Monday, 7 March 2016

Malinka the Moscow cat

Next week my cat Malinka will be 13. I found her as a kitten on the snowy streets of Moscow, and brought to England when she was two years old. She’s living the dream - a wealthy benefactor and a foreign passport. 

I’m often asked how I brought her back and how I came by her. Here’s how, and a few of the highlights of her life - ie the times she lost lives, but lived to tell the tale. 

It was 2003, I was a correspondent for The Times. One evening in March, coming home from work, late, in the dark, with heavy shopping bags, I I turned off the Novy Arbat on to Trubnikovsky Pereulok where I lived, and saw, in the fresh snow, a funny looking procession: a teenage boy was taking his big dog for a walk and behind the dog, was a tiny little kitten, wobbling through the powdery snow, picking up its paws and shaking the ice from them, meeowing piteously. I understood her meeow - it was saying, insistently and desperately: “someone pick me up and take me somewhere warm and feed me, now! I will not stop meeowing until this happens!” It didn’t let up. I asked the boy if he was taking his kitten for a walk. He said no, and that he didn’t know what to do - he’d rung his mother who’d said he couldn’t bring her back to the flat - but he’d fallen for the little creature. I didn’t hesitate and scooped it up in one hand. Before going inside, I asked the boy his name - Sasha - and said I’d called the kitten Sasha - but it wasn’t meant to be. 

Malinka on the first evening I found her, March 2003, in Moscow

I put the kitten on the kitchen table and looked at it. It was the tiniest kitten I had ever seen. Huge gremlin ears and a dirty nose -  not yet weaned - its eyes were still a milky blue, later to turn green, and it was wobbly on its feet. An english friend was staying who immediately dubbed her Slinky Malinky, meaning small, but we soon realised it was a girl and the name changed to Malinka, which is the diminutive of raspberry. Little raspberry.

That first evening, when she had had enough milk, fed through a pipette, she began to wash, and lo and behold, revealed a lovely white belly underneath the dirt! 

Malinka scampered up the stairs to my bed, curled up on my pillow and fell asleep. From then on she has been a constant companion - always there when I was packing my bag to go off to the scene of a dodgy election, battle or revolution in a former Soviet state, and to welcome me when I got home, sitting on the internal staircase, ready to rub noses.

She immediately made great friends with a wide circle of Russians and foreign visitors and the International Malinka Fanclub was formed, that continues to grow to this day. It was Ilya who discovered that she liked having her belly rubbed, and Tisha who found she was a good cure for heartache - draping herself over his heart one unhappy New Year when he was cat-sitting for me. In fact, I’m sure lots of my friends were sadder about Malinka moving to London, than my leaving - but they come and visit her. Less happily, she once scratched the hand of my landlady Natasha, a pianist, and put her out of action for several weeks as the scratch became infected. 

Malinka with a Soviet submariners' flag

For me, Malinka is a connection to Moscow - I Iook at her fur and think of the snow - I listen to her contrary meeow and am reminded of the thornier aspects of Russian politics - I lie with my head on her belly and feel warmly wrapped in Russian hospitality. And of course her determination to stay alive has always reminded me of the most tenacious aspects of Russian living - the harsh climate and difficult conditions. 

Not long after she came back to the UK Malinka slipped on the roof of the flat on Shaftesbury Avenue where I used to live. She  fell six storeys on to the pavement below, just as the theatres were finishing, landing on the pavement in front of a theatre-going couple who found my number on Malinka’s collar and called me. Incredibly, after a short spell in hospital, she emerged with only a torn ligament on her left knee - it plays up when she’s a bit under the weather. 

Being extremely sociable, Malinka often wanders, and particularly likes pubs. When I lived in Oval, she would sometimes be found disporting herself, white belly in the air, in the Hanover Arms, and on one occasion was actually picked up. I exchanged her for a bottle of whisky the next day. Here on Golden Lane, she likes to go to the Shakespeare, and The Trader on Whitecross Street. Her curiosity is no less strong when it comes to other peoples’ apartments. Thanks to her I made friends with my neighbours. A year after I moved in, Jim stopped me in the street and said, ‘your cat gets into bed with my wife when I go to work every morning.’ We’ve been great friends ever since. 

So decorative is she that she has been the subject of several works of art: a badge, a t-shirt, a cushion, a painted screen, and hopefully more to come. 

Malinka the Queen by Stella Cecil

In the meantime, Happy Birthday Malinka - may I present to you some fine golden sprats! 


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  2. I'm not generally much of a cat person, but I quite like the sound of Malinka! I recently read 'The Guest Cat' by Takashi Hiraide and - although it is set in Japan, not Russia - I think you might like it (if you haven't read it already).

    1. Travels with Fortuna - are you blogging at the moment? what is your site?

  3. I haven't read that - I tried to but didn't get on very well. Glad you like the sounds of Malinks. She is a star. x