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Jo'Burg Days: Beloveds

Barbara Durlacher engagingly tells us of the cats in her life.

I’ve always loved Siamese cats. Their long lithe bodies. sleek grace, ability to leap astonishing distances and balance on the tiniest of ledges is only rivalled by their amazing intelligence. Their capacity to understand and interpret the human world around them, and, almost always, turn the situation to their own advantage, must be unrivalled for creatures of their small size.

The first Siamese I had, a female, was a cross between a domestic cat and a Siamese tom and could almost have passed for a Birman, which is what I chose to term her, until I learnt more about the breed and knew better. She was fiercely protective of her babies, even to the point of facing up to a ferociously barking Alsatian, admittedly with a glass door between them, when a visiting friend arrived accompanied by her dog. He spotted my overly-protective mother cat nursing her kittens and flew into a flurry of outraged barking. Not intimidated in the least, she flew at him, claws bared, snarling and spitting, ready to defend her babies to the death – which it might well have been for her, had it not been for quick action on the part of the dog’s owner, who rapidly bundled him back into her car, and went home immediately.

Another of my beloveds was a pure black Siamese with extra-sensory perception.

Who remembers the earthquake that occurred in the Cape sometime in the 1960s? Most of the damage, which was quite severe, occurred in the area around Montague and Tulbagh, where there is ample evidence of former geological activity, in the form of the extraordinary folded mountains, hidden rivers and hot mineral springs.

Anyway: my black cat, had a name that was quite easy to remember, being nothing more complicated than Cat, by which she was known all her life. One sultry Sunday evening in Wynberg, Cape Town, I was sitting at my table writing a letter, to my lover, if you must know, when I noticed that Cat was uncommonly restless, jumping down from her comfortable nest on my bed, and through the open window, then jumping inside again. She did this again and again for about two hours, until faintly, I felt a tremor under my feet. The ripple grew stronger, until for a few moments, during which I momentarily considered diving under the bed for cover, it almost seemed as if I was rocking very gently in my chair.

The shaking subsided, and Cat curled up on my bed again. She groomed herself carefully, put her head on her paws, curled her tail around her nose and peacefully went back to sleep. I took that as a sign that the earthquake, if that was what it was, was over.

The next day the Cape Argus was full of photographs of a street of lovely old Cape Dutch homes in Tulbagh, about 90 kms from Cape Town, that had been badly damaged. It was estimated that the quake had reached 5.8 on the Richter scale. From all that distance away, Cat had sensed that something was wrong. Maybe her antennae had felt the first tiny tremors from deep in the earth hours before it occurred, and she simply could not settle while her instincts told her that danger was coming.

Other cats who have owned me have also shown amazing powers of understanding and perception, far beyond what humans expect animals to know or understand.

One cat woke from a deep sleep on my bed one very dark night and leapt to the mosquito-screened window where she stood, looking into the darkness and listening intently. Woken by her movements, I also got out of bed, and after concentrating very, very carefully, thought I heard something. I silently unlocked the front door and went to stand on the outside veranda. This was in the days when, hard to believe, it was still routine to get out of bed to check for burglars or investigate strange noises around one’s property without fear of being shot at and killed. Hearing nothing, I gave up and went back to bed, but at first light I went outside again, and walked next door, passing the hedge separating the two houses, to be met with a scene quite common in those days. The house-owner had left his car, two expensive motor-bikes and a garage full of tools and paraphernalia, standing, car in the drive-way, bikes in the wide open garage, with the gates wide open.

A light-fingered and definitely light-footed burglar had come in during the night and working stealthily and silently, dismantled the car radio and the speakers from behind the back seats, packed them into two rucksacks and departed, leaving the car doors wide open, possibly because by that time dawn was breaking and he realised early risers might be stirring and hear the click of the closing doors.

Had I acted on Puss’s instincts and been brave enough to have gone next door and confronted the burglar in the wee sma’ hours, I would have caught him red-handed but, probably luckily, caution and commonsense held me back. I did nothing, except knock on the front-door of the neighbour’s house and interrupt them in their early morning ablutions, to tell them their car had been burgled. On hearing the news, the husband went dashing outside wearing nothing more than a very skimpy towel. Puss had known something was going on from the very first and would have told me what to expect, if only she could talk.

My last of a long series of beloveds were three unrelated females, a Seal Point Siamese, a Lilac Point Javanese, and a Seal Point Balinese who, although of different ages and seniority, integrated well and formed strong bonds. They loved me unreservedly, as I did them, and when the awful time came when I had to move into a retirement home where no animals were allowed, it was a real heartbreak to have to find homes for them all. An agonising time, even worse than my divorce, but then, I think I loved the cats far more than I ever loved my husband. Happily, the Sandton SPCA found excellent homes for two of them; Caro, the Seal Point Siamese and Smoke, the Seal Point Balinese, long-haired Siamese.

Arabella, the Lilac Point Javanese, went to a home with one small boy, whose teacher parents wanted him to grow up knowing and loving animals. I visited all three cats over a period of a few months, and was happy to see that they had settled down happily in their new homes, even to the extent that Caro and Smoke had formed a ‘business association’ and set out every morning to hunt down and hopefully capture, the giant Hah-de-Dahs hunting for earthworms on the lawn!


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