Follow one crying eye on

Purring cats and cars

I am triumphant. Daughter J’s cat is purring. Not just a passing breathiness or momentary hum, but a full five-minute rib-jangling thrumble as I cradle him tightly in my office.

In the interests of privacy, so important these days, let’s refer to this animal as Feline N, as he is the nth cat for which I have had some degree of responsibility. This time the relationship is purely temporary and thus even more tenuous in nature than in the traditionally ‘only just tolerated’ cat versus human/owner/carer/guardian/gaoler/chef/cleaner etc. standoff that exists in so many British families.

Feline N is not blessed with enormous intelligence. In fact, he may be more blessed than most of us in having almost none whatsoever, thus making his life stupendously simple.

This is a cat who has been known to burn his tongue on hair-straightening tongs (not mine! I wouldn’t know where to start, although I do know that you don’t lick them) and then come back for another lick. He looks astonished every time the doorbell rings, or the front door opens and he ‘seems’ to forget where his litter tray is or what it is for!

For more than four years he apparently fooled his doting owner into believing that he could only drink from a running tap in the presence of a condescendingly cooing and attentive human. Some of us have even secretly demonstrated to him at our own kitchen tap how he might improve his enormously ineffectual-looking technique of mid-stream water-lapping, but then we realised he’d been quaffing from a nearby porridge bowl perfectly competently when our backs were turned.

Perhaps he is cleverer than we think. He has lived in our house for more than three months now and spends most of his time in Daughter J’s room, but has worked out which are the places we least want him to go and makes a beeline for those rooms as soon as he hears the relevant door open. But now I consider more carefully, I think this is just innate cunning.  

I caught him a few days ago, focussed intently on a piece of skirting board in the kitchen, from which eventually appeared a sizeable black spider. I’m pretty sure he ate it (I’m informed that this is a favourite delicacy of his), but since then I have caught him several times a day sitting pointlessly beside the same tiny gap in the woodwork (sudden memories of Tom & Jerry cartoons now! Oh, for a startled mouse with spinning legs, that would show him), presumably imagining the spider will reappear. I may be doing him a disservice of course; there might be a whole spider family whispering away in there, just waiting to emerge as dinner.

Unlike our own previous pets, this chap is essentially built for cuddling and, even when withholding purrs, he is always willing to be scooped up and carried around, or draped on a shoulder for a while. He never stays put though, preferring his own company unless he can have actual Daughter J. She who can do no wrong. She who provides and cares (and leaves him for hours on end and sometimes days, but always comes back to him to clean up whatever bodily offering he may have left for her) and cuddles him into an immediate purring state.

So, it really is something of a coup to have made him purr, even if I now believe it was entirely accidental on his part and may never be repeated. It won’t stop me trying.

Feline N is not the only article purring around here though. I have previously mentioned the acquisition of a new car. And no, I am not referring to my own smug purring at the idea of a new set of wheels, but at the engine noise of the new beast, or rather, the strange lack of it when in electric mode.

We have acquired a four-year-old Hybrid. We have not gone the full electric because we have no-where obvious to charge such a vehicle, especially as the newly-arrived charging points on the Avenue’s lamp-posts are unhelpfully filled with pastry, or Play-Doh or some other such amusing substance.

Yes, we have given in to the London Mayoral edict that all comfortable old diesels should be banished or charged an arm-and-a-leg each time someone dares to drive them, and offloaded our 10-year-old Landrover to my brother to sell in rural Herefordshire. He assures me that nobody has heard of air-quality ‘down in the forest’ and my friendly old car will undoubtedly be run on unfriendly red diesel by its new owner. I’ll admit that this makes me feel ever so slightly less virtuous at my own conversion. Perhaps that’s what it means by Hybrid (ie of mixed virtue?)

Mr J informs me that despite our ever-increasing ages, we are not yet ready for an old-person’s car, so no little runabout for us just yet. Nor can we go upmarket and indulge in a jaunty soft-top for those Sunday trips along country lanes. (Surely this never happens any more – at least, not if you live anywhere near me.)  No, we need a car with 4-wheel drive which can be fitted with a tow-bar and a roof-rack, for boat trailer and sculling boat duty, and enormous inner capacity to take a full set of drums plus various amps, guitars and band-members. And random bits of boat paraphernalia of course. And the monthly Sainsburys shop (I thought I should have at least one requirement, other than simply a veto on unacceptable colours.)

In a surprisingly forward-looking initiative, we began looking for our replacement vehicle several months in advance of the Mayoral deadline (which has still not yet quite arrived) and after a couple of test-drives and garage visits had somehow narrowed the search to one particular model. On previous form, I would have expected this to mean that no such vehicle would come on the market for at least the next three years, but we struck lucky (or perhaps I should attribute this luck to Mr J’s unaccustomed diligence with Internet searches, it most certainly was not attributed to the diligence of local car salesmen who failed to alert us to anything useful and generally proved less knowledgeable about the cars on their forecourts than we were, and that surely must take some doing).

The downside of this do-it-yourself luck was that the car we found was located in Sidcup, a place I had heard of but never visited, it being on the wrong side of Sarf London. Once I had discovered that I could get there for free on one of the same Mayor’s old people’s trains (or rather two trains there and a bus and two trains back) I was off – and the motorcycling Mr J and I rendezvoused at the showroom to test-drive a rather attractive red car.

Successfully back from the backstreets of Sidcup and a bit of the nearby motorway, we swung into buying mode. With a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, and a small threat of Mr J hopping back on his motorcycle home without a deal, we reached an agreement with the salesman. Part of the deal was to pick the car up before the end of the calendar month, even though that would mean that the tow-bar fitting (which was included in the deal) would not have been done before we took delivery. With a keen eye for a financial advantage, we accepted this even though it meant an extra trip to return the car a few weeks later, and for a short time we would need to keep TWO cars (because there was some scheduled towage coming up). The extra trip did, of course, allow Mr J to play with all the exciting buttons and switches on an extra solo journey meaning that he will have an everlasting superiority in this regard, which I will endeavour to ignore.

But, to my point (at last!), this car purrs. A rumble rather than a rev. A rolling sort of swoosh. And, rather like the cat, it is not as easy to achieve as one might at first think. These self-charging hybrids don’t pretend to go far using just the battery, but for small manoeuvres and slow local travel it should be possible to avoid the engine cutting in. So of course, always up for a challenge, I try my best to get to Sainsburys at a battery-only purr. This requires both skill and luck, for there is a short piece of 30-mile-an-hour road en route and crawling just below 20 mph would no doubt cause massive irritation to other drivers, so I need to pick a really quiet time if I am to continue so slowly. There is also a bit of a hill on the way back, and the engine always kicks in then. I’m not sure if there is an alternative route which would work better. So far, an entirely purr-tastic journey has not yet been achieved (I am putting this down to lack of luck rather than lack of skill) but I only allow myself one vehicular Sainsbury trip per month, so I’ll have to work up to it for August.

With grand-pet-loving dedication, I may be more likely to achieve purr-fection at home in the meantime.

Post script – Due to rail strikes, I have just had to switch from the train to the car for my upcoming walking weekend away, which will provide me with more than 500 miles of practice. Apparently there are all sorts of clever gizmos for keeping me in lane, out of the car in front’s exhaust pipe and within the speed limit. On my long list of things to do this week there is ‘spend an hour or two sitting in the car and trying to work out what everything means’. (I’ve already found the air-conditioned seats though – hurrah!!) I haven’t yet worked out how many hours it will take me at 20mph – or informed my unsuspecting passenger that this is part of the deal. 





Follow one crying eye on