MAGNUM OPUSS
Copyright 1993, Sarah Hartwell

"Mrs Hartwell, this cat is decidedly large," complains the vet, searching in vain for Affyís scruff.

Looking at my own not-terribly-sylphlike figure, I can sympathise entirely with the cat in question. The cat in question merely adopts a rapt expression and pees on the vetís hand as he gropes her not inconsiderable abdomen in search of medical reasons for her girth. Aphrodite has never been svelte; she is a very solidly built cat.

"What on earth do you feed her on? Concrete porridge?" he asks, holding the cuff of his white coat over the sink and dousing it with Hibiscrub.

Affy is not a big eater - at least not of anything labelled ĎCat Foodí. She is not averse to the odd cranefly. Or cricket. Although she is frightened of spiders and it is no fun having a 1 stone wimp cowering on your shoulder as you try to evict a big hairy ĎFredí from the bath. An even slightly aggressive butterfly will send her fleeing for cover. She once caught a mouse. I think she accidentally sat on it. Leave anything remotely edible on the table, though, and as far as Affyís concerned itís hers. Since when did cats eat Garlic Naan?

I blame it on a deprived upbringing. She did, after all, turn up as a starving stray. As a feral, she was a dismal failure; an evolutionary dead end as David Attenborough might say. As a domestic, she is making up for the days when she didnít know where her next meal was coming from. Nowadays, not only does she know where itís coming from, sheís quite capable of breaking into the packet and helping herself.

The vet looks dubious. I can understand why. Did my Brobdingnagian cat really begin life as a tiny scrap of fluff that could sit in the palm of a hand like the kitten in the Whiskas advert? How can I be sure she wasnít in fact built by the feline equivalent of a secret weapons establishment to terrorise Essex vets, but somehow got misdirected to me? She is definitely BIG, though when brains were being handed out she was off chasing celestial craneflies. Scientists studying small-brained dinosaurs, witness the Affy-saurus: large, but somewhat deficient in the brain department.

"Does she get much exercise?" the vet asks, his cuff now an interesting mix of catís-pee yellow and Hibiscrub pink.

Interesting question. No, she isnít into aerobics. She did try swimming once - inadvertently - and ended up sitting on my lap having discovered that bath foam does not support the weight of your average mog, let alone that of a humungous great ginger thing from the planet Felix Major. She does race around the house, rebounding from walls and climbing chairbacks in pursuit of bluebottles and she does the wall of death around the room whenever we try to flea-spray her. Can you get feline exercise bikes from Argos? On occasion she does Tai Chi, but usually in horizontal mode.

"Like going walkies on a harness," the vet prompts, dabbing at his soggy cuff.

How do you move a gravity-assisted immobile cat short of sitting her on a skateboard and dragging it? When Affy decides to sit tight, nothing will move her. It could get embarrassing if she decided to stage a sit-down protest half a mile from home. I could end up carrying a paving slab on which a smug ginger cat is seated like some devotional icon.

We finally compromise. The vet wonít try to make her lose weight. In return she wonít pee on his hand.

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