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Soup of This Day #90: Don’t Bother Asking For Explanations

October 29, 2011

Approaching Widgie
5 clicks to Widgiemooltha Roadhouse. There’s no warning on the sign about the eggs – Photo: Chopio Siu, 2006. Chopio Siu is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

I’m not a cat person.

It’s not that I don’t like them. It’s more that I’ve always felt like you’re 1 or the other, cat or dog, and I’m a dog guy. I have a 44kg Rottweiler/Shepherd cross called Tanka. We rescued him from a pound and I knew he was mine when I saw him. I’ve never chosen a cat.

In spite of this I’ve grown up with cats around me. My family was nominally a 1 dog unit – we briefly had a cat when I was very young, a mog called Sammy who somehow contrived to be friends with the dog. When he died he wasn’t replaced and it took a ginger stray 6 or so years later to tip us back towards living with a cat. The stray, who Mum called Tinkerbell and who the rest of the family called Ginger, on account of we all felt like idiots calling out for Tinkerbell from the back verandah where the neighbours could hear us, was only with us for a matter of months before succumbing to Wheels Disease on a road that regurlarly featured hardly any traffic. Ginger/Tinkerbell might have had only a brief presence but he blazed a trail, creating a feline beachhead in our household. Dad relented shortly thereafter and we acquired Suzy, a pitch black, pint sized, bully who ruled the block until she took on 1 to many snakes. Just a week or so later Liverpool won the 1992 FA Cup, defeating Sunderland 2-0. Sunderland are the Black Cats.

Then I moved to Perth and could barely manage to care for myself let alone a pet. I lived though a succession of flats and apartments and the closest I got to a pet was a tomato plant that I named Charlie The Wonderplant.

Ok, maybe it wasn’t a tomato plant.

And then I met my future wife. She was finishing up a degree in Zoology and with her came animals. I’d sleep over at her place and there would be a cat in the bed, often between us. Tabitha was a scrawny slip of a cat, completely comfortable with her place under the doona and ignorant to subtle hints to move her feline arse out of the road. When my partner completed a postgrad diploma in education and got her 1st posting in Carnarvon, 900km to the north, Tabby helped us through the immediate transition by killing a small bird and crunching on it under the bed as we spent our last night together. You can insert your own jokes about pussies and birds in the bedroom but seriously, that could well have been the not-so-perfect end to a beautiful friendship.

Fortunately it wasn’t, either for my future wife and I or for me and cats. While I stayed in Perth my beloved was alone in Carnarvon. Homesick and in a town whose slogan ‘where the desert meets the sea’ encapsulates it’s frontier nature, she acquired a cat. Falcon (He purred like a V8 and calling him ‘Commodore’ just didn’t fit) was a grey kitten and from the off he drove his owner a little batty. He contrived to hide in a small 3 bedroom bungalow that had no nooks and crannies and very little furniture. The future wife spent ages looking for him, almost convinced that she had imagined getting a cat. In the end she found him hidden in an armchair.

He was actually in the armchair. Not on it. In it. He was a special cat.

Das Falcon grew up to be a big, blustery, bully of a buffoon. He tried to bully everyone and everything and when most called his bluff he’d back down, confused that nature didn’t follow the natural order according to Falcon. 1 time a Racehorse goanna (Bungarra) got into the house. Like most goannas in a stressful situation (he had 2 dogs on his tail) this 1 headed for a tree. Only we didn’t have 1 in the house and so it ran up a 4 level cat tower to confront Falcon. Falcon took 1 look and bolted. Yeah it was a lizard but jeez, it was big and I reckon if Falcon could talk he’d say it was a dragon and he was St George, only with discretion.

When I moved up to Carnarvon 6 months later Falcon unwittingly became my cat too. And he wasn’t alone. The zoologist had gained a 2nd cat. Serendipity was so named because she was a stray kitten rescued from the school garden where my beloved taught. She was tiny, all gangly legs and a mottled assortment of patches and colours that can most accurately be called tortoiseshell – sort of. She also had no tail, instead making do with a slightly twisted stump that nonetheless could be twitched expressively to indicate displeasure.

It got twitched a lot. Often at me.

Dippy, the Dipster, the Dippinator, Dips, the Mogwai, was a street cat – She was tough and lean and wise in the ways of the world. She put up with Falcon’s bluster – barely and gave her owners scars if they dared to pick her up. The Dippinator did not cuddle and you did not smooch with her – At best you held out a hand and she’d deign to brush fleetingly against it.

Serendipity and Falcon made the most unlikely pair and they were a culture shock for me. In that postage stamp house with it’s postage stamp yard we lived with 2 cats, a galah, 2 large dogs, an axolotl named Coltrane and a series of tropical fish. The dogs were a natural fit for me – You could walk them and jog them. I loved running, spending time on rough river sand and dunes. Often the dogs were there too, sometimes running alongside me, sometimes swimming in the river while I ran. On occasions I’d play football with them, dribbling a ball around the backyard.

The cats though didn’t get sport.

We tried roping them for a walk, via these tiny little cat harnesses we got. Yeah, no. Once we got it on Falcon he just hunched down and fired off an angry look that suggested that this demeaned all of us. We didn’t even get close to Dippy to try it on her – She had razor sharp claws and I still bear scars from the times I unwisely picked her up. I think co-workers were concerned I was struggling mentally because I often had slashes on my wrists – All Dippy.

Still we persisted with attempts to train them. My future wife bought a series of concentric rings designed to teach cats how to use a human toilet. This worked ok for Falcon such that 1 night I found myself waiting outside the toilet door at 2:00am for the cat to finish up. I’d staggered into the toilet in a befuddled half-awake haze only to see a cat sitting there with a ‘can I get a little privacy’ expression on his face. I politely backed out, mumbling an apology and it took me 10 minutes of waiting before I woke up enough to realise that it was the bloody cat and I should just kick his sorry arse off my throne. Dippy didn’t get that far and wasn’t as diplomatic. She just pissed on the carpet outside the toilet.

Falcon did manage 1 connection to sport. He liked to play a game whereby he’d sit between his humans and they’d throw a toy mouse over and around him. He’d try to stop it and periodically you could tempt him into an acrobatic leap that would end with the mouse being swatted back at you. Falcon was a shot-stopper, the master of the arrogant in-your-face rejection that goal keepers and tenders love.

Cats though are not meant for sport. Which is strange as they feature as mascots a fair bit. My WAFL side of choice is the Claremont Tigers, the 2011 Premiers in the local league. Nationally, in AFL, the Geelong Cats have just won the 2011 Premiership, playing the kind of football that gets fans purring. The Detroit Tigers were close to a World Series slot this year and the perennial losers, the Detroit Lions have at least managed to not suck at 5-2 from their 1st 7. In the National Basketball League (Australia – not on strike) the local outfit is the Perth Wildcats – they have a league record 5 championships under their belt, winning as recently as 2010.

None of which is why I’m writing about cats.

When we moved back to Perth Falcon and Dippy came with us. Das Falcon lasted for 9 months in the big smoke before kidney disease took away our big grey goal-keeper. Dippy is still with us, sole feline inhabitant of our house and now domesticated, sans her edgy attitude, so long ago born in Carnarvon’s dust. She tolerated the arrival of me in Carnarvon and in 2008 she tolerated the arrival of The Noah. Something now though is not right for her. For the past few weeks she has lost weight and she is refusing to eat or drink much. Blood and urine tests have revealed nothing. Her kidneys are fine, as is her liver and there is no sign of an infection. Meanwhile she is wasting away and her owners are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

The song from which this post draws it’s title is Al Stewart’s Year of The Cat. Sometime in 1998 (Fittingly in the Year of the Tiger) I spent 3 months working as a fieldhand for a mining exploration company. I was posted out to a place called Widgiemooltha, a roadhouse south of Kambalda, set amongst low trees and sparse scrub around salt flats. The job was @#$% – We pulled wire through the bush and I returned to the roadhouse each night to drink away my pay so I could face the next day. Curiously they served eggs with every meal. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Teriyaki chicken – With eggs. Breakfast cereal – With eggs. Lasagna – With eggs. 1 time I ordered a packed lunch, a salad roll and I begged the cook, ‘please, no @#$%ing eggs’. I opened up my lunch sack in the field and pulled out a salad roll, cautiously opening it up to check. Yep, no egg. I put my hand back into the sack for an apple and instead came out with 2 hard-boiled eggs.

They must have had a lot of chickens.

Anyway I hated it there and I wanted out. Eventually I mustered enough sobriety to quit and while I saw out my 2 weeks notice I was a passenger in ute being driven back to the roadhouse 1 evening when I had 1 of those moments. We were fairly flying along this longer dusty track, heading towards an orange and purple sunset and the light was something else. There was no wind and no other cars and if I turned up the radio I could tune out the dumbass boss sitting next to me. The song that came on was The Year of The Cat and that guitar solo just fit fine.

That moment has stuck with me ever since – It comes back every time I play that song, taking me back to that dusty road. It’s a reminder for me of something that Martin Cruz Smith encapsulates in his 1992 novel Red Square. His hero, Arkady Renko is remembering his life in professional purgatory in Siberia:

‘He had never thought before of what a catalogue of experiences his exile had brought to him, how unique and beautiful they were, what clear evidence that on no day could a man be sure he should not open his eyes.’

I’m not a cat person but Serendipity has made it worthwhile opening my eyes to the idea.

Be ok Mogwai.

Don’t Bother Asking For Explanations

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