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Friday, 18 June 2021

Sooty

This is Sooty, the first of five cats I’ve shared a home with. He wasn’t black all over but we called him Sooty anyway because it was a good name for a cat.

He came as a six-week old kitten from a friend’s cat’s litter when I was nine or ten. Oblivious of the omnipotent choice I was making, I picked the one I wanted when they were just a few days old and never thought to ask what became of the others. On the day he came to us, he lay on the carpet in a patch of sun as I built around him with my toy wooden bricks, buzzing in a peculiar way.

He would lie on the hearth rug stretched out by the fire, or sit in the garden with his fur puffed out looking cute. He would go to sleep in the best chair, paws trembling as he dreamed, furry radar ears tracking every sound. When it suited him, he would jump up to your knee, turn round a few times paws kneading, and settle down, soft and warm, fur moving to the rhythm of his breathing.

But in a house with two boys he was teased a lot. Worse, I saw the lad who sometimes stayed next door swing him by his tail. He quickly learned to stand up for himself and could be vicious. He was fearless. He would run up behind, encircle your ankle with his front legs, sink in claws and teeth, and scuff vigorously with his hind claws as if trying to disembowel you. It could be nasty if he got your arm and brutal if you tried to pull away. His tail would be going like a windscreen wiper. My arms and legs were usually scarred in weals and scratches. 

Later, we moved. He ran back and forth between the front and back windows of the new house, disorientated, looking out and miaowing pathetically. When he eventually settled he spent hours stalking in the long grass in a field at the back.

We built a house of cards and rolled chocolate Maltesers underneath so he would chase them and put his head through the cards. It took rather a lot of sweets to get the right shot. “Cat crunching up chocolate covered malted milk ball” might have made a good picture too. “Cat being sick”, maybe not.

I know now that chocolate is toxic to cats but, according to the next-door neighbour, he sneaked upstairs in her house, ate some of her chocolates, and hid the paper wrappers under her bed. Another day, he came home covered in tar which had to be cleaned off with petrol. On another occasion, he swallowed around eighteen inches (45cm) of string which came back out of his throat like one of those animal-shaped retractable tape measures with tape that pulls out of its mouth.

How many lives do cats have? I still wonder whether that ‘string’ led to his final undoing. Rather than string, it was actually quarter-inch wide (0.5 cm) paper ribbon, used to tie up brown paper parcels, with the name of the shop repeated along its length. I haven’t seen any like it for years. He might have mistaken it for grass. It also had a slightly fishy smell. The edges were sharp enough to give you a paper cut. Did it damage his mouth? 

Two or three years later, after I left home, my mother, who, of course, always looked after his food and litter tray, thought he was finding it difficult to eat because of something stuck in his throat. He had lost weight. One bank-holiday Tuesday, I drove them to the vet. Sooty was kept in for further investigations and I returned to work in Leeds. Not being in constant communication as we are now, I did not hear what happened until Friday. He had a large tumour at the back of his tongue and the vet advised putting him to sleep. He was ten and a half years old.

34 comments:

  1. Poor old Sooty. Pretty evil cat, as I remember him...

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    1. Must have lived with pretty evil boys.

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    2. Is Nutkin your son? Why didn't you give him a proper boy's name like Martin or Wayne?

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    3. Poor logic Mr. P. My son would not have known a cat I had at the age of ten.

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  2. We like the Marilyn Monroe style spot on the side of his gace. F says the cat you grew up with is waiting for you in the after life. That's when you find out what they really felt about you. When F was at Uni her flatmate had a cat called Mercury on account of his temperament. He did that ankle attacking thing too. I, on the other hand am nothing but 'sweetness and light' - ahem. Regards Tigger

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    1. You've really scared me now. Retribution awaits.

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  3. Sooty sounds like quite the cat. Glad he could hold his own against all comers.

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    1. Not to be argued with. He never attacked my mum though - you don't bite the hand that feeds you.

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  4. We always remember those special pets we had when we were growing up. Sooty has a very sweet face and even though he could defend himself well I imagine he could also be very loving. I have almost always had at least one or two cats and I love them all dearly. I enjoyed hearing about your Sooty.

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    1. Thank you for enjoying my cat biography. When he was playful he was indeed special, and couldn't be made to do anything he didn't want to. Quite unlike our present cat who is the gentlest creature ever. Even when annoyed she'll only give a very gentle bite.

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  5. Funny hhow we remember all our pets isn't it? I had a few Siamese cats and then when I took early retirement I went over o dogs - I remember them all with affection.

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    1. I've never had a dog. They look fun, but need a lot more attention.

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  6. Childhood pets create very strong memories. We too had a Sooty but she was appropriately named. Ten years isn't really old for cats. Maybe you are correct about the ribbon.

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    1. I'm sure that's right, and that the cat we have now will be also be remembered.

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  7. How good to know he gave as good as he got. As I never see children outdoors playing anymore, I wonder if cats are less prone to bad treatment. Kids' hands seem preoccupied with a phone, now.

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    1. They make their cats do tricks so they can film them and post as cat videos. When all the potential benefits of the internet were first proposed and conceived, I doubt they predicted cat videos.

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  8. That cat had an interesting character.
    You have had five cats - what luck! Here we are forbidden to keep cats (I rent in Bavaria), but outside I see many happy cats - sitting in the meadows, chasing mice and grasshoppers.

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    1. We are incapable of passing by a cat without using silly voices to try to engage it in conversation and stroke its head.

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  9. Definitely a survivalist, I presume though he will go to cat heaven and you to human heaven. The first thing I learnt about cats as a child is that they are not always faithful. Snowy, the great white cat with one green eye and one blue who lived next door, just one day came to live with us and that was that.

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    1. I didn't know we had separate heavens. Is that why some people talk about "seventh heaven"? A cat with different coloured eyes must have looked strange, but obviously though you a much nicer human than it's owners. The second cat I lived with came from someone else like that.

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  10. I remember each and every one of our/my cats vividly, and they were all unique personalities. Now it's been years since my last cat died of old age (in 2013), and I am realistic and fair enough not have another pet move in with me while I am (in normal, non-Covid times) away from home so much for work and other things.

    O.K.'s parents have a cat who is known all over the village for being mad. He, too, does that ankle attacking thing, but has never tried it on me - only his own people.

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    1. Perhaps you'll have a cat in the future. With Sooty the ankle attacks could be completely unprovoked. He would even run after me trying to get me.

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  11. In my life I have had three cats. Each one of them lived for about twenty years - Oscar, Blizzard and Boris. I loved them completely and that is why I could not bear to have another one. My grandmother was very kind to stray cats where she lived in Byker, Newcastle and her own completely black cat which she called Nigger. There was no political correctness in those days. Imagine standing on your back doorstep calling the black cat home for his tea.

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    1. What a big softy you are! Just think of the blogging potential.
      The Dam Busters' dog's name has been overdubbed and the gravestone changed to something like Trigger.

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    2. Mr T was originally called Le Tigre because F was learning french when he turned up. That too quickly changed as we lived in a Southampton council estate and he liked to go on walkabout.

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  12. We never had cats indoors when I was a child, they were just outdoor creatures who looked after themselves and got a saucer of milk at the dairy door if they were lucky. A few years ago I was working with a Filipino girl and she was getting her first cat and it was going to be indoors. She said this was completely new to her as cats only lived in the streets as far as she was concerned and she was worried about looking after it. It's like we are all on a merry go round of catch up and yet nothing ever seems to get better anywhere in the world. We advance but also go backwards at the same time. The Filipino's story made me think all this when she told me. Sorry if it is a bit of an off piste comment.

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    1. It surprises me that in flats some cats never go outdoors at all, but they seem to accept it. My rural grandparents and their families had cats that came in only occasionally, and on farms most of the cats were feral. On my aunty's farm there was one cat that used to come indoors more and sleep on top of the dog in front of the fire.

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  13. Good to remember well-loved pets, even the ankle biters. Always had dogs growing up (still do)...which was probably a good thing as I am highly allergic to cats even though I like them and they like me. One memorable cat moment for me took place at my DH's grandmother's house on a bitterly cold (-32c) morning in VT. It was a sad occasion as she had just died and I was up before everyone else so I could write her eulogy--having collected stories from family members the previous day. GM's cat, who notoriously shunned everyone--sometimes even GM--came out of hiding. She either sensed what I was doing (or knew I was allergic--you pick) because she immediately and repeatedly spun herself around my ankles and then jumped up on my lap trying to cuddle up around my neck. Tried to soothe her with quiet sounds without petting her, but eventually had to tip her off as my eyes began to swell shut and my skin broke out in hives. Had to wait for the swelling to subside to finally finish the eulogy. So dogs, not cats, for me.

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  14. One of my cats, Rupert, loves to have a little lick of chocolate, funny how he loves it so but it is bad for him.
    Another of mine would eat a whole sheet of cellophane if I let her. Like you sat about the tape, it has a fishy smell when wet.
    I do like dogs a lot but have always had cats.
    In all we have been owned by 13 cats and are on the last 5. They are 4 age 13 years and 1 14 years with no signs of going anywhere. This is a worry as we don't want to leave them and they have to go into a new home as I'm sure they wouldn't settle but on the other hand we don't want them to die yet, on what a dilemma, lol

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    1. Maybe you could just cut down to one which could be rehomed if the worst happened. I've only lived with more than one for a couple of years when there were two, and they were so amusing together, especially the way the smaller one would ambush the other and then run away into a small cubby hole for safety.

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  15. I'm not a vet, but I doubt the ribbon would have contributed to the formation of a tumor. Who knows why these things happen? At any rate it sounds like he had a good and active life. You mentioned in a comment above cats not going outside -- I had three cats and they all lived exclusively indoors (as is quite common in America) and they never seemed to mind it. I was surprised when I moved to the UK and found that many animal rescue groups won't even adopt out cats unless they have outdoor space to roam.

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    1. It was only speculation about the paper ribbon damaging his mouth. When we adopted our current cat from the RSPCA they actually visited to check up that we had adequate outside space and were suitable people to be cat keepers. It was a bit like having a social worker coming round.

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  16. Thank you for visiting my blog - you will find lots of memoir there too. We only once had a cat - REG - hard as nails; I swear if a cat could have gangster tattoos that cat would have had had some! One day he just went missing and we heard later that several had been stolen locally.

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    1. I enjoyed reading. I could understand the theft of valuable pedigree cats, but if he was an ordinary cat like all ours have been it's beyond me why anyone would steal them. Well, I can think of one reason. There can be some nasty people around.

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