Some things you can't change, even for your first love

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The Independent Online
Turns out he's gay. This is my first love we're talking about, the guy to whom I gave myself at 13, or tried to. The guy whose rejection of me some time afterwards has been a source of much bewilderment and chagrin. This is the guy on whom I've based my main criterion for male perfection, ie incomprehensible coldness.

It seems there was a hurdle that could not have been overcome by greater succulence, suppleness or erotic expertise on my part. My gender is not something I'm willing to do anything about. But I don't know if this news is comforting. He may well have been rampantly heterosexual until he met me.

The startling info was transmitted by his sister earlier this year, on her way to Crufts. The role of animals in our lives shouldn't be underestimated.

I have a theory that men in general do not understand cats and vice versa. Cats usually hate husbands. Men make too much noise, causing unnecessary alarms and upsets to cats. They whistle and drop things, they don't deal with food enough, and their shoes are HUGE.

Men are often unwilling to recognise that a cat is not a dog, or that cats have priority in beds. They do not realise that cats are essentially wild animals.

Our art critic, Tim Hilton, recently lent me the memoirs of a cat vet, one Dr Camuti, who spent half a century making house calls to cats in New York. The fel1ow knows a good deal about medicine but hasn't got a clue about cats. When his patient would hide at the sound of his knock on the door, Camuti would search the apartment systematically, room by room. This is not how one searches for a cat. It shows a marked lack of intuition. There's something even dogged about it.

He also has some screwy ideas about cat-training. "What do you do when your cat heads for your sofa instead of the scratching post?'' he asks. And answers, "You say no, firmly, and lift the cat up and carry him over to the scratching post. Make scratching motions with his paws and say, 'Good kitty'. In time he should catch on." No, he won't.

For food, Camuti recommends jars of baby food made from beef. These are no longer available - it's all pureed Roast Chicken With Thyme and Rosemary Stuffing or Mediterranean Risotto. His reasoning is based on the fact that cats in the wild would be unlikely to have much to do with fish. Yeah, and how likely is it that a cat in the wild would hunt down a cow?

Exasperated by all the names Manhattan cat-owners give their pets, Camuti calls all males Nicodemus and females Oswilla, and is delightfully scathing about everybody, but very cautious about plants. "Poinsettias are particularly deadly, as are azaleas

Exceptions to the rule about men and cats include Christopher Smart, who wrote, "For I will consider my cat Jeoffry ... For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command ... For by stroking him I have found out electricity ... For he can creep." And now David Baddiel, whose forthcoming novel, Time for Bed, features a scratchy-bitey dysfunctional cat: "I give her food and, break-dancing, she chucks it up."

By chance I met David Baddiel's own cat, Chairman Miaow, on a north London street this week and she was perfectly friendly. Which proves that not all novels are auto-biographical.

The racist campaign to quell the grey squirrel is not something you want to hear about before your first cup of tea in the morning - an experience I endured this week. I happen to be fond of the much reviled greys. It's not their fault they were brought in a hundred years ago, and I see no reason why they should suffer for it. I suspect it's all an excuse for the gun-lobbyists to take pot-shots at things. The solution is to cull, or at least render infertile, any jerk who wants to make a fuss about the disappearance of the red squirrel.

The scent drew me along the North and then the South Circular. A pungent pong hung over the metropolis, an unforgettable combination of burnt sugar, long-dead fish, rotting trash and old boots. Thousands gathered, as they do every 33 years, to worship the phallic flower at the centre of the stink as it awaited its pollination by sweat bees.

I smelled it and smelled it, from every angle, above, below, during and after its restorative mist showers, and still I could only smell the man in front of me. I learned the words spathe,and spadix and corm, but my nose was deprived of the promised stench. The Amorphophallus Titanum, like so many phalluses before it, was a con. And compared to the orgiastic intricacies of the orchids we passed on the way to it, the ghastly thing looks like a synchronised swimmer's leg embedded in radicchio. It's an exotic, erotic let-down.

The very act of venerating it is its ruin - as soon as you open the doors to the fanatical hordes the much heralded stink disperses. It's a hermit flower. It wants to be alone. I stink therefore I am.

I retreated to eat Maids of Honour cakes at Newen's bakery.

These never disappoint.

A national tragedy not often mentioned on early morning radio is the fact that low-flying jumbo jets zoom over Kew Gardens at the rate of one a minute. Not only do rare botanical specimens have to tolerate the resultant air pollution but frustrated crowds, lured there to smell non-existent stinks, are continually distracted from peaceful herbaceous brooding. It's enough to drive you screaming to the nearest bell-ropes.

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