Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Conversations with DeDe

Shortly after Dede had moved in, I composed this for the village magazine.

It was on a freezing British night in the middle of January that I had my first encounter with DeDe. Not that I knew her name then of course; she was just a black shape, emerging from a black gateway, on a black night.
The soft tinkle of a bell located the approaching shape; a miaow and the feeling of fur around my ankles, identified it as friendly. Now, I’m not one to spurn a friendly overture, so I stopped for a minute or two to stroke what turned out to be a thin and desperately affectionate cat, before continuing on my way.
As I walked off down the street, I had a fleeting glimpse of a passing black shadow, which resolved itself at the next street light into the figure of a cat, tail held high, trotting briskly down the path ahead of me. Reaching the first drive she took a few paces up it, stopped and turned to look at me. Even to a human uneducated in the nuances of feline communications the message was unmistakable.
“Is this the house where you live?”
I walked on by and she immediately back-tracked to the path, and shot ahead once more, the tinkle of the bell at her neck the only sign of her presence in the blackness. At the next gate she again took a few paces up the path, stopped and looked back.
“Well what about this one then? ...No? .... Right, on to the next one!”
And so we proceeded, in and out of pools of street lighting, leapfrogging down three streets, until I turned to walk up my own drive.
And she raced up the drive to be waiting for me as I reached the front door, greeting me with a succession of miaows, and purrs, and frantic gyrations as she rubbed herself against my legs. Round and round in circles.
“Go on! Open the door. Then we can get inside out of the cold. Go on. You might be able to find me something to eat. I’m really very, very hungry. Go on!.... Please.... Please.... Pleeeeease !!!!”
Fool that I am, I did let her in, and fed her, and fussed her. Now, several years later, she’s still here.

Over the intervening period I have had ample opportunity to study the phenomenon of human/feline communication. From the start it was clear that when DeDe wanted to get a message across it was usually by means of a combination of voice and body language. Thus a simple miaow could be given a different meaning dependant on the actions accompanying it. For example:
A miaow while rubbing lightly against your leg, “Hello”
A miaow while standing with tail held erect, “Oy you! Pay attention!”

Soon after DeDe moved in, it became apparent that she had a wide range of vocalisations, which were being used in specific circumstances. The meanings of some were only too obvious. A curious sound like a staccato miaow, translated very clearly into,
“Stop flying around up there, little birdies. Come down here on the ground. I’ll have you. I will. Just fly that little bit closer, and see if I don’t.”
Unfortunately for DeDe, the only response that she gets, from those flying feathery irritants, is the avian version of blowing a raspberry.
That was an easy message to decipher, but what was I to make of the ‘chirrupprrrrr’, or the ‘mew’, or the quiet little ‘ow’, or the whole range of miaows of various intensities. Years of research and observation were needed to find some of the answers. Hundreds of hours spent assiduously watching and waiting for DeDe to say something before I could attempt an interpretation, while DeDe resolutely stayed fast asleep on my lap.
Although my researches are far from complete, I am finally able to reveal to an anxiously waiting world just some of what our feline friends have been saying to us, for all the centuries that they have deigned to let us look after them. I give as an example a typical conversation between myself and DeDe.

DeDe : ’Chirrupprrrrr’, (While strolling by, tail casually brushing against my leg).
“Hello Paul. It’s so good to see you. You really are a wonderful friend to a poor pussy cat. And by the way I am feeling just a little bit peckish you know.”

Paul : (Pretending not to understand) ‘Hello DeDe, have you had a hard day.’

DeDe : ’Mew’, (Strolling by again, but this time rubbing her body against my leg, then turning to look up with big wide open eyes), ‘Mew’, again.
“I really like it when you stroke me Paul. Can you spare a few moments. Have you noticed that my plate is empty?”

Paul : ‘Does DeDe want me to make a fuss of her’. (Paul picks up DeDe and gives her a big hug, and puts her down again)

DeDe : ’Miaooow’, (Rubs against my leg again, in a more determined manner, turns round and goes down the other side as well).
“I would respectfully like to point out that my plate IS empty.“

Paul : (Stubbornly refusing to take the hint), ‘Do you want to go out?.’

DeDe : ’Miaow’, (Standing, all four feet firmly planted on the ground, and tail held high).
DeDe stalks out of the room. Ten minutes later she returns. Quietly walks to sit on the floor behind me, waiting.

DeDe : ’Me-ow’.
“I’m hungry!!“
Paul : ‘Don’t sit there, DeDe, I’ll trip over you.’ (Picks her up, giving her another hug, and places her gently in the armchair.)

DeDe : ’Huff’, (Sitting in chair with indignant look on her face, tail twitching spasmodically).
(No translation necessary. It’s exactly the same as in humans.)

Paul : ‘Why don’t you just sit there. It’ll be dinner time in a couple of hours.’

DeDe : ’Mrrr-ew’.
(Translation is not repeatable)

Another five minutes pass, then DeDe jumps out of the chair, and stomps up to sit on the floor directly in front of me. Looks up with eyes wide and pupils closed to slits.

DeDe : ’Miaow’.
“FEED ME!…. NOW!!!“

Paul : (nearly treading on DeDe), ‘Stupid cat!’
Okay, so I may not use exactly those words, but you get the idea.

DeDe retreats once more, waits for an opportune moment, then-
: ’MIAOOW!!’, (This is the cry to make a politician weep. Really. It is the sound of a creature which has been subjected to the cruellest of unjust deprivations. But here it is used merely to grab attention, for the real message is pure body language. Looking up, I see DeDe sitting on the floor by the settee, calmly inspecting a paw which is now filled with five razor-sharp scimitars).
“Okay, pea-brain. Get the meat on the plate, now, or the sofa gets it!!!“

What can I do? I've never had the courage to take this conversation any further. So I stop what I’m doing, and open a tin of the finest, most exquisite cat-food available, according to the label, and serve an impatiently waiting DeDe a meal fit for a queen. Placing the plate on the floor, I’m greeted by a joyous -
: ’Mrrr-oww’.
“About time too. Thank you, thank you. I take it all back.“
One sniff at the plate, and DeDe returns to the armchair.
“Oh no! Not that again!“


I buried my cat yesterday.
For nearly fifteen years she had been my companion, ever since that winter's evening when she had followed me home and decided to move in. I don't really remember being given much choice in the matter; it was more or less "I'm going to be living here from now on - OK". And that was it, I had a cat.
Where she came from I have no idea. The village grapevine could only report that she had been around for a couple of weeks; begging here and there, because the collar and bell at her neck would stop her hunting. Very slowly she had been starving to death.
Over the following months, she learned to trust again. At first she would only allow herself to be touched gently on the top of the head. Slowly, oh so slowly, she let me stroke her more. On to the neck, the shoulders, the back, and finally right to the end of her thick bushy black tail.
And she learned to play too. Cat toys were never her thing, but a screwed up piece of paper would get her scampering all over the place. Just briefly, until she would stop and look round self consciously, then quickly lick her paws clean, as if to say "No, that wasn't me. I was too busy cleaning myself!"
The collar had come off on Day 1; as a free cat who was merely living with me, a collar was not appropriate. So she started to hunt. Just not very well. Hunting was one of those things she felt she should be doing, but the mechanics of it mostly eluded her, though there were enough little victories to keep her interested. In the summer the swifts built their nest in the eaves at the back of the house. Two storeys up - so should've been safe enough. But they chose the spot where the ridge of a single storey roof met the wall. DeDe worked out that she could jump onto the garden wall, climb the trellis on top, walk along to the end and hop up to the flat roof. An eight-foot jump across space would get her onto the next roof, and then she could sit there on the ridge waiting for a swift to drop into her mouth. And wait she did. On and off all summer, while the swifts swooped around her head screaming at her. And the next summer. And the one after that.
Then one evening in the following year. I heard her come in through the cat flap. Her joyous miaow could only be described as 'muffled'. Without looking I could tell what had happened, and having announced her victory, she left to enjoy her feast. It was the one and only time she ever succeeded in getting one.
As the years progressed, the effort of getting onto the roof became to much for her, and the swifts were safe. DeDe had to satisfy herself with watching from the lawn, while the swifts still swooped and screamed at her overhead.
In her later years, I did the unthinkable, and got married. Not only bringing another person into her house, but another cat too. The relationship with Magic was never better than "I will tolerate you because I have to." Much to Magic's regret.
And then even worse than that I brought into the house something called a Baby - first one, and then a second.
But DeDe put up with the upset, perhaps even better than Magic, but she wasn't keen on the time she was obliged to spend outside or in her shed.
With the passing away of my father at the beginning of the year, DeDe went to stay with my mother. Two old ladies keeping each other company. We thought at the time that it was likely to be DeDe's last summer, and she would have a little more comfort and peace (apart from, of course, when the grandchildren came calling).
Yesterday, too soon, far too soon, I had the call. DeDe needed to take a trip to the vet, and I had to make that final decision. She passed away bright eyed, and with a miaow on her lips.

That evening my tears mingled with the muddy earth as I laid her to rest in the garden.
Home again, now and for always.