"Here," says my dad, handing me his gun. "Take this." It's only a water pistol, but it's the biggest one I've ever handled, and the moment feels like something of a rite of passage: a tame, rural British version of the kind of handover that might happen in American hill country. My dad's claim is that he bought the gun, which is the size of a small badger and has "AK-47" written near its trigger, to see off the large black cat that, a year or two ago, was terrorizing his kitten, Floyd. My own suspicion --particularly after he spent the whole of our 2012 Christmas family party either brandishing it or squirting it at people -- is that he just wanted a really big gun.
Whatever the case, I'm grateful for the loan. A large, muscular tabby has been bullying my own cats recently, and, since my shouts of "Hey! Go back to your patch!" and "Piss off, fur face!" don't seem to be working, I'm starting to think a more drastic approach might be in order.
We walk from my mum and dad's kitchen into their living room, where the now fully-grown Floyd -- a keen mouser with a black and white Rorschach face -- is curled up on the sofa. "Whatever you do, don't bite that cat's neck," my dad tells me. "He's just had his flea treatment." I've never displayed any interest in biting Floyd's neck, but because my dad has grown enthusiastic about that sort of thing, he assumes everyone wants a go.