Sunday, 5 June 2016

On going to a 'Cat Cafe'

Mog on the Tyne

“It is good to be a cynic — it is better to be a contented cat
— and it is best not to exist at all.” - H. P. Lovecraft


Eerie disquiet

in cartoon revelation
as you find yourself, hungover

in the twinkling sugar
of a cat café.

A sense that, maybe
this is how it ends.


Cathected kittyscape  /// scratchposts
 from where
furred sentinels condescend
to share a yawn
or malign pundits
with a look of distanced pity;
token crumb
of begrudged acknowledgement.
The heavy-handed Lennys are out again.
Here, eat my scowl.
Cats perfect rejection
as a poised art
with the same investment
that dogs so artlessly accept
the heels, leash and stick of anyone;
indiscriminately faithful
where the cat so discriminatingly departs
– tail up, aloof.
To be rejected by a cat
in a cat café is
a fair and fitting punishment
            for going to a cat café.
            You are here, I am here –
            sitting in a cat café


People want this.
The world's first cat café, Cat Flower Garden (貓花園) opened its doors in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1998. From 2005 to 2010, seventy-nine cat cafés opened across Japan. Some sources suggest that a feline-friendly establishment opened in Vienna, 1912, to assure Austria’s place in the history of the cat café as something of a vanguard. These same sources, not entirely limited to but nonetheless available via the solid reliability of Wikipidea, claim that Vlladamir Lenin was a regular customer at this Austrian café, during a period of exile in 1913. Cats can be a calming influence, especially when aspiring to liberate the proletariat. In 2014 Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium opened in London to significant media attention, boasting a two-month waiting list.  We are in Newcastle, sitting in Mog on the Tyne (est. 2015).
People want this.

Charlotte, beside me, is squirming
*barely contained cat-euphoria*
glowing fuzzy radiance. Unhinged.
And over there, our friends,
‘Other David’ & ‘Blue-haired Beth’
are gurning happiness from a window-seat
in this floss-spun Disney of the soul.
People, as I’ve said, want this.
Underneath a powerpuff mural
of a purple cat in a top-hat
brandishing a mug of tea
a family is holding court.
This is entertainment; wholesome
tactile and snap-happy
day-care for those beaming sprogs
untroubled, in such nasal innocence,
by allergies or the precautionary
pocket of anti-histamines. But –
if you insist (you being I, being Dave: me)
on being a dickhead
and asking for paper to write on,
to write a poem in the cat café!
Don’t lord it over this humble reservoir of goodwill,
don’t take cheap refuge in cynicism –
for you too ache for ‘Stan’ to like you.
(Stan is a cat, something of a café mascot
characterized by his endearing pink
squidge of tongue that sticks out
with involuntary charm.
A charm that betrays his readily clawed
and resentful nature – Stan has just
pawed a right-hook
to scold a child’s curiosity – dim interloper
of the whiskered high-rise.)
Yes, I want Stan to like me.
But there is more, and its not just the hangover
or my disconcerting need to shit
(an impossibility in a café
so small, so intimate)
that makes of this cheery ‘experience’
a plastic smile.
It is less a café
and more the staged approximation
of a café, as if devised
in the anodyne void
of studio-cleaned surfaces
and bright colours
familiar to a kind of
Children’s TV –
somewhere between
a sanitized hug of sunshine
and the button-eyed sock puppet
of a nervous break-down.
Despite this pins and needles
strain of Happy, there is that guilt.
Guilt that I should not be cynical
in a cat café. Why? Why bother?
Why not play and love and stroke
and joke and tweak and and and –
court the cat’s approval…      

A father stares
at his smartphone
his precocious child
explores magic
moggy kingdom.
The father scrolls
a listless
unseen feed
as his child proceeds
to laugh and chase
and flex her inquisition,
so far
from the grace
and studied boredom
of each café-
cat in
languid cushions
            of repose.



Though they are not hassled [ ‘DO NOT PICK THE CATS UP’;
illustration of startled cat and two disembodied hands
            BAD HANDS!]
they exude a weary distaste, a kind of long-suffering
endurance in the grim fluffed humouring
of this –
a crass catwalk of cat-life.
              Although, Charlotte reminds me,
they are ‘rescue cats’, and this café acts as a form of sanctuary –
so for fuck’s sake cheer the poem up. Enter into the spirit

as you would a panopticon
in which the mewing prisoners
are also the discerning guards.

No central hub
no reliable circle of cells,
no central spectator
and no
wheeling ranks of the surveyed.
Just the bristling
that those looked-at
have seen you seeing and see
how to play the game.
That self-same anxiety
that cools your
(surprisingly affordable)
vegetable and red-lentil soup
and reduces taste to a welcome
is also in the cat.
Yet, rather than anxiety,
The cat has serenely mastered
its nagging
that this
systemized showcasing of
cute’s prowess
is no more
than a brothel
one that frowns
on “sealing deals”
and swaps seedy
for quirky; trouser-poke
to eager stroke worshipping
of trafficked tabbies)
this nervous disposition in the cat
is sublimated;
cloaked in suave indifference.

Traumas are deflected
and re-emerge

in postures of cool detachment; that air

of effortless agency

by the flurry, pounced
paw-swipe and bounce
that skittish starts, leapt as if in spasm
to reclaim a levity
of youthful mischief.

These are customary cat café lies.


Charlotte is saturated with cat-love,
‘Blue-haired Beth’ is alive with her own azure
and ‘Other David’ is taking pictures, zooming
in on noble Stan, lens turning, turned and re-turned
in a near-religious fervor. (People want this.)
I have finished my soup, cat-shaped ipod speakers
elaborate the ghosts of tinny jazz, and the father
pockets his smartphone, signals to the child
that this disinfected utopia is no longer sealed
from the street outside and its passersby
that enumerate, in shuffled steps, the banality
of this day continuing, mundanely grey,
into another hour’s consideration.
They, yes they too, must leave the cat café.
I feel silly and guilty and still in need of a shit.
I have, not unpleasantly, whiled away
This precious cat café window
with a bleary tribute to my own denial.
It reminds me
of when I wrote
that poem in Pret a Manger
called ‘Regret a Manger’ about
what… I don’t know, the difficulty
of retaining self-respect
when writing a poem in a Pret.
The stench of your own bourgeois
flatulence coupling with sliced avocado.
I remember telling a friend about that moment
And him telling me I’d be
the first with my back against the wall
when the revolution comes. That seems fair.
So, on penning my queasy distrust
of the cat café I might reasonably be shot
(in service of a greater cause and my own
risible insistence in shrugging complicity).
But that tangent changes nothing,
just as writing this poem does not change
my enjoyment of the cat café.
The undeniable welling of fun
unravelling its ball of heart string
that I then elaborately re-knit,
fraying its darling pastel thread
through a laboured cat’s cradle
knotted in the central theme,
a grain that agitates
upon the oyster’s soiled tongue –
that there really is

a sense, in the twinkling sugar
of a cat café,

a sense that, maybe
this is how it ends.



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