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Man's Best Fiend

Catlike DIY

A long-ignored home improvement project awaits. The tools and materials are at the ready, and there’s nothing to stop you. Then enters a cat named Jeeves.

Credit: Bokeh Burger

Cats are not famed for their ability to use a power drill, but Jeeves is willing to give it a go.

It’s loud, I warn him. It’ll frighten the life out of you.

“Nonsense,” he growls. “I’m perfectly accustomed to the noisy gadgets you play with all day. I’m not scared of a power drill.”

Jeeves lives over the road from us. When his owner is out, which is quite often, he comes to our house looking for company.

Fine, I shrug. Suit yourself.

I hand him the drill, he switches it on, then runs up the curtains in terror as it roars into life.

Welcome to home improvement with cats.

 

I don’t see Ella much these days. Ella is a dog who also lives over the road, but in a different house. She used to take me for walks every now and again when her owner was working. But her owner has retired now, and Ella gets plenty of walks without my help. We see each other across the road, and she runs over to give me a licky doggy greeting, but we don’t, you know, hang out.

These days, I hang out with Jeeves instead.

Jeeves is a lonely tabby. He’s lonely because he grew up in a busy household full of teenagers and his cat brother Tango. Then the teenagers became adults and moved out, and Tango died suddenly thanks to a blood embolism that left him paralyzed and in agony. That’s why Jeeves seeks out company. He’s used to having people and other cats around.

It didn’t take him long to realize that since I work from home, I’m all the company he’s ever likely to need.

If I don’t let him in, he finds a way in regardless. Usually, when our son opens the front door to head off to school. Jeeves is on the doorstep, waiting.

He likes to yowl outside my window.

“LET ME IN,” he shouts, first thing in the morning. “LET ME IN. LET ME IN. LET ME IN.”

If I don’t let him in, he finds a way in regardless. Usually, when our son opens the front door to head off to school. Jeeves is on the doorstep, waiting. He leaps inside and makes a run for the living room, where he can hide under furniture. He knows that if I’m not in the mood for company, or that if for some inexplicable reason I don’t want my fleece jacket torn to shreds by claws, I’ll probably pick him up and chuck him outside again.

That doesn’t deter him. As he leaps in, he always makes the same sound. “Ha. I’m in. I knew you’d let me. Ha.”

Since Tango died, we’ve been more tolerant of Jeeves’ little invasions. He just wants some company. Sometimes, it’s hard to throw him out.

He’s become a part-time part of the family. He watches us. If given half a chance, he jumps up on to our laps. Not always at the most convenient moments, it’s true. He doesn’t seem to appreciate that humans don’t want cat company when they’re eating supper.

“I could dip my tail in your food,” he offers helpfully.

No Jeeves, we tell him. Get off.

 

Today, Jeeves is watching me as I put up a shelf. He’s sitting upright, his tail curled around his front paws. Sometimes he chases his tail. Sometimes he chases specks of dust. He’s that kind of cat.

“It’s not level,” he observes.

Jeeves, I haven’t even put it up yet.

“Well, it won’t be level,” he decides.

Why not?

“Because you’re rubbish at this sort of thing. Putting up shelves, fixing things, hammering nails, screwing screws. You’re hopeless. Your shelf will be wonky. You might as well admit it now.”

I resist the urge to pick him up and fling him out the door.

How many shelves have you ever put up, then? I ask.

He ignores me.

“What does that do?” He flicks his tail at the spirit level.

It’s a spirit level. It helps me check that things are level.

Well, I’m not one of those men, I reply, getting irritated now. Most cats are good at sleeping all day, but I don’t see you doing much of that, do I?

“And that?”

It’s a bradawl. It makes small holes, in walls and in wood.

“Why are you such a disaster at DIY?”

I don’t know. Some men are good at it. Some men are not. Everyone’s good at something. This is just not my thing.

“Most men are good at this, though.”

Well, I’m not one of those men, I reply, getting irritated now. Most cats are good at sleeping all day, but I don’t see you doing much of that, do I?

With my tape measure in one hand and a pencil in the other, I measure up from the floor to get the correct height for the shelf. Then I measure up from the floor again. Even though the two measurements are identical, I can see immediately that the two pencil marks I’ve made are not at the same height.

This is what causes me problems, I tell Jeeves. Even when you measure stuff really carefully, you still get stuffed by wonky rooms. This floor isn’t level.

To demonstrate, I put my spirit level on the floor in front of Jeeves. The bubble wobbles momentarily, then sits, perfect, in the center of its container, indicating a floor that couldn’t be more level if it had been built by robots.

Jeeves flicks his tail, ever so slightly, but says nothing. This is cat sarcasm.

I measure some more. Perhaps I wasn’t holding the tape measure still enough. Eventually, I have two drill targets, the correct distance apart and the correct height above the floor. A line drawn between them is level. I double-check everything.

“Perhaps you should just stick to messing about on Twitter,” observes Jeeves. “You’re not bad at that.”

Did I ask for your opinion? I snap.

“No one ever asks for a cat’s opinion,” he replies, mildly. He licks a front paw and wipes it repeatedly over one ear. “But we provide opinions anyway.”

 

Once his initial terror of the hand drill has subsided, Jeeves returns to watch me drill the two holes required to get this shelf on the wall. He sits further away, though.

The instant I apply the drill bit to the wall, the wall itself seems to leap sideways. Not far—just a few millimeters—but enough to ensure that my hole will be drilled ever so slightly to the right of the point I’d so carefully marked out in pencil. I swear, using language more obscene than is really necessary. But foul swearing, like losing tools and sarcastic cats, is an inevitable part of home improvement projects in this house.

“You know you need four holes, don’t you?” says Jeeves from the other side of the room.

Yes, I lie. I knew that.

I consult the instructions diagram. Of course. Four holes. I put down the drill and pick up the tape measure again.

“You should go on a course,” says Jeeves. “Home Improvement Basics. After that, you could do Home Improvement Improvers. If you get that far.”

Shut up, Jeeves.

“I had an uncle who was quite good at bicycle repairs,” he boasts. “Very good with a spanner and an Allen key. He got his tail caught in the chain once, though. That was nasty. All oily.”

How about you, though? I ask. How many bikes have you fixed up?

“A few. My uncle did most of them.”

Our DIY is more to do with mouse bones, bird feathers, and hairballs. We have to do a lot of storage management, you know.

And how many shelves have you put on walls? How many times have you put up a bannister rail on a stairwell? How often have you put flatpack furniture together, or filled a hole in cracking plaster?

“Well, never. Cat DIY is different.”

How so?

“Just different. Our DIY is more to do with mouse bones, bird feathers, and hairballs. We have to do a lot of storage management, you know.”

There’s a bang as I drop the spirit level on the floor, and Jeeves twitches instinctively.

“It’s fine. I’m calm.”

You scare too easily, I say.

“No I don’t.”

Not just you. All cats. You jump at the slightest little sound. You’re afraid of everything.

“Well to be fair, everything’s out to get us. Lots of things, anyway. We recite the Litany Against Fear if necessary.”

The Litany Against Fear? Are you telling me you’ve read Dune?

“Of course I’ve read Dune. All cats have read Dune. Think about it. Sandworms: best cat toy ever.”

Right. Of course. The guest cat being sarcastic about my home improvement skills is also a science fiction fan. How stupid of me not to know that.

 

I pick up the two metal brackets from the floor, and line them up with the holes. They match. Just. With some effort, the screws go into the rawlplugs and the brackets are on the all. They don’t look right.

“Not level,” says Jeeves.

Shut up, I tell him. It will be.

The small shelf is designed to sit atop the brackets, held fast with two more, smaller screws. I have to bend myself in half to squeeze underneath the shelf and insert them. Then, of course, the shelf starts jumping about. I can’t reach up to hold it still, because I’m squashed underneath.

Do me a favor, Jeeves. I say. Come and sit on here.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” he says. “I do have some dignity.”

Please. Come on. All you’ve done is sat there licking your arse and being sarcastic. Couldn’t you just help me for a moment?

“No.”

I put down my screwdriver, unsqueeze myself from the nook I’m in, walk across the room, and pick Jeeves up.

“Hey! Put me down! Not fair!”

He feebly waves his claws in the air. He’s happy to help really. He’s just being obstructive because he’s a cat.

“Don’t cat-handle me! I don’t like it!”

Recite the Litany, I tell him. And sit still, just for a minute.

I plonk him on the wobbly shelf and immediately start tightening the screws underneath. The shelf wobbles some more, and Jeeves’ eyes widen as their elongated pupils narrow. He stands up, as if surfing, riding the movement from below.

One more turn of my wrist, and it’s done. The screws are tight, the shelf has stopped moving.

There. Wasn’t hard, was it? Thank you, Jeeves.

He stands, uncertain, all four paws spread out. He walks gingerly from one end of the shelf to the other, then looks me in the eyes.

“Not level,” he says, before sitting down to lick his genitals.

biopic

TMN Contributing Writer Giles Turnbull finds it hard to write a meaningful bio, despite being a professional writer for some 15 years now. That’s horrifying. It’s frightening. You can visit him online at gilest.org. More by Giles Turnbull