Humorous and endearing, The Good, the Bad and the Furry is a heartwarming memoir about a man at the mercy of his unpredictable, demanding and endlessly lovable cats.
Meet The Bear—a cat who carries the weight of the world on his furry shoulders, and whose wise, owl-like eyes seem to ask, Can you tell me why I am a cat please? Like many intellectuals, The Bear would prefer a life of quiet solitude with plenty of time to gaze forlornly into space and contemplate society's ills. Unfortunately, he is destined to spend his days surrounded by felines of a significantly lower IQ.
There is Janet, a large man cat who often accidentally sets fire to his tail by walking too close to lighted candles; Ralph, a preening tabby who enjoys meowing his own name at 5AM; and Shipley, Ralph's brother, who steals soup but is generally relaxed once you pick him up and turn him upside down.
And then there's Tom Cox, writing with wit and charm about the unexpected adventures that go hand-in-hand with a life at the beck and call of four cats.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
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About the Author
TOM COX has a monthly column in the Guardian's Life and Style section, called The 21st Century Yokel. He also has regular slots in Golf International magazine, Your Cat magazine, and reviews books for several newspapers. He lives in Norfolk, England.
Read an Excerpt
The Good, the Bad, and the Furry
Life with the World's Most Melancholy Cat
By Tom Cox
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Tom Cox
All rights reserved.
My cat Janet had been sick outside my back door. Or, as it might have seemed to you, had you never met Janet before and arrived upon the scene as an innocent: a large tanker of vomit had swerved off the road and into my garden, shedding its entire load in the process, and now my cat Janet was inspecting its contents. I knew better than that. Ever since he'd first bounded clumsily into my life a decade earlier, Janet – who was actually a large man cat – had been a master puker, a veritable titan of regurgitation. It had nothing to do with the fact that he'd been ill for the last couple of years. He'd always been the same. Sometimes, sitting several feet away, I'd spot him apparently beginning to re-enact the moves from the video for the 1997 remix of Run DMC's 'It's Like That' single; then I'd be able to rush over in time to thrust a used broadsheet newspaper or cardboard box in front of his face and avert disaster. But a person couldn't reasonably be expected to be on vomit stakeout 24/7. At least on this occasion he'd been considerate enough to puke outdoors.
'You don't need to clean that up,' said my friend Mary, gesturing towards Janet and his vomit. She and her boyfriend Will had been staying at my house the night before and, like me, had been woken up by another of my cats, Ralph, meowing his own name at 5 a.m. 'Give it a couple of days and a fox will be along to eat it all.'
'Really?' I asked. 'Are you sure?'
'Definitely. Foxes always eat my mum's dog's vomit. They love it.'
'It's true,' said Will, nod-wincing in a manner that simultaneously managed to convey both his faith in Mary's opinion and his distaste for the eating of vomit.
'RAAAAAALPH,' said Ralph, who, despite our previous speculation to the contrary, evidently hadn't quite finished his daily morning session of meowing his own name.
I have a lot of friends who love animals, but none are more knowledgeable than Will and Mary. The first time I met them, at a used record fair, they told me they'd spent a considerable part of the previous afternoon watching a wasp eat a bench. This pretty much set the tone for our friendship, which revolves roughly half around enthusing about early 1970s Greek progressive rock and half around looking at photos of owls and hares and saying, 'Yep. That's a good one.' If I'm out in the countryside, I'm fairly unconditional in my mission to befriend any creature with four legs or some kind of fur or feathers on it, but I don't have any of the facts at my fingertips. Will and Mary are different. If I plan a country walk with them, I need to allow an extra forty-two per cent on top of its usual duration just for the time they spend pointing out rare fungi and birdlife. This is great for me, as I get my usual fresh air and exercise buzz, plus the chance to learn lots of new things – yesterday, for example, on an icy walk through the north-western edge of Thetford Forest, I'd found out what a woodcock was by seeing Mary walk up to a woodcock and say, 'Look! It's a fucking woodcock!'
Will and Mary were representative of what had turned out, to nobody's greater surprise than my own, to be a good year for me. Eighteen months previously, in the spring of 2009, I'd broken up with my partner of almost nine years. A couple of weeks after that a friend had died very suddenly of an undetected brain tumour and I'd been given the news that my nan – my lone remaining grandparent, who'd always been almost like a second mum to me – had terminal lung cancer. I'd found myself alone, in a house far too big for me where everything seemed to be falling to bits, with four of the six cats my ex, Dee, and I had owned, in a county – Norfolk – where none of my family lived and where, it began to occur to me, I hadn't tried quite as hard as I might to make new friends.
Dee and I had decided on a one-third to two-thirds split of our six cats. This had been solely based on what would be best for the cats themselves, in terms of environment and stress levels. To put it another way, she had taken with her the two young cats who loved each other, while I'd got the four old grumpy ones, each of whom thought the others were giant buttmunches. There was Ralph, a preening tabby who liked to meow his own name outside my bedroom window at 5 a.m., lived in constant terror of my metal clothes horse, took umbrage at cleanly washed hands, and had a habit of bringing slugs into the house on his back. There was his strong, wiry brother Shipley, who stole soup and was constantly mouthing off at everyone, but generally relaxed once you picked him up and turned him upside down. Then there was Janet, who was clumsy, often accidentally set fire to his tail by walking too close to lighted candles, liked bringing old crisp packets into the house, and suffered from a weak heart and an overactive thyroid gland, dictating that I had to find stealthy ways to make him swallow two small pink pills every day to keep him alive.
Finally, there was The Bear. Now well past his fifteenth birthday, he was a troubled gothic poet of a cat with a penchant for pissing on the bedroom curtains and a meow redolent of the ghost of an eighteenth-century animal – I tended to change my mind as to precisely which kind of eighteenth-century animal. Like Janet, The Bear had been Dee's cat from a previous relationship. More than that, he had the stigma of being her previous ex's favourite cat. Despite this, we had both agreed that, between Dee and me, he liked me most. There were various undeniable signs of this: for example, he enjoyed getting on my lap and looking deep into my eyes whilst purring, and he had never snuck into a basket of clean laundry and neatly deposited a turd inside the pocket of my dressing gown, or pissed on one of my legs during one of our arguments.
All of these cats had led me, in the months immediately following our split, inexorably back into a long-defunct relationship. Their stories were mine and Dee's; their numerous nicknames would, I worried, sound wrong if I said them in the house the two of us had shared, in the presence of someone who wasn't her. They were the four closest, most painful points on a personal map of Norfolk called 'Us' which, whether I liked it or not, had come to define my first, somewhat lost, summer as a single person.
But then something unexpected had happened: I'd begun to feel quite good. Better, and more free, and more me, than I'd felt for years. Instead of scurrying away to see old friends who lived in other parts of the country, as I had been doing previously, I began making an effort to meet people close by, and found it amazingly easy. I got to know and fall in love with Norfolk like never before. I ate an apple every day, abandoned the vitamin tablets I used to take, and went on at least one long country walk every week. Before I knew it, I'd gone the first year of my adult life without getting a cold. I was fitter and slimmer at thirty-five than I'd been since I was twenty. If I had any worries that all this had turned me into a big girly post-divorce spiritual empowerment living-in-the-moment cliché, the simple fact of my increased happiness suffocated them.
My life now, a year and a half on from the break-up, was one mostly comprised of good friends, dancing, abuse from my cats, hamfisted attempts at DIY, diminishing amounts of TV, and lots of fresh air. I definitely didn't view my cats as children, but my relationship with my house had become like that of a single parent and a giant, adored problem child with decaying limbs and windows for a face. It was the first building of my own I'd ever loved – a somewhat brutal early sixties structure known as the Upside Down House, whose kitchen was found on the top one of its three floors – but a new bit of it seemed to break every week. The days when I could afford to buy nice new furniture for it or keep it looking tiptop seemed long, long in the past, but I found that I didn't miss them – wondered, even, if any of that had really been so important to me. My cats were happy and safe, while I had a warm, dry place to sleep and a quiet place to work and read; these seemed like the most important things.
I was also still high on the amazing, dizzying sense of possibility that came with waking up each day as a single person. But I was aware that that was a novelty with a limited lifespan, and that, as much happiness as I had, it was the kind that came with its own empty compartment. Until last year, I'd been in long-term relationships pretty much all my adult life and it still seemed, to me, like a natural state for a person to be in. I would, despite everything, very much like to be in one again. At least, that's what I kept telling myself.
'So,' said Mary. 'You haven't told us how it went last week.'
'It was OK,' I said. 'No, good. Really nice.'
'So are you going to see her again?'
'Maybe. But probably just as friends.'
'Dude,' said Will. 'You are one of the pickiest guys I know.'
'I know,' I said. 'I'm a nightmare.'
'RAAAAALPH,' said Ralph.
Over the course of the last fourteen months, I'd found no shortage of people wanting to set me up on dates, but little had come of any of those that I'd been on. The problem, more often than not, was my own state of mind. Beth, who I'd caught the train down to London to see the previous Friday, was a case in point. A funny, bookish, curvaceous, dark-haired animal lover who liked 1970s classic rock, she was about as right for me on paper as anyone could possibly be. A couple of weeks earlier, we'd spent a perfectly lovely afternoon by the river in Norwich, followed by a gig at the Arts Centre. 'There's something I have to warn you about, if you're going to date me,' she had told me during the second half of the evening.
I braced myself for the inevitable baggage. I was in my thirties now, and could take this. Did she have seven children with eight different dads? Had she been a contestant on a reality TV show?
'My cat, Neil, is a bit of a liability,' she said.
'Oh, really?' I said. I felt pretty calm. I'd met a lot of liability cats in my time.
'Yep. He's bad. The other day I was sitting in the front room with my flatmate and my flatmate's girlfriend, and Neil walked into the room and seemed to be choking on something. I rushed over to him and pulled it out of his mouth. It turned out to be my flatmate's used condom. I ended up with quite a lot of the ... stuff in it on my hands.'
Admittedly, this was pretty extreme, but, in truth, Neil's behaviour didn't worry me – not even when, on our second date, Beth told me of an unfortunate incident involving a sexual encounter, a sudden, unexpected appearance from Neil, and a very intimate part of her last boyfriend's anatomy. I knew Beth was great, and that in theory I was a fool for not wanting to take things further with her. Had she been three times as bright and attractive and lived with a cat who didn't have a penchant for eating used condoms and clawing men's testicles, I probably still would have come away from our dates with the same shrugging outlook; the outlook of someone who'd only split up from the most important and lengthy relationship of his life a year and a bit ago and, despite his attempts to tell himself otherwise, wasn't yet in any frame of mind to be heading into another serious one.
If anything, I'd gone out of my way not to go out with women with an extreme love of cats – partly because it's my habit to insist on doing everything in life in the most difficult manner possible, and partly because I'd been put off by a few slightly invasive incidents involving the unhinged 0.5 per cent of cat enthusiasts who give the 99.5 per cent of stable and lovely ones a bad name. I also couldn't quite escape the lingering knowledge that in the past, with the exception of Dee, I'd seemingly been attracted solely to women who either actively disliked cats or were allergic to them. That had been a long time ago, and I could write it off as sheer coincidence, but a few of my early experiences as a single thirty something suggested otherwise. The following conversation, for example, that I had with a pretty Irish girl from a TV production company, who I got chatting to after she did a vox pop with my friend during a lull between bands at the 2010 Latitude Festival in Suffolk:
Me: 'Who've you been to see so far this weekend?'
Pretty Irish girl: 'Black Mountain. They were the best.'
Me: 'Me too. I loved them! I've been to see them three times this year.'
Pretty Irish Girl: 'Me too! No, sorry, four! I love that seventies stoner rock stuff. I like your trousers, by the way. So what do you do for a living?'
Me: 'I write books and a couple of newspaper columns.'
Pretty Irish girl: 'Oh, really? Cool. What kind of books?'
Me: 'Well, a few different kinds. The last couple were mainly about cats, though.'
Pretty Irish girl: 'Cats?'
Me: 'Yeah. And two about golf.'
Pretty Irish girl: 'Golf? Oh. Weird. I hate cats. They're all evil.'
Who was I trying to fool? Of course I couldn't expect to share my life happily with someone who actively disliked cats, or even grumblingly tolerated them. I'd met a few unusually delightful anti-cat folk, but people who hated cats were often control freaks who felt the world owed them a living. People who expected other people to be eager and compliant, no matter how poorly they treated them. Churchill and Roosevelt loved cats. Hitler and Napoleon hated them. That was a vastly reductive view of the matter, obviously, but it told you a lot. How could I look someone in the eye if they told me they didn't like The Bear? Even Katia, my former lodger, a dyed-in-the-wool Dog Person, had loved The Bear. 'Ralph is the guy I fancy, but The Bear is the guy I love,' she said, not long before she moved out. 'The other two are cats.'
I drove Will and Mary to the railway station a couple of miles away and we said goodbye. When I got back to the house, Shipley was upside down on a beanbag that had, before it became permanently flecked with his hair, once been mine. Janet was on the floor to the left of him, breathing quite heavily, as he often did these days. I decided not to attempt to stroke him or ruffle his scruff, as I knew he probably still hadn't forgiven me for medicating him earlier. The process had taken the best part of twenty minutes and, though I'd wrapped the pills cunningly in some turkey roll, had entailed one of them getting spat out and stuck variously to my trouser leg, a chair and two of the other cats' backs. The Bear was outside on what, when I bought the house, had been described in the estate agent's details as a 'balcony', but in recent years had come to serve more as a kind of roofless, assisted-living flat of The Bear's very own.
As I sat down on the sofa with a book, Ralph appeared. I didn't have the metal clothes horse out that day, and hadn't washed my hands in the last hour, so he was in a good mood. 'RAAAALPH! RAaalph!' he shouted, jumping on top of me and beginning to pad my chest. He didn't actually stick a flag into it emblazoned with the words 'Cats rule!' but we both knew the intention was there.
Happiness becomes a much more complex thing to weigh when you get older. Even if it's quite bulky overall, it tends to have little rips and chasms in it. Sometimes a wave of sadness will wash over a chasm and remind you of its presence. For me, one of these chasms was about not having someone to share these cats with, and at times like now, when I was at home alone, shortly after spending time with friends, I'd often sense its presence. Four cats, after all, seemed quite a lot for one person – significantly more than six shared between two people had seemed. Katia had got it spot on. Living with my cats often seemed less like living with four cats and more like living with two cats plus a glamorous, oversensitive rock star and a troubled yet loyal elderly academic, both of whom just happened to be a foot high and covered in fur. The Bear broke my heart on an hourly basis with his big watery eyes and his tiny meoop: a much gentler noise than a normal meow, but one that could still pull noisily at your heartstrings with its central question, which seemed to translate roughly as 'Can you tell me why I am a cat, please?' I'd bought him a catnip rat and some turkey chunks for (what I decided must roughly be the date of) his last birthday, but it had somehow seemed insufficient. I sensed, deep down, that he might have preferred the latest Jonathan Franzen novel, or a new Werner Herzog documentary that I'd been hearing very good things about.
I could think of few revelations about my day-to-day life that would have made me feel more unmoored than if someone had found a way to measure cat IQs and discovered as a result that The Bear was a simpleton. I'd been acquainted with this cat for well over a decade now, and I felt I knew his intellectual powers. Even if those soulful peepers signified nothing and mere coincidence explained his disappearances in the build-up to every house move I'd ever made, or his eerie way of gravitating towards me every time I was ill or sad, you could not doubt that he had had the most character-building of cat lives: all nine of the standard allocation, plus seven or eight bonus ones he seemed to have been granted as a special favour.
Excerpted from The Good, the Bad, and the Furry by Tom Cox. Copyright © 2013 Tom Cox. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
The Ten Catmandments,
Five Highly Unlikely Pet Memoirs,
Some Anonymous Cats I Have Psychoanalysed on my Travels (2010–2012),
Charity Begins at Home,
Advice for New Kitten Owners,
Keeping our Cats out of the Bedroom: Instructions for Housesitters,
It's Ralph's World – The Rest of Us Just Live in It,
Ten Reasons Why My Oldest Cat Is Sad,
Also by Tom Cox,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Overall it was an alright book, quirky and creative. I have never read anything from this author, though, and I was expecting something other than a short autobiography about a few years of his and The Bear's life. There was a lot of dialogue between the author and his parents and I found myself wanting to skip some parts.
Tom Cox writes with passion, humor, and insight. This isn't just a book about cats (although it IS an excellent book about cats)--it's a character study of a man who lives with cats in a very lovely place in the UK. You will want to move there, and adopt some cats along the way, and have a long, all-encompassing conversation with the author in his favorite pub. What a joyful, funny, moving read!
Love his books!
I love this book and just had to find out more about The Bear and his housemates after seeing them on twitter. Check out MySadCat, MySmugCat and MySwearyCat and learn what it's like to share a house with creative cursing, kitten folk dancing, a narcissistic rock star and an intellectual stuck in the body of a Cat.