Thuggery has been around for a while. More than 700 years, to be a little more precise.
It is an ancient example of organised crime. India’s Thuggee had been murdering, man and boy, at least since 1290, when the first evidence of their existence bubbled to the surface like a black spring in 1356.
The Sultan of fourteenth century Delhi carried out some intelligence work and persuaded one Thuggee to turn 1,000 of his comrades over to the city.
Their job, it seems, was to murder travellers, usually by garotting them. Thus journeyers made their way in caravans. The Thuggees sent a small number of its members to infiltrate the caravan. They might spend hundreds of miles gaining the trust of the travellers before opening the way for their comrades to murder everyone.
But once he had uncovered them, the Sultan did not execute them.
Instead, he had them put onto boats and sailed far, far away, to a part of the country where they would never bother Delhi again.
He showed this unusual respect because no-one was ever quite sure whether these warrior-brigands were in the employ of a goddess. Kala is the Hindu goddess of eternal energy. But her name is derived from the word kala which means blackness and Death. Word has it, Death in this writhing, exquisite female form was the Thuggee’s patron.
Their modus operandum was zero tolerance. Not one traveller must escape to raise the alarm. The Thuggee schtick involved caravans going missing, as mysterious as planes in the Bermuda Triangle.
The British empire made life tough for Thuggees. They used intelligence and advanced techniques of detection, and they made it worth their while to turn states evidence. There was no mention of them by the time the twentieth century dawned.
Except that word: thug. It no longer carries the connotations it once did. Thugs now are not murderers, neither scheming or intelligent. Now they are just heavies.
We have experienced twenty-first century thugs: four-legged, though, not two-legged.
Just before the millennium, we and our no children and two cats were settled in a comfortable Kentish commuter’s haven.
Our street, which backed onto fields which stretched to the Medway River, was not over-populated by cats. My two – dubbed Kit Kat and Tuppence – were very happy going in and coming out, conducting their business.
If the cats related to each other at all it was very much as Terry Pratchett put it, in his scholarly tome, “The Unadulterated Cat”. They played Cat Chess.
Humans have never quite worked out the rules to this game of complex feline logic, but the cats seem to know what they are doing. Look out of the window in a British suburb and they’ll all be there: watching each other. And one will make a move, no-one knows why, and claim a new piece of territory. And everyone will adjust their positions accordingly.
This gentle feline pavane was how my cats experienced their peers. All was as serene as an English garden party.
One day, I saw a job in the paper. I could do it, all right: but it would mean moving to the Wild West.
We sold the house and moved, lock, stock and barrel, to the most picturesque 18th century cottage you could imagine, with roses round the door and a stunning garden stretching down to an early celtic church complete with bells.
Oh, I thought as I looked around: the cats will just love this.
We packed them into cat boxes and drove them for seven hours to their new lair.
After an appropriate period inside they put tentative paws across the threshold. And met the neighbours with all speed.
Two cottages down lived a household of free spirits. They lived life authentically, on a shoestring, and with passion. We loved them: they were even more colourful than we were.
Their daughter was into animal rights. The day they sent the hunt past the door she was out there. shaking her fist at the ladies on horseback, there in the shady lane as the horses drank at the ford.
She worked at a cat sanctuary. And inevitably, the hopeless cases came to live with her.
Terry Pratchett has a lovely term for these thuggish creatures: Boot faced cats.
He tells us: “Boot-faced cats aren’t born but made, often because they’ve tried to outstare or occasionally rape a speeding car and have been repaired by a vet who just pulled all the bits together and stuck the stitches in where there was room.”
There were nine such cats living feet away from our front door. Safety and security was a thing of the past. This was Cat War.
Remember, according to Hollywood, there is only one option in David and Goliath matches like this one.
It’s the triceratops-versus-tyrannosaurus solution. You get the baddies fighting one another so much, they forget about you.
This, I am certain, is what Tuppence and Kit Kat proceeded to do. My evidence? The number of caterwauling sessions which took place outside our cottage windows while our two were curled up on the duvet.
They had an expression on their face which indicated they were immensely pleased with themselves.
Shall we call it: Smuggee?