Marley Man-Cat




The cat is sleeping on the windowsill of the spare room cum study cum laundry room.  I admire the golden-tawny colour of his undercarriage, the leopard spots on his saggy, old tum and his perfectly striped legs.  His chest and leg are bald where he was shaved, revealing velvety nude grey skin beneath.  Two weeks ago he was quite unwell; kidney problems.  When I left him at the vets he was a shadow of his former self.  I thought he would die.


‘We are going to have to keep him in,’ said the very efficient vet.

‘Oh, okay.’


I blubbed hideously.  My partner looked embarrassed.  A box of Kleenex were expertly presented to me by the vet.


When Marley was returned to me I could not take my eyes off him.  I watched his every move as though it were his last.  Sometimes, when he lay on the cushion with his head hanging off, I would rush over to his side and shake him awake fearing that he had gone to meet Bastet along the River Nile.  He’d shake his head and adjust his eyes and see me and sing a reassuring rhythmic song.  I recorded his purr on my Dictaphone. I took hundreds of photos.

It seems absurd to feel so much for a cat.  But then, he has been with me since he was six weeks old (the lady on Shootup Hill said he was older but she lied).  He survived my student years and all the late night parties and cannabis fug generated by Pink Floyd lovers.  He even took me back after I left him with a friend in East Grinstead so that I could bum around Australia for a year.  All it took was a quick sniff and it was as if I’d never been away.  Marley has lived in Finchley, Kilburn, Leytonstone, Clapham and Peckham.  He’s travelled extensively and he’s even endured kitty jail.  He’s done time.  In his 18 years, the old boy has lived.

Nowadays he likes to curl up with me on the sofa to watch old movies.  He is quite deaf.  It takes him a long time to get up from his cushion and he often wonders into the kitchen/hallway/living room and then stops and looks around with a bewildered air as though he clean forgot what he went there for.  Sometimes he watches us walk down the driveway and he stands at the very top yowling in his guttural voice.  It bounces off the walls of the flats.  The neighbours talk.  They say things like: ‘Oh my God, it’s just a cat!’  The vet says he might be a soupçon senile.  But whatever he is, he seems happy.

Marley’s whiskers are twitching.  His eyelids flicker and his black-padded paw flinches.  He is dreaming of the little one, Lulu.  She is ginger and white with freckles on her nose.  She is very smart.



In his dream, he is licking her face and the backs of her ears with his pungent, oily, dense, spittle-covered emery board tongue.  Suddenly he is overwhelmed by the desire to bite her.  It happens every time.  He sinks his teeth slowly into the whitest, softest part of her throat.  She extricates herself from his grip and punches him in the face before leaping back sideways like a crab-cat.  She runs out of the cat flap and he follows her into the night.  She scales the birch tree where he cannot go.  He watches her climb to the thinnest, highest branch and she taunts him from her elevated position.

‘Come down Lulu.’

‘No way Grandpa…You come up here.’

‘I can’t. It’s my arthritis.’

‘Tough shit fat boy.  Shouldn’t have bitten me.’

‘I couldn’t help it.  I don’t like it down here all on my own.’

‘Don’t worry.  The big French thing will be out soon with that Staffy she’s fostered from Canine Incarcerate.  I hear he was in for cat-killing.’


‘Yeah man.  It was like a quintuple felicide or something.  Didn’t you hear?  All the cats have been talking about it.  Anyhoo, I’m going hunting and you’re way too slow to catch mice.  You really are quite the most monstrous clummer I’ve ever known.’


‘See ya. Say hi to Gnasher for me.’

‘No, Lulu, wait.  Let’s play catch leaves.’

‘No thanks!’

‘Why do you want mice anyway, there’s chicken in gravy in your bowl.  Mice are revolting; all that bone and eyeball, grasping claws and weird little teeth and a wiry tail to get stuck in your throat.  They make my skin itch.’

‘Fat chance of getting any food the big things leave.  You always push me off and eat my dinner Maximus Felis Catus. ’

‘No I don’t.  I just have a little lick.’

‘You lick off all the juicy bits and leave the dried up crispy remnants for me.  That’s why I am tiny and lithe  and you’re morbidly obese, too fat to be a real cat.’

‘Am not, I’m just as real as you.’

‘Are not, you’re like a man-cat.  I saw how she held you over the loo that day when you were chucking up.  Are you a cat or a man?  Man-cat!  Man-cat!  Man-cat!’


Lulu undermines his cat-ability, his very cattiness.  Marley jolts awake from his anxiety dream.  He looks at me and blinks.  He rotates on the spot and grumbles quietly as he flops down again into slumber.  And I love him.






Grumpaldine and the Sensational Salamandridaes



I am taking a risk and bearing my Grumpaldine to you because it is the truth, because I would be a liar if I pretended that every morning my heart sings at the sight of squirrels chasing each other around the trunk of a white, blossoming pear tree.  Some mornings I cannot see.  Today I am in a stinking, rotten, self-hating, self-pitying, loathsome little mood and it is probably unwise to make it known. It isn’t interesting, it is not positive, it is not inspiring, it is not well-written or eloquent.  It is what it is. And what it is, is a pile of self-indulgent, maudlin, shoulder-drooping, face-sagging, furrowed-browed shit.  Ah! Just uh! Ur! My skin is crawling with it and it’s all tangled in with the staphylococcus and it wants to be scraped away with papaya body scrub.  Skin wants to start at the beginning, before the toxins and the years, the very beginning.

Most days I wake up in the morning and run downstairs followed by an arthritic yowling cat. I sling him over my shoulder while the kettle boils and he purrs and rubs his whiskers on the metal frame of my spectacles. I deliver tea to him upstairs and I push back the bedroom curtains shedding sunlight on sleep-squinted eyes and I fling open the window and fresh, crisp spring air rushes in. Mr Blackbird chases his wife and bright, green parakeets squabble in the silver birch while wood pigeons plunder the hawthorn. I marvel at magnificent, cream-white chimneys and a giant Ferris wheel and square Victoria Tower jutting out of Parliament on the hazy, city skyline before I notice honeysuckle’s tender night growth winding around the trellis and reaching up to my chilly fingers from the balcony below.

Not this week though, not today. My inner bitch is having a field day today. I couldn’t get out of bed. He brought me tea. I scowled at azure skies and lurid, green leaves and I would not let life in. I need to get my kung fu pants on and fight her off with a jab to the eyes, back fist in the nose, right-side kick and a left-hook, fisted groin punch. She’s holding me down with an elbow in my windpipe and I cannot move and I gasp.


‘Grumpaldine, I…can’t…breathe.’

‘Oh how interesting, you crazy, deluded loser. No one, do you hear me, no-one gives a flying fig what you have to say, a big fat failure like you.  Who do you think are?  No one will read your pathetic, insignificant, tedious and turgid drivel.  No-one, not one.  You losing failure, failing loser face!!!’ she spits and a globule escapes her mouth and trembles on her lip that quivers with hatred.

‘Please Grumps…can’t…breathe.’


Eventually she gets bored and I pull myself up and plod to the shower.  Grum-pals follows me everywhere I go.  She nags at me all day long and she’s so terribly mean.  She says I’m a drain on the planets resources, a useless individual who never grew up, who never had the mettle to succeed or the physical ability to breed.  I am angry. She’s right.  The bitch is right.  I have not done enough. I have spent so long worrying and procrastinating that I simply haven’t done anything.  I am ashamed, shame on me.

I had a German teacher in school. Everyone called her Frau Cow. Hans und Lieselotte mit Lumpi are projected onto the classroom wall above shadowy, children’s heads of all manner, shape and size. The class chants like mesmerised zombies ‘Lumpi ist mein Hund.’ Frau Cow shouts across a dusty beam of light that ends on drawn, black-out curtains: ‘Liesl!’; it was my German name, ‘Du bist die faulste Mädchen in der klasse.’ I learned this sentence well. Lazy; I was the laziest girl in the class, a bone idle, good for nothing, space-wasting, slovenly little trollop and I never pulled my socks up, nor did I go outside and turn over the new leaves. No, I did not.




If I die tomorrow, what would they carve into the light grey granite headstone, not that I’ve thought about it, but would it say: Born 1973, Died Aged 40, Here lay the remains of a woman who paid the bills, for which she will probably not be remembered. This part is not self-pity.  It is a reality. It doesn’t matter I suppose because when I’m dead, I’m gone. But given that I’m likely, in purely statistical terms, to go on for at least another forty years which is basically living my life over again but with an older body and a more decrepit brain, I really don’t want the next forty to be pretty much the same as the last. I want to create meaning where my body refuses to create life.

Writing can’t tell me what all the blood was for but it is a soothing tonic and I can vent my spleen and drape it around my shoulders like faux ermine and I can make things. I can make stories. And that is all I want to do, to communicate. But I may be a tad unhinged, I may be living in cloud flipping cuckoo land and I am often certifiably…lost.

I might as well go on Britain’s Got Talent with my invisible, ribbon twirling blind newt family the Sensational Salamandridaes.  They really are very good you know. If only you could see them.





Image 1 – The cat

Image 2 – Lumpi und Hans,

Image 3 – Texas Blind Salamander, Tony Northrup,