The Penny has dropped at last: William Donaldson's Week

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The Independent Online
HOLD ON to your hats, dog lovers and other inadequates; after Angela Lambert's graceful tribute to her cat, Boot, on Monday, you're going to get another one. Two crazed pieces in a week? You can't take that, you think, but stuff you, frankly.

Dog people - dysfunctional wallies disciplining large, half-

witted labradors in public places - deserve no apology, and will get none here. I'd warn the rest of you, however, that I intend, in what follows, to attribute extraordinary qualities to cats, more usually - though less forcefully - attributed to people.

Those of you who have had the courtesy to read my books will know, for instance, that my cat Bertie Blue (1974-1990) did seminal work in the philosophy of possible worlds (influencing Donald Davidson and others) and contributed from time to time to Hill Street Blues and Cheers. If you have no stomach for this sort of thing, well, see you next week, perhaps.

I haven't, in any case, another option. For the past few days my brain has had to grapple with the heavy, dreadful fact that my cat Penny died on Thursday.

I've not mentioned Penny before, and, for the reason, I think, that I had no wish to diminish her by association; to reduce her to the level of the fleeting, replaceable fictions - Pete the Schnoz, Zamit & The Postman, Alison, my beloved - who occasionally feature here for, I hope, purely comic purposes. (That said, I have, I admit, from time to time, and unable suddenly to hide my feelings, attributed to Alison, my beloved, habits of carelessness and perfect unconcern possessed in fact only by my cat Penny.)

My cat Penny - and you must take my word for this - had irresistable, sociopathic qualities remarkable even by feline standards and best demonstrated by the fact, perhaps, that she arrived uninvited in my life six years ago almost to the day, having walked away from her previous circumstances and, we may suppose, leaving some besotted man as bewildered by grief as I am now.

Still with me, are you? If so, you'll expect the usual stuff: how Penny, my beautiful Burmese cat, was comically deceitful, uninvolved and transparently manipulative to a degree unencountered hitherto even in oriental breeds.

In that case, you'd be wrong. I've had cats like that, of course. I've had cats that try; cats that, in order to get you jumping through hoops, will pay you the compliment, at least, of acting out - albeit with the icy-hearted unconcern of an imitation woman hired from an agency by the hour - the tricks they think will please you.

My cat Penny wasn't like that. Penny could never bother to pretend. Arrogantly passive, she simply accepted anything that came her way. When she wanted something she'd not resort to the fraudulant customary routine: the head cocked flirtatiously to one side (the effect somewhat, but thrillingly, diminished by the level gaze of cold contempt), the sudden arrival on your knee, purring furiously and trying to make you think (a hilarious air-shot, this) that the pleasure was hers, not yours.

My cat Penny never demeaned herself by letting me think she needed me in any way. She simply waited, leaving me to think up treats that, piled one upon another, might make her like me for a moment. Nor, after I'd struck lucky by a fluke, did she ever, as some cats do, mount a display of empty gratitude. She'd distance herself immediately (the only moral act she was capable of, I think; she wouldn't have wanted anyone to delude themselves completely), leaving me - quite distracted now - to think up new and better ways to please her.

OK, you're utterly captivated, I can tell, as hooked as I was. And I was so hooked, so terrified of losing her, that I searched around in reference books for something - anything - to which cats were vulnerable, shortly discovering that there is a magic mushroom, native to South America, but obtainable here, on which snow leopards become euphorically intoxicated, rolling on their backs and inviting chance passers-by to rub their stomachs.

I know what you think; you think that I acquired some of these magic mushrooms, that I fed them to Penny, my Burmese cat, and that she instantly became as infatuated as I was. You're right about that, as it happens, but wrong in what you're thinking now. You think that, wishing to lift our relationship to new and even more ecstatic heights of co-dependency, I stepped up the dose, and thereby killed her.

That's not what happened. My cat Penny didn't die. Saying she did was an attempt to control her at the end - an appropriately trivial fate for jaunty fictions such as Nicholas Coleridge, say, or Pete the Schnoz or Alison, my beloved - but not for my cat Penny. On Thursday she and I got high and then she suddenly said (cat lovers - and who else will have got this far? - know that cats can talk) that she wanted to be a dog, if you please, and that she was leaving now - wanting only (what I'd never guessed) to fetch a fat man his slippers and slobber over him.

She'll read this (cats can read) and she'll not understand a word of it and that's why she's gone, no doubt. She'll learn nothing where she's living now, except how to be happy, perhaps.

Not bad, eh? - naval man, shoulders back and so forth - or so I thought until I got a call from Roger from Chicago.

'What the hell's this?' he said. 'Nine hundred words about a cat?'

I went searching for my brain, but I didn't go down. 'Penny's not a cat,' I screamed. 'She's Alison, my beloved.'

'Good grief,' said Roger from Chicago. 'That's even worse.'

Pretty head on, Americans, don't you find?

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