Street Cat

By Julia Langdon

The trouble with most cats is that they are greedy, indolent and utterly egotistical. They demand impatiently to be fed, according to a strict timetable of their own devising, just in order to go and lie down somewhere in cushioned comfort, preferably in the sun. After some languid attention to grooming, the rest of the day can then be spent in a leisurely fashion rather like one of those wealthy and glamorous late middle-aged women in the novels of Evelyn Waugh: lounging around looking glamorous and just waiting for a bit of attention.

The trouble with my cat, however, is that she thinks she is a dog.

She is quite capable of all of the above – and is particularly interested in her diet and, of course, about meals being served on time – but an innate sense of her own superiority has given her an understanding of additional responsibilities. Like the other dogs in the house, she recognises other needs. She has to keep tabs on me, she has a particular interest in the front door and she quite often likes to join the rest of us in a walk. But only if she is in the mood, you understand.

So she accompanies us, the dogs and me, on our constitutional. We stroll around the streets as a disjointed foursome. The dogs occupy themselves in a traditional manner, sniffing out the messages, checking out the lampposts – oh and looking out for other cats – and Roxy does her own thing. Sometimes she just trots along behind. If she sees a dog coming, she may take a diversion under a parked car or into a garden to avoid unnecessary attention. Occasionally she will dash ahead and race up a tree, just to show she can. If there are people around and an adjacent wall, she will jump up and pose and wait to be stroked and pretend she is nothing to do with us at all but just there for the admiration.

Sometimes she will find something of interest and disappear. This is particularly annoying because if the rest of us can’t be bothered to hang around and carry on with our walk, she will stick in the vicinity of where she last saw us – meaning that I have to go back and find her. I have often discovered, several hours after returning home, that Roxy is nowhere to be found and I have to re-trace the steps of the earlier walk, whistling for her like the dog she isn’t. She will appear, insouciant as ever, articulating with a noise which says: “There you are! I’ve been waiting here for hours!” When this happens in the dark, as it does, she signals her presence with her bell as well as the “Yes! I’m here!”

She will cross the road which I do not encourage. If I know she is with us (and I don’t always) we will go on long circular walks to try to avoid traffic. She will not accept help to cross a road and prefers to retreat and watch from a distance while I make a spectacle of myself holding up the traffic, apparently needlessly, while she stubbornly sits exactly where she was and I look like an idiot. When I give up, she darts across and yet another driver thinks: “Oooh… lucky black cat!” She does not, however, use the Grove Park level crossing. This is one smart cat. She will wait there patiently on the “home” side of the gates until the rest of us return.

When it was a regular feature of our lives – as it may, perhaps, be again – she used to come to the pub. She will come to the Bell and Crown, a mile there and back from home, if she feels so inclined. She has sat in a window of the Bull’s Head during a particularly high tide and eye-balled a swan through the glass. She has been to the Station House a few times and got thrown out of the City Barge once.

It was a dark and stormy night and this was before the most recent renovation. The other dogs and I were inside with a pal when the old door at towpath level blew open with a strong gust of wind. The cat strolled in, looking indignant. Did we not realise how unpleasant it was outside? An inexperienced barman cleared his throat and said he wasn’t sure if cats were allowed. He thought he’d better ask the manager. He disappeared to ascertain the Rules on Cats and returned to announce that she could stay, but only if she sat on my lap. “She is not,” I said, “that sort of cat.” Out she went.

On the nights when (Before Corona) I used to visit friends’ houses in the neighbourhood, she came too. She will sit on the windowsill, lurk in the front garden or sometimes even sit on the doorstep if she knows I am inside. She likes going into other people’s houses and having a recce. This is additionally pleasurable in the case of my one friend, the ailurophobe (“a person with an extreme or irrational fear of cats”) where she has made it upstairs to the second floor. She likes St Paul’s Vicarage because it’s old enough and big enough to have what cats might call “potential” and when she went into the church on one occasion she caught a mouse within minutes. The vicar had to retrieve it and throw it in the undergrowth which nobody was happy about.

Roxy is 13 years old and the mother of 14, most of whom still live in the neighbourhood. There is a cluster up near the High Road and two in Bollo Lane and one in Brentford and the ones that went feral in Surrey and Boris (formerly known as Fatcat) in Chiddingfold. So many kittens was a bit of a mistake (on my part). Two litters back to back, so to speak, with that black and white tom who used to hang around on the roof of the shed. She occasionally checks out her local offspring, but to be honest she is not really interested. They are just cats to her. And anyway none of them, like her, is a West Highland terrier.

Julia Langdon has been a political journalist since 1971 and became a lobby correspondent in 1974. Leaving The Guardian in 1984, she was appointed political editor of the Daily Mirror, the first woman to hold the position on a national newspaper in the UK. She’s been a freelance writer since 1992.

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