For I Will Consider My Cat Pongo
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his fore-paws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the fore-paws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For Sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For Seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For Eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For Ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For Tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incompleat without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
—from Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart . Written between 1759 and 1763, during Smart’s confinement for insanity in St. Luke’s Hospital, Bethnal Green.
I can practically hear Steven Augustine’s mocking laughter: I knew it, man…behind all the sophisticated banter and purported interest in things of the intellect was another fucking cat blog, biding its time…
A cat blog has become short-hand for the banal, the trite, the smarmy and saccharine: what could be duller than some half-wit gushing over the astonishly human qualities of his or her cat?
Now, I’m no friend to anthropomorphism and I avoid sentimentality like I avoid bars filled with ferns and women I slept with before I was married–but Pongo has featured so often in my doggerel and various scribblings that it seems somehow perverse not to write about him. The degenerate Guardian gets space. A respectable cat deserves no less.
I won’t, however, tell you that Pongo is almost human–he’s not. He’s a cat.
I found Pongo–literally. Leaving the house to get cigarettes and the paper early one bitterly cold January morning, I paused on the doorstep to button my jacket. In the still, frozen air I heard a faint mewing. I searched for the source and finally lit on the bushes by the front door.
Crouching down and peering under the shrubbery, I found my gaze met by a pair of green-eyes in a tiny black face. It was a kitten, no more that 4 weeks old and too frozen and weak to do more than offer a perfunctory hiss and baring of miniscule milk-teeth. I reached in for the kitten and it made a feeble attempt to claw me. Near death and as game as Ned Kelly. You have to admire that.
I scooped the kitten up and stuck him under my pullover and t-shirt, next to my skin. He (as the kit turned out to be) was frozen, too cold to shiver. I went back indoors and sat down, keeping the kitten under my pullover. I thought perhaps it was too late.
I know that when a mammal’s core body temperature drops below a certain level, its chances of survival are slim. After perhaps 20 minutes, the kitten started to shiver uncontrollably. That was a good sign. After about another 15 minutes, the shivering stopped.
I lifted the neck of my jumper and looked down at the kit. He stared back at me and bared his teeth, but his heart wasn’t really in it. I began to stroke him. He was pitifully thin. After a few minutes he began to purr.
In the meantime, my wife went to buy some baby formula. Until he found his feet, I hand fed him, tempting him with minced meat, tuna, raw liver, cooked chicken, herring roes–anything to build his strength. In time, he began to grow into his enormous paws.
He rapidly turned into a big, muscular, confident cat, glossy-coated and affectionate. My children, under the influence of the recently watched Disney cartoon 101 Dalmations, insisted he be called Pongo.
Despite being an approachable and affectionate beast, he remains very much my cat, in the same way that Honey the dog is very much my children’s dog.
Where I sit, Pongo sits. Where I lie down, Pongo lies down. Where I sleep, Pongo sleeps. When I go away on trips, Pongo somehow senses my return and goes and lies by the door an hour before I actually get home. I imagine that he somehow picks up something from my family, an anticipatory air or something. But that doesn’t explain how he does it it when I return 2 days early without telling my family I’m coming.
Yet he does. I have no explanation but it happens without fail.
Pongo’s come to exhibit a kind of…how to put this without slipping into anthropomorpic mode?…a kind of brand-loyalty. When Honey the dog was a pup, a friend of mine came to call. My friend got down on the floor with Honey and started to play fight and wrestle with her, as one does. She, of course, liked nothing better.
Enter Pongo. Taking in the scene at a glance, he gave an ear-splitting howl and flung himself on my friend’s back and sank his formidable claws in. Pongo had half-raised Honey. As far as he was concerned, she was under attack. So he joined the fray. No skulking poltroon, he.
A few months ago, our postman–a flabby, shifty looking fellow with a repulsive manner that alternated between impertinent and ingratiating–discovered Pongo’s brand-loyalty for himself. I’d come to the door to sign for a package when the oily postie, in the course of his usual small-talk, made some remark about my wife’s startling beauty.
He wasn’t mistaken, of course, but coming from his mouth, it just sounded wrong. I instantly bristled. The postie, while indisputably an oaf was not a moron. He sensed that he’d offended me and in a hasty effort to redeem himself the postie sought to beguile Pongo, who as usual had followed me to the door and was sitting by my feet.
“Nice kittie,” said the hapless postman and extended a plump, strangler’s hand toward Pongo. Unfortunately, Pongo had picked up on my hostility. He gave a brief warning growl and then sank his fangs into the postie’s hand. The postman’s girlish shrieks rattled the windows. You’d have thought the silly bastard had never seen his own blood before.
This put me in an awkward position. In the performance of his duties, the postman had been attacked and blooded by my pet. There was no getting around that. Loathe as I was to do it, pragmatism dictated that I make nice.
So I took the postman indoors, sat him down in the kitchen and broke out the antiseptic cream and bandages. Meanwhile, the injured postman blubbered and whined as I spoon-fed him a rather good cognac and a half-dozen DF-118s (strong prescription pain-killers).
Presently, the drink and the pain-killers began to take hold and the fat postman’s repulsive character began to re-assert itself. He began to speak of reporting the incident, of having this dangerous cat destroyed. I began to eye the kitchen knives and consider suitable venues for the disposal of a corpse.
He had no idea how close he came to becoming a small story on an inside page of the East London Advertiser: Fat Postman Disappears – Police Baffled.
Luckily for both of us, my wife returned home.
Paralyzing the oaf with a smile, she soon soothed, charmed and mollified the fool. I sent the son of a bitch on his way with a bottle of brandy that was far too good for him (and hoped he’d choke on it) and a handful of painkillers.
Pongo the diplomat swiped the man’s leg as he went out the door. I scratched Pongo behind the ear and told him he was a good cat. Which he is–no respecter of persons, but a good cat and an excellent judge of character.
He sits next to me on my desk as I type this, occasionally batting my hand with a languid paw, just to let me know he’s keeping an eye on me. The funny thing is, I would much rather be caught behaving badly by many people I know than by Pongo.
I’m convinced he holds me to a higher standard…and I try to meet it. He’s not human or human-like. He’s a cat and a very discerning one. So I try stay up to scratch. After all, I don’t want to get the sack.