Désenchanté par le Chat

This happened last weekend, but it was simply too raw to write about then. I had quite a bit of processing to do before I could even attempt to set it all down. But here I am now, so brace yourself.

It seems like only a short year ago that I was singing the praises of the garden cats here on the blog. Hell, I even recorded a video blog, sprawled on our redundant trampoline like some beached whale. 

“I speak French to them.” I purred, perhaps trying to give myself a modicum of gravitas that I never did earn, “Aren’t I feckin’ great altogether?”

Well not anymore, sunshine. As the man said, we’ve all passed a lot of water since then and those days are firmly gone. Poorly executed Gallic phrases have given way to openly hostile stares across the back garden wasteland.

The party is definitely over, pussycat.

It all started, as things so often do, with the Friday Night Takeaway. This is a bi-weekly event involving a well-established menu of fish, chips, chicken fillet burgers, garlic sauce and coleslaw. I invariably make the journey and, oddly enough, it’s one of my most favourite things. I feel like a hunter-gatherer, heading out into the woods to bag some dinner for my family, except the wilderness is ceramic-tiled and aluminium-clad and the bounty is heavily battered.

There are several traditions or routines attached to the Friday Night Takeaway, not least of which is that John opens the front door for me when I get home. This is kind of a running gag, based on the thought that nobody would open the door for me in normal circumstances but, when there’s food at stake, the door opens, and the food is hastened inside. I usually hand John the bag full of food and let him go ahead to the kitchen but this particular Friday, the one before last, was different. For some reason, I held on to the bag. I think it was how inviting the front door and the hall door looked, how clear a run I had through to the kitchen, how it would expedite the distribution of the food without any further gratuitous loss of heat in the merchandise. Whatever the reason, I dispensed with tradition and bailed straight down the hallway, leaving John to secure the front door behind me, which he did.

The food was great, the single bottle of beer that went with it was great. Everything was great.

Well… almost everything.

In altering the front door ritual, something has been lost, some small thing had been overlooked and that small thing would come back to haunt me with a vengeance.

The next morning.

It had rained all night. I had lain in bed for a while, before sleep came, and listened to it pelting down on the roof. I think I felt a bit self-satisfied that the rain couldn’t touch me here inside my house. Pride/fall etc. Where was I? Oh yes…

The next morning dawned bright and clear; well, I imagine it did. Dawn was well-over by the time I got up but it was bright and clear then so I can imagine it started out that way too. I got ready to hit the shop and get the paper and some freshly baked rolls perhaps, it being Saturday and all. I got my coat and left my house and…


The passenger door of the car was open, wide open.

For a moment, I thought I’d been burgled. Then the running order of the evening before played out in my head. The change to the routine. The straight run to the kitchen. When I would normally have been closing the passenger side door, having taken the food out, I had instead broke for the kitchen, John had closed the front door behind me. The passenger door was ignored and the damage was done. Nobody’s fault but my own.

I examined the damage. The rain that I had laughed so heartily at, the night before, had been doing its work while I snickered in my bed. The floor below the passenger seat was a soggy carpet-puddle. The passenger seat was drenched. The little storage wells on the inside of the passenger door were brim-full of rainwater. As a mess, it was more than enough to have to deal with. But, of course, it wasn’t all there was to deal with. Not by a long shot.

The cat had gone in and had a piss.

Relations between this particular cat and me had been rapidly deteriorating over the past few months. A large, predominantly white Tom, he had always been predisposed to fix me with his hostile ‘who da hell are u?’ stare while occupying my garden but then he upped the ante by finding some way into my shed, across the high garden wall, and through a gap in the eaves. He had taken to hiding in there and startling me when I went in to retrieve a peat briquette or two. In return, I would loudly ask him to vacate the place, with cursory swear words thrown in for good measure. It was, at best, a tenuous relationship. And yes, he would like to mark his territory in there, converting my tatty but passable shed into a cat scented unpleasant place to have to go.

So, there we were, this cat and me, in a tense ongoing standoff where I never for a single moment felt that I had the upper hand.

“Maybe it was another cat who pissed in your car,” you might say, in defence of this cat. My response is as graphic and it is unfortunate. It was this cat and only this cat. How do I know? Alas, I know his smell.

So, I’ve worked at it. I’ve dry hoovered, wet hoovered, newspapered, towelled, Fabrezed, Fabrezed and Fabrezed some more. “Why didn’t you leave the car doors open so it could air?” you might now say. My reply, “easy, because the cat would have gone in and pissed some more.”

Now, exactly a week on, the smell has been largely expunged, the damp eradicated, normality resumes. The cat stayed away for most of last week. He knew what he had done. He was on the back doorstep yesterday when I came home from work, giving me the old stink-eye. I pointed at him.

“You know what you’ve done,” I simply said, and not in French either, and I knew that he knew what I meant from the look he gave me.

This cat will come to no harm on my watch. He is, after all, just one of God’s creatures and his instinct to piss in my car is a natural one and thus, logically, a forgivable one. Live and let live.

But I can bear a grudge just as well as this cat evidently can, and it will be some time before him and me can sit down and break bread together.

For now, it’s a standoff. A Moggyton Standoff.

And I must remember to keep that car door shut.


 FOOTNOTE - Part 3 of this Cat Quadrilogy can be read here. It's the best bit.

What Would the Pussy Cat Do?

People often say how your life flashes before your eyes right at the end. I’m beginning to develop a slightly different theory. I increasingly think that your life comes back to you, in bits and pieces, after you turn fifty-seven or so. Then, when the inevitable comes, it’s all been gradually assembled for you like a jigsaw puzzle. Okay, maybe this doesn’t apply to everyone. Maybe it just applies to me. 

I wrote a few weeks ago about dredging up a memory and having several other ones come up with it. Since then, the old memories keep on coming and coming. That’s how I’ve developed my theory. Maybe it really is just me, though. It usually is.

(As a side note, the spelling in this post is about to become quite atrocious so bear with me.)

This particular memory cul-de-sac started a few day ago when I said something to somebody that I had never said before. I said, “I’ll go out in the afternoon unless I take a figeary and go out in the morning instead.”

Sorry. What? Take a ‘what?’

This is something my Mum used to say. It is yet another thing I had forgotten until it randomly popped out of my mouth. It means something like ‘a notion’. I might take a notion/I might take a figeary. It might be Irish. I haven’t got a clue.

Now, full disclosure. I’ve editorialised a bit here. In my random blurted-out statement, I meant to say ‘figeary’ but the expression I actually used was another one that my Mum used. Another one that I had completely forgotten. In fact, it was this second one that reminded me of that first one, if this makes any sense at all.

I actually said, “I’ll go out in the afternoon unless I get a feechy faw and go in the morning.” And this was an incorrect usage.

“Feechy faw.”

As I said, my spelling here is probably atrocious. Just let me off. Think about it, I meant to say ‘figeary’ and instead I said ‘feechy faw’. The spelling of these strange, dredged-up words is a secondary consideration.

“What,” I hear you cry, “is a Feechy Faw?”

Fair Question.

Firstly, it’s not ‘a’ Feechy Faw, it’s ‘the’ Feechy Faw and it means something completely different to ‘Figeary’. The way Mum used it, it was like putting the ‘Kybosh’ on something, hexing it, making it somehow worse than it was before. A context sentence might be something like, "She put the Feechy Faw on the whole day out when she said it was going to rain."

Are we good? Good. ‘Cos we’re only getting started.

This little word-memory-thing sent me down a rabbit hole of the rhymes Mum used to say to use when we were little. You know the type. The kind of thing you might do when bouncing a baby on a knee. You are probably familiar with such gems as the riding of a cock horse to Banbury Cross or going round and round the garden like a Teddy Bear. We had those… but we had other ones too.

One of our local ones involved having baby in the lap, held by both arms, and rowing back and forth. “Row the boat to Ballymote, row the boat to Collooney.” Both these places are little towns in my home county of Sligo so I guess this one hasn’t travelled very far. Perhaps there are local variances.

But I digress slightly. The point I wanted to make about the rhymes was how sweet and lovely they seemed when they were being done to my little sister or, God help me, to me. But now, when I look at them through the lens of the aforesaid fifty-seven-year-old man, I can’t help but feel that some of them were a tiny bit strange.

Things that absolutely seemed fine then, well, as the young folk say, they tend to hit a little different now. Back in the day, if I were a bold boy, and this was not unheard of, my loving Mum would sometimes call me an ‘Antichrist’. That doesn’t seem to play too well when I type it now, but it was fine at the time. It felt gentle. Go figure.

But those rhymes…

Clap hands, Clap hands

For Daddy to Come

With Sweets in His Pocket

For Baby Alone…

…and none for Dirty Kenneth.

I know, I know. It sounds like there should be an investigation or something, but I promise you it was all as gentle and loving as can be. It just doesn’t type up all that well.

It’s this last one, though. Now that’s it’s popped unbidden back into my head, on the back of all those Figearys and Feechy Faws, I just can’t seem to shake it off. It never troubled me back in the day but, man, it’s freakin’ me out a bit now.

Here goes…

Kenneth Armstrong

He’s No Good

Chop Him Up for Firewood.

If He Doesn’t Do for That

Give Him to the Pussy Cat.

I tend to recite this in my head as a staccato declamation. A little like something the good village folk would chant to you while they held hands in a ring as you gently broiled inside The Wicker Man.

I can take the ‘chopping me up for firewood’ part. That doesn’t seem to faze me. It’s that other part. Yes, that.

In our back garden, we have some transient cats who often bide a while. One is all sweetness and light, a little paw raised to the window as if to say, ‘might I possibly come in for a little while, partake of a little milk perhaps?’ But there’s this other one one who hangs out under the trampoline and he’s quite a different proposition. He looks at me, safe behind my bedroom window, and his glare seems to say, “If you were a bird, mate, I’d get you under my paw and you’d just see what I’d do to you.”

As my mind repeats my childhood nursery rhyme, it’s not the chopping up that haunts my dreams. No. Here I am, fifty-seven years old, wondering why on earth my dear departed Mother would give me to the Pussy Cat.

And, if she did, what on earth would the Pussy Cat do with me?