An idle Saturday morning at the coffee shop. It is dark and stormy outside and the conversation has drifted around to cats, well to be honest I navigate the conversation round to one cat in particular.
“Have you ever wondered,” asks M…de V . . . .(all names have been subtly changed as protection against libel), “where Yorick actually came from?”
“From under the hedge,” I say realising immediately how juvenile that sounds. I hear my mealy mouthed alter ego scoffing - or perhaps the Stork brought him. “I've told everyone that,” I continue lamely. And the table nods in resigned and silent affirmation.
“No no,” persists M . . .de V . . . “I’ve met him.” This with triumphant emphasis and a glint of challenge to the others around the table, “And he has a special character about him.” As if I don’t know that! “I wonder who he is the reincarnation of,” she says. The atmosphere crackles with triumph, glint and challenge.
There is a sudden echoic hush in the shopping mall, the table shudders, my world does half a gambol and I am forced to order another cappuccino. Who the hell is Yorick? As you can imagine that fundamental question took a bit of asking, let alone answering.
Without knowing an awful lot about reincarnation, well in truth knowing nothing about the subject I set about the task of finding the essential Yorick without carrying out one jot of academic research. Let’s not get bound up with existential arguments, I thought, or glued down by Buddhist dogma. Neither the Quaran nor the Bible are going to be of any use in this quest. It’s back to basics!
The detective work began, and I logged on to Wikipedia to find out who died round about the beginning of October 2008.
Given the obvious uncertainty about Yorick’s actual date of birth his conception is an even deeper mystery so I decided to concentrate on the former date. Barry the vet had settled on a “registered” date of birth
October 2008, a sort of Nom
de Naissance. (Barry is incidentally his real name. I have no fear of legal
dismemberment from that quarter.) Allowing a degree of latitude in his accuracy
in dating kittens – unlike dating trees it is not an exact science and cannot involve
destructive testing, I thought a five day window on either side of his assumed date
of birth a reasonable guess. So that was one parameter settled. (I have not
incidentally asked for confirmation from the veterinary profession about my
assumptions on the grounds that I would have to explain why I am enquiring.)
The next bit is a lot more difficult. How long does a soul hang about waiting for a suitable host? I don’t think anyone knows, but I have to assume the same five day window of opportunity pertains. I know no better after all. So this great intellectual leap leads me to a ten day period that is fertile ground from whence the Yorick character can be found - 26th September to the 5th October.
Oh, and to make the quest attainable the soul has had to come from someone who has made some sort of mark, but that of course – given Yorick’s personality – goes without saying.
According to Wikipedia 86 people of note died over this period. This could be a mammoth task of elimination! September 29th was a particularly fertile day for the grim reaper with 14 notable deaths recorded. There is the inevitable crop of sporting and film luminaries, and very old war heroes (who as far as I can see were very ordinary chaps who became heroes simply because they were very old).
Five stand out. Paul Newman tops the list, closely followed by two leaders of al-Qaida.
|The cat with Paul Newman eyes.|
Where Mahir al-Zubaydi and Mohamed Moumou are concerned I can thankfully discern no evidence of reincarnation other than Yoricks generally subversive behaviour when it comes to prospecting for semi-precious metals under the throws and cushions on the sofas. If I felt a stiffening of the feline fur every time I swear – a regular occurance; or jumpy behavior when we discuss Christians, Tony Blair, George W Bush, or Americans in general, then I would have reason to delve deeper; but I have not. I tried the acid test of dropping the phrase “The Prophet” into normal conversation while he was around. Not an easy task in a secular houshold I can tell you, but not so much as a blink. With a sense of relief these two are abandoned. Lets face it the thought of some sort of really nasty Jihad emanating from the admission that either Mahir al-Z . . . or Mohamed M . . are eating their lunch of tinned pork and dried kitty food in our kitchen is not a pleasant one. I don’t have the fervour of Salmon Rushdie.
Fourthly there is an American pornographic film producer. A reincarnation of this talent in feline form boggles even my over-active imagination. I'm not going there - and neither is Yorick.
Lastly there is Marian McQuade who lived to the ripe old age of 91 and whose claim to fame was the founding of National Grandparents Day. This it appears she formed when she was a grandparent – there’s good ‘ole American enterprise for you! Delightfully dotty but still not quite right.
But then a curiosity caught my eye with such intensity that for the second time in this my world did a hop-skip-and-a-jump!
Raymond Macherot shuffled off at the age of 84 on 26th September. Also known as “Zara”, Macherot was a Belgian cartoonist who worked for a time on Tintin magazine followed by Spirou. It seemed that Macherot had a thing about cats. His debut for Spirout was a new series – Chaminou – which featured a cat secret agent.
In the subsequent Sybilline et Taboum series he introduced a stupid cat named ‘Pantouffle’, followed in another series by a cat called ‘Mirliton’ of which I know nothing except that a mirliton is either an oddly shaped fruit not unlike an avocado pear, or a membranophone, neither of which even I can remotely connect to Yorick – but there is evidence enough elsewhere.
The description of a cat secret agent resonates delightfully with Yoricks suspiciously furtive character, his ability to appear from the most unlikely direction, and the slightly pained look he flings over his shoulder as he crouches over the dogs bowl of freshly poured water that says “ . . . would have preferred it shaken and not stirred.” But what set me all a’shiver was the realisation that ‘pantouffle’ is the french for ‘slipper’. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled and glistered as I remembered a period when Yorick would pull out the false inner sole of one of Margaret’s slip-on shoes and bat it around the passage floor. This thankfully brief period of feline foot fetishism is surely proof indeed of a strong slipper connection.
Enough you cry, enough!
But wait - there is more!
According to my source (Wikipedia naturally) Macherot's cartoons belie their apparent innocence with an underlying theme of the struggle for survival. I quote “In Macherot's world, animals live in a society of their own, and species must learn to coexist together peacefully.” Here we have a cat who cannot keep his paws off the dogs, tolerates his fellow cats, has long (admittedly fruitless) chats with goldfish, befriends a variety of small rodents and not so small lizards, and eats grass. For all I know he shins up one of the pine trees of an evening to pay his regards to the Spotted Eagle Owl (Smallkittenus eatus).
The answer is staring me in the face. The spirit of Macherot has chosen to adopt as his new form a cat, a figure that he has depicted in various guises over decades. And the evidence is all there.
QED. Yorick is the soul of Raymond Macherot!
The mechanics of how the Macherot soul somehow connected with that spitting ball of renegade fluff who later fetched up at the bottom of our garden I do not know, and I do not care – but there is no doubt in my mind that behind those limpid grey green eyes there is a cartoonists twinkle.
From what little I have managed to read about Raymond Macherot the more I feel attracted to him and the more I regret not having met him - but maybe I can - and have?So now we (well actually me) are busy engaging with Yorick in execrable schoolboy french in an accent lying uncomfortably somewhere between ex British Prime Minister Ted Heath and Inspector Clouseau. These attempts are however such a failure that I am beginning to wonder if “Zara” was in actual fact a Waloon speaker – or perhaps even Dutch!