Oh dear… I was promising for so long to write about that book, the single woman in the 1990s, and I still haven’t. And now it’s too late for me to remember what I liked about it, but anyway, here it is…
This post has no pretensions to being a proper book review, because it could only fail, given my poor memory and the eclectic. After my not-particularly-favourable experience reading Diane Harpwood’s Tea & Tranquillisers, you’ll be relieved to hear that I had a much better time with Lynne Truss’ Making The Cat Laugh: One Women’s Journal of Single Life on the Margins. My Aunt Jacq gave it to me a couple of years ago, perhaps because of the cat theme, perhaps because she sensed it would be up my street. And this, ladies and gentleman, *is* the sort of book EM Delafield would be writing, were she a single woman living in a city in the 1990s, rather than a married woman in a village in the 1930s.
Here’s a confession – despite being a grammar pedant of the first water, I haven’t read Lynne Truss’ bestseller Eats, Shoots and Leaves. I don’t even own it – I know, you’d have thought that at least a dozen people would have bought it for me over the years, but no. I have, however, read Talk To The Hand by Truss, which my friend Holly gave to me for a birthday present a few years ago, since it was an expression we cordially shared with one another. It’s a look at the rudeness in everyday society – quite diverting, but made me realise how terrifying it would be to be a shop assistant for Truss, since she seems to thrive upon confrontation, and I run from it as much as is humanly possible.
Anyway. Back to the book in question – Making the Cat Laugh was first published in 1995, and consists of columns which had appeared in The Listener, The Times, and Woman’s Journal. That might make them sound a bit scattergun, but since they’re all essentially about Lynne Truss’ life, they all meld pretty well. And her life, throughout, is defined by two things: being single, and having cats. I’m reminded of a line from The Simpsons, when Lisa goes into investigative journalism: “Can a woman with this many cats really be mad?” But Truss is playing up to this image – oh, how she plays up to it. But I suspect there is a kernel of truth in her one-sided conversations with feline housemates, organising her life and living arrangements around them and their peculiarities. As the book continues, it becomes less about her single life and more about her views on life, the universe, and everything middle-class, domestic, and slightly bizarre in it. Supermarkets, paint names, Little Women, using friends in newspaper columns without their permission… they all get the treatment. And many more – and it’s very funny. Nary a whiney note, not a glimpse of a sulk – just good old British self-deprecation and mild indignation.
As an example of her cat-obsessed life, this is the beginning of the final column in the book:
When night falls and she doesn’t come in for her tea, I usually start to worry. So I go outside and call for her (the old story), and then feel helpless when she still doesn’t come. I tell myself that probably she is “eating out tonight” – because I know how easily she insinuates herself into other houses, and then cadges a meal by acting weak and pathetic. At the end of such an evening, she will come home to me in a telltale over-excited state, not really interested in food.
Still, I will say this for her: she always makes sure I’m all right. Out comes the tin-opener, and there’s half a tin of Felix, a handful of Kitty Crunch for my little jaws to work on, even a tub of Sheba if she’s been drinking. But it’s not the food I am worried about. It’s just that I am only properly happy when I know she is safe indoors, curled up asleep on that warm hairy rug of hers, her ears flicking contentedly as she dreams of Jeff Bridges.
She was thirty-one when I got her. Mangy and with a bit of a whiff, but also affectionate. She took time to settle down, and it was clear she had been badly treated in the past, because her mood swings were abrupt and inscrutable – one minute running about like a maniac, the next flaked out in weird angular poses in random places on the carpet. But gradually I earned her trust (and she learnt some basic grooming), and now she has this peculiar habit of rubbing her face against my leg, which is quite pleasant actually, though a bit of a nuisance when you are trying to walk downstairs.
To friends who haven’t got one, I always say, ‘Get one.’ I mean it, no hesitation. Yes, they are selfish. Yes, they moult. Yes, they yowl a bit in the night-time and they make it difficult for you to go on holiday. But they make it up to you in so many ways. For one thing, they can sometimes be persuaded to pose with ribbons around their necks. And for another, they are absolutely fascinating to watch. For example, mind spends hour after hour just staring at a big box in the corner of the living-room, not moving an inch, but silently grinding her teeth and tensing her muscles as if to pounce. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I am convinced they can see things we can’t see.