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Mr Pussy is Ten

November 16, 2011
by the gentle author

A little over ten years ago, I woke one morning and decided to get a cat. It was just a few weeks after my father died and I had been lying awake trying to think of ways to console my mother. The funeral was over but we were still living without any sign of a new equilibrium. I decided a cat was the answer, so I set out to find one and take it with me on the train to Devon that night, as a gift for her. Yet I hit a blank at once, when I rang a pet shop and discovered that cats cannot be bought. I spoke to the RSPCA and cat charities, and they could not help me either. They told me they required an inspection of the prospective owner’s house before they could even consider offering me a cat.

As a child, I owned a beloved grey tabby that I acquired when I began primary school and which died when I left home to go to college. The creature’s existence spanned  an era in the life of our family and, at the time, my mother said that she would never replace it with another because its death caused her too much sadness. Yet I always wondered if this was, in fact, her reponse to my own departure, as her only child.

Now my father was dead, she was alone in a large house with a long garden ending in an orchard. It was an ideal home for a cat, and she had experience with cats, and I knew absolutely that at this moment of bereavement, she needed a cat to bring fresh life into her world. I called her and discussed it, hypothetically.  She told me she wanted a female.

I rang veterinary surgeries asking if they knew of anyone giving kittens away, without any luck. Working systematically, I rang every pet shop in the London directory, asking if they knew anyone wanting to dispose of kittens. Eventually, a pet shop offered to help me – as long as I could be discreet, they said. They had rescued a litter of kittens just a few weeks old, prematurely separated from their mother and abandoned on the street, and they needed to find homes for them urgently. Naturally, they could not sell me one because that would be illegal, but maybe – they said – I could give them something to cover the costs of taking care of the others?

So I went to the pet shop in question, in a quiet street around the back of Mile End tube station. (It does not exist anymore.) By now, it was mid-afternoon and the light was fading. I was planning to go to Paddington directly afterward and catch the train to Exeter. As I approached the shop, my heart was beating fast and I recognised my own emotionalism, channelling my sense of loss into this strange pursuit. I entered the shop and there on the right was a cage of kittens, all tangled up playing together. Instantly, one left the litter and walked over to the grille, studying me. This was the moment. This was the cat. A mutual decision had been made.

I asked the owner if I could have the black one that was now clawing at the mesh to hold my attention. The shopkeeper assured me the cat was female and, after a short negotiation, I gave the owner forty pounds. Becoming distressed when it was time for me to leave, “You will take care of it won’t you?” he implored me, tears dripping from his eyes. Startled by his outburst, I walked away quickly and got onto the tube just as the rush hour began. The tiny creature in the box screamed insistently, drawing the attention of the entire carriage. It screamed all the way to Devon and that night I lay in bed clutching the animal to my chest, as the only way I could find to lull it enough to sleep. My mother christened it “Rosemary” and the cat grew calm under her influence, as she sat by the fireside reading novels through the long Winter months.

Next Summer, I moved back to live with my mother in the house where I grew up – when it became clear she could no longer live alone – and I discovered the new cat had fallen into all the same paths and patterns of behaviour as my childhood tabby. But when we sent the cat to the vet for neutering, there was a surprise – they rang to inform us it was a tom cat, not a female as we had believed. The name “Rosemary” was abandoned, instead we called him “Mr Pussy” in recognition of this early gender confusion.

My mother died within five years and I had to keep him away from her room eventually, because the presence of a cat became too threatening to her in her paralysis. Mr Pussy skulked around in disappointment and revealed an independent spirit, running wild, chasing moorhens through the water meadows of the River Exe. But then one day, I picked Mr Pussy up and sat with him on my lap in the cabin of a removal truck as we made the return journey to London.

Until this experience, I had always been critical of those who were overly affectionate to pets, but these events taught me how an animal can become a receptacle of emotional memory. Mr Pussy’s age will always be the amount of time that has passed time since my father died and – nearly five years after my mother’s death – Mr Pussy still carries her placid nature. Today, Mr Pussy has returned to the East End after his youthful sojourn in the West of England. Now, Mr Pussy longer goes roving, instead he lies on the bed at my feet while I write late into the night. And Mr Pussy is there, sleeping close by as I compose these words.

Mr Pussy does not measure his life in minutes, hours, weeks and years. Mr Pussy does not count time as humans do. Mr Pussy does not think of mortality. It is of no consequence to Mr Pussy that he is ten years old. Mr Pussy requires no Metaphysics because Mr Pussy exists in his own feline eternity.

Mr Pussy in his first year, whilst still known as “Rosemary.”

My drawing of my childhood cat that died when I left home.

You may also like to read

Mr Pussy in Winter

The Caprice of Mr Pussy

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

30 Responses leave one →
  1. jeannette permalink
    November 16, 2011

    32

    I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d;
    I stand and look at them long and long.

    They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
    They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins; 685
    They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
    Not one is dissatisfied—not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
    Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
    Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.

    – Whitman
    http://www.bartleby.com/142/14.html

    many happy returns, most fortunate of cats.

  2. November 16, 2011

    I just loved this post. Mr. P. reminds me of my cat Eddie, who died–odd coincidence–ten years ago.

  3. paul permalink
    November 16, 2011

    Dear Mr Pussy,

    Never in all my born days did I think that I would get to like a cat, and bizarrely, get to like a cat via a blog on the internet. It’s not that I dislike cats, you understand, it’s just that cats have never been present in the world I inhabit, or if they have I’ve been oblivious .

    I have to say, though, it is a pleasure getting to know you, getting to know all about you, getting to like you and putting it my way, but nicely, you are precisely, my cup of tea.

    A bit of ‘the King and I’ slipped out there, your story is stirring up a few memories of my own.

    Bless you in your eternal feline existence.

  4. lesley Manousos permalink
    November 16, 2011

    I love your idea that our animal friends live in their own ever present moment and that that moment can be an eternity.

    Happy birthday to Mr Pussy. He shares his birthday with Pickle, my jack russell terrier who just turned 14 and who has kept me company through deaths, a relationship break-up, and a marriage. Our animals are often a constant in the ebb and flow of our lives.

  5. November 16, 2011

    Thank you, this is lovely! Mr. Pussy is lovely! Happy Birthday, Mr. Pussy. So sorry about your father and mother. I have four kitties of my own – one of whom came home with me from London (along with another who is sadly now dead).

    I had no idea you couldn’t buy cats in England. How odd. You can buy them all over the place here. And you can adopt one from any animal shelter – they euthanize many because there aren’t enough people to take them, tragically.

    When I was in London in 2005-2006 caring for my dying mother, my friend Laura volunteered for the RSPCA and helped find foster homes for cats. I cared for one temporarily. Then I took in two who urgently needed to be rescued as they were in a vet’s office and were going to be put to sleep. I was lonely. They grew on me. I didn’t think it would be practical to bring them home but discovered that it is extremely easy to bring a cat into the U.S. (unlike bringing any animal into the U.K.). Flying them was very expensive. But Jack and Nelson came home with me. I don’t think Jack remembers London. He’s a California cat now.

    Home is where the cats are.

  6. Jaki permalink
    November 16, 2011

    Many Happy Returns Mr Pussy :) XX

  7. Judy (from Israel) permalink
    November 16, 2011

    That is such a beautiful short story. How lucky Mr. Pussy is to have such a caring owner. I am from England, but have lived for over 40 years in Israel. Ever since I can remember I have adored felines.

    Here there are millions of stray cats that live from garbage cans. I have adopted 3 who all live indoors and I feed and care for all the strays in my neighbourhood. They are all very different from each other, but very beautiful and if you have patience with them, they will return the affection given to them. It is heartbreaking when some get sick or injured, but fortunately I have 2 considerate vets (married couple) who live at the end of my street, so when I need them they give me good discount for treatment.

    By the way, I had no idea that you can’t buy cats in England. Why is that?

    Thank you for your super stories!

  8. November 16, 2011

    My family had dogs in my childhood and all my adult life I have kept dogs. Since my twenties there have been four animals, the last of which, Jacket the terrier, is hail and hearty at eight. Every part of my life has been measured by the dog that has shared it with me. I’m not good at remembering dates, but I can always locate any event of my life by the dog (or dogs) that I had at the time: Holly, Riot, Jacket and his son Ludo, though alas Ludo died at six months.

    You write eloquently and with great warmth about Mr Pussy, clearly a cat of great character. I agree that animals can carry something of the character of their owners and the experiences of their formative years, which is what can make taking on a creature with a troubled background a challenge, though a rewarding one if there is patience, tolerance and kindness enough to ease the insecurities of a poor start. (I too once made a long railway journey… Hull to S. Wales… with an incontinent, too-young puppy whimpering and shivering inside my jacket. She became the most wonderful adult dog, calm, affectionate and a generous surrogate mother in old age.)

    Happy Birthday to Mr Pussy. In you he clearly found himself the right companion when he broke away from his siblings to inspect the cut of your jib!

  9. good-tree permalink
    November 16, 2011

    Thank you for this delightful story and for sharing some of your family memories. Many Happy Returns to Mr. Pussy!

  10. Ellie Broughton permalink
    November 16, 2011

    Wishing Mr Pussy many happy returns!

  11. November 16, 2011

    I just love reading your posts each day and since listing you on my blog I know that others really appreciate a sensible informative read.

    I love cats to bits and reading your Mr.Pussy posts is a pleasure.

    Thankyou

    Briony

  12. November 16, 2011

    Mr Pussy looks extremely content with his world. What a wonderful delicate drawing of your childhood cat. My childhood cat, Timmy, also spanned a certain time in my life and he waited until I came home for good from University, choosing then to say goodbye. I have two cats now, Abigail and Ginger, curious sister and placid brother, and greatly enjoy their company. I love your closing paragraph, how they exist in their own feline eternity. It’s beautiful.

  13. Miss Kent permalink
    November 16, 2011

    Happy Birthday Mr Pussy! TGA, yet another lovely, touching story. Thank you

  14. Sarah permalink
    November 16, 2011

    What a wonderful, touching story as ever, thank you Gentle Author, and happy birthday to Mr Pussy! I love the idea of animals as bearers of our memories and of our love for others. Perhaps we should learn from our pets and live a little more in the moment as Mr Pussy does. He certainly looks very sleek and contented on your floorboards.

  15. Ree permalink
    November 16, 2011

    Mr. Pussy looks like my cat Jackson…Cats are great…Funny,independent…just such characters…

  16. Candice permalink
    November 16, 2011

    Happy Birthday to Mr. Pussy. He looks like my two black kitties. They do have names, but we call them the Babies Brothers.

    Love your blog. There’s always something interesting to read about on it.

  17. Stephanie permalink
    November 16, 2011

    “I had always been critical of those who were overly affectionate to pets, but these events taught me how an animal can become a receptacle of emotional memory.”

    How true. Before my husband and I were married, when we were only engaged but living together, we bought a puppy. I never imagined I could love a tiny little furry creature so much. I think the reason is because I associate her with the beginning of my life with my husband and us breaking off from our parents and creating our own family.

    Happy 10th birthday to Mr. Pussy! :)

  18. Annie permalink
    November 16, 2011

    Hurrah for Mr Pussy and hip hooray for his birthday!
    I love this blog……

  19. November 16, 2011

    Happy Birthday Mr. Pussy!!!! And many more to come.

    Regards,
    Cate

  20. Emily permalink
    November 16, 2011

    Happy birthday, Mr. Pussy!

    My 12 year old tortie, Vixen, has asked me to pass along her birthday greetings as well.

  21. Sara permalink
    November 16, 2011

    What a wonderful gift you gave to your mother, and now Mr Pussy is bestowing all his native gifts on you, which you are so smart to receive so well. Thanks for the post.
    Myself, I ended up with a Mr Betty, who was adventuresome and loved to go for walks and car rides. He was eaten by an owl, after eating a bunny. shudder.

  22. November 16, 2011

    hurray for mr pussy and his owner :)

  23. Alexandre Mann permalink*
    November 16, 2011

    Happy Birthday Mr. Pussy …………. your gentle author loves you very much indeed ……..
    you are a very lucky pussy cat. xx

  24. Phil permalink
    November 16, 2011

    We too have an official cat birthday this weekend for a black and white longhaired female who has lived with us for the past year. Her story is that after being rescued and trying out two other homes (not satisfactory, dogs and other cats) she decided that she wanted to chose her own home and moved in with us just a year ago. We were sussed out over a few days, just before the snow last November, and found to be suitable! She arrived one cold evening and moved in, realising that it was a cat friendly house without a cat (our 18+ cat having died the previous Easter) and has been a delight ever since. Miss Fluff would like Mr Pussy – both being Old Testament sort-of-cats (there shall be no other cats but me!) and very good mousers.

    Spittalfields Life arrives in the inbox just after Miss Fluff has been let out in the morning, and five minutes after the papers arrive, an important part of starting a new day. So a very happy birthday to a much loved Mr Pussy! and thank you Gentle Author for sharing the joys of your life with us all.

  25. Catherine permalink
    November 17, 2011

    Belated birthday greetings Mr. Pussy. I hope you celebrated with a snooze before the fire, a romp on the rug and a bounteous bowl of cat food. You are a fine figure of a cat!!

  26. Jill permalink
    November 17, 2011

    He’s a beautiful cat and I hope you let him have the most comfortable side of the bed tonight. I love your drawing! Happy Birthday and many more of them.

    Jill

  27. Dermot, E2 permalink
    November 18, 2011

    Beautifully written, as ever.

    Have you thought of publishing a collection of Spitalfields Life in book form?

  28. November 20, 2011

    Little Tot wishes Mr Pussy belated felicitations upon his tenth year.

  29. December 31, 2011

    Happy New Year to Mr Pussy – having only discovered him today his philosophy of life has already enthralled me, so I shall attempt to follow his example and embrace all the circumstances and seasons life sends in 2012

  30. May 6, 2012

    I’ve just found this page. Mr Pussy is beautiful. Ten is quite young. We have had 2 cats who lived to nearly twenty so hopefully there will be many more birthdays ahead.

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