The two feline bruisers, and why they are so loveable…

Several years ago, thanks to some wonderful friends who found a skinny stray cat who was hanging around their house for food, unchipped and homeless, I adopted Pushkin. She was the best cat ever. She was loyal, intelligent – she did all the things people hope their cats would do. She came when she was called, she stretched out on my knee, she was affectionate and understood everything I said to her. I was her human and it felt like a privilege. We had each other for two years. Then she was run down, found on my drive, and that was the end of her. I was devastated.

My youngest kid, pragmatic as ever, said ‘Why don’t you give a home to another cat?’

I did all that ‘Oh I couldn’t… there will never be another… my heart is broken…’ stuff. They sat me down and showed me a picture of two black cats who were at a rescue centre, Monty and Murphy. The cats were brothers and came as a pair. I always adopt black cats. They looked cute – of course they did. Eighteen months old. Cats.

Reluctantly I went to see them. Monty climbed on a high door and ignored me. Murphy sniffed my hand, looking for food, purred once and turned his back. But I was assured they were affectionate. But they wouldn’t mend the hole in my heart. They weren’t Pushkin.

I went away to think about it. I had Colin to consider. He was older, the senior cat, and I didn’t want his nose put out. He’s gorgeous, a little bit dim, eccentric as hell, affectionate with an inclination to be grumpy. Monty and Murphy had been feral kittens – someone had kept them in a caravan for a year and trained them a little not to bite and be aggressive. I was torn. They needed a home.

I caved in and brought them back to my house. Of course, I kept them in one room and Colin sniffed at the door, growling and disgusted. Monty and Murphy hugged each other, gave me their best terrified look and hid in the old bread oven in the fireplace. They wouldn’t come out, not even for food. Then accidentally, on the second night, someone left the front door open and whoosh, they were off. That’s it, I thought. There’s a community of feral cats living in a barn not far away. My two bruisers wouldn’t be back.

Ten minutes later they were hanging outside the front door, waiting to come in. They went straight to the food tray, let me stroke their backs. It was the beginning of them learning to settle down.

Three years on, and they have a strange relationship with Colin. He doesn’t like them much but he tolerates them in an older brother sort of way: they’ll sniff each other and turn their noses up, at best offer a friendly lick. Colin thinks he rules the house – he’ll hiss at them if he’s not happy, lift a paw and whack them.

But in the years I’ve had Monty, now TC (Top Cat), and Murphy, they have changed from skinny feral monsters to fat schizophrenics. Everything they do – and I mean everything – is about food. Nothing else matters. If they are affectionate to me, they want food. If they purr, they want food. If I move, they rush to the food tray and look at me as if I’m starving them. I love them to bits but I’m not fooled for a minute – they don’t love me back. I’m just the one who feeds them.

Due to their feral beginnings, they have real food issues too. They are both hunters – I’ll say no more but I’ve seen what they’ll wolf down. And they still beg for food. Murphy will eat anything – I’ve seen him snaffle curry, potatoes, crisps, salad, cheese. Just about anything. He’s polite about it – his modus operandi is to sit and stare round eyed as if he’s dying of hunger. Only his round belly gives him away.

TC is food aggressive to everyone, me included. He’s learned to look adorable, raise a paw, cock his head on one side, roll over and show his belly, all cute begging which is hard to ignore. If all else fails, the paw comes out and he’ll swipe what’s in your hand or on your fork. He’s clawed a whole crumpet and a piece of toast before now, or a chunk of cheese – he doesn’t care that it’s vegan – and off he’ll go, purring as if he’s just hunted it down and murdered it himself.

Last night, I got up in the night for a glass of water. It was past two o clock. All three cats hurled themselves at me and rushed towards the food bowls as if they were starving and it was a matter of life and death. And they shouted, oh so loud! Of course I ignored them and ten minutes later, Murph was sleeping by the Rayburn, TC was on top of my bed and Colin had snuggled under the duvet. They weren’t hungry at all, the little liars!

Then there are those biscuits in the boxes, you know, the ones they must put drugs in because the cats go completely mad for them. It’s just mayhem when the biscuits are on the table. They all know how to demand biscuits – they swipe the box, knock it over, push it around, try to get the lid off. Murphy managed it once, tipping a full box over. He’d have munched his way through the lot if I hadn’t stopped him. Colin asks for biscuits by punching me in the face with his paw. If I don’t give him a handful, he shouts at me and punches me again. They’ll do anything to get biscuits, take them from my fingers, between my toes, snatch them from my hand even though I stroke their heads and teach them to be gentle. Honestly, life with cats? The idyllic picture, curled on my knee purring and looking at me with affection? No way, not the feral peril Monty and Murphy. And Colin has got worse due to their influence.

I still miss Pushkin. The truth is, TC and Murphy aren’t replacements for her. I love and accept them for the cats they are. They will always revert to their feral type under stress and I expect no more. The sight of a vet’s basket and they’re on the run, and I don’t see them for hours. Just when I think they are learning to be sweet and affectionate, they give me that haunted look that reminds me that I’m not a cat and I never will be so why don’t I just get on with feeding them and then go away? Yet they think they are human – everything that is mine belongs to them, the warmest seat by the fire, the bed, all the food…

They’ll always be a pair of bruisers who do the best they can to be pets, but fail from time to time. They are lovable eccentrics – they have so many wonderful positives. Murph will come for a run with me – he’s strolled four miles into the woods, chased dogs and had to be carried the last mile home. TC is idle, bossy and adorable, a control freak who tries to snaffle the other cats’ food but you can’t help but love him when he lifts that paw and rubs his head against your face as if he cares only for you. (He doesn’t – he wants food.)

And Colin, he’s just a grump who loves the warmth of a laptop. Every day he’ll sit on one, and he’s dangerous. He’s tweeted, sent emails I haven’t finished, played Spotify and found the calculator just by hurling his backside at the keyboard. And does he know how to edit! Pages, passages… thank goodness for the back arrow… But they are my cats and I give them the best I can. I’m a bit indulgent, although I try to hold back on the biscuits…

How can I behave any differently? They’ve done their catty job well and so I love them to bits. Besides, thanks to all the hard work done by Colin, TC and Murphy, I’m now fully trained…


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