I have been lucky enough to observe, since we first had a cat when I was seven years old, the reactions of cats to the vagaries of the British climate.
Most cats seem peculiarly British in their attitude to snow – like the human population, they almost have a panic attack at the sight of a centimetre of the stuff and just, well, give up completely. Gone are any thoughts of going outside in that, or of carrying on business as usual. Snow = sleep time seems to be the rule of paw here.
‘What about your hardy cousins in Antarctica?’ I always say to our cats, opening the back door to a diamond-sparkling winter wonderland of a Christmas cake landscape, suggesting they go for a healthy trot. ‘They go out in temperatures far colder than this, in many metres of snow too, several times their height, on almost every day of the year!’
The look cats are able to flash at the two-legged creatures who feed them at such moments says it all:
‘But we are not Antarctic cats, two-legs,’ the look always says, ‘we are felines living on a damp island off the coast of northern Europe, and it is cold and snowy outside so I’m staying by the radiator, because I don’t need to hunt like my cousins in Antarctica, because you feed me. Now shut up and shoo, fool – can’t you see I’m trying to sleep!’
I wonder if Scandinavian cats are such snow-phobic wimps? Or do they stride and slide through the icy drifts on the prowl for any unfortunate little creature forced by hunger to leave its burrow and venture into a whitened world where its un-camouflaged brown blur of fur stands out as starkly as an EAT ME sign?
Do solemn Swedish cats, for example, stand and stare stoically at the gloom and doom of existence glimmering in every snow flake, like the detectives in all those Scandi TV dramas?
Do Russian cats roar their defiance at the blizzards of winter as they fearlessly thrust their paws into the depths of winter snowdrifts on a mission to defend their homeland?
And do courteous Canadian cats perhaps just smile politely and tip-toe inoffensively on their merry wintery way into the outside world?
If so, then why do British cats curl up and quit at the first sign of a snow-flake?
Why? Because they can – that’s why.
And if they are wimps, we have made them so.
Take away the rations and the central heating and they’d soon revert to their feral and predatory instincts, prowling tiger-like on the hunt, no matter what the weather – it’s all still in there behind those all-knowing eyes peering out from every fluffy feline face. And it could pounce out at any moment too! If it could be bothered, that is...
Snow is rare in most of Britain, of course, but we are world famous for our rain and wind.
Now, every cat I have ever known has hated wind. It ruffles their beautifully groomed fur something rotten! It also makes them skittish, as manic and hyperactive as a sugar-rushed X-boxed tweenager, as their brains struggle to cope with the chaotic over-stimulation of everything around them moving, shaking and twitching.
Rain is another matter, and some cats we have had have actually seemed to enjoy it.
Having said that, the semi-longhaired black rescue cat Bumble we have at present hates to even get his feet wet; but his sister Honey, a torti-tabby cross, has no such near-phobic horror of ‘sky water’, though even she doesn’t exactly like walking on wet ground and will seek shelter in the lightest of drizzles.
We once had a cat, however, called Hobbes – a long-haired black-and-white scruffy tom – who loved the rain. He used to dash out through the cat flap in storms, tornados and hurricanes, and later return from his hunt with his prey – which was always either teabags or crisp packets, there being a severe lack of other little creatures in this vicinity. Needless to say, he especially loved bin-night! Incidentally, I based Eric, the scruffy and cheeky cockney stray in my book A Cat Called Dog on Hobbes (who, sadly, was killed by a local Alsatian when he was just two).
And so to the favourite weather for all cats: hot and sunny. Or is it?
Much as most cats love the lack of rain and snow and wind, and seem to adore sprawling and basking in the hot dryness of a sunny summer day, they soon seek refuge from the rays to skulk inside the house like the most truculent of teenagers.
So what exactly is ‘nice weather for cats’?
Well, I can only conclude, based on extensive observations, that there really is no pleasing cats and that no type of weather is just right for their capricious tastes.
Maybe cats are more like people than we – or they – would like to think!
SOME CAT/WEATHER PROVERBS AND SUPERSTITIONS
Those who dislike cats will be carried to the cemetery in the rain (Dutch proverb)
If a cat washes behind its ears, it will rain (English superstition).
A cat sleeping with all four paws under means cold weather ahead (English superstition)