24 Hours to Improving Cats

they often did, because he was so big and dark and Sheba
so small and silvery – whether he was her mother. Often
after the visitors had gone I would go after him into the
woods and there he’d be, sitting forlornly under a pine tree
as only a Siamese can – wondering, he said sadly as I heaved
him over my shoulder and carried him back to the cottage,
whether to go and live with the foxes or join the Foreign
Fame changed all that. Any time anybody stopped to talk
to us now, even if it was only the coal man asking whether
he should come through the front gate or the back, within
seconds they would materialise from nowhere. Sheba
streaking down the path in a cloud of dust, skidding to a
breathless halt on the wall to ask coyly whether they had
read about her, Solomon swaying round the corner on
long, languid legs to assure anybody who was interested
that he had written it all himself.
How that cat could do it I don’t know. Every single
sentence of that book had been written – unless I locked
him out of the house, when he sat on the garden wall gazing
at passers-by with sad blue eyes and telling them that he
was unwanted, or shut him in the garage where he sat and
screamed blue murder – to the accompaniment of Solomon
leaping round the place like an overgrown grasshopper,
saying the typewriter was bad for his nerves.
I felt like a criminal every time I used it. Sometimes,
indeed, seeing him stretched out on the rug with the firelight
playing on his sleek cream stomach and his great black head
pillowed blissfully on Sheba’s small blue one, I would sneak
upstairs and tap out a few lines in the spare room rather
than disturb him. It was no use. Solomon, deaf as a post

when he was in the woods and I, trying to get him in, was
rushing up and down the lane yodelling ‘Tollywollywolly’
like something out of Autumn Crocus (it was the only call
he would answer and the fact that it made people look at
me rather oddly and back rapidly up the lane again was no
doubt his idea of a huge Siamese joke) – Solomon, when it
came to typewriters, had ears like a hawk.
One of our neighbours, long used to our cats peering
nosily through her windows to see what she was doing
and even, on occasion, marching in procession through
her cottage from front to back, had an awful shock one day
when she looked up from a spot of one-finger typing on
her husband’s portable to see Solomon on her windowsill
leaping up and down like mad. She rang me at once in a
panic. He’d gone nuts at last, she said. (There was no
need to ask who, of course. The whole village had been
anticipating it ever since he was born.) Would I come and
fetch him, or should she call the Vet?
She could hardly believe it when I told her it was just his
reaction to a typewriter. In that case, she said, why didn’t
he go away? Why stand on her windowsill jumping round
like a circus flea? Why indeed, except that it was typical
of him. Creep silently to the spare room or the kitchen;
even, as I did on occasions, slink out, typewriter in hand, to
the potting shed – and after a couple of minutes Solomon
would appear, gazing at me in sad reproach and, every time
I touched a key, leaping several feet in the air.
Even after I’d shut down the typewriter in disgust he still
went on doing it. Move a foot – up he went like a rocket.
Lift the coal-tongs – somebody, he said, turning a full circle
in mid-air and landing defensively on the bureau, was After

Him. One day after a typing session the Rector spoke to
him unexpectedly from behind, as he was drinking from
a flower vase on the hall table, and poor old Sol was so
scared he nearly hit the ceiling. It cost us a new noiseless
typewriter to overcome that foible, and if anybody accuses
us of being silly about animals I can assure them that it
wasn’t bought on Solomon’s account, but because by that
time Charles’s and my nerves were so bad we were going
round like grasshoppers too.
By the time the book came out Solomon had forgotten
the typewriter, but we hadn’t. When we were asked to take
them to a Siamese party in London we turned green and
refused on the spot. Solomon’s nerves were bad, we said,
and so were ours. If we took him on a train we’d be lucky to
get to London in one piece. Bring Sheba, they said. But we
couldn’t do that either. Solomon, left on his own even for
half an hour – as we knew from the time Sheba’s boyfriend
bit her on the tail and we had to rush her to the Vet for
treatment – sat in the hall window so that the whole village
could see how we were neglecting him, and howled the
place down.
So we went to the party on our own and that was how the
trouble started, because there we met some cats who did
know how to behave themselves. A dear old Siamese queen
called Suki who, judging from her crumpled ear and battle
scars, had been hell-on-wheels in her day but sat there
looking placidly out of her frail wickerwork cage as if she
were Victoria herself. Bartholomew and Margharita, two
sleek young Seal Points from Chelsea who drank sherry
and looked so much like Solomon that in the midst of all
the gaiety my heart sank like a stone thinking of what he

was probably doing at that very moment – either ripping
up the stair carpet or broadcasting basso profundo to the
whole village that we’d gone away and left him. And, most
impressive of all, Tig, who’d come straight from being
televised at Lime Grove.
Tig was very like Solomon too, except that – though his
mistress looked rather harassed and had her hat over one
eye in the normal way of Siamese owners – he himself was
as calm as a cucumber. When she produced his earth pan
saying she hoped nobody minded but he’d been too busy
up till now and it wasn’t good for him to go all that time
with a full bladder he looked at her with disdain. Didn’t have
a bladder, he said, strolling off to greet the pressmen and
photographers as to the manner born. And sure enough,
though every time we saw his owner she was looking more
and more worried and still trailing him anxiously with his
little pan, such was his self-control that the whole evening
Tig, as became a public figure, firmly declined to use it.
I was green with envy as we rolled home on the train
that night. All those cats behaving like society’s top ten,
even down to Tig’s superb refusal of the earth box… Tig
himself, suave, controlled, self-assured, actually appearing
on television… What, I asked Charles wistfully, did he think
would happen if our two were ever asked to go on TV?
Probably be quite all right, murmured Charles, relaxing
blissfully in his seat and prepared at that moment to view
anything – even Siamese cats – through a champagnecoloured
haze. Probably we (which meant me) made too
much fuss about taking them places. Our cats, he said,
patting his headrest affectionately in lieu of Sheba’s small
blue rump before he fell asleep, would absolutely knock

’em on TV. Which explains why the next day, when the
BBC rang up to say they had heard about the party and
the book and what about Solomon and Sheba going on a
programme that night, we, without a second thought, said
It was a mistake, of course. I realised it the moment I
put down the receiver and saw Solomon watching me
with dark, Oriental suspicion from the doorway. It was a
habit of his when I was on the phone and though it no
doubt sprang from curiosity as to what on earth I was doing
talking to myself, and probably a firm conviction that I
was mad and if he hung around long enough I might do
something interesting, the sight of him sitting there like
some character from a Limehouse thriller sent a nervous
shiver up my back.
It was a well-founded shiver, too. The moment Charles
brought the cat baskets in through one door ready for
the journey, Solomon, hastily abandoning his role of Fu
Manchu, put his ears down and marched determinedly
out through the other. By the time we had cornered him
– flat under the bed yelling he wasn’t going any place, it was
winter and we knew he never went anywhere in the winter
– and hauled Sheba down from the top of the wardrobe
where she had gone not because she was scared but because
she wanted Charles to chase her too, it was obvious what
our television appearance was going to be like. Complete
and utter bedlam.
It was too. Mercifully by the time we arrived at the studio
– what with my nerves, Solomon gnawing frantically
away at his basket like an outsize termite, and Charles, the
effect of the champagne having worn off, informing me

dramatically as we drove through the night that if those
damned cats made a fool of him in public he’d be ruined,
that was all, absolutely ruined – I was practically in a coma.
What I do remember of that night, however, will haunt me
till I die.
It rises before me now like a horrible dream. The
procession through the foyer with Charles carrying
Sheba, me carrying Solomon, and – from the look on his
face that was something the BBC hadn’t thought of – an
assistant producer gingerly carrying Solomon’s earth box.
The briefing in the studio, with the producer practisedly
arranging what I should say and where I should sit while
I grew hotter and hotter thinking of what might happen
when the baskets were opened. The awful moment came
when they were opened and, in a matter of seconds, that
quiet, dignified studio was transformed into a merry-goround
with Charles and the producer belting in furious
circles after Solomon, who was going it like a racehorse and
still shouting we knew he never went anywhere in winter.
The nightmare intervals when they caught him, thrust him
feverishly into my arms and, in voices hoarse with anxiety,
implored me for Pete’s sake to hold him this time. And the
paralysing climax when, with Solomon’s claws stuck in my
back like grappling hooks, Sheba smirking complacently at
the camera from my lap and the producer praying aloud
in the control room, we went on the air – to be greeted, of
all the damfool opening remarks, by an interviewer saying
he understood I had the cats in the studio with me that
What happened after that, beyond Solomon leaping from
my back with one deafening yell and heading for a ventilator,

I never knew. I gather I said something about him being
able to open the refrigerator, because next day two old
ladies turned up to watch him do it. Sheba obviously gave
her usual smug account of herself because we had a letter
from a woman offering to adopt her. ‘Dear wee thing,’ she
called her, not knowing that the one and only time we’d
got Solomon to settle on my lap for half a second the little
perisher had nipped him surreptitiously in the rear and set
him off again like a rocket.
I dimly remember, too, Charles driving us home again,
pounding his forehead with his clenched fist and asking
brokenly why it had to be him, him, that these things
happened to.
I didn’t really recover consciousness till the next day,
however. Next day – when the Rector came to see how I
was and ask after Solomon, for whom, he said, it must have
been a terrible, terrible ordeal. At that moment, Solomon
hove into view. Not cringing, cowed or shaking with fright
as one might have expected, but lounging loftily along with
what was soon to be known as his Rex Harrison walk. He
greeted the Rector with a loud bass bellow as he came up.
Had he, he enquired airily – pausing in the doorway so that
we might get the full effect, while behind his glasses the
Rector’s eyes grew round as a pair of poached eggs – seen
him on Television

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