Spare cat turned up one cold January day. He hung around outside the conservatory door and peered in nervously. He looked pretty miserable, his nose was running and he was very thin. Maureen started leaving bits of food outside the door. Little by little, his confidence grew and, when we left the door ajar, he would slip in and huddle in the corner of the conservatory. It wasn’t warm in there but not quite as cold as outside. She bought him one of those igloo things and he started sleeping in it at night. Eventually he started coming into the house but it took many weeks before he would let us approach him.
At that time we already had two cats. We’ve always preferred to have more than one. So they have company. And, since one of them was old and on its last legs, we decided we needed a spare cat. That’s how he got his name. It seemed a bit odd at first but after a while it felt perfectly natural.
The vet reckoned he was about six years old but, having spent quite some time roughing it, he was in poor physical shape. He had breathing problems, arthritis, and was very under-weight. And he wasn’t exactly a prime example of cathood to start with. He had a long, fat, barrel-shaped body but his legs were completely out of proportion, very short and thin. Maybe he’d been the runt, or the least attractive, of a litter, and that was why he’d ended up homeless.
Spare’s problems weren’t just physical. Unlike most cats, he fawned and craved affection all the time, both from us and the other cats. He never showed any independence, as if he had very low self-esteem and was terrified of rejection. He just wanted to be loved, that was the limit of his ambition. On top of this, he appeared to be very depressed, often just sitting motionless in a corner, sometimes for days on end. We tried those things you plug in to the wall socket that waft out cat-happy molecules into the air, but they didn’t seem to help.
Over the next few months his physical condition gradually improved. He put on weight, the wheezing stopped, and he seemed to be moving around without discomfort. But still the introversion remained. Even when he was amongst the rest of us he seemed distant and preoccupied. We would often speculate about his state of mind, what was going on with him. It was as if he was weighed down with issues of deep significance, tormented by unfathomable questions. Perhaps about the very meaning of life itself, or great philosophical dilemmas that have baffled great minds over the centuries.
For about three years, Spare remained in deep contemplation until one day, quite out of the blue, he lightened up. His demeanour became, overnight, that of any normal cat. Suddenly he was sociable and outgoing, playful, demanding, independent, and all the qualities that you’d expect in your average domestic moggy.
Sitting in the study with my son late one night, the conversation once again turned to what was going on with Spare. The inescapable conclusion was that he had made a breakthrough. Whatever great issues he had been wrestling with we could only guess. Perhaps even that Theory of Everything that has eluded all the great minds of our time. All we could be sure about was that, whatever the problem was, Spare had cracked it. How thrilling it was for us to realize that there, sitting purring beside us on the sofa, was the possibility of some astonishing intellectual revelation. And how tantalizing to know that all we had to do was upload the information from Spare’s brain. Surely the potential benefit to mankind would more than repay whatever efforts that would be required to achieve this.
There was only one thing for it. An email explaining the whole situation was immediately despatched to Professor Stephen Hawking. The following day a reply was received, not from the Professor himself, but from one of his co-workers. We were informed that Prof Hawking was grateful to receive comments and suggestions on his work but was too busy to attend to every communication personally. Nevertheless, all enquiries would be carefully considered and dealt with appropriately.
We had every confidence that further communication would swiftly follow but to date, six years on, none has been received. Granted that the Prof can only write one word a minute but there is such a thing as common courtesy. As usual, it’s one rule for Nobel-Prize-winning astrophysicists and another rule for the rest of us. Besides, our chance has come and gone. Spare passed away a couple of years ago. Now we’ll never know.
He’d had a miserable time of it for much of his life, but his final few years were happy and content. He was a lovely cat, gentle and affectionate. He deserved that time of comfort and security. I miss him a lot. This is my mad tribute to Spare.