The 18th-century ‘mad poet’ Christopher Smart is not the only writer to have celebrated a cat. Raymond Chandler’s cat Taki lived to be more than 20 and figures in a famous photo of the irascible author holding him with obvious affection. Chandler and his wife were devastated when the cat died and deeply disappointed by his attempted replacement. Chandler was a one-cat guy.
Googling authors and cats turns up a sequence of photos of, on the surface, unlikely cat-loving scribblers – Foucault, Mishima, Kerouac, Hemingway. Think of Joan Wilder and Romeo in Romancing the Stone. But it should not be surprising. Cats go together with writers and their work like fish with chips or tar with feathers.
A cat, once settled and curled up somewhere in a room, is a serene and restful sight, ideal for certain writing moods and material. An active, lively cat is a study in quick movement. A cat lying in wait for and then tormenting a bird or a mouse is a model of predatory, cruel and deadly behaviour.
The cat we have now, after a succession of cats, is a resident of 14 years’ standing. Acquired in Byron Bay, she has moved house with us seven times and has adapted to new surroundings immediately. She has displayed the same caution whether we’ve lived on a busy road or in a quiet street. Hence her longevity.
No pacifist, she has killed her share of mice, rats, lizards and injured birds and has attempted to bring the trophies inside for our admiration. Intensely territorial like all cats, she fought with interlopers when younger and bears a tattered ear to prove it. These days she prefers to take evasive action.
She has had her quirks. At one time she would not eat from a bowl placed on the floor and her food had to be set up above floor-level on a table or a shelf. Like all cats she has an uncanny knack of singling out the guests who suffer an allergic reaction and hangs around them or tries for a lap sit. Ginger females are rare and ours is strikingly handsome, hard to repel even at the cost of respiratory distress.
The independence and self-centredness of cats is notorious. Ours cares nothing for our comfort in reading or watching television and will happily sit atop a book or block a screen, especially when wanting to be fed. She sits on my lap when I’m watching television and I have great affection for her there although, as cat owners will know, this is more appreciated when wearing cords or jeans rather than shorts or light trousers.
Food and sleep dominate her existence. We often encounter other shoppers examining the selection of cat food, musing aloud about their likes and dislikes. Cats are fickle, their preferences change, but ours is constant – she will not even sniff at anything smelling of sardine.
I have not named her because, due to a bad decision, she doesn’t actually have a name. Full of enthusiasm for the Sydney Swans’ goal-kicking champion, we attempted to name her Plugger but it didn’t take. We would have done better with Tony or even Lockett.