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Paws, Claws, Purrs & Chaos

Paws, Claws, Purrs & Chaos

Friday 01 October 2021

When I tell people that I have Siamese cats, they tend to look at me a bit askance, first saying, vaguely, how beautiful they are, and then generally referring to the mischievous Siamese cats in the famous Disney movie Lady and The Tramp. However, despite Disney’s regrettable culturally reductive portrayal — which is problematic for modern audiences — one of the undeniably attractive things about the Siamese breed is their mischievousness, adding just the right amount of chaos to an otherwise orderly life.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sat in front of the computer, keenly focused as I stressed over a deadline, when all of a sudden a beige blur comes tearing across my desk, whipping every single sheet of loose paper skyward, as paperclips and pens are fired off the desk in completely random directions. Two seconds later, el pussos have scarpered, in just the same fashion they arrived, and I’m left wondering, ‘What the hell that was about?’

I’ve walked into rooms and caught them dangling, cliffhanger-style from 12-feet-high cornicing, and they’ve sharpened their claws on pretty much every piece of furniture and carpet they’ve had access to. (They’re not for the houseproud.)

They’ve reconnoitered every square inch of our house — the good, the bad, and the dusty, and I regularly hear the muffled meows of seemingly invisible cats. I’ve learned to accept that they’ve either squeezed themselves into an impossibly tiny cavity and are having a great time tormenting me, or else my cheese has finally slipped the cracker, so to speak — only instead of going batty, I’ve rather appropriately gone ‘catty’.

One of the cutest traits of Siamese cats, however, is that they aren’t half as solitary as other breeds, loving nothing more than to cuddle in a big furry pile with one another as they groom and take naps.

I’ve had Siamese cats throughout my life, but the fact is people here know very little about these elegant felines and there are far fewer in Ireland than there were some years ago.
My late colleague, The Curmudgeon Hugh Leonard was a playwright and columnist for this newspaper, and for many years regaled readers with the antics of his two Siamese, Pooka and Panache. I always felt that, while he maintained a grumpy persona, he must’ve had a soft heart as he loved his cats so much. As he educated his readers on his new passion, a part of me wanted to tell him that he was but a newcomer to the subject as I’d had a house full of Siamese since I was 10 years old. However, I didn’t have the nerve!

So what is it about these extraordinary ‘royal cats of Siam’ who reputedly perched on columns around the King’s throne? Well, you can be guaranteed, there’s never a dull moment once they take over your life. They’re insatiably inquisitive and demanding.

They ‘chat’ continuously, wanting to be involved at all times, and they’re totally devoted, one-person animals, forever by your side wherever you walk, lie, work or even bathe.

Besides Lady And The Tramp, Siamese cats have featured in various other films down the years from The Wizard of Oz, Bewitched, and The Incredible Journey to the iconic 1958 movie Bell, Book and Candle, which starred Kim Novak as a witch, with her own gorgeous Siamese, Pyewacket, who casts a spell over James Stewart.

My first Siamese kitten was Suzuki San (Suzy), who came about after my mother found an ancient book in a secondhand shop which was called Princess Elizabeth’s Siamese Kitten, showing the then future Queen of England with her kitten. I’m not so sure that Her Majesty took to the cat, as it seems that her fascination and love was subsequently devoted to corgis.

However, with my being a demanding only child, my mother must’ve thought it would keep me entertained and off her back. I don’t think she quite realised what a commitment she’d taken on. Suzy was the star of the show. She came on holidays to Skerries, was picky with food, and unsurprisingly, Mum fell slightly out of love with her when, having stepped on her tail, my precious puss took a lump out of her leg.

Both of my parents died before I was 22 and there was a period when I had no Siamese in my life, until I met my future husband, Brendan, who was in the theatrical business. He heard me talking to someone in the Green Room of the Gaiety Theatre, and made a very shrewd move by appearing with a Siamese kitten we called Sasha.

Naturally, Sasha had to have a companion, so the following week Brendan was sent back to the breeder in Wicklow, and he returned with Felix.

Sasha and Felix were two super boys. Sasha was ‘top cat’, dark, leggy and elegant, while Felix, the sweet, gentle, fair one allowed Sasha to dominate. They gave us great joy until, sadly, Sasha died of kidney disease, which Siamese cats are prone to.

We decided that Felix would need company and so took on two female kittens, Rama and Raisa, whom he was delighted with. However, he was so busy running after them, up and down the stairs of a three-storey house, that one night he ran his last race, jumping up on my bed and dying right there and then.

My two sons were small at this stage, so I thought it’d be fair to let Rama have one litter, and a good experience for the boys. There were always kittens swinging off the clothes rack or sliding down bannisters in those days. The only problem was I wasn’t made for parting with them. While I had Brendan convinced that I was searching for suitable homes, needless to say no one was good enough and so we ended up living with five Siamese across three generations, not to mention Lily, a gorgeous tortoiseshell who’d arrived at our back door one day, plus an elderly black stray we’d come across one Friday night driving back from a restaurant.

The poor bedraggled puss was dragging herself sadly across the road when we saw her. “I can’t take her,” said another woman who’d pulled up too. And so, Friday, with her mesmerizing green eyes, sat up happily between us, knowing she was on to a good thing as we drove her home. We took her to the vet the next day who said she looked as if she had been living rough for a while. We contacted rescue services, looking for her owners, but found no one — so she was ours.

Friday always reminded me of the song from the musical Cats – Memory, all alone in the moonlight, I can smile at the old days, I was beautiful then. But, beautiful or not, Brendan waited on her hand and paw, and she rewarded him every morning by pooing in the corner of the living room.

With seven cats in the house, they all had their territories. The Siamese wouldn’t allow Lily or Friday upstairs, while the two blow-ins ruled the kitchen and would take swipes at any Siamese that dared jumped up on the counter. They were testing times, but our two former strays lived out their days regally, both getting cancer at around the same time.

Eventually, my multi-generation moggies all passed on — but I wasn’t finished. Finding a kitten in Norfolk, and another in the north of England, I dragged the long-suffering Brendan off on the fast ferry to Holyhead. The Norfolk kitten, Bobby Dazzler, was delivered by a lovely lady who’d driven down with her 93-year-old neighbour to hand over the precious, clearly mollycoddled, kitten, who was a boisterous, precocious little furball from day one.

He was an ‘only’ kitten, being much too important to be sharing a litter with any brothers and sisters. When the breeder gave him to us, he was rolling around on pristine white bedding with his big, fluffy, red mouse toy — which he loved for years and would even play ‘fetch’ with, growling like a dog when we tried to take it to throw again.

Leaving Norfolk, we headed on to meet the other breeder, who was an entirely different kettle of fish. Rolling up late in a battered old car, they were virtual replicas of Onslow and Daisy from Keeping Up Appearances. (I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m Hyacinth in this analogy.) Things quickly took a less humorous turn as one of the disheveled ‘breeders’ dragged a terrified kitten from a grubby basket in the back seat. We could see right away that he had a problem with his eye, but, being afraid of what might happen if we didn’t, we took him home with us.

The breeding business is pretty ruthless when it comes to dogs and cats, and clearly this poor traumatised little fellow, whom we named Bruno, had been raised in a cage and not properly socialised. For a long time, he was the living embodiment of the phrase ‘scaredy cat’. Now though, aged 14, he’s the most loving and adorable animal ever.

We had another dodgy experience with a breeder four years ago, after our wonderful Bobby Dazzler died suddenly from an all-too-familiar kidney problem.

Having become so outgoing, we didn’t want Bruno to be lonely, so this time we made an appointment with ‘reputable breeders’, but on entering the house, we realised that no animal ever saw the inside.

The breeder brought in a caged basket of four kittens from outside. They were all absolutely petrified. I picked up two male kittens, and then picked up a little female. When I put her back down, she started to scream and go in circles in the cage. I asked what was wrong with her and the breeder replied: “She’s a woman”. Horrified, we departed with the two male kittens, but I couldn’t stop thinking of this little female, and another terrified little brother, who hadn’t moved at all.

I tossed and turned all night, and by the time the sun came up, I was arranging to collect the other two. Now, poor old Bruno has more company than he ever imagined with Garbo, Gable, Beau and Thumper, all running circles around him in a house that’s permanently in chaos but never has a dull moment.

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First Published In The Sunday Independent