The Cats of Ronda

thecatsofronda2

The Cats of Ronda by Chris Green

If you visit the historic city of Ronda in southern Spain, you are likely to notice that the cats scurrying around under the tables at alfresco restaurants for scraps are slender. While you are wondering whether to toss them the skin from your monkfish, what you may not be aware of is that despite their being small in stature, these Andalusian felines possess age-old mystical powers. It is thought that the cats of Ronda originated long ago in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians knew a thing or two about the magic of cats. The ones that made the millennial odyssey through North Africa and came over during the Moorish invasion were probably the pick of the bunch. Down through the centuries, their progeny may have inherited their ancestors’ numinous gift.

On my occasional trips to Spain, I had not come across them. It was not until one evening over dinner during a stay in the fabled city that I began to notice them.

‘That one is called Layla,’ said the stranger in the white linen suit, pointing to the small black cat at the foot of my table. We were outside a small restaurant just down from Hemingway’s famous bullring. ‘She likes slices of grilled squid. I think that if you tipped your plate up and let her have those pieces you have left, you would in some way benefit from a modicum of good fortune.’

‘Ha! You think it’s as easy as that,’ I said, to humour him, more than anything else. Why was this roué wearing that thick gold earring, I was thinking? It looked ridiculous on him. He was much too old for such adornments.

‘Try it, my friend,’ he said. ‘What have you got to lose?’

I felt I was due some good fortune. Things had not been going well of late. The very reason I had come to Ronda was to get over a failed business venture and put a jaded relationship behind me. The sunshine of Andalusia was a big attraction and Ronda, being some distance away from the teeming crowds of the Costa del Sol, seemed to have a special appeal.

Still a little concerned that my fellow diners would disapprove or that the waiter might come over and read the riot act, I slyly slid the slices of squid to Layla. She gathered them up and took them to a darkened corner of the courtyard to feast on them. The stranger meanwhile finished his Mojito cocktail and got up to leave. He shook me by the hand and, with a glint in his eye, said, ‘Layla will remember you now, my friend. You should be on the lookout out for a pleasant surprise.’

I took this with a pinch of salt. Spain, just like anywhere else today, was overflowing with charlatans. But, when I got back to my room at Hotel Farolito, there she was, waiting. A vision of loveliness. Long black hair, little black dress and a smile like daybreak. At first, I assumed I had walked into someone else’s room. I was about to apologise and take my leave when I thought to check the number of the key I had in my hand. 101. It was the right room. No doubt about it. This was Room 101. I was searching for a rational explanation and mumbling something incoherent, when she said, ‘I thought you wouldn’t mind, querido, if I joined you. I’ve put my things in the wardrobe. I hope that is all right.’

While it seemed fortunate that I had booked una habitación doble, first I had to allay my fears that this was a set-up. When you have been down on your luck for a while, it’s only natural to be a little suspicious of serendipity turning up unannounced. Especially in such a dramatic way. Besides, the shady character in the white suit who had promised the good fortune was hardly the sort you would buy a second-hand car from.

‘I’ve read about you and seen your picture in the paper, cariño,’ she said.

This was strange because the only time I could recall being in the papers was when Jimmy Jazz Enterprises ceased trading. Perhaps she was thinking of someone else, I suggested.

Somehow we got over our uneasy start and before long, we were getting along like a house on fire. A man can never be certain of a woman’s motives, but Isabella presented a convincing case that her intentions were honourable. She spent twenty four hours reassuring me in the nicest possible way, after which time I was too enamoured to care.

We talked a little about cats during this time, as you do. Isabella maintained she knew little about them but I was able to do some basic research on my laptop. I found out about the cat’s place in Egyptian society. Cats it seemed were a symbol of grace and sang-froid and because they possessed mystical powers they were considered sacred. As a result, for over a thousand years, Egyptians, the most advanced civilisation on Earth worshipped a succession of cat deities, the most powerful of these being Bastet, Mihos, Sekmet and Mekal. It was important for citizens to own a cat and well-bred felines were exhibited in shows. When a cat died the family would go into mourning and prized animals were often mummified.

I don’t know how we ended up going to the restaurant I had been at the previous evening. It’s possible that it might have been Isabella’s idea. I was not sure what to expect. While I had mentioned the strange encounter to her in passing, I had kept my cards close to my chest with regard to the detail. This time, it was late, nearly eleven, and there was no sign of the stranger in the white suit, but there were plenty of cats still skulking around. Towards the end of our fried calamari in tartare sauce starter, a slinky white one, so white it was almost luminous, came over and sat expectantly at the foot of our table. My thinking, perhaps helped along by the second bottle of wine, was, if black cats, traditionally thought of as a bad omen, brought such bounteous good fortune, then who knew what delights white ones might bring. I tossed a couple of the fried rings down and the cat gobbled them up.

‘You really shouldn’t have done that,’ said a dark figure emerging out of the shadows. He had long, uncombed black hair and was wearing skin-tight black trousers and a ripped black t-shirt with white lettering in an unfamiliar script. He could have almost been auditioning for the part of Bob in Twin Peaks.

‘You will regret it,’ he said as he stepped into the light, his sinewy tattooed face trembling with menace. He continued in Spanish. ‘No todos los gatos de Ronda traen buena fortuna. Ese gato es malo. Muy malo.’

A bad one? I wanted to challenge him on this. Who was he? How did he know the cat was bad? He clearly intended it to be a short conversation. He said I would find out soon enough. Muy pronto. Adios, amigo. He was gone like a thief in the night. He probably was a thief in the night. He was certainly not Santa Claus.

My attention had been so totally taken up with Twin Peaks Bob that I had not noticed it. But, when I turned back around, I couldn’t help but notice it, There was no-one at my table. To my alarm, Isabella too had vanished. I looked frantically around but she was nowhere to be seen.

‘Did you see where the woman who was sat with me went?’ I called out to the young couple at the only other table that was occupied. ‘La señora? Has visto?’

‘No había mujer. Estabas solo,’ said the man. ‘Hasta que ese hombre llegó.’

No matter how absorbed with one another they were, how could they have not noticed Isabella?

‘What about the man who came up to us?’ I said, ‘El hombre de negro.’

They had not noticed him either. Were they blind, or something?

None of the staff at the restaurant or any of the neighbouring bars could shed any light on what had happened. I didn’t say anything about the cats, as I was still thinking that there might have been some kind of chicanery and clearly, I couldn’t go to the police. I went back to Farolito hoping against hope that Isabella might be there. She was not. I spent the night worrying about her and about what the man in black had said. Was something terrible going to happen? When would it happen? Could he merely have been referring to Isabella’s disappearance? Maybe I was taking a pessimistic view, but I thought not.

What made me decide to return to the restaurant the following lunchtime, I cannot say. Maybe I thought Isabella might re-appear but quite honestly I had to admit I was clutching at straws. I had not been there in daylight before and although there was the distinct possibility that I was courting danger, there was the possibility that revisiting it might offer some clues as to what was going on. When strange things have occurred there is a natural urge to solve the mystery. I realised that I had either been badly distracted or woefully unobservant because I did not even know what the restaurant was called. As I approached in the light of day, I could see the sign, in bold lettering. It was called Los Gatos de Ronda. This somehow put a different complexion on things. The restaurant was a celebration of the contribution of the cat to Andalusian culture.

If I hadn’t been staring so intently at the display graphics, I might have been aware of the rider of the Kawasaki motorcycle bearing down on me. I might have stepped out of the way and avoided the accident which left me with multiple head injuries. Dr Hernandez thought it was too early to tell if there would be lasting brain damage, but he said I needed to stay in hospital for three or four days so they could keep an eye on me.

While I was lying there, the question I kept turning over and over in my mind was whether there was any justifiable reason to connect the Kawasaki ploughing into me with my having fed calamari to the white cat. No matter what the madman in black had said, such a proposition seemed to belong to the world of hocus-pocus. For one thing, I was not superstitious. I never had been. But, there again, rational thought seemed somehow to have jumped ship at Malaga. Whether there had been a causal connection or not, I could not deny that the accident happened in the wake of his warning. Or earlier that Isabella had appeared shortly after the lounge lizard had said something good would happen.

When you are in hospital, time hangs heavy on your hands, in foreign hospitals, even more so. You hear all this chatter going on around you in a foreign language. Admittedly my Spanish had improved of late, and I could make out some of what was being said, but I felt I needed to talk to someone in English. Out of the people on the ward, Javier was the only one who could speak good English. He had spent many happy months, he told me, as a marketing manager for a biscuit manufacturer in Ashby de la Zouche. He was gay, he said but sadly it was not yet fashionable to be gay in North Leicestershire so he came over to Ronda, where there were more opportunities to meet like-minded people. Javier’s tale of how he came to be in hospital was a strange one indeed.

‘You are probably not going to believe this,’ he said. ‘I’m in here because I fed the wrong cat at a restaurant. A tortoiseshell tabby. It looked hungry and I offered it some of my carabineros. A thug dressed like Benito Mussolini shouted something threatening at me and shortly afterwards I was viciously attacked by a Cambodian monk with a prayer wheel.’

I told him about my experience with the Twin Peaks Bob figure warning me something bad would happen after I fed the white cat and afterwards the Kawasaki running into me. Then I told him about feeding the black cat and the fellow in the white suit predicting good fortune followed by my finding Isabella in my room.

‘That’s uncanny,’ he said. ‘I shared my halibut with an Egyptian Mau cat. Pope Francis appeared out of nowhere and said I had done a good thing and would be rewarded and I found a Marlon Brando lookalike in my room.’

‘Early Marlon Brando, I trust,’ I said.

‘I take your point,’ he said. ‘It was The Wild Ones era Marlon Brando. The Godfather version wouldn’t get me going.’

‘So you are saying there is something of a pattern.’

‘Absolutely,’ he said. ‘Fernando over there fed some of his mackerel to a Siamese and was rewarded with a Euro millions win. But after he let a short-haired Burmese have some of his crayfish, he was struck over the head with an Abba statuette by a dwarf in a wheelchair.’

‘Astonishing,’ I said.

‘I believe the whole ward is full of people who have met with misfortune after feeding cats,’ he said.

‘What do you think is going on?’ I asked him.

‘You must have read about the special powers of the cats of Ronda by now,’ he said.

I confided that I had found out a little.

‘Well! Clearly, there are two distinct groups of cats,’ he said. ‘One group uses its special powers for good and the other uses them for evil.’

‘Good is usually associated with those that are group minded and evil by those who have broken away, isn’t it?’ I said. ‘Civilisation is based on rules and conformity.’

‘But this is all subjective. There are different thought systems, different cultures, different religions,’ he said. ‘There is no consensus.’

‘That’s right,’ I said ‘But, within each of these the notions of good or bad are based on conformity.’

‘I can see what you are saying, but this is still a simplistic view,’ he said. ‘Animal instincts promote survival and aggression.’

‘And in our scenario, we are talking about both people and cats,’ I said. ‘So how does it work?’

‘I can’t explain the supernatural elements,’ he said. But, I think that we ourselves might have a bearing on what happens to us. What each of us considers good or bad comes into play. For instance, I have always gone for hunky men like Marlon Brando, so it’s only natural that my visitor should look like Marlon Brando and I was brought up as a Catholic, hence Pope Francis. On the other hand, I have never liked military uniforms, hence Mussolini. Mussolini was obsessed by military uniforms.’

‘So far, so good,’ I said. ‘But, what about the Cambodian monk attacking you with a prayer wheel? How does that fit in?’

‘Good point,’ he said. ‘I can’t work that one out. Anyway, it was just an idea. I think perhaps we have a long way to go before we come up with a solution.’

‘It probably doesn’t help being in hospital,’ I said. ‘We can’t even get the internet in here.’

‘I’ll see what Pedro can find out,’ he said. ‘He has an iPhone.’

Unfortunately, this was the last conversation I had with Javier. Dr Hernandez wouldn’t tell me but I think Javier may have been discharged early. I never did find out who Pedro was.

My injuries must have been more serious than first thought, because each time I asked when they were going to let me go home, Dr Hernandez told me that I was not ready yet, but as long as I kept taking the medication, he was optimistic that it would not be more than a month or two. During this time, I had dozens of conversations about the cats of Ronda. They followed a similar pattern throughout, some good experiences mixed with some bad experiences, all of these happening after they had fed cats. Luis found himself on a paradise island but was then bitten by a poisonous snake and Maria Elena landed a modelling contract but was badly scarred when a UV light exploded. Diego was hit by a train. Diego seemed to have missed out on the good experience or perhaps he just couldn’t remember. I think they had put him on extra strong medication on the basis the injuries he sustained from the collision. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it was but I couldn’t help but notice that everyone on the ward seemed to experience complications with their recovery and be kept in for longer than you might expect.

Juan Pablo didn’t think that Dr Hernandez was a real doctor or that we were in a real hospital. He thought that we were being held captive against our will. I told Juan Pablo not to be a fool. Of course we were in a real hospital. They gave us medication every day to make us better, didn’t they? In the end, Dr Hernandez had to restrain Juan Pablo once or twice, which was not at all pretty.

Eventually, I was discharged. It was a fine day and once I had got my bearings and checked back in at the Farolito, I went along to Los Gatos de Ronda. I sat there all afternoon but the strange thing was, despite the menu now consisting entirely of fish dishes, I didn’t see a single cat. What on earth could have happened to them all, I wondered? After my third Alhambra Mezquita, I plucked up the courage to ask the proprietor where all the cats were but he did not seem to know what I was talking about. He told me he had only recently bought the restaurant. He did not even know why the place had been named Los Gatos de Ronda, he said, it was a ridiculous name.

‘I have a painter coming in to change the sign,’ he said. ‘I’m going to call it La Cocina de Pescado.’

I was not sure of the exact translation but it was to do with fish. Something about it was definitely fishy. …… Perhaps all of it.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Advertisements

The Cat’s Tale

thecatstale

The Cat’s Tale by Chris Green

‘Where’s the cat?’ wonders Zack ‘And, what in God’s name is that huge snake doing in here?’

The snake curled up in the corner of the room appears completely out of context and instantly intimidating. Zack is terrified, but at the same time curious. Keeping a safe distance from the beast, he types a search for ‘big fat yellow snake’ into the Safari browser on his phone. This is just an instinctual reaction. He is young. He belongs to the internet generation. He keeps his phone in his hand at all times. It is like an extra limb. The search comes back with ‘Burmese python’. A large yellow and white snake that can grow up to fourteen feet. In the wild, it says Burmese pythons can devour antelopes and monkeys along with rodents and domestic fowl. As far as Zack is aware there are no antelopes or monkeys on the estate, and while there may be rats and mice, he cannot help but worry that Roger is inside the huge reptile. He draws some consolation from the information that pythons do not eat every day, and he had seen Roger that morning when he fed him before setting off for work at the fast food outlet. He draws less consolation from the fact that the huge snake appears to be contentedly sleeping, and in all probability digesting Roger.

Zack may not have had to deal with many problems in his young life. Although he is twenty five, he still lives with at home with his parents. He has not had to deal with the complications that can come with wives and children. However, two problems present themselves to him here. The first, but arguably the easier to solve, is how to get rid of the snake. He can for instance phone Wild Things. They will be able to send a trained operative out and collect the stray serpent. The second problem is not so straightforward. How is he going to explain Roger’s disappearance to Mrs Donnelly?

Zack offered to come in to feed the cat while Mrs Donnelly was on holiday in Magaluf with her friend from the sewing circle. She is not going to appreciate it if he has fed the cat – to a yellow and white monster. He remembers the conversation that he’d had with Mrs D, before she went away.

‘I don’t want to put Roger in a cattery,’ she had said, ‘He doesn’t get on well with other cats.’

‘Don’t you worry. Your cat is in safe hands with me,’ Zack had said. ‘After all, I only live a few doors away.’

‘Thank you ever so much, Zack. You are a good boy,’ Mrs D had said. ‘I do appreciate it and I’ll bring you back a nice bottle of Fundador. You’ll like that.’

‘That’s kind of you, Mrs D.’

‘Roger’s more than just a pet to me, you see. I don’t know what I’d do without him.’

Keeping a close eye on the snake in case it decides is still hungry, Zack makes the call and waits nervously. Within a few minutes, the large green Wild Things Zoo van turns up. Deputy Reptile Manager, Brett Samson, introduces himself. Brett is aptly named. He is simply huge. It takes Zack a moment or two to recover from the handshake.

‘What a magnificent specimen,’ Brett says. ‘Lovely markings. Mature adult male Burmese python. One of the largest snakes in the world, you know. I think this may be the one that went missing from SnakeWorld. He’s called Arthur. You may have seen it on the news. But SnakeWorld is a long way away. I wonder how Arthur ended up here. And how would he have got in?’

‘I’ve got this sneaking suspicion I may have left the back door open this morning,’ says Zack. He goes to check. The back door is open.

Brett meanwhile is getting friendly with Arthur.

‘Can you tell if Arthur has eaten lately?’ asks Zack. ‘I’m worried that he might have swallowed Roger.’

‘Oh no! They don’t eat humans,’ says Brett.

‘Roger is a cat.’

‘Ah!’

Brett picks up the snake, skilfully heaves it over his shoulder, wraps it around his neck and feels its stomachs.

‘Well Arthur certainly seems to have eaten recently,’ says Brett. ‘How big was Roger?’

‘Well. Standard cat size,’ says Zack, holding his hands out in from of him to approximate Roger’s dimensions. ‘He is a mackerel tabby.’

‘I can’t say for definite what the snake has eaten, I would say that if Roger doesn’t appear within a day or so, then he is not going to. Had you had him long?’

Zack finds it disconcerting that Brett is already talking about Roger in the past tense.

‘The thing is that Roger is, or was, not my cat,’ says Zack. ‘I am, was, looking after him for a neighbour.’

‘Oh dear!’ says Brett. ‘That’s unfortunate. What will you do?’

‘I don’t know. Mrs Donnelly was very fond of Roger. I suppose I will have to try to get a replacement. I’ll have to look on the internet or something.’

It is lucky that Mrs D has a framed photo of Roger on the mantelpiece. From this, he is able to flesh out his shaky recollection of what the cat looked like. It is at times like this he wishes he had taken more notice of Mr Bacon, his art teacher at St Mawgans. Mr Bacon had said, ‘don’t rely on what you think you should see, take a mental photograph of it.’ He had left at sixteen. Art was not one of his five GCSEs.

With some further research, Zack discovers that mackerel tabbies often have an M shape on their forehead just as Roger has and also the same pink nose with peppered black dots. This he feels will help with his search for a replacement. Just in case Roger shows up, Zack takes a day off work the next day, but there is no sign of him. Meanwhile, he gets busy on Safari. He finds from the internet and the local paper that kittens are plentiful. They come in all shapes and sizes, breeds and markings. Even within a radius of a few miles, there are a half a dozen litters of mackerel tabbies available, from which it would be quite likely he would be able to find one to match Roger’s markings. But Mrs D is only away for the week and this does not give the kitten much chance to grow into a Roger lookalike. When it comes to fully grown mackerel tabby cats, there are none whatsoever available.

Zack is beside himself with worry. It is now Tuesday. Mrs D gets back from Magaluf on Saturday. Time is of the essence, so he decides he must adopt a more proactive approach. He places an ad on Gumtree. Urgently Wanted: Neutered Male Mackerel Tabby Cat. He specifies a radius of 100 miles. The rest of the day and the following day bring no response. In the meantime, Zack keeps hoping against hope that Roger will suddenly come bounding up to him when he bangs the cat food tin with a spoon and calls out his name. But at the same time he is concerned that too much of cat-calling will attract attention and make the neighbours suspicious, so he limits his overtures to ten minutes at a time. To make sure he does not miss Roger, should he appear, he stays around the house watching movies from Mrs D’s collection of old films on DVD.

On Thursday, in a desperate attempt to get a result, he amends the Gumtree ad. He adds Un-neutered Cat Also Considered and ups the distance he will travel to pick up the cat to 200 miles. And it brings results. A Delma Mundy from Northallerton has an un-neutered mackerel tabby called Barry.

‘Now that I am in a wheelchair, I’m finding it a struggle to look after Barry,’ she says.

‘Can you send me a photo?’ says Zack.

‘How do I do that?’ says Delma Mundy. ‘I can tell you what Barry looks like.’

‘I think I would prefer a photo, if you could, please,’ says Zack.

‘But I haven’t got a photo of him,’ she says.

‘Could you take one on your mobile phone?’ says Zack.

‘But I’m talking to you on my phone,’ she says.

‘Or you could email a photo,’ says Zack

‘Oh, I don’t think I’ve got email, whatever it is when it’s at home.’

Zack manages to talk Delma Mundy through how to take a photo on her phone and send it. A few minutes later a picture of Barry arrives on his phone. It is not a perfect angle to distinguish Barry’s key features and it is difficult to judge the cat’s size, but Barry does seem to be an approximate match to Roger. Zack calls her back, takes down the address and tells her that he will be up to collect Barry shortly after lunch.

There are a number of local vets on yell.com and before setting off, Zack is able to book Barry in for his vasectomy for the following afternoon.

Delma Mundy is a bit tearful about saying goodbye to Barry.

‘You will look after him, won’t you?’ she keeps repeating. ‘He’s a good cat really. It’s just sometimes he can be a bit boisterous, if you know what I mean. And now I’m in a wheelchair ………’

‘Don’t you worry,’ says Zack. ‘I will take good care of Barry.’

Barry is not at all happy about being put in a cat box and bounced about for a hundred and twenty miles in the back of Zack’s Skoda. He expresses his disapproval with a lexicon of hisses and snarls and claws wildly at his cage for most of the journey. He celebrates his freedom with a lurch at Zack’s neck, which leaves a nasty gash. Zack locks the animal in Mrs D’s utility room overnight. Once again Barry is not happy at this but he is even less happy at being put back in the cat box the following morning and taken to TheAffordableVet.

While Zack does not know what experience Barry has had of vets in North Yorkshire, he is certain that it is not a positive one. No sooner has Dr Mabombo recovered from the first assault, than he has his cheek gouged by a second attack. In desperation, he calls for Zack, who comes to his assistance. Between them, they manage to hold the feral animal down long enough for Dr Mabombo to get the needle in.

While he is in the waiting room Zack catches up with his missed calls from the previous day. There are eleven in all, seven from the fast food outlet, the last of which was probably to let him know when he could pick up his p45, and four from Mrs Donnelly. He cannot face speaking to Mrs D just yet so he sends her a text saying sorry he missed the calls, but that Roger is well and everything at home is fine.

‘The good news is that Barry felt no pain,’ says Dr Mabombo. ‘The bad news is that you have had a wasted journey. Your cat had already been snipped. I suppose that I should have checked before putting him under. But he was kicking off a bit. …… Don’t worry, though, I won’t really charge you for the operation.

‘I see,’ says Zack. ‘I suppose that I should have checked too.’

‘Don’t you remember getting him neutered then?’

‘I’ve only just got him. Until yesterday he was someone else’s cat,’ says Zack. He tries to remember what Delma Mundy had said in their first telephone conversation. He was sure that she had said he was a tom, but there again she may not have. He might have got it wrong. His stress levels were up at the time.

‘Anyway. I’ve given him another sedative so that you can get him home,’ says Dr Mabombo. ‘But he will be right as rain tomorrow.’

‘That’s good,’ says Zack. ‘Tomorrow’s Saturday.’

When he gets the cat back to the Mrs Donnelly’s, Zack puts heavy duty gaffer tape over the cat-flap. He wants the cat to stay indoors overnight. He carefully examines the sedated cat, comparing its markings to the photo on the mantelpiece. He satisfies himself that there is a reasonable likeness. He leaves a large bowl of dried food and a saucer of milk and takes the cat box back to his dad’s shed.

After a sleepless night, he arrives in the morning to feed Barry-Roger, ha, ha, Badger for short. There is hardly a whimper. The animal is still groggy, a complete contrast to the feral pre-op beast of yesterday. Whatever sedative Dr Mabombo used must have been powerful. The dried food and the milk that he left last night have not been touched and the animal isn’t interested in the fresh bowl of venison Gourmet he puts out for it. He comforts himself that Mrs Donnelly won’t be back until three o’clock. This gives him plenty of time to perk the animal up.

Zack looks to Safari for advice. There are a number of sites like thecatsite.com and consciouscat.net offering post-op advice, but most of the advice seems to concentrate on the effects of the surgery, not the sedation. He cannot find any instances of the cat being put under anaesthetic and not operated upon. A flash of inspiration comes to him. He remembers reading somewhere that cats respond to music. Perhaps it was an article in his parents’ Daily Mail.

He goes to get his boombox and connects it to his phone and tries out different genres from his Spotify account, pop, classical, jazz, reggae, soul, indie, hip-hop. None of these seems to do much to animate the sulky animal. Badger remains curled up on the basket of jumpers. In a do or die attempt to get the cat moving he sets the playlist to heavy metal. This is something of a longshot as the cat can’t have heard much of this sort of music at Delma Mundy’s. To his amazement, Badger starts to show signs of life. His ears prick up to Axl Rose’s screaming vocals. He’s up on his feet and is joining in with the chorus of Paradise City, meowing spiritedly. And inspired further it seems by the wailing guitar he makes it over to his food bowl. What an unusual animal he is, thinks Zack. What is he going to do to surprise him next?

Mrs D phones to say that she is in the taxi from the airport.

‘Is everything OK? she says. ‘What’s that dreadful noise?’

‘Noise? Oh, that’s just some music I was playing. I’ll turn it down.’

‘You haven’t been having parties have you, Zack?’

‘No, Mrs D. I was just listening to a new song on my Spotify.

‘I know you haven’t, pet. I was only joking. You’re such a good boy, looking after my Roger. How is my little treasure?’

‘He’s fine. He’s got quite an appetite sometimes, hasn’t he?’ says Zack, watching Badger demolish the bowl of Gourmet and then set about the dried food.

‘I hope you haven’t been overfeeding my baby. I don’t want him getting fat.’

‘No Mrs D. Just what you said to feed him.’

‘I bet he’s missed me. I can’t wait to see him. Look. I’ll be back in half an hour. We’re stuck in traffic at the moment. I’ve brought you back a sombrero for all those sunny days that The Express says we are going to get.’

Zack starts to remove the gaffer tape from the cat-flap. Badger eyes it up planning his escape. Zack decides to leave the rest of the tape on until he hears the cab pull up outside. Badger spits and snarls.

‘Anyone home?’ calls Mrs D.

‘In the kitchen, Mrs D,’ Zack calls back, making a ball from the remaining gaffer tape while blocking the cat’s exit.

Mrs D joins them and plonks some bags down on the kitchen table.

‘Are you sure that Roger is all right?’ she says. ‘He looks different.’

‘That’s because you’ve been away, Mrs D. Things always look a little different when you come back to them.’

‘And he doesn’t seem all that pleased to see me. He normally comes bounding over when I come through the door.’

‘He’s probably just a bit upset that you went away. Cats are very sensitive, you know.’

‘I suppose you are right, Zack. Thank you for looking after him, anyway. Do you like your sombrero?’

‘It’s fantastic, Mrs D. I have always wanted one.’

There have been many dramatic entrances in films. The shark’s entrance in Jaws springs to mind, Darth Vadar’s in Star Wars perhaps, or The Thing bursting out of John Hurt’s chest in Alien. Going back further, what about Orson Welles’s emergence from the shadows in The Third Man? Perhaps Roger had been primed by famous movie scenes. Maybe Mrs D watched a lot of her old films with him on her lap or left the TV on for him when she went to the shops. Whichever, for its shock value, Roger’s sudden entrance through the cat flap at this moment seems to owe a debt to the movies. Both Zack and Mrs D do a double take. Before them are two identical cats. What sorcery or movie magic can have brought this about?

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

CAT

cat2

CAT by Chris Green

Ralph is at least nineteen years old. He is what’s known as a mackerel tabby. My ex-partner’s friend, Junko found him as a kitten at Catbrain Quarry and brought him round to the house.

‘I’ve got a new cat for you,’ Junko said. She knew our old cat had run away the previous week.

My daughter, Echo took to Ralph immediately. She laughed at the way he would run up the walls to chase a fly and she loved the way that he would nestle down on the dog’s head. It was Echo who gave Ralph his name, after Ralph Lauren Polo. Echo used to think that Polo was the designer’s surname. She was eleven.

What? You don’t believe there is a place called Catbrain Quarry? Look it up on the map. It’s near Painswick in Gloucestershire. Painswick has the largest number of cats per household in the country. No, it doesn’t. There are hardly any cats in Painswick. I made that up. How about this instead? This is true.

Following an online poll in 2013 the cat was named as the new Monopoly token, replacing the iron. The cat received the most votes on Facebook, beating the diamond ring, the helicopter, the guitar and the robot. It joins the wheelbarrow, shoe, race car, top hat, thimble, Scottie dog and battleship as tokens in the standard edition of the game. Other retired tokens over the years include the horse and rider, the cannon, the bag of money and the train.

There are variations. The world edition has a staggering twenty four tokens: a cowboy hat, a pretzel, an Egyptian head mask, a rickshaw, a Canadian mountie, a kangaroo, a London black cab, a Chinese dragon, a safari hat, a NASCAR race-car, a boomerang, a windmill, a camel, an Inca mask, a Sumo wrestler, a matador, an Inca statue, a surfer, Russian dolls, a baseball glove, an African mask, an Easter Island head, a football, and a koala. Where are onion Johnny, the dreadlocks rasta, and the oil sheik?

There are numerous collectors editions including the Shrek Collectors Edition, Nintendo, Coca Cola, Star Trek and The Muppets, not to mention The Simpsons and South Park editions. The John Wayne Collector’s edition has yet to adopt the cat as a token. It is singular in its focus. Its tokens are cowboy hat, belt buckle, cowboy boot, “Duke” the dog, John Wayne’s director’s chair and Stagecoach. In the spinoff, Ghettopoly, the tokens are: pimp, ho (whore), 40 oz malt liquor, machine gun, marijuana leaf, basketball and crack. The four railroad properties from the original are replaced by liquor stores. Other properties include a massage parlour, a peep show and a pawn shop. Promoting as it does ruthless capitalism most countries have adopted the Monopoly format and there is probably a localised Monopoly featuring the town you live in. Most likely it will now have the cat as a token.

I noticed early on that Ralph liked to listen to music. Along with bringing home mice and depositing them on the dining room table, musical appreciation seemed to be one of his favourite pastimes. He liked The Cocteau Twins especially and, quite surprisingly I thought, Led Zeppelin. He jigged his head to REM and Everything But The Girl and liked to sing along to Fleetwood Mac. A friend of ours at the time told us that his cat, Dave, liked listening to Handel and Vivaldi. We tried Ralph out on Water Music and The Four Seasons. His ears pricked up at first but as the music wore on, a bored expression came over his face and after a while he slunk off to the corner.

Recently I discovered a website, musicforcats.com They claim their music is based on feline vocal communication and environmental sounds that pique the interest of cats and is written in a musical language that is uniquely designed to appeal to the domestic cat. Kitty Ditties are playful and quick incorporating stylisations of some of the animal calls that are of great interest to cats. Cat Ballads are restful and pleasing. Feline Airs is based on the pulses of the purr. As the mp3s were really cheap I downloaded them all. Ralph was unimpressed. He didn’t so much as cock his head to listen. He knows what he likes. He established his musical tastes early on. If I want a happy purring cat I have to put on Automatic for the People or Rumours.

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved