Most mornings, when the sun has barely had time to clear its throat and have a cough and a spit, Harpo the Cat comes into the bedroom demanding breakfast. This is not unusual sooner or later most cats learn that the best way to get breakfast is to nag their slaves until they get up and provide food. But Harpo has found a unique way of attracting my attention and forcing me out of bed.
He throws my shoes around the bedroom.
Bess may be asleep on the bed or she may be curled up on her favourite cushion in the lounge. Either way, she completely ignores the noise that Harpo makes. She regards him as a hopeless case. She will join us for breakfast when the fuss has died down and the shoes have all been put back in their proper places. It would be terribly bad-mannered of her to trip over a shoe on her way to the kitchen. She'd die of embarrassment at such a faux pas and then she'd have to wash herself all over at least twice before she could possibly eat a thing. Oh dear, that will never do.
Robin sleeps calmly through all the noise. They aren't her shoes. Her shoes are hiding in her wardrobe in a mountainous and rather scary pile. Every so often, while dressing for dinner, she will screw her courage to the sticking place and burrow deeply into it. Eventually she will re-emerge, panting and frazzled, with a shoe. Just one.
"These will go perfectly with my new trousers," she says. Then she scratches her head. "I wonder where the other shoe is?" she asks thoughtfully.
"Who knows?" I reply. "Perhaps it is inside a cat." Actually I consider this to be extremely unlikely. Both cats have far more sense than that. Robin's shoe mountain even manages to scare Robin! Goodness knows what it does to a cat. The missing shoe is probably still cowering somewhere deep in the recesses of her wardrobe.
"I think I'd better buy another pair of shoes, just in case," Robin decides.
And so, bit by bit, her shoe mountain grows to even more terrifying proportions. Therefore every morning Robin can sleep the sleep of the just don't care, in the sure and certain knowledge that Harpo the Cat will never go anywhere near that scarily unstable pile.
I pull myself gloomily awake and peer short-sightedly at the world. I know exactly what I will see. The three pairs of shoes that I own are no longer neatly lined up against the wall. They are scattered around the room and Harpo is busy killing one of them. The others stare in horror as the poor victim expires beneath Harpo's claws and fangs. I can hear a faint whispering:
"Oh no! Not again!"
The chosen victim groans in agony. I climb out of bed and, leaving my whimpering shoes behind, I go into the kitchen to prepare breakfast for Harpo and for Bess. As I walk past Harpo, he swipes my leg with his paw. If I've waited too long to get up, there will be severely protruding claws. Most mornings I find that I have waited too long to get up.
"You need more shoes," says Harpo. "I've killed all three pairs at least a dozen times. I'm getting bored. I need variety in my killing sprees."
"Three pairs of shoes is enough for anyone," I explain. "I've only got two feet you know. Actually, three pairs of shoes is probably at least two pairs too many."
Since shoes are such an integral part of the breakfast ritual, I consider it important to keep my supply topped up. There generally comes a time when work colleagues can be heard whispering scandalously to each other about the tooth holes that decorate some of my older shoes. Mortifying glimpses of sock can occasionally be seen. The most severe wounds drip polish in a steady stream, staining the carpet. In winter the rain gets in and I squelch. Perhaps I ought to do something about that?
When a shoe gets completely beyond all hope of redemption I give the pair a decent Christian burial and then go off to The Warehouse, where everyone gets a bargain. That's what the adverts sing, so it must be true. I spend $20 on a size 8 pair of black shoes which are identical in every respect to the size 8 pair of black shoes that I have just disposed of. I am a creature of habit.
Sometimes, if I'm really lucky, the shoes will be on sale and will only cost me $10. When this happens, I always make sure to buy an extra pair so that I still spend my accustomed $20. Did I mention that I am a creature of habit? This occasional Warehouse bargain is the reason why I now have three pairs of shoes rather than the requisite single pair.
Because the shoes are so cheap, there is a strong probability that they will disintegrate before I get them out of the shop. However, mostly I am lucky, and I manage to arrive home with my new shoes in one piece. Harpo looks at them in disgust.
"These are identical to yesterday's corpses," he says. "Couldn't you do better than that?"
"No," I explain. "I am a creature of habit."
"You already mentioned that," says Harpo.
This year, Christmas morning chez Robson began just like every other morning. As usual I was summoned by shoes and I wandered off into the kitchen with torn and bleeding legs to give the cats their Christmas breakfast feast. Bess, who is always a very polite lady, was sitting quietly to attention by her bowl. Harpo teleported from the bedroom to the kitchen and was waiting for me when I arrived. He paced back and forth menacingly.
"Get a bloody move on!"
Normally breakfast consists of a bowl of biscuits. But today being Christmas, breakfast was a can of sliced beef in rich gravy. Both cats love gravy. They like to lick it up before they attack the meaty chunks.
"Oh, wow!" said Harpo as he inhaled the whole bowlful in an instant. "It must be Christmas." He licked his bowl as clean as clean could be and then he clattered off through the cat flap to go and mug a reindeer.
Bess ate her breakfast in great gulps.
"This is lovely," she said. "Thank you so much."
"Don't talk with your mouth full," I told her.
"Sorry, I forgot."
She finished the bowl of food in record time and then wandered off into the lounge where she threw up her entire breakfast all over the rug. The clash of colours made an interesting contrast. None of her meal appeared to have been chewed at all. Even the gravy was still intact and of the proper consistency.
"That was a fantastic breakfast," said Bess contentedly as she licked her lips. "Why don't you gather it all up and put it back into my bowl? I'll have it again for lunch."
"No, Bess," I said as I went to get a cloth, "that's not how it works. In this family we eat each meal once, and once only."
"That's because you are silly creatures of habit," said Bess. She went back to sleep on her cushion.