A week before lockdown happened, I bought myself a kitten- a tabby kitten to be precise. Not on a whim, mind- I had wanted to get one for ages- although I was aware that I was (inadvertently) part of a Pet Rush movement that had decided lockdown was the perfect opportunity to raise a kitten (or a puppy), thus prompting the price of our furry friends to rise exponentially over the coming weeks and months.
“She’s very playful”, the cat seller warned me as she handed me the fluffy six-week old little gargoyle in exchange for my two £50 bank notes. I decided I would call her Gigi- just because.
I won’t give a long winsome description here of cute cat anecdotes because, truth be told, we all know cats are cute, judging by the popularity of cat videos on social media.
In the early days of confinement, when I wasn’t busy planting things or making bread, like any respectable cat owner, I spent much time observing and googling cat behaviour and came to the conclusion that cats are a lot more straightforward creatures than most people think.
For a start, they don’t consider themselves superior or inferior to anyone or anything. Cats don’t know the difference between their own race and the human race. They think everyone else is a cat. They are the communists of domestic animals. Which is why for example, once let out into the wild, cats will leave you treats at your doorstep, in the form of decapitated rodents because they want to teach you a thing or two about hunting . ‘This is how it’s done, see. You can do it too ’ is what they’re saying to you.
Though cats may see us as their equals, humans have always had a rather ambiguous relationship with these furry felines. Throughout history they have either been elevated to god-like status, demonised by Christianity or downgraded by fascist ideologies.
The Nazis for example, were no big fan of cats. They applied the same ideological concepts to animals as they did to human beings. Cats, in their opinion, were inferior to the rest of the animals in the infinite animal kingdom because they came from the ‘desert’ regions. In short, they did not belong to the Aryan animal race, unlike for example, the shepherd dog (Hitler’s favourite animal). I also like to think that their air of other-worldliness and je-m’en-foutisme-not concomitant with Nazi ideology - filled Nazis with some mild form of terror.
The ancient Egyptians on the other hand worshipped cats and were the first to domesticate them over 4’000 years ago. They mummified them and built statues in their honour such as Bassett, the Egyptian goddess of love who was depicted with a cats’ head. Back then, cats had a respectable function. They killed venomous snakes and ensured that spaces inhabited by humans remained rodent-free. They were considered magical creatures and good-luck omens to anyone who housed them.
As I write this, Gigi is busy playing with a shoe lace under my chair. Cats have this remarkable ability to animate the tiniest and most insignificant object and have fun with it for hours’ on end- even fluff from a tennis sock will do. I try to be philosophical about it and decide that she is in fact reminding me of the importance of playfulness during these trying lockdown times which require an ample reservoir of stoicism to get through. While my partner, who has just had a few crazy months working on a TV show, is looking forward to some down time and seeing no people for a while, I am panicking at the thought that our house will be our only horizon for god knows how long. It seems that time has taken on the surreal shape of a Dali clock. Yesterday, today and tomorrow have morphed into the holy trinity of a timeless reality in which every day is the same. But thankfully, watching Gigi grow and discover the world strangely punctuates this new reality with a certain sense of time. Seeing the world through the eyes of a kitten is refreshing.
Most of her days are spent smelling and observing every single corner/object/plant in the house or in the garden. Watching her explore her environment strangely brings me back to simpler times- the pre-Internet days when it was still OK to wear shoulder-pads and I would sit on a wall with friends, eating ice-cream while watching people go by. Observation and contemplation was what growing-up was about then.
And so in a spirit of true mindfulness, and much like Gigi, I try to not fret too much and pay more attention to my environment, be a little more in the moment- even if at times it feels like being trapped in a Victorian novel by Stephen King. One day I bought a geranium plant and surprised myself at how in awe of it I was as it blossomed into a beautiful deep red velvety plant (even if I had to rescue it from Gigi’s kitten jaws on several occasions). I marvelled at the super moon in April- it shone so brightly and lit up our garden like a torch. Come Spring time, the trees and smells from the flowers in the garden filled me with the same joy and excitement as the lead character in the opening scene of a musical comedy. Everything just looked and smelled so pretty.
The new Zen and mindful me was also better at anger management. I stayed more or less calm when Gigi chewed on my laptop cables and I had to order two new ones in the space of a week. I didn’t get angry when she broke an expensive vase after an ill-judged sprint onto a window-sill in the lounge, or when she repeatedly sharpened her claws on a piece of antique furniture, ruined a brand new velvet blanket, chewed on the envelope of my copyrighted script, left scratch marks on our bedroom door, and deleted a bunch of unsent emails, by walking across my keyboard to get to the tiny plant on my desk she would eventually kill with her kitten teeth.
Cats are great. Everyone should get one.