You often hear dog lovers, in defending their perverse choice of household pet, assert that the cat is a cold selfish creature which has no feelings for you and will quite probably shit in your slippers if you feed it the wrong flavour of Whiskas.
I put it to these people: when was the last time Fido brought you a present? When was he ever thoughtful enough to go to all the trouble of presenting you with a specially selected and personally regurgitated vole head, placing it conveniently just where you put your bare foot when you get out of bed? Never, I suggest.
Admittedly, Fido can be trained to do tricks and be obedient, a trait often cited by doggy types as evidence of a higher intelligence absent in the average feline. Personally I suspect it just makes Fido a crawly bum-lick. If I tried to convince the cats to perform to order, they would just look at me as if I’d completely lost the plot. On persisting, I’d probably have to start being careful about putting my slippers on in the morning.
But left to their own devices, cats will more than repay your kindness, excessive expenditure on pricey vet-supplied food and willingness to sit on the floor because they’re hogging the futons, by plying you with choice little delicacies. Who could resist vole gall bladder garnished with bits of grass? A nice family game of Guess The Bird Using Only Its Beak And Left Leg? A friend’s cat once came home dragging an adder by the tail, which provided a whole afternoon’s fun for all the household.
Our lovely moggies have presented us with everything from recycled shrews through assembled rodentry to bats, moths and a swift. The shrews were an early foray into gift-giving, characteristic of kittens – apparently they give up on that one in short order when they find out that shrews taste of ant. This leads me to wonder which zoology PhD student staged a rodent-tasting, what else he sampled, and whether or not he’s out of hospital yet.
Moving on from shrews, other early prezzies included a series of live voles, usually offered in the small hours of the morning. Voles, I have to tell you, make an impressively loud noise when they’re being chased around the bedroom by an oversized kitten. And no-one tells you, when you’re there all starry-eyed on your wedding day, that at some point you may have to see your smart new husband stark naked with his bum in the air and his head under a chest of drawers, trying to persuade a vole into a pint glass at three in the morning. If your marriage can survive that particular view, it’s probably going to last.
As your feline companions get older and more skilled at the hunt, you can expect increasingly exotic gifts. The enormous (and quite seriously pissed off) hawkmoth was a memorable moment, and was probably bigger than the bat which eventually had to be put down following an unseccessful attempt on the part of the vet to splint its broken wing with a cotton bud. The bat was a tough and feisty creature which refused to go the usual way of small critters rescued from other people’s jaws and put in cardboard boxes overnight. He wasn’t about to go quietly into whatever good night bats expect even when the vet put him in a box with a load of ether either. If there’s any justice out there he’s been reincarnated as one of those flinty-eyed city types who’ve just dismantled the world’s economy and trousered several billion and a yacht in the process.
I wasn’t there for the rat, which was presented to JC and a friend who was staying overnight, and necessitated the relocation of every piece of furniture in the house before before the two of them managed to corner it in the kitchen, where it turned round, stuck its dukes up and offered to fight. Despite this flagrantly ratsome behaviour, JC insisted that it was just a big mouse – something to do with the fact that it had some hairs on its tail, or other such tosh. They brought a dead one in a week later, and I’ve rarely seen anything so out-and-out ratty.
But the high point was probably the swift, a bird whose feet are to all intents and purposes vestigial and which never lands on the ground. I have no idea how they managed that one – levitation? Time travel? But I can now reveal that swifts are capable of producing an ear-splitting scream, have the strength of ten men and are not keen on coming out from under the furniture if they think there might be a cat in the room.
Now that both Eric and Little Fatty are settling into feline middle age, they seem to consider that their relationship with us is such that it no longer needs the fripperies of early romance. We are reduced to bringing them their metaphorical slippers and being clawed if we have the temerity to turf them off a lap in order to make the tea.
Thank God for that, I say.