When I was six I had a parka coat, a dark blue from the Army & Navy store. It had a warm quilted interior and somewhat synthetic crusty outside to shield me from the weather's loathsome prospect. It also had a hood with rabbit fur trim. Soft and smooth to the touch, it gently tickled my cold cheeks on winters days sending little pimples of excitement up my spine. It even smelt warm, and could be stroked for hours in the absence of real hot blooded living pet form.
Until it got wet. Then it took on the appearance of the proverbial drowned rat, and smelled not much better. It's velutinousness drenched and shattered revealing the tough leathered grey rabbit skin, plasticated like a dog chew, crudely stitched in to the artificial fabric. It's limpness mocked me, and the grey straggley fur made me look like something spewed up from beneath the Freeling's swimming pool in Poltergeist. The first and last time I have ever worn fur.
I've lain on it, though, many a time. Again, from childhood, I remember my grandmother's living room sheepskin rug. A dense pure white fleece that smelt smokey from her open fire, and excited her Jack Russell every time it wandered over it. I began to think it was doing it on purpose. (Unfortunately as the dog aged, it's capability to hold it's bladder grew less and less). But I understand the dog's excitiment. Even now, despite myself, I find it hard to resist the touch of the bought fur. There is a woman in my office who has been yearning for the cold weather to snap, specifically so she can wear her fur coat. Its wear is excused by the notion that being vintage, it is not perpetuating the modern trade. And I concede that is looks luxuriant, and I want to run my hands over it. She hugs it to her face and extolls its warmth, but I cannot help but proffer that was specifically the reason for the animal to have it in the first place. I prefer my fur on living things.
It's all a round about way to talk about my cats. The interestingly monikered Misty Hymen and Anastasia Beaverhausen (I'm gay, what did you expect? General Flump and Skittles?). Bought at an exceedingly tender age from a Russian flop-house in Bethnal Green, their beauty to me knows no bounds. I was their surrogate for a good few weeks, all hope of a natural weaning dispensed upon with my arrival to view them. They, and their two siblings, bounding around a tiny room, crammed with beds and a limited floor space, already being given adult food, and not anywhere approaching litter trained. She, the cat's mother, paid them not a blind bit of notice and despite her pedigree had adopted a decidedly East End approximation of motherhood. It took a while for them to settle, to realise where their food was, to fathom that the toilet was in one place only. They were freaked by the scale of my flat, and I recall the day Misty took her first tentative steps away from the skirting board and ventured into the corner of the room. It made me weep with joy. Her reason for moving? She wanted to be stroked.
They're seven years old, now, and the novelty has never worn off. With the unpredictable consistency that only cats can bring they both approach at an excited rate, a deep full-bodied purrr signally their advance, and I am always happy to oblige. Their softeness unmatched, their smell - a warm just baked shortbread, an accumulation of all the times I've already touched them.
I am intrigued by all forms of downiness. I regularly freak my manager in meetings. In her "Take a letter, Mr. H" moments, I arrive with pad and deeley-bopper pen. It's crest engulffed in a flourish of fluff and soft fake fur. She laughs every time (or titters at the repetative nonsense) but it's a comfort, a pacifying and thoughtful aid to me. Not professional, maybe, but an enhancer of my professionalism. I cannot stop touching it. In the same way, I cannot pass a supermarket display of ripe peaches without running my fingers across their skin. I will never tire of stealing pussy willow from a tree and stroking the back of my hand, and cheeks, and the bliss of caressing, and having caressed one's own fur - the fur of a man.