Saturday 9 May 2009
An Open Letter To Bootsy, In The Wake Of Troubling Recent Events
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.
Your Faithful Servant,