Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A streetfighter retires to the country

When he died suddenly last month Roger Fox left behind a grieving family, a wide circle of shocked friends and comrades, and a nine year-old black and white cat called Mannheim. I've made this post because a number of people have asked me about the fate of the moggie since the death of his owner.

I adopted Mannheim the kitten after I found him wandering about outside the University of Auckland library one cold night back in 2000 (I'd just borrowed a book by the Anglo-Austrian sociologist Karl Mannheim). I didn't actually have a place where I could keep the critter, so he bounced from one friend's home to another for several years.

In half a dozen different inner city streets, Mannheim learned to scrap with cats twice his size for control of strategic assets like sofas and verandahs. A sojourn on my parents' farm ended when the vet warned my mother that the feisty newcomer was driving her well-bred cats insane. 'Either that moggie goes, or the others must be put out of their misery', he warned in an especially grave voice.

Mannheim has never met another cat he doesn't want to scratch or bite, but he gets on well with humans, and it was Roger who was able to give him a stable home. With his authority uncontested by other felines, 'Heimy' thrived under Roger's erratic but affectionate care. For his part, Roger came to treasure a cat he had only reluctantly agreed to house.

Mannheim's fondness for sleeping in late appealed to Roger, who was often rendered drowsy in the morning by his lithium. Visitors to the bungalow at 18 Mulgan St, Windsor Heights reported finding man and cat stretched out side by side on the balcony, soaking up the late morning sun. When they felt more energetic, Roger and Mannheim would walk to the corner dairy together. Mannheim would wait politely outside, hoping for a piece of salami, while Roger bought the paper and discussed its front page with the dairy owner.

I remember Roger informing me one day that Mannheim had become a Buddhist. 'He listened very carefully while I recited the two hundred and twelve precepts', Roger reported. 'He was flicking his tail, too. I really do think he understood.' Mannheim became familiar to the scores of Busshists and political activists who visited Roger's home for cups of lukewarm tea and lectures on the evils of the Third Way and the virtues of the middle way.

Roger's fondness for Mannheim sometimes expressed itself in a morbid fear for the tough tomcat's health. As the cat's original owner, I was the recipient of many breathless reports on his supposed health problems. Roger would phone to complain that Mannheim must be gravely ill, because 'he's eating everything I feed him, and still wants more', or that he must be 'profoundly upset about something', because he had broken one of those two hundred and twelve precepts by slaying and eating a sparrow. Roger was a very familiar face at the Mount Roskill veterinary clinic, and I would regularly receive e mails like this:

re: cat

Dear Scott,
The cat has got something definitely wrong with one of his ears and he's going to need about thirty dollars worth of drops for it I think (I have to check this but I'm pretty sure that was the approximate figure) I have already spent $40 on consultation, $20 of which was the money you gave me. I'm hoping to get the medicine soon because whatever is wrong seems to be bothering him quite a bit although his overall condition seems to have improved since he had a tooth extracted.

I will hear from you,

It was sad to have to visit Roger's house on the day of his funeral and find Mannheim moping about meowing outside. Skyler and I tried to settle the scrapper at our place, but he was soon up to his old tricks, and I found myself breaking up cat brawls on the footpath of our street at two in the morning. Mannheim always looked pooped, and I felt like a boxing ref stopping a bout early for health reasons.

Luckily for me, and for the cats in my neighbourhood, the lovely Anne came to the rescue and offered Mannheim a new home on the seventy-acre farm she runs just south of Auckland. Anne recently lost her own cat, so Mannheim will have the run of her historic farmhouse and the undulating paddocks that surround it, as long as he can avoid picking fights with the odd retired racehorse or stud bull. When Skyler and I left him at Anne's, Mannheim was sitting on a windowsill purring, after downing a saucer of unpasteurised milk. I figure the old streetfighter has earned himself a retirement in the country.


Blogger Skyler said...

Great to here he is catching rats and living the high life on the farm. He was full of personality and good with humans but he terrorised our cat Smudge (who is now back on friendly terms with us - after not purring and scratching us while Mannheim was around).

10:13 am  
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5:03 pm  

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