In my last column I tried to explain the reasons behind the British referendum vote to exit the 28-nation European Union and to guess at the possible consequences of this unexpected decision.
Of course the global financial community was blindsided by the result and went into partial shock, but the ensuing ruckus also created waves at the highest levels of the U.K. government, producing an immediate resignation by their prime minister and a hasty reshuffle among the Tory cabinet. The British pound sank to a 30-year low, and because a recession is predicted, the economic future over there now looks rather gloomy.
The new tenant at No. 10 Downing Street, the official home of Britain’s political leader, is a woman. Theresa May (who seems very much in the mold of the formidable Maggie Thatcher), will direct her colleagues through the upcoming, messy EU divorce. Once her team invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which governs withdrawals from the enormous single European market of 500 million people, they will have two years to negotiate the best trade deals available to them. But already many of Britain’s jilted partners are adopting a tough, unforgiving stance, which bodes ill for their hopes.
So these are dire times for the Brits, but there’s one inhabitant at No. 10 who didn’t lose his position or any sleep, when the previous P.M. David Cameron quit.
He has carried on much as usual, oblivious to the drama around him and is now getting used to all the new faces in his house and in the official homes on either side. His name is Larry.
He weighs perhaps 10 pounds, saunters around on four furry legs and luxuriates in the title of Whitehall’s official Chief Mouser. He’s regarded by one and all, including the policemen who patrol this very exclusive street, as a rather civil though unconventional servant, and his antics have captivated the media and the nation.
Larry’s official birth date is Jan. 3, 2007 (yes, he actually has one. It’s recorded on a blue wall plaque at the Battersea Dog and Cat Home where he once lived), but his official tenure didn’t start until 2011, when he was hastily selected from a bunch of stray moggies by Downing Street staff. The reason for this touch of urgency was that a few days earlier, during a live televised interview on the front steps of the prime minister’s residence, a couple of precocious mice had been seen scuttling around in the background! It had happened once before, so something had to be done about this unsavoury situation and the British public was eager to learn how Larry would perform.
The nation waited and wondered. Would Larry be the answer to the Downing Street dilemma? TV viewers were quickly reassured though by the mettle of this mouser, because as soon as he moved in, he was interviewed on camera and indignantly took a swipe at the reporter who asked him to pose.
His antics soon captured more hearts among the Great British Public. Cat lovers yearned for more news of Larry’s exploits, so the media camped outside No. 10 for glimpses of the fearless feline. He seemed to spend some of his time padding along the sidewalk, getting under the feet of the cops on duty, but wiled away most daylight hours, fast asleep outside the official front door.
So it was assumed by one and all that he devoted most of his nights to hunting, but it wasn’t until 2012 that Larry, to wild acclaim, made his first daytime killing of a mouse in public and dumped the little corpse on the front lawn for everyone to admire. Immediately the flow of gifts and treats from his besotted fans exploded, and the Battersea rescue people reported that Larry’s popularity had resulted in a happy surge of 15 per cent more cat adoptions.
Every year on his birthday Larry is celebrated as Chief Mouser by the house staff, who hasten to remind the country that they each contribute to his upkeep, so he is not an additional burden on the British tax payer.
And of course he isn’t the only cat on this exclusive street, because a number of senior ministers and their staff live on either side of No. 10 have cats, and Larry must occasionally take time to remind each of them that he is the dominant government appointee. The inevitable vet bills for cat repairs are fortunately infrequent.
Apparently the Foreign Office mouser who hangs out a couple of doors down, and is named Palmerston, (in memory of the belligerent Victorian prime minister), lives up to his namesake and can be a regular problem. He treats Larry with less respect than is due to his title and most of the veterinary repair bills are the result of their disagreements.
Larry often responds to the special occasions when important visitors arrive at No. 10. A recent picture of the U.S. president making a big fuss of the Brit mouser was circulated widely in the press over there and in the States, with Prime Minister Cameron in the background, beaming paternally. Apparently the Brit mouser cemented Anglo-American relations even further by presenting Barack Obama’s dog Bo with a chew toy. His fans were suitably enchanted.
Things were different though when Israel’s P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu came to call on a state visit and tried to enter the Downing Street front door, but couldn’t get past some clever blocking by Larry.
The situation was saved by a security guard who gently but firmly shoved him aside with his foot. The officer later admitted that he has to perform that function quite frequently.
The sad moment came a few weeks ago when David Cameron and his family in their Downing Street home had to bid farewell to Larry. The Brexit referendum result forced the P.M’s resignation and he reminded the House of Commons in his farewell address that as the mouser is a civil servant and not personal property, Larry would remain there to greet the new incumbent in his role as Chief Mouser.
Cameron also refuted previous media charges that he and Larry didn’t get along, by holding up a photograph of the famous cat relaxing on the minister’s lap. Members of the House greeted this reassuring evidence with cheers.
So, Britain has a new leader and a reshuffled cabinet, but Larry the cat has been oblivious to all this drama. He has apparently not expressed any opinions on future E.U. negotiations but doggedly (!) continues to do his duty, ridding unwanted visitors from the most famous residence on this heavily-guarded street.
He sometimes saunters up and down outside the other homes of the nation’s governing elite, but mostly you’ll find him curled up fast asleep at the front door of No. 10.
Larry continues to be much loved by legions of infatuated ailurophiles around the country. And while his story and this whole whimsical scenario can raise a chuckle from pet owners like you and me, we should ruefully bear in mind that unlike most of their human colleagues, there’s never any prospect of a fat pension for them when they retire from public life.
Bill Greenwell prospered in advertising for 40 years in the U.K. and Canada. He retains a passion for medieval history, marine paintings and piscatorial pursuits. His wife Patricia indulges him in these interests, but being a seasoned writer from a similar background, she has always deplored his weakness for alliteration. This has sadly had no effect on his writing style, whatsoever.