? You might be surprised that the answer is no. You might be shocked how easy it is to do the same thing again, and again. And then, one day, Bootsy, one day quite far from now, but not as far as it seems, you will come back, and you will do so renewed, and with dignity. People, finally, will be ready to love you again. And the biggest surprise of all? That love might just be that little bit stronger than ever.

I remain,
Your Faithful Servant,

Friday 8 May 2009

Keyboard Cats: A Late Noughties Phenomenon

Bit concerned about Ralph this morning. He's been increasingly, sometimes quite hauntingly, attached to me for many weeks now, but since about 6.15am today his affection has been particularly claustrophobic. Most of it has manifested itself in the form of sitting on my laptop, which is obviously a fantastic boon when you have 2000 words to write and a miss-or-die 9am deadline. For example: I am currently writing this with no view of the actual keys on my computer, and my arm crooked in such a way that, in two hours, when I have (hopefully) met my last deadline of the week, I might well end up permanently frozen into the pose of some crooked-clawed harbinger of B movie doom.

Being a terminal mug, and constitutionally unable to do anything that will hurt an oversensitive tabby's feelings - partly owing to the terrible, draining guilt remaining from the time he once broke a mouse's spine and I got upset and threw an empty cardboard box about three feet from his head - I imagined there was no cure for this behaviour, but it seems I am wrong. As the people at PawSense explain, "cats can enter random commands and data, damage your files, and even crash your computer" (though, to anyone who really knows the way cats' minds work, how random those commands actually are is debatable), and their software detects "cat typing" and offers a way to "catproof your computer". This is either a gargantuan, brilliantly conceived joke, or final proof that you can find absolutely anything on the Internet*.

Teddy, one of the two cats who own my literary agent, Simon, recently wrote to say he feels Ralph's pain, and in solidarity sent this photo of himself helping Simon go through his latest batch of e-manuscripts:

Of course, Ralph and Teddy are not the only kinds of ominous Keyboard Cat prevalent at the moment.

* Make that "almost anything": I still can't locate any info about the summer, feline version of Seasonal Affective Disorder that Ralph begins suffering from at this time every year.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Animals I Have Considered Stealing: Number One - The People Sheep

NAME: The People Sheep


HOME: South Norfolk, UK

BRIEF CV: When you think of the word “sheep”, what you don’t normally think of are phrases such as “born raconteur”, “erudite zest for life” and “Alain de Botton”. But The People Sheep is like no other sheep before him – not even that weird one that Gene Wilder takes to bed with him in Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Too Afraid To Ask. He lives at the zoo about six miles from my house, in an enclosure between a pen housing some uniquely spoilt pygmy goats and a pot-bellied pig that, from what I can work out from my extensive research, has been asleep in exactly the same position since June, 2003. In contrast to these neighbours, with their world-owes-us-a-living demeanours, The People Sheep stares out at his visitors with eager, bright intelligence, his hooves up on the fence as they pass. But do they pay attention? Do they feel the electric rays of his good nature? No; of course they don’t. They are too busy looking forward to visiting some meerkats, about forty yards away.

I put to those visitors this question: What’s so great about meerkats? What do they really give the world, apart from the art of sitting their on their hindlegs, looking sour, as if having smelled a distant, foul odour that they pretend offends them, but they secretly quite like? If that’s the kind of thing that floats your boat, don’t need to go all the way to a zoo – you can just stay in and watch reruns of Fiona Phillips presenting GMTV. Does a meerkat radiate such professorial wit and charm that, when you leave him, you are convinced that he was wearing glasses, chewing on a pipe, and quoting from the early casuals of SJ Perelman? No. I realise that one way of looking it is “Who wants to see a sheep in a zoo?”. But I prefer to take a different standpoint: the standpoint of, “If a sheep has made it into a zoo, that sheep must be a unique specimen – a veritable hero among sheep.”

PROS: Great dinner parties. Effortlessly neat lawn. Winning, showboating comeback for those frequent “But sheep don’t actually really do anything, do they?” debates.

CONS: I actually quite like mowing the lawn.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Come Join The Under The Paw Group On Facebook...

... And invite your cat-loving friends!

I am also now on Twitter - tweeting about other stuff, as well as cats - at, if you'd like to follow me there.

The Cat Dictionary (So Far) In Full

To flail wildly and absurdly at the air with one's back leg as one's owner attempts to "help" by scratching an itch which, in all honesty, you had perfectly well covered. Some say the air scratch is not as involuntary as it seems, and is actually an obscene gesture whose roots stretch back as far as ancient egypt: a kind of feline version of a two-fingered salute, but much, much ruder. Others just bemoan it as another forlorn symbol of man's increasing interference in cat culture, a debasement of nature that will ultimately send us on a road to a dark place where a word like "natural" no longer even has any meaning.

The noise that accompanies the eradication – or attempted eradication - of an ear mite.

The quality of feline true grit in the face of adversity (e.g. managing to stoically wait out the twenty minutes between the biscuit dispenser becoming empty and your human serf abandoning his overdue, half-finished piece of journalism to hotfoot it down to the pet store for replacement supplies).

The ancient and mysterious social law that governs the cat universe and allows cold-blooded killing machines to live in relative harmony, frequently under the same roof. When is it considered good form to steal an older moggy’s favourite spot on a favourite chair? What exactly makes it ok to virtually insert your nose into a fellow cat’s rear end one day, and it a passing sniff an outright offence less than twenty four hours’ later? In a hungry gaggle of six of Norfolk’s most duplicitous, randomly thrown-together pusses, who decides who gets priority at the dinner table, and how? If you’ve sprayed a microscopic bit of piss on a curtain, why does that make you “well hard” in the environs of that room, but only “a bit of a big girl” as soon as you step over the carpet divider? How does a cat implicitly understand what a “garden” is, and where it begins and ends? Humans remain in the dark about all this, but Catiquette provides the answers.

Feline scholars are split upon estimating when the ancient language of dsdasighgdshsddc first emerged. Some put the date around about 1983, during the rise of the BBC Micro and the ZX Spectrum. Others claim that techno geek cats in San Francisco's South Park district were communicating in it as far back as 1974. Whatever the case, it is generally agreed that dsdasighgdshsddc has been in regular use since the early 90s. While often written off by humans as a random, unintentional series of letters generated by the patter of mischievous paws across a keyboard, what many people don't know is that dsdasighgdshsddc actually forms an entire exclamatory, often insult-heavy, feline language: a kind of profane moggy binary, if you like, being sent to other cats across the globe via a complex email system invisible to the human eye. Popular examples of dsdasighgdshsddc "dissing" include auoagfoylhgo ("Eat my tail scum!") and oiaiuhagiuggghafug ("Your mum was a Griffon Bruxellois!"). Of course, with the rise of the Internet, dsdasighgdshsddc has evolved, mutated and, some would claim, been irrevocably dumbed down. For example, jhjdhjdhdddddddvvvd ("Oh my god! How much do I want my owner to get off this computer and let me pad his stomach!") is now lazily abbreviated by many Generation Y cats to to a simpler, less poetic jhdvvvvd.

The telepathic process which leads a cat to only get properly settled on its owner’s stomach in the moments when that owner is most desperate for the toilet.

The peculiar, tickly sensation experienced whilst swallowing a particularly meaty and recalcitrant bluebottle.

Crunchy yet slightly moist snacks that are passed off as a “treat” because they cost more and come in smaller, very slightly more lavish packaging, but essentially taste just like other more ostenstibly run-of-the-mill crunchy yet slightly moist snacks.

The inarguable mathematical law that states that a cat’s affection will rise and fall in direct proportion to the dirt on its body at the time.

The bits of jellified catmeat that escape from the bowl and weld themselves to hardwood floors and kickboards – sometimes even if you don’t have kickboards.

To offer crucial moral support with while one’s owner is hard at work. More popular examples include “Painting” (brushing one’s tail against some fresh paintwork and leaving a hairy residue), “Carrying” (darting in between one’s owner’s feet when they are transporting a heavy tray of food between rooms) and “Testing For Bacteria” (licking some freshly buttered bread while one’s owner's back is turned).

A perfectly-placed mouse, held between the teeth in a perfectly horizontal manner (preferably with a slight downward droop at each end), so as to make the creature’s captor look particularly dashing. Out-of-vogue variations include “The Zapata Mousetache”, “Sidebirds”, and the rare-but-always-impressive “Handlebat”.

Feeling a bit low? Looking back wistfully to that time all those years ago, when you still had testicles, and you could actually remember who your parents were? Why not stretch your claws, find some mummyfur, and get stuck in? Pretty much any soft, non-shiny, recently laundered surface will do, but slightly damp towels and sheepskin are considered the ultimate delicacies of the mummyfur genre.

The state of bliss created by the perfect friction of an owner’s fingers on a fully-extended chin.

The act of pushing one’s cold wet nose into one’s owner’s hand or knuckle. Largely thought of as a gesture of affection, but sometimes given a bad press, owing to its alternative nickname, “Losing The Snot”.

Essentially a larger version of the nuggin, involving the full upper-head area. Usually employed at times when jellied meat is in the immediate vicinity.

A particularly furious, zen kind of padding session, often, but not always, involving a far-off, determined look in the eye and immense wear and tear on soft human body parts. Also known as: “Marching” or “Cooking The Dough”.

The mysterious force allowing a contented cat to fold its limbs, head and torso into an area a quarter of the size of its usual body mass.

Tissues (preferably Sainsbury’s Rose-Scented).

Those meditative I-should-really-have-a-newspaper-here moments on the litter tray or the freshly hoed soil when one’s hard-set veneer of dignity is momentarily dropped, a certain faraway dreaminess comes over the eyes, and, just for twenty or thirty seconds, all in the world is right.

To urinate in a completely new and innovative place, instigating a trend for such action amongst your fellow felines. Born leaders but also generally kind of snotty, cats who set a pissident know that their originality comes at a price, and, upon seeing others follow lamely in their wake, can often be heard to mutter comments like "here come the mindless vultures, picking over the corpse of my brilliance" and "now I know how The Beatles must have felt when they heard the Marmalade's cover of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da."

The mystic force that, without the need for discussion or consensus, will cause numerous cats in the same room all to clean their most hard-to-get regions at exactly the same time.

The particularly contented, lengthy state of REM that occurs after one has clandestinely intercepted one’s owners shopping bags in the wake of their last trip to the seafood counter.

Also known as a “half-whisker” – frequently displayed by feral cats who have been caught in traps by unfeeling farmers and cat rescue officers or in the clutches of bigger, scarier ferals (“I was just a twhisker away from twatting that big-tailed ginger plonker”). Sometimes, Twiskers grow back, Sometimes they don’t. Professors of Catology remain in the dark as to exactly why this is. Often mistakenly thought of as a sign of masculinity or “streetness”, the Twisker ultimately signifies little aside from bad balance and potential undermog status.

The wobbly-lipped noise made by a cat when it looks out of a window and sees a wood pigeon “acting up”.

Jump T-Shirt From Threadless: Great To Wear If You Like Cats, Even Better If You're Also A Jockey

Quite a few people have now written to me to ask where I got the t-shirt I'm wearing in the photo on the back jacket of Under The Paw (see above) - my only bit of cat-related clothing, I feel compelled to point out - so I thought I'd put a link to it here.

Special EXTRA Guest Cat Of The Month For May: Pepper


Peps, Pepe, Monkey, Monkey Moo, Woozy, Sweetheart, Sweets


Andrew and Julie

Hello! I am here! Notice me! Acknowledge me! Hello again! I’m still here!

Favourite habits?
Sleeping on laps or the fluffy white cushions or under the duvet, depending on whether or not it’s radiator season

What constitutes a perfect evening for you?
Ignoring the television, sleeping, waking up, checking to see if there are any cats outside, hissing at my own reflection in the window while they shout out, helpfully, “It’s only you!”, then returning to sleep, possibly in a new place after a walk round the perimeter of the rug

Favourite food?
Applaws: tuna and seaweed, chicken and pumpkin; tuna in brine; a nice lick of some butter or cream, although this make my ear sore – I know I shouldn’t but I just can’t help it

Defining moment of your life?
Moving from a flat to a house with a garden when I was one year old. This is when I found my role in life: territorial enthusiast – neighbour’s cats beware! Boundaries are there for a reason, and you will respect my authority!

Any enemies?
Any number of blameless neighbour’s cats. Especially whoever it is who comes in my cat flap. They suspect the black and white tom, but I’m the one who has analysed the forensic evidence which he helpfully leaves all over the kitchen. I have enough to convict the invader

If you could do one thing to make the world a better place for felines, what would it be?
More Applaws flavours, and better stock at Pets At Home

If you could meet a celebrity who would it be and why?
I am the only celebrity round here

Which one of the cats in Under The Paw would you like to be stuck in a lift with?
I don’t think any of them would like to be stuck in a lift with me

I was born in North London to a lovely ginger mum who shared a house with Emma. There were three girls in the litter, Millie, Chilli and me – although none of us had names when Chilli and me went to South West London to start our new life. (We had an older step-brother called Weezer, named after the American band.) We lived in a first-floor flat for a year where birds only appeared on this big telly, then we moved to the house with a garden, where we could catch them and eat them and everything; then to a house outside the M25 with a bigger garden, although it was too big, and we treated the patio as our garden, occasionally tempted into the wide, open spaces by Andrew or Julie running ahead of us. It was just me when the three of us moved back to South West London, so I started to make a lot more noise to compensate for being the only cat in the house. There was a stupid little boy kitten for a while, but we don’t like to talk about it.

The Important Question: Would This Still Work With Shake'N'Vac?

Sunday 3 May 2009

Janet's Retro Litter Lake: Today's Item...

Name: Wildlife Choobs
Country Of Origin: France
Formerly Containing: Mini jellybean monkey or koala bear.
Tagline: "Baby Koalas Are The Size Of A Jellybean When They're Born."
Vintage: 7-8 years (estimated).
Signs of attachment: Longing looks, companionable silences, gentle placing on the lawn.
Weirdness rating: 5/10

I'm going to regret this, aren't I?

I'm sure this is going to make me feel like Buffy The Vampire Slayer in the episode where she can suddenly hear everyone's thoughts and ends up with world's worst migraine, but I am now on Twitter at in case you'd like to follow the random, often cat-related thoughts that make up my day.

Friday 1 May 2009

Guest Cat Of The Month For May: Furball

Polly Furball

Furball, Puffball, Fluffy knickers.

Appx. 2.5 to 3 years.

Bea and Roy.

“Brush me!” and “Now!”

Favourite habit?
Dribbling, fidgeting and putting the other cat in its place.

What constitutes a perfect evening for you?
I like to watch the birds and mice come to the window at dusk for their dinner and then I give them a good and scary stare through the glass. Then it's time for my supper, generally Sheba and Purina washed down with a little bottled water. After dining I enjoy taunting Lentil (the other cat) until she clears off and I get the nice warm spot she was sleeping on (usually the male staff's lap). I then demand a good brushing, when the male staff gets tired I'll move over to the female staff (food lady) and make her continue. Then after at least half an hour of rigorous noisy bum washing I will take a nap. I also like to try and coincide my litter box manoeuvres with meal times, this excites the staff and gives then a bit of exercise.

Favourite food?
I love Sheba salmon, beef and chicken and Purina One. I also love the grass the female staff's daughter grew for me. This enables me to leave some lovely gifts in the footware of the staff and in the dog's bed.

Defining moment of your life?
I think this would have to be the moment I was found on the streets of Wales, in thick snow, starving and matted, by a lovely human, Lesley, who found me a new home and gave me a second chance. She obviously could not resist my utter cuteness and hypnotic eyes and still does not realise it was I who found her.
Unfortunately due to the matting I had to have my 'parts' and tail shaved, this was highly embarrassing and not at all defining of my supreme catness in any way.

Any enemies?
Lily the utterly vulgar Labrador / Great Dane cross that also lives here. She too big and completely stupid. She leaves drool everywhere and has no manners at all. Clippers and /or scissors.

If you could do one thing to make the world a better place for felines, what would it be?
I would buy an island for us all to live on and it would be maintained by hand picked staff and stocked with mice, birds fish and fields of cat nip. We would hold the batting about world cup every year and there would be a special prize for the most inventive hairball hurling.

If you could meet a celebrity who would it be and why?
I would like to meet Michael Marshall Smith and interrogate him into telling me how he found out the cat teleportation secret. I would also like to meet Patrick Moore because he looks like he has a nice comfy lap and we both like to stare at the moon.

Which one of the cats in Under The Paw would you like to be stuck in a lift with?
Although I adore The Bear and have a huge soft spot for Pablo, it would have to be Janet. The time would fly past as we share and compare tales of our tails and admire their utterly perfect bushiness.

I was born in north Wales about 3 years ago. From then till February 2009 it's all blank. I was found wandering the streets in thick snow. I was matted, filthy, flea ridden and covered in sores. I was starving and 3kg under weight but couldn't eat because my mouth was full of ulcers. Then came Lesley, my Guardian Angel, she cleaned me up and took me to a vet who shaved my bits and gave me pills and potions to make me well. She tried to find my owners without success. So she went on to Facebook on the interwebs and asked if anyone could help by giving me a good and loving home where all my wishes and demands would be catered for immediately at the drop of a meow. Within 5 minutes Lesley's friend, Lindsey (a cat lady from birth) said she knew her parents would want me and a week later (on Valentines Day) Lindsey and her fiancé Kerry ( a self confessed cat man) drove from Northampton to North Wales to come and get me. They even stayed in a Travelodge on Valentines night! They must really love me! (little do they know I picked them too with the use of my long distance telekinetic cat power). I settled into my new home very quickly. The resident cat, Lentil, knows I'm the boss, I've put on weight, my butt fur has regrown and I 'm giving orders to the staff. I am Furball and I rock.