It’s two years to the week that we got Sgt Pepper and, as any pet owner will know, the difference she’s made to our lives is utterly astonishing. I can almost see you nodding in agreement there, but hang on… because we may not be talking about the same thing. I mean, obviously, she’s made a difference to our lives in that she’s completely lovely to have around, makes putting our key in the door a hugely exciting event and we simply can’t imagine a world without her in it… but that’s not what I’m getting at. I mean the other kind of difference she’s made to our lives – the difference in which we used to be self-respecting people with a reputable grasp of language and now find ourselves emptying pouches of Whiskas with the words ‘Dinner’s up, Mrs Bittenchops!’
Allow me to explain. Everyone’s got nicknames, right? Mine’s Mac, P’s is Whacker, Jamie’s is Arseface… and Sgt Pepper’s is Bitten. It’s simple enough to explain (I hope): see, as a kitten, she was a snappy little sod, scratching and biting to convey any kind of emotion from contentment to annoyance – thus ‘bitten by the kitten’ became an oft-used phrase, and Bitten became a natural nickname. So far, so reasonable. But of course it doesn’t stop there. Because, when you live in close proximity with anyone – be they human or animal – you end up calling them all kind of names other than that which they were given. Hence Bitten became Bit-bot became Mrs Bittenchops became (personal favourite) Bitten’s Mittens; just as Sgt Pepper became The Serge became Sergey Peps became Peppercorn became Pepster. Actually, that’s no explanation at all, is it?
And if you think that’s bad, perhaps you’d better stop reading now. Because our cat-craziness doesn’t just extend to ridiculous names, but also song lyrics. So, in the last week alone, I’ve been grooving in my kitchen to such classics as The Temper Trap’s Sweet Little Bitten, XTC’s Sgt Pep is Going To Help Me and We Built This Kitty (On Rock n Roll) by Starship. Add that to the reworded lyrics to The Ting Tings’ That’s Not My Name (they call me Bitten / they call me Kitten / they call me Pepper / they call me Corn / that’s not my name… etc) and I expect you’re already half way to deleting me from your phonebook.
Despite my willingness to broadcast such unspeakables on my blog (you know me – less heart-on-my-sleeve as heart-tattooed-on-my-forehead), I haven’t sailed so far past self-awareness as to fail to be embarrassed by this stuff. Trust me, I can see its preposterousness in full technicolour. Because, don’t forget, up until two years ago, I was a pet-skeptic just like my brother (my brother whose eyes can’t fail to disguise that a little part of him has died since his sister became such a certifiable loon). I mean, heck, the last my family knew of me caring for an animal was Miss Ellie, the goldfish I used to stir around in its bowl with a wooden spoon when I was two. Watching me turn from pet-pessimist to cat owner left Jamie disappointed. Reading this post will have him considering sibling divorce. (Thank god I’ve got the cancer stuff to fall back on.)
I always imagined that people spoke to their pets the way they speak to children. You know, in that sing-song voice an octave higher than they’d normally employ, extending the final syllable so it lasts as long as the sentence preceding it. (‘Haven’t you growwwwwwn!’ ‘Aren’t you cleverrrrrrr!’) The thing is, though, I speak to kids the same way I speak to adults. I don’t reserve a special voice for them, I call them ‘mate’ and ‘dude’ and tell them how much their outfit compliments their hair colour. (Actually, that probably just raises the question of how appropriately I speak to adults.) So why the crazy baby-talk when it comes to Sgt Pepper?
I dare say that if there were a child in our household, they’d get the brunt of our idiocy, too. (I’m entertained by the way I’m continually using ‘our’ in this post, sharing the responsibility for my ridiculousness with a husband who has no right of pre-posting appeal.) Because, daft as it might look when written down in this way, I don’t think there’s any denying that pet names – provided they’re not of the fwuffy-bunny-wabbit kind – are just another way of showing familial affection. It’s a rare occasion when my family call each other by our real names, opting instead for anything from ‘doofus’, ‘stoopsticks’ and ‘shitface’ to Dave and Davetta (Mum and Dad) or Big Dave and Little Dave (Dad and Jamie). (NB, none of my family is called Dave.) And so I suppose it’s little surprise that a kid who grew up being called Lisa Mac Quack has ended up calling her cat Mrs Bittenchops.
All that said, I still agree that it’s horrendous what cuteness can do to a person. Not least when they’ve had a drink. Because, of course, when there’s beer inside you, your self-check radar dwindles like a sparkler in the rain, as I discovered at the end of our fireworks party this weekend when I found myself telling my mates I was ‘just popping to check on Mittenface’. I s’pose I just ought to be thankful that I didn’t find myself referring to P as… whoa, calm down! How mental do you think I am? Hell, Bitten’s Mittens is one thing – but even a loudmouth like me knows there are some things you should never admit…