Yes….this is usually what greets my eyes when I wake up. The unblinking stare. With the implied pressure to leave my bed. Now. This snooze button doesn’t work. I may try rolling over – just five more minutes – only to receive a stern tap on my cheek. No claws. Yet. Resistance is futile.
Introducing Max, my – er – mewse. He is the one who validates all that talking out loud when home alone – clearly, I’m talking to him. Glossy and sleek, with probably the longest tail, Max was adopted from the rescue centre three years ago. I’ve always had cats in my life. There’s something very appealing in their ability to live life on their own terms, whilst gracefully bestowing favour on their chosen Subject (me) if they so wish.
I find I’m something of a cat magnet. Wherever I wander, I generally encounter a cat, which immediately strikes up conversation and winds itself around my legs. This gives Max a kind of bulletin board to examine when I get home. Some cats slip into pose mode (yes, you may take my picture), like this beautiful Neapolitan cat at my holiday villa this year. In fact there were several more house cats, often to be found curled up in plant pots or basking on the terrace. My kind of place.
In the current climate of Mindfulness and Wellbeing, it should be noted how much of a contribution a cat can make in benefiting its human. Max is as good as any app aimed at lowering stress. I don’t need the dreamy voice admonishing me when my mind wanders – I get the Warning Paw Tap. Occasionally with one claw thoughtfully extended. This cat and human Zen-like state can sometimes descend into sleep. Which Max is fine with – cats can sleep an average of 18 hours per day – but could make me late for rehearsal.
Max also seems fine with my writing activity. We admittedly have the odd disagreement over who gets to keep the pen, but he generally sleeps or watches benignly from the window. He tends to passively object if I get into the groove around when he feels dinner should be served. I feel the stare from across the room. The stare arrives with its owner on the arm of my chair. With no response from me, he issues an absurdly dramatic series of heavy sighs. The end of the pen gets smacked. And Max ends up right in the middle of my page. He wins.
Sometimes we share interests. Cheese, Ferrero Rocher (the papers make the best toys to chase – I get the chocolate) – and David Attenborough. The Blue Planet has him transfixed and unblinking from the sofa. He’s also keen on news programmes. Who knows what goes on in a cat’s mind? My friends tease me over my assumptions about his thought processes, but whether from learned patterns or instinct, I get the impression that not much gets past him. He’s definitely in tune with my mood. When I’m sad or ill, he’s there, switching to turbo purr and keeping close. He has a Silly Hour. This is when he takes delight in ambushing me around corners, stalking me whilst my attention is elsewhere or running off with yet another pen. Sometimes I join in the game until he stalks off, triumphant, and I get the giggles.
I lie on the floor to do some exercises for my back. I’m trying to hold some position my body was not designed for AND remembering to breathe when I catch sight of the face peering down from the sofa. “What,” it clearly says, “are you attempting to do down there?” He rubs salt into the wound by nonchalantly throwing a leg behind his head for some serious washing. Which he does a lot. He keeps his tuxedo-and-bowtie coat in immaculate order. He would fit in nicely at an orchestra concert….
Max has a strange habit of growling – yes, growling- if either my doorbell or phone rings. He tends to be sceptical of strangers. And yet his assessment of my guests tends to be uncannily accurate. People with a special place in my life are awarded his highest accolade – he smells their feet. In detail.
We are cosy together – Max is an expert in “hygge”. After a challenging day applying my brain cells to hundreds of notes on the music stand, the warm and furry welcome from Max is therapeutic. Greetings completed, I am hustled over to the waiting food dish which, according to cat logic, is empty because a small gap has appeared between the biscuits. But after only a few mouthfuls, his curiosity gets the better of him. He has shopping bags to inspect. He’s the perfect model for any cat creeping into my stories. And there’s plenty to observe.
I don’t mind that each year I have to devise an alternative to a Christmas tree. A conventional type in my open plan flat would not survive Max’s enthusiasm. Twinkling lights hanging from the ceiling satisfy my needs. Max and I can admire them from the sofa. Whilst we settle down to some more David Attenborough.