Saturday, 31 August 2013

Chatting with Cats

It’s a dark and stormy morning and I blunder out of the bedroom past the easy chair that Yorick habitually takes his early morning nap on. I will bend down to within easy eye-shot and he will give an off-hand early morning “purrp” from behind his tail and I will respond with a comradely “Hi”.
"Purrp" - which may mean "morning"
This morning the chair is empty – but weirdly as I look down I hear in my head a familiar “purrp”. Strange how habits can perpetuate. Perhaps this is how legends of ghostly music and odd sightings have occurred. Vestiges of memories of commonplace events have become somehow imprinted on the subconscious (there's a blog subject in there!). I hear again in the crown of my head the ghostly greeting but this time with a yawning meow which snaps me out of my extra-sensory musings because Yorick is actually above my head, lazily sprawled across the fish tank. He’s obviously been chatting to Jaws and Susan the two elderly inhabitants of that dank, green and foetid watery realm.

The rub of course is that I have absolutely no idea what the usual early morning “purrp” means, nor do I know what the early morning “purrp” followed by a yawning meow means either – although I suspect that a “purrp” from the favourite chair is different from a “purrp” from a high level fish tank - especially when modified by a yawning meow.

Communication with cats is not easy, and I suspect has never been easy.
Cat conversing with a Toad. An
inverted conversation.
Cat conversing with a Lizard. A frank and fearless

With dogs it is an entirely different affair.

With puppies the number one priority is to establish an early rapport by exchanging names. And this can usually be accomplished fairly quickly, although I have never really succeeded in getting any of our dogs to say “Steve”. They seem to have difficulty in getting their tongue around the sibilant “S”, the palatal “T”, the tongue against the back of the lower dentures to make “E” and the lower lip against the upper dentures to get the “V” sound. In fact they are crap at it and there are times when I wish I had been called “Grwoof” instead. Life would have been so much simpler, although on reflection I suspect I would have been bullied at school more than I actually was.

Well once you’ve sorted out the naming business (albeit a little one-sided, unless of course you are called “Grwoof”, in which case I am deeply jealous) all the rest just slips into place.

Here are some essential words from the Mitchell Dog/Human Lexicon.

·         “Sit” means wait expectantly for a dog biscuit.
·         “Down” means
a) if you are in the sitting position, lie down in the hope that you will get a dog biscuit, or
b) if you are rearing up on your hind legs with your front paws suggestively stuck in the ample bosom of one of the ladies from book-club get the hell off you over-familiar hound and there is no ways you’re getting any biscuits, ever again
·         “Fetch” is simple. It means run after the ball and don’t quite bring it all the way back to the thrower (the “chukka”)
·         “Bring” means will you please bring the bloody ball all the way back and stop dropping it just out of reach.
·         “No” means whatever you are doing - stop it
·         “Kitchen” – means get the hell out of wherever you are and go in the general direction of the kitchen and stay there for an undefined period of time.(see also living dangerously for alternative usage)
·         “Grwoof” means there is a disturbance at the bottom of the garden but we’re on to it.
·         “RrRgRwooF” means if those bastard dogs from Dr Wasswas’s place get any nearer we will tear them limb from limb. Yeah right!
·         “Rwoof rWoof” means although you don’t seem to be aware of it you are sitting within 2 metres of a large and fearsome snake and while we are not getting any nearer we respectfully advise you to beat a hasty but measured retreat.
Chap with Dogs. The vocabulary is actually a common one.

And talking of dog biscuits, I can safely say that having shared a biscuit or two with the dogs during an idle hour messing around on the kitchen floor trying to see things from their point of view; they are nothing to write home about. For some reason I had expected them to taste somewhere between Twiglets and Ryvita spread with Marmite. Not a bit of it! They taste exactly as they look – like brittle cardboard. I had hoped that being fed a sweetmeat shaped vaguely like a bone by one’s wife that I would have experienced something of the quivering pleasure clearly enjoyed by the dogs – and who knows, a frisson of something else? Instead your mouth ends up feeling like the inside of an elderly cornflake packet with a really bad aftertaste and an overwhelming need to drink something with a very high alcohol content. How the dogs stay sober after receiving such rewards beats me, although their all-consuming sense of euphoria suggests high octane ethyl-alcohol.

Okay so that’s dog communication sorted.

Goldfish are a complete mystery to me, because I suspect that they communicate with the outside world using some form of complex whole body sign language interspersed with the odd bubble. For the dogs this lack of interspatial communication does not seem to be an issue. The fish tank is well above canine eye level and as such simply does not exist. Yorick on the other hand has had several conversations with the Jaws and Susan and seems to have built up a rapport with them although to what extent they are reacting to the odd “purrp” that he flings at them it is difficult to tell. But I digress . . . .
Yorick strikes up a conversation with Jaws, or is it Susan?

Moles I am not sure about, not having ever met one in the flesh as it were. I do feel that they must communicate with what in England are referred to as regional brogues, in other words accents with a rather pleasing and beguiling twang much loved in TV comedies.

Spotted Eagle Owls (smallkittenus eatus) obviously go “WooHoo Wuhoo” which means either “When shall we three meet again?”, or “Wow!” Both of which are well known quotes with classical allusions as I am sure you will have spotted.

But returning to cats, given the paucity of information about Cat/Human interaction Yorick and I are about to embark (sorry!) on an extensive study of this mysterious area of communication. Already however I can see potential intellectual dissonance; I approach this subject from a neo-modernist Marxist view point – where as Yorick is a declared Meowist.

Watch this space!
Yorick and the late Shadow bone up on language - any
Although to be honest I have little expectation of anything in the least useful coming out of the exercise . . .

1 comment:

  1. thanks for the great tips on cat communication. I'll pass them on to Poppy, the cat that chats online


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