Cats have a great sense of purpose. They don’t let on, of course, because that would spoil the haughty air of supreme indifference they normally feign as they swan through life. 

However, the cat in the garden is a different species altogether. Gone is the lofty snooty look as if there was a bad smell under his nose. He drops his air of grandeur and suddenly, he is prepared to get his paws dirty, after a dignified wait of course.

Cats are very social and sociable creatures. They love to be just where you are, to enjoy what you are doing, to add a helping paw where they feel you lack the skill or knowledge to complete the task at which you’ve been labouring for the past few hours.

It’s not a chore to them. They love to help. Try to stop them and you hurt their feelings. Cats, as we must remember are FAR superior to us mere humans. Therefore, given our lowly position on this planet, and their high status, we must consider it a tremendous gift when Felis Catus wants to serve us in his own particular way.

Take gardening, for example. The Mews Team all line up like a row of judges about to award me marks out of ten for my artistic interpretation of the jungle that purports to be my – sorry, our – garden. They watch me while I prune dead bits, and trim the grass that billows over the edges of the borders. Billy comes over to nudge his head against my forehead. I’m not sure if this is a pity nudge, or an encouraging nudge. But I accept it in the spirit in which it is given. 

Geoffrey Household (1900-1988) said this: ‘I have noticed that what cats most appreciate in a human being is not the ability to produce food which they take for granted but his or her entertainment value.’

At any given moment, I’m expecting the scores to be displayed for MY entertainment value. Will I get top marks, or nil points like Norway usually do in the Eurovision Song Contest?

I start the weeding, wrestling with the grass roots that snake and run all over the place which, when I pull hard, snap off spraying me with loose earth.  The cats are in hysterics, applauding wildly. This is going to be much better than they thought it would be.

Then I dig a hole, ready for a new plant to go in. While I go back down to where the group of new plants are waiting for their rehoming schedules, Billy makes use of the newly dug hole. I come back up the garden path with a purple Hebe and spot Billy straddled across the hole. ‘Thanks!’ he shouts. ‘I’ve just cleaned my nails. I didn’t want to get them dirty. I’ll leave you to tidy up,’ and he walks off, very pleased with himself.

I dig another hole and quickly put in the new Hebe that will spend the rest of its life in our garden before any of the other cats jump in to use it as a latrine.

Gradually all the new plants are put into their positions dotted about the garden. I’ve toiled and sweated while the cats have watched from their vantage point, adding up the scores and discussing the merits of organic gardening. Cats are very knowledgeable creatures about everything. 

I’m sure if there was a feline tv programme of ‘The Weakest Link’ or ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ all my cats would enter themselves as contestants, assured of their millionaire status before the evening’s end. I can well imagine Charlie as Anne Robinson with a sardonic smile and a squiffy wink as he says in a clipped voice: ‘Billy, You ARE the weakest link. Goodbye!’

I get up off my kneeling pad, a gaudy rainbow-coloured polystyrene mat, which helps to save my aching knees from the indentations that kneeling on the grass and stones would cause. Garfield saunters over to it, whistling nonchalantly trying not to draw attention to himself. The fact that he is whistling nonchalantly is a clue that he is about to do something. So I hang around to wait. 

I don’t have to wait long. He walks over to the pad and scratches the living daylights out of it, to a loud roar of approval from Billy and Timmy. I try to rescue the pad before there is nothing left of it, but Timmy, having watched the Master at Work, has leapt on it and is doing his bit for gaudy polystyrene mats.

After a good demonstration he gets off, pleased with his paw-work. I rush in to grab the mat and hurriedly put it safely back in the shed. Garfield is now lying on top of the shed, like a golden glorious sphinx, guarding its treasures. The fact that the only treasures are a rusty old lawnmower, a battered trowel and now a shredded kneeling mat, does not detract from the seriousness with which Garfield goes about his duties.

I walk round to the front of the house where the cats can only watch me from the window. They are not allowed out the front, as there is a very busy road outside. I smile at them as they sit along the back of the sofa watching proceedings, marking my efforts once again and applauding when the weeds get the better of me.

Before too long, Tilly, the little black and white female cat from next door pops over to see how I’m getting on.  Tilly absolutely adores gardening – or ungardening – as I call it.  I was planting some spring bulbs, and was digging over the area where I intended to put them. They were all arranged according to the colour scheme I had planned; little clusters of blue, little clusters of pink, little clusters of mauve and finally a little cluster of white.

I began to dig little holes for each bulb. Tilly sat along side me chatting as I worked my way round the little diamond shape patch of earth I have in the front garden.  She was expecting her first litter of kittens and was asking me questions.

I seemed to have been digging little holes and putting bulbs in them for ages, when I realised what was going on. As fast I as I was planting the bulbs, Tilly was having the time of her life, unplanting them and adding them to the pile. The only trouble was that my carefully chosen colour-coordinating scheme had now gone completely out the window as I had no idea which colour bulb was where.

I looked up to see a row of little faces all looking at me expectantly to see how I would measure up in this little crisis. Would they give Tilly a paws up or paws down like the Roman emperors of their day when throwing Christians to the lions was the main sport?

Tilly looked at me. She looked at the row of judges on the back of the sofa, and then looked back at me. I looked at Tilly, then at the row of judges waiting to pronounce sentence. What could I do? There was nothing else I could do in the circumstances. I picked her up and gave her a cuddle and she nestled into my shoulder and neck happily.

The judges and jurors were delighted. This was one of their own and they all stick together. Feline Law or something like that. I threw the bulbs in a haphazard fashion on to the little patch of earth and planted them where they fell. Next year’s flower spectacle wouldn’t be a uniform affair, it would be Nature’s surprise, aided and abetted by Tilly.

Aren’t cats wonderful? They have taught me so many lessons about life, and the lesson that day was to break out of the conformity that rules my life and live just a bit more on the wild side!

© Pauline Dewberry 2003


To read another story about Tilly please click here

An interesting read you might enjoy, Cat's Claw Fever - a botanical from the rainforests of Brazil, courtesy of rosemarybasil.com 

 

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