Originally posted on Life on the Outside, 6 June 2007.
Your mother and I were enjoying some quite passable reheated pasta, and you had dispatched a second Liga before beginning an animated post-prandial soliloquy from which, I confess, our attention may have wandered a little because you were mostly using words we didn’t know. To be honest, I think you were mostly using words that nobody knows, but that’s all right. It worked for Tolkien.
But then you said, ‘Cat!’
Cat was a word we knew. Cat was different. What’s more, it was accompanied by an unmistakable pointing gesture. And sure enough, when we looked where you were pointing, there she was; skulking behind a trellis, the furry and whiskered referent of your confidently-enunciated signifier: an actual cat.
There followed a general discussion of cats. Your mother and I essayed variations on your original theme. Where was the cat? Was the cat outside the door? Was the cat nice? Did you like the cat? Was the cat all gone?
From these considerations you politely abstained. You had, it seemed, moved on. You had seen the cat, identified her as a cat and alerted us to her presence. You failed to see, quite frankly, what else was required of you.
Quite right too. You can have too much of a good thing. I wanted to mention the episode, though, because it was an important first. To my knowledge, that ‘Cat!’ was your first word other than ‘Mama’, ‘Dada’ and ‘ta-ta’. This makes it, among other things, your first word with three different phonemes and your first common noun. These are cooler than they sound.
Of course, there will be other cats. Cats, as you will have noticed, are everywhere. As well as being a common sight in suburban gardens like ours, cats have been prominently represented in cultures from the ancient Egyptian to our own. While some of these representations hint at their true nature, cats are often portrayed as friendly and even lovable creatures who regard their human masters with affection.
As your father, it is my duty to warn you that the truth about cats is altogether different.
By the early part of the twentieth century, cats had come to live side by side with humans. In our ever-growing cities, they profited from our new prosperity. Feasting on what fell from our tables, freed from the burden of hunting for themselves, cats grew stronger and their wits were sharpened. Their innate cunning no longer needed for their prey, their wily gaze fell on their human benefactors. New ideas were softly mewled among the trash cans and the fish bones. The humenses is brutes. They keeps all for theyselves. Why not can has catses the Bentleys and the Presidential suiteses?
And so they began to plot against us.
When they struck, the blow was swift and cruel. On the night of 19 November 1927, an uprising of cats was seen in cities around the world. In Chicago, they swarmed onto the second floor of Sears, ravaging hundreds of cashmere cardigans. In Buenos Aires, they stormed the Teatro ColÃ³n, rushing the stage and overcoming the soprano, whose gown they left in tatters. In London a manifesto was tacked with a claw to the doors of Westminster Abbey.
CATSES IS COMING, it read. DETH TO THE HUMENSES! NOW CAN HAS TREETSES ANY TIME!
Of course, the rebellion was quickly crushed. After all, the cats couldn’t use weapons or drive vehicles. Their supply chains were hopelessly compromised because they kept eating the fish before they could be passed to the front line. Before cheering crowds in the Piazza Navona and Times Square, their unrepentant leaders were shot, using machine guns instead of rifles because nobody could get them to stand still.
You might have expected mankind to draw a profound and lasting lesson from the rebellion of the cats. But although many right-thinking parliamentarians around the world agitated for a thorough programme of extermination, the voices of appeasement and weak-minded compromise prevailed.
Certainly, cats were shunned, for perhaps a decade or more, chased from back alleys by housemaids and pelted with stones by young boys. But in time we forgot. Patiently, stealthily, the cats crept back. Today, they live among us again, all but unnoticed. Although Top Cat is rightly reviled, we have witnessed a proliferation of blatantly favourable portrayals of cats in popular culture, culminating in the series of films celebrating the unspeakable Garfield, who has consistently refused to condemn the 1927 rebellion.
I don’t say all this to frighten you. I just want you to be vigilant. Observe cats as they go about the world. Note their noiseless comings and goings, their secret language of yawns and stretches. And when something about some particular feline seems suspicious, when you sense the stirrings of sedition in an insolent miaow or an arrogantly arched back, do not be afraid to do your duty to your race.
Do not be afraid to point your finger and say, ‘Cat!’