Friday, 1 May 2015

Miaow do you do?

Now come along, you can’t expect me to believe that you didn’t know cats could talk. I mean, everyone knows that cats are much more intelligent than people, don’t they, and people can talk.

Well, yes, now you come to mention it the conversation of some people is a trifle limited. My Aunt Tabitha; she was the one who stayed in Cowcaddens, you know; she once told me that the local people there only ever learned one adjective, but that they were so pleased to have learned it that they used it over and over again, every fourth or fifth word, so that it became meaningless; you know, the way that a cat might say “you know” or a rather dull human might say “er…” Apparently this adjective began with f, but it wasn’t a clever word such as “F-eline” or “F-rolicsome”; not even a moderately clever word such as “F-ornicating”, though apparently it was a synonym for that. My Aunt Tabitha, you know, was always too F-astidious to mention what the word actually was; she called it “the F-word.” Personally I know rather a lot of adjectives beginning with f, but then of course, I am a cat.

I suppose what you really mean to say, in your limited human way, is that you are surprised that a cat would condescend to talk to you. It is true that the majority of cats can’t bring themselves to do such a thing. They go through their entire lives without uttering a word in human hearing. They have very delicate empathy with human sensitivities, you know, and they are only too well aware that people feel themselves sufficiently inferior to cats already, without being subjected to the further indignity of having their ignorance exposed in conversation. My Aunt Tabitha used to say that, even for an intelligent human, talking to a cat would be rather like a Rangers supporter talking to Einstein. No! Einstein was not that foreign coach who was hired by Celtic; he was that foreign coach who was hired by Princeton. No, Princeton don’t play in the English League, they play in the Ivy League.

I had better get to the point. Well then, I suppose that you could say that the whole problem started when my people, (you know, those are the humans that I keep as pets; they do useful things like opening cans and lighting fires for me in the winter?) well, they brought home a dog. Now I can cope with dogs; they aren’t very smart, even less smart than humans, but as a general rule they understand simple instructions that come reinforced with a swift right hook to the nose, claws extended – know what I mean? Well that’s all very well for elementary house rules such as who gets to eat first, or who gets to lie closer to the stove, but legally binding job demarcation lines are really too complicated for a dog. I have to say that I did my best to explain the principles of mouse-hunting, but I could see by the glazed expression on his face that the mutt really wasn’t taking it in.

“The whole point,” I said slowly, “is not to kill the mouse. If you kill the mouse, then it stops running, you see, and it’s far less fun hunting it if you have to throw it up in the air first and then run after it.”

“But I run after a ball when my person throws it, and that’s fun,” said the stupid dog.

“You don’t understand,” I replied patiently, “If you throw the mouse it can only travel in straight lines. When it’s running it can jink about and turn corners and stuff, and that makes the hunt much more interesting.”

Well the clown said that he would try to remember, didn’t he? But what happened? The next night there’s a mouse in the kitchen, and I cunningly head it off from running back to its hole, don’t I? And so the mouse hides behind a wide-open door, you know, one that’s opened right back on itself so that there’s just this narrowing V-shape for the mouse to run into? So I’m just about to adopt the classic position, where the mouse is stuck up the narrow end and I’m blocking the wide end, staring at it and frightening it to death with my penetrating gaze, when this stupid dog jumps in and grabs the mouse! I ask you; just grabs the mouse without so much as a by-your-leave!

You can tell that this dog doesn’t know there’s a recession can’t you? I mean there are livelihoods at stake here. In my capacity as local shop steward of the Feline Artisan Rodent Manipulators and Carnivorous Allied Trades Society (FARMCATS for short,) I lodged a formal protest right away, I don’t mind telling you. “All my members want at the end of the day” I said firmly “Is a fair day’s stalk for a fair day’s slay.” But it didn’t do any good, you know, because the mouse was already dead, wasn’t it?

Well, as you can imagine, I was feeling properly humiliated by this, because my absurd people told the dog how clever he was for catching a mouse. For goodness’ sake, as though there was any skill in catching a mouse! All the skill lies in prolonging the hunt; even a human should know that. Oh, you didn’t know that either, eh? Well I can’t say that I’m surprised.

In any case, to cut a long story short, I decided to go and sulk in the stables, didn’t I? “Let them see if the miserable mastiff can fluke more than one mouse,” I said. “You’ll see, they’ll be over-run with rodents and pleading for my return in no time.” But, in fact, no sooner had I stepped outside the back door when there’s this dreadful twittering noise and this crazy swallow dives on me from twenty feet in the air. He zooms past about three inches from my head and climbs up into the air again chattering some rubbish about the stables having been occupied by hirundine popular forces and being out of bounds to cats for the duration of the nesting season.

Now if you think it’s tough explaining something to a dog, you should have a go at trying to get through to a bird-brain. This guy had a completely one track mind; every time I would leave the house, the same thing would happen; twittering, dive bombing and a political lecture about the avian master race. I couldn’t go and sun myself on the lawn; I couldn’t move from one shrubbery to another in a leisurely field-mouse hunt without this numbskull diving on me out of the clouds. I think he’d been watching a lot of those old war movies, you know, where the German Stukas roll over and dive bomb the refugees with a great wailing of those huge sirens that they had fitted in their air intakes. You’ve seen them, haven’t you? Eeeee–yowwwwwwww–boom! And then zoom back up into the sky. Oh good, that’s something you do know about! Maybe you’re not quite as green as you’re cabbage looking?

So now I not only had this stupid dog parading about the house and crowing about how he’d beaten the cat in a mouse hunt, I also had this stupid bird parading about outside the house and bragging how his Stuka act was protecting all the little swallows. I ask you, as though I would have eaten any of his stupid hatchlings – well, not more than my fair share anyway. I mean, you must be able to see that the situation was intolerable? What I needed was a master stroke that the dog could never pull off and that would teach that bird a lesson. As my great-great–ever-so-many-greats grandfather famously said to Cleopatra, “You want to be careful with that snake, lady, you could fall right on your asp!” So I went off and did some research on the Intercat, didn’t I? Simple really.

Anyway, as I told a completely crestfallen dog afterwards, a wise cat once observed that there are old swallows and there are bold swallows, but there are very few old, bold swallows. I bet you didn't know that the Ju87 Stuka had to be fitted with automatic dive brakes that pulled up the nose at the end of a bombing run? This was because the G forces at that point were so great that the pilots could black out. For a critical couple of seconds the aircraft was actually flying itself and therefore its behaviour was very predictable for ack-ack gunners. Not a lot of people know that.

Considering what happened when I put my research into practice, we are bound to conclude that not a lot of swallows know that either.