15 JUNE 2002, Page 56

Cat wars

Jeremy Clarke

For his birthday, I got my landlord a carrier-bag full of lion dung. I'd heard a programme on Radio Four about how to keep cats out of your garden. This chap was so fed up with cats using his garden as a latrine he'd sought help. Like my landlord, he would ideally have liked to catch his neighbours' cats in gin-traps and then suspend them by their necks from his washing-line as a deterrent to others. But the radio people got a spokesman from the Cats' Protection League on to suggest some humane deterrents, all of which he tried for a week.

In his heart the Cats' Protection League man was against deterring cats from doing anything. But he reluctantly conceded that there were a few unimaginative souls who abhorred cats. At the end of a week's trial, the most successful of his largely futile suggestions was to spread lion dung in the garden. The zoo keeper from whom I obtained the stuff said that since the radio programme he'd been inundated with orders. He couldn't say whether it frightened cats or not, but he said it did wonders for roses.

My landlord isn't a keen gardener or anything; he hates cats on principle. It's an obsession with him. We have a simple choice, he says. We can have cats in the garden or we can have wildlife. What chance do our song-birds have, he says with mounting anger, with 7 million cats in the country? The noun 'cat' is always suffixed by an obscenity, the only time he ever swears. Finding yet another dollop of cats' faeces adorning the lawn, however, renders him temporarily incapable of the power of speech: rhetorical, profane or otherwise. When he can speak again, he sometimes invites me outside to inspect it and comment on the volume. Which admittedly can be surprisingly prodigious.

Since moving to the town from the coun try, I admit I have been staggered by the sheer number of cats knocking about and their insouciance. They act as if they own the place. I don't see them, as my landlord does, as an axis of evil, but I keenly support his low-intensity war against them. His last humane deterrent was an elaborate mesh of fishing-line stretched tautly between pegs in the front garden. I helped knock in the pegs. The only victims of this so far, however, have been the landlord and myself on Jubilee night. Previous ineffective humane deterrents have included plastic bags tied to the shrubs, plastic windmills and pepper.

The lion dung was not an unqualified success. We stacked a neat pile in the centre of the back lawn. The morning after, daylight revealed a single unbroken cat turd deposited close by, like a cheeky pawn putting a king in check. Then a visiting child got some lion dung on his sandals and traipsed it all over the house. The number of feline visitors did decline at first, then markedly increased. After this, my landlord got his air rifle out of the attic and turned the house upside-down looking for his pellets.

So far he hasn't gone as far as to open fire. But he has renounced humane deterrents and resorted to terror. The change of policy has already borne fruit. The landlord has a flag-pole in his garden. He and I were up the ladder, fixing up a Union Jack to celebrate Her Majesty's Jubilee. We were elated on two counts. First, because we'd managed finally to get hold of a Union Jack after trailing from shop to shop for the best part of a morning. Second, because raising a Union Jack, especially a big one, is intrinsically exciting when you are proud of it. Then we had another reason to be excited. Far below us, and unaware of our presence, this small grey fluffy thing with the digestive system of a buffalo was disappearing into the landlord's shed.

My landlord slid down the ladder and closed the door behind it. Then while we completed the job, being careful to get the flag the right way up, we debated what we were going to do with the cat. The landlord was all for starving it to death. I petitioned for mercy as it belonged to the lady in the house opposite, who doted on it, and might be inclined towards legal action.

We compromised.

The child who had trodden lion dung into the stair carpet had left behind one of those high-powered, pump-action water guns. He was immediately forgiven. The gun was found and primed. The landlord put on his cherished second world war German infantry helmet. I pushed open the door. Even confronted by a man in a helmet pointing a futuristic pump-action water gun at it, the cat appeared unconcerned. It stared at him with eyes as expressionless as a fish. It wasn't until the landlord pulled the trigger that I realised, and possibly the cat did too, that cats can run up walls.