Sally wears a cardigan by storm; photographed by Emma Bass; hair by Michael Kent; make-up by Kaitlin Chapman
The only purpose of cats is that they constitute mobile decorative objects,” says Paloma Josse in that very quotable novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I love the character of Paloma, a precocious teenager given to razor-sharp social observations. But, on the subject of cats, I’ve always felt she totally misses the mark.
There’s no doubting the decorative value of a cat curled on the couch or stalking across a garden. But, as every cat lover knows, cats have a much more significant purpose: as soul soothers, mood levellers, a soak for small domestic discontents.
In my childhood home we always had a cat, sometimes two. As she chopped up good, red meat to feed them, my mother would let off steam at the felines around her feet, telling them how lazy they were and how much trouble they gave her. In the evening, she and Dad would sit with one cat each, watching TV while they fondled the cats’ warm, silken ears. My father, who was originally from Kent in England, had a special word for cats’ ears: “Oh, you’ve got lovely weekers,” he would croon.
These days, Mum is in a rest home with a no-cats policy and every time I see her sitting there with an empty lap I think what a pity it is. “What about one of those robotic cats?” a sympathetic nurse suggested the other day. “They’re very realistic…”
It was worth a try. Turns out local stocks of Lulu My Cuddlin’ Kitty (Hasbro, around $130) are depleted, but my Brisbane-based brother sent one over. Lulu (pictured below) is fluffy with big blue eyes. She purrs, meows, washes her face with her paw. My smart 19-year-old nephew Alex reckons she stops just short of “the uncanny valley” (apparently when robots become too uncannily real, their appeal plummets).
When I carried Lulu into the rest home, the residents were drawn like magnets to her meows. I put Lulu on Mum’s lap and Mum stroked her tentatively, even meowed conversationally back to her. But when she fondled Lulu’s ears they were hard and rubbery and, after the admirers had left, Mum thought maybe we should put Lulu on a chair in the corner so we could look at her properly.
In short, Lulu has become a decorative object and I have to admit there is truth in Paloma’s observation, at least as applied to robotic cats.
PS: Has anyone heard the term “weekers” for cats’ ears? A Kent relative remembers it, but I can’t find it on Google.