Tag Archives: cats

Blog post from the past: Why “Thoughtcat”?

A Twitter friend asked me the other day where my name came from. I wrote about the origin of “Thoughtcat” on the original website some years ago, but as with most other pages there, it’s a tad difficult to find now. So here’s the story…

One of my all-time favourite poems is Ted Hughes’s The Thought-Fox, which draws an analogy between a fox prowling for food through a forest and a writer sitting up at midnight on a similar hunt for thoughts, or a poem, in his head; the poem has been a part of my own head ever since I first read it as a teenager. A few years later I was browsing in the poetry section of a bookshop and came across An Unusual Cat Poem by Wendy Cope. Various other (feline) influences came to bear, including a few poems by Brian Patten, and an observation my late grandad once made: “They’re contrary buggers, aren’t they, cats? You feed ’em and look after ’em and give ’em a home, and then they turn round, give you a filthy look and bugger off.” Eventually all this coalesced into my own version of Ted Hughes’s poem (below): inspiration is contrary, it comes and goes; you have a moment of sublime profundity when you can write absolutely anything – and the next moment you’re back, as Leonard Cohen once put it, crawling across the carpet in your underwear searching for a rhyme for “orange”. Russell Hoban has called this “normal work panic”, an essential respect for the “thing-in-itself” which you may think is your idea but actually exists outside of you. Even though you’re the one putting the words on a sheet of paper or the screen of a word-processor, you need to recognise yourself as a kind of channel for this thing, be patient and let it come of its own accord. Like cats, ideas don’t respond well to being forced or told what to do. If you want the love of an idea, you need to keep it sweet by providing a nice home for it and cultivating the circumstances under which it will be fruitful – but even if you do, sometimes it’ll just up and disappear and there’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to wait until it comes back – if it does come back, that is. To mix my metaphors, Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose, once said about writing a bestselling novel in middle-age that it’s a bit like being chased by a dog: you come across a stream and somehow you manage to jump the stream and escape, but when you look back from the other side you wonder to yourself whether you were just lucky, or if could you do it again… anyway, here’s the poem that, for better or worse, started it all off.

The Thought-Cat

A cat wandered into my garden.
I was charmed.  “Hello,” I said.
“Miaow,” it said.
I petted it and chatted to it.
“Miaow,” it said again.

It kept on miaowing until I fed it.
Food was the only thing that kept it quiet.
Then it came indoors, curled up in my lap
and purred itself to sleep.

Next morning the cat was still there,
still hungry, still miaowing.
I fed and petted it some more.
It seemed to like me.  It stayed.

By now I was flattered as well as charmed.
“Wow,” I thought, “I have a cat now.
What a lovely thing to have in a life.”
Having a cat made me feel more human.

We became good friends, the cat and I,
and then one day it disappeared.  Vanished.
Just upped and went of its own accord.
I was very upset.  I had grown very attached to that cat.

But I tried not to take it personally.
Easy come, easy go, I thought – reminding myself
that it wasn’t even my cat to begin with.
This is just the way cats are, I said –
independent, self-sufficient, unsentimental.
I wished I could be more like that myself.

I looked for that cat everywhere, tried staking it out
with bowls of food in the garden, calling its name.
It didn’t have a name so I called out “Cat!  Cat!”
But it didn’t come.

I thought of buying a cat of my own.
I went to the pet shop, was charmed and seduced
by a whole range of kittens and their tiny miaows.
But it broke my heart to have to choose one.
I was afraid that even if I did, it would only leave me one day
just like the first had done.
And anyway, that first one was impossible to replace.
I left the shop empty-handed.

These days I raggedly wander the streets,
still calling out “Cat!” from behind my straggly beard.
The passing children point at me and laugh.
“There goes the cat man!” they say.
I just smile, and they go on their way.

I loiter around pet shops,
stroke and chat to any cat I meet,
beg for pennies and spend them all on cans of Felix
in case the cat ever decides to come back.
I hope it does.  Because if nothing else,
this poem will end rather badly.


(c) Thoughtcat Poetry Inc 1999 or thereabouts.

Cats in the news

Thoughtcat has never really been a topical cat site – I prefer references to classic cats, if any at all; the cat theme was always a metaphor anyway (darling) – but I couldn’t help noticing a sudden rash of cat stories in the news in the past few days, and it seems churlish not to give them a mention. Firstly on 4th April Elizacat brought to my attention Lewis the “crazy Connecticut cat”, who’s been terrorising a small town (specifically, an Avon lady who is now suing him – only in America, eh!) and is now “under house arrest” (Lewis, not the Avon lady; only in America #2) on pain of having his claws removed, or being put down altogether. Lewis now has his own MySpace site and several hundred “friends” are clubbing together to protest his “human rights”. Then this weekend a New York moggy called Molly was finally released after two weeks of being stuck inside the walls of a Greenwich Village building. Now today Thoughtcat hears of a German cat who saved the life of a newborn baby abandoned in a freezing Berlin doorway, by meowing repeatedly until someone came out and rescued the child. They say these things come in threes, so unless cats are taking over the world this will probably be all for the moment. Argh, no, hang on! What about the evil “cat nurses” in last night’s (excellent) new Doctor Who series opener? I think their being cats was a bit random, but they looked good.

Picture your life from Guardian Unlimited: News blog

The Grauniad reports on a trendy new magazine called Karen, which publishes nothing but arty photos of mundane tosh, and invites readers to contribute photos of the everyday from their sad lives. I of course joined in immediately with a pictorial account of a small but briefly terrifying adventure experienced by one of my ornamental cats, which can also be viewed here. The lucky winners of the contest will receive a free copy of the mag and may also have their photos published in it.

Setting the record straight on masked palm civets

The Guardian reports that the masked palm civet may be responsible for the Sars virus. When I first read this I wasn’t sure whether a masked palm civet was a tree, a kind of party or a herb used in south-east asian cooking. This of course does nothing for my feline credentials whatsoever, but now we know that it is, in fact, a cat, or a “small cat-like mammal” as the article puts it. It seems to me civets have had a bad press – it wasn’t they who were responsible for spreading the virus after all, but people who killed them and ate them – often illegally.

Anyway, I had a surprisingly difficult time finding much information about civets on the internet. The picture I found was deceptive, making me think someone had mistaken the poor creature for a badger. (But then, perhaps badgers are small cat-like mammals too?) The only decent snippet of information I found came from Tiscali’s reference site sourced from the Hutchinson Encyclopaedia. Even the estimable World Wildlife Fund had nothing on the story. However, I emailed them about the issue and received this response:

Thank you for taking the time to contact us for our view on recent claims that eating the masked palm civet could have caused the outbreak of SARS in China.

We do not believe enough scientific research has been carried out to support this claim and therefore we cannot comment on this issue.

You may be interested to know that although national laws may vary, international trade in the masked palm civet is strictly regulated.

International trade may be authorized by the granting an export permit or re-export certificate; no import permit is necessary. Permits or certificates should only be granted if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild.