Very few of you, I imagine, will have enjoyed the depth of understanding, clarity of judgement or richness of insight that K and I have been enjoying recently with regard to the questions and quandaries of global geopolitics. Perhaps as few as none of you will have been able to appreciate, as we have, the fine balances and convolutions, the real dilemmas and delicate considerations that George W Bush, for example, along with his now legendary team of peace enthusiasts – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell – will have had to grapple with in their relentless pursuit of justice in the Middle East.
The precision that will have had to accompany Bill Clinton’s more famous compassion as he weighed up the countless (and often contradictory) criteria for going into, or not going into, or going into and then pulling out of, a Kosovo descending into deadly chaos. The teetering structures and the slip-slide systems that threaten constantly to tumble on the turn of a card.
A card in a house of cards. The often split-second timing with which the great players must make their calls and live with the consequences: Franklin D Roosevelt, the Federal Reserve and the war in Europe, Saddam Hussein and his attempted liberation of Kuwait, Margaret Thatcher’s critical response to the Falkland crisis, without which the world would be so very different today – what all of these leaders had in common of course was an unwavering regard for the well-being of the people their decisions affected.
But how to make those decisions? How to make sense of it all, to weigh it all up, to navigate one’s way through the ethnic rivalries, religious conflicts and political machinations of a culture we may well struggle to understand? The malevolent undercurrents of historical resentments, the quick sands of long held grudges and hatreds held close to the bosom, the thin misleading refractions of propriety on the surface while the murk of corruption muddies the waters below – these are the swamps that our leaders must wade through in their never ending search for what they prize above all else – a morally correct course of action. The right thing to do.
No, it isn’t for you – simple, ordinary people – to appreciate, as K and I do, the heaviness of history’s hand as it rests upon those estimable shoulders, the gravity with which the awful responsibility of leadership presses down on those troubled heads. For our part, we understand all too well, and it is a profound understanding – one that has matured, like an elegant, ageing wine, out of our efforts, over the last couple of weeks, to adopt a cat.
That’s right – this is a story about a cat.
Tommy doesn’t know his name is Tommy, but it is now. The exercise of control so often begins with language, of course, but while it might be a little imperialist of us, we had to call him something. Or rather, K did. We’ve known the friendly little fellow for a while – a callejero of the barrio, he’s been living a street away from our house, spending much of his time on a little plazuela we often pass. She has been unable to do so without saying hello to him, and he always reciprocates cordially. Apparently his name derives from the fact that he’s a tomcat although, for the record, he does indeed look just like Jerry’s nemesis.
A little over a fortnight ago I noticed one evening, not being able to see very well in the gloom, that one of Tommy’s ears was either gone or significantly reduced. The following morning I could see that it was still there but crumpled and bleeding from where he’d been scratching himself mercilessly. I dutifully reported my observation to K, who decided that we should get him to a vet and, since she was travelling at the time, delegated the project to me. With a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for the trust she’d put in me – which I expressed to myself with the softly mumbled words ‘fuck sake’ – I set about the task, abducting the itchy and unsuspecting creature by bundling it into a transporter and hauling it off to the vet.
This was the beginning. As is so often the case with good intentions, I hadn’t really thought it through; the vet confirmed the presence of a parasite (let’s call it an insurrection) in Tommy’s ears. He would need drops twice daily for a week and we, therefore, would need the help of the local group of animalistas (let’s call them NATO) who run a shelter for strays. Into a cage he went, which I tried to make as comfortable as possible for him but which no doubt was a horrifying personal Guantanamo for Tommy. Over the next week or so his condition improved and he would perk up each time I came with the drops and some treats. I was bonding and he appeared to have succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome – we were already in deeper than I’d ever intended.
The upshot was that, having created this dependency (I’m looking at you, Egypt), it didn’t feel right to throw him back on the street. I convinced K that we should adopt him and we took him back to the vet this last Monday to have him castrated (let’s call it de-baathification) and tested for any illnesses. It turns out he has FIV, which is an immune deficiency that cats get, apparently. It makes them susceptible to things like ear insurrections and other bodily rebellions, so in that respect I suppose it’s a bit like fundamentalism. A situation, then, which I for one thought was pretty complicated to begin with – given that we already have two cats – turns out to be even more so. Bit of a quagmire, in fact.
Intimations of Mesopotamia, anyone?
Life since Monday has been interesting. If I might be permitted to describe that day as 3/10, you could say that K and I are living in a post 3/10 world. As friendly as the little chap is, it turns out he has absolutely no intention of behaving like a lap cat, now or at any point in the foreseeable future; think of him then as our personal Afghanistan. Although the de-baathification went according to plan, he continues to display tomcat behaviour, and since this includes spraying everything in sight with his urine, we have been unable to reach any kind of indoor agreement with him.
Furthermore he has launched a number of attacks on our home soil, even making incursions over the back wall that our own two cats find impossible to scale. Whether there or in the front, he makes himself loudly known several times daily until such time as we capitulate and offer food. The noise that cat can make. The neighbours (former Soviet Union on one side, China on the other) must really hate us. Suddenly our own sovereignty is compromised, our borders breached. Whether we can adopt him or not would now appear to be very much his choice, and not ours.
A foreign adventure has come home to roost; a much longer battle than we had ever envisaged will be fought now on our own doorstep. And back patio. It is humbling and has rather taken the sheen off our sense of noblesse oblige. Either one of us could tell you for a fact that, in his darker moments, Barack Obama will have seriously considered bundling Iraq up into a box, driving out into the middle of nowhere, and leaving it there. On the other hand the experience does place us in a position to understand, only too well, the intricacies at stake and the fraught decision-making at play as the eyes of the world turn towards Putin, and his speculations in Ukraine and the Crimea.