This Side of the Pond

Notes from an uprooted Englishwoman


August 1, 2019

You may be wondering about my opinion of Boris Johnson, the UK’s newly chosen prime minister, but I’m afraid I cannot offer it. I am deferring my judgment until we hear from the government’s true barometer of the great, the worthy and the unwelcome.

Until this bastion of good taste chooses to place himself upon the lap of the premier, I cannot give him my support. I speak, of course, of the current holder of the prestigious title of Chief Mouser of the Cabinet. His name is Larry, and he is a cat.

Not just any cat, either. Larry’s residency at No. 10 Downing Street has now outlasted two prime ministers and could well extend past a third, which makes him more important to the day-to-day business of high office than anyone else who passes through the hallowed black front door.

Larry the Chief Mouser mostly naps in sunny spots, but is still the most popular individual in British politics. On the government’s website, his day-to-day responsibilities include “contemplating a solution to the mouse occupancy of the house”, which he says is “in the tactical planning stage”.

There has been a mouser in the prime minister’s residence since the sixteenth century, though obviously it hasn’t always been Larry. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, in the time of King Henry VIII (the one with an excessive number of wives) kept his cat by his side while performing his functions as Lord Chancellor.

Larry does not yet boast the record of having the longest known tenure. That was Wilberforce, who kept the vermin away for four different prime ministers including Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher.

Larry’ predecessor was Sybil, whose exit from office caused quite the national scandal because everyone thought she’d been secretly put down. It turned out that she just didn’t like living in the city and had been sent to the countryside in Scotland.

That happened in 2009 and, two years later, viewers of the evening news were alarmed to spot rats in front of 10 Downing Street for the second time in a row. Clearly, we needed a new chief mouser, and Larry was selected by then-prime minister David Cameron from Battersea Dog & Cats Home, one of Britain’s most beloved rescue centers.

His occupancy through several prime ministers works in his favor when it comes to popularity. A study performed at the University of Manchester revealed, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the British public tends to be fonder of the Chief Mousers appointed by prime ministers they support. In the study, participants were shown a picture of the mouser appointed by Thatcher and either told the truth or that he belonged to Tony Blair.

You can guess the outcome: Tories liked Humphrey much more when they were told he belonged to Thatcher and Labour voters preferred him when told he was Blair’s. The lesson here is to turn down appointment as chief mouser unless you have confidence in the human occupying Number 10.

Due to his clever timing, Larry is by far the most popular Chief Mouser we’ve ever had, at least in terms of news coverage. He has also developed a name for himself as a bare-knuckle scrapper.

He’s only ever accepted the presence of one other cat on Downing Street: Freya, who moved in next door after being reunited with then-Chancellor George Osborne. She’d got herself lost some months before and her time on the streets had made her hard as nails, which Larry appeared to respect – at least enough to permit Freya to take on partial mousing responsibilities.

But in 2016, a new cat moved into the Foreign Office, and the war began. Palmerston was, is and shall always be the arch nemesis of Britain’s foremost rat-ridder.

The two scrap under things, on top of things and even within the walls of Number 10. Palmerston once snuck into the prime minister’s residence and had to be shooed with a broom before blood was shed.

Their most vicious fight occurred on the spot from which prime ministers generally hold press conferences, which I assume was intended as a metaphor. The press, at least, appear to have considered it the most interesting thing that happened on Downing Street that day.

Unfortunately, the statistics are not on Larry’s side. Don’t tell him I told you guys, but a freedom of information request in 2017 proved that Palmerston has caught a lot more rodents. An anonymous source has since described Larry as having “a distinct lack of killer instinct”.

Despite his laziness, Larry rules the roost inside Number 10 as much as he does on the street. According to ex-Prime Minister Theresa May, there are certain seats he expects to sit on, and he will not brook another buttock on his perch.

This is because Larry has developed the admirable quality of treating everyone with the same amount of respect, be they world leader or man on the street. Unfortunately, that level of respect is best described as “disdain”.

For example, when President Trump arrived in his armored limo, Larry decided it would make an excellent sunshade. He played havoc with the president’s schedule by refusing to move until he was ready to do so, because that is the way of cats.

I don’t believe he was forcibly removed on that occasion, but I do know he was hauled off by the cops on the day of May’s resignation over fears he would upstage the premier as she made her big announcement.

Larry has become a symbol of stability in a time of turmoil for Britain. Meanwhile, they say you can always assume someone is a good person if your dog takes a liking to them and I dare say cats are even more discerning. The leader of a country should always be held to the highest possible standards, which is why it’s Larry’s opinion on Boris Johnson that really matters.


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