Colin Nichol remembers a friend from another world.
Once upon a time in a faraway magical place of ancient walls and castles, fortresses and secret tunnels, I stayed with friends who had a dog and a cat. We lived together in a large apartment on the edge of the city centre and everyone except the animals spoke German, French and the local dialect, sometimes all of them at once.
The animals spoke only French.
The cat was named Patate, the city was Luxembourg, capital of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, or in local formal style, Le Grande Duche de Luxembourg. We called it the grand douche.
We were a bunch of ‘speakers’ – radio announcers – transplanted from England and took refuge in our small community with our own insider commentary on the place and its people. That was fair as the locals had their own language and discussed us in our presence with no hope of us ever knowing what they were saying. To us their dialect sounded like rubbish bins being knocked around in a back alley. To them we were curiosities.
But I digress. I want to tell you about Patate, a large tortoiseshell in charge of the apartment I lived in as a guest of her owners. I got along with her very well, even though my French was not good.
One day a significant event occurred. A young ginger cat arrived and we expected Patate (that means potato, by the way) would take exception to the usurper. Not at all. She welcomed the addition to our crowded household, joining four adults, two children, one grandma and a goldfish.
The first thing Patate did was to show the newcomer around the premises. The body language was clear. With an obvious invitation to follow she led the little one around the perimeter of the apartment, along window ledges, the backs of sofas and the edges of each room until she reached my bedroom. She climbed onto my bed, demonstrating I had been domesticated … this was where it was okay to sleep. Obviously I had received approval by allowing her to occupy the end of my bed. I could now look forward to two companions.
Next she escorted her new friend to the head of the bed, onto the shelf and to the window sill. It was a little crowded there for both of them so Patate moved to the top of the cupboard on the inside of my balcony door. From there it was easy for her to reach the door handle, push it down by leaning a front leg on it and, when the door swung open, reach out an assisting paw and show her apprentice into the sunshine for a first floor view of the world. This was not a new trick. Patate could not be locked out of any room, she simply reached and pulled the handle.
Some animals live in our world, adapting to it and us. Some are unaffected and live in their own universe. Patate was in a class of her own. As cats often do she lived with us on her own terms with great panache.
It is said there is nothing as definite as a cat’s farewell: a superior wave of the tail as they disappear into the distance without a backward glance. Patate was never going to leave until nature took its course … she had it all worked out.
Wherever she may be now, I am sure she set the rules for her new home and no door is closed to her.
© Colin Nichol 2021
Colin Nichol was born in Mosman Park and spent much of his childhood in Fremantle. For nearly six years he was a leading WA DJ, compere and station programme director at Radio 6PM.
He moved to England and became a DJ aboard Radio Caroline, the pirate radio station which changed the face of broadcasting in the UK. Colin later worked with Radio Luxembourg and the BBC before joining the British Forces Broadcasting Service, working from Gibraltar and Malta.
When he returned to Australia he worked with Radio 6KY and is currently the subject of a WA State Library documentary which outlines his role in introducing Rock and Roll to WA. He became the president of the Hi Fi Club and is listed in the Pirate Radio Hall of Fame and local Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.