The Beast of Bodmin Terrace

George's appearance in issue 9 of Plokta as a laptop companion has resulted in a small but vocal group of admirers who claim that the cat didn't get an even break. As his doting stepmother, I agree that the odds were stacked against him in comparison testing carried out by people who think that noisy, smelly babies too stupid to live are in any way a good idea.

George was included as a fixture of our house. A proper appreciation of George would be enhanced by knowing more about his environment. We bought the house in May 1993 from a couple called Mr and Mrs Hern. It's not a beautiful house: it's a red brick cube, and we are encouraging ivy and Virginia Creeper over it as fast as we can. Only the other day, Steve was outside with the staple gun, attaching fronds of creeper to the top of the garage. We have to do this because our particular Virginia Creeper has a marked preference for doing exactly that: creeping. It has filled the gap between us and the neighbour, it is choking the tiny bit of garden next to the drive and shows imminent signs of setting off down the road to invade Poland. Maybe we could encourage it more to fulfil its desired function if we start calling it a Virginia Climber.

Because the house was large and reasonably priced, we brushed aside a few minor drawbacks. Chief among these were the world's most inefficient kitchen (doors in three of the four walls), a downstairs loo that you can only reach from outside the house and a sitting tenant.

On one evening visit to the Herns we found ourselves gazing at a round black fur cushion on the brown armchair in the room with brown geometric carpet and brown floral wallpaper. We noticed it mainly because it was the only thing in the room out of keeping with the colour scheme. Oh, said Mrs Hern airily, that's George. The round black fur cushion ignored us, curling up tighter to defy eviction from its brown haven.

Years ago, a large black tomcat with a sullen expression and a limp just moved in. Eventually, the Herns accepted the inevitable and formalised the arrangement by calling him George and having him neutered. This appeared to make no difference whatever to his bad temper, his propensity to spray and his fondness for getting into fights.

Mysteriously, the Herns weren't able to take him with them.

In fact, they were going to have him put down. At the time we didn't appreciate the sense of this, and chorused as one "Oh, no, you can't possibly do that. We'll have him." George showed his gratitude for the next few months by hissing, spitting and trying to flay any living creature that came within three feet of him, this being the approximate reach of his claws.

Nemo me Impune Lacessit The Herns kept him in at night, and let him out every morning at exactly 5:20 am. Now, Steve and I are not your 5:20 am kind of people. But we believe in peace through superfluous technology, so a week after we moved in, Steve installed an electronic cat flap in the back door and George's collar was decorated with a magnet which would let him in and out. We didn't have to train him to use it. He just barged through right from the start, only having to twist his shoulders a little bit sideways to fit. He had obviously already perfected the technique on other people's cat flaps.

By day, George stalked the neighbourhood, il Gatto di Tutti i Gatti, but after dark he had been penned safely inside. Now we had upset the natural balance and let him loose on the helpless Creatures of the Night. One morning I went outside to find the whole back yard fluffy with several colours of fur and a trail of blood down the side and across it. George eventually appeared and curled up on a pile of the Herns' tasteful yellow floral curtains. When he got up a few hours later he left a circle of dried blood. He limped for a few days, but there were no more major fights after that. Just the odd skirmish, to stay in trim.

He made it very clear that it was His House. When we had insulation put in, it involved using the grandmother of all dentist's drills to make holes in the bricks all the way around the first floor. The noise was like being inside a blender. George's reaction was to march upstairs to the study and mount guard in the doorway. If we were responsible for His House's destruction then we were damn well going to go down with it. At one point a workman dropped a bale of fibreglass insulation the size of a coffee table right beside him. George merely glared.

Then we had new carpet. Two sturdy chaps arrived and started bringing in their tools and the rolls of underlay. After a while a plaintive voice came up the stairs "'Ere, is this cat yours?" and we found George positioned in the hall, refusing to let them back in.

Two doors up live an elderly couple who call him Top Cat. He answers when called as Top Cat, not surprisingly, as they feed him milk, chicken and kitchen scraps. Oh, no, the old chap told me solemnly, he won't eat cat food. I showed him the binful of empty tins but his expression made it plain that they were just decoys put there to fool him. Or that we ate the stuff ourselves. The man over the road also gives George milk (he won't drink semi-skimmed, mind,) and the bacon out of his butties.

Another neighbour was a bit less charitable: "Getting a bit deaf in his old age, is he? Going blind, then?" Feeling guilty about the foreign policy of our Virginia Creeper (it was that neighbour), I assured him George was in full possession of his faculties.

"Well, the other day, when I come home he was lying right in the middle of the road, right?"

Er, yes. George long ago worked out that you don't have to move out of shadows as often if you do that.

"Only I done a three point turn. Right all the way round him and he never moved once."

When he was younger, George would climb the lilac tree in the back yard and bite off branches, chew them a bit then drop them. The Herns once had to take him to the vet to remove a small branch he had got stuck across the roof of his mouth.

Now that he's older and a lot more milk, bacon, chicken, etc has passed under the bridge, so to speak, George is content to spend his days sitting under the lilac tree, guarding the hole in the back fence. Rumours that he is too fat to get up the tree any more are widely denied. All manner of fearsome creatures live in the vast blackberry thicket at the bottom of our garden, but Westbourne Terrace is safe in the knowledge that it has a guardian who is even worse.

--Giulia De Cesare

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