‘Your car has had a heart attack,’ said the mechanic. ‘It’s dead’

Hilary Fannin: Its old boot used to hold my mother’s wheelchair and my sons’ broken bikes

It was either the cat or the car that was going to keel over

It was either the cat or the car that was going to keel over

 

I read recently of new research indicating that we humans may be underestimating our cats’ socio-cognitive abilities.

“Their socio-what?” I hear you mutter from under the bedclothes as stormy October rattles your windowpanes and your plastic watering can sails by your bedroom window like a reassuringly domesticated UFO. 

Yep, apparently some US-based research scientists put on their lab coats and – with the acquiescence, presumably, of whoever holds the purse strings in their academic institutions – began to study the emotional attachments of our heretofore presumed-to-be-frosty feline friends. 

Proving puss a purrfectly charming companion sounds more enjoyable than chasing spores around a Petri dish, but testing the emotional temperature of the average Tom turned out not to be all furry fun. Essentially the experiment consisted of 70 kittens and owners being united and then separated at two-minute intervals, with the kittens’ behaviour being monitored throughout. 

When the results came in, they revealed that 64 per cent of the animals were not particularly stressed during the reunion bit, while 36 per cent showed indicators of “insecure attachment” when returned to their owners. This insecurity was evidenced by kittens either seeking affection or “appearing conflicted about what to do”. (“Ummm, will I eat that human or ignore it? Maybe I’ll just stare at it until it feels uncomfortable enough to placate me with food or phone its therapist.”)

Our union fosters day upon day of light and loveliness

The widely publicised research on whether our cats give a rat’s arse about us or not has resulted in many cat owners littering various media platforms with tails (sorry, I mean tales) about their own experiences with their much-loved moggies. I’ve read heart-warming anecdotes about furry friends greeting their owners with miaows and leg-rubbing, and one enthusiast even described how her cat had once brought her tissues when she was in bed with a head cold.

Tissues, eh? 

My cat, by contrast, displays her playful and affectionate side by ripping up entire rolls of toilet paper, loudly washing her bottom on my bed and occasionally vomiting up her ever-so-meaty chunks on my worn and lacklustre carpet. 

Yep, that old girl really knows how to spread the sunshine around. Our union fosters day upon day of light and loveliness, owner and pet ageing together, the gummy-eyed old cat and I, two wrinkling walnuts, hard and gnarled on the outside with a tough, slightly bitter interior. 

Anyway, I was driving along in my elderly car the other day, having gone out to procure, among other things, some sachets of Chunky Cat Crap for her to barf over the carpet, when I heard a loud bleeping sound and a sign lit up on the dash reading “Engine Malfunction” in big red letters. Within moments, the car shuddered to a halt – outside a graveyard, as it happened. 

I might have bet on the car to drag its battered shanks along for a few extra furlongs

I rang the roadside assistance company and realised, when asked the age of the vehicle, that the car was not very much younger than the bottom-licking old moggie that I live with. 

I suppose that, for some time now, I’ve been half expecting either the car or the cat to keel over, although if you’d pushed me I might have bet on the car to drag its battered shanks along for a few extra furlongs.

“Your car has had a heart attack,” the mechanic in the garage told me.

“A heart attack? Is that a technical term?”

“Well, put it this way: your car is dead.”

“Dead? Dead?”

“As a doornail.”

I walked the 7km home. The sun was glistening on the water. Gradually, though, it began to rain. I didn’t mind, I was looking out for the flocks of Brent geese who spend the winters feeding on eelgrass in the estuary and catching the occasional movie at the Savoy. 

I think I’m going to do some research of my own, on emotional attachment to busted combustion engines in vaulting middle age

I’d grown quite attached to that old car. Its cavernous old boot used to hold my mother’s wheelchair and my sons’ broken bicycles, and yes, it did smell vaguely of curdling milk, but it was a familiar refuge in changing times. 

When I got home, the cat was asleep in the laundry basket and there was a trail of viciously savaged toilet roll on the stairs.

“You’ve outlived the car,” I said, emptying her and the washing on the kitchen floor to find a passable towel to dry my hair with. She yawned, baring her asperou fangs, and sauntered upstairs to resume her slumbers.

I think I’m going to do some research of my own, on emotional attachment to busted combustion engines in vaulting middle age. I just have to look through the washing to find a lab coat.

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