“Are you Oscar?”
It happens a lot. Some people simply dispense with the question and call me it anyway, which I don’t mind at all. I’m aware that this piece may have a Year 3 ‘My cat’s breath smells like cat food’ homework quality to it but nonetheless it’s a story that deserves to be told and one I tell a lot so in the name of digital efficiency here it is, exclusively for the first time on the record.
Rosie came first.
The place we lived for most of my teens wasn’t even a village in that it had no pub nor shop, more like a stretch of road containing a handful of houses and farms in North Somerset with a sign at each end. A local farmer we knew called Geoff had a barn where some feral cats lived and whenever they had a litter his wife Jackie would try to scoop up the kittens to take them indoors and domesticate them. If a kitten is exposed to humans in the first two weeks of its life then it will become domesticated, otherwise it is feral forever. Rosie was one of them, born in the wild and then brought into our house.
She was a scrappy kitten who didn’t care much for most people she met but we were close from when she was tiny, a miniature panther who liked to play rough. At 18 months old she got knocked up by a local tom cat we knew as Jack Spratt and had a litter of four; Mackenzie, Tiddler, Dudley and Oscar, all of whom we kept. It’s hard to sex certain baby animals accurately (this weekend I met a female calf called Neville) but even after we realised Oscar was a girl she kept the name, refusing to be defined by traditional gender norms long before it was mainstream.
Oscar was a popular young cat with places to be and little time for humans until one day at two years old she was hit by a car and seriously injured. The whole family nursed her back to health, spoon feeding her until she was strong enough to feed herself and taking turns to keep vigil by her sickbed. The result was that she lost an eye, broke her jaw and apparently sustained some form of brain damage which completely changed her personality.
The others in the litter turned their backs on their newly mangled sister and she became remarkably human-centric, always preferring to be around people, sitting on them or even better, being carried around in their arms like a small child. As the years passed the other cats went their own ways. Tiddler went out hunting one day and never came home, Dudley went to live with a family in West Bridgford and Mackenzie passed away of a heart attack. But Oscar, against all odds, lived on.
Around eight years ago Oscar & Rosie, the single mother and spinster daughter, came to live with me and my girlfriend of the time in Nottingham.
Here are some things about Rosie.
Rosie was a rock chick who loved to hang out with musicians in the small studio in my house during recording sessions. She was an effective food thief with a well honed technique that involved sitting very still on the outskirts of your field of vision until you forgot, just for a second, that she was there, before striking with the precision and quickness of a lunging cobra at whatever half eaten bit of your dinner she was stalking. She once licked the icing off a dozen cupcakes that had been absentmindedly left on the counter of our un-Rosie-proofed kitchen. One was consequently always suspicious when she languidly sashayed into the front room licking her lips and looking pleased with herself. Her favourite song was ‘Into My Arms by Nick Cave which I would play to her on the piano while she sat next to me. She lost her tail when a horse stepped on it and her resulting truncated appearance earned her the nickname Rosie Bear, or RB. And all through her life she would quite literally walk over other people to get to me; unless she was out or sleeping elsewhere there was never a time when I could sit anywhere in my house for more than a few minutes without a cat on my lap. She was my trusty steed.
In one of the worst times I can ever recall, Rosie became poorly. Animals live in your house with you all day everyday and become such a part of the everyday fabric of your life that when you’re finally faced with the prospect of them not being there anymore it is capable of being just as distressing as losing a human. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a heartless bastard who should be ignored.
During the time Rosie was very ill Oscar took to sitting close up next to her and grooming her, something that they’d never done before. Rosie passed away at the grand age of 16, peacefully and surrounded by the people that loved her. The previous night she had a final dinner of her favourite lasagne and ice cream and I slept on the living room floor beside her, both of us warmed by the dying embers of the log fire.
Oscar lives on to this day.
At the time of writing she is nineteen years old and (touch wood) going strong. She has no teeth left, is deaf, forgetful and yet is relentless in the pursuit of anything that she may want at whatever moment she might want it, usually breakfast at 4.30am.
Although she looks very much like a cat, albeit a one eyed one whose tongue is often hanging out of her mouth, she doesn’t really ’speak cat’ as such by which I mean she is not au fait with the particular collection of gestures and sounds that cats use to communicate important information between themselves. I have seen a much larger cat run in terror from scrawny little Oscar because when he made the hissing and growling noises that she should have understood as a threat to yield, she instead wandered happily up to him to investigate what all the fuss was about.
So it was a good day when she met and became friends with Benjamin a six year old British Shorthair with a sensitive disposition who came to live with us after getting a hard time from the local cats at his previous home. They now live together happily.
An old cat, like an old car or house, requires maintenance and we have a close long-standing relationship with our vet where Oscar goes at least every six months to be weighed and have her blood checked. It is no exaggeration to say I could run a car on what she costs in upkeep. Every time a new vet sees her the appointment is inevitably delayed by the amount of time it takes to read her expansive notes, and who often point out the curiosity that while every other animal’s basic details are highlighted on the practise’s computer system in pink for females and blue for males, Oscar’s information is displayed in green. No-one knows why this is.
I’m happy to report that she is enjoying her golden years. Alert, engaged and curious she is still seized by an overwhelming FOMO and is inevitably positioned right in the centre of any non-routine action in the house; watching a tradesman fixing something, sitting in the discarded packaging of a parcel, or emerging from the neglected basement covered in cobwebs when you forget to bolt the door.
The first time I thought of naming what was provisionally called ‘Rodney’s Gourmet Pizza’ after them, the words felt silly in my head and stuck in the mouth when I said them out loud. ‘You’re naming it after the cats?’ was a common response but now it’s hard to imagine it being called anything else. It’s entirely possible that a greater number of people in this world know their names than know mine. I’m totally ok with that.