I was looking out of my kitchen window last night when I saw my cat, the Bede (a.k.a. Beachy Bede, which means Cat Bede in Mexican, the Bede bit being after the Venerable Bede, great English historian, etc.) behaving strangely. First of all he stood up and arched his back. Then he fluffed out his tail. Then he sank back to the ground and sort of squatted there, concentrating all his attention off-stage (i.e. out of my sight, beyond the window extremity). Now, it was pretty obvious even to me that something was up. I watched, transfixed. Suddenly a young fox (definitely this season’s crop) entered right. The fox walked as close to the Bede as he reasonably could without risking an eruption - the Bede, for his part, lay flat against the ground, his gaze fixed on his adversary. “There’s going to be a fight,’ I said to my wife.
But no. The fox edged around, pretending, for all the world, as if a large black feline was not lying three feet away from him, watching his every move. The Bede, too, glanced around a little, as if, well, that’s not really a young fox strolling across the sward in front of me, and I’m just squatting out here as part of my customary evening constitutional. How odd, I thought to myself. Then it hit me. Both predators were affording each other ‘face’ - they were acting as if there were a physical - and not merely notional - Chinese Wall between them. In this way, each could go about his business (despite the inevitable overlap - both having a marked predilection for young rabbits) without needing to trigger an actual conflict, which might injure one or the other, and mess up the hunting to boot. It was sort of like being a neutral observer at the border crossing between North and South Korea - or conducting smuggling operations up and down the Straits of Formosa, and wondering how China and Taiwan had managed, for so long, to keep out of each other’s hair.
And how do they do it? What motivates them? Enlightened self-interest, that’s what. Watching my cat and the fox was a perfect lesson in transnational diplomacy. Just pretend the enemy isn’t there. And then hope and pray that he never catches you with your pants down…..