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About A Week: Cats

Peter Hinchliffe considers that most enigmatic of all animals the cat.

Sometimes I get this uneasy feeling that cats are cleverer than we know.

That they keep watch on us.

There you are, relaxing in your living room, reading the evening news. You glance round the edge of the newspaper, and the pet mog is 1 staring.at you. Staring hard.

Very disturbing.

As though the creature is making sure that you are behaving yourself.

You stare back. The cat quickly looks away.

You are temporarily reassured. It's just a dumb animal. Unable to meet the steady gaze of homo sapiens.

Then the uneasy feeling returns. What if cats are clever enough to kid us into thinking we are superior?

I mean, cats seem to have organised their affairs quite handsomely. They gently doze through most of the day. They dine well, being regularly supplied with the very best Kitto-Katto Lumpy Chunks. They indulge in ruthless field sports, with never so much as one anti-hunt demonstrator to say them nay. They caterwaul their way through intriguing sexual encounters.

The life of Riley, you might say. The life of a cat!

Scientists have investigated what makes cats tick. A research team at Tulane University, Louisiana, sought to define how cats purr. They monitored contented cats,with oscilloscopes and sound recording equipment, finding that the .purr is located in the muscles around the voice box, not the diaphragm. But the reason why cats purr remains a mystery.

Cats are four-legged enigmas, fiercely independent, yet shamelessly willing to accept free board and lodging from humans.

They sprawl day-long in the warmest spot in front of the fire, then go out to bare their claws like creatures of the jungle. They curl up on your lap, making you think you are the only person in all the world that they care for. Then within an hour of you going off for the weekend, they are in the next door neighbour's house, fawning all over him, having gone mewing for food.

Cats are as fickle as the English weather, as resourcful as James Bond. The have mastered the art of manipulating human affection. Milliions of folk are enchanted by them, and every cat owner has a cat story worth the telling.
Here are just a few from former journalisticcolleagues.

Steve has a neutered torn cat called Smudge that thinks it's a dog. It retrieves wadded-up crisp packets. "Smudge wants to play the game every night," Steve says. "I wad up a packet, throw it, and Smudge brings it back to me. After 15 rounds of this, I don't know who's the more tired me or the cat."

Roger had a cat called Bonnington which was stuck up a tree for the best part of a week.

Or maybe Bonnington was just an attention-seeker.

"The Fire Brigade wouldn't come and get him down," said Roger, "and the tree was far too high to climb. I felt guilty during the day. I felt guilty when I came home from work. I felt guilty when I went to bed. Bonnington was up there, miaowing horribly.

"Eventually it rained. Bonnington came down straight away, none the worse for his experience."

Roger had another cat called Chivers (because he was the colour off marmalade) who sat on his shoulder while he was doing the washing up. Chivers had a disturbing party trick. He got under a newspaper, then dashed across the floor, carrying the paper with him.

"It was very funny during the day," says Roger. "Not so funny when you came back from the pub, switched on the light, and saw the the local evening paper's sports pages dashing across to greet you."

Malcolm woke one morning in a cold sweat, thinking that an alien space ship had landed in his front drive. There was a huge flapping noise, accompanied by a ghastly cacophany of screeches.

His pet cat Pippin had caught a young rook, and brought it, still alive, to the front drive. Every rook in the nearby rookery descended in a shrieking mass to retrieve their own.

Pippin showed sound common sense. She relinquished her prey, and ran away.
David, who had a cat called Denby, answered a knock on the door, to be confronted by a young boy.

"Mister," said the lad, "did you know you've a mole in your

David shook his head.

"And did you know," persisted the boy, "that your cat's got it?"

The mole was rescued.

The Hinchliffes first pet cat was burdened with the name Achilles. (Three black paws and one white. Get it?) We always called him Achilles when we were indoors, but if I had to go out and summon him to his supper, it was "Come on cat."

Achilles was a travelling mog. He went on holiday with us to Scotland and Wales. Every other week, he travelled from- Newcastle-upon-Tyne to the. village of Whitley in West Yorkshire - a journey of more than 100 miles.

Achilles snoozed snugly in a cat basket on the rear seat. At any rate, he was supposed to snooze snugly. Someone forgot to tell him that.

One hot Sunday afternoon, I was driving north, near Scotch Corner. My wife had nodded off in the front passenger seat. The radio was quietly playing a Mozart symphony.

Four sets of claws were suddenly digging into my head.

Achilles had woken up, got out of the basket and taken a flying leap on to my bonce.

My exclamation was very much to the point, but added nothing to the store of witty responses.

By the way, you can tell those research scientists that I know why cats purr. I know why cats purr. They do it because they are aware that humans like to hearing them doing it.


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