Copyright 1993, Sarah Hartwell

An animated orange lightning bolt charges through the cat flap, hurdles an extremely startled Kitty, corners at high speed, skates the length of the coffee table spraying magazines in her wake, rebounds from a chairback and charges back out the cat flap which falls in two pieces behind her. Kitty waddles out the way of the unexplained furry object streaking through the house like a cat with its tail on fire. Just what are they putting in cat food these days, and can I have some too?

Affy is not normally a high speed cat; but then many have argued that Affy is not normal, period. She is not a particularly bright cat either. When we took her to be spayed did we accidentally sign a form saying ‘spay and lobotomize’? Take the ‘Great Scorched Bum Incident’ for example.

Lunchtime chez Hartwell. The stove has been cleared and Affy has decided it is a nice warm place to park herself on a chilly day. Have we turned the gas completely off? What is that strange scorched hair smell and why has Affy got smoke coming from her posterior? Affy peers over her shoulder and sniffs. The smell is not a ‘something edible’ smell so she goes back to staring into space. She is abruptly wrenched from her reverie and has a wet cloth applied to her rear. The room is suddenly full of charred cat fur smell, smoke and a high-velocity, damp, indignant cat with badly frizzled tail fur.

For the next few days, a highly self-conscious cat sits down every few paces to hide her burnt bum from onlookers.

"Mummy, why does that cat sit down every few steps?" shrieks an interest child.

"She’s probably a very old cat and has to rest often," explains mummy as they pass. Affy stares in the opposite direction, looking embarrassed.

For several days Affy is trailed by her mentor, the late and much lamented Scrapper, who has developed an overpowering interest in scorched tail fur. As has every other cat in the neighbourhood, who presumably can’t understand how any member of their species could be so thick.

"Mummy, why are those cats sniffing that one’s bottom?"

A highly embarrassed parent shoots me a deadly glare, mutters something about neutering and hustles her offspring away. I imagine inviting friends in for coffee and explaining away the cooker-top cat with "Mind the cat, she’s on heat." Well, slow simmer actually.

We bought a ceramic hob with even greater scope for disaster. Time to train Affy not to sit on it. Previous training attempts were pretty dismal, Affy being a cat of very little brain, so we read some books. One suggests ‘let your cat dab a candle flame as a harmless way of learning to avoid fire’. Oh yeah? Affy huffed out the flame and tried to eat the candle. We modify this lesson for ceramic hobs.

Affy sits on hob, which is nice and smooth with none of those uncomfortable metal bits. We turn on the ring underneath her paws. As it heats up she will move away. At least in theory she will. The ring glows dull red and a slightly puzzled cat lifts one paw at a time to investigate why it is hot, huffs on the offending paw and puts it down again. She looks like a fat furry ginger version of that desert lizard on the nature programme as she dances from paw to paw. Finally she understands the point of the exercise and lies on the ring. A belly warmer! Do all cats have asbestos bellies?

Resort to plan B. Pile empty cans on the cooker so that they’ll fall off when she jumps up. Affy just sits in the middle of the wreckage, oblivious to theory. But what do you expect from a cat who loves watching fireworks and adores those entertaining shrieks and bangs that send all self-respecting cats scurrying for cover? She can’t understand why she is shut in when there are all those interesting loud noises and multicoloured lights to investigate. An, no doubt, bonfires to toast herself on. Perhaps she thinks it’s all part of a hallucination induced by whatever they are putting in that cat food.

The water squirt trick is no use, Affy tries to catch the water in mid-air.

We clutter the hob with saucepans so there isn’t enough room for her furriness to sit down. A cunning bum wiggle moves the pans out of the way. Why does mum insist on cluttering up the new improved Affy-warmer? Why does Affy think she is a saucepan? Saucepans are shiny and silver, not fluffy and ginger although the furry handle is a neat idea. Finally, we cover the hob with a towel when not in use. Affy 1, Humans Nil. Who said that Affy isn’t particularly intelligent?

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