I was born into a household with a beagle in it. Sam wasn’t really all that domesticated but, spending much of my time in close proximity to the floor and periodically having a revolting smelling nappy meant that I was generally accompanied by him.
They say that if you put a puppy with a litter of cats, it’ll grow up thinking it’s a cat. I thought I was a dog. Literally. Once I was old enough to not need feeding at a high chair, I’d be doing my best to put my plate down and eat off the floor, scooting around on all fours and licking my own genitals. I lied about the last one. That didn’t happen until much later.
When I developed a bit more sense, I realised I wasn’t literally a dog, but I held onto the idea that, if push came to shove, my personality resembled that of a dog, as opposed to, say, a cat which some people prided themselves in. It mystified me. Why the hell would anyone want to be a cat?
The reason I thought this wasn’t only because of loyalty to my better looking, more intelligent big brother, who was also indulged to a far greater extent than I ever was. My parents were solidly anti cat. There was the shitting in people’s, meaning their, gardens, maiming birds, mice and frogs for pleasure, the superior look that the microscopically brained mammals deluded themselves into expressing to all and sundry, and on the list went.
The message was clear: cats are shit and dogs are great. Even though our dog was borderline feral and the worst behaved dog in Christendom, much to the apparent delight of my old man who, if anything, encouraged it.
Not that he had much encouraging to do. As I say, Sam was wild. Not with me: as a baby in my cot, he’d guard me. He sat with/on me when I stopped moving and ran around with me when I started dragging myself around on my chubby and cacky little arse. He never bit me. Never even growled at me, according to my folks. Having said that, I know he did. Once, I found him in the back garden with his snout halfway up a rabbit’s belly, blood staining his tricolour chops. I asked him what he was doing and he gave me a look that, despite knowing sod all about anything, even I knew meant, “Fuck off,” He did that face wrinkling thing that dogs do when they’re furious. His eyes were expressive normally but they weren’t now. There was nothing there at all anymore. He’d reverted back to a totally feral state, having caught and tasted the blood of this poor rabbit, Sam was gone and though whatever the hell was in my garden looked like Sam, it wasn’t. I left him to it and kept my mouth shut. My brother was mental.
When I was a little kid, nobody I knew went abroad on holiday. We certainly didn’t. I suppose the main reason that so few people went on holiday abroad was because it just wasn’t what you did. Also, it was very expensive.
Apart from those reasons, we also had the dog. I was brought up with the idea that if you have a dog, it’s part of your family and you don’t leave your family at home when you go on holiday. You couldn’t take your dog abroad then anyway, so we just used to get in the car and drive to Northumberland and stay in a guesthouse that let dogs in. Or, if they didn’t let dogs in, we’d have to sneak him in and hope he didn’t start howling.
Some people had little pet names for their children. Nutty’s dad called him “Buddy”. My friend Louise’s dad called her “Lulu”. My parents called me “Kid”. I was called “Kid” because I was their kid. Sam normally got called “Sam”. Often followed by expletives, because he was so badly behaved. You know, “Sam, you total +$**&%@, come here now.”, or “Oh, Sam, you %*£@@$@&*” . Even so, at least they bothered to use the name they’d given him. I once asked why they didn’t call him “Dog”, seeing as I was referred to as “Kid”. They looked at me like I was soft in the head and said, “But he’s called ‘Sam’. He’s got a name.”
“I’ve got a name,” I argued, “but you still call me ‘Kid’.”
“That’s because you’re our kid” they said.
The dog got a better deal than I did, that’s what I thought.
Ironically, my parents demanded that I should be able to be taken anywhere and I should be able to entertain myself, talk to people in a decent manner and, mainly, not be a pain in the neck. They liked it when other parents commented on what a well-behaved kid I was.
So, as far as I was concerned, I got a rough deal. The dog was not only the number one son, who got called by his proper name, instead of ‘Kid’ but also the dog was allowed to do whatever he wanted but I had to behave myself properly.
The dog used to get my Dad’s slipper and stand with it in his mouth, just out of my Dad’s reach and the dog used to torment him with it. Every time my Dad tried to get it, the dog snatched it away at the last second and dropped it again, just to give my Dad enough encouragement to try and get it again, and then the same thing would just go on and on. Until my Dad got sick of it and stood up to chase the dog, at which point, Sam flew out of the house and buried the slipper under whatever the most revolting thing in the garden was, ruining the slipper. My Dad would shout at the dog and then Sam would dig it up and shove it in my Mum and Dad’s bed, ruining the sheets and the covers. My Mum would then shout at the dog and shout at my Dad. Ten minutes later, the dog would be sat on my Mum’s knee, getting fed biscuits.
The dog got away with murder and I only had to look like I might be thinking of something naughty to get grounded for a week. That was how it seemed to me, anyway.
Anyway, there we were, my Mum, Dad, Sam and me (in that order), in Northumberland. At a seaside town called ‘Seahouses’. I liked Seahouses, we used to go quite a lot. The beach was excellent, there were decent amusements and plenty of places for a little kid to play about.
One day, we went to a place called Alnwick. There was a castle there and some enormous fields. In the fields, there was something going on, involving hundreds and hundreds of people. There were huge striped tents all over the field and horses and people dressed in armour.
We asked someone what was going on and we were told that Disney were filming their latest film here, “The Spaceman and King Arthur”.
People seemed pretty excited about it and we stood and looked at what was happening for a bit, but nothing much seemed to be happening and we weren’t allowed to get very close anyway. The film was set in King Arthur’s time, so they didn’t want anyone wearing clothes from 1978 into the shots, I suppose.
As usual, my parents had completely forgotten what the dog was like – yeah, right – and my Dad decided to let him off his lead for a run about.
Sam, being a beagle, didn’t run all that fast over a short distance, compared to greyhounds and whippets; but they can run quite fast, all day. They’re hunting dogs and they use their noses to track their prey.
At the other end of the field, about half a mile away, you could see a herd of Highland cattle. I knew they were Highland cattle because there was a picture of a Highland cow on “Highland Toffee” bars, which were well known for pulling fillings out.
Anyway, the first thing Sam did was to sprint towards the Highland cattle. I thought he was going to howl at them, but instead, he found an enormous pile of Highland cow dung, threw himself in it and proceeded to roll around in it.
After a couple of minutes of this, he’d managed to stir himself up and began running around with a look of total lunacy on his face. He did that quite a lot.
Naturally, after he’d stirred himself up to the point at which he was now howling continually at the top of his voice, he broke through the barrier and interrupted filming for about an hour and a half. He upset horses, who bolted. He managed to drag at least two tents down by dragging them halfway to Scotland with his teeth. He may have destroyed a camera when he decided to urinate on it.
It was chaos. There were people running around and shouting. There was some American man who kept shouting, “Who the hell brought this goddamn dawg onto the set?”
Do you know what my old man’s response to the chaos he’d inflicted onto the set of “The Spaceman & King Arthur” was? I’ll tell you, he did what he always did in such situations: he put the lead in his pocket and pretended it was someone else’s dog. He even joined in with the people who were shouting at Sam and trying to find his owners.
I was the one who was expected to get hold of him and, eventually, I did. By the time we got back to Seahouses, all the cow dung had dried and our beagle, who was normally black, brown and white, was now just brown. And very, very, very smelly. Not mention absolutely delighted with himself. You could tell by the look on his face.
Back at the guesthouse, even my parents realised that there was no way that the dog was going to be allowed in looking and smelling like he did. We had to use this ancient water trough that was designed for horses to drink from that was stood in the town square. Sam didn’t appear to be quite so thrilled at being bathed in freezing cold water in public.
That evening, after we ate our tea and went for a walk along the sea front all anyone seemed to be talking about was how this brown dog – ‘it must have been a labrador’ – had disrupted filming for hours, had ruined sets and some equipment of the big Disney film that day. The director was offering a reward for the capture of this ‘wild brown dog’. People sounded shocked. We just did our best to look innocent. It wasn’t hard. Everyone was looking for a brown dog and ours was black, brown and white.
“No,” my Dad said to a local man who pointed at Sam and asked if he’d been on Alnwick fields earlier, “this one never gets let off his lead, he’s a lunatic.”
“Yes,” I thought, “and he’s not the only one in this family, is he?”
That was what it was like for me, until he got cancer and had to be put down. With the best of intentions, my parents didn’t tell me what was happening. One day they took him to the vet, I stayed in the car and, when they came out, Sam wasn’t there. I asked where he was – he’d had stays at the vet’s before: having developed a rotten tooth, he’d had to be sedated and when we picked him up the next morning, dribbling like a lunatic and wobbling like a drunkard, he’d terrified a mother who picked her child up and ran away from the rabid dog coming out of the vets – and my mother told me to shut up. My old man told me to ‘leave it’. I’d worked it out by the time we arrived home and was howling. Then I stopped speaking again.
I’d previously stopped speaking when I was about three . Prior to my forthcoming and apparently self imposed vow of silence, my old man had taken me out of nursery because he was on holiday and thought it would be nice to spend the time off with me. He took me to Dr. Rogerson, who I called ‘Dr Rosperton’ in the days when I deigned to speak at all. Dr. Rosperton looked in my ears and down my throat and told my old man that there was nothing wrong with me and asked about what had been happening recently. My old man told him about my not going to nursery for the past few weeks and Rosperton suggested that, possibly, I’d stopped speaking because I just didn’t have anything to tell him because he was present for everything that I witnessed. So, they took me back to nursery and I started speaking again, Rosperton vindicated.
This time, it wasn’t because I had nothing to say, I think it might have been because I thought I wasn’t allowed to say anything about it. And I didn’t know what to say even if I had.
I remember my mum shouting at me because I’d gone in the drawer where we kept his lead because I wanted to look at his collar and the lead rattled when I was rummaging around and the sound of that upset her, so she told me how much worse it was for her than me. Everything had been worse for my mother than it was for me. I knew that because she was always telling me about it. This time it was worse for her because when she’d been a kid, she’d found out about her rabbit being dead when she realised what was in the pie her mother had cooked for tea, and had run out to find her rabbit hutch empty. Rationing days. Seven mouths to feed. Grim. And it is worse, isn’t it? It wasn’t easy, having your misery trumped by your mother at every corner, perhaps that’s why I got into The Smiths – at least their misery was a bit less competitive and more inclusive than what I had at home. Mind you, home provided me with something to identify with Morrissey about, so swings and roundabouts, I suppose.
Anyway, everyone was so upset that we didn’t get another dog until I was about 14. Another beagle, this one called Albert as a tribute to my Granddad. Albert was less wild than Sam, but a lot more brain damaged. He had fits and all manner of problems.
When Albert died, my parents stuck with what they knew, which was to not tell me about it. It was easier this time because I was away at university in my last term. Unfortunately, I had to go home to pick up a load of notes I’d left there for my finals – about May of 1993 – and on arriving home, my subdued parents at least this time decided to tell me what had happened. I was mortified again. Also, I had a couple of broken fingers on my right hand as a result of being in goal in the five-a-side football team I was in because I was too ill to run around. So I did my finals having to keep leaving the exam hall to vomit, with broken fingers and a dead dog on my mind. It wasn’t too super. I was also living in a house with two girls whom I’d pissed off enormously through being a dickhead, so the atmosphere wasn’t too convivial at the best of times. Credit to them, if not to me, they were both really nice to me about Albert getting put down when they had absolutely no obligation to be. No credit to me, again.
The next dog arrived about a month later. We decided to call him ‘Jude’ because: 1. When we were talking about it in the car on the way back, ‘Hey Jude’ came on the radio and I said, “Why don’t we call him ‘Jude’?” And my mother started crying again. With joy, I think. Or sentimentality. I don’t know. She’s pretty highly strung, my mother. I no longer take it personally, and 2. I liked the idea of calling after him, ‘Hey! Jude!’ on walks.
I never really lived with Jude because I spent most of my time at one girl or another’s flat, except when my folks went on holiday and I’d dogsit.
So, up to well into my forties, I was under the impression I was a dog and that went with stereotypical canine characteristics.
And then, suddenly, I realised I wasn’t anything like a dog because it turned out I was a cat.
By the time I’d left home, I’d met a few cats. I always looked down on them though, with their stupid, arrogant expressions and their tendencies to do really idiotic things then look embarrassed about your having seen them do it and then skulking off to return, smug look restored to their stupid faces. I wasn’t about to kick one or anything, but I wasn’t interested.
The drummer with whom I shared a flat had a couple of cats, and they were pretty funny, so I did start to come ’round to the idea of cats, although I also thought that The Silent Witch and snooker might have lowered my expectations in terms of what I now considered to be ‘entertainment’. Oh. I’ve just remembered…
I have a dreadful confession to make. Two sisters, the cats: Tiger and Luna. Luna was the brains of the outfit and a bit of a bully. I was always first up in the house and, inevitably the first thing I did when I woke up was go for a wee. It was a ground floor flat and the cats got in and out of the bathroom window, next to the toilet. Every morning, I would be standing there, interminably micturating – I have a bladder like a hippopotamus – and Tiger would start to complete circuits of the bathroom, purring and wheedling for me to let her out and I’d tell her that I was busy weeing and she’d have to wait.
If you can picture it, standing up in front of the toilet, the window’s to your right. Further behind, still on the right is the sink, then, straight behind, the door. Facing the toilet again, to your left, the entire wall is taken up by the bath. Tiger would hop onto the side of the bath, walk along it, hop onto the cistern, onto the windowsill, sidle around onto the sink and jump onto the bath again until I’d finish weeing and I opened the window and she’d still just look at me, the useless twat. Anyway.
One morning, this was happening and she misjudged her leap onto the cistern and fell in the bowl, mid flow. Like Magnus Magnusson, once I’d started, I would finish, it was just a matter of how to proceed. It went a bit like in The Matrix when Keanu Reeves discovers he’s Mr Cosmic and he can slow everything down and contemplate difficult things as he’s suspended (bullet) time. My brain said, “You’ll probably never be in this position again,” you know, implying that I should do it. I should wee on the cat. I was a bit embarrassed that my subconscious had decided to open up with that one, but then I thought, “no, that’s right, I won’t. And it won’t really hurt her.” So I did it. I wee-ed on Tiger’s head as she scrabbled to gain purchase on the porcelain and she’d wave her paws to block the flow and slip further into the bowl and scrabble out with me wazzing on her poor little face.
I had to pluck her out by the scruff of her neck and consequently hoist myself with my own petard, getting piss all over my shirt and hands and then she shook herself – like a dog, for pity’s sake – covering me and the sodding bathroom in Middlerabbit urine. Well done me, eh.
Later, I justified it to myself in terms of learning theory; that Tiger needed a bit of negative reinforcement in order to teach her to learn what not to do – which was important because some sorry wanker might tiddle on your poor little head.
She didn’t learn. Of course she didn’t fucking learn, she’s a cat. Have you seen how small cat’s brains are? They’re about the size of your little fingernail Thick as pigshit, cats. That’s why they think they’re so clever.
It was the owners I couldn’t understand. ‘What’s the point in having a cat?’ I thought. You don’t have to take them for walks, there’s not even any point giving them names because it’s not like they pay any attention to anybody, unless they want something.
“Cats are pets for people who can’t be arsed to bother with pets,” was my considered verdict.
But as life went on, I found myself occasionally questioning how much of a dog I actually was. In terms of the negative aspects of dogs, there was something I could hang onto: not being dead keen on baths, mainly. As far as the positive elements went, there wasn’t really anything. I wasn’t pleased to see everybody. I didn’t crave a pat on the head for doing something fatuous I wasn’t prepared to do. I liked to get all my weeing out of the way in one long wazz – probably not over another cat’s head again, but never say never, eh? – rather than spread it out over as large and area as possible up lampposts and trees although, to be fair, I am partial to an al fresco wee now and then. The big one, I suppose, was that I realised I don’t have a pack mentality. And then I started contemplating the uncontemplatable : what if I was a cat?
Once I’d allowed myself to think about it, it was like the floodgates opening. Things suddenly began to make sense: the lack of interest in doing anything that I didn’t fancy. The idea that I was some sort of genius periodically arriving unbidden into my brain, despite absolutely no evidence for it at all. No practical evidence, anyway. The going to sleep anywhere and everywhere at any time. I’m a fairly quiet fellow, light on my feet, although not necessarily in the way my Grandma meant when she was commenting on John Inman. A lot of people have reached the conclusion that there are greater depths to me than I let on and I allow them to persist in their misapprehension. I enjoy sitting in boxes. The list goes on.
I was sickened.
Then I thought, well, if you’re a cat, you might as well get on with being a cat. What are you going to do, eh? Work at being a dog?
Then I had another thought: what if, in accepting the arbitrary, binary difference between humans as being feline:canine, I had put the cart before the horse and spent a lot of time wasting my time on something that wasn’t even true.
And that’s what I meant at the start with that Peter Drucker quotation: it’s easy to lose sight of what it is that you’re doing and you have to stop and think about whether there’s any point doing whatever it is that you’re doing. I think I might have known that those times when I stopped talking but then forgot about it when I was too busy trying to conform to the beliefs: humans are, in terms of character, either cats or dogs, and that I was a dog. So now, knowing better and recognising I’m cat, I take no risks of doing anything that might be useless, so my preferred response to doing is to not do and see how it goes.
And then I realised what an immensely intelligent creature I am and I fell in the toilet. The cat was there. He didn’t take a piss on me, but he did look pleased at taking the moral high ground.