When people talk about a friend, they are usually talking about another human being. Occasionally they will be talking about a cat or a dog or a snake or a horse. But mostly people’s friends are human friends.
I love humans – well a select few of them anyway – but a lot of my friends throughout life have been inanimate, intangible or feline. When I was a young girl I had few human friends. Most humans of my own age didn’t want to spend time with me. Apparently I was a nerd, weird, stupid and ugly. But every girl needs friends so I looked around for them where I could. I discovered a wealth – a veritable treasury – of friends in literature. Books and their characters were my good friends for many years. Book characters also taught me about how humans operated and this helped me to understand how people in the non-book world worked. As a teenager I read every book I could find. Some were typical teenage fare – Judy Blume, tacky teen romance books – but others were from a deeper place. I read political books about injustice, a variety of poetry, biographies of artists and writers, science fiction books taking me to entirely new worlds. My resect for the authors of these books was vast. I wondered if one day I might write something myself and see my name picked out on the cover of a book, which of course I have been privileged to see as an adult on more than one occasion. As a teen I penned short stories and sent them to magazines with an adult readership;. I was lucky to receive a rejection slip and mostly they just disappeared into a vast chasm of ‘no’.
When I left home I discovered another friend: movies. Given that it was 1992, most of my movies came from the local video store. At that time I was a socialist and loved arthouse and political movies, usually ones with horrible endings where people died at the hands of their oppressors. I cared more about the characters in my movies than I could for many of the flesh and blood humans in my life. The films I watched reflected my mood. As I was very depressed and negatively focussed I suspect that I watched every tragic film produced in the 1990s and some time before, from Pink Floyd’s impressively depressing concept video ‘The Wall,’ to such nuggets of negativity as ‘The Reflecting Skin’ and a film I forgot the name of but which ends with a teenage girl blowing up herself and her entire family after her child abuser father returns home from prison (fun times!!)
Another friend of mine throughout my life has been music. Music can be a fickle friend whose age is hard to place. When I was a child, most of the music I liked was from the past – my parents’ stash of folk records from the 1960s which I carefully placed on the record player and gently lowered the stylus. As a teenager all my music was political – Billy Bragg, The Pogues, Kirtsy McCall, punk rock from the 1970s. As a young adult my musical preferences were influenced by popular culture of the time and the choice of my peer group – mostly drug addicts and criminals. As a nineties young person I loved anything that could be captured within the category of ‘Grunge’. I also enjoyed things like the work of the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. And strangely – for this seems to happen to most of us – I stopped paying attention to new music from the age of about 27. Recent technology has brought a range of amazing options for listening to music, from places you can download almost any song which exists to services where you can stream the same thing. I now stream a lot of music on my computer and phone and strangely I keep discovering new music which I actually rather like.
Of course the most important non-human friends I have had over the past forty years have been the kinds of friends who have whiskers and tails and say ‘miaow!’ I have had a good number of cats in my life, starting with the extraordinary mouser Smokey, then my little witch’s familiar Sensei, then Monty, Liberty (who I only had for a short while as part of a pets in prison programme in my younger and dodgier years), the quirky character Tilly the tabby and my latest feline friend, Mr Kitty. A cat can be the best friend you can have. A lot of people in my life tell me (in what they think is wisdom), ‘oh, but you’re single and you won’t have kids so Mr Kitty is good for you’, as if my little black furry fellow was a substitute for a human partner or child. A cat is not a substitute for nothing. A cat is a cat, with his own personality and wishes. I do not have him as a substitute for a human friend or partner. I have him because I love every part of him in all his catty glory.
So friends do not need to be human. I have human friends too and they have their place in my life, but the other sources of closeness I have – authors and their books, films (happier than the ones I used to watch) and music, and of course friends of the kitty variety, these are good friends too. In the past I had a very small number of human friends but the friendships I had with other things – intangible things like the characters in a book, the singers of my favourite songs – these relationships were important in my life too. I am fortunate to be blessed with an abundance of great human friends now but I am so glad that when human friends were hard to come by, I had my intangible and my feline friends to keep me going.
My current favourite feline friend, Mr Kitty