I will be busy for the next couple of weeks, and there will be no new post until on or before Wednesday 23rd January


It might be thought you need no great prescience nor strategical nous to feed stray cats on a small Greek island, where their numbers are legion and (barring any notional and let’s face it not all that notional Trump-induced apocalypse) I predict they always will be. I suppose it might have been the case if there were more than myself doing the job, so that the pressure of resources versus impatient at times querulous diners/customers had been delegated more equably. Fat chance. In summer when there are foreign tourists on the island, and particularly young Polish women for some reason, they will buy half a dozen tins of cat meat and feed the ones that are hanging around the central cafes to delirious excess.  Athenian tourists and the crowded out locals do not sneer nor try to hinder the kind East Europeans, though their own idea of largesse is to chuck a bit of dry bread to what they usually regard as begging pests, no less than twice a year, whereafter they feel they have done their bit re animal welfare, and some of them would add they deliberately give them no more bread, so that they keep on catching mice and doing what a cat should do by way of respectable Darwinian self-preservation. When I point out that I have seen precisely 1 mouse in 5 and a half years in Kythnos, the same Greeks are smilingly unabashed, and assume that the welcome rodent absence is down to the cats doing their proper Malthusian thing, a kind of inverse syllogistic logic that would defeat the scriptwriters of Monty Python, never mind me.

But down to basics. There are 4 different types of tinned cat food available on Kythnos, and only one is a brand I can confidently work with when it comes to efficient distribution to the strays. It is called Rokus and it flies out of the tin easily and usually does not have excessive gravy (imagine the opposite and a strong Cycladean wind coming off the choppy briny, and me being drenched head to toe in a sort of malodorous Oxo concoction). Having removed the ring pull lid I can simply fling it democratically in a wide arc on the concrete abutting the sea front and well out of the way of any café. It costs 60 cents (57p) and can feed between a dozen and 20 strays with half a dozen meat nuggets each. I am as you probably know a vegetarian, but I can easily forgive the cats their carnivore nature, and give them what they want, on the tried and trusted Levi-Strauss anthropological model of Structuralism that I have faithfully practised since about 1970, viz that you put yourself in the existential shoes of whatever phenomenon you are studying, whether it be the adherents of the Hindu caste system or the Flat Earthers or the dietary preferences of starving cats, and, if you wish to truly understand them, work from that locus rather than imposing what you think might be suitable from an external perspective. So yes 10 out of 10 for Rokus Cat Meat and I buy it in preference to all else, the only problem being only 1 of the 3 supermarkets sells it, and alas they also double as a busy travel agency and occasionally and without warning close the supermarket for anything between 10 minutes and an hour, and with it lock up the fabled Rokus. Cue the clamorous strays wondering what the bally deuce/ what the steaming fuck I am up to. They do not, being innocent animals, understand why I can’t just walk in and get what they and I want…they know nothing about locks, keys, money, swipe cards, penury and/or excess, Early Closing, Bank Holidays, which explains why no matter how many times I walk past them, they always expect yet another meal from me. Irritating as that can be, especially if one is in a hurry or it is pissing down, I sympathise and identify with them entirely, and for obvious reasons. If you or I are hungry we can go and buy a sandwich or a Mars Bar, or we can go home and make ourselves a hearty meal. If the strays are hungry, they can only either beg from me, or they can default to scouring the communal rubbish skips where their noses get filthy. and they regularly get ugly eye infections and occasionally nasty viruses that can make them sneeze so hard and repetitively they eventually haemorrhage, and ultimately they die.

Which of course confirms the myopic circular logic whereby many Greeks dismiss the strays as unhygienic and repulsive, and shoo them away very often with humourless vehemence and stamping of the feet. Ditto when their small kids, impressed by the heartless adult example, are tormenting them and even firing stones at them. Their parents keep on drinking coffee and ignoring those comical and inconsequential antics, they do not shout at them nor threaten to dropkick them to Serifos as I would angrily threaten the little buggers, if they were mine…


Why don’t the islanders get their cats spayed, so that the feline population doesn’t get out of hand?

We had syllogisms before, and now we have a solipsism. Very few Greek islanders would ever claim to own a cat, as evidenced by putting collars round their necks, or taking them to a vet when they are sick. Even if they do nominally own one and feed it, they rarely give it a name, whereas in deference to the Brits as seen on corny old films, usually American ones, they duly call their dogs Rex, Prince, Lord and Duke, as in their English versions, and hope that wishful thinking confers some vicarious aristocracy on the beaming hound. By contrast people like myself who have cats as domestic pets have them sterilised by the single island vet at a modest 35 euros per male and 45 per female. One hero I know, an Athenian immigrant who loves this singular island to distraction, has unbelievably gathered up around 30 strays and put them in his garden, and driven the whole bloody lot in sensible batches to the vet to have them sterilised en masse. Otherwise very few Kythniots would claim to own or be responsible for any cat, they are just like communal flowers or sparrows or seabirds, decorative at best on calendars or postcards, but nothing you would wish to exercise a pointless executive authority over, meaning a loving and custodial care.

Notwithstanding, young and idealistic Athens vets regularly volunteer to come across to Kythnos and other islands, and sterilise the cats for free. This is where we enter the mesmerising La La Land of Solipsism. As almost no islander claims to own a cat, and as the cats by bush telegraph somehow get wind of an imminent and nameless and Lord save us irreversible horror, the wily strays immediately vanish off the face of the earth, until these barbaric and uncalled for invaders duly up sticks and piss off back to Athens, whereupon some islanders, noticing the grubby cats’ anomalous absence, sigh and wish that that were a permanent reality. The weary and usually underpaid young vets eventually throw up their hands in honest bafflement and depart … perhaps even a mite depressed as their youthful unselfish charity has been so crudely spurned.

Why not feed the strays with dried cat food as it would work out cheaper for you, and probably cause them less teeth decay?

This is a sensible question, but it is obviously posed by someone who knows nothing of the discriminatory sophistication of cats, stray or otherwise. The strays might be homeless, ownerless, penniless and vulnerable to disabling disease, but they still have their curious gourmet dignity, their exacting if homespun standards, and they always prefer wet cat food to dried stuff and certainly know the difference. Some of them simply turn away from the latter and wait for the boring joke to finish, and the delicious Rokus to be brought round from behind my back. There is also a strategic and health and safety issue here, by which for once I mean my own health and safety not the hungry strays’, bless them. To give them dried food, I would have to stoop and drop it from a modest height, for if strewn from any elevation, it would end up flying pointlessly everywhere, meaning some of the cavalier buggers (and remember there may be up to 20 of them) would try to help me with the disbursement, courtesy of their very sharp claws. It can be painful, bloody and distressing to be mauled by someone you are trying to help, and then you need to bugger off home and whisk out the Betadine and let out your anger at their all too innocent mistake by plentiful West Cumbrian multi-element cusswords (effing, seeing, ballocking, seesucking bloody little twats of cats etc)…

OK, OK, but wait a minute…

You too perhaps, dear cosmopolitan animal lover, need to wait a minute. I know a stray cat I call Marjorie who will only eat sliced ham and absolutely nothing else. She passes up Rokus as if she were a victim of terminal fin de siècle ennui, like say a female feline version of Rimbaud or Baudelaire or Apollinaire. Show her dried food and she would probably ask you to pass the nearest opium pipe (plus a copy of Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy) qua de Quincey or qua, as we learn to our surprise, Graham Greene…

What I am getting at, is that even the lowest of the low, numberless Cycladean stray cats, most of them with dirty noses, some of them with filthy fur or running eyes, animals that no one owns nor cares about, nor apart from me ever gives a name to, nor is charmed by their colour nor their cry nor their quaintness, that can live or die and probably only I would notice if they vanished one day off the Cycladean earth…that even they, the very lowest of the low, have their inalienable standards…

This is an exemplary and instructive moral lesson, which I believe if studied properly and with due recognition of its parable-style paradoxes, could well lead to a new belief in meaningful truly ethical religion, who knows? And then, once people had decided to be kind and good as a general principle, to all and sundry, friend and foe alike, including these vagabond and therefore subversive animal strays, they would surely start for a change to look after their bloody old cats…in the same way they as a rule look after and cherish their own kids, and come to that more often than not, their wives and husbands…

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