I am now into the second term of the Creative Writing Class. We have moved on from ‘Writing and Art’ to ‘Character and Voice’. If I thought ‘Writing and Art’ was a challenge, it was a doddle compared with ‘Character and Voice’. Let’s face it, I write Blogs about tea towels; I’m not into creating character. I have no ambition to write a novel or play. However, we have been put into groups of three, in order that we may critique each other’s work. This is getting worse, I thought. At least when you write a Blog, you don’t come face to face with your audience. The first group was yesterday. Two things happened: it is possible to create ‘character’ from a tea towel (stick to what you know, is my philosophy) because as it says in the Museum “Every tea towel tells a story” and secondly, being challenged to confront my terror of people looking at my writing was really helpful; the other two came up with some excellent ‘tweeks’ and I thoroughly enjoyed it. So the highlighted version, with tweeks, is what I presented to the group. Bobbie said it would be good to have a picture of Benjamin, so he appears at the bottom of this Blog: with the Ocado shopping, lazily stretched out, under the shade of a tea towel and, lastly, with Isabella .
“A vet once told me that there are two kinds of cats: the “bright, sassy” ones and those that are “pleasantly dim”. Benjamin definitely belongs to the latter group. His unnaturally short tail bears witness to this, having got into a scrape with a squirrel who bit the end off. He is now disproportionate in size, a very large cat with a ridiculously short tail. If truth be told, I like to think of him as a slim, sleek, elegant cat with a big fluffy coat. The vet’s scales belie this notion at 5.9kg; we can all fool ourselves about weight.
Benjamin’s routine is to sit on the patio, looking in through the glass doors, at about 7pm every evening. It is a woeful look, targeting me; “What are you waiting for? Open up the door, it’s time for dinner”. I ask myself whether he just doesn’t realise that his dinner is in his bowl, in the lobby, or perhaps he just enjoys watching me gesticulate, pointing to where the cat flap is, miming that I have already opened the tin. It would be nice to think that this is Benjamin winding me up but, in reality, I think that this is Benjamin being ‘not very bright’, but at his best. Most days I give in and open the door. Why? In case he forgets the route in, of course.
Benjamin is a ‘mouser’; he’s good at stalking under the bushes, speedy at that final pounce but he is so easily distracted. He brings a mouse through the cat flap, sees a bowl of food, drops the mouse so that I now have a very scared critter on the run. Benjamin doesn’t care if I have to move the washing machine, or lift a bookcase, and if, in this process, we find a mouse, he doesn’t care; he has moved on to better things, possibly sleeping. Benjamin isn’t a discerning ‘mouser’; if it moves, he will catch it but can’t tell the difference between the tasty and the indigestible, so rarely is he rewarded for his efforts. Some days the lobby looks like a scene from ‘Silent Witness’; it isn’t just live creatures I am tackling but the innards of some poor animal whose life was needlessly cut short.
Benjamin’s favourite day is the Ocado Day. He doesn’t mind if it is Shaun in the Onion Van or Kelly in the Raspberry Van, he instinctively knows one of them will call. He sits by the back door, a pile of empty bags at the ready, waiting. When the door opens he makes no attempt to escape. As the filled grey bags are piled up, he sniffs each one, checking to see if dinner has arrived, before sitting amongst them, until I have put the shopping away. Benjamin has a reputation amongst the Ocado drivers; each week he appears on Ocado’s Twitter account, playing with some aspect of the shopping.
Benjamin moved in 4 years ago with his, maybe, sister, Isabella, notoriously known, in the Woodside Animal Centre, as ‘The Class of 87’; one of 87 cats that were found in a shed in someone’s garden. They were well fed but flea-ridden, sort of cared for, in a strange way. From an unnatural start in life, Benjamin became loving but not needy, independent but always a ‘home bird’.
Besides his distinguished tail, he has a beautiful colouring, black and white, as if in full evening dress, with his bib and tucker. His colouring doesn’t lend itself to successful photography but it has never stopped me taking far too many photographs of a black blob, his dress shirt all covered up. Those photographs have now become essential, a lifeline because it is eight days since Benjamin went walkabout; he may not be the ‘bright and sassy’ cat but he is a cat of routine and this is not part of his routine. In the meantime, Isabella sits on my knee, looking out through the patio windows, hoping to see his face, imploring to be let in. There is a yawning well of sadness that Isabella and I share, a sense of a part of our lives that has gone forever.
Life has to go on and today is the day for using ‘Des Chats’ for the wiping up; usually Steinlen’s cats would put a smile on my face but today there is merely a sense of emptiness. While I bought this tea towel, in the V&A, in 1987, it will always now remind me of Benjamin, rather than a day out in London”