Sitting here on a Tuesday afternoon, I’m not getting far with very much. Shuffling bits of paper about, trying to write a pitch to The Oldie about how playing a pompous owl in a cartoon sort of saved my life, eating dates, and thinking about entering a travel writing competition in The Spectator are my four principal activities. The urge to get up from my desk is overwhelming but I intend to leave the emptying of the dishwasher as a reward for when I’ve done something more constructive. Yet with these things on my mind and some diligent staring at my computer screen under my belt nothing much is happening, and forcing myself to think about things I should be writing only ends up with my wondering whether I’ll be anything other than utterly, permanently broke.
To ensure I enjoy the sensation of having done even the merest of things by the time I go to bed tonight (even if realistically it is only a matter of copying-and-pasting) I’ve decided to reprint something I wrote a couple of years ago. On The Other Side Of The Tracks is a short story I was commissioned to write for a book published in New York in 2012. I explain things in this previous entry from my blog. It’s the tale of a cat who moves from London to New York and makes the best of the situation he finds himself in.
Golfers. Pah. Does their presence make me more genteel, do you think? I assume that’s why I have this backdrop of a load of guys in plus-fours swinging their clubs about. I ask you again – have they made me more genteel? It’s not within my jurisdiction to prove but my sense is this: put me on Planet Elegant Golfer with nicely turned-out chaps in tweed from here to as far as the eye can see and all their style and what-not is going to imbue me with precisely bugger-all. Maybe it’s meant to make me look more cute? My mother used to tell me not to poke my tongue out because, apparently, if the wind changed whilst I was in mid-poke I’d stay stuck like that. Piss off, I told her. Little children spot my two-tone head and coo as they translate this genetic jumble into adorability. Piss off, I say to them, too. English I may be by birth, but my manners aren’t quite the thing.
A couple of months back now an actress in London sashayed into some do-gooding place near the Thames to collect herself a little bundle of four-footed loveliness. She was, as my mum also used to say, worth a bob or two, and she could have gone and paid good money to buy herself something more dependable, but she thought she was doing the right thing, and so she came to this place not only to salvage a little creature but also I guess to assuage her sense of guilt at having too much cash for doing a job that has never been of use to anyone. I shouldn’t loathe her too much, though; it was, frankly, a relief to be sprung from my prison where the inmates constituted about two dozen cats and several hundred Staffordshire bull terrier dogs — the kind of ethnic balancing that does not lead to sweet music and low blood pressure.
Anyway, a matter of days after she’d snuck home with me in a velvet-lined wicker basket (of which some of the older cats couldn’t help but be envious) to her flat on the other side of London’s dear old river she landed this great part with HBO. Don’t ask me what the job is, but she squealed a lot when she first heard the news and she didn’t stop squealing for days and so I knew it must be more than "despondent cigarette girl with one line" or some such. Lifting my tail high into the air, I puckered my arse into the tightest, most disapproving knot of annoyance you can imagine and stalked from the room.
What strings she pulled I cannot imagine but instead of being dispatched back to my incarceration on the other side of the Thames I was allowed into your beautiful, if bankrupt, country alongside her. She rented a tiny flat in TriBeCa, which struck me as a ludicrous extravagance as she wasn’t even planning to be in it much, working as she was in Los Angeles. Her New York friend Walter was burdened with the task of cat-sitting me. I had tried to explain to both of them that I was more than happy to sort myself out but she pretended not to understand a word I was saying, and he just blinked and sneezed. So Walter moves in, eating up her electricity and frozen food, and tries to avoid me because, of course, he has allergies. The moment I first clapped eyes on him I knew he’d be trouble. He has soft brown hair he keeps sweeping back from his eyes, an even softer Marc Jacobs scarf wrapped round his lily-white neck and a hackles-raising way of sighing as he checks his iPhone, which is never unattended for more than thirty seconds. This sort of man is contractually obliged to have allergies.
I may come across as hard and bitter, especially for one so young, but I’m not entirely devoid of empathy and there was something about Walter’s sheer pathetic-ness that endeared him to me. If he’d been born a cat, he would have been the runt of the litter and would never have reached an age where a Marc Jacobs scarf strikes you as just the thing, so I spent our first few days together trying to keep not only my distance but my fur to itself, to no avail. Despite both our best efforts at mutual avoidance, by the end of week one, with his eyes streaming and his nose glowing in the dark, he’s on the phone to Lucinda, Honeysuckle, or Tuppence (her ludicrous name has been expunged from my small but decidedly efficient brain), sighing, coughing and sneezing his way through an apology, the result of which I was ushered back into the quilted splendour of my hand-held paddy wagon and brought here.
To tell you the truth, I feel quite lucky. Here is quite a nice place, this cat sanctuary, this truck stop for feline waifs and strays where I am now. Superficially not so different from the one I came from in London but it’s the attitude that’s different. The cats here are New Yorkers. Unlike their English cousins they don’t just moan and whimper about life but rather they believe, with a bit of effort, it will all work out. Of course, they’re wrong – the chances are it won’t work out — but it’s the attitude I find so disarming. The actress made poor Walter squeeze the phone receiver in the proximity of my ear so I could hear her deliver some apologies in baby talk (I hope that’s not the voice she’s going for with HBO – it’s sickening) and declare her intention to rescue me just as soon as she is able.
Piss off, I say. As far as I see it I have been rescued. How many cats born in dark corners of household-waste recycling sites in south London end up in New York? Not many, I reckon, and even if I can’t quite be the dainty little thing the photographer took me for, I don’t live with Staffordshire bull terriers any more and with any luck no actresses either.