Archive for March, 2014

Dogs have owners, cats have staff

Monday, March 24th, 2014

When I wrote the blog post-before-last I included ‘plus two cats’ in the title but didn’t get around to telling their story. Here it is.

On the Key West compound on Ann Street where we lived until last Tuesday there were two resident cats. One of them is “my” Minnie Moocher – a smart and quirky tabby who was dumped on the property about 12 years ago. When she first appeared I was about to leave town, and I tried to find her a permanent home because she was quite young – maybe a year old – and I thought she’d be better off with a regular owner. I didn’t succeed, and I worried about leaving her to fend for herself, but I needn’t have done; Minnie is the most resourceful of cats. When I returned, months later, Minnie had appointed the only fulltime compound resident as her new human carer. She asked only for regular meals, daily conversations, and a little playtime. In return she did “meet and greet” duty to all new compound guests, kept the feral chickens and stray cats off the property, and was generally both entertaining and decorative.

Minnie is still the most interesting cat I’ve ever known. She is as smart as a tack. She’s curious, as are all cats, but not intrusive: she likes her own space and she allows that to humans, too. She’s witty: her favourite game is to give tiny, gentle bites to your ankles or hands and then to gallop away: you can almost hear her giggling as she runs off. She’s very affectionate, and she enjoys human company, but she doesn’t want to be owned – she’s a genuine free spirit. She knows all the best places to shelter when it rains, and cultivates a certain mystery about her life and habits.

And then, a few years ago, Patches joined the compound: a cat with an entirely different personality. Patches had been an exclusively indoor cat in one of the houses, but when her owner died she was rescued by Minnie’s human carer. She was a true scaredy-cat for the longest time, frightened of everything and everyone, and only gradually became more trusting in company. But then her new human carer also died.

When I returned at the end of January, both cats were still living on the compound. Patches is deaf, and has perfected the heart-breaking ‘silent meow’. Now she set her whole heart and mind on finding a new owner. She hated being an outdoor cat, and longed for the transient kindness of strangers to turn into a permanent arrangement. Every time new guests arrived in one of the rental houses Patches established herself on their doorstep, begged for food as though she hadn’t eaten for weeks (although she was already fed twice a day) and did her best imitation of full-on endearingness. It often worked, of course, but only for a short time. The cat-loving guests would inevitably depart, and Patches would fall into what I can only describe as a deep depression. In normal circumstances Patches would follow a bowl of food across the compound so enthusiastically she almost walked straight into trees – but after each disappointment she ate hardly anything for days. Cats sleep a lot: Patches slept all the time.

It seemed to me that Minnie disapproved of Patches’ needy behaviour. There was a lot of hissing and paw-swiping when they met, and meal times became complicated by tricky-to-manage issues of precedence. And then – thank you, benevolent universe! – Patches found a new owner! She finally rode off in a cat basket to relax in the joys of indoor living, petting, and general domesticated bliss.

So now it’s just Minnie again. She’s lived as The Compound Cat for so long, we all think she’ll be happiest if she stays there. I drive across town twice a day to feed her and chat to her, and she seems perfectly relaxed and content. I know that when I return to London next weekend other people will make sure she’s fed morning and evening, check her water bowl, and stop for a chat.

And yet … and yet. Minnie’s old now – not as old as Patches, I think, but she must be at least 14. She looks much younger; she’s frisky and funny and a joy to observe, but she’s old. She’s never been ill, and right now she’s the picture of health, but I worry about all that too. What if …?

Oh, I know that Minnie simply regards me as staff. She remembers me from one visit to the next and greets me with enthusiasm, but it’s probably because I’m more patient (and more reliably timely with meals) than other staff candidates. She tolerates my faults. But I love and admire her, ascribe human characteristics such as courage to her, and will miss her dreadfully when I leave. I’ll think about her a lot; I’ll regularly email the people who are feeding her to ask after her welfare.

And I’ll hope she’s still there when I return.

Washed three times so you don’t have to

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Years ago, in London, I discovered an amusing game to play on the underground escalators. You have to keep the full list of the┬áSeven Deadly Sins in mind but I’ll help you out with that right now – the list goes: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.

So imagine if you will, as the escalator is taking you past all the advertisements, you have committed those seven to mind and are ready to identify the Deadly Sin represented in each advertisement. So, for example, an ad for an electrical appliance that actually comes with its own plug (they didn’t used to have those automatically in the UK) – that’s clearly sloth. An ad for a pizza chock full of every delicious filling imaginable: gluttony. Or greed. Or maybe both, especially if there’s a special price offer on the pizzas that appeals to greed. And so on. I haven’t played it for years, but remembering it now I intend to play it again when I’m back in London. I used to love sliding past all that display of excess, muttering “sloth, lust, envy, envy, sloth, gluttony” to myself.

I’ve remembered that game because I’m presently shopping in American supermarkets, those temples of consumer power. I’m especially amused by the slogan on the boxes of organic salad: “Washed three times so you don’t have to” – a perfect example of an appeal to sloth. I’m slightly bemused by tubs of pre-crumbled feta (I reckon I could probably crumble my own feta, slothful or not) but the winner of the slothful competition was the pre-prepped carrots.

I wanted to make a gluten-free carrot cake for my sister in law, and the only thing that made me hesitate was not having a food processor here, to grate the carrots. I contemplated borrowing one for the job but that was a more complicated endeavour than I wanted. And yes of course I could grate them by hand – but grating a pound of carrots is a thankless task and usually involves grating your own fingers as well as the carrots. So I was browsing through the veggie section in the chilled cabinet, vaguely wondering if I could make a banana cake instead, or at the least try to buy bigger carrots which would be easier to grate – when, yes! You guessed it! I found packets of pre-shredded organic carrots.

Sloth, be my friend. The carrot cake was truly delicious.