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By February 12, 2006July 14th, 20192 Comments

For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stor­ies of the death of kings
(Richard II, 3.2.155–156)

Marv HeadThe sleepy Taranaki town of Hawera has much to recom­mend it: a “spec­tac­u­lar” water tower; some delight­ful people (I would ima­gine); an old pa site. It is also the birth­place of one of my old­est and best friends.

Just after Christmas 1987 the fam­ily were return­ing from a trip to New Plymouth. Brother Jack had been prom­ised a kit­ten but so far none had been secured. Stopping off to look at the afore­men­tioned old pa site Jack and sis­ter Amy decided against the first hand exam­in­a­tion of an import­ant aspect of New Zealand his­tory in favour of vis­it­ing the Hawera SPCA situ­ated up an adja­cent track. When the seni­or mem­bers of the fam­ily (fath­er Ted, moth­er Barbara, me) had fin­ished tramp­ing across the muddy field we rejoined the juni­or mem­bers to find Jack cradling a little ginger furball in his arms.

Up the track we all went to the shed con­tain­ing the Hawera SPCA and while Jack was sort­ing out the paper­work for his little ginger thing I (fool­ishly?) thought I would per­use the cages – win­dow shop­ping only, obviously.

I think it was the first cage I looked at (it was def­in­itely the last) that con­tained an equally petite, multi-coloured, yellow-eyed kit­ten that looked me straight in the eye and said “Don’t leave me here on my own.” I was power­less to res­ist. Those hyp­not­ic powers would reduce stronger people than I to ruin before he was done.

He cost me a dol­lar (plus $5 for the box) and the two of them came home with us that day. I named him Marvin, after the legendary soul sing­er Marvin Gaye (I was assum­ing that there would be an Aretha at some point). For the first few nights he slept curled up in the crook of my shoulder which was an endear­ing habit until he grew too big for my shoulder and star­ted lying across my throat.

I was still liv­ing at home at this point so Marv’s first home was in the East Wing of the fam­ily estate at Broadmeadows1). But not for long, as on Wellington Cup Day 1988 I moved into my first flat, in Burnell Avenue in Thorndon2. This was my first taste of respons­ib­il­ity for anoth­er liv­ing thing and with­in days the little beg­gar had already gone miss­ing. After he’d been gone for more than a day and I was almost beside myself Amy turned up, walked out into the back garden and called his name. Out of the under­growth popped his little head, he said “hello” and then trot­ted out to meet us. Lesson: don’t worry about feel­ing like an egg when your cat goes miss­ing – sing out!

It was in Thorndon that he demon­strated two of his most defin­ing char­ac­ter­ist­ics: nev­er tak­ing a back­ward step in a con­front­a­tion and an abil­ity to gen­er­ate an ugly abs­cess in almost every wound received. Several times in his life he could be seen limp­ing around with what looked like a com­mon drink­ing straw hanging out of his thigh as all that yucky stuff slowly drained away.

The next flat was in Crieff Street, Northland3 in 1989. He went adven­tur­ing from there too – this time for three days. I really thought I’d blown it this time. Then, one night, I heard the dis­tinct­ive yelp and went to the front door to find a ball of black mud with yel­low eyes. He must have fallen down a drain or some­thing as he looked like one of those seabirds res­cued from an oilslick. I remem­ber think­ing how small his head was without the fur. The chal­lenge was to get him clean. Diligent as he always was about his groom­ing, this would require a lot of help. There was no bath in that flat, so I had to hold him under the shower and try and get the mud off before he ripped me to shreds.

Marv gets excited watch­ing the crick­et (Season 2003–2004). pic by DS

I was offered the use of an old bach in Plimmerton4 and decided that a life by the sea would be the very thing so we packed up again and drove on out there. Marv and I had what seemed like a whole hill­side to ourselves and he made full use of it.

Cats are sup­posed to be able to sense things like earth­quakes. Their super-sensitive ears can sup­posedly hear the rum­blings before we can. This was put to the test in Plimmerton one after­noon as the little house shook (I think a pic­ture even fell off the wall). I looked across at the sleep­ing fig­ure on the bed to see him wob­bling like a jelly, com­pletely obli­vi­ous to our impend­ing doom.

But his hear­ing was­n’t all that shabby: I amused myself for years by softly call­ing his name while he was asleep and watch­ing one of his ears rotate in my dir­ec­tion like a satel­ite dish. And he could hear a fridge door open­ing from 100 yards.

Ruth Richardson’s “Mother of All Budgets” meant that I could no longer sub­sid­ise my artist­ic endeav­ours with the dole (not only was my bene­fit cut but I became a “youth” again). This meant an adjust­ment of fin­an­cial pri­or­it­ies and a swift move back to Broadmeadows5 and the bos­om of my fam­ily … Here Marvin reac­quain­ted him­self with Gus (his cous­in from Hawera) and Scott, Amy’s bruis­er of a tom cat.


MEDIC!!! An ori­gin­al art­work by Jo Carr (biro, twink and Dominion: 1992).

On the jour­ney from Broadmeadows to Upland Road in Kelburn6 in late 1991 he got out of his box. I thought he might force us off the road but, apart from a dodgy spell between the ped­als, he spent the time look­ing out all the win­dows, one at a time, until he found the per­fect spot, on my lap with his front paws on the steer­ing wheel. Strangely enough, he nev­er enjoyed the box or a cage again – after all would you go back to being a pas­sen­ger when you’ve already driv­en the car? At the flat behind the fruit shop in Upland Road, John Leigh inven­ted the Cat Gun (hold both rear paws in right hand, both front paws in left hand, hold cat with rear end braced against shoulder and vibrate back and forth while mak­ing the sound of an auto­mat­ic weapon fir­ing) and exper­i­ments were con­duc­ted in how low to the ground a cat can be when you drop it from upside down and have it still land on its feet. (answer: pretty low)

I think I might even have car­ried him around the corner to the next flat on Plunket Street, Kelburn7 (no car by now which is a story for anoth­er time). This was a move up mar­ket for us both (“mmn, car­pet … mmm, shower”) and it was here that his repu­ta­tion for being a very big boy was born. The good life was too good for us both, of course, so we hit the road again for a crum­bling old house on Willis Street8 that Dan Davin had lived in once (and James K Baxter had frequented).

Living in a big drafty old villa with sev­en oth­er people was not what it was cracked up to be and Marv hated being so close to all that traffic. So a few short weeks after we arrived, Marvin, me and Jeremy Anderson moved to Ellice Street, Mt Victoria9. Jeremy and I fell out over a stolen fridge (at this par­tic­u­lar time that story is out of all con­ten­tion) and it was time to move on again.

It’s 1993. Another month, anoth­er sub­urb. This time Marv and I dis­dained oth­er people alto­geth­er and went for a nice, sunny one bed­room flat up about 125 steps in Hataitai10. The dis­tance from the road meant that he could really spread his wings. One night, after lock­ing myself out, I was forced to walk the three quar­ters of a mile or so to Hataitai Village to find a phone box (young­er or rich­er read­ers note the absence of mobile phones in this story). The phone box was out­side Burger Wisconsin and while I was on the phone I saw a rust­ling amongst the rub­bish bags in the alley beside the res­taur­ant. Marvin looked up, saw me, and gave me a look that said, “What the hell are you doing here?” which was not a mil­lion miles away from what I was think­ing myself. How dare he have a secret life!? AND I had to carry him all the way back and, as has already been noted, he was no lightweight.

More money prob­lems meant we could not stay in Hataitai. Luckily the amaz­ing Lee Hatherly hooked me up with someone who needed a house-sitter for a delight­ful first floor flat in Mt Victoria11. I was work­ing at the Paramount (cheers, Kerry) so there was a little bit of money for the first time in ages. Yes, Marv really did know how to land on his paws. It was on Queen Street, Mt Victoria that Marv met the great love of his life. RMH had actu­ally come around to see me but I was out so she left me a note that said, among oth­er things, “Your cat is really cool”.

Merry KissmyAss

Merry KissMyAss. An ori­gin­al art­work by John Leigh (biro and Christmas Card: 2003).

Of course, the house-sitting was only tem­por­ary and there were anoth­er couple of Mt Victoria flats – one beau­ti­ful (Austin Street12), one dingy (Roxburgh Street13) – before I got my first ever prop­er job and RMH and I could con­sider find­ing a place together.

It was while we were at Roxburgh Street that Marvellino had his first exper­i­ence of flat­ting on his own. I had broken my ankle play­ing foot­ball and RMH decided that I was in no fit state to look after him so he should come and live with her at Bidwill Street, Mt Cook14. This must have been a real high-point for the boy – doted on and spoiled by a flat full of women. Cathy, even took him up to Brooklyn Primary for Show and Tell! He was a star by then, happy to sit out on the con­crete gate­post at the bot­tom of the steps and let the world stop and tickle him under the chin. When Marv, RMH and I moved out to sub­urb­an Ava15 (or Petone if you are a Real Estate agent) in May 1995, a gap was left in the social world of Mt Cook that has prob­ably nev­er been adequately filled.

The most hor­rif­ic exper­i­ence of his (and pos­sibly my) life happened one Saturday after­noon out at Graham Street, Ava. I was just say­ing good­bye to RMH, who was off to work at the Paramount, when I heard a door slam and then the most extraordin­ary noise, scratch­ing, yowl­ing, ter­ri­fy­ing viol­ence. I thought some oth­er cat had got in the house and Marv was see­ing them off with his usu­al gusto. We got inside to find that the wind had slammed one of the interi­or doors shut just as he was walk­ing through, trap­ping his tail about an inch and a half from the tip.

The door was jammed tight and he was under­stand­ably ready to bite the end off so he could get away. I man­aged to get the door open and he shot away and hid under a bed. When we got him out the tip of his tail was con­nec­ted by skin only. We wrapped him in a tow­el (no box) and took him to the Lower Hutt vet. A few days later he came home with a stumpy tail and his usu­al insouciance. I was dev­ast­ated but he was fine. His stump was just anoth­er mark of his char­ac­ter. If he was on your lap and enjoy­ing him­self the thwap, thwap of his tail could be bru­tal­ising. And he could eas­ily knock a wine glass off a cof­fee table just by walk­ing past.

RMH and Marvin (fore­ground), front room Akiraho Street, 2000. pic by DS

A year later work took me to Auckland and even­tu­ally Marv fol­lowed. He arrived in Auckland on the day Princess Diana died and he stayed with a couple of my work­mates on Mt Albert Road16 while RMH and I found some­where suit­able in the waste­land that is Auckland, thence to Pt Chevalier17 and in 1999 Wembley Road in Balmoral18.

By 2000 RMH was back in Wellington and Marv and I were suf­fer­ing the cold and damp of Akiraho Street in Mt Eden19. Actually only I was suf­fer­ing. He had plenty of under­growth to fos­sick around in and no traffic to worry about.

In late 2000 it was time to bring the Marvster back to his spir­itu­al home of Wellington. Following RMH’s advice based on the trip up, I arrange a vet check-up and some tran­quil­isers for the car ride home. We con­sidered an aero­plane for about five seconds but remem­ber­ing that this was an anim­al that con­sidered a vac­cum clean­er or a rust­ling plastic shop­ping bag to be the 10th circle of Hell we thought bet­ter of it.

I gave him two tran­qs in Auckland and com­menced the jour­ney south. By Meremere he was scratch­ing furi­ously at the door of the cage and by Huntly he had ripped one of his claws off get­ting out. Like Broadmeadows to Kelburn ten years before he bounded around the interi­or, check­ing out the view until com­ing to rest on the gen­er­ous Volvo 164 par­cel shelf. For a moment I thought that this was a good res­ult. If he was happy, I was happy.

Then I real­ised that at some point I was going to have to stop for gas. What if he jumped out, ran across the fore­court, into the bushes, head­ing for home (or wherever he thought “home” was after 19 dif­fer­ent flats)?

I had to get him back in the cage some­how. And do it without open­ing the car door. And hope­fully get the third and final tran­quil­iser down him at the same time.

I can­’t remem­ber how I did it but I can remem­ber where. Just into the north­ern indus­tri­al out­skirts of Hamilton I found a side road. Him or me, I do remem­ber that. As we got through Hamilton with him still scratch­ing furi­ously at the bars of the cage I real­ised that if the third tranq did­n’t kick in soon this was going to be a very long jour­ney. Luckily he quietened down by Putaruru and was asleep by Taupo. The rest of the trip was really boring.

We pulled in to Wellington that even­ing headed for Marvin’s 20th flat. Old friend Megan Huber had offered him a bed for a couple of weeks while I fin­ished sort­ing stuff out in Auckland. I dropped him off, watched him wobble around for a while, fall over, then have a good laugh at his expense. I knew he was in good hands and that, at last, he was in Newtown20.

Osama Bin Marvin (Christmas 2002). pic by John Leigh

For the last three and a half years Marvelicious has been liv­ing in semi-retirement in a sunny Newtown flat21 with views out over the ugly, low-rent sub­urb­an bully cats who have a tend­ency to dis­respect an older, wiser, classi­er, well-travelled, easy-going par­agon. Despite his long-recognised stance of nev­er tak­ing a back­ward step he was also not stu­pid and mostly restric­ted his out­side time to when the coast was clear. It did­n’t always work – he got his ass kicked severely only three months ago and I always seemed to be find­ing scabs on him from some scrap or another.

He got picky about food, too, as he got older. Despite get­ting the best that money could buy for the last 10 years there were times when NOTHING would do. He still looked as if he could eat for New Zealand (or at least Taranaki) but I found more and more often that I was being woken at 5.00 in the morn­ing to put food in an already full bowl. It became a battle of wills and I would­n’t feed him until he fin­ished what was on his plate and he would­n’t shut up until I did what he wanted.

But he had hid­den depths. He looked around the flat and decided to attack the area he felt was get­ting the atten­tion that rightly belonged to him. He decided to piss on my CD col­lec­tion. This was a cal­cu­lated ter­ror­ist action. I’m cer­tain of it. He could­n’t reach the ste­reo but he could have a bloody good go at the soft­ware. And by Christ that got my atten­tion. Yup, I got beaten in a battle of wits by an anim­al with a brain the size of a wal­nut. There is a les­son there but I’m not sure what it is.

After the dia­gnos­is (Saturday May 8 2004 about 11.15am). pic by DS

A couple of years ago I took him to the vet because I was wor­ried about his appet­ite – the enorm­ity of it. The vet said, “Don’t worry about it. The time to worry is when he stops eating.”

On Thursday he stopped eating.

On Saturday we dis­covered he had can­cer in his intest­ine and that, at his age, there was noth­ing that could be done.

On Monday we said goodbye.

He has lived every­where I have, plus a couple more places. He has been my con­stant com­pan­ion through­out my adult life. People used to ask me, “How can you live on your own?” or “Why do you live alone?” and I could­n’t answer. On Saturday I real­ised that I could­n’t answer because I nev­er have lived alone. He has always been there, speak­ing the best English of any cat any­where. We would bick­er like an old mar­ried couple and then make up and he would lie across my throat and throttle me in the middle of the night.

He had adven­tures I can only dream of, made friends who are now all over the world, and was always pre­pared to give his love to any­one who looked like they could use it.

I am going to miss him.


Wellington, 1.06am, Thu 13 May, 2004


  • hudsie says:

    Dano, I remem­ber Marvin well, he was a lovely puss. I think I first met him in Paremata. I often think of you as I drive up State Highway 1 and look at that hill. Funny because it seems a rel­at­ively short chapter of your life.
    I did­n’t know Marvin had passed away, bet you miss him… I’m sure he would under­stand if you got an Aretha, 5 odd years is a suit­able mourn­ing period.
    I know full well you can love your second, then third cat almost as much as the first.
    cheers hudsie