How do you know when you have settled into a new neighbourhood? Is it when you stop missing your tram stop; when you know which is the best cafe; when you commit to following the local footy team? Or is it when the neighbourhood cats start to acknowledge you when you walk by?
Getting the nod from cats isn’t an honour to be taken lightly. Most dogs will be anyone’s friend. Offer them a kind word and a pat and they think you’re fabulous, but cats are much more discerning. Having recently moved to Melbourne I have spent a lot of time strolling around the local streets, getting my bearings and discovering the furry inhabitants.
Unfortunately the dogs are all shut behind security screens and large walls, so I know them only by their voices – the angry, the lonely and the bored, expressing their dissatisfaction at being confined. The cats know this too, of course, and part of their arrogance comes from that freedom to strut the streets, patrolling their territory and giving the evil eye to any dogs out exercising their owners.
Our first encounter was with Black Tom, a fine looking specimen who was channelling an African lion, lying in the sun on a vacant block, almost hidden by the wild grasses. I had thought it might be nice place for the dogs to stretch their legs, but Black Tom sat up and fixed us with an icy glare, clearing seeing the Jack Russells as the equivalent of tasty Wilderbeest. At least that was how they interpreted it, as they quickly decided they’d rather all move in the opposite direction and we soon found ourselves on the street again.
I next saw Black Tom one evening as I was walking home. He was perched atop a grey brick wall and at first I thought he was a gargoyle until I saw the glint of his yellow eye. My greeting was met with disdain and he vanished into the darkness.
Ginger Tom lives two streets down, I think. That’s where I see him most often, but perhaps that’s because of the lady who feeds the pigeons. Ginger Tom is an eternal optimist and spends his days hunting the birds who torment him by always just flying out of paw’s reach. As we walk by the pigeon’s scatter and I can almost hear Ginger curse us. However when I’m alone he will come up and brush against my legs, although he feels I’m being too familiar if I go for the full pat. The pace of the friendship will clearly be at his discretion.
Our next feline neighbour was White and Grey Longhair, an elderly queen who’d seen better days but enjoyed taking a morning sunbath on the footpath by the glass factory. The first day she got up stiffly as we approached and took cover under a parked car, watching suspiciously as we passed. In time, she was happy to continue sunbathing while we walked by, although when I stopped to chat she shuffled off. Today was a victory in the friendship stakes. We stopped. She stayed. I was granted a pat. I finally feel like I belong.