I had a lovely time cat-sitting in the countryside, apart from one evening. I was relaxing on the sofa in front of the fire – two desirable things my own place lacks – when the cat walked past me and asked, in his way, to be let out. (A cat is also a desirable thing I do not have.) This was fine: a very large part of my job, if not my entire job, is to attend to the cat’s wishes. Even if this cat is treating me with even more than his usual disdain. It is like being Stevens, the butler in The Remains of the Day: one simply sucks up the contempt and commits oneself to the idea of Service.
There is no cat flap in the house, and I do not leave the kitchen door open because there is a local dog who comes in to eat the cat’s food otherwise. So after trying for a while to concentrate both on the fire and the telly (another thing I don’t have), I went into the kitchen for a light snack and to see if the cat wanted to be let in. He did. Again: this is fine. The cat can go Awol for anxiety-making stretches of time. He’s getting on a bit, and I fear that something bad will happen to him on one of his nocturnal vole-murdering missions.
Back to the telly. I was catching up on the second season of Slow Horses and it was taking up a considerable amount of mental bandwidth, even though I’d read the book it was based on. Then the cat asked to be let out again. This, too, was fine. You can pause the teev these days (teev: Australian slang for TV) and after all, I really, really like cats.
The cycle of Letting the Cat In and Out continued. The problem started when I noticed that the number of times the cat was asking to be let out stopped matching up with the number of times he was asking to be let in. I’d settle down after letting him out, and then minutes later he’d stroll past me and ask to be let out again. This began to get a little unnerving.
I considered the possibilities. 1) There is a secret entrance to the house. 2) There is a glitch in the Matrix. 3) He has discovered or invented a cloning machine and now there are just loads of him. 4) There’s a magic wardrobe upstairs which takes him to Cat Narnia, where the voles can talk. There was a fifth possibility, but it was so ludicrously far-fetched I dismissed it as soon as it occurred to me: that age, wine, confusion and tiredness had caused me to miscount or forget. Well, as Sherlock Holmes once said, once one has dismissed the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. This left me with option 4). I didn’t go upstairs to check the wardrobes because dealing with the plot of Slow Horses was enough of a strain, and I really didn’t want any distractions.
The next day the cat’s mistress returned and I took the Oxford Tube back to London. If you ask the driver nicely he will let you off at White City, a five-minute walk from where my boys live, so I dropped in to see them. I like them even more than I like cats, which is saying something. The conversation, I forget how, turned to bees.
“Bees are good,” said my youngest, neatly summing up the general consensus. But you can’t say “bees are good” to someone my age without them singing “bees are good, bees are good, he’s Eberbeezer Good” to the tune of the Shamen’s 1992 hit “Ebeneezer Goode”. My boys looked at me as if I’d had a stroke. So then I had to explain the context, which took about five minutes and drained all the joy out of the exchange.
I mumbled my excuses and left for Brighton. Everything was making me even more tired and, not for the first time, I wondered if I was losing my mind. When I got back home I logged on to Twitter or whatever it’s called now (I don’t have it on my phone, for my mental health’s sake) and saw, among my notifications: “Jah Wobble followed you.” Do I wake or dream? I have been a devotee and admirer of Mr Wobble’s work ever since the opening bass notes of Public Image Limited’s first single thudded into my consciousness. To see those four simple words made me feel like a kid who had been kissed by the prettiest girl in school. I practically levitated.
For two days I have been toying with the idea of sending him a drunken love-letter of a direct message, a craving I resisted heroically. At one point I even thought of telling an ex who also loved his work. But in the end I decided to show some character and not embarrass myself privately. Which is why I’m now doing it publicly. And, I hasten to add, in full sobriety.
This article appears in the 04 Oct 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Labour in Power