Colin, come home…

 A few nights ago I was doing my Wuthering Heights impression, running around the garden in my pyjamas, shouting and waving my arms, screaming into the darkness as a storm blazed overhead. Cracks of thunder rumbled in the hills as lightning split the skies: everything was illuminated white and then swallowed in shadow again. I yelled and yelled, raising my voice above the battering rain. ‘Colin! Colin! Where are you, Colin?’

Even my wonderful neighbours heard me two fields away as they sat outside in the warm air enjoying the thrill of the midnight thunder. I expect they thought I had lost my wits. In fact, I had lost my cat.

It’s a harsh world sometimes in the countryside. Life is fragile and often cut short – it’s a common sight to see a rabbit or a badger, a pheasant or a squirrel pounded into the gravel by a passing piece of farm machinery. I’d been living here for three months when a neighbour handed me the limp body of Pushkin, my best cat ever, who had just been killed. We all know that moment of stunned disbelief when a life suddenly slips away. She’d been sitting on my knee an hour before, watching my daughter unwrap her birthday presents. She was a real familiar, Pushkin – we had an understanding. Then all of a sudden, she was gone and there was a huge gap which couldn’t be filled, not even by my other cat, Colin, who has been with me for at least eight years and is a lovely cat, albeit a bit bonkers.

My daughter, ever practical and wise, told me to adopt another cat. I tried the ‘nothing can replace Pushkin’ thing and was reminded firmly that another cat needed a home. So eventually I contacted the local animal rescue sanctuary and brought home two cats: Monty, now nicknamed TC, and Murphy. They are brothers, inseparable, once feral and, when I agreed to adopt them, they were not more than two years old. Colin hated them, but they soon all settled to live their separate lives of grudging tolerance.

TC and Murphy follow me everywhere. We go for walks in the fields. Locals call them the feral peril. They hang around me constantly in case there is any food going spare. They steal my breakfast. They can’t forget their feral roots, although they are both affectionate and sweet. Colin still hates them. He’ll spit at them, sit on my knee, growl at them both and a battle for ownership is constantly wavering between the cat camps.

Colin has never been a normal cat. He does this weird thing. If I’m in the bath singing Country Roads by John Denver, which I’m sure we all do regularly, Colin will leap onto the edge of the bath and swipe me with his paw, gently but with a clear intention to shut me up. So I sing it again, louder, and he yells at me, pretends to try to bite me and won’t leave the room, clearly impassioned by my singing. It’s hilarious. We caterwaul together for the entire duration of my bath. Colin is weird, bonkers and loveable.

I haven’t seen him since Monday; he hasn’t been home for four days. He’s been missing before for a day or two but hunger always brings him back. He belongs here. He sleeps on my bed – some mornings I wake up and he’s under the sheets purring. He’s a nice cat, Colin.

Hence, there was a need for the Wuthering Heights scene during the midnight storm, me in my pyjamas, running round in the rain yelling his name. ‘Colin, come home to me, Colin.’ But he hasn’t come home. Not yet.

I’ve asked all my local friends if they’ve seen him, driven round the roads where the farm machinery goes, checked hedges, the garden, home, under beds. No Colin. Not yet.

The cat ownership yo-yo has been in the ‘up’ position since I adopted Monty (TC) and Murphy. They are adorable, as is Colin. Of course, I still miss Pushkin and you may know the tale of Magick Cat who, when I first moved house,  packed his bags and decided to move in with new people a couple of miles away because he felt like it. They love him and he is so settled. Rejection is hard to take, as is loss. And it’s not easy, simply not knowing where Colin is.

Colin the cat may be a little bit low in the IQ department but he’s my cat – he’s streetwise (country-wise, really,) and a bit antisocial: he takes care of himself, shunning people he doesn’t know and avoiding anything motorised with an audible engine. He has a healthy appetite too – four days away from home will leave him starving, although there are a lot of feral cats nearby who survive very well on wildlife.

It’s difficult, not knowing whether he’ll be back at any moment, whether he’s shut in a wood store somewhere or lying under a hedge, shot by someone aiming at rabbits. He could come back today and I’ll grab him and shout ‘Colin, you’re back,’ and shower him with kisses, which he’ll hate but grudgingly tolerate so that I’ll feed him.

It’s difficult not knowing whether to refer to him in the present tense or the past. TC and Murphy haven’t missed him. As long as there’s food available on demand, they are happy, and I suppose they think there is more for them with him gone, and more space on the top of the bed. But I miss Colin. The yo-yo of pet ownership has taken a plunge down again and it’s currently swinging in the balance, not sure whether to rise or to slacken. But I haven’t given up on Colin Feral coming back. Not yet.

 

Eight days later, Colin’s back – hungry, drenched but purring. And I’m hugging him and dancing round the room – he’s home!!

My unconventional relationship with the sofa, based on Dr Who and the Champions’ League semi final game

 Perhaps I should start by saying that the only time I sit down conventionally is when I’m writing at the computer. And that is hardly conventional sitting – my cat, Colin, is behind me on my chair, occupying three quarters of the seat, so I am perched on the end, which isn’t a bad thing as it leans me myopically closer to the screen and the keyboard. Colin is purring, I’m typing away, so it’s a symbiotic situation that leaves me with a warm butt and Colin with a feeling of being connected to the person that feeds him.

Most of the time at home, I sit on the floor. At mealtimes, I am sometimes at the table, sometimes on the move, but for the purposes of reading or watching TV, I’m on the floor or on the exercise bike.

So – the situation with the sofa is as follows. I have one – a sort of soft sofa that visitors or family can lie full-length on with a cup of tea, nodding off if they wish, with a cat stretched across their torso. Sofas provide comfort. But, for me, a sofa provides more comfort than simply a place to stretch out and relax. A sofa is a sort of safe grandparent figure.

I only had one grandparent, and that’s a story for another blog. My Nanny Leigh was lovely but she wasn’t your conventional grandparent who lived in a conventional place and did conventional things. I certainly wouldn’t have crawled onto her knee for comfort. She’d have giggled and said something to me I wouldn’t have understood. So perhaps it’s not surprising that sofas are places I go to seek solace.

It started when I was a child, the first time I watched Dr Who and the Daleks. I was petrified. So, of course, I hid behind the old sofa and peered out at the scary metal creatures with the protruding stick arm that killed everyone with a blast of radiation and turned them into skeletons.

The good thinking about a sofa, and hiding behind one, is that it is big. You can duck behind it and just listen to the scary sound effects, or you can peek round the corner, having a huge barrier of safety, a wedge of furniture between you and the terrifying thing on the screen. It is also soft and giving, like a big hug, so you can lean against it and believe you are getting support from something larger and therefore less vulnerable than you are. Its solidity is solace itself.

Years later a student of mine, Magic Dave, recommended Gothika as a film he said I’d enjoy. Enjoy is one of those peculiar words. I did enjoy Gothika, but in the way that I’d have enjoyed having my toenails plucked out singularly for the fun of it. I watched the entire film behind the sofa, scared witless.

Peering out at Halle Berry’s psychologically terrifying and thrilling performance was even worse than the daleks. I took out my contact lenses and hid behind the sofa, peering out blindly occasionally to guess if the screen was safe enough to watch. I’d formed a habit now – the sofa was a shelter, a den and a giant brave grandparent all rolled into one.

And, of course,  there was the question of football. I’ve even put squashy cushions behind the sofa now, a duvet, pillows, a flask of soup, for watching football. Istanbul, the Champions league final of 2005, found me camped out for the entire 90 minutes plus extra time plus the heart-stopping Dudek heroics of the penalty shootout. And, cowardy custard that I am, I’ve hung out behind the sofa for most Liverpool games this season, both Premiership and Champions’ League.

This leads me to the Barcelona game last Wednesday, the game we lost 3-0 and still played very well. I was shivering behind the sofa singing ‘He’s Virgil Van Dyke’ at the top of my voice, clutching my flask of soup, hiding, peering out for a few seconds then diving back when the going got tough.

So, this Tuesday, with a 3-0 deficit, the game at Anfield, where will I be watching the entire match? I’ll be behind the sofa. I have no idea what will happen in terms of the final outcome, but I’m hoping for a miracle, a good result, the way my team often succeed by doing things the hard way and respond to adversity with heroics. We might score the first goal, a second before half time and then the second half is poised for a third goal. This will evoke memories of Istanbul, (seen from behind the sofa.) Messi may not turn up and maybe Mo Salah will. Maybe he’ll be fit and Sadio Mané will be on a roll and I may even be able to crawl out from behind the big sofa and watch some of the action before ducking back and shaking like a leaf, screaming ‘I can’t watch, I can’t watch’ at the screen.

Statistically, given that we’re three goals down, it’s possible that we’ll lose and I may emerge from behind the sofa to watch it all, Messi scoring the first, Suarez the second, and I’ll sit and watch the heroics of my team, playing well, missing sitters, not being quite incisive enough to score when we should have nailed it, but deserving to have found the net for a goal or two. I imagine I’ll sigh and be philosophical and say ‘Well, on another day we’d have won.’ ‘Who can play against that kind of Messi free kick?’ ‘We played much better than the result shows’ and ‘Next year, we’ll be there…’ I won’t need to be behind the sofa if we are five down on aggregate – the result would be a foregone conclusion, so therefore there’d be no tension, no fear. I’d be safe sitting on the floor in front of the screen in the knowledge that we’d lost.

But at least, although my air-borne dreams of football and trophies will have been dissipated, the sofa will be there in all its avuncular firmness, and I’ll be able to hide next season when, of course, my team will be beak with a vengeance, fully fit, ready to win the league, the Champions’ league, even do the treble.  The duvet and pillows and flask of soup will be at the ready and I’ll be able to dive behind for safety at any moment when a penalty is given, listening for the roar of the crowd to tell me whether we’ve scored or not before I can creep out safely and cheer.

I have a lot of reasons to be grateful to my sofa. But sitting on it is the last thing I use it for – unless guests come round and they’re not in my house to watch horror films or football.

When we walked out one spring afternoon…

I popped round to my friends’ house yesterday, five minutes away, just up the hill, for a cup of tea and a chat. It was a completely normal nice activity. The weather was glorious so we sat in the garden. Birds twittered and the sun filtered through branches; little clenched buds were beginning to open. We were talking about the usual things – a local pub closing down, chain saws, cider. My friend’s little dog was jumping up, keen to stretch her legs. Then all of a sudden, Murphy turned up, strutting through the garden as if he owned it and my neighbour said with a grin, ‘There’s your bad cat. He’s always round here. He had a pigeon last week.’

Murphy is the smallest of my three cats but he’s the most independent and he has a bad reputation locally. He’s always prowling around the neighbourhood. Recently a feral female was on heat and Murphy, despite having insufficient equipment to see the situation through, saw an opportunity. He is affectionate and sweet at home but, once outside in the wild, he’s an avid rabbiter. He slaughtered one in front of me a week ago.

I drank my tea and kept my eye on the little dog, but she didn’t seem to mind Murph as he came up to rub against my ankles. In fact, the dog ignored him as he sidled too close, looking for a reaction. There was none so Murphy stayed, despite my suggesting gently that he went home. He ignored me. He’s a cat, after all.

Then my neighbour suggested we took the little dog for a walk across a few fields so, despite being inappropriately shod in crocs (pink ones) I agreed and off we went: two people and a dog. The little dog scuttled alongside us, sniffing everything, as we crossed a road, took a narrow path, cut through a hedge and looked out at an open field. Then I glanced behind me and there was Murphy.

‘Are you coming for a walk, Murph?’ I asked him and he surged ahead, his little paws padding effortlessly on the dusty ground.

We walked on, an interesting group of four: two humans, one in pink shoes, a little terrier and a black cat with white paws. We strode through another field with great views of the valley down below, then up into another field and across a footpath. The little dog bounded ahead. Murphy was at my ankles, then a few steps behind before he would surge in front.

A mile later, we climbed through a hole in the hedge, meters from my neighbours’ house. We hugged goodbye – the humans, not the animals – and Murphy and I walked home. I was a little more concerned because we were on a road where vehicles often zoom past – farm machinery, cyclists, silent electric cars and too-fast drivers who doesn’t expect to see animals out for their afternoon constitutional. But Murphy didn’t seem to mind. We strolled home together and into the house, where Murphy demanded immediate sustenance before crawling onto an arm chair and going to sleep. He was worn out, poor thing.

Our cross-country walk has prompted me to plan our next sortie. Murph and I will take to the fields again soon. Next time we might even ask TC to accompany us – he could do from a break from eating. (TC is Murphy’s brother, the one who scoffs curry and crumpets and anything else he can pilfer.) The exercise would do TC good.

Colin won’t come. He sleeps on my office chair most afternoons -or the keyboard or the laptop. He likes to alter my novels, to upgrade them as he sees fit, which is mostly a series of skedjpdcnb1ihfgbcanopqcu01. Colin considers that a good edit.

Meanwhile, the sun is shining outside and Murph is giving me that look – are we going out or what? All right, Murphy – I’ll just get my keys and the pink crocs and we’ll be off.

The final happy and sad Majick episode….

Majick’s return home after fourteen months’ absence was an incredible surprise, and I was so happy. The wanderer had been reconnected with me via a local vet who phoned my mobile after checking his chip. He’d been brought in by a woman who’d been feeding him for a while and I suspect that she wanted to adopt him. The low-slung black cat with the stumpy tail and the little bat face was delighted to be home though. He sat on my knee, purred, slept each night with his paws round my neck. I was so glad to have him back.

Ten days later, I had to go to London for an overnight stop. Majick had settled, been using the cat flap to come in and out for a few days, but I was still worried about letting him roam. My gut instinct said that leaving him for 24 hours would be risky, even though there would be someone popping in to feed him.

I was right. When I came back, there was no Maj. Colin was asleep on his cushion. TC and Murphy had eaten everything they could get hold of. But Maj was absent.

That night I didn’t sleep well, hoping that he’d come back. It had been his style – to stay out half the night, turn up in the early hours and shout at me for food, then sit on my knee and purr. But the next day, he still wasn’t back.

I phoned the kind woman who’d been feeding him and she said she’d seen him hanging around again. I called her a few days later and he was in her house, well-fed and asleep on his own bed with her other cat. He’d settled back in. Of course – that’s where he’d really been living for the last six months. He’d turned up there after the snows in the spring and settled. His new owner loved him. He was her cat. He had gone home.

I talked to friends who all said ‘Go and get him. Bring him back. Try again – he’ll stay this time.’ I wasn’t sure that was the right thing to do. I didn’t want to be selfish.

Was it Sting who sang the song If you love someone set them free? I had some soul searching to do and it was fairly clear what had to happen next. I didn’t want to do it, but it was about Majick, not me. Hadn’t he made his choice? Hadn’t he gone back home to the place where he’d been comfortable and fed for a long time? A place where he was loved.

I took a couple of days to think it over, but really I already knew what I had to do. I’d spoken twice to the woman on the phone. She obviously adored him. I’d go to visit her one time, see him there happy and curled up in front of a log fire in his new home, safe and loved, and then I’d come back and remember him with fondness, knowing that he is happy.

A good friend of mine said ‘I couldn’t do that- I couldn’t say goodbye to my cat, and give him away.’ I didn’t really want to, to be honest. Majick’s a special cat, lovely natured, great to be with. He has a deep purr; he’s more affectionate than quirky grumpy Colin, or TC and Murphy, the feral perils, who follow me everywhere for food and then sleep like curmudgeons by themselves in front of the fire, although I love all three of them to bits. But it’s not about me, is it?

So that’s what I did. I handed over adoption. He has a new home, not mine. Majick lives three miles away now, so I’m not likely to see him in the garden hunting mice and rabbits. He won’t call in for a cuddle, a quick nibble of cat biscuits and a purr. He’s gone now and that’s it. I hope he’s as happy as he can be. He’s fine, well cared-for – that’s the most important thing. And I’m glad that I know he’s alive and safe and happy and I’m glad I had him for those few days, because I realise that he’s fond of me. That’s enough.

It’s been quite a tale – and he’s a real personality. People would write novels about the adventures of Majick Cat. He’d find his way into people’s hearts as easily as he found his way into a new home. He’ll be well fed and warm this winter. I won’t visit him now – that wouldn’t be easy. I will think of him from time to time and I’ll still look for his little bat face amid the shrubs and flowers. But I know he won’t come back.

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The continuing saga of a cat called Majick

He left fourteen months ago, about six weeks after I moved house. I kept him in for the advised few weeks and then he’d been out a few times, coming back for feeds and sleep. Majick Cat had always been a bit of a character – I’d had him for a few years, inherited from a woman who lived in a flat in Plymouth, loved him to distraction: she’d never let him out and finally gave him up to Pet Rescue when she had to move back to Romania to look after a sick parent. She’d labelled his bowl with his name so when he came to me aged two years old, I continued to call him Majick. He was all black except for a little white spray of fur on his neck; he had a little bat face, short legs and a stumpy tail. He was a character, he’d take off for a few days, come home at midnight and howl at the front door rather than use the cat flap, and he’d sit on my knee for hours. He was lovely.

Then one day, after I’d been living in the new house in the sticks for six weeks, something lit up in his eyes as he stared across a wide field full of sheep. And off he went. I didn’t see him again, although he’d been sighted several times by neighbours. I wouldn’t give him up.

Of course he’d made it clear he didn’t like the new house. He peed on my oak floor and sulked under the bed. He didn’t adapt well. But he’d still cheer up, eat, purr and sleep with his paws round my neck at night. I thought he’d be all right.

After he took off,  I looked for him. Wherever I’d go, I’d keep my eyes out for a little bat face in the hedge or a stumpy tail and short legs belting across the road. Nothing. The winter came, the cold, deep snow, icy wind. Someone told me ‘He’s dead, get over it.’

Spring came, then summer – still no Majick, no happy return of the wanderer. Then a week ago, I was driving home from a meeting and the phone rang. I pulled over. The local vet said ‘Do you have a cat called Majick? Well, he’s here.’ I couldn’t speak for an hour.

I went to pick him up. When he saw me his eyes shone – he leaped straight on my knee and purred. He’d gained weight, two little chins on his bat face. But he was ok. I took him home, fed him. He wasn’t keen on the other cats – he’d forgotten Colin Cat completely – but he slept on my bed all night purring, his paws round my neck and he seemed glad to be back.

I rang the kind woman over the hill, three miles away, who’d been giving him food, to thank her. She’d coaxed him into her house after several months of feeding him, then she took him to the vets. I think she loved him and wanted to keep him. Why wouldn’t she? Maj is a real character.

He stayed in for a week and was happy enough. After eight days, he sat in the window and sulked a bit – he wanted to go out. I kept him in for three more days. He broke through the mesh on the pantry window and scrambled into the outside shed. I brought him back inside and promised him he could go out the next day. Then, the following morning, I let him out: we walked round together, me chatting to him for half an hour while he explored the garden. Then he came in and had some food. I thought, ok, this is it now, he’s settling.

For three days he came in and out of the cat flap like a good cat, eating, sleeping, purring. He stayed out late one night but he came into my bedroom in the early hours, asking for a hug and some food. Several days later I went to London and stayed overnight. When I came back, he was gone.

I’d been worried he might disappear. I rang the kind woman who’d fed him, who lived about three miles away. She said she’d seen him again, but only in the distance. I drove up to the fields where I think he is and I called him. After half an hour, I went home by myself.

I sat quietly and did some soul searching. If he wants to be a wanderer, who am I to stop him? If he loves the other place and has a bond with the woman there who feeds him, if he’s happy, who am I to want to drag him home? Perhaps he’ll come back to me occasionally for food and enjoy the life of a vagrant cat? Perhaps he’s just lost. I rang the woman again and left a message on her phone yesterday morning. I haven’t had a reply yet.

I haven’t given him up. He might be back tomorrow. He might be back in fourteen months. The vet might ring again if he’s handed in. But then what do I do? As I do with cats, children, everyone, I put them first. My feelings don’t matter – it’s about what’s best for Majick. Was it my day of neglect in London when I broke the continuity that made him want to run off or does he just want to roam? How do I know? I hope he’s not lost – I hope that he knows the way back home. Maybe he’s found his home with the woman beyond the hills who loves him.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see his stumpy shape in the garden or his little bat face at the window. But as is often the case in life, I’m waiting for his next move. It’s not up to me, is it? Ah well.

I dare say this won’t be the last post about Majick cat. I find myself looking out the window, wondering where he is as the skies turn grey and the wind batters the glass, and suddenly I’m singing that old song from Lady and the Tramp, the lines that go:

 

He’s a tramp
He’s a scoundrel
He’s a rounder
He’s a cad

He’s a tramp
But I love him
Yes, even I have got it pretty bad

He’s a tramp
He’s a rover
And there’s nothing more to say

If he’s a tramp
He’s a good one
And I wish that I could travel his way
Wish that I could travel his way
Wish that I could travel his way

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How theatre tells us to fear the inadequate life

I love theatre. I love all different types and styles of theatre: Shakespeare, Brecht, Stanislavsky, Artaud, Grotowsky, Meyerhold, Lecoq, agitprop, avant garde, physical theatre, mime, puppetry, theatre of the absurd, naturalism, modernism, post-modernism. I can go on. I love the moment when the lights dim and then it’s often a journey of the mind and the emotions until applause breaks out hours later and I remember I’m in a theatre again. And the best theatre transports not just the imagination, the mind, the emotions but the soul. Think of McKellen in Richard the Third, and Godot and Lear. Dench in Macbeth. Rylance in Twelfth Night and Endgame. Ralph Fiennes in The Tempest. Graeae Theatre are great in everything they do, but Bent was magnificent!

Leave the caves of being. Come. The mind breathes outside the mind. (Artaud.)

As kids, we all experiment with theatre from the moment we start to play. Role play. Then we get creative and try and refine what we do. A talented young actor said to me this week about her GCSE performance piece, ‘My play is pretty dark.’ We explore issues we don’t want to happen in our own life from the safety of the stage. I remember being allowed to ‘do’ an assembly as a kid at school, making experimental theatre, a row of friends in black clothes with white masks jerking around to sombre music,  me dressed up in a long black cloak and a skeleton mask. A girl called Higby tried not to breathe while lying on a table under a cloth as I intoned the John Donne lines, below:

Death be not proud

Though some may call thee mighty and dreadful

For though art not so

I thought I was cool. My friends thought it was funny when some of the teachers took out hankerchieves and snivelled. Looking back, I wasn’t cool or funny. I was using the stage to prod people’s emotions about a subject I then knew nothing about, when the audience clearly did.

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Some years later, I directed The Mother, a great and often ignored play, by Bertolt Brecht. The lead was played by a talented young actor who is now Amanda Lawrence. Remember her performancein the film,  Suffragette. Then, she was just as magnificent as Pelagea Vlasova, the eponymous mother.

She spoke a line in The Mother which has always stayed with me. Resonated.

Do not fear death so much but rather the inadequate life.

Simple words but profound. A motto. A guide by which we can make our lives more meaningful. Death, of course, is The undiscovered country from whose bourn No traveller returns. We don’t know what to expect. Many people offer many suggestions about death, what comes afterwards. Heaven, Hell, The Afterlife. Or, of course, it could be nothing at all. I love the way Andrew Scott said the lines of Hamlet’s soliloquy recently. Not the often spoken  To die, to sleep No more… but To die, to sleep. No more. There’s the rub. That’s it. The end. Nothing. Infinite space. Brilliant interpretation.

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Hence the importance of making life all we can make it. Not to spend it fearing something which might happen, will certainly happen, but packing present time with good things: kindnesses, learning, making fun, loving, excitement, creating, contemplation, mischief, dancing on tables, making music, hugging, laughing, whatever is ‘adequate’ and beyond. I recently spoke to a fascinating vicar, who suggested that GP doctors, rather than ask patients ‘Do you drink or smoke?’ as lifestyle questions, should ask ‘What makes you truly feel alive?’ She has a point. It’s a question we should ask ourselves from time to time. We need to strive for good health, but we also need to live an adequate life, at least. So many people live inadequate lives, bound in circumstances they can’t control and can’t escape from, and it’s both a tragedy and a travesty. Brecht’s words are a bare minimum: we should expect and work towards adequacy, at least.

Artaud explains how theatre motivates and shapes our experience,  in his own passionate way. Theatre inspires us to move away from inadequacy and mundanity towards something which can truly change lives .

A real theatrical experience shakes the calm of the senses, liberates the compressed unconscious and drives towards a kind of personal revolt…

This week, my little cat was knocked down in a lane where only three vehicles pass each day. Pushkin. I rescued her two years ago, a skinny, starving stray in a city and she rewarded me with one thing I don’t find anywhere else. Unconditional time. If I called her, she’d come and rub her face against mine. She’d lie in the crook of my arm when I was typing. She’d pat my face, stroke it, show me her tummy and ask for hugs. Humans can’t give you that. Humans are always too busy doing something else, aren’t we? That offer of unconditional time has gone now. But theatre is always there, ready with a quotation, something which fits the bill exactly and clarifies the moment and explains how grief affects us. Brecht again The Mother, after her son Pavel is shot. It wasn’t reason that made me weep. But when I stopped, reason had something to do with that.

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I’ve lost my best ever cat. I hope she had an adequate life. She wasn’t much more than four years old. Now Shakespeare’s words come to me:

And will he not come again?
  No, no, he is dead,
  Go to thy deathbed.
 He never will come again.

So, Brecht was right about fear. Not death, but an inadequate life. The inadequate life is to be avoided and we must make the most of each moment. Theatre is a condensation of life in the form of a play, and there are pithy words for every occasion.  All the world’s a stage, as Shakespeare said, and we need to make the most of the short hours traffic of our stage before we end up Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Brecht had a more than adequate life: women adored him, his plays were well received, he was a prolific writer, although he was a refugee, his plays blacklisted due to his Marxism. That’s more than adequate, though. That’s inspirational.

Artaud was a genius, flawed and hospitalised. He died alone in a psychiatric clinic, at the foot of his bed, clutching his shoe.

Meyerhold was brutally tortured and sentenced to death by firing squad. He said:

I want to burn with the spirit of the times. I want all servants of the stage to recognize their lofty destiny. I am disturbed at my comrades’ failure to rise above narrow caste interests which are alien to the interests of society at large. Yes, the theatre can play an enormous part in the transformation of the whole of existence.
Their lives weren’t inadequate, though. Far from it. They were game changers, all of them. Inspirational people. Their theatre is energising, enabling us to suspend disbelief, so that our souls soar and reach out for new ideas, making our lives richer and our hope to rise above mediocrity becomes intense, greater. As Swiss director and performance artist Natasha Tsakis says:
We know the Arts are the archives of our human history, the wind of invention and the heartbeat of humanity

That’s well above adequate. I’ll aspire to that.

 

The saga continues. He’s been spotted

I haven’t given him up. He’s special. He’s my Majick cat. And since I moved to the wilds of Somerset, he’s been the Wanderlust King. I haven’t seen him for four weeks but, since he took off that Thursday morning with a gleam in his eye, I knew he had his sights set on a life of freedom, open fields, wide skies and sheep worrying.

Then, today, I heard there’d been a sighting.

My neighbour – I have great neighbours here – was in his house, painting the walls of his lounge and he turned around to look into the amber eyes of a low slung cat, in perfect condition, sleek and short-legged, broad shoulders, thick tail, a little bat face. They stared at each other for a while, and then the cat turned around and strolled away through the door. I showed my neighbour a picture of Majick on my phone. ‘That’s him. That’s the one. I’ve seen him around a couple of times.’

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So he’s out there. He’s ok. I’m so relieved.

Apparently, he’s living with the pigs over by the silo, catching rodents, hunting and looking a million dollars. Up to his catty tricks, dodging and diving, weaving and worrying the wildlife.

Later this week, I’ll go down and see if I can find him among the troughs and the silage. I’ll call his name and see if he’ll come running and, if he does, I’ll invite him home to dinner and feed him and spoil him rotten.

Hopefully, he’ll come back for a visit, for supper, to stay the night or for a few days’ holiday. However long he wants. He might remember me. He might even sit on my knee and purr and push his damp nose into my cheek.

Or he might turn round and run. He might not recognise me. He might have forgotten.

But he’s alive and well-fed and happy. He’s Majick cat and he’s living the dream. Still, it would be nice to see him again, to remind him of old times and to tell him there will always be an arm chair next to the fire with his paw prints on.

That’s if the pigs will let him go. He’s such a character, no doubt they’ll have taken him into their hearts and their sties. It would put Colin’s nose out of joint though if he came back. There would be a stand-off and I know Maj would come out on top, particularly after all the outdoor lifestyle and field training. I hope I can see him. I hope he’ll at least say hello and I’ll know he’s alive and well and kicking ass. We’ll see.

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Majick cat, where are you?

When I moved house, I took my three cats, each in a basket, in my car. On the way, I told them they were going to a lovely place where they could run amok and have fun to their hearts’ content. Colin and Pushkin settled quietly. But Majick was not a happy cat.

Majick is about six years old. He came to me from a cat rescue centre when he was almost two and it was love at first sight. Affectionate and obstinate, a cat with his own ways and his own mind, he ruled the other cats in my house with determined grumpiness. Pushkin is my cat, a familiar, always on my knee, but she’d jump off if Maj wanted the space. Colin Feral always deferred to Majick when it came to the feeding bowls. Majick is Boss Cat.

Majick was always called Majick. Probably Magic. His first home was with a Romanian lady in a flat in Plymouth and he’d never been outside. He would even use the toilet in her bathroom. He was a cat with dignity and good manners. She was broken hearted to leave him, but she took him to the cats’ rescue, along with his bowl and toys and written instructions about the tastes and habits of  ‘Magic cat.’ So, of course, he came to me and was pampered and spoiled and, as soon as he smelled the outdoor air, he developed wanderlust, which I encouraged. I’d often see him half a mile away in the bushes, doing his own catty thing. He’d stay out all night. Sometimes he was away for days.

So when we arrived at the new house, I put the cats  in an upstairs room with food and toys while  furniture was being bundled about downstairs. Pushkin went to sleep. Colin found a hole in the stairs and covered himself in cobwebs. Majick made his feelings clear by pooing everywhere.

As the weeks progressed and the cats had to stay indoors, Majick peed in places no cat should pee. He began by weeing on my yoga mat. He then urinated in the vegetable rack and I had to wash pumpkins and onions several times.

I’d never been to Waitrose and thought I’d try out the local one. I parked the banger in between the BMWs and the Jags and in I flounced, selecting a few organic vegetables and a packet of quinoa. I queued properly and paid for my purchases, then pulled out my recycled bag, a strong plastic one that  I’d bought in a Leclerc somewhere in Brittany, and I was about to stuff the shopping in. The smile on the cashier’s face froze and her nose began to twitch. I could see and smell why. Majick had peed in the shopping bag.

He was not a happy cat and it troubled me every night as he pressed his nose to the window and howled. ‘Just three weeks, Maj, and you can go out,’ I promised.

Then the  time came. We went out together into the garden, me with the three black cats following and, at first, they were tentative, sniffing everything, staying close to my heels. Within a few minutes, Pushkin had caught a mouse, brought it in, dropped it and it was running around the kitchen. I failed totally to coax the mouse out from under the cooker with a piece of vegan cheese, so Big G cornered it with a cardboard box. ‘Got him.’

The mouse shot up his trouser leg and lodged somewhere between his thigh and his belly button. Somewhere warm and safe, no doubt. I watched, laughing inappropriately, as he ran outside doing the hokey cokey and came back with his jeans around his ankles and the good news that the mouse was now safe in the field next door.

The cats began to feel more comfortable outside. It was sunny. But Majick had a gleam in his eye every time his little nostrils sniffed the clean air. The next day, he didn’t come back. Six days passed: I thought the worst and hoped for the best. Then one evening, he sauntered around the corner, fatter, happy and demanding food. I picked him up, hugged him, but his eyes were still on the hills.

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Three weeks ago, he climbed on the wall, looked at the sheep in the field next door and his eyes glazed over. His bead nose sniffed freedom in the air and I thought, he’s off. And off he went.

I expected him to come back after a few days, but I haven’t seen him since. Each morning I walk towards the misty fields and shout ‘Majick’, and listen, but there’s only the call of crows and the grumble of the sheep.

I’ve asked about, talked to neighbours and farmers. Apparently, lots of feral and farm cats live around here. I’ve seen a tabby and a wiry ginger tom, but not Majick Cat.

I believe he might come back. It wouldn’t surprise me. I don’t let myself think of him lying still under a combine harvester or lost down a distant lane. He may have found himself a new home and, if so, he will be well loved. I imagine him running wild, a rabbit hanging in his mouth, hunkering down in a field as the sun rises. I hope he’s happy.

One spring morning, he may saunter back. Or it might be a bit cold one evening in winter and he’ll think, I’ll go back to that place where they have a warm fire and they feed me. I haven’t given him up yet. I’ll recognise the yowl, the persistent howling at the window which orders me to let him in and rip open the cat food at once. And I know I’ll go running outside, pick him up, hug him stupidly and yell ‘Oh Maj, where have you been?’ like I always do, and he’ll stare into space over my shoulder and put up with me kissing his neck then, as soon as I put him down, he’ll run to the food bowl and look up at me, frown and wait.

He’s Majick cat. I hope he’s out there somewhere. I hope he’s having a cat whale of a time. Colin doesn’t miss him. He’s Boss Cat now. And Pushkin monopolises my knee and the food bowls and she is quite happy. But I haven’t given him up, not yet. He’ll be back…

 

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Of cats and women

Tom Jones sang ‘What’s new, Pussycat?’ in 1967. That was nearly fifty years ago and thank goodness attitudes to women have changed since then. He suggested his girlfriend: ‘go and powder your cute little pussycat nose.’ I’d tell him where to go!

Current attitudes suggest that  men and women play equal roles and make joint decisions in a sexual relationship, equality of responsibility being the main emphasis. Gone are the days when women were passive objects in a man’s game of sexual conquest.

It is unthinkable now, for example, that a man would have sex with an intoxicated woman and claim that she had consented because she was too drunk to decide otherwise, and to suggest that it was all her fault for being irresponsible, and not his at all for taking advantage.

It is inconceivable that an adult male would seduce a fifteen year old girl and claim he couldn’t help it as she was ‘jailbait’. Today’s modern man would not stand around in the pub, boasting about sexual conquests with his friends, feeling proud of himself, bragging about a woman he shagged and discarded the night before. No self respecting man would behave like that nowadays and expect respect,- would he?

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The detritus from  past decades where men called the shots  in relationships is surfacing now: males who were allowed to apportion the sexual blame to women after dictating the terms of their abuse are now being called to task.

Two of The Tremeloes pop group are currently denying an assault of a 15 year old girl in 1968, a year after Tom Jones suggested that his Pussycat ‘go and make up your cute little pussycat eyes!’ and of course there is some correlation between prevalent attitudes to women in those days and the sexual abuse which is coming to light now that we have clearer moral standards  about reprehensibility in place, supported by the law.

No longer can men such as the DJs and pop stars of the 60s and 70s get away with objectifying and abusing women and then claiming they had no choice about their behaviour We don’t accept now that they are somehow relieved from any blame by making women take responsibility for what men have decided they will do to women’s bodies.

However, we still live in a time when girls are groomed for sex and there are more prosecutions than ever for violence against women. Even the internet is being used to turn vulnerable women into victims. So how far have we really come?

It is this ‘blame the victim’ mentality which was the cause of so much abuse and inequality in our mothers’ generation. The ‘she asked for it’ syndrome which excused and exonerated the perpetrators of abuse and blamed the victim is still part of how some members of society view women.

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Some women don’t help. A female judge condemned rape victims who had consumed alcohol. Apparently, 50% of women are ready to blame the victims and one in ten said that if women  dress or dance ‘provocatively’, then they are ‘partly responsible’ for sexual abuse by men.

There is still a long way to go before all women achieve courtesy and consideration across all areas of society and all aspects of their lives.

The majority of men do not think or behave in this way and most women know only too well how it feels to be judged according to gender. However, as long as there are some people out there who want to victimise the victim, who are prepared to allow someone who is abused to be seen as responsible for their ill-treatment, such abuse and objectification will continue.

Misogynistic lyrics in pop songs don’t help and there are far worse offenders than Tom Jones, who at least had the good grace to sing ‘I’m so willing to care for you’, even if it was only to rhyme with ‘thrilling’. It’s not just lyrics either: there are some sexually submissive images of women in pop videos that suggest that this is how females should behave in order to proclaim their sexuality and gain male interest.

I am all for people dressing as they please, doing as they please and promoting themselves as they please, so long as it has no negative impact on anyone else. Today’s women have, arguably, more choice, more freedom and more opportunity to behave how they wish to within society than their mothers and grandmothers.

Most modern men are more sensitive and we accept now that gender roles are more fluid. There is a multitude of role models, celebrity couples who demonstrate equality, respect and responsibility as a strong part of their relationship. But there is still a long way to go before all women achieve  courtesy and consideration across all areas of society and all aspects of their lives.

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Equality and respect between both genders are vital goals for us all, and  we need to support rather than admonish the victims of abuse. Women should wear what they want and behave how they wish, within the limitations of the law, without fear of reprisal and blame and it is the best of men who celebrate them for who they are and how they wish to express themselves.

After all, as Robert A. Heinlein said: ‘Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.’