Musings of a Magpie Mind: Got nine lives? Spend one of them at the top

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

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tim Schewe
Drivesmart column: Do you know someone who should not be driving?

We are currently living about 10 years longer than our ability to drive safely.

Chris Wilkinson
Chris Wilkinson column: Time to slow down to speed up

In a society where we learn (are forced?) to multitask like crazy

A COVID-19 exposure has been reported at Shawnigan Lake School. (Citizen file photo)
UPDATED: Island Health reports COVID-19 exposure at Shawnigan Lake School

Shawnigan Lake School has been added to the list of schools in… Continue reading

Peas are great to grow in the garden, but a trellis for them in an A frame shape will offer more portability and wind resistance. (Citizen file)
Mary Lowther column: Making a foldable pea trellis on winter agenda

My previous methods required starting anew every spring

Sarah Simpson
Sarah Simpson Column: Books open up a world of discovery

We try to eat dinner as a family every night. It happens… Continue reading

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All Island seniors in long-term care will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

Most Read