Ideas and a cat

This is an experiment. To be honest, everything I blog is an experiment: it’s usually to find out if I can get to the end of a piece of writing without becoming hopelessly lost. If I can finish, great – I press a button and send my ideas into the world: Hi folks, it’s me again. If I start waffling on about sausages when I mean to talk about sonnets, then – well, you don’t see those posts, they get binned. And there’s a distinct possibility that this post will also end up binned if I don’t get back on track. So, this is an experiment too, and as well as me trying to get to the end of a thousand  words without vanishing down a rabbit hole, I want to see if I can explain a meandering chain of thought I had which links my interest in lots of different ideas with being a cat. (Just to be clear at this point: I am not a cat.) 

Regular readers of this blog will know – I have a cat, called Nergal. I’m not entirely sure if she follows me around or she just mysteriously appears everywhere. I could be reading a book and I blink – not a slow, dramatic blink like some actors do, just a regular microsecond blink, and there’s the cat on the arm of my chair, her face inches from mine. Huge eyes, with an expression like: I wonder if I should hypnotise this human and convince him he’s a chicken? Whiskers twitching, as she considers her next move. And I’m hyperventilating: from the shock of seeing Nergal materialise out of nowhere and the possibility of my imminent transformation into a chicken.

So, anyway, chickens aside, this comparison of my interest in lots of ideas with being a cat really centres on one example of a cat: Nergal. I’ve known a few cats, which makes me sound like a hippie and I’m really not, but I think I know Nergal’s behaviour the most of all the cats I’ve known, and it’s sort of like my interest in lots of ideas.

So, first you have to know a little bit about Nergal’s behaviour. Imagine if you can (if you can’t, this post is going to fall a bit flat on it’s face) Nergal waking up in the morning. She decided the night before that the wind outside was too noisy and scary, so she’s sleeping at the end of our bed. Instantly, she is wide awake, although it’s only 5 in the morning and there’s not much to see or do. It’s dark. There’s an occasional car passing by. No bird sounds yet. So, it’s not like it’s a cat blockbuster movie she’s woken up in. But Nergal is alert as only a cat can be. Her furry ears are tuning in rapidly to the top ten of obscure cat channels: clocks ticking, a tap dripping far too quietly for any human to feel guilty about it, and there’s me -snoring (possibly), Isobel snoring (definitely), and somewhere in the distance the growl of a small stray dog. Nergal responds by sniffing the air, searching for other clues as to what is going on out there in her world: it’s the cat-equivalent of us scanning a newspaper or flicking through a news feed on our phones. And, before I can say: “I don’t want your stinking knighthood, I’m a Duke already” to a corgi with the Queen’s face, Nergal has miaowed me into semi-consciousness, and I’m staggering about trying to find my balance whilst Nergal is trying to propel me – her nose against mine – to get up quicker. Before I realise that it’s not actually her breakfast time, I’ve got to the kitchen and filled her saucer with food, changed the water in her dish, and I have begun to think about a few of the many ideas which will haunt me, prod me, puzzle me, tickle me, or otherwise occupy my excuse for a brain throughout the day.

Then, Nergal wants to go out to the garden. We go downstairs, open the back door and she sits for a while: all senses on overdrive. Whiskers twitching, nose sniffing the strangely exhilarating air, ears swivelling to this and that corner of the garden, eyes as bright as glass paperweights – gazing up at trees, across to walls, up to roofs, and intensely staring so long at a patch of grass that I start to expect a tiny water buffalo to burst out of it towards us any second. (So far, this has never happened, but I believe in being prepared).

Like Nergal, when I wake up, I am bombarded by a bewildering variety of signals. I’m not a cat, but in my duller, human way, I also hear sounds in the distance – possibly seagulls wailing, or it could be a faraway Bay City Rollers tribute band, practising on a roof, as seagulls show their appreciation from a great height. And soon, every ideas-sensor I have is spotting hints of ideas floating around me.

As the sky begins to lighten above the garden, and I can just make out dim outlines of clouds, I remember how I once wrote poems about moments like this. And as my ears begin to hear birds chirping in a bush near the back of the garden – a sound Nergal noticed long before I did – I let the usual cascade of ideas shower me with moments of their own. Sitting at a window of a university classroom, with an open book at my fingertips, Plato I think, and I’m a bit sleepy because I was stacking shelves to the early hours of the morning, but I’m happy that I escaped from the factory to go to Uni; and then a breeze of morning which feels like a new life hits my nostrils in the garden, and I look down at Nergal and she smells it too, breathing it in deeply and contentedly. And more cascades of ideas fall over me – it’s all different colours now, like someone has gone a bit crazy with Christmas lights; and I don’t try to make sense of it all. A multitude of tiny pictures: frames in a big roll loaded on to a projector: each a still moment; but running together through light they make movement on a glowing screen. Casablanca. The Godfather. Or, a man on a high roof, rain pouring down like forever-rain, and he says: “Time…to die”. And, like the cat, I let all the signals come and go in one big flow. More moments come: running on snow and the snow is crunching under my new trainers I bought at a tiny shop on the Lochee road; and there are other books at my fingertips or on the shelves of different libraries and my library; The Civil War by Shelby Foote – a three volume boxed set, and I hear the forlorn violin music that accompanied the TV documentary series; and I suddenly hope that Julian Assange is released soon and doesn’t ever lose hope; and the sky goes a bit darker for a while – and I cannot understand why officials will not listen, will still not listen, to the cries of the lost on the Tay Road Bridge – that they had nowhere to go, and I resolve again to help the surving lost ones win a centre to go to; and another fresh breeze blows and this time I gulp the air down because by then I am as hungry for a new day as Nergal is for cat food (she is miaowing at me again). 

Back upstairs, I type and think – ideas and cats are strange. I laugh – because some of it is funny. I feel sad because some of it is sad. And I notice Nergal is snoring, curled up in a ball on top of a green leather armchair. Cats are wise: they know when to notice the signals from the world, and when to switch them off and rest.    

Harvey Duke

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