No Bed for the Cat


Peter Paul Rubens, Annunciation, c. 1628 Oil on canvas, Rubens House, Antwerp.
Image: WGA

It is the same astonishing moment as a thousand times before and after – the same winged and muscular messenger, with the same soft feminine face, the same long golden hair, wearing a yellow tunic, accompanied by a dove and flying babies, interrupting a girl reading while a cat sleeps in the corner – but in a different place, light years away.

This is no baby shower, like the time before. This time the stranger does not bring the pure white flowers of virginity to present to the girl from a deferential distance. There are already flowers in a bulbous glass vase on a round table, red and pink roses unfurling petals the colour of flesh, a red tulip like a licking tongue. The dive-bombing cherubs are about to pelt garlands of more roses, a lover’s gift, on the girl’s head.

It’s not the same girl, or she has changed. She reads the same book, but she is not self-composed like the girl kneeling in a room in Urbino, over twenty years earlier. There is no view of a white castle, the room is dark and the floor is made of wooden nailed planks.

There is no sign of the patriarchal puppeteer in the sky. There is no formality, no inhibition, only the visitor’s knowing smile as he alights, his left hand almost close enough to touch her, and her gasp of expectation. Even the watching cherubs are louche.

This time she is aroused by the visitor’s physical presence and does not attempt to hide her feelings. Illuminated by a beam of light, she rises to meet his passion with her own, her lips parted and her uplifted eyes rolling in trance-like ecstasy. Her longing is mixed with reproach. She is worried about consequences.

She is Psyche in love with Eros, who has flown in through her open window. He is beautiful and persuasive. His power will change her life.

She is not sure she wants him yet.

(Keats, Ode to Psyche, 1819)

It’s not the same cat, either. This one is a tabby, coiled tight in its own sensual world, indifferent to human desires, lying on the hard wooden floor beside a work basket because the girl has forgotten to make a cushioned bed for its sleep.

 

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The Cat’s Dream

Federico Fiori Barocci, Annunciation
1592-96 Oil on canvas, Santa Maria degli Angeli, Perugia. Image: WGA

A cat sleeps on a cushion in the corner of a room while a fourteen year-old virgin receives her pregnancy results from a beautiful, transgender visitor, who presents Madonna lilies as a baby shower gift. She smiles sweetly, and lowers her eyes modestly, grateful but not surprised. She accepts the news in the composed manner of a young prima donna receiving the bouquet that her talent deserves.

The visitor has only just arrived, interrupting the girl reading a small, pocket-sized book, which she lays aside instantly, without closing the pages or rising to her feet. The girl reads a lot. She has few possessions apart from her expensively bound books. She reveres their contents, kneeling while she reads. Her room is sparsely furnished, functional; only the voluptuous folds of the dark red drape loosely knotted over the window relieve the cell-like austerity. She cares about the cat’s comfort as much as her own. She has hung her hat and shawl neatly on a hook. The polished stone tiled floor is clean.

Nothing else is normal, and yet the scene is familiar. The visitor, who kneels before the girl as if she is a queen, has wings, and is accompanied by two over-excited flying babies, clapping their hands and gurgling with joy on either side of a hovering dove. The window drape looks like a stage curtain, framing a view of a white turreted castle on a hill, guarding a city beyond, a landscape in fairyland.

Strangest of all, the ceiling has been removed from the room. The billowing curtain blends into clouds that separate to allow a gigantic elderly man with a long beard to peer down out of a hole in the sky. Golden light radiates behind him, crowded with faces of more chubby babies, made of the Sun, all pressing closer and closer to the girl in the room. He holds his hands palms down over the girl like a puppeteer pulling invisible strings.

The cat sleeps.

Rembrandt’s Cat

Rembrandt, The Holy Family with a Curtain, 1646
oil on wood, Staatliche Museen, Kassel. Image: WGA

Rembrandt, Maria met kind, met kat en slang (Virgin and Child with a Cat and Snake),
etching on paper, 1654. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.
Image: Wikipedia

Catastrophe

Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent…..Plato

With Britain as the new Atlantis, contriving its own liquidation through the hubris of Brexit and Conservative Government, where can a girl go in pursuit of freedom and happiness?

Our European neighbours who we have so rudely shunned are already showing us what we will be missing in their civilized world.

Spain has given vindication to anyone who’s been harassed by manspreading on a train or a bus, or in a theatre or cinema. It’s the beginning of reclaiming personal space, the rebirth of the rights of woman and man, the recognition that arseholes can’t have it all their own way anymore.

It’s the only news to have cheered me up on a scary Election Day, tired out by the cat that’s not mine but won’t leave my house and keeps me awake all night.

In one leap she burst through the barely open bedroom window and the rolled down blind, directly on to the landing pad of our bed. We could only see her outline in the dark, no more than a sinuous body and bushy tail, and from our experience of another cat trying to break in a week ago, we knew that it’s impossible to verify feline identification without electric light.

A nano-moment after our besotted “hello, darling” cooings, my husband said, “Are you a fox?” Knowing by now that the worst usually happens, I screamed and hid under the bedclothes.

At 7am, after the cat had eaten breakfast and gone out again, there was another kerfuffle as something struggled through the letterbox. Was it her? we wondered – but, no, it was the sound of the poor Lib Dems leafleting at dawn.

I voted for them, nevertheless – because they are the only party to have been consistent over Europe. I don’t understand why Labour and the Liberal Democrats are being so snotty to the rational, valiant Greens about a progressive alliance.

I don’t understand anything, I haven’t slept for weeks, and while I stutter and splutter over the keyboard, the beautiful, free-loading, conscience-free cat burglar is sleeping peacefully in her bed behind the sofa.

cat occupier

Conquest Cat Portrait by Martin Hübscher Photography

I did one of those voter-party match-making tests yesterday and the big shock for me was that my views are closer to UKIP than the modern Tory party, whose social policies really must have strayed right of Attila the Hun.

Wake up, Britons! Avert this catastrophe! Don’t you hear Drake’s drum? There’s time to finish the game and beat the Spaniards too – reputed to have been said while he played bowls at Plymouth Hoe, it turns out he never said it, and it’s a soundbite invented over a century later. Our national myths had charm, once, before poetic inspiration for doing the right thing deviated into knee-jerk nationalistic slogans.

Now, the threat to the precious stone set in a silver sea is not from a foreign Armada, it’s from ourselves.

We’ve lost the blessed plot. We’re no longer the envy of less happy lands; we’re the butt of the rest of the world’s bemusement and pity.

And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension

Brexit is the poison that will taint a nation, a fungus that grew in the ideological rifts of the Conservative party and infected purer minds.

J’accuse: the right-wing Brexit conspiracy, in which the public has colluded, is an act of vandalism, defacing our country’s history and laying waste to its future.

Nothing that was true is true any more, nothing makes sense, not in my catatonic state. One thing is certain: all cats are grey in the dark. The inconstant cat’s not ours. She must have at least one other home. The stupid human beings in their different dwellings think she’s dependent on them alone, and she’s playing all of us.

Sounding like a Millwall fan chanting “Noone likes us, we don’t care”, I don’t like blogging, I don’t like Brexit, I don’t care if you don’t Like me, and all it takes to go to hell nowadays is pressing Publish, or drawing X on a ballot paper.

…..and the island of Atlantis …. disappeared in the depths of the sea. Plato