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The Silence Of The Harpo - whistle, whistle, honk

It is five o'clock in the morning. Everything is muted and misty. I'm drowsy now and I'm seesaw sleeping, up and down. I'm almost awake, I'm almost asleep and I'm drifting in low, slow fluffy clouds of unconsciousness, warm and snug. And then:


Suddenly I am wide awake, pain pulsing, my foot on fire, my eyes wide with shock at the throbbing agony that has pulled me so rudely from sleep.

Harpo the Cat, desiring his breakfast, has crawled under the sheet and duvet at the bottom of the bed and has dug all his claws deep into my big toe. As my screams of agony ring through the house, nine kilogram Porgy races into the bedroom, leaps high into the air and thumps down heavily on my chest.


Every molecule of oxygen shoots out of my lungs and I am unable to draw any more in because Porgy is such a dead weight that my chest muscles do not have enough strength to move my diaphragm. Unable to inhale, I begin to strangle while Porgy looks at me with deep and abiding love in his eyes. He purrs like a traction engine. He too wants his breakfast.

Bess, aware of sudden activity and wishing to attract my attention so as to ask me for her breakfast, leaps on Porgy and begins to fight him for possession of my chest. They scream and yowl and hurl each other up and down my torso; full body slam, sunset flip, Oklahoma roll, camel clutch, half-nelson and a Boston crab. I don't need a television set to watch WWF wrestling matches.

Harpo, having shredded my big toe, has moved on to the next one. Cats caterwaul, the bed threatens to collapse. I snatch a quick breath as Bess knocks Porgy into the middle of next week with a particularly unsubtle karate chop. I let out another shriek as Harpo brings his teeth into play on my toes.

Robin grunts sleepily, turns over and continues to snore in deep contentment. No help there. I stagger bloodily into the kitchen and fill the cats' dishes with biscuits and I make sure their water bowl is topped up. It's been just another normal morning in the Robson household.

Harpo the Cat has lived with us for nearly three months now, and we all defer to his wishes. Like Edward Lear's pobble, I have no toes. Robin is getting nervous about her shed.

Robin is currently deeply engaged in concreting the floor of her garden shed. Every so often she gets into the car, disappears for a couple of hours and comes back with a boot full of bags of cement and builder's mix. When we go shopping, she scours the shelves for interesting things to embed in her concrete.

"Plain concrete is dull," she said to me. "I want concrete that is vibrant and exciting; concrete that has a personality."

She is building the shed floor in small sections. Some sections have had glitter scattered upon them. Some have small stars twinkling, and one has a pair of eyeballs. It is quite disconcerting to walk into the shed and feel the floor staring at you. You can't help wondering what it is thinking about.

She has a birthday coming soon.

"What would you like for your birthday present?" I asked her.

"Ooohh - builder's mix," she said dreamily. "Cement. Perhaps a collection of coloured pebbles to make a mosaic. Just to add a touch of class."

"Would you like the new DVD of the Star Wars Trilogy?" I asked.

She looked slightly affronted. "That would look silly embedded in concrete!"

Every time Robin digs out a section in the shed and levels the dirt, Harpo poos in the nice, soft earth she has just exposed. Porgy, who hero-worships Harpo, immediately follows suit. The floor of Robin's shed is actually a nice layer of concrete perched on top of a thick layer of cat poo which is sitting directly on the soil. Judging by the corrosive effects of Harpo's poo on his dirt tray, both Robin and I are expecting the concrete floor to disintegrate any day now. Either that, or a small, fierce volcano will erupt as his poo eats through the Earth's crust and exposes the raw magma below.

Harpo is the smallest cat in the house but he has the largest personality. I've never seen anyone take such an exuberant joy in simply being alive. His every waking moment appears to consist of pure pleasure. He leaps and gambols, he races and chases. Everything is a toy – butterflies, bumble bees, the cables that plug the units of my stereo system together, the mouse on Robin's computer and the large tennis balls that Porgy and Bess have long ago given up on because they are too heavy to control. Not a problem to Harpo. He bats them around as if they are feather light. He chases them across the room. He lies in wait for them and ambushes them when they aren't looking. He makes the games more challenging by attacking the toys around corners and from behind curtains.

Last week our vet had an open day and was offering big discounts on items in the store. We bought a large climbing frame for the cats. It has columns that are scratching posts and platforms at the top of each column. It is three storeys high and the middle platform has a curtain around it which transforms it into a cave that is just wonderful to hide in. Things dangle on strings and jiggle enticingly, just asking to be chased and killed. All the cats love it and they perch at different levels and have boxing matches with each other.

Harpo hides in the cave and dangles his tail outside. He waits patiently – a fisherman hunting for prey. Eventually the temptation becomes overwhelming and either Porgy or Bess (or both) will leap for the tail to attack it. Quick as a flash, Harpo takes his tail out of danger, whirls round and beats seven kinds of brick dust out of the intruder, grinning delightedly from ear to ear. What a game!

Porgy and Bess retreat to lick their wounds. A few minutes later, being rather dumb cats, they have completely forgotten what happened. Glancing idly round in the middle of an important wash, they notice a black fluffy thing dangling down from the cave in the middle of the climbing frame.

"That looks like something worth attacking," says Porgy.

"Good idea," replies Bess.

"Snigger," says Harpo.

The other day the whole family was gathered together watching the television. Porgy found the programme less than enthralling and fell asleep. Bess felt the need to indulge in a practical critical evaluation of it and spent the duration of the programme licking her bottom. Harpo vanished.

The programme finished and Robin yawned.

"Coffee?" I suggested.

"Yes, please."

I went into the kitchen and did the coffee thing. While I was doing it, the cat flap flapped and Harpo came in. There was a sort of a black swish across the kitchen as he headed for the lounge. I paid no attention. Just Harpo, oozing cute as normal.

Soon I heard rattle, rattle, rattle. Harpo playing with some toy or other. Nothing odd there. I took the coffee in to the lounge.

"Beware," said Robin. "I'm armed and dangerous!"


Robin brandished a blue tube at me.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Eye shadow," she said.

"What's dangerous about eye shadow?"

"I don't own any," said Robin.

We both looked at Harpo. Harpo looked at us.

"Nice eye shadow," said Harpo. "Great to play with. Just try chasing it – it rattles. Really neat!"

"Where did you get that from?" I asked.

"Dunno," said Harpo vaguely. "Somewhere. Isn't it great?"

A lady walked past the house. One eye was blue. One eye wasn't.

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