Tim Dowling: I’ve outwitted the cat, the tortoise and the coffee maker

I wake up in the morning with the cat standing on my chest, miaowing in my face. “It’s six,” I say. It’s actually 7, but the cat can’t tell time.

“Miaow,” it says.

“No,” I say. “I’m not doing that.” I roll over. The cat leaps from the bed and stands by the door.

“Miaow!” it says. I get up and follow it downstairs. By the time I reach the kitchen the cat is already sitting in front of the cupboard where the cat food is kept.

“Miaow,” it says.

“Shut up,” I say. I take the cat’s specially prescribed food, aimed at promoting renal health, out of the cupboard and fill its bowl. The cat stares at the food, then at me.

“Miaow,” it says.

“This is the food now,” I say. “This is your diet.”

“Miaow,” it says.

“It costs four times as much regular cat food,” I say, “so if I were you I’d…”

“Miaow,” it says.

“Or you could eat nothing, which is also a sort of diet,” I say. The tortoise comes out from under the sofa and looks up at me.

“What do you want?” I say. The tortoise takes a step in my direction. There are some grapes in a colander by the sink. I grab one and toss it to him. He stops to watch it roll past his left foot and then continues toward me.

“No, you don’t,” I say.

“Miaow,” the cat says.

The tortoise has a varied diet, but only two great loves: expensive annuals and human flesh. That’s why he is making a beeline for my bare feet. I step over him on my way to the fridge, and hear the scrape of his shell against the floor as he slowly turns round. By the time he’s reached the fridge I have already retrieved a mug from the cupboard, and am heading toward the coffee machine.

My recent attempt to repair our leaking coffee machine has rendered it slightly more broken. It can still make coffee, as long as you apply strong downward pressure to the little brass nut sticking up where the knob used to be, ideally using the handle of a wooden spoon, because the nut gets incredibly hot (as I have learned to my cost) and if you let go at any point during the operation, steaming water jets across the worktop and on to the floor. I don’t always want coffee that badly, but I do now.

I turn the machine on and depress the nut with the wooden spoon left nearby for that purpose. As I wait for the little green light indicating the machine is ready to dispense coffee, I hear the sound of the tortoise making a 45-degree turn somewhere in the vicinity of the cupboard where the mugs are kept.

“Uh-oh,” I say.

“Miaow,” the cat says.

“Honestly,” I say. “Does absolutely everything have to be about you?”

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It takes about a minute for the little green light to come on – more than enough time for the tortoise to cross the room and bite my big toe, especially if he takes a short cut underneath the kitchen table, as I now hear him doing. After a moment’s consideration, I bend my left knee and extend my right leg behind me.

My heel grazes the leg of a kitchen chair, which I hook with my foot and drag toward me. I hear the tortoise’s shell thunk against the wooden floor – an indication that he is accelerating. While still maintaining downward pressure with the wooden spoon, I spin the chair round and climb up on it, assuming an undignified half-crouch, bending slightly forward to keep the brass nut fully depressed. The green light comes on. I press the button next to it and the machine grinds to life. Coffee begins to trickle into my cup.

The tortoise emerges from underneath the chair. He stops, blinks and turns his head. His concept of space-time only extends about a foot above his head. From his point of view the toe has simply disappeared.

“Hah!” I say.

“What are you doing?”

I look up and see my youngest son framed in the kitchen doorway.

“Making coffee,” I say. “Want some?”

“Miaow,” the cat says.