Cat never had careers advice, but it didn’t take a professional to see he had people skills in abundance. Had he been human, Alex Polizzi would have snapped him up for a front of house role in one of her smarter hotels, meeting and greeting the guests. I often thought he would have loved living in a children’s or old people’s home and excelled in the role, a thought that was confirmed in the last weeks of his life when we had an extended stay at the scheme where Mother lived.
He kept me waiting at the door when he saw old acquaintances coming along the street, or spied someone he liked the look of. He knew every old lady with a shopping trolley, every mother and toddler. They were his key street audience, but it also included everyone else from lorry drivers to school children.
He was a Feline Ambassador. Chats with his admirers led to two cats being rehomed from the charity that runs alongside the cattery where he spent my holidays. He widened my social circle to include neighbours from the end of the Square whom he had befriended.
At the flats, he was the Resident Cat. It was his garden. He would make a point of welcoming people into it. He joined in with barbecues, sat with neighbours enjoying a summer beer or reading the paper, watched patiently when we deadheaded roses. One of my neighbours enjoys sunbathing. She would spend afternoons with Cat at her side, or underneath the sun lounger when the sun became too hot for him.
The two small boys, brothers, would hunt him, stalking him from one end of the garden to the other with makeshift bos and arrows. I’d yell at them from the window. If Cat was outside when they came in the garden he would make himself scarce, and hurry up to me when I went to rescue him. But as the boys grew up, the relationship changed, and far from running from them, Cat would walk to greet them, standing up on his hindlegs to but them, showing obvious and unexpected pleasure in their company.
Regular visitors were met as they opened their car doors, with some getting the ecstatic response reserved for his special friends, though they did not know me, and never came to my flat. His love of people was his defining characteristic.
One of his best summers, when he was still in single figures, was when a neighbour’s sister and brother-in-law came to stay from Australia. They bought a camper van and the brother-in-law was doing it up for a trip around Europe. Cat became his work partner, inspecting each job, checking out the van and testing it for comfort. I’d come home to find both boys busy; brother-in-law working, Cat supervising. When they put the tent up on the grass, Cat was full of approval. He clearly thought it was for him.
I think he’d have liked MySpace for its name, as he firmly believed every space he walked into was his, and every person in that space a potential admirer. On Facebook, which coincidentally was Not Cat’s name when I adopted him, he’d have been one of those members with thousands of friends. Networking came naturally to him.
It was an education, or maybe I mean a masterclass, watching him assess a potential contact then set about introducing himself. I learned to wait patiently in the background as he smooched and purred, accepting, as his due, attention and affection from people who had been, moments before, total strangers.