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Everthankful purrs

As everyone knows, when it comes to the art of cool presumption, few creatures are as practiced as cats. They take you entirely for granted; expect to be fed on demand, would rather starve than ingest inferior brands of catfood; leap without a by-your-leave onto furniture or laps in the clear consciousness that such things are provided for their sole use. Cats are aesthetes. Their tastes aren't basic or obvious, they are cultivated and esoteric. Why a cat purrs or doesn't purr in any given situation is one of those age-old, dark enigmas. It isn't some involuntarily triggered response; oh no -- it involves consideration and lengthy meditation. A purr (and they come in varying degrees of intensity) is a value judgment. It shrewdly answers the inward query: "Is this stroking (holding, talking, feeding, etc.) actually worthy of acknowledgment?" It is rare for a purr to reach beyond the stage of a qualified approval.

What other creature is so breathtakingly skilled in making dependence look like independence? What other creature (like royalty conferring a title) bestows a well-deserved affection on you as though it were the greatest honor? Certainly cats are presumptuous and, what's worse, they are stinting in their gratefulness. And yet -- just occasionally there emerges from this unpredictable species some delightful (and delighted) spirit, some exception.

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Such as my ginger cat. A friend describes him as "everything a cat should be ," or, in other words, everything a cat usually isn't. For a start, he, ginger cat, almost never expresses annoyance. He overspills with the most extraordinary thankfulness. Glance at him and he purrs. Touch him and he rolls over instantly on his back, it doesn't matter where -- in the middle of a field, on a bed, on the front doorstep. He can be curled secure in an embryonic sleep, but he instantly throws all four arms widely in the air, issues small noises of utter contentment and, as you inevitably stroke him, hem smiles. As Lewis Carroll knew, there is something indelible about a cat's smile, but this cat never disappears leaving his smile behind. He sticks around wherever his smile happens to be. He doesn't want to miss one moment's happiness. Of course it is true that, like many good cat-human relationships, mine with this cat started out as cheek and nerve. At that time, as wild as he now is tame, he melodramatically haunted the farmhouse and buildings for some six months while I , in no way planning to add a second cat to my collection, pretended to ignore his somewhat heavy-footed presence.

Not that I could approach him in any case. If he saw me coming he charged for cover in abject fright. I don't believe his cheek was intentional -- more instinctual. He is no calculating cat. But the fact is that one summer day a momentarily open kitchen door and some meat left carelessly on the table was too much of an invitation. The skulking ginger cat from the wild made his first daredevil break-in. By what process that untame animal was transformed into the glorious object of routine domesticity is a story in itself. But one thing is certain: it was, however misguidedly, human kindness (with a little bit of milk) that made the first approach. That cat took nothing for granted. But when he discovered that the permanent (and transient) people in the house were generous enough to put out food for him, and then, very tentatively, to try to touch him, a sudden revelation occurred. "This," announced some deep-seated feline voice, "is the life."

Is it true that only those who have been deprived can know real gratitude? Surely not, but all the same I do feel the ginger cat has never quite forgotten what it is to be without,m and this is why he never ceases to marvel at the delights of being with.m If you think a cat can't marvel, meet this one. It is as if the fondness of people came as an astounding bolt from the blue, as something that the sweetest of dreams could hardly concoct. He was taken by complete surprise and has never forgotten it. And he can't be loved too much.

"His capacity receiveth as the sea." Not for him the unfelicitous trait of being unable to take too much attention; not for him the sudden bite and claw and furious oscillation of the tail when the strain of being loved gets too great. This round cat is the endless welcome, entirely tolerant. Pick him up, put him down, let him in, throw him out, feed him, refuse him food: all is fine with him.

What cat in the world purrs like a motorbike when you push him through the back door into a snowstorm in December? This one does. Gratitude altogether overwhelms circumstance. Is such a complete lack of criticism, such an abandonment of judgment in favor of sheer, inexhaustible appreciativeness, perhaps just a mite stupid? Well . . . yes . . . maybe just a mitem stupid. I shall have to admit that intellectual acuity ism more potential than evident in the ginger cat -- just as physical nimbleness (natural to most cats) is not his strongest point. He thunders, herdlike, across a room or a field to greet one, or jumps like a hundredweight of potatoes off a table. His brand of tenderness is definite, bold, unremitting, unsubtle, heavy, and meant. It is not delicate. But good heavens, this solid mass of warmth and daftness certainly makes you feel as though you matter.

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