Wednesday 27 November 2013

Under the Paw by Tom Cox

Occasionally I permit myself to read a cat book. Last year I read A Street Cat Named Bob - a wonderful true story about how a man's life is turned round by his relationship with a very special cat. The book tugged the heartstrings so much that every so often I check out Bob's Facebook page to make sure that he and his owner, James Bowen, are still OK.
    Under the Paw is far more relaxed reading, recounting Tom Cox's life as what he calls a 'cat man' - from his childhood relationships with Felix, Monty and Daisy to his later household of six cats, with its inherent dramas, mishaps and moments of slap-stick.
    I enjoyed this book for two main reasons. The first is because I  empathised with Tom's odd little cat man habits, like going for a walk and stopping to talk to the cats he came across. I also understand the emptiness he felt when he was at a stage in his life when he couldn't practically keep a cat. We've all been there. It's not pretty.
    The second reason is because the book is very funny. Tom, a rock critic, is clearly an experienced journalist and uses humour to capture that tenuous relationship cat owners have with their pets.
    Interspersed with the story of living with cats are 'Random Selections from the Cat Dictionary'. It was nice at last to have the right words for so many things I have a close personal experience with. Such as: Gribbly bits (the bits of jellied cat meat that escape from the bowl and weld themselves to hardwood floors and kick boards); Sucking the nettle (to lick one's lips with distaste in the aftermath of an unpleasant or demeaning experience); Purple mist (the special kind of unforgiving cat anger reserved for an owner who has experimented by attaching a lead to its collar); or Argle (the noise that accompanies the eradication  - or attempted eradication - of an ear mite).
   The section on 'How to Feed Six Sodding Cats: Instructions for Housesitters' was particularly funny and seemed to capture the key characteristics of all six cats and how they interact. Clearly the 'Troubled Sensitive Artistic Black Cat' is the elder statesman of the household and it is this cat, known as The Bear, who Tom has to work hardest to gain trust and affection. Tom's attempts to understand what motivates The Bear and his sudden need to disappear for weeks at a time adds all the drama of fairly intense sort of novel.
   If you are left wondering about the long term effects of such an involved relationship with one's pets, there are Tom's follow-up books to peruse as well: 'Talk to the Paw' and 'The Good, the Bad and the Furry'. Living with six cats certainly isn't for everyone (I tend towards having just the one at a time) but if someone has to do it I am glad it is Tom Cox, as he writes a cat book that is hugely entertaining.

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