How to Live a Happy Life: Advice for Cats

Rule ONE. VERY IMPORTANT. Do not allow other cats to bite you in the bum.

Either learn to fight, or learn to run. Because humans are uptight beings, and if they find a sizeable hole in your hindquarters that did not appear in the original design, you will be shoveled into the Box of Illimitable Dread and this will happen:

Actual bum not shown out of deference to the sensibilities of our readers.

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Embarrassing Baby Photos

To mark the occasion of both our cats passing into the Senior Cat bracket – at its widest stretch, anyway; they are 7 and 8 this month – I thought I would endeavour to embarrass them both by posting their baby photos online.

(Now don’t you wish you had refrained from excessive shedding all over the house, carefully-timed medical emergencies on public holidays, peeing in forbidden locations, and bringing mangled birds inside late at night? Not to mention stashing dead mice in places either unpleasantly hard to find or dreadfully easy. Let this be a lesson to you: behave with greater decorum in your autumn years.)

We begin with Raskol, also known as the Cat, or the Primary Cat (as opposed to our other cat, also known as the Kitten, or the Secondary or Auxiliary Cat).

Here she is at about ten weeks old, unaware of the camera and therefore relatively unblurred – unlike all her other early pictures. These were taken a few days after she arrived in the household, as the first day she spent mostly hiding behind the fridge and doing seagull impressions.

She swiftly settled in, though, and was soon extending her empire across neighbouring properties, like some sort of undersized Catherine the Great in fur. There’s no such thing as a bloodless victory, however, and one morning I awoke to find her purring smugly while bleeding on my duvet from a slashed ear. There went the funds for A Certain Operation, which was, therefore, postponed.

It was not long before she took to sunning herself on the back porch while flirting outrageously with visiting toms. She would sit there with the come-hither glinting in her eye, and when the visitor would accordingly come hither, she’d smack him right between the eyes. This was repeated until she got bored, at which point she would go and sit just inside the cat flap, where he could see her but not reach her.

However…  as Horace so aptly observed, you can drive Nature out with a pitchfork (or a smart bop between the eyes), but she will return.

Raskol kept us on tenterhooks for as long as possible, but one morning my father quietly woke me to announce she was finally having her kittens. Being a novice in the kitten-having department, she chose to park herself under the lowest chair in the house. Presumably for privacy, although in fact the business end of the, er, business was still sticking out into the room.

Having discerned three bulges on the bulging sides of the mother-to-be, we were not surprised when three kittens were born. We were, however, quite surprised at the arrival of #4.

Of course, kittens look like nothing on earth when they are fresh, and in any case we didn’t want to disturb the new mother (apart from trying to persuade her to relocate somewhere more sensible and less draughty), so there are no pictures of the slimy little gobbets of kittenhood to inflict upon you.

Here they are some time later, although I admit a cursory head-count suggests the presence of only three kittens. A look through my archives suggests that the kitten who took most strongly after Raskol herself was so frequently occluded by her mother that were it not for the pictures of the kittens without their mother, I would begin to doubt my memory and think she didn’t exist.

In fact, there are parts of my mind which are even now considering the possibility that Raskol and the tortoiseshell-and-white kitten were actually one cat pulling some sort of interdimensional hoax.

Because there are plenty of pictures showing that kitten without her mother. After we persuaded Raskol to keep her little family in my wardrobe, she was happy for me (or anyone, really) to keep an eye on them while she went out in between feeds to – presumably – maintain her vast empire.

Not that the kittens always took this lying down, however. When they were a mere few days old, and not yet seeing or walking, one kitten not only struggled out of the wardrobe (shaking off the drop to the floor which was most of his length) but crawled a couple of feet along the floor, yowling for his mother to come back.

She didn’t, so I picked him up and popped him back with his siblings in order to keep him warm. A strong kitten, thought I to myself. Bold, intrepid. Could this be the one to grow up big and strong and relieve his mother of territorial protection duties? I thought so, and I named him Boromir, after the bold and fearless (if somewhat impulsive and headstrong) captain of Gondor.

But I was deceived. This Boromir is no battler. The only cat he’s prepared to fight with is his mother. He even had a couple or three visits to the vet and time in a cone, because when confronted by another cat, he just lay down and let the other cat bite him.

But how could I resist a face like that?

And I will say this for him: he’s a good cat to have around in winter. He likes to spend the day sleeping on someone’s lap, and the night sleeping on their bed (although he prefers a position which will result in unavoidable contortion in the neighbouring human).

He’s definitely a people cat, and Raskol – particularly after having kittens – is more of a Cat Who Walks By Herself. She’ll sit on your lap, but once she feels her duty in that direction has been discharged, she’ll move somewhere else. Unless it’s cold. And then she loves you.

Drawing the Dream into Life

If I lived in Middle Earth, I wouldn’t be an Elf (insufficiently ethereal) or an Ent (too hasty) or even a Dwarf (I don’t like beer). I’m not wise enough to be a wizard, or big enough to be an oliphaunt.

I’d like to think I’d be a bard in the hall of some minor HorseLord (or HorseLady) of Rohan, kept to work up the deeds of my employer into suitably heroic (and alliterative) verse to be chanted over a goblet of wine after dinner.

Inside Viking House in Rosala Viking Center in Finland

I’m thinking of practising my compositional skills on the saga of Boromir’s heroic resistance to swallowing a pill. (That’s Boromir my cat, not Boromir, son of Denethor. As far as I know, Boromir of Gondor could take his medicine with the best of ’em.) I could even try my skills at flyting.

But it seems more likely that I would have been a Hobbit: a short, round homebody.

The world of Middle-Earth is one of those fictional creations which exerts a fascination over its fans so strong that they want somehow to become part of it. Of course, the best way to become part of a story you love – or more accurately, to make it part of you – is less by buying the merchandise (how many One Rings can there be?) and more by incorporating the values and culture of the story into your own life. Living the story, in other words.

Map of the Middle Earth #2

I recently read a book by the intriguingly named Noble Smith, titled The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life. (NB: if your surname is Smith, it behoves you to give your child an interesting forename. Mr Smith’s parents have clearly done their duty by him.) He draws out the threads of hobbitness from the tapestry of the novels which include them, and suggests how we might weave these threads into our own lives. “The Shire can become as real as we make it in our own lives and communities and countries.”

He speaks of the value of a good night’s sleep, suggesting that going to bed is a more sensible (and hobbity) thing to do than posting “I’m tired” on Facebook. He suggests eating locally grown food – what could be more hobbity than fresh garden produce? – and even provides a plan for growing a hobbity vegetable patch of your own. He promotes the hobbit pastime of walking, the importance of sustainability, and the value of quality craftsmanship (there’s no plastic dreck in a hobbit hole).

Bag End, Frodo and Bilbao Baggin's Home, Hobbiton

Parties are heartily encouraged, along with singing and the company of good friends – those with whom you can spend time “just hobbitting about.” Loyalty to friends is praised, as is the mending of quarrels, and the everyday devotion of what he calls “heroic monogamy.”

Reality, he notes, is superior to virtual reality. Anyone who has ever received a virtual gift knows this. Consider giving out mathom at your next party – your clutter can be another person’s gift. Greed is not good – don’t be a Sackville-Baggins.

When it comes to dealings with the Big Folk, Smith stresses the need to be true to yourself, not changing – or pretending to change – to suit the company in which you find yourself. Hobbits are never anything but themselves (even if they have been known to travel under an assumed name.)

Stamp Carousel / Stempelkarussell

Noble Smith writes strongly against the erosion of people’s rights (such as privacy) by the powers that be, adamant that such a state of things can only continue as long as people allow it – which would be a most un-hobbity submission. Bureaucracy is to be tolerated only so long as it serves the people – not vice versa. “Baffling rules made by flawed men sometimes need to be torn down and replaced with the standards of common sense.” There are few beings more commonsensical than a hobbit with his feet on the ground.

But perhaps you do not yearn for the rustic simplicity of a hobbit life. What world do you dream of – and how will you draw it into your waking life?