Sunday 24 April 2011
How I Fell In Love With A Fat Ginger Stoner: Piece By Me From Today's Sunday Telegraph Stella Magazine
It wasn’t a slow burn thing between and Samson and me: I fell in love with him from the moment he first trespassed on my property. “Cat” would have been one description of him, but “ginger beach ball that just happened to have a cat’s head on top” would perhaps have been a more accurate one. He’d been the first feline interloper in the Norfolk house I’d moved into in summer 2004, and lacked the wiliness of alien cats who’d come through catdoors to steal my own moggies’ food before. As I found him munching away at the biscuit dispenser, he’d looked up at me in a casual, near stoned kind of way. Had he been able to speak, I’m certain his greeting would have ended in the word “Dude”.
It wasn’t until a month later that I found out Samson belonged to Ruby, the old lady who lived across the road. For years, Ruby had invited her neighbours to her beautiful Georgian house for Christmas drinks, and this year she’d extended the invitation to me and Dee. Since moving away from London in 2001, we’d pinged stressfully around Norfolk, from one problem neighbour to another, and here, in an 85 year-old’s living room, it seemed, finally, was a form of peace. Finding our mysterious roly-poly ginger trespasser sitting on Ruby’s sofa, adults perched around him like secondary citizens, was a bonus. Even now, when I think of the phrase “perfect neighbourhood”, I conjure up a picture of a small street with several dozen Rubys on it, all accompanied by happy marmalade cat.
I soon realised that Ruby’s relationship with Samson was an unusually close one. Her husband had died over two decades earlier, her three sons all lived far away, and, while she lived a social and sprightly life, Samson was her main companion. Her house was always fresh and airy, and looked immaculate. The exceptions were her sofas and armchairs, which were so violently slashed, one might have imagined a special task force of inept policemen had recently cut them open in a drugs raid. Then there were her hands. “He likes to give me little nips, from time to time,” she said, showing me cracked skin and knuckles raging dark purple with bruises.
I’ve written two books about my cats now, so my status as a lifelong feline lover is very much “out”, but back when I first met Ruby, I’d often find people surprised by my attachment to an animal often viewed as “for women”. Being a cat lover has led me to many unlikely friendships, none more so than the one I developed with Ruby over the next five years. She was an octogenarian church group regular with a passion for Debussy and Marks & Spencer thermals. I was a 30something agnostic with unruly hair, a beard, flares and a large collection of prog rock. Yet, in our cats, we found common ground. Before long, we were recommending books to one another, and I was accompanying her to classical music recitals in Norwich. She didn’t quite get to the stage of listening to my Atomic Rooster LPs, but she’d trustingly feed me neighbourhood gossip: the gardener who dressed up in women’s clothes, the hospital that was closed down due to philandering doctors and nurses, stories which neither of us found any less fascinating for being four decades out of date.
Sadly, I didn’t see a lot of Ruby in the months immediately preceding her sudden death, in spring 2009. I’d been somewhat AWOL amidst the demise of my marriage, and not made the effort to stay in touch I should have. After offering my condolences to her son, Jonathan, I asked what had happened to Samson. “He’s still here. Would you like him?” he said. I agonised. The idea of a large ginger cat who looked like he was addicted to class B drugs had its appeal, but I already had six cats of my own. Fortunately, a little research led me to Daniel and Louise, friends of a friend, who sounded interested in Samson.
Two days later, the couple collected him, and I watched as Jonathan made journey after journey into Ruby’s cupboard, emerging with more of the attendant paraphernalia of East Anglia’s most loved cat: a ceramic likeness, some Samson coasters Ruby had had custom made, and what I can best describe as a “feline skateboard”. “Oh, and he’s used to getting a chicken wing a day,” said Jonathan.
I hear Samson is still doing well now. Following his new diet, he appears to be clad in an oversized ginger jumper. He’s on dry-food only now, and scratching is not allowed. He’s still prone to the odd wander, though, and I like to think that these lead him through the catslap of a kindly neighbour, who will sate his appetite as his big blank moonface looks up at them. My street, meanwhile, feels just a bit colder without him and his owner.
Read more about Samson in Talk To The Tail!
Read the book before Talk To The Tail: Under The Paw!