I have an eight and a half month old Maine Coon kitten called Beachy Hodge, who already tips the scale at upwards of fifteen pounds and stretches four foot from nose to tip of tail. Beachy is the Mexican for cat or pussy (sic), and Hodge was the name of Dr Samuel Johnson’s cat, immortalised in the following passage from Boswell’s Life.
‘Nor would it be just, under this head, to omit the fondness which he showed for animals which he had taken under his protection. I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily, one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, ‘Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;’ and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, ‘but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.’
Later, Boswell tells of another episode:
‘This reminds me of the ludicrous account which he gave Mr Langton, of the despicable state of a young Gentleman of good family. ‘Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats.’ And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favourite cat, and said, ‘But Hodge shan’t be shot; no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.’
My own Hodge is clearly the equal of Dr Johnson’s paragon, but an unfortunate thing happened to him the other day. We possess two cat flaps, situated at either end of the house. I have upgraded one to the ’small dog/large cat’ variety - I have yet to upgrade the other from that used by my late feline companion, and Hodge’s predecessor, Beachy Bede (named, of course, after the Venerable Bede). It remains resolutely XL, rather than the clearly needed XXXL.
Well, on this occasion, Hodge was coming in from the back garden using the, shall we call it, smaller, cat flap. He was in a hurry, as, still a tom, he tends to get chased away by the local neutered queens, who have unfond memories of a certain ginger tom (now sadly deceased) who used to try it on with them before their fall from maternal possibility. Hodge, though still a kitten in all but size, clearly hits their top note.
Well, he was hurrying to such an extent (okay, let’s call it ‘bolting’) that he threw open the cat flap and launched himself through it like a submariner through an escape hatch. But, as with Gerard Hoffnung’s unfortunate bricklayer, gravity got the better of the cat flap, and before the full four foot length of Hodge’s overcarriage could safely pass though it, the trap shut, locking Hodge’s tail in what clearly appeared to him to be the jaws of an angry queen. The first my wife and I knew of it was the most dreadful caterwauling, that sounded, for all the world, like a cat fighting itself (and having considerable success in so doing). We ran to the scene to find Hodge curled on his back, his tail firmly locked in the jaws of the cat flap, and beating at himself with his paws. The problem was compounded by the fact that he was so incensed that something had bitten his tail and was continuing to hold it in a vice of steel that he wouldn’t let us near him, but kept on howling and twisting like a ball of Texas tumbleweed in a snowstorm. After being scratched a couple of times, I was quietly musing on taking a swing at Hodge’s tail with my machete when my wife - always good in a crisis - hammered the flap open with one of my thumbsticks. Hodge launched himself across the room, still imagining that he was being pursued by the local MILF. We caught up with him in the kitchen near his, yes, well, water feature (the equivalent of a Maine Coon’s security blanket). Readers, you will be pleased to know that Hodge’s world class tail was still intact after the incident, and that he seemed little the worse for wear (although undoubtedly emotionally scarred and forever afterwards jut a little chary of invisible feline females with large teeth).
End of tale.
PS: There is an excellent statue to Dr Johnson’s Hodge (with oyster) outside his master’s house at 17 Gough Square, London. Our Hodge will one day have his own statue too, probably involving a cat flap.