Updated with photos 13 May 2012!
You have to understand South Africa to understand my feelings with regard to street-front houses. Over there, space is plentiful, and it was only in the city centre of Johannesburg that I ever saw houses that weren’t separated from the street by a wide pavement and at least a small front garden. You can imagine my horror when I moved to Ireland to find houses with front doors that opened right onto the street. “Never,” I promised myself. “I will never ever live in a house like that.”
I should mention that I’m sitting here writing this in my front room, at my desk by the window. If there wasn’t glass in the way, I could spit on the pavement. I still have a kind of barrier between me and the world, consisting of happy-looking open, striped boxes on the inside windowsill. One is for needlework stuff, one for stationery, another for electric cords and plugs, one for odds and ends, and two are for cats.
It’s clear at a glance that we’re ever so slightly different from the norm. Instead of the standard pristine beige or white blinds, our house is a riot of colours. Bright green in one window, dark pink in another, then the aforementioned striped box display in the third. A sunny yellow front door frame, with a fat pink metal heart hung in the half-moon window above it. Street-facing houses typically have some kind of pretty decoration on the windowsill – brass horse statues, flower arrangements, artful pots. My house? Well, we have cats. Ginger, tortoiseshell, black and white, classic mackerel tabby, white and tabby. Yes, we have six cats (two are torties). Often, there’s one in each window, but their favourite is downstairs, right by the street.
They started sleeping on the windowsill long before I put the boxes there, but only one at a time, on a folded cat blanket I put there when I realised they liked the spot. I noticed people would often smile as they walked by, looking at a sleeping cat. We live between a primary and a secondary school, and it was amusing to see the cool teenagers sometimes stopping and cooing at the cats as much as the youngsters did an hour earlier.
Last week, as part of an effort to organise a work corner for me as I embark on a study journey, I got the boxes. They were not intended for the cats. Instead, I put the cats’ blanket in between them, on a small piece of wood extending the windowsill so they would be more comfortable. No doubt any cat owner will know excactly where this is going.
They shunned the blanket. Instead, they wiggled their way into the one box that wasn’t too filled with other stuff to also fit a cat, leaving its sides bulging. Now, instead of one cat at a time showing any interest at all in the windowsill, they’d queue for the box, of course planting their furry bottoms all over the desk where I’m supposed to be working.
I’ve had cats for a long time now, so it took less than a day for me to bow to their will. I cleared the boxes, removed the little platform, installed a new platform that extended the whole width of the windowsill, and gave up one of two bigger boxes in the set which I’d intended to put on a shelf. Again, I should have known better. Half an hour later, the second bigger box was on the windowsill too. The madams (all our cats are ladies, the dog is male) settled in, and the world was good.
My cat display has had a surprising side effect. People can see the cats and a small part of the desk from outside, but no more, so I can watch them unseen as they walk by. My heart has been lifted time and again as people stopped, stared, cooed at the cats. Mommies are by now used to having to stop for their little ones to screech with delight at the sight of the organised, boxed cats. Just today, an old gentleman eating an ice cream broke into a big grin and stopped to look at the furry beauties. Shortly after, a smartly dressed lady did the same.
I’ve changed my mind about living in a street-facing house. It’s delightful to see people approaching our window with blank faces, and pass it with a smile, or even laughing, and to know I gave them that. Well, the cats do, but, ya know, I did put the boxes there. Eventually. At their insistence.
Well done, cats. You knew best, after all.
Update: The cats are becoming quite the attraction in our street. A grandpa with a gaggle of grandchildren had one of them trying to convince him the sleeping cats were not real, that you buy them in the toy shop (this is true, you can buy very real-looking sleeping-cat-replicas). Penny put an end to the discussion by waking up and shaking her head. I came home from walking Adam (the dog) to find someone taking a photo of the cats with their iphone. The crowning glory was when, a few days later, a proper photographer came to snap the ladies in their boxes. Better and better.