Talking to Strange Cats, and Not Talking to Londoners

I don’t usually talk to people in London. Not just out of misanthropy, but because Londoners don’t talk, unless it’s to complain about the weather or the public transport system. Otherwise, it’s only tourists and crazy people who try to strike up a conversation. If you ask for directions of course, we’ll take out our headphones and turn into a walking A to Z. This is a matter of pride and Britishness. I got lost once somewhere near Bow, and came upon three menacing looking youths with ‘mugger of old ladies’ gleaming in their eyes. “Er, do you know where the 25 route goes near here?” I squeaked, trying to hide behind myself. After staring at me for a long moment, puzzled, one of them took out an old biro and drew me a map, with the bus-times scrawled down the side. Otherwise, however, books and newspapers remain fixed before our eyes.

I get asked for directions a lot actually. I know London pretty well so I usually am able to help, but my demarcation as ‘helpful-looking person’ still surprises me. I’m usually frowning and swearing at my blackberry, and not always under my breath. I have been compared to a female Malcolm Tucker, so it can’t be because I look particularly friendly. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because I’m always walking twice as fast as everyone else. I’m always late, so I’ve perfected a sort of swishing lope; I feel like Aragorn in high heels and a tweed mini skirt, off to rescue the hobbits teach small children. To the lost and panicked eye, my speed must be indicative of Geographical Awareness rather than poor time-keeping skills.

Usually though, people avoid eye contact. They’ll study the pavement, or the sky, or get their phone out just at the moment when eye contact would otherwise occur. I’ll do any one of these until I’m almost next to someone, at which point I purposefully stare into the distance because hey, I’m not avoiding eye contact. People always stare at the ground when I do this. Maybe it’s weird.

There is one exception, however. Cats. I miss cats like I imagine mothers miss their absent children. If I see one crossing in-front of me, or sitting watching me, it’s like I’ve spotted a long lost family member.  A childhood friend – I’ll do everything to get their attention and strike up a conversation. I’ll kneel down, and offer a hopeful hand. Sometimes I’ll get a quick rub, before I’m deemed not useful, or my perfume sends them into a quick retreat. If I’m lucky though, I’m their new best friend. They’ll insist on both hands being engaged to tickle behind each ear. A full-body stroke from brow to tail-tip will be rewarded with a leap and a wriggle, both front paws lifted momentarily from the pavement.

My favourite London cat is called Rocky. He’s a gorgeous long-haired tabby, with huge, blazing green eyes and Yoda-proportioned pointy ears. He belongs to a cafe in Hampstead, and I often come across him grumpily sitting on the metal chairs outside. The first time I knelt down next to him to say hello, and he realised I wasn’t just pausing for a cursory pat, he climbed right onto my lap and started purring. My heart melted. It was a chilly November morning, and we snuggled up outside the cafe for a good half an hour, my lunch appointment redirected so we didn’t have to be parted.

Rocky, pretending to be shy. Shy this handsome gentleman is not, so do say hello if you happen spot him. He’s just what a girl needs to snuggle up to on a chilly autumn day!


This is not me. But I would never leave this cafe (Source)

Moral of the story: talk to cats, not to people.


12 thoughts on “Talking to Strange Cats, and Not Talking to Londoners

  1. 🙂
    “my demarcation as ‘helpful-looking person’ still surprises me.”
    I love this line. I wonder what it is about people that makes them look this way. A couple of years ago I was on a study tour in Dusseldorf, Germany, and I was amazed by how many people asked me for directions! I was barely finding my own way around!

  2. I love cats! I have decided that the new modern mother is one who has cats, not kids. Now there is love without the talk back. Now I know my cats probably cuss me out sometimes, but since I can’t understand them, it’s all good. Ha Ha.

  3. When I was in London about six years ago, a trip that lasted only nine days (not long enough), I made splendid conversation with Londoners. Perhaps I caught them at the perfect moments. However, I did not meet any interesting cats. Unfortunately, I do not have a basis of comparison; but there is always next time!

    • I’m very jealous of your lap-cat – I can’t wait until we move back to the country and can surround ourselves with animals again. Tom’s not so keen on the ferrets and barn owls on my list, but we’ve wholeheartedly agreed on geese, and compromised on livestock (I’m allowed sheep if he’s allowed a cow). Jx

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