All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. I used to think that cats were one of those more equal animals, but I have changed my mind. I would now always choose dogs over cats, without a second thought.
The reasons for this are threefold. Number one - I fell in love with a dog called Jac Custo. I could write a whole blog about him, but I won't, because it would be on a level with mums cooing about their newborn babies, and no-one would read it.
Number two - I had a lodger who had three cats. I was more than happy to welcome said cats into my home, and they were very sweet animals, but having cats in the house was not the happy dream I imagined it would be. They had a smelly litter tray and were forever bringing dead mice into the house. When the cats moved out, I was actually quite happy to have the bathroom smelling better and no chance of standing on a desiccated mouse when I opened my bedroom door of a morning.
The third reason for my about-face on cats has a name. A name that strikes fear into the heart of all who know it... and that name is Chimney Cat.
Chimney Cat (who, for the purposes of this post, I shall assume is a he) is a chunky fella. He's black and white and built a bit like a tank. He frequently jumps down from the neighbours' fence onto our outside window sill and always lands with enough of a bang that we can hear him quite clearly over the telly. I don't want anyone getting the wrong idea... Chimney Cat is not a waif or stray who needs feeding up. Chimney Cat can clearly look after himself.
Picture the scene... this was the day that my aforementioned lodger had moved out. She had gone during the day while I was at uni, so I came home to a very empty house - albeit a house with the catflap still in operation. I was on the phone to my the Best Male Member of Team Ginger when I came in the door. I sat myself down on the sofa and continued to gossip with my venerable friend when a kerfuffle, as yet undefined, suddenly seemed to be happening in the periphery of my vision.
I whipped my head round, expecting to see at worst a mouse or at best an armed burglar... what I actually did see was, I maintain to this day, the most unexpected thing I have ever seen in my life. What I saw was the back half of Chimney Cat - lower back, bum, back legs, tail - disappearing up the chimney (hence the name).
This happened so cleanly, so easily, that I swear to god it looked like someone was lurking in the chimney, waiting, hands out-stretched, to pull the cat up there. It seemed as though he'd stepped onto a lift that zoomed him up to the next floor. It was like he had been beamed up, Scotty. It was the weirdest thing I had ever seen, this cat I hadn't even known was in the house vanishing cleanly and vertically up the chimney.
I, of course, screamed like a girl and deafened my poor friend on the phone. I wasn't scared, I was just really, really surprised. And also a little concerned that the cat was going to stay in the chimney forever and die in there, the way that lost birds do sometimes.
After some conversation with my friend, I got on my knees and had a look up the chimney for Chimney Cat, and to my amazement, saw him perched on a ledge which I hadn't even realised was there, looking as at home as Stig in a dump and staring coolly back at me.
Clearly, this cat had been in this position many, many times before without me realising and considered this His Chair.
I ended my phone call and concentrated my efforts on getting this cat out of my house. I was a bit reluctant to stick my arm up there, as waving your hand at a cornered, unhappy animal is never really the best idea, so I got some water and flicked it at Chimney Cat, who couldn't have cared less.
At this point, I got a broom and very, very gently (don't go calling the RSPCA on me, it was done with love, honest) prodded the cat.
THIS had an effect. Suddenly, Chimney Cat had become a banshee, flying out of the chimney and around the walls of my living room, soot and fur following in his wake like pollution from an oil rig. Foolishly, I had imagined coaxing the animal gently back out the back door from whence he had come, but I could now see that this cat was not going to be coaxed anywhere. He ended up sat on the front window sill, clawing at the window, so I had to just let him out that way, whereby he went flying into the road and I sat back on the sofa nursing a minor heart attack.
I was slightly worried at the time that the cat would be hit by a car or not find his way home, but I am now convinced that a ten-ton lorry couldn't kill this cat... and with his usual not-so-light footed thump he landed back outside the window some days later and looked inside. This time, I could tell that he was eyeing the living room up, wondering why he couldn't get back to his chair.
The second encounter with Chimney Cat was somewhat more terrifying, I must say. This was some months later, in the middle of the night. I'm going to prefix this part of the story by pointing out that, as part of my bid to sleep better, my room is, thanks to some black-out blinds, pitchy, midnight, opening-your-eyes-makes-no-difference dark at all times. Well, at all night times, not during the day - that would be silly. This makes it very hard to work out what's going on if anything a bit remiss happens.
So when another kerfuffle happened - waking me out of a pretty deep sleep - it was very hard to see what it was. It was loud enough to make me sit right up in bed, though, and I then saw what was probably, this time, the scariest thing I've ever seen in my life.
One of the aforementioned blackout blinds was being pushed forward, suggesting that something - or someone - was climbing in the window. It was the whole blind moving forward (they're reasonably stiff, so move as one), suggesting that the thing climbing in through the window was roughly the size of a person. I was completely certain that this was going to be a burglar with a knife gripped between his teeth, and that I was going to be stabbed in my bed. It was genuinely terrifying.
Acting purely on instinct, I shouted out 'WHAT!', and then there was a noise, and then something dashed from the room and out the door (my door doesn't shut very well), and I was left utterly confused.
I managed to get myself out of bed to go and look behind the blind (which took some nerves of steel, I'm telling you), but nothing was there. I couldn't even see anything knocked over. I was too sleepy and confused to check downstairs, so I decided it must have either been a mouse, in which case I really didn't want to find it, or a figment of my imagination, in which case I would never be able to find it, and so I went back to bed.
Some hours later, I woke up in somewhat better circumstances and went downstairs. I sat myself on the sofa and started telling the internet the story of what had happened (after all, everyone knows that nothing has actually happened until you post it on Facebook), drawing the same conclusion that I must have dreamed it.
I pressed send on my post, and decided to pop the leg rest out on my sofa, which has Lazy-Boy seats at either end of it (jealous? You should be). I did this, and then what I can only describe as an earthquake exploded under my chair, rattling it up and down so that it was actually lifting it off the floor - bouncing and bouncing and not ceasing.
My first thought was, again, serial killer, but I quickly realised that this was actually an animal. I got as far as wondering if it could be a fox, then rabbit (neither guess makes much sense, I realise) before deciding I'd better get myself off the damn sofa as the bouncing was clearly never going to stop until I did... so I bounded up and over towards the kitchen door...
And out from under the sofa, so louche he could practically have had a cigarette hanging from his lips and a trilby tilted over one eye, strolled Chimney Cat - clearly, it had been him behind the blind all along.
Things all went a bit quiet on the Chimney Cat front for about 8 months after that. He would still thud onto the window sill, at which point he would have fists shaken at him, and he would still eye the living room up, but he didn't make it back in until one night last week.
On this particular night, only my boyfriend and I were in the house... he downstairs with insomnia, me upstairs with it, oh the joys. I'm realising, as I'm writing this, that we're going to end on a bit of an anti-climax, as this is really more the fella's story to tell than mine... he was the one who, this time, was scared half to death by Chimney Cat (how is he getting in? How? How?)... and he was the one who had to try to get him out the house... on this occasion the bloody cat ran all the way upstairs and chose to exit out of a first storey window... I just heard the noises and was told about it. So I cannot retell the story with my usual over-egging of detail. All I can do is keep an eye on the chimney, and keep you updated with That Cat's exploits...