April 05


Cat Television by A. F. Harrold

As I type this I’m sitting in my study, at the desk, tapping on the keys of my computer keyboard. To my right is a window that looks down into the garden. There’s a man stood up in next-door’s garden, on top of a sort of shed thing. He’s got a power drill and is screwing things down.


It was either last year, or the year before (I forget exactly), when they started building the shed-thing he’s clambering over the top of. At first we didn’t quite know what it was. It was like a large wooden cage, with trellised wooden walls, that they built onto the side of a normal shed.
Once they’d fixed a roof in place (a heavy blue tarpaulin on one half, a silver net of chicken wire on the other) we began to guess at what they’d made, and it turned out a week or so later, our guesses were right. They’d made themselves an aviary, a birdhouse.


They filled it with pigeons, but not the normal ones you see eating chips in the street. These were sleek, handsome, bright eyed chaps, real pedigree pigeons from Pakistan, bred not for racing, but for show.


And boy, did they put on a show.


Within days of them being introduced to their new home we started noticing our cat Douglas was spending more time outside. As were the rest of the neighbourhood cats.


Without meaning to our neighbours had built a cat television in the garden.


The pigeons were safe, the walls were sturdy and the chicken wire roof was strong enough and the holes small enough, to keep the cats’ claws at bay, but that didn’t stop the cats laying on top of it and staring, longingly inside. Or they’d sit on the fence between the gardens and stare longingly through the aviary’s trellis wall.


If you’ve ever had a cat, and if you’ve ever seen that cat sit on the windowsill indoors and watch the birds outside, you may well know that curious, funny, silly noise they make. I call it chittering. You may have your own name for it. It’s a noise of frustration, of desire, of dreaming and longing. It says, ‘I wish I were out there.’ It says, ‘Come over here, I want to eat you.’ It says, ‘Oooohhhh! Biiiirrrrdds!’


That was the noise that these poor pigeons had to put up with all day as they got used to being the stars of these cats’ daydreams. I wonder how they felt?


Have you ever watched a cat dream? There’s nothing quite like that moment when they’ve fallen fast asleep and they start twitching. Their paws shudder, minutely, their whiskers twitch, their ears flicker. And you know, deep inside the dark of their brains, they’ve worked out a way to open the door to the aviary, that something magic is happening inside their heads, that they’re telling themselves stories.


The story might be as simple as, ‘I’ve caught a bird. Now I’ve let it go. Haha! I’ve caught a bird again.’ But it still counts.


A better writer than me would now collect together the strings dangling from bottom of the balloons of the things I’ve just told you and tie them together with a clever knot that will make it mean something more than the sum of its parts. But I’m not a better writer than me. I just wanted to tell you about the cat television in next door’s garden.


Douglas is no longer with us (a car did for him last spring) but Susan and Vincent, our other cats, they like the cat television, too. I imagine the two cats that appear in my new book The Imaginary would probably enjoy it, too.


Now, go buy the book, because that’s what this has all been about. It’s a handsome book with pictures (of cats, among other things) by the amazing Emily Gravett, and it’s almost your friend’s birthday. I can’t think of a better present, a book, after all, is a bit like a cat television for humans. And if, after you’ve spent all afternoon staring into it, you fall asleep and start twitching, then I wish you pleasant dreams.


A.F. Harrold – Reading, England, February 2015

A.F. Harrold is an English poet. He writes and performs for adults and children, in cabaret and in schools, in bars and in basements, in fields and indoors. He was Glastonbury Festival Website’s Poet-In-Residence in 2008, and Poet-In-Residence at Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2010. He won the Cheltenham All Stars Slam Championship in 2007 and has had his work on BBC Radio 4, Radio 3 and BBC7.  He is active in schools work, running workshops and slams and doing performances at ungodly hours of the morning, and has published several collections of poetry. He is the owner of many books, a handful of hats, a few good ideas and one beard.






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