I wrote this piece about our eccentric Burmese cat, Claude, and I promise you it is true! Claude could also open any door, with any type of handle, including a very high Suffolk latch. He would leap up, hold on to the handle with one paw and tap hard on the latch with the other until the door swung open. He was highly motivated - it was the door to the room with the fridge in it - and he could open fridge doors too!
Sadly Claude is now dead - too cocky in the path of oncoming cars - but he lives on in the anthology, the Bedside Guardian, the collected Guardian writings of 1989.
The Guardian, 23rd March 1989.
After months of hoping it might not be true, I have to face it. He's gay. Not that I am any kind of homophobe, you understand, but I have still got to come to terms with it. All eighty quid of it in fact. That was what I had to pay for my male Burmese kitten. For a cat? Yes, but he was no ordinary cat - a handsome, caramel-coloured, yellow-eyed stud from the classiest cattery in Richmond.
It all began a couple of years ago when things were getting out of hand. As a cat lover with true Catholic principles and six randy female Siamese all lusting after the farmyard tom, I decide to introcude a bit of quality, not to mention polygamy, into their breeding habits and buy them a husband of their very own. Not a male Siamese. One doesn't want to be so obvious about these things, but a Burmese and Siamese liaison produces exquisite and unusual kittens called Tonkinese.
The vet admired him immensely. The family loved him, the cats mothered him and somewhere along the way he got named Claude.
When, I asked the vet impatiently, would he become interested in his female companions? Six months onwards, apparently. But by nine months there was no sign: quite the reverse in fact. Whenever one of the lady felines came on heat, they naturally threw themselves at Claude. Siamese are particularly brazen, and they rolled in front of him, clawed the ground, sniffed excitedly under his tail … Did I say naturally? Claude was appalled. Whenever he heard the unmistakeable raucous call of a Siamese on heat and saw one coming for him, blue eyes blazing, he ran and hid, terrified.
I took him to the vet for a thorough physical check-up when he was a year old. The vet said he'd got the biggest balls he'd ever seen - Claude, I mean. No trouble there - a fine specimen of a stud. Should be siring kittens all over the place. He might be a late developer, but it was unusual.
He wasn't a late developer. None of us could fail to notice that he was just developing somewhat differently. Soon it was unmistakeable. Claude, at rest, turns his head affectedly to one side. One paw is tucked under his chest. The other droops languidly. Our stud cat is undeniably limp-wristed.
Meanwhile, the faithful black tom who has impregnated so many of the local cats, has been calling far more frequently than is necessary. Previously I could always tell when one of our cats was coming into season by the familiar yowls outside the back door and a large, patient, black cat sitting on the window ledge. Recently he has been turning up when none of the ladies was interested, but the last few weeks have revealed all. While the other cats continue to doze in front of the Aga, Claude is alert at the first call from outside.
One bound through the cat flap and he and Black Tom are greeting each other affectionately, nose to nose. That casual, first kiss is just part of a now familiar ritual. Claude then gets down and rolls enticingly in front of Black Tom. Then they disappear, but I don't wish to go into that. Afterwards - well everyone knows that a tom cat will try to kill another on his territory. Not these two. They sit on the table outside the kitchen window, close together, exuding contentment, wrists dangling limply over the edge.