Are you the kind of ridiculous person who puts your cat on the phone to speak to your other half when he or she is away from home? I’m not. Oh, okay, there was this one time recently when I was on the phone to my girlfriend and I put the mouthpiece up to my cat Ralph’s face, but that was only to demonstrate to her just how loudly Ralph was snoring at the time – honest. Ralph has a problem with snoring which, since he refuses to see anyone about it, has led to he and I sleeping in separate beds. He sleeps much more deeply than other cats and, upon waking, often gives the impression of emerging from some far-off magical land where trees are made of meat, but upon hearing my girlfriend call his name on this occasion, he instantly became alert. “What is this strange voodoo?” his face seemed to say. “This small black rectangle doesn’t look like a dark-haired woman from The West Country, yet it makes exactly the same noise as one.”
My four cats definitely understand some human words and sentences, but remain utterly impervious to others. All of them resolutely fail to comprehend the phrase “Get your claws off that 70s sofa – I know it’s secondhand but I paid good money for it” yet Ralph clearly understands the word “Ralph”, since he has now learned to meow it when he wants attention (“Raaaaaallllph!”). The cat sounds that they do and don’t react to are even more baffling. When I watched the famous talking cats video on YouTube the three of them who were nearby looked so genuinely outraged and agitated, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d penned a letter in protest, yet other noisy cat videos leave them unmoved.
Perhaps the cats in the talking cats video are making particularly shocking or racist statements? We will probably never know. The cat video that sent my cat Shipley most crazy recently was actually a clip I uploaded to Vine of him swearing I concluded that this reaction was either an extreme act of narcissism or a case of him thinking “Bloomin’ hell – there’s another cat somewhere in the room who’s actually as foul-mouthed as me! I didn’t think that was possible!”
I recently held a screening of Freeview’s cat and budgie ad for my cats, but, with the exception of Ralph’s ears pricking up slightly at the sound of the budgie tweeting at the beginning, all of them seemed keen to get back to their previous business. This doesn’t surprise me, as none of them have ever been big Motown fans. Shipley, in particular, prefers a more new wave kind of sound, and was especially receptive a few years ago when I attempted to train them to come and get their dinner to the sound of The Knack’s 1979 single ‘My Sharona’.
They’re all notoriously fickle when it comes to TV, too. My elderly, somewhat poetic and intellectual black cat The Bear did once watch Bagpuss with me, perhaps relating to the old cloth cat’s melancholic disposition, or hankering after his ravewear colour scheme, but The Bear generally prefers to read in his spare time. Shipley and Ralph had never been TV watchers until a couple of months ago, when Shipley became absolutely transfixed by Chris Packham on Winterwatch, possibly in the hope he might be able to pass on tips for meeting rare birds. Maybe what he’d really like is his own close budgie pal? I’m constantly getting sent photos of cats watching TV by readers of my three cat books. The viewing choices here are quite diverse. I know there’s a lot of damaging talk about ginger cats being a bit emptyheaded, I don’t want to be gingerist, but I can’t help notice that a lot of marmalade mogs seem to be seen watching Take Me Out or Britain’s Got Talent. Black cats – so often the troubled intellectuals of the feline world – seem to spend a lot of time in front of nature programmes. I’ve always thought that if The Bear did watch more TV, he’d be a bit of a BBC4 fan, while Ralph, who is a tabby and has great sideburns, would probably be found watching repeats of Jason King on Dave.
In truth, the only really big TV watcher of my feline gang is my youngest (girl) cat Roscoe, but she can be an extremely volatile viewing companion, especially when it comes to sport or films. During last year’s Open coverage, she would viciously attack my old plasma screen upon seeing any journeyman American golfer’s swing that she even vaguely disliked. None of these violent outbursts, however, could compare to her sheer rage halfway through the 2012 Mark Wahlberg thriller, Contraband, when she lashed out at Wahlberg’s left eye, clearly intending to do the kind of permanent damage that might stop his career in its tracks. It’s disconcerting to be around a cat as volatile as that but I can’t fault her judgement. As any discerning cat knows, Contraband the runt of the Wahlberg canon, and can’t hold a candle to his performances in Boogie Nights, The Other Guys or The Fighter.
Tom Cox is the author of seven books, including three about his cats: Under The Paw, Talk To The Tail and the recent top ten Sunday Times bestseller The Good, The Bad And The Furry. He writes a monthly column about his life in the countryside for The Guardian, a column about his cats for Your Cat magazine, a column about golf for Golf International magazine and many book reviews and other pieces for various other newspapers. Follow Tom on Twitter or visit his website.