Let’s all just jump on William

Funny how things go: I just sat down here to write an article about – in a rambling sort of way – justice – and cats – and found a comment on that same subject by a new follower, on a different post.

I remember a lengthy conversation I had with Ex. We did have quite a few such lengthy conversations, often after too much beer or cider, which seemed to be the only way we could get past each other’s barriers. Hasten to add, I don’t drink now. Well, maybe the odd glass of wine at Christmas, if offered.

I was working for a firm of solicitors and had just had another conversation with my boss. She was a probate and trusts partner, but I had asked her how a criminal lawyer can bring themselves to defend someone who is pleading innocent although everyone knows he’s guilty – a violent rapist, say, or a mass murderer. Firstly, she said that if at any point the client was foolish enough to tell the lawyer he was guilty, the lawyer could no longer defend him. As long as he maintained his innocence, the lawyer – even though all sorts of verbal games had to be played to keep up this pretence – would continue to represent him, and do his or her utmost to put his side of the case (which isn’t necessarily the same thing as proving him innocent). Secondly, she said, everyone is entitled to a fair trial.

Now, Ex was a complex being. A gentle soul in many ways, he buried his deceased goldfish around the pond. He put up little crosses where each old cat was buried, and asked me to write a poem on a slip of paper to bury with them. He was many IQ points brighter than me (he took the test for MENSA) but if you were just listening to him arguing – about anything – you’d assume he was one of those shaven-headed National Front members, the sort with HATE tattooed on their knuckles. In argument, at least, he was always absolutely black or white, no shades of grey. Me, I love a good paradox: ambiguity is one of the few things I can cope with.

So his take on Justice was – and for all I know may still be – this: if everyone knows some bugger is guilty, then that bugger should be immediately shot, beheaded or castrated, depending on what he did. No time wasted by mealy-mouthed lawyers, arguing on his side. I remember, through the usual cider fog, saying that that was all very well, but just because everyone thinks they know someone is guilty, doesn’t mean that they actually are. After all, everyone knew all those poor, harmless old ladies in the Middle Ages were guilty of witchcraft and allowed the Devil to suckle on their teats, etcetera.

I remember asking him what if you were the one accused of a crime of which you were innocent – but everyone – everyone – knew you were guilty. Wouldn’t you be grateful then for a lawyer willing to prepare your case and argue in your defence? How could we call ourselves civilised, I asked him, if we reverted to taking it upon our individual selves to shoot, hang, castrate – or whatever – anyone we decided we knew was guilty?

And cats? Well, this week I have been looking after a cat called Nicholas.  Oh, let’s be honest, I’ve gone and adopted yet another stray. Nicholas arrived at my back door with a badly mangled arm, and the vet gave me the choice of either amputation at the shoulder, more or less, or euthanasia. So of course I paid for the amputation. I collected the cat later in the day. Inside his box they had wrapped him in a blanket against the cold. They did not offer to show him to me before I took him home, but I could imagine. Actually, though it looks strange – a cat with only one front leg – and sad, it’s not that shocking. He’s still the same Nicholas.

All went well for the first week, then I was woken at 2 in the morning by what sounded like a horrendous cat fight. But it wasn’t. It was Nicholas, standing in his pet bed, wobbling about on all three legs, screaming in terror whilst fighting off some invisible enemy that was obviously much larger than himself. This – whatever it might have been – fox, dog – had him by the leg – the now-amputated front leg – and Nicholas was twisting and turning, lashing out, trying desperately to pull himself free.

All my cats came running, as they always do when there is a ‘fight’. Their idea of justice is this: usually, any fight will involve William. William is a lumbering ginger cat who thinks he is in charge but isn’t – although he used to be. William is not very bright and, I’m afraid, a bit of a bully. So the cats come running and all jump on William. This does solve the problem, though it’s not exactly fair on William – he might have been in the right.

But now, with Nicholas, the weakness of cat strategy – the fundamental alien-ness of cats – has become apparent to me. Every couple of hours, still, in the depth of his nightmares poor Nicholas wakes up screaming. Fighting for his life against an invisible opponent.

Arthur approaches Nicholas. Arthur, huge, but usually the soppiest and most tremulous of cats. Ah, I think, he’s going to try and comfort his little friend. Arthur approaches, on tiptoe and extends a nose towards Nicholas’s nose, whiffling gently. And then he pounces on Nicholas and, notwithstanding the amputated front arm, proceeds to try to murder him. Fur flies everywhere. I grab Arthur. How could you? I ask him, tearfully. Even a human being wouldn’t set upon a disabled member of their own species, especially one who was suffering from PTSD.

Nicholas seems OK, if a bit battered. The stitches are still in place. Arthur looks at me blankly. He doesn’t understand and I don’t understand. How is this logic?

So I am having to think of strategies to protect Nicholas when I am forced to be out of the house, just in case. Feliway Friends (expensive! and you have to buy a refill every thirty days!) plugged in right next to the room he is occupying – the bathroom at the moment, which is very inconvenient (argh, a pun!) – and a long rabbit run for the spare room, so that he can get around but hopefully not be attacked.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: My Life Is So Complicated.

A step too far?



William: large-and-in-charge (when awake)


Small, fluffy and ferocious: Frizzle, another Wild One from the cat sanctuary

Photos were aiming to be ‘moody and atmospheric’.

Suspect I may have taken a step too far, into ‘grainy and unrecognisable’ territory.

I do have another post in mind, just haven’t had time to write it yet.

Purrs and dribbles to all. 🙂

All cats in the dark are grey

This of course is true, as far as human perception is concerned. It’s probably not that cats turn grey in the dark although of course they might; we are never going to know one way or the other. It’s like that old thing about the Tree in the Quad – the philosophical argument put forward by Bishop Berkeley:

  • There was a young man who said \God
  • Must think it exceedingly odd
  • If He finds that the tree
  • Continues to be,
  • When there’s no one about in the Quad.

This doctrine is known as Phenomenalism, and Phenominalists would claim that only such things as we perceive with our senses from one moment to the next can be said to exist. So, when we are not looking at the tree, the tree isn’t there. This is manifest nonsense, or at least impractical. Are trees scattering in all directions as we whisk ourselves away, only to re-plant themselves the minute we whisk ourselves back? Or might they be more sophisticated, materialising and de-materialising themselves in a nanosecond like leafy Tardis-is-is-es (Tardisii?)?

Ergo, if in the middle of the night my cat William jumps on the bed, miaows and appears to me to be grey, how do I nevertheless know that he’s a vivid shade of ginger? He may be in fact be grey only for as long as I’m looking at him. The minute I look away – back to ginger. If, like chameleons, cats can change colour at will, I imagine it amuses them greatly to do so. Excellent game!

Of course I could tell it was William with my eyes shut. He’s twice the size of all the other cats and weighs several tons more.

It’s just a saying, really. Attributed to Benjamin Franklin, it was rumoured to be his witty, if sexist and unpleasant way of explaining why it’s perfectly all right to take an older lady to bed. However, the saying goes back much further than that. In 1546 it appeared in John Heywood’s book of proverbs as When all candles be out, all cats be grey, which probably meant something less specific: that physical appearance is the least important thing about a person; it’s what’s inside that counts.

But why are all cats grey in the dark?

 This is the Science Bit and I’m no scientist so I’ll make it as pain-free as possible. It’s due to something called the Purkinje effect or Purkinje shift (after the Czech anatomist Jan Evangelista Purkyně). This is ‘the tendency for the peak luminance sensitivity of the eye to shift towards the blue end of the spectrum at low illuminance levels’. In other words a flower that appears bright red in full daylight fades to a darker, duller red at dusk and to black or grey at night. This goes back to those rods and cones inside our retinas (remember rods and cones from school biology? No, rods and cones, not rods, poles or perches…). The cones are very sensitive to colours and give us excellent vision in the daylight; the rods are very sensitive to light, but not to colours, and it is the rods we use to see whatever we can still see in the dark. This is why in moonlight, for instance, human beings become virtually colour-blind. It’s also why submarines are kept dimly lit, to preserve the night-vision of crew members, and why aeroplane cockpits use red lighting so that the pilots can both read the instruments and see outside the cockpit…

…and why cats appear grey. Which begs one further question:

If a cat in the dark is grey to me, what colour might I be to a cat?

Neither cats nor humans can see in pitch darkness. Cats can see considerably better than humans because they have eyes adapted to evening hunting expeditions. A cat has very large eyes in relation to the size of his head, and he can open his irises wide to let in as much light as possible. Cats’ eyes feature those rod and cone cells too but whereas in humans four out of five cells are rods, in cats it is twenty-five out of twenty-six. The net effect is that whilst cats have much better night-vision than us, they have poorer colour vision. So at night, as long as there’s a glimmer of light, a cat will see you much more clearly than you will see it – but you’ll probably appear almost as ‘grey’ to it as it appears to you.


This link shows how artist Nickolay Lamm has illustrated cat-vision as opposed to human-vision.

But who cares, really, what colour anything is. Let’s celebrate cats-on-beds, purring fit to bust, dribbling copiously and using our toes for mouse-murdering practice. Lets be glad that on a grey winter’s day moggie will come crashing in through the cat-flap to join us by a hearthside blaze, huddle with us over the one remaining bar of the gas-fire or bask with us in wall-to-wall central heating. And there, together, we will sit with our glass of wine/cup of coffee/mug of Horlicks and our copy of Great Expectations/Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell/ Fifty Shades of Grey/Pregnant with the Rancher’s Baby or whatever, and for a brief spell of time all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well with the world.

  • My old cat stretches out his arm,
  • To say, ‘I and You’.
  • He thinks the future threatens harm;
  • I feel it too.
  • The flexing paw to reassure
  • Myself and creature
  • Asserts, in feline comfiture,
  • Our frail, shared nature.
  • Robert Gittings: Cat
  • (my favourite cat poem of all time)