Tracey Emin: My Life In A Column

'I look on in amazement, wondering whether to be enchanted or embarrassed'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Interviewer: So how long have you known Tracey?

Docket: Mum! I call her Mum.

I look at Docket, he stares at me with his big round eyes, opens his mouth for a very large cat yawn, and I realise there is not an ounce of cynicism there. From now on I have to refer to her as Mum.

I: OK, but she's not your real Mum!

D: (voice deep and surly) Then who is?

I: Your Cat Mum - the cat who gave birth to you.

D: As kittens, we know that our lives will change. For me, one day I was living in a small council house down Vallance Road, Bethnal Green. The next, I was in a giant warehouse studio, a pair of brown hands pulling me out of the cat basket, brown eyes squinting at me, and a mouth with smelly breath screeching "Docket! Docket! Small enough to fit in my pocket!" That's the first time I met my Mum.

I: Were you afraid?

D: Dad always said I suffered from Citizen Kane complex.

I: Your Dad!

D: Yes, Mat, my Dad. He's the one who came and got me from Vallance Road. Chose me.

Docket lowers his head, and licks a paw.

D: I don't speak to my Dad. Every time he comes to the house and tries to say hello, I make a point of hiding behind the curtain. When he left us I was much younger and it really did my head in. It was Christmas, I was halfway up the tree, showing off, doing my Gremlins thing, and the next I knew, Daddy had walked out and Mummy was in tears singing: "Daddy doesn't love us any more."

I: Must have been a difficult time. But now, now do you think he loves you?

D: Yes. I still don't talk to him, but have a really cool stepbrother and he is wicked on the skateboard.

I: You're quite a family cat when it comes to humans, but how do you feel about other cats, especially the ones who live in your neighbourhood?

Docket looks up. A bland expression covers his furry little face as if to say "CATS? What are cats?" I realise at this point, Docket is either in some great denial or maybe just a little bit affected.

D: It's not the cats that are the problem, it's the dogs. There's George the Great Dane. The girls next door have two Scotties, Daisy and Poppy. All these dogs give me a hard time. No way can I go through their gardens. Got stuck once - Poppy and Daisy kept me under siege all night till Mum received a phone call to come and rescue me. But worse is next door. Paul Shearer's black wolfhound made my life hell. And they have a black cat. Longhaired thing called Special Diet. Actually its real name is Sooty, but it has a thing on its collar saying Special Diet. No wonder it's a bit plump! And it gave me hell. No, things have changed since I first lived there.

I: People refer to this part of Spitalfields as PPC. How do you feel about that?

D: Ermmm, I've heard the term Posh Pets Corner, but my mate Fleabite, there was nothing posh about him. He deserved to live here. You know those stories where cats walk for hundreds of miles. Well, he was one of them. He deserved his place.

I: So Docket, do you believe in the meritocracy?

D: Yes, yes I do.

I: So how do you feel about the mice that have always lived in the area?

Suddenly there's a noise. A man comes down the stairs to the kitchen. Docket looks up. The man - charismatic, freshly tanned - makes his way across the kitchen floor, bends down towards Docket and with both hands grabs hold of him by the jowls and says: "Who's Mummy's little cow boy?" I look on in amazement at this time-honoured male bonding ritual, wondering whether to be enchanted or embarrassed. By the look of Docket he shares the same sentiment!

D: That's my Uncle Joe, who lives in the cottage - never has an address been so apt. Sometimes it's really bad. There's him and Mum. Mum comes home first, and I can hear her singing, really badly out of tune, in this strange melancholic way: "Docket, Docket. Mummy loves yoooou." So high pitched. I can be in a deep sleep, then the almighty squeeze - 10 minutes later, Uncle Joe, same story different words: "Dock, Dock, Dock, Dock, where is he, you furry little thing!" I try to hide, but it's no good. Another almighty squeeze! I used to think, if just only one of them could get a boyfriend.

I: How do you feel about being brought out by your gay uncle?

D: Cool. Remember I was brought up in Vallance Road. Being gay doesn't mean you're not tough. And my Mum's a gay icon.

I: How do you feel about your mother's success?

D: To me she's not Tracey Emin, she's just my Mum, who takes care of me. More than anything I wish she would take care of herself.

I: How do you mean?

D: I wish she didn't drink so much. Sometimes I feel like one of those mountain rescue dogs when I find her asleep at the bottom of the stairs. It's then that I wish I wasn't a cat, that I wish I was human, that I wish I could carry her - make her safe.

Docket looks down, curls himself into a ball. And as he drifts off into cat dreams, I think to myself - if only he knew.

Tracey Emin is on holiday for August. Next week: A day in the life of Docket