We began with a writing exercise – The Cat Sat on the Mat. It is not the most exciting sentence ever. Ask me to read it out and I have to add to it. "The cat sat on the mat and had hysterics".
Maybe if you happened to be in my Maths class some forty years ago it might make sense. Another class has an Indian called Soh Cah Toa but we had a cat sitting on a mat having hysterics. I remember the phrase well but admit to having problems remembering the meaning behind it – something about triangles and calculating the opposite, adjacent and hypotenuse.
We did a mind map on all the connections we could make about cats and shared fond memories of cats we had known and loved. T S Elliot got a mention with his poems. Disney films featured – The Incredible Journey, about the cat and two dogs that walk across the USA to go home. There is the link with the BIG CATS like lions and tigers. Bagpuss made it on to the board.
We made a not-so-detailed mind map on mats extending it to carpets, floors, tiles and lino. Someone mentioned rugs and the picture of a cat sitting on the rug made out of the skin of a lion – very opposite and adjacent thinking.
We were left to write our own stories for a while based on that sentence and taking it somewhere.
I began to write about a memory.
We had a cat called Tabitha – no prizes for an original and creative name there. It was a long haired tabby cat. I guess that a cat’s tongue only reaches some places. Under the chin and round by the ears are out of reach. At the time I have to admit that the cat and I had certain things in common. I was also long haired. The top of my head was immaculately brushed but underneath there were tangles. There were also two very wet strands of hair on either side of my face from a bad habit of nervous chewing. The cat didn’t have a habit of nervous chewing, but did have the tangles under the chin and round by the ears.
The cat had seen off a plethora of other pets. She just refused to share her house with anything other than humans who worshipped her. The dog, Jason, named after a TV detective Jason King, lived with us for six months. A gerbil lasted a mere few weeks as did a guinea pig.
We went through a series of budgies. I don’t know if you can teach budgies to talk, but mum was convinced. The last budgie we had was either green or blue and was called Marty. He was very endearing and should have been called Houdini on account of the number of times he escaped. He didn’t just escape the cage but the house too. He turned up back at the budgie breeder’s aviary at the other side of the village one time. I am not convinced it was Marty he returned, but all blue budgies or green budgies look alike and my mum smiled to have him home, so who was I to suggest it wasn't Marty?
She may have been successful in her elocution lessons with Marty. She was convinced he said “Hello!” He was outside the cage at the time, flying from one side of the room to the other, pelmet to pelmet. He landed on the floor, on the mat in front of the fireplace. He may have been preening himself, perhaps delighted to have said, “Hello!” It might have been his first word. It was certainly his last.
What we failed to realise was the cat was in the room, concealed in some corner. A bird on a carpet was too much to ignore. She might have been an elderly lady in cat terms but she was spry when the occasion called for it.
There was a flash of fur, a snap of jaws and Marty was not only speechless, but headless too and all in a matter of seconds.
Today the spectators of the event would be heavily traumatised and book into therapy sessions. We were open mouthed and shocked. My mother’s slippered foot swung in a small arc connecting with the backside of the cat. A series of small sharp kicks saw the cat out of the house.
So, yes, for a moment there the cat did sit on the mat – while the rest of us had hysterics!
Many years later I wrote this poem.
Death on the Living Room Carpet
Death is unpredictable
It crouches beneath the sofa
Leaps forth with jaws outstretched
Biting the head off the budgie
Strutting the carpet in front of me
I kick death out the front door
It sits on the doorstep
Nonchalantly licking its feline lips