Tim Dowling: I’m huge in Ireland, but the cat couldn’t care less

<span>Illustration: Selman Hosgor/The Guardian</span>
Illustration: Selman Hosgor/The Guardian

It is 11.30am and I am sitting in my office shed, yawning. I have not slept well, because the cat’s attentions have reached a new level of intensity: it leaps on to the bed at 3am and wakes me by blocking my nostrils with its paw. When I pretend to remain asleep, it tries to push my eyelids up, one and then the other. This is ridiculously invasive, but the cat seems to understand that at this hour I will not cry out and risk waking my wife.

I pull the duvet across my face, but the paw keeps reaching over and in.

“Please fuck off,” I whisper. The paw finds my nostrils again, and presses. This happens every night.

Now, sitting in front of my computer, I feel as if I haven’t slept at all. My phone pulses in my pocket. It’s my wife, ringing from the house.

“Yes?” I say.

“I’m trying to find a time to coordinate diaries,” she says. “I think you might be missing some things.”

“OK,” I say. “Send me some dates and we’ll set up a meeting.”

“I was thinking about this afternoon,” she says.

“Impossible,” I say. “I will be speaking on Irish radio this afternoon.”

“Really?” she says. “Why?”

“I’m huge in Ireland,” I say.

“I didn’t realise,” she says. “How about before that?”

“Before that I will be psyching myself up to speak on Irish radio.”

“And after?” she says.

“I’ll pencil you in,” I say, hearing a scraping noise.

“How kind,” my wife says. Just outside the door the cat is trying to get my attention by raking its claws against the side of the shed, paring away at the shingles.

“Get lost!” I shout. “Not you.”

At 1pm, with no reference to our recent communication, my wife and I eat lunch together in the kitchen. Lunch adheres to a rule of etiquette long ago established by my wife, known as Silent Reading Only. Some print materials are provided – today’s paper, for example – but you are also free to bring your own, or look at your phone, so long as you don’t talk.

I complete part of the crossword puzzle while I eat, before standing up.

“I’m off to be on the radio in Ireland now,” I say.

“Have fun,” my wife says. “I’ll be in touch.”

When my wife appears at the door of my shed an hour later I have my phone pressed tightly to my ear, and a look of panic on my face. I wave her away. She circles the garden a few times, and then returns and pulls the door open.

My wife reviews some dates we’ve already agreed, then reminds me of a dinner party she never told me about

“Sorry,” I say. “That was me being on the radio in Ireland.”

“How did it go?” she says.

“Hard to tell,” I say, “because it always ends with them hanging up on you.”

“Anyway,” she says, sitting down. “Have you got your diary ready?”

“Are we doing that now?” I say. “I’m so tired!”

“It won’t take long,” she says.

“I usually like to decompress after I’ve been on Irish radio,” I say, retrieving my black diary from underneath a pile of papers. “But fine, I’m a professional, so whatever.”

My wife reviews some approaching dates that we have already coordinated: travelling schedules, a night at the theatre, a Saturday appointment at the dump. Then she tries to remind me about a dinner party two weeks from Wednesday.

“You can’t remind someone of something unless you told them about it in the first place,” I say.

“I did tell you,” she says.

“I’ll have to check my availability,” I say, turning over the next page, which is blank, and the one after that, which is blank.

My wife gives me the start and finish date of our holiday, mentions a 60th birthday party and an upcoming weekend visiting friends. In return I give her a long list of band rehearsals and dates.

“The third, fourth and fifth,” I say, “Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh.”

“I’m confused,” she says. “I don’t seem to have any of these down.”

“Tenth, 11th, 12th,” I say. “TBC, TBC, Brighton.”

“What month are we talking?” she says, flipping pages.

“April 2025,” I say.

“2025?” she shouts.“I don’t even have a 2025 diary!”

“Me neither,” I say. “I write them in the back under Notes.”

“I think we’re done here,” she says, standing up.

After she’s gone I rest my forehead on the desk for a while. When I look up I see the cat staring at me through the glass.