Friday 25 April 2014

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About @MYSADCAT But Were Too Afraid To Ask...

Who is @MYSADCAT and where can I find out more about him?

@MYSADCAT is my eighteen (nineteen in October!) year-old cat, The Bear. He spends his days on the floors, bookshelves, chairs and freshly washed towels of my house here in South Devon, UK, with three other cats of significantly lesser intellect: Ralph (tabby, narcissistic, aka MYSMUGCAT), Roscoe (black and white, a tomboy, a bit like a living cartoon) and Shipley (black, sinewy, foulmouthed). He is one of the stars - the star, many would argue - of my fifth and sixth books, Under The Paw and Talk To The Tail, and my latest one, The Good, The Bad And The Furry. The best to place to start reading his life story is Under The Paw. There is also a potted history of it of sorts in this This Guardian column I wrote in December 2012.

What made you set up the @MYSADCAT Twitter account?
Almost everyone who meets The Bear in real life (and in Internet life) comments on the amazing soulfulness of his eyes, and he spends a lot of time following me around the house, looking directly into my own eyes, as if he has just heard about all the sadness in the world and is wondering what I can do about it. I had the idea a few years ago of a Twitter account where I would list all the things The Bear was sad about, but I prevaricated over it for various reasons - being shy about the idea of showing strangers bits of the inside of my house, respecting The Bear's privacy, not wanting to fritter away valuable writing time on the Internet, not wanting see cruel comments about The Bear, or have anonymous  nutcases send me pictures of dead cats (this is the Internet, which means that this stuff does happen, although it's soon shrugged off, mercifully, with the help of the great love 99.9% of The Bear's followers show for him). But then I changed my mind, and decided it could be quite creative, both comically and photographically. So many people had already responded to the melancholy and magic of The Bear's character after reading my books and asked to see him, I thought it would be nice to share him and that if it were up to him, he would probably have approved. After a fairly troubled early life, he'd probably be pleased to know he was being widely adored in his later years: the years when he has really come into his own, in terms of both looks and personality.

How on earth have you managed to amass so many photos of him?
I started taking a lot of photos of The Bear around New Year 2013, when I began trying to get a new cover shot for my book to send to my new publishers, Little Brown. The original paperbacks of Under The Paw and Talk To The Tail books, which came out via Simon And Schuster, featured posh actor kittens who I'd never met, and didn't really sum up the spirit of the books at all, something I wrote about here. By taking lots of shots of The Bear and starting the @MYSADCAT project I hoped I might be able to redress the balance, not only getting him on the cover of the new book (done!), but perhaps eventually prompting my previous publishers to see sense - and the enormous love people have for his beautiful, somewhat human, face - and reissue Under The Paw and Talk To The Tail with him on the cover (also done!). On a personal level, having got an old, better quality camera working again, I wanted my own, half-decent photographic record of what an incredible, one-in-a-billion cat The Bear is, and what a great friend he's been, through thick and thin - something (albeit much, much more amateurishly) in the spirit of the wonderful book Ernie: A Photographer's Memoir by Tony Mendoza. That said, some of the photos stretch back much further. 

Are you doing this because you're bored?

No. I think the last time I was bored was in the summer of 1983, when my friend Adam was going to come to my house to play snooker, but got nits and stayed at home. My head is so full of so much stuff so much of the time (not including nits) and I'm so constantly, desperately in need of more time for all the stuff I want to do, all the stuff I want to read, all the stuff I want to write, every day that I sometimes crave a taste of boredom, just for a nostalgic, sweet memory of what it actually felt like. I knew I'd want to do MYSADCAT properly, if I did it, and it would take up a fair bit more time, which was another reason why I hesitated about it. At the same time as tweeting on behalf of The Bear and Ralph, I've written a book and a quarter, moved house twice, and fulfilled various monthly journalistic obligations. Much as it might look like it through the vastly reductive prism the Internet makes of strangers' lives, I do not just sit about all day, hanging around with my cats and taking photos of them. I enjoy doing @MYSADCAT, but, if I'm totally honest, it's not for the simple pleasure of it; I also have an agenda. I want my books to find their audience, because I put a lot of hard work into each of them. The publishing industry is struggling these days, and I'd been having a very hard time, financially speaking, when I set @MYSADCAT up. I really only see it as a portal to the books, where the proper stuff is, but at least it's a fun one to operate.

Does he mind you taking all those photos?
He doesn't appear to. His habit of looking directly at me means he is also often looking directly at the camera, and he's very happy to pose. Sometimes it feels a bit like he... knows. I don't stalk him with it all day. I don't want to piss him off, or keep waking him up from his many naps, so I take a series of different shots at times in the day when he's alert and friendly and I have a free moment or three. I do keep the camera handy, though, just in case I happen to find him doing any weird and mystical stuff, which he often does. 

There is a dead rodent in that photo! Did The Bear kill it?
No, The Bear is a lifelong pacifist. He would like, if he could, to be a friend to all rodents, and read them poetry. My other cats, however, are homicidal maniacs.

Why is the wallpaper in the background in some of the photos so old-looking and great?
Because I chose it and I'm not bad in some ways, if you like those kind of people who do things like that.

Why is the wallpaper in the background in some of the photos so old-looking and rubbish?
I don't know. Why was your mum so convincing in her role as Chewbacca in the original Star Wars trilogy? Life is full of unanswerable questions.

Are your opinions The Bear's opinions?
Sometimes, but definitely not always. We agree on a few things. We both obsess over books. We're both fairly old-fashioned, and worried about the Americanisation of everyday British dialogue. But he's far more serious than me, with far less tolerance for low culture. We both like melancholic country rock. He adores Leonard Cohen and The Smiths. I quite like both of them but prefer 70s disco, British acid folk and good time 70s rock. He can't get on at all with the first Foreigner album, whereas I believe it to be a snobbishly overlooked classic rock masterpiece, and arguably the best album of 1977. I like comic fiction and big, character-based American novels, but he prefers magic realism and anything with a gothic element. We both love historical fiction and epic, wordy HBO TV dramas such as The Wire and Deadwood. All in all, we can find plenty of common ground, but if we were out in a pub together, talking to some cool people about the stuff we like, he'd probably be a bit embarrassed by me.

How does The Bear feel about Internet trolls?

He has been known to respond to the odd one, out of sheer grammar pedantry, but he mostly ignores them. He knows it's best not to feed a troll - something he's learned from his real life troll, Shipley.

Is he REALLY sad?
The Bear is sad only in the sense that anyone of high intelligence is prone to melancholy and overanalysis. On every other level, he appears to be by far the happiest he's ever been in his life - sometimes in a very intense and clingy way. He and I moved to Devon just over a month ago, and he's been particularly bright-eyed and buoyant since arriving in the South Hams countryside.  He was rather troubled, and not a little bit scheming, when I first met him, but over the years has mellowed, and would, I suspect, dearly like to be my only cat, so he could sit next to me for a large portion of every day, undisturbed by low lives and wannabes. No other cat I've ever known can purr for such sustained, lengthy periods and, because of his age, he does get a few more treats than the other cats who live here, though they're all spoilt rotten. Of course, he ultimately believes that the planet is on a fast-track to oblivion, but that's a separate issue, which he is able to compartmentalise, and in terms of his own day to day existence, he seems to be having a great time.

Read the first part of The Bear's life story in Under The Paw

Read the second part of The Bear's life story in Talk To The Tail

Read the latest part in The Good, The Bad And The Furry


Unknown said...

Bear is adorable. I would love for him to meet my Black Feline, Baby. She is turning 10 this year. She loves long sits on the patio, to watch the children jumping on the trampoline and I just like for her to stay out there to make every neighbor think I am a witch. It's the best form of security system. She is also always on the hunt for the elusive red dot. A former boyfriend started this obsessive search and wondered why she harassed him long after his key chain laser pointed ran out of batteries. She is an eternal optimist and I think Bear could use a little bit of sunshine in his life.

Beth Dale said...

Love your talent and The Bear as well Tom xx

Squirl said...

Great answers to the questions. I'm so glad you decided to share your cats, and your sense of humor, with us. I love The Bear more than I can say.


Yve said...

Tom and Bear, your presence on the internet in all of your many forms is a very good thing. The world is a better place because of you both. Keep following your intuition - both of you - because you're doing the right things! Love and hugs from across The Pond from me and all of your many American fans. (P.S. I agree with you about the Americanization of English being a bad thing, especially the ghetto garbage.)

fifowkes said...

Very well written, as always, Tom. I, for one (along with nearly 87k twitter followers, & more on FB) absolutely love The Bear, Shipley, RAAAAAALPH, and Roscoe - along with Pablo,Bootsie, Alan/Sven and all the other cats you have written about. You & they cheer up countless people's days & we all look forward to your tweets, & worry if we don't hear from you for a day or so (no pressure, but we know you have a life!) Thank you for bringing us The Bear. We lost our Binky a couple of months ago - he had the same soulful look as The Bear, and also gave awesome clingy cuddles. Reading your tweets helped me, and having The Bear looking at me as I work (Calendar!!!) cheers me up. And as for the trolls - well I applaud The Bear for his responses, and we all laugh at the people who really think you give RAAAAAAALPH strong Jamaican weed! Keep it up - The Bear has more (and more every day) fans, and I, for one, am looking forward to the next instalment of The Bear Rocks Devon. (By the way - thank you for the piece on how you got The Crew down there!) Best wishes to you all :-) xxx (Oh - just seen my Captcha - second word is tsfooks - WATCH OUT FOR FOOKWITS AND NUTTERS) PPS My personal sweary cat Redfer the Tripod is wanting more swear words from her idol Shipley. To be frank, "Fucklecopter" & "Fuckferret" are wearing thin in the Fowkes' household

Aly Lyu said...

I think people who pose questions about your time are quite ignorant simpletons... Even if you had all time in the world then why would they care? Some people just envy too much... Please keep up the good work -- a lot of people support you and enjoy the cat stories you share :-)

Aly Lyu said...

I think people who pose questions about your time are quite ignorant... Even if you had all time in the world why would they care anyway? Too many people I think are just a bit too envious.
Keep up the good work -- a lot of people are also nice and polite, they support you and enjoy the cat stories you share :-)
Thank you and lots of luck and joy to you and all your cats :-)

Claire said...

I didn't know that the Bear was so old! Tell him that he looks really young. That will cheer him up.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is, that I love The Bear, he is one precious kitty. And being an owner of a panfur myself, I know how special they are X x x