Cat’s Tails 1

Speculation was rife amongst the yogis. In a monastery where the main job – no, the only job, was to watch the mind, it would seem that mindfulness was most clearly not present during the proliferation of theories and opposing views expressed with good natured vociferousness.

Sat on the board walk outside one of the women’s dorms, swatting away mosquitoes and sweating in the steamy heat we talked.

C kicked us off. “It’s the dogs that do it, I’ve seen it all over Burma.”

“But there are dogs all over India and it’s not obvious there!

“Well, I think, and I’m sad to say – it’s done by humans.”

“But why? What’s the point?”

“…they break the tail so they can’t jump…”

“But why wouldn’t you want a cat to jump? It’s natural behaviour.”

“That’s what I mean, it’s obviously the dogs chasing the cats…look there’s Princess.”

We stopped to look as she stalked past on long skinny legs.

Princess. Such an elegant, shy cat. White with a few patches of striking brown and black markings around her green eyes. She had the heart shaped face of a part Siamese. And a tail that most often provoked a new round of useless speech. The tail to end all tails. A gas pipe of a tail, a monkey wrench of an appendage. Personally I thought it looked like a shelf bracket waiting to support a load of books.


“Well I hope it wasn’t a human who did that” said G the dog theorist “because that looks really cruel.”

“I don’t think it hurts her. I’ve seen her grooming herself and she’s quite firm with it.”

They all laughed but I meant it. It was the tenderest thing to observe. Princess holding down the stiff, useless object with a soft paw. Licking the paw that then rubbed the tail clean. Nothing strange about it to her, just something that belonged to her and needed the same degree of care as any other part of her.

Princess’ was the queen of tails but really there wasn’t an average or nondescript tail in the whole place. The monastery counted about 200 meditating humans and 30+ cats living in (or outside in the case of the cats) it. Tails were kinked or twisted or sometimes bobbed like a Manx cat. Sometimes they looked fine until you looked a bit closer and saw the proportions weren’t quite right. A tail was too thick at the end. There was a lack of taper. Or it was just too short. I’d never really appreciated that cats have perfect proportions until I saw a whole community of them that didn’t.

“It’s inbred into the orange ones”.

There were a whole tribe of marmalade cats outside our dorm, thick furred and languid. Fond of lying across the full width of a stair to be narrowly missed on descending. I’d named them all. They were the subject of another rumour, patently untrue but presented as fact that I can’t quite recall. Something to do with 80 % of marmalade cats were to be found in Burma just as 80% of redheads were to be found in Scotland.

You heard all sorts of strange views in the monastery from people who hadn’t been within 8,000 miles of Scotland.

“Yeah, it’s clearly genetic.”

“You can’t prove it though…” The steam was running out of this round of the conversation.

“Princess looks like a tank” A said idly.

“A donkey with saddlebags. When is she going to pop!”

I chipped in “She let me stroke her belly yesterday. I felt these little bones and maybe a foot and I could see these ripples under her skin. It was amazing.”

“Amazing” they echoed.

“She’s so huge she’s going to have at least 6 kittens”. And we were off again on a further round of speculation.


A few weeks later the argument was settled for good. Or at least temporarily until the next group of Yogis raised it. Princess had 3 large and well formed kittens and lay in the cardboard box we’d provided for her looking glazed with love. It took a day or 2 before we got a good look at the kittens. The largest one, a grey and white striped male, lay feeding with his tail clearly visible. Sweet and small as it was – it was a clear and distinctive right angle!

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