Last Christmas, I spent much of the two-week break from work happily ensconced in a chair with a string of Tom Cox books, one after the other. I can’t remember who in my family had first come across @mysadcat on twitter but we had been screenshotting and sending each other pictures of The Bear, “the world’s most melancholy cat” (and of Shipley and Ralph, @myswearycat and @mysmugcat) for months if not years before we finally got to grips with the charm and warmth of Tom Cox’s books devoted to tales of his life with his characterful feline friends. I had given my dad The Good, the Bad and the Furry, and he had in a similar vein given me Close Encounters of the Furred Kind. Those cosy days between Christmas and New Year are so often spent in suspended time, judging a day’s progress only by when darkness falls or when the collective group is hungry enough for more turkey sandwiches. We tend to spend it rotating around our various family homes en masse, making ourselves cosy not just in our own but each other’s too, and it’s the perfect setting for the sort of intensive chain-reading the rest of the year doesn’t always allow for, all merrily reading and swapping at that same uniquely leisurely rate all Christmas activities absolutely must done at.
These books have so much heart, and I would recommend them to anyone. They shine a light with humour and sentimentality in equal measure on all that sharing a life with pets entails. At a first glance they could be taken simply for stories about the cats themselves, entertaining enough as that would be, but they are so much more than that. As in real life, and as I know to be true with my own beloved collection of animals, there is always more than just the day-to-day care of them going on. Our wider lives, with their soaring highs and devastating lows, play out alongside the daily opening of a tin of food; and time and time again we find that they are anchored by that daily routine, and given sometimes much-needed perspective by the affection and companionship offered by our pets.
One of my favourite treats wrapping up a week on a Friday afternoon is a coffee and a read at the Tom Cox website, where so many lengthy and some shorter blog posts appear, rambling through life in the countryside with the cats, a well-used pair of walking boots and an assortment of wildlife. Tom writes about so much that I love to read, and that inspired me to get involved in the blogging world – books, music, long walks, family dynamics and peaceful evenings in the middle of nowhere. Most of all though, he writes with such affection in both his books and online about the cats:
“The Bear is not so much a cat as a polite, pacifist poet who happens to be trapped in a feline body and is making his best of a bad situation. The Bear has never gone in for the petty squabbles or attention-seeking power plays of other cats, and chooses to “meeoop” gently at me or nod subtly in the direction of the food cupboard when he wants to be fed. When Shipley has tried to square off with him or challenge him to an arm wrestle, his response has usually been to scuttle off and hide in the nearest cardboard box. When he looks into my eyes, as he does often, it feels less like he is asking for food and more like he is asking me for solutions to the world’s problems. I haven’t got any of the latter, so I settle for the former: usually as much of it as he wants, because he’s nearly twenty, and I feel blessed to have been able to know him for the last decade and a half.”
There is such a gratitude in Tom’s writing for the privilege of living a life with these animals, one I know very well in my own life, and the different personalities are wonderfully painted in all his pieces. Along with so many others, I have followed with baited breath George’s journey as he moved with ups and downs from a homeless stray to settled housecat; Roscoe’s recovery from her terrible injuries last year, overjoyed to see her fighting fit again; Shipley and Ralph entertain the twittersphere with their angry and beautific expressions respectively; and, most of all, the very special The Bear, who reached 21 years old last month, age so very gracefully. (Now almost entirely “retired” from social media (still popping up now and then with photos with his fellow housemates), The Bear is an amazing age and enjoying a quieter pace of life.)
“What has changed about The Bear recently is that he’s gone a bit deaf, although this hasn’t made him any less polite, just polite in a louder kind of way. His two main noises – the “meeoop” and his half-meow chirrup, both of which were always very soft and mild – have evolved into a completely new noise. This noise is quite hard to describe but I think the best way I could put it is that it’s the kind of sound a particularly friendly bumblebee would make if it was a foot high and came to live in your spare room. The Bear, of course, has no idea he’s being newly loud. When he meows at the fresh bowl of water I keep on the bathroom floor for him, which for some reason he seems to be in love with, he believes he is singing the water a gentle, private lullaby. He has no idea that, not far away, people are breaking off their conversations and asking “Who is that mournful old lady that I can hear wailing to herself? I wonder if she recently lost her husband.””
There is such a richness to the way these wonderful characters are documented and shared with the world through both the turning pages and the scrolling screen, and I would recommend them to all.
Hope everyone is having a lovely week. x