15 September 2008

Twenty-one

Ming, 14 September 2008

He’s twenty-one years old. He still hunts, patrols the fencelines, and is adept at extracting morsels from rubbish bags. His hearing, although not as good as it once was at recognising commands like, “Get outta there!” or “Get off the table ya mongrel!”, shows no signs of diminished ability to hear a fridge door opening or the rattle of dry cat food poured into a china bowl.

It occurs to me that Ming and I have lived in the Pohangina valley for similar periods — twenty-one years ago he was born and I moved here. Nevertheless, he’s older than me — in cat years he’s probably at least twice my age; however, I like to believe I’m wiser although I get the feeling he knows better.

I, however, drool less; unlike Ming, when I’m happy I don’t leave a zippered trail of saliva spots along the verandah. I suspect he considers this habit of his to be part of the wisdom of old age — if you’re happy, why not show it? Self-consciousness is both an indicator and a burden of immaturity, although one must be careful to distinguish lack of self-consciousness from dignity. All cats I’ve ever met have had a well-developed sense of dignity, the loss of which, however temporarily, is one of the worst disasters that can befall a cat.

Now he sits with his back to me, on the edge of the verandah in the warm evening sun, looking out over the paddock. Perhaps he’s wandering his twenty-one years’ worth of memories; perhaps he’s remembering what it felt like to be lithe and agile, the scourge of small animals and the idol of humans. More likely, he still feels that way and is simply considering whether to stalk the blackbirds tugging at worms in the paddock. Meanwhile, the dogs are going ape at something — a sheep grazing too close to the kennels, Tigger/Jimmy, 15 September 2008perhaps — but Ming couldn’t care less. He knows they’re locked up and harmless. He, on the other hand, is never locked up — locked out, perhaps, although I doubt he acknowledges it — and he’s far from harmless. The gifts he’s deposited next door have, over the years, included rabbits, full-grown rats, and even a weasel.

When I shifted to this house nine years ago he kept his distance. Both cats did, but after several years Tigger (a.k.a. Jimmy) decided I was acceptable enough to be allowed to feed him and we’ve become good friends. If the door’s open and I’m at the kitchen bench it’s not unusual for me to be startled by the bump and rub of a striped head on my calf, or even a pair of paws arriving on my thigh as he stretches up to say, “Hello; feed me; now would be good.” Ming, however, remained aloof. When I called in to collect my mail he’d crouch and glare from his position on the warm bonnet of the car — not infrequently, I add, the recently cleaned bonnet, to which the muddy paw prints added a kind of Jackson Pollock flair sadly unappreciated by its owner.

Just what finally changed his attitude towards me remains unclear, but seems to have coincided with a visit earlier this year by the attractive and otherwise-intelligent-but-cat-gullible Amelie. Seeing Ming prowling next door, she called to him. He feigned deafness but she persisted until he finally chose to exercise his right to be Minglavished with food and attention. Now, having realised that both benefits are freely available here, and the rubbish generally contains something worth checking out, he’s a frequent visitor.

He turns his head and looks at me, intuiting he’s being written about. It’s another of the infuriating set of qualities with which cats have been gifted — not only do they have an extra eight lives, they also have six, not a mere five, senses. And they know it. But as he looks at me I wonder about his gammy left eye, the iris of which looks inflamed although he seems untroubled by it and it’s not weeping. I hope it’s nothing more than the consequence of a long-healed infection. Perhaps he’s cultivating it, realising the sympathy it engenders among his admirers, or perhaps he likes the fear it strikes into those at whom he chooses to glare — rather like the Eye of Sauron.

He curls up on the verandah, absorbing the warmth from the dark wood, and closes his eyes. The fierceness softens. Twice my age, I think. I trust I’ve lived at least half as well in the last twenty-one years.


Photos (click to enlarge the smaller photos):
1, 3 . Ming.
2. Tigger/Jimmy.


Photos and words © 2008 Pete McGregor

17 comments:

Emma said...

I love that yours is quite possibly the only blog containing this sentiment: when I’m happy I don’t leave a zippered trail of saliva spots along the verandah. =)

Zhoen said...

Ming, the Merciless, covered in soft fur.

pohanginapete said...

Emma, thanks for noticing that critical word — "don't" — in the phrase ;^)

Zhoen, good to know someone still knows of Ming the Merciless. He was part of our family's folklore when we were kids, although at the time we kids didn't actually know who he was.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Great name for a cat - and beautiful cat. 21 is a really good age for a cat so i guess he's been loved and looked after. Cats rule the world, but they prefer us humans to do the hard work!

Avus said...

That's a great meditation on a cat, Pete. It is also a great age for a cat - I though our last one did well at 19.

pohanginapete said...

Df the pixies: yes, cats certainly rule the world. In fact, there's a book on the subject — How Cats Conquered the World, by Heather Hacking. Highly recommended reading. ;^)

Thanks Avus. What amazes me is how he seems so unaffected by what really is a great age for a cat. Nineteen's a good age, but Ming looks as if he's heading for some sort of record.

Anne-Marie said...

My my, you do have handsome gentlemen living at your place, Pete.

;-)

The Clandestine Samurai said...

The only other thing in the world better than cats are kittens. I used to call my cat my brother, although I'm pretty sure he was old enough to be my ancestor.

It's quite possible that Ming is self-conscious about his drooling and his eye, and Amelie emits a warm, unconditional welcome that he picked up. The drooling is perhaps a symbol of his wisdom, but it still hurts his dignity not to be neat and swift like Tigger. He dumped those rats, rabbits and weasel next door to prove to himself that he's still got it. That his time isn't up.

Or, The Eye of Sauron may strike fear in his opponents, which can help his sense of a scavenger youth. But deep down inside, perhaps, he hates the eye and feigns that it doesn't bother him.

I don't know. The poor cat is going through so much. He just needs love =*(

pohanginapete said...

Anne-Marie, that reminds me — as far as I'm aware, they're both bachelors and always have been; I don't know of any other cats living nearby. Not that I'm suggesting that's relevant to Ming's longevity, of course...

Samurai, that's an interesting insight into the possible psychology of Ming. I'll point out he gets plenty of love here, particularly when Amelie visits. Also, I can't imagine anyone not responding well to a kitten. Years ago I was the servant of a Burmese kitten (dogs have owners, cats have staff) and we ended up playing hide-and-seek along the hallway. Most undignified for a supposedly adult human, but a good example of the power of cats.

Bob McKerrow said...

Pete: You can judge a person by his animals. I am beginning to like you more each posting Pete.
A ripping yarn. Thanks. Bob

pohanginapete said...

Thanks Bob — although I'm sure the cats consider me their animal rather than the other way round ;^)

vegetablej said...

Well and well. This post really hit to the heart for me. First there's Ming, as you've captured him in the picture at the top, looking for all the world like any slightly cranky elder sitting for a portrait with a "What the heck do you kids want ...now?" feeling to it. Then at the end, he's relaxing and looking like the kitten he must have been, as you said adored and maybe even pampered.

And second, I'm not even a cat person, or I wasn't so much until I was adopted by a lovely black and orange kitten in Japan, spent about 3 years with her, sometimes having to shoo her off my lap at the computer so I could write, and then having to leave her there, since she refused to travel.

Oh, the heartaches of being owned by a cat. I think I feel a post coming on, certainly at least, a picture.

Thanks for really great writng on a really good subject, and as usual, your animal portraits leave me (almost) speechless.

:)

isabelita said...

Our cat Natasha lived to be 21 and 1/2. She was small, black and white, and feisty till the end, when she had a couple of "grand nephew" kittens to get into ship-shape!
It's good to see a few old cats around. Your pal Ming looks nicely contemplative. Like a resting dragon.

pohanginapete said...

VJ, thanks for your kind words. I know what it's like to have to leave a cat behind (and also what it's like to attempt to write with a cat on your lap). You said it well — the heartaches of being owned by a cat. True...

Isabelita, Natasha did indeed do well. I sometimes think George Bernard Shaw's comment — "youth is wasted on the young" — applies just as well to cats as humans. Actually, the older I get, the truer it seems.

butuki said...

Ever since I lived with a girlfriend whose big fat cat would sit with his butt cleanly on my face first thing in the morning while testing his claws in my cheeks, I've been wary of cat hegemony. They are probably the only creatures in the world that manage to make hedonism seem like an obligation and work like an infringement of personal rights. Even hunting cats seem like they are on vacation. Every other creature seems like they are overextending themselves to survive.

I just love the expression, "rather like the Eye of Sauron". That really made me laugh!

pohanginapete said...

Miguel, "...work like an infringement of personal rights. I like that. I think I must be part cat.

Lydia said...

I am here from your link nearly two years after this post. I did not continue reading the new one until I came here to meet Ming. There is nothing quite like a ginger male cat. I had a ginger-and-white boy whose ashes are beside me on my nightstand, and my will designates those ashes are to be thrown at sea with mine when that time comes. I lost him in 2007 when he was 16, and oh how we struggled together for him to obtain that age. If I could have had him for over 21 years it would have been heaven for us. His name was Bleecker; it is important that you know that because he will likely meet Ming soon...