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Mr Pussy in Winter

December 21, 2010
by the gentle author

It is Midwinter’s Day, and tonight – the longest night of the year – Mr Pussy will not stir from the chimney corner. Warmed by the fire of burning pallets, he has no need of whisky to bring him solace through the dark hours, instead he frazzles his brain in a heat-induced trance. Outside in the streets, Spitalfields lies under snow, the paths are coated in sheet ice and icicles hang from the gutters, but this spectacle holds no interest for Mr Pussy. Like the cavemen of ancient times, his sole fascination is with the mesmerising dance of flames in the grate. And as the season descends towards its nadir in the plunging temperatures of the frozen byways, at home Mr Pussy falls into his own warm darkness of stupefaction.

Mr Pussy is getting old. The world is no longer new to him and his curiosity is ameliorated now by his love of sleeping. Once he was a brat in jet black, now he is a gentleman in a chenille velvet suit, and tufts of white hairs increasingly fleck his glossy pelt. Toward the end of Summer, I noticed he was getting skinny, and then I discovered that his teeth have gone which meant he could no longer crunch the hard biscuits that were always his delight. Extraordinarily, he made little protest at his starvation diet, even as he lost weight through lack of food. Now I fill his dish with biscuits and top it up with water, so that he may satisfy his hunger by supping the resulting slush. And through this simple accommodation – plus a supplement of raw meat – his weight is restored to normal and he purrs in gratification while eating again.

Once Mr Pussy was a wild rover, ranging over the fields in Devon, disappearing for days on end and returning proudly with a dead rabbit in his mouth. Now he does not step beyond the end of the alley in Spitalfields and in these sub-zero temperatures only goes outside to do his necessary business. Sprinting up the stairs, and calling impatiently outside the door of the living room, he is ever eager to return to the fireside and warm his cold toes afterwards, sore from scraping at the frost in the vain attempt to dig a hole in the frozen earth. Like a visionary poet, Mr Pussy has acquired a vivid internal life to insulate himself against the rigours of the world and, in the absence of sunlight, the fire provides his imaginative refuge, engendering a sublime reverie of peace and physical ease.

Yet Mr Pussy still loves to fight. If he hears cats screeching in the yard, he will race from the house to join the fray unless I can shut the door first and prevent him. And even when he has been injured and comes back leaking blood from huge wounds, he appears quite unconcerned. Only two small notches in his ears exist as permanent evidence of this violent tendency, although today I regularly check his brow for tell-tale scratches and recently he has acquired some deep bloody furrows that have caused swelling around his eyes. But I cannot stop him going out, even though it is a matter of concern to me that – as he ages and his reflexes lessen – he might get blinded in a fight one day, losing one of his soulful golden eyes. Since he is blissfully unaware of this possibility, I must take consolation from his response when he could not eat, revealing that Mr Pussy has no expectations of life and consequently no fear of loss. His nature is to make his best accommodation to any exigency with grace.

And be assured, Mr Pussy can still leap up onto the kitchen counter in a single bound. He can still bring in a live mouse from the garden when he pleases and delightedly crunch its skull between his jaws on the bedroom floor. If I work late into the night, he will still cry and tug on the bed sheets to waken me in the early morning to see the falling snow. When the fancy seizes him, he can be as a sprightly as a kitten. Come the Spring, he will be running up trees again, even if now – in the darkest depth of Winter – he only wants to sleep by the fire.

Alone here in the old house in Spitalfields tonight, Mr Pussy is my sole companion, the perfect accomplice for a writer. When I take to my bed to keep warm while writing my stories, he is always there as the silent assistant, curled into a ball upon the sheepskin coverlet. As the years have gone by and Mr Pussy strays less from the house, I have grown accustomed to his constant presence. He has taught me that, rather than fear for his well-being, I need to embrace all the circumstances and seasons that life sends, just as he does.

You can read more about Mr Pussy here:

Mr Pussy in Spitalfields

Mr Pussy takes the sun

Mr Pussy, natural born killer

Mr Pussy takes a nap

Mr Pussy’s viewing habits

The life of Mr Pussy

Mr Pussy thinks he is a dog

Mr Pussy in Summer

18 Responses leave one →
  1. Lucy permalink
    December 21, 2010

    Beautiful piece, could describe so many people’s experiences too. It is interesting to compare the state of activity, going out, engaging with the wider world, and then the state of withdrawal and how the mind compensates – I love the idea of the flames as an imaginative refuge.

    Such an intelligent cat, the perfect ‘silent assistant’ as you say. Merry Christmas to him!

  2. Ros permalink
    December 21, 2010

    This is just perfect (some would say purrfect). A very happy Christmas to you and to Mr Pussy.

  3. December 21, 2010

    This is lovely. I feel warmer just looking at the first photos. It made me think of The Tailor of Gloucester, a favourite Christmas story of mine.

  4. December 21, 2010

    Such beautiful writing. Bravo. Annette

  5. William permalink
    December 21, 2010

    Great to hear news of Mr. Pussy. He may be getting on in years but he looks fine – bright eyes and shiny coat. And of course, he is not stupid selecting the best fireside position instead of wandering the icicle clad streets of Spitalfields. I live with old, largely toothless, cats and they eat mostly soft food which is disgusting but they seem to love it. Someone observed once that a cat’s life is devoted to pleasure. Mr. Pussy would agree.

  6. Susan Lendroth permalink
    December 21, 2010

    Thank you for the perfect winter solstice reverie.

  7. December 22, 2010

    Little Tot likes to sit to the side of the laptop and peer round obstructing the screen with a paw if he considers himself to be ignored. He shall not be allowed to see this post lest his envy of Mr Pussy’s fire propels me into the streets for pallets which are in short supply in this quarter of London.

  8. jeannette permalink
    December 22, 2010

    lovely old man. thank you.

  9. December 22, 2010

    sheepskin coverlet ….
    I am SO jelous :)

  10. Carolyn permalink
    December 22, 2010

    I loved this piece, it resonates with my own elderly black cat Pepsi. We live on a narrowboat and he has taken up position on top of a cupboard next to the stove, which I’ve furnished with a cushion for him. Unlike Mr Puss he has all but given up on going out during the big freeze (for which I am grateful, as I’d hate to think of him falling into the frozen canal). He has only been a boat cat for a year and loves the life. Thank you for a wonderful blog, which I discovered courtesy of a recent visit to Dennis Severs House.

  11. December 22, 2010

    Happy Christmas Mr. Pussy. :)

  12. December 22, 2010

    Beautifully written piece that bought a tear to my eye. I too have a black cat that’s getting old, has lost a few teeth, yet can still leap around like a kitten when he likes. Thanks for your whole blog – certainly one of my finds of the year!

  13. Deven Werthman permalink
    March 21, 2011

    I have just discovered you today!! What a lovely writer you are and I love your cat, too. It will be my pleasure to check each day to find out you both are there. Thank you.

  14. Penny M permalink
    March 22, 2011

    Quite, quite beautiful. Thank you.

    Beads of perspiration slowly run down in to my eyes as I read your blog, as I live in Queensland, and it is still steaming hot here. Memories of feeling cold and snuggling up in bed are distant now.

  15. sarah davies permalink
    May 5, 2011

    I wonder what part of Devon Mr Pussy hails from… I had two black cats in Totnes, one of whom was father to several identical black kittens.
    I now have a long haired tabby cat/ part maine coon… whom I call Pussy Wu. she is 6 and was a stray and arrived via the bathroom window one Christmas morning 5 years ago.

  16. May 21, 2011

    My cat, Estorbo, drew my attention to Mr Pussy’s stories – how very beautifully written.

  17. April 8, 2013

    Cute! Mr. Pussy looks like a skinny version of my Midnight.

  18. Doug (Iowa) permalink
    January 7, 2014

    I was going through some OLD e-mails from when I lived in VA back in Jan 2011 and came across your Mr Pussy writings. I was curious how the old boy was doing. My very similarly looking Mr Malcom will be 17 years old in April. Hope all is well, enjoyed the stories!

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