I don’t think I ever told you about George.
George arrived one teeming February morning, upside-down in the arms of Sylvia, a vintage lady of, I would guess, theatrical connections. He was black and white in random patches; he was very small, very young, very hungry and very wet. His legs were caked with mud.
It keeps coming round, said Sylvia. It keeps asking to be fed and I do feed it, sometimes, but I can’t keep on. And I can’t pick it up, you see, because of my chest. As if to demonstrate, she was shaken by a long, chesty cough.
I’m allergic, you see.
Privately, I thought a lifetime of smoking Players Extra Strong might have contributed to her cat-allergy.
I have never, ever referred to an animal as “it”. All animals have a gender and a name, which they will tell us if we ask them nicely. George was telling me that his name was George. He didn’t need to tell me he was a tom, and an unneutered one, since he was upside down with his legs in the air.
So I took him in, and paid for him to be neutered, de-wormed, de-flea’d and expensively poked and prodded by the local vet. After that, Sylvia brought me three more cats, spread over a year or so. Sylvia, like Charlie, is a species of menace. I’ve told you about Charlie.
George is also a menace, although he doesn’t mean to be. I suspect he’s either not very bright, or short-sighted. He falls off every surface he throws himself at – and he throws himself at a lot of surfaces. He walks past his food bowl every single time, though he has been frantically pacing the work surface for minutes. I feed him first, yet at the end of the Feeding of the Thirteen, George somehow has no bowl of food; everyone’s food is more interesting than his; he inspects them all and eats nothing. George intersects your trajectory, wherever you go. He will always manage to be exactly where your feet are when you walk across a room. He has a permanently bewildered look. But I am fond of him.
Hence the impulse purchase, in Tesco, of Marmite the mouse. Marmite is vaguely brown, made of pear-shaped pieces of felt. His body is flat, being unstuffed, and his nose is cone-shaped. He has round felt ears, frayed and permanently pinned back now due to repeated traumas in the washing-machine. Tesco no longer seem to sell the Marmite Mouse, though they sell other, less interesting mice. At one point – I’d just got a sewing machine – I even tried to make a Marmite Mouse pattern, but Marmite is more complicated than he looks. Normally I’m quite good at that spatial stuff but none of his home-made “replacements” looked anything like him.
Marmite became Marmite, I think, because of his propensity to be loved and hated simultaneously. If – not being English, perhaps – you are unfamiliar with the vegetarian food-spread known Marmite, you may find this simile problematic. Marmite – the food-spread – has a very strong and distinctive taste, put it like that. A Marmite Company, in temp agency parlance, is a company some temps love to work for and others refuse at all costs to venture into.
George has loved Marmite – loved him almost to death. For almost a year, Marmite has been hooked on George’s scimitar claws, bitten on the nose by George’s sharp young teeth. George has attempted (unsuccessfully, since he’s George) to chew off Marmite’s ears, and gouge out his little eyes.
The cats have got a kind of ladder/platform arrangement in the kitchen. They run up the ladder and perch on one of several shelves. Once in a while George manages to get to the top shelf without falling off, and there he waits, impatiently, for me to locate Marmite. Often he’s under the washing machine or in one of the litter trays or squashed into a corner somewhere gathering dusty. It has been my job to throw Marmite into the air so that George can leap up and either catch Marmite between his clumsy paws or fall right off the platform. This game – which mothers will no doubt recognise – is a variety of “throw teddy out of the pram” and results in “Mummy” getting far more exercise than “baby”/George.
However, just recently Marmite has been showing signs of exhaustion. Enough is enough, Big Mummy, I have heard him pleading. No more Georgie. So, Sir Marmite Mouse has entered an honourable retirement. He has hung up his spurs and divested himself of his armour. (No? No, I knew you weren’t going to believe the bit about the chain mail.) He has had one final adventure in the washing machine and now accompanies me all over the place as my lucky mascot. Sometimes he is in my coat pocket, sometimes in that capacious bag of mine. You never know where he’s going to pop up next.
George is still looking.