Britain is balmy.
At last, those cold wet eternal days of squelchy purgatory seem to have evaporated and it seems as though the sunshine will last, quite simply, forever.
The cats are convinced of it. They are most fortunate cats: for the rickety fence which borders our back garden is simply a set of wooden slats between us and the most perfect feline playground anyone could ask for. It is a thicket of birch entangled with sticky, sinewy rhododendron, that Himalayan interloper which seems so at home in forest soils.
Rhodedendrons shut out the light,but they also keep the keenest of winds out, and provide an adventurous moggie’s ideal habitat. Carpeted in dry leaf mould, the area is full of the shrubs which grow long limbs out sideways as well as upwards. In practice, this means catwalks: lots and lots of catwalks.
There is no better place to ambush a fellow feline, and Monty can be seen, if one peers from the patio doors, stationary on a horizontal rhododendron limb, waiting for something, anything to jump out on. And not just Monty: staring at our little section of the forest is like a Where’s Wally book for cats. The longer you stare, the more you see.
But it is, if you will, a moving Where’s Wally. Cat Chess (as outlined by Terry Pratchett) is being played the whole time. And to only Cat Chess, but a variant which I believe the local feline population has made especially for Macaulay the easily-baited terrier.
It is my son Felix who noticed that cats have been having a laugh at the dog’s expense. The general gist of the lark is this: a cat takes position tantalisingly close to the old wooden slats of the fence, but still outside the garden. It waits until Macaulay is out pottering round, patrolling his land with a keen nose. they depend on the fact that his nose is not keen enough to smell an interloper.
The cat waits until there is a clear path straight across the garden, across the flower beds, past the old disintegrating shed. And with eyes bulging triumphantly, and the timing of a guard at Charing Cross, the cat chooses his moment and then streaks hell-for-leather past the dog.
The whole game hinges on the fact that the dog actually travels on a slower time-path than the cat. Thus, by the time he has actually registered the madcap bristling streak which occupied time and space in front of his eyeballs, that time and space has long, long gone.
So that’s how the neighbourhood cats get their kicks when the muscly limbs of rhododendron become – well- tedious. But the cats who live with the dog are so young they do not yet know what tedium is. They are wired. Sent. Solid gone. Utterly absorbed in the drama of early summer in a little patch of woodland in Berkshire, England.