As a writer I find, when commitments and teenage children permit, I like to work in solitude. However, as certain members of my family don’t always consider that I am actually “working” when I’m writing I find my valued time to sit alone and stare at a blank computer screen is constantly considered worthy of interruption. Those that continue do so are now discovering they do so at their own peril, at best greeted with my version of the death stare, at worst a full-on rant. However, there is one family member who is always welcome – or should I say, makes himself welcome – regardless. Please let me introduce you to Simba, my 7-year-old moggy and muse for the tabby cat Romeow, in my debut novel.
Ocassional editor and reviewer of my work, Simba is my constant writing companion. More than happy to encroach upon my workspace and disrupt my train of thought he is a law unto himself. Dan Greenberg said,”Cats are dangerous companions for writers because cat watching is a near-perfect method of writing avoidance.” He is not far wrong.
A mere flick of his tail or twitch of an ear is enough for Simba to assert his presence. A nudge of his cheek against mine, gracefully weaving between my legs when hunger calls, he is full of affection when it suits him, pure disdain when it doesn’t. According to a 2009 study, cats know exactly how to get what they want from their owners by mimicking babies crying. Cats that are hungry will make an urgent cry or meowing sound in the 220 to 520-hertz frequency range while purring at a lower frequency. Babies also cry in this frequency range (usually between 300 and 600 hertz), and humans find it difficult to ignore.
And yet, despite his show of conditional affection and marked indifference, I love my old moggy dearly. Mark Twain summed cats up perfectly when he said, “I simply can’t resist a cat, particularly a purring one. They are the cleanest, cunningest, and most intelligent things I know, outside of the girl you love, of course.” And Jean Cocteau declared, “I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”
Ernest Hemmingway also loved cats and William S. Burroughs was a devout cat lover, calling them his “psychic companions,” describing them as “natural enemies of the state.” He transcribed a book, The Cat Inside, where he wrote lovingly of his companions such as Calico Jane, Fletch, Rooski, Wimpy, and Ed.
Cats, like dogs, as our trusted companions have been around for some time. However, the history of the domesticated cat is a little unclear. While it is commonly thought that the ancient Egyptians were the first to domesticate cats, the oldest known pet cat was recently found in a 9,500-year-old grave on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. This grave predates early Egyptian art depicting cats by 4,000 years or more.
Nonetheless, the status of cats as pets has waxed and waned over the centuries. Revered and worshiped by the ancient Egyptians they were also persecuted at later times. During the Spanish Inquisition, Pope Innocent VIII condemned cats as evil and thousands were burned. Unfortunately, the widespread killing of cats led to an explosion of the rat population, which exacerbated the effects of the Black Death.
Here are a few more amusing facts about cats.
- On average, cats spend 2/3 of every day sleeping. That means a nine-year-old cat has been awake for only three years of its life.
- The technical term for a cat’s hairball is a “bezoar.”
- A group of cats is called a “clowder.”
- Female cats tend to be right pawed, while male cats are more often left pawed. Interestingly, while 90% of humans are right handed, the remaining 10% of lefties also tend to be male.
- Some cats have survived falls of over 65 feet (20 meters), due largely to their “righting reflex.” The eyes and balance organs in the inner ear tell it where it is in space so the cat can land on its feet. Even cats without a tail have this ability.
- The ability of a cat to find its way home is called “psi-traveling.” Experts think cats either use the angle of the sunlight to find their way or that cats have magnetized cells in their brains that act as compasses.
- Isaac Newton invented the cat flap. Newton was experimenting in a pitch-black room. Spithead, one of his cats, kept opening the door and wrecking his experiment. The cat flap kept both Newton and Spithead happy.
- Cats love to sit on computers, probably because it’s warm. But computers love cats, too: Google’s artificial “Brain,” a computer that contains 16,000 processors and can learn whatever it wants from the Internet, is really into cat videos.
- And on a final note – it’s official – cats (like a lot of pets) are good for us. Studies suggest that cats are actually beneficial to human health, and may even reduce our risk for cancer and other diseases. How true this is I’m not entirely sure, but I do know Simba has been a great comfort to me during various illnesses and recovery from unpleasant surgery over the last couple of years.
Simba definitely makes a difference to my life and at times I am chastised by my teenage children for talking to him like a baby. “You never tell him off like you do us” is one of the common place phrases recited among the walls of our home when Simba has dared to interrupt me once again. It’s mock disapproval though, as they love him as dearly as I do. Even if he does only come to us when he feels like it. After all, everyone knows a cats’ hearing is made in such a way as to allow the human voice to easily go in one ear and straight out the other. Neil Gaiman said, “I would like to see anyone, prophet, king or God, convince a thousand cats to do the same thing at the same time.”
As well as critiquing my work in progress, Simba loves to,
help me sort the washing,
help pack my suitcase and hide among my book shelves.
He also loves to give me early morning wake up calls, and is often compelled to disperse my sweets and papers across the floor at will.
And then of course there’s the look – the one that asks, “Really? You dared to interrupt me to tell me that…?” It is a look of pure scorn and you just know he has filed it for reference. Revenge will most likely come in the form of a paw on the face at 3am in the morning or as a continual meowing next to my ear reminding me it’s time for breakfast – his not mine – despite the fact it’s 6am on a Sunday morning!
I can forgive it all though, even the mad moments that find me waking from a blissful sleep in a blind panic, convinced someone has broken into the house or the kids are throwing a party that has got out of hand; but does in fact turn out to be Simba, taken by the urge to tear around the house like something possessed at some ungodly hour of the morning. Because with Simba, I am never alone. Even as I finish editing this piece he is curled up on a chair next to me. He is my 5th child and the 7th member of our little collective. He loves me on his terms but it is a constant love nonetheless.
He is also considers himself (he thinks) the boss! He knows it and secretly, so do we!