By Ian Hornett (Author of The Quarton trilogy and Maggie Matheson; Back In Service and part time teacher)
Regular Black Cat Treasure Hunts participants may know that the company got its name by the fact that a black cat followed me around when I was putting together one of my first hunts in Alfriston. It was definitely a relief to come up with a good name after several weeks of failure. Over the last year and a half our pets have played an extremely important part in helping the mental health of their owners. As a result it seemed the right time to contact a friend of Black Cat, previous blog writer for us, author Ian Hornett. As a cat sitter and cat owner he is well placed to give an extremely amusing and insightful account of his experiences with our feline friends.
"It’s been great following the Black Cat as he gets out and about in the lovely Sussex countryside and beyond, planning some wonderful trails and hunts. Most of us are keen to get out, see new places and experience what the Great Outdoors has to offer. Treasure hunting seems an ideal, fun way to do that. I’m delighted to be invited back to write another blog.
By coincidence, I spent part of last week looking after a black cat which also likes to get and out about a lot. Her name is Mimi. Her owner was going away for a few days, and she needed someone to sit on both cat and house. A solid, muscular feline, Mimi is a real country cat which comes and goes as she pleases, spending much of her life on her own treasure hunt in the nearby fields chasing juicy mice. She pops back every now and again for meals provided by her owner, meals which she is quite fussy about eating. I find this fussiness surprising, bearing in mind she is perfectly happy to munch away on bits of rodent.
There’s not much logic to her fussiness. One day, she’ll finish a bowlful of Treaty Treat Treats Cat Food – made from line caught haddock, smoked for 30 years in ancient smokehouses built halfway up Mount Everest by the Incas in the 17th century – then behave as if she wants you to put out another bowlful of the Treaty Treat Treats next time, which she’ll turn her nose up at. She’ll make you open up several sachets from the new range of the Mixed Variety Box (developed by Celebrity Chef, Tomcat Kerridge), refuse those and meow loudly until you put back out a fresh packet of the Treaty Treat Treats, having thrown the last one away.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this, of course. She’s a cat; a gorgeous affectionate one at that. That’s what you get from cats, fickleness, and I love them for it. We had one of our own for nearly 20 years. She belonged to our neighbours who called her Smudge because of her black and white markings. We renamed her Eliza, after Eliza Doolittle (because she lies around and does little). I coaxed her round to live at our place with permission from our neighbours who had decided it was too much to have a cat and a baby. (At least, I think it was the cat they wanted us to have. Perhaps they meant the baby). She was a small cute cat, quite happy (tolerant) with our own kids later, but her diminutive size meant she was often picked on by other cats. Eliza was different from Mimi – no mouser, that’s for sure.
The neighbours at our next house had 5 cats – I could have coaxed one of theirs round and they wouldn’t even have noticed – so Eliza was up against it on a daily basis. She stood her ground, though, defending her territory to the hilt – 2 square foot of windowsill, from which she used to mew incessantly until we let her into the safety of the house. Actually, one of the 5 cats used to look out for her, a cat with very similar markings to Eliza, which, for obvious physical reasons, was called Big Boy. One morning, our friend, who had come to stay, was woken up by Eliza sleeping at the end of her bed. She knew we didn’t allow Eliza upstairs so, rather sleepily, she trudged downstairs with cat under her arm... and opened the lounge door to find Eliza curled up on the sofa staring up at her. It was an easy mistake to make, except that carrying Big Boy was akin to lumping a sack of coal around.
Eliza wasn’t my first cat. When I was a teenager, a fluffy ginger kitten turned up outside our house one freezing cold evening. It was too late to go around knocking on doors to find out who he belonged to, so, after some pleading from us kids, we persuaded Mum and Dad to let him in.
‘Just for tonight and no further than the kitchen,’ said our dad. After a day of door knocking with no success and another cold night in prospect, there were more pleas. ‘He can have the kitchen and dining room, but he’s definitely not allowed in the lounge.’
By the following day, it was looking unlikely we would ever find his owner (Yay!), so we acquired a cat (there’s a pattern in cat acquisition here on my part, if you look closely enough) which, naturally, soon had the run of the lounge too (but not upstairs). He was called Friday (the cat, not my dad, although they were both Toms) because he came to us on a Friday. And he looked like a Friday – obviously.
Years later, Friday was run over. He lost an eye, had a broken leg and a broken jaw, but the vet reckoned he would live with a bit of patching up, accompanied by lots of TLC. He did. For another couple of years, Mum and Dad (I’d left home by this stage to pursue my career in catnapping) lived with one very wonky ginger cat. He had a good life, handfed by Dad who had to move his jaws up and down every day to help him eat. He still wasn’t allowed upstairs though (again, I mean the cat – Dad was allowed upstairs, most of the time).
There’s a postscript to this. After Friday died, Mum and Dad got talking to a guy who lived across the road. Somehow, they got onto the subject of cats. This guy mentioned he used to have a cat, fitting Friday’s description (he was distinctive, even before the accident – a huge ball of ginger fur) that used to regularly sleep and eat in his house. He thought it was his cat! Unbelievable – the cheek of thinking he could just acquire a cat!
I think I’ve been lucky with the cats I’ve known. I like the fact that cats are independent, selfish, aloof, but they must give something back. The ones I’ve known well all have. I’ve come across the odd cat that shuns all human contact. When they’re not spitting or clawing their way through life, they’re leaving deposits of bird and mammal parts around the house or, even worse, deposits of regurgitated animal parts on beds and chairs. If a cat isn’t that affectionate, it should at least be entertaining, otherwise, what is the point?
And they can be oh so entertaining.
Here are a few examples:
Once you realise getting rid of a fur ball isn’t going to kill them, it’s quite good fun seeing them cough uncontrollably for several minutes. I never used to worry about taking our cats to the vets because it was worth the huge bill for the couple of hours afterwards watching these beautifully balanced and graceful animals stagger around and fall over on their noses as they came round from the anaesthetic. My friend used to tickle his cat’s tummy so that its claws came out, and then stick it to the dartboard (not for long, and he didn’t throw darts at it – that would be cruel). Letting a cat settle for what it thinks is going to be a nice long nap on a comfy lap, and then deliberately getting up to put the kettle on, even though you don’t want a cuppa, is always worth it for the feeling of one-upmanship that you gain. (Granted, it’s often short-lived, as the cat turns away from you with an expression that says ‘I was going to get off your lap, anyway’.) Teasing a cat using your fingers to pop out from underneath a newspaper or a cushion is always amusing. You chuckle wryly as you quickly withdraw them and it pounces into the void. (Less amusing when you are scratched because you’ve lost interest, but forget the cat is still playing).
So, all in all, cats are well worth their place on this world, I feel. Black cats, especially. They are sleek, mysterious, quite quirky, sometimes get lost (but always find their way back), entertaining, great hunters, and are real treasures.
Just like Black Cat Treasure Hunts, in fact."
Ian Hornett has just completed a popular and intriguing sci fi trilogy. This year he will be releasing his first comedy, Maggie Matheson: Back In Service. This is about a retired, 81 year old spy pressed back into the secret service. This is going to be a must read book to put a smile on your face later in the year. In the meantime check out his website and blogs that give you a flavour of his humorous style.