There’s an ancient, ridiculously rough-and-stony farm track at the end of my road (it’s so riddled with stones and thousand-year-old carelessly strewn Roman debris left behind by bored Roman teenagers that it really ought to have an unmissable disclaimer sign at the entrance warning daring joggers they might break both their ankles and legs and telling them where to crawl to for help/shelter if and when that should happen) and today I was jogging along it, free as a bird, wondering what the hell I’d do if one of these mythical large wild cats turned out to be real and jumped out from behind a bush and threatened to tear me to shreds (or what I’d do if it actually did start tearing me to shreds, but I preferred the first thought – much as my sense of machismo was ashamed to admit it). Luckily, there aren’t many bushes down the track. If there were then I doubt I’d feel as comfortable about risking breaking both pairs of legs and ankles on it.
Most days, I can go a full 24 hours without the subject of big cats coming up — 24 hours is usually my limit. Any more than that and I feel compelled to mention it in passing to a stranger or shout “Essex lion!”, just to start the debate again, which usually begins and ends with my logic about their existence being victimized, but so what, we all know they are definitely real. But weirdly, later in the evening, while visiting my grandparents, the subject of these mysterious and much-joked-about wild cats came up again. I can’t remember who mentioned it first, but it was somewhere between driving tanks in the War (the ones Granddad was on had tea and coffee-making facilities, including a hole in the floor to crap through, which gave away your movements, literally, but was infinitely better than shitting yourself in a humid and cramped armoured prison-cell of a vehicle), the state of the country (fucked, but nobody actually used that word), capital punishment (let’s not go there) and mocking our greyhound (real family fun), who recently cut herself and was licking her wound and discovering that the tea-tree oil we had smothered all over it tasted absolutely hideous. There you go, some free pet advice for all you dog owners out there: dogs hate the smell and taste of the stuff, so shove it anywhere you don’t want them to lick. And please, don’t make any dirty jokes.
Let’s move on: it turned out that Granddad was a big-cats-believer. Me, I’d always thought Granddad would struggle to get his head around this important subject, but, as it turned out, Granddad had been thinking about this and forming his own opinions probably before I was even born!
The story went like this, with me adding a large amount of embellishment here, seeing as if I didn’t it would sound much too simple and lack atmosphere, and everyone knows you can’t have a big mythical cat story without atmosphere: one day, while playing golf, Granddad and his buddies came across a sand bunker which had a highly unusual paw-print imprinted in it. Before we go any further, let’s first clarify what constitutes my definition of highly unusual: it made every one of Granddad’s comrades, who were not the kind of men to make something out of nothing, go “bloody hell”, “shit!” or simply stare at the paw-print with the exact same look of unbelievability and doom that a modern male teenager might have on his face if Cilla Black spontaneously appeared in his bed naked singing Surprise, Surprise.
In other words, the paw-print was freakishly big – Granddad made a fist to show the scale, and looked me in the eye to show he wasn’t mucking about – and this meant one of several things. Let’s use a 1 – 10 scale, 10 being most likely, to show what I’m thinking. Either someone had gone to the time and effort of recreating a paw-print and there was no big cat (10, there are sados around, aren’t there?), someone had let their Great Dane loose on the golf course (1 – you’d surely have seen marks in the sand to show where its immense vagina or penis had trailed beneath it), or there really was a wild cat on the loose (10, and if you say otherwise then you’re calling my Granddad a liar, so there).
The only thing that irritated me about the story was that Granddad hadn’t told me sooner — together we could have been a real force to torment the naysayers with. So there, big wild cats exist. My Granddad says so. I win. Anyone who doesn’t agree can kiss both our arses.
Note: if you click the first link, you’ll find professor Stephen Harris can kiss my arse too. Although at least he half agrees.