Saturday, 27 December 2008

It's a cat's life in Kehl and Stafford

Misty, our cat, is a fan of our life down here in Kehl, opposite Strasbourg. That’s not to say he dislikes his life in Stafford: on the contrary, both he and Janka our dog, seem to thrive on a place which at least has the advantage of never suffering from uncomfortably oppressive temperatures.

For Misty, the main advantage of Stafford is the delightful young lady only two doors away from us: slinky, sexy, doe-eyed. This is Molly, a tortoiseshell with whom he seems to have struck up a mutually enriching relationship. It has to be a platonic relationship since neither is in possession of the necessary organs to make it anything else, but they seem to derive a great deal of pleasure from it all the same.

Sadly, neither of them lives in a house with cat flaps. That means that we frequently see one of them sitting on the grass in front of the bay window, watching the other lying on the sill just the other side of the glass. Once they are both outside, they disappear in a flash of fur into the hedgerows to terrorise the local birds.

Now one of the great advantages of Kehl is that it provides Misty with all the cat flaps he needs. He can get out of the flat, onto the back steps, out into the garden or, if he so chooses, down into the cellar. Kehl gives him freedom of movement. No wonder he likes the place.

Getting here, on the other hand, is another matter. Fourteen hours in the car. That’s about 825 minutes too long for him. He generally lets us get into the journey before he starts expressing his dissatisfaction, sometimes until we’re actually clear of Stafford, but then for the next thirteen and three quarter hours he protests by stalking round the car – if allowed, under the driver’s feet – and mewing piteously. And loudly.

This time was no exception. So it was a real delight to see the way he immediately took off to make the most of the place once we’d got here, in particular, making extensive use of his cat flaps. He popped in quickly for some food, but then vanished outside again. He didn’t show up in the morning, or at lunchtime when we would normally expect him to be hungry, or indeed in the early evening. I found myself reduced to wondering around the neighbourhood calling ‘Misty – pss, pss, pss’, something I always feel makes me look like a complete buffoon. But it was all to no avail.

Finally, at nine o’clock, there was a single mew in the corridor outside the sitting room. There he was, but far from showing any delight at seeing me, he just gave me a look I could only describe as baleful. What was he unhappy about? In order to protect his food from Janka, we keep it in the shower room off our bedroom, with the door held open just wide enough for Misty, just too narrow for Janka. The bedroom door was only just ajar and Misty felt I should open it for him, even though it wouldn’t have been difficult for him to do it himself.

Once he’d eaten his fill he had a quick look-in on us in the sitting room. Not to be stroked or anything, just to acknowledge our presence. He then disappeared into the night again.

I began to wonder what he’d been doing.

In Kehl, Misty’s best friend is the black male upstairs, Pistache. They’re inseparable. In fact, if Janka is out of the flat, Misty invites Pistache in to share his food.

So I can imagine them hooking up when Misty first got here.

‘Hey, Pistachio-o-o-o,’ says Misty, ‘surprised to see me?’

Pistache looks up from the mouse hole he’s been keeping under murderous surveillance. The petrified mice inside are momentarily forgotten in the rush of pleasure at hearing his old friend’s voice again.

‘Miiisty, mate. Gimme some paw. How’s it going? When did you show up?’

‘Just an hour ago. Just time for a bite and then I thought I’d pop out and catch up.’

‘Good for you. We’re just getting started. We’ve got some mice down this hole and we’ve found some starlings that have perched on much too low a branch. We’re planning a concerted attack. You in?’

‘Am I in? Does a mouse roll over and die? Why do you think I put up with fourteen hours in that awful car? You bet I’m here to join in the fun with you guys.’

Pistache gives him a quizzical look.

‘But it’s not that bad where you go, is it?’

‘Hey, no, it’s fine. Nice neighbourhood. Boy, you should see Molly from two doors down.’

‘Molly? A broad?’

‘Tortoiseshell. About five. What she doesn’t know how to do to a bird pinned down under a paw just isn’t worth doing.’

‘Sounds good. You should take me with you some time. I’d like to meet her.’

‘Sure. But are you man enough for the fourteen-hour trip? That takes toughness.’

‘Man enough? Man enough? You got not more balls than I do. Our days of being man enough for anything are long gone. Best we’re ever going to do with a chick is hunt mice.’

They sigh. At that moment, Tara, the Siamese from three doors away comes up to the group.

‘Hey, Tara,’ says Pistache. ‘You should hear about Misty’s girlfriend Molly.’

‘Morry? She nice for you, is she Misty?’ Tara’s purring but there’s an edge to her voice that leaves Misty feeling uneasy. ‘You like your Morry better than Tara, Misty?’

‘Mouse,’ shouts Misty and as a single unit they spring in pursuit.

The reality may differ in minor matters of details, but I’m sure that in general terms that’s the way things are. And why Misty vanishes so long each time we come back here.

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