The following is an old British folk-tale, the earliest written account of which can be found in the short novel Beware the Cat written by one Gulielmus Baldwin in early 1553. The version I recount was told to me by my grandmother, when I was but a very small boy.
‘One dark but temperate evening, a weary traveller named Paul eventually arrived at his homestead in Aldwick. Hanging up his hat and greatcoat and removing his boots, the exhausted man took his seat by the fireplace.
“Why, whatever has happened?” asked his wife, who’d been awaiting his return for some time. “You’re the colour of death.”
“It was the queerest thing, dearest. I was on my way home when I heard a shrill voice a-calling?”
“Yes. I looked around and there was naught but a cat coming towards me?”
“Yes, just like ol’ Jon-boy here.”
Jon-boy awoke from his slumber by the fire and raised an eyebrow at the mention of his name.
“Then to whom did the voice belong?” enquired Paul’s wife.
“It belonged to the cat. It told me to tell Johnathan of Aldwick that Arthur of York has passed away. But I don’t know of any ‘Jonathan of Aldwick’, do you?”
At that news, the previously languid Jon-boy leapt in the air and declared, in a shrill voice, “Arthur is dead! Then I am the King of the Cats!”
And with that ol’ Jon boy shot under the door and was never seen again.’
Tales of talking animals abound throughout the myths and legends of all cultures, but if you were to speak to an individual now who claimed to have conversed with a cat, you would be well within your rights to question that person’s sanity.
I have met such a person.
In May of 1995 I found myself in the Spanish coastal town of Valencia. I had been sent to investigate local accounts of a satanic cult active in this area. When this turned out to be nothing more than a group of local teenagers dressing in black and listening to some very silly music in a cave upon the beach, I decided to find a cafeteria in which to sit and write up my report.
I ordered a coffee and was soon joined by a young gentleman who, noting that I spoke English, seated himself at my table. We got to chatting and it transpired that this fellow was also an Englishman, a professional footballer no less, who had been sent here by his club to recover from an injury in the warmer Mediterranean climes.
This footballer became rather animated when the conversation turned to my work, and he recounted to me a rather strange event that had happened to him about a week previous, at another cafeteria in a small village a little further up the coast.
These are his words:
“I’d sat down for a cup of tea and some breakfast. I went there ‘coz they actually had proper British tea. Hard to find on the continent, as I’m sure you’re aware.
“I’d got a hold of a copy of the Daily Mirror from the day before and was reading up on the football scores on the back pages. I might be out of the game for a bit but I like to keep up with the results, as you do.
“Anyway, I’m sat there with the paper and this little black cat starts rubbing itself up against my legs. I’m more of a dog person myself, but he seemed happy, purring away, so I let him get on with it.
“After he’d been doing this for a bit I thought I’d give him a little rub behind the ears. I bent down to stroke him, and this cat looks at me, and I’m not fucking kidding, he says to me ‘what news of Blackburn Rovers?’
“I was absolutely dumbstruck.
“He asked again, ‘what news of Blackburn Rovers?’
“I guess I was too taken aback and I didn’t want to appear rude, so I told him that Rovers had lost by a goal to Liverpool yet had still won the Championship. With that, the cat smiled and sauntered off, leaving me there with my jaw swinging like a barn door in a breeze.
“The owner came out with another cup of tea for me, and she must’ve seen the look on my face. I told her what had just happened and she replies with ‘not to worry, that’s just Alfonso. He likes to keep up with the fútbol’.
“Apparently he asked a French kid a month before how Saint-Étienne were getting on in Ligue One!”
The footballer asked me not to reveal his name*, no doubt for fear of ridicule on his return to England. He did tell me the location of the cafeteria in question, however when I arrived there an hour or so later the place was closed for the siesta.
Unfortunately I had a plane to catch and could not linger, but I do intend to return when the opportunity presents itself.
How I would relish the chance to meet Alfonso and discuss the merits of playing two up-front with this eloquent feline.
Dr Thomas Gotobed
* I would love it, absolutely love it if I could find out the name of this footballer! Does anyone have any ideas? – C.R.