Close Encounters of the Furred Kind – Tom Cox
I’m sat in my office typing this with my own cat, Toffo, sat on my knee. I’m wearing shorts so if he hitches himself forward an inch, he digs his claws into my naked thighs and hauls away. I’d take a photo but I’d have to get up to get my phone, which would disturb him, so no photo. These are the sort of small sacrifices cat lovers make for their moggies all the time..
If that makes no sense to you, you can skip this review as Tom’s amusing memoir is a book for cat lovers by an irredeemable cat lover and while it’s hugely entertaining for cat fans to will have zero appeal to cat avoiders.
This is Tom’s fourth entry in his best-selling series of anecdotes about life with partner Gemma and their cats Ralph, The Bear, Shipley, Roscoe and, for a limited period only, George. Tom’s mum and dad’s cats also put in guest appearances, as do mum and dad, Michael (Mick to his friends) and Jo Cox.
For me, the contributions from Tom’s dad are the funniest parts of this very entertaining book – all of them quoted IN CAPITAL LETTERS to convey Mick’s booming voice. I’d love to know if the same holds true for other readers – because Mick (a successful children’s author himself) is a pal I met as a regular swimmer at the local council pool and everything he says in the book I hear in his voice. The quotes perfectly capture his quirky, sweary sense of humour.
It reminds me in some ways of a favourite Radio 4 comedy (and there are very few of those these days), Tom Wriggleworth’s Hang-Ups, based around phone calls home to Tom’s Yorkshire dad, mum and gran. The main difference is that Mick’s humour is more knowing and self-aware than the character of Tom’s dad. As far as I can tell, at any rate.
Personally I am very fond of cats – I once ended up taking on two strays, both pregnant as it turned out, when I already had a cat, so I ended up with three adults and nine kittens – all kittens were found homes in the end, but I hope that proves my pro-moggie credentials.
Even so, the extent to which the cats dictate Tom’s life is exceptional to an almost bizarre degree, as is his tolerance for some of their more anti-social habits. Then again, observing the cats and documenting their lives has provided his livelihood in recent years, so you can’t knock it.
I’d first read Close Encounters a couple of years ago (the title came courtesy of Tom’s dad) but re-read it after running short of fresh lockdown reading matter. I enjoyed it just as much the second time around, enough to resolve to read more of Tom’s cat memoirs. You can find out more and read a sample dad anecdote on Tom’s website http://tom-cox.com/ – try http://tom-cox.com/writing/my-dad-and-the-toad-in-his-shoe/
The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Penguin Classics
Well, now here’s a contrast. This slim black volume in the same series as The Life of A Stupid Man (scroll down to see review) was a ‘wedding favour’ given to me at the wedding reception of son Harry and his wife Jo.
I am not, and have never been, a communist but I’m not a Conservative voter either so, with limited options left for lockdown reading, I laboured (geddit?) through its 52 pages, some of which were fairly impenetrable owing to the complexities of the ideology and political or cultural references which may have been comprehensible in 1888 but are quite obscure now.
The style is very wordy, excessively so to a modern reader, with the sole exception being the closing two lines, which form a sound bite that has survived down the ages and the first half of which would be worthy of a Dominic Cummings campaign to motivate the masses: “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”
If only the rest of the political pamphlet were equally succinct. A couple of passages do stand out, however, as being remarkably prescient, starting with the prediction or observation that national boundaries were dissolving due to commerce and free trade – globalisation, and the push towards a more united Europe, in other words, were already happening:
“National differences and antagonisms between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto.”
Eight pages on (p38), the authors talk of members of the “petty bourgeoisie” being constantly hurled back into the ranks of the proles” by competition, until they disappear as a section of society. I was immediately reminded of a tiny, independent wine shop that I used to frequent, five minutes’ walk from my former home in St Albans. When I moved away in 1991, a big new Majestic Wine Warehouse had just opened, a couple of hundred yards further up the hill.
I was sad to think the independent guy, a mild-mannered man of 50 or so, would not stand a chance with a might Majestic so close by, but I didn’t stay around long enough to know his fate. Since then, as supermarkets take on more and more lines, countless newsagents, florists, greengrocers and butchers have disappeared and it gets harder and harder to earn a living independent of big-scale capitalism.
The fatal flaw, however, in this manifesto is that Marx and Engels believed that, in the new order with all private property abolished and the state ready to fairly administer and apportion all assets, all politicians, or Communist ones, would be as incorruptible and idealistic as they are. They were presumably unaware of John Dalberg-Acton’s truism that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
They were also publishing 57 years too early to have read Orwell’s brilliant conclusion to Animal Farm, showing how a ruling elite will always award themselves privileges, no matter what: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
NB: I have tried inverting this photo at source, but whatever I do it ends up here upside down!