Screech sticks, I call them. You know them as clarinets. They smell and look okay. What I can't stand is the noise. Screech sticks sing too loud and too high. Call them musical? It's enough to make me laugh. But let me start my cat's tale at the beginning.
My name is Tom. I'm an eleven-year-old mackerel tabby. I live in Leeds - in a Mews - where I own a clarinettist called John, whom you know, I think. Apart from bestowing such an obvious name, and playing such an awful instrument, John is good to me. He feeds me, provides soft and snug spots where I can relax, and allows me to help at his desk.
I enjoy cat-typing. I touch-type by walking on the computer keyboard. Should you think this to be good spelling for a cat, I confess that John corrects any slips of the paw. I repay him by sitting in front of the screen to protect his eyes from the glare. I also tidy up, by scooping pens, pencils and other small items from the desk on to the carpet, and shred paper with my teeth. The secret of effective shredding lies in the selection of paper. Maximum response comes if I chew bank notes, photographs, unread newspapers or clarinet sonatas. The despatching of any of those is guaranteed to elicit a swift reaction. What fun! I also chew wires, cables, and clarinet reeds. Thus I'm busy, and extremely helpful.
In my spare time I catch mice, voles, shrews, butterflies, moths, wasps and robins. I also chase - but rarely catch - squirrels and certain other cats. Although John gracefully accepts the creatures I bring to him, dead or alive, I never see him consume these gifts.
Otherwise, for the most part he is well behaved, and responds well to correction. If he's asleep when I'm hungry, a dab on his nose or chin quickly has him finding me food. If not, a friendly bite to a bare foot settles the matter.
When John plays the piano and ignores me, a head butt delivered to his ankles or shins does the trick. Failing that, I pretend to stretch myself while inserting my claws gently into his thigh. That has him quickly on his feet and closing the door - though often with me outside, unfortunately. So he is well trained, up to a point. My real complaint concerns screech sticks.
I protest about those things. I sing along in my best falsetto. I butt him and bite him. This produces one of two outcomes: either I am forced to flounce out of the house in disgust, or I'm thrown out.
Part of the problem is that when he's wailing he doesn't notice me. That's bad enough, for a cat must always be in the limelight, at centre stage. Remember, if you want the best seat in the house, you'll have to move me. But my biggest dislike is the noise. Screech sticks never purr. Nor can they make the variety of sounds that I make when I greet people, or when I meow until the door is opened. The wonderful sound of me and my cat friends singing together in the evening is more expressive than any band of screech sticks. When we sing, people open their windows to shout compliments or throw gifts, even during the night.
In view of the inferiority of clarinets and saxophones, I'm NOT greatly flattered to discover that Prokofiev used a clarinet to convey the stealthy movements of a cat in Peter and the Wolf
. What a cheek! This desire to liken the clarinet to a cat is a common human mistake. Stravinsky also used a clarinet to mimic purring, in Berceuses du Chat
. Pah! Nothing like the real thing.
I know about cattiness expressed in music: the pas de deux for Puss in Boots and the White Cat in the final act of Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty, the Cat's Fugue by Domenico Scarlatti, Chopin's Cat Waltz, Fauré's Kitty Valse, and the cats in Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortileges. I'm sure Ravel meant well, for he shared his house with many cats, but I hope he didn't play a clarinet to them. In Beethoven's Piano Sonata No 31 in A Flat, Opus 110, the middle movement is a scherzo that alludes to the song Our Cat Has Had Kittens. So Beethoven was a cat-lover too. My favourite human music is composed by Rossini, the Duetto Buffo di Due Gatti, the Comic Duet for Two Cats. That's more like it.
Incredibly, there are people who don't like cats. Those flawed humans who hate us, or fear us, are called ailurophobes. Can such folk really exist? Julius Caesar, Hitler and Mussolini were said to be ailurophobes. I'll bet they didn't play a musical instrument, otherwise they would at least have loved cats for our musical skills.
Surely, anyone who plays a screech stick would appreciate my advanced musical talents? Dislike of cat music must be jealousy or resentment, for we cats are renowned for being musical. The Tom Katz Saxophone Six, described in the last issue of this magazine, 'the world's greatest musical ensemble, masters of melody and mirth', prove my point.
A rhyme was written about one of my ancestors:
A cat came fiddling out of a barn
With a pair of bagpipes under her arm;
She could sing nothing but 'fiddle-cum fee'
The mouse has married the bumble bee.
We were portrayed from medieval times onward as playing a musical instrument, usually a fiddle (hey, diddle diddle), or occasionally the bagpipes. The sign of The Cat and the Fiddle was a common choice for a pub. Never 'The Cat and the Saxophone', I notice - though there is a poem with that title, by Langston Hughes.
But that's another tale.