A very small black panther, a patch of black which eats light, lies at my side. It has green eyes and the languid air of a seasoned explorer returned home.
He has had a busy day.
Because after an eternity of dithering, Clive Bond, the family cat, has mastered The Outside.
The development follows a considerable amount of sizing up Out There to see what it’s made of. And also, a fair amount of sitting next to the cat flap contemplating it.
The cat flap. An exit one has to nudge open with one’s face; and which, once you have edged gingerly through, shoots forward to spank you on the bottom as a parting gesture. I wonder, would humans use it?
I suppose needs must.
In the old days there was no flap, just a hole. No nosework, no goodbye spank. But a very draughty house. Exeter Cathedral has one to help the kitty who used to mouse the clock tower. Geoffrey Chaucer, in the MIller’s tale of his 14th century Canterbury Tales, has a servant knock on the door and when there is no answer, he looks through the cat flap:
“An hole he foond, ful lowe upon a bord
Ther as the cat was wont in for to crepe,
And at the hole he looked in ful depe,
And at the last he hadde of hym a sighte.”
They are everywhere, and like those who use them, have been for millennia. Farm cat doors – made to welcome ferals in to hunt the mice – are still visible in France and Spain. The Spanish call them Gateras, the French – my favourite – chatiéres.
And cats got the better of Isaac Newton and his genius if one fairy tale about him is to be trusted. Contemporaries report he never had cats or dogs. But folklore has retained the story that this genius of physics had a foolish regard for a cat and her tiny offspring, who arrived at his house one day. And when he came to offer them hospitality and make cat flaps, he made a large one for the mother; and a tiny one for the mewling kittens of the family.
And whatever the tale’s provenance, there are indeed two holes in the door which used to be Isaac Newton’s at Trinity College, Cambridge, blocked up to protect today’s central heating; one large one, and one tiny one.
So these cat flaps have a pedigree, so to speak. Whilst the Oxford Dictionary only referred to cat flaps for the first time in 1957, our feline friends have been referring to them for millennia.
Clive has tackled the robust physicality of the cat flap by staring fixedly at it for weeks. He knows it carries the many siren secrets of the garden. But he is equally aware it requires brute force to operate.
This should not be a problem for Clive. He has been punching the dog for months.
But Clive’s little grey cells move slowly.It has taken a long time to come to terms with the whole concept.
When he finally took the plunge, it was with incredible mystery and panache. For none of us knew a thing. There was Phil, standing in the kitchen one day in the week, and the cat walked in through the cat flap. As if there was nothing at all surprising about him emerging from The Outside, where he had rarely stuck a toe before now.
And yesterday, Saturday, he took full advantage of humans being around. Not only did he show the cat flap who was boss, he took a stroll down the drive and into suburbia. Clive has surveyed his world, and when he arrived he – usually the strong silent type -spent some considerable time telling Phil all about it.
The Outside. It’s a brave new world for Clive Bond.