Know a fan of the Warrior Cats series by Erin Hunter, or someone who loves Michael Morpurgo’s animal stories? Then, like my youngest child, they too might really love Able Seacat Simon by Lynne Barrett-Lee.
Inspired by real events, this is a
first-person first-cat account of one feline’s dangerous adventures at sea. And here is Able Seacat Simon himself to share a day in his life, and give you taste of what’s in story when you find yourself a copy of this lovely book.
“My mother was a beautiful cat, inside and outside. On the outside, she had a coat of many colours, a little like the leaf litter at the foot of a particularly lovely tree. Burnished and bright, and as soft as new moss. On the inside, she had the heart of a lioness. So the perfect day of my imaginings always starts and ends with her; a warm presence beside me as the sunlight ebbs away and my daytime begins. – (Which is of course, for cats, is the night-time.
Where shall we head, kitten? she whispers, as we begin our first patrol. Down to the cottonwoods? To the docks? To the jetty to watch the moon rise?
I spent eight of my nine lives as a seafaring cat, but, my ideal day is always on dry land. In Hong Kong, my birthplace, which is Stonecutters Island, which sits in the middle of the wide turquoise bay, and which I always return to in my dreams.
We live with the kind lady who lives in the big house, which sits beneath a stand of towering jacarandas. Each spring (and it is always spring on my ideal day, of course) the trees weep, and cover the ground with their blossoms, each fallen petal a tiny purple trumpet. A whole orchestra of fragrant softness to snooze on.
The kind lady has just fed us as she does every dusk; she leaves food for us under an old wooden bench, bent with use, in her lush, shady garden. And today, for a treat, we’ve had chicken. She never tries to pick us up, because she knows that would alarm my mother, but now I’m big enough, I do as I’ve seen my mother doing, and wind my flank along the side of her legs to say thank you.
The docks, I tell my mother. So we amble down there with full bellies, using the same route we do every time. It’s the best time, the time between the day world and the night world. The docks are alive with activity at all times, but at this time, with dusk making growing pools of darkness, we can move freely around the wharfside, without fear of stray dogs or humans, just being curious (which is exactly what a cat is supposed to be) about the often inexplicable goings on of all the humans, that swarm is such numbers around the ships, boats and junks.
We might patrol for an hour or more, as the night begins to deepen, and the stars begin to pop into their allotted places, high in the ink sky. There will be mice to hunt, voles, often lizards and geckos, and this night, like every night, I listen, watch and learn. I am no longer on patrol on Amethyst, stalking rats for my cherished shipmates, but, as with so many imagined days when a life has been lived, I have returned to my childhood, where fears are predictable; being trapped, meeting a dog, the big, dangerous road.
No fears tonight though, and as it gets close to midnight, my mother has found us a mouse nest to provide dinner, and I have single-handedly faced off an angry brown snake. Just a baby one, but I am proud, even so.
Our tummies full again, we head off then to the beach. The sea is black like the sky now and the ships are silhouettes. And as the lights of the city makes spangles on the water, the hum of night-things – the bats and the moths and the fat flying beetles – begin to fill our ears. We might doze then a little, under the jetty where I was born, or my mother might tell me all the things to be seen in the stars. The points of light are where souls of all the cats in the world go, to take their place looking down on the ones still on earth. Sometimes, because I’m still small during this perfect day of mine, she will allow me to lie down in the curve of her tummy and lick me clean.
Well, lick my fur off, more like! Because that’s the way it often feels. Her tongue is a rasp, as my own is fast becoming. And she likes my fur – mostly black, with points of white (the kind lady calls me ‘socks’) – to be as sleek as the back of a porpoise.
We never doze for long though. Dozing is for daytimes. Sometimes in the garden, listening to the kind lady singing to herself, and sometimes on the hot corrugated tin roof of the workshops, that back on to the big road and soak up the sun. Other times, we camp out on a special place, dockside. In the crook of the steel frame of one of the giant cargo cranes. Every cat who ever lived likes a high place, of course. On the Amethyst, it was by the sextant and the voice pipe, up on the bridge. A place reserved for captains, and officers, and courageous sailing cats!
No ideal day would be complete without an encounter with another cat. Though cats are mostly solitary (though not this cat, as my human friends will, I hope, testify) we are still a community and treat each other with respect. Each has their territory, and our rituals are important. Though humans might call our nighttime noises ‘caterwauling’ – such a funny word – what they hear as a furious exchange of alarming screeches actually translates as ‘well, good evening to you, fellow feline – so this is my patch of Stonecutters, and that is your patch – good day!’
Tonight we meet two cats. Old Tom, from the joinery, and Chang, who is pure white, and my mother’s brother. He is half blind, from a difficult encounter with a fattail scorpion. To avoid scorpions at all costs is one of the first lessons I ever learned – the other being to never, ever scramble up a tree, except in the direst circumstance, of course, such as meeting a fattail scorpion.
The daytime – our night time – comes at the same time each morning, with a faint pearl-pink glow where the sky meets the hills beyond the island. The noise of the night bugs is soon drowned out by the twitterings of the birds, and our limbs, growing weary from padding our territory, begin to take us on the dewy journey home.
If we’re lucky, the nice lady will have left us some water to lap at, and if extra-lucky, a little bacon fat or fishy leftovers too.
My mother purrs as she licks crumbs from my wet face and whiskers. There’s no day that isn’t better for some sardines, kitten, is there?
And, of course, she’s absolutely right.”
Able Seacat Simon was assisted in writing about his ideal day by Lynne Barrett-Lee, a successful novelist and non-fiction features writer for magazines including Woman, Woman’s Own, Best, Take a Break and Good Housekeeping. She has been published in numerous languages and works as a part-time writing tutor.