Cats, I believe, are an essential source of happiness. One day I will have a cat. The day will come. In the meantime, however, whilst my life is still woefully incompatible with furry roommates, I rarely pass a neighbourhood cat without stopping and trying to win their approval.
My next-door cat, Bottlebrush, approved of my front garden before she approved of me. Bottlebrush is a wee tortoiseshell female with a fine, long fur that makes her tail look like a flimsy bottlebrush, hence my name for her. Bottlebrush liked to sit in the shade of my Hebe bush before I pruned it down so much she can no longer find a cat-sized cavity under its branches. Bottlebrush has a bit of a temper, or at least she pretends to have one just to make clear that she decides how much she wants to be cuddled, thank you very much. Bottlebrush was slow to make friends, and although she did want to greet me and to be stroked, she also made sure to take a swipe at me and hiss the first few times we met. She is much more relaxed now, and I can also read her moods and only give her a short tickle when she’s on my side of the patch just for a quick hello.
Ginger from across the courtyard, on the other hand, is hungry for attention. He found me before I found him: when I had first started to renovate the front garden, and was pottering with my tubs and trowels, he appeared behind me so quietly I nearly jumped when he head-butted my hand. Ginger really likes his head-butts. And under-chin scratches. And, oh, anything, really.
The two cats directly opposite I haven’t named because they keep themselves to themselves. One is black-and-white and the other grey, and I only ever see them when they sit on the window ledge waiting to be let in.
The house on the other side of the road belongs to Shy Cat on the Wall. She is wary of strangers, and the few times I have seen her surveying the neighbourhood from the highest point of the stone wall surrounding an abandoned garden, I have had no success in winning her over. She doesn’t even let me get close to her.
But if I continue down the lane from Shy Cat on the Wall’s patch and then turn left, I will often meet the friendliest cat in the burgh, and the only one whose real name I know. Panther is a grey boy who likes everybody. He often sits on a window ledge, stone wall or a bin along a four-house stretch of his street, but he may also follow me to the bus stop if he hasn’t quite finished cuddling yet. If I squat down and put my shopping bags aside, he will climb onto my knee and purr away like an engine. I have witnessed other people do what I do, and put down their shopping or coffee mug just to spend some time with Panther.
Ginger Tripod shares the same stretch of street with Panther. He was much slower to come around and he still approaches me carefully and rolls on the pavement nearby until he remembers we are friends now. He comes and gets one passing head-scratch that extends to a long stroke ending at the tip of his tail as he walks on. Then he turns around and does the same from the other direction. Although Ginger Tripod’s approach is circumspect compared to Panther’s, he often follows me past a few houses, hobbling along his tail up in the air after I’ve said ‘bye’ to him and started walking on.
If I don’t go down the lane but turn left at Shy Cat’s wall, I will sometimes see Slinky Bathroom Cat or Black Jogger near the school. Slinky Bathroom Cat is not one to care for humans other than his own, and we have not been formally introduced, but I named him because he is so recognisable. He is a very athletic, black-and-white lad whose defining feature is how he gets back into his house from his garden. He jumps onto a wheelie bin and then makes an impressive leap up to a bathroom window that is just ajar enough for him to slink right through it. Black Jogger I have met, and he can be quite friendly if only he can spare the time. He is a young cat always trotting about, busy, busy; across the road, past a fence and through a hedge. Gardens to inspect, alleys to patrol, must jog on!
Mrs Window at the end of the street, however, has the time. The petite, elderly tortie probably spends most of her time indoors as I have only seen her in the summer time when she can conveniently step through an open window straight onto a low stone wall where she can find a nice spot to observe the comings and goings in a composed loaf position. Mrs Window has seen it all and doesn’t mind humouring a passing human who wants some feline love. Not that she’s particularly bothered but she is very experienced in being a cat, so, whatever. Cuddle if you must. Thank you, Mrs Window; most kind! I don’t have a cat of my own, you see.