Tom Cox's Loud Dad and Floyd the kitten
My mum and dad got a new kitten a couple of weeks ago. I’m pleased about this, partly because my parents always had cats when I was growing up and any house they live in without one seems oddly empty, and because it means my mum is less likely to steal one of the four cats I call my own. “Four’s too many,” she has told me at various points over the last few years. “You need to give one to me. Besides, two of them clearly don’t get on.” I have typically parried these opinions with evidence that my cats are perfectly happy with their current arrangement, and the suggestion that, if she really wants a cat, there were many very lovely ones all over the world just waiting to be rescued. “But how will I know it’s a good one?” she’s replied. “I want one like yours. Also, I’ve started to get used to how nice and clean the house is.”
My parents’ last cat, Daisy, who died almost exactly five years ago, was a neurotic and mixed up animal, inclined to purr only when she was angry and hiss on the rare occasions when she was pleased to see you. Her list of fears was long and intricate, including everything from terriers to colanders, but her real nemesis was my dad. Upon hearing his heavy footfall on the stairs, she would make herself scarce behind cupboards and sofas, later retaliating by breaking his concentration with a series of neurotic, high-pitched meows whose meaning was less “Give me food!” and more “I don’t belong in this frightening world and feel scared and confused, especially by this man who is constantly bellowing enthusiastically about African pop music and his intense dislike for Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud!” As Daisy became deafer in later years, her meow only got louder until, in what for him was a rare dip in volume, my dad began to attempt to undermine her by whispering insults in her ear when my mum wasn’t around.
I have to admit that the Daisy saga made me think twice, during the moments when, clearing up the entrails of a dead rodent, I weakened slightly, and wondered if I should give one of my cats to my mum after all. If Ralph, my very cuddly but somewhat highly-strung tabby, felt personally affronted when I collapsed my metal clothes horse, how would he feel when he heard my dad’s infamous “swear-sneeze” - an achoo of such phenomenal volume that when I was thirteen I would occasionally hear it when playing football in my friend Matthew’s garden, seventeen doors away? Fortunately, my parents’ nine-week-old new cat, who is called Floyd, seems entirely confident and free of hang-ups. At least, I think he is called Floyd. At the time of writing it seems slightly uncertain, as my dad is still campaigning hard, despite my mum’s reservations, to call him either “FLOB”, after the cousin who led his teenage gang in the early 1960s, or “DIRTY BERTIE”.
“LOOK AT THIS,” my dad explained this weekend, showing my girlfriend and me an action man, suspended from the ceiling above their staircase on some elastic, with a toy mouse wedged between his legs. “I MADE IT FOR HIM. HE LOVES IT.” Sure enough, Floyd proceeded to bat the action man enthusiastically around. Over the next couple of days, we watched as Floyd harassed nextdoor’s cat, wolfed down expensive tuna, chased ping pong balls and climbed up our legs, my dad not far from him all the time, watching him with the same kind of pride with which a boxing promoter might watch the new protege who has reinvigorated his career. “HAVE YOU SEEN THIS?” he said, putting the kitten in the pocket of his fleece. “AMAZING. DO YOURS DO THIS AS WELL?”
I’d always seen my dad as a little indifferent to cats: they never seemed quite untamed or majestic enough for him. It is as if, with Floyd, my dad has been awakened to all the joy of cat ownership in one blinding flash. Meanwhile, my mum, the lifelong cat lover, is forced to play the sceptical disciplinarian. “I’ve got a thing that I do when Floyd’s naughty where I put my finger on his nose and say ‘No!’ but I’ve actually started to do it to your dad, too,” she told me. “A couple of days ago I told him that he was on no account allowed to let Floyd into the bedroom, and half an hour later I found them asleep together.” “I’VE SOLVED THE MYSTERY OF WHY WE HAVE UNDERARM HAIR,” he told her afterwards. “IT’S THERE SO KITTENS CAN NEST IN OUR ARMPITS.” Floyd still has a couple of months to go before he’s old enough to go out, but the last Friday my mum found my dad outside, showing him the garden in the manner that a competitive football dad might show his toddler around Old Trafford, except with more organically-grown vegetables. “THIS IS THE COMPOST HEAP,” he explained. “I SOMETIMES SLEEP IN HERE.”
When Floyd is naughty, my dad prefers to take the more subtle, psychologically complex approach to disciplining him. “IT’S OKAY,” he told us, as Floyd did a wee in one of my mum’s spider plants. “IF HE DOES THAT AGAIN, I’M GOING TO MAKE HIM WATCH ‘THE COURAGE OF LASSIE’, ‘WHITE FANG’ AND ‘BEST IN SHOW’ BACK-TO-BACK.” That night, as my dad fell into a loud, snoring sleep with Floyd on his lap, halfway through a story about bullying my uncle Paul with Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra records in the 1970s (“I THINK HE WAS MORE INTO ROD STEWART BUT HE WAS TOO POLITE TO SAY SO”) I wondered what it was about Floyd that had captured his heart, where most other cats hadn’t. Was it the cute black splotches on his nose? His doglike ability to play fetch with his toy mouse? “I was wondering the same thing,” said my mum. “But have you noticed something? Floyd is always either completely switched on, or completely switched off. There’s no in between with him. Isn’t that sort of familiar?” Humans often find animal companions who resemble them in some way. I’d always imagined that, if my dad found himself reflected back in creature form, it would be in the form of something untamable, stubborn, excitable, raucous and clumsy: a rhino, perhaps, or an unusually attention-happy elk. I never thought he’d find it in a kitten barely bigger than his own foot.
Read more stories about Tom's dad in his latest book, Talk To The Tail (Simon And Schuster, £8.99) or at a discount from the
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