Such filthy cold weather as we’ve had! I’ve been boosting my circulation with scalding hot baths and a selection of vanilla & tonka soaps. The Mizensir fragrance Musc Eternel – now selling like hot cakes at Les Senteurs – echoes this creamy musky heat. Musc Eternel has a beautiful clinging sweetness to it, like a thick fluffed-up bath towel that’s been laid up in the airing cupboard with baby powders, oils and intimate lingerie. Simultaneously comforting, innocent and seductive.
What you really need in wet raw weather is a cat or a dog at the end of the bed; or curled up asleep on your chest. I never slept so well in the afternoons as when I had Mr Kitty or Dolly the Pug to hand. It’s not just the entirely relaxed weight and soothing involuntary noises emitted by that furry bundle on your lap. It’s the rhythm of the breathing synchronised with your own; and the perfectly clean smell of a small animal.
Now a swanky new hotel and spa for dogs and cats – 7 star, apparently, whatever that may mean in this context – has opened in Beijing. The hotel has the unusual name of ‘SmellMe’. This strikes me as a bit odd and not especially attractive, but I suppose it is acknowledging the primary greeting between all animals. You know, that apparent “kissing” – or, at least, rubbing of noses; and the uninhibited peering and sniffing beneath tails.
Since the nationwide “awareness campaign” for neutering, you don’t smell cat nearly as much as you used to when out and about. I remember childhood sofas which possessed a certain unwished-for redolence. My grandfather had a flock of wilful cats who did as they pleased. Thomas used a Georgian sugar basin as his private amenity. Flowers of the asparagaceae family – bluebells for instance – are used rather warily in perfume because to many people they suggest felines at their least attractive. A bowl of hyacinth bulbs past their best emit a most disconcerting smell. A gardener said recently that she found the heavenly scent of that pink winter vibernum to be unpleasantly similar to that of dog detritus, once the blossom decays.
“Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds”.
It’s the old story: we howl and shout when our dogs “roll in something” on the beach or down the fields and yet the line between the disgusting and the delightful is so fine. Very few of us would revel in every one of these scents and tastes: Stilton cheese, ripe pheasant, tripe, over-blown lilac, tuberoses, ambergris – and coffee beans that have known the digestive tracts of a civet.
A couple of years ago I wrote in this column about the very common city problem of a mouse in the house. I imagined then that scattering cat combings in the place where vermin congregate would have a deterrent effect. Now I learn it is specifically the reek of cat urine that scares off the intruders: so I pass this tip on. Sufferers may wish to re-think their policy – or rely (as previously advised) on peppermint; and the intercession of St Martin de Porres.
Several of the most famous fictional cats in our literary culture are creations of Beatrix Potter. Mrs Twitchit and Mrs Ribby are immaculate and industrious animals. They run grocery stores, cook, launder and cuff their kittens when the tinies muss their best bibs and tuckers. They eat mice to be sure (mixing the meat with bacon in pies) and – like Miss Moppet – tie rodents in dusters and “toss them about like a ball”.
But, now that I know what I know, I wonder about the passage in ‘Johnny Town-mouse’ in which the cat plays a darker and more realistic role¤. Johnny offers a his guest from the country a place to lay his tiny head:
‘The sofa pillow had a hole in it. Johnny Town-mouse quite honestly recommended it as the best bed, kept exclusively for visitors. But the sofa smelt of cat. Timmy Willie preferred to spend a miserable night under the fender’.
O! Those well-remembered old couches of my youth: ‘I believe there’s been a cat on here…..”
¤ the mice feel faint at the thought of this diabolical cat. She kills the canary and we can see her kittens (naked as nature intended) capering all over the scullery table.