By Matthew Clarke
During the Easter vacation a friend sent me a copy of Richard Surman’s College Cats of Oxford and Cambridge. It was also around this time that Percy became a familiar figure around my college, Stephenson’s. The opportunity to write about our feline visitor, as a welcome escape from my summative essays, proved too good to miss.
It seldom takes long before the cats of any university town find celebrity with its academic community. Badger, the Cathedral dean’s ginger tabby and Durham’s most well-known feline, is throughout the year found gracing the head of Kingsgate Bridge, met with the awe of many an adoring pilgrim venturing up the Bailey. Over the past few years, a truant black tabby called Percy has been following in Badger’s paws, making himself a familiar figure around the ‘Hill’ colleges and departments.
Lockdown can make Durham feel like quite a lonely place and Percy has unfailingly helped to connect those who needed it most
Percy can often be found anywhere south of Prebends Bridge. On approaching Elvet Hill Road, one may catch a glimpse of his ashen hind limbs before he hides beneath the hedgerows of St Mary’s, or the dense bed of daffodils outside Trevelyan. When the rabble of students proves less than tolerable, Percy makes himself welcome at the School of Government and International Affairs, with staff furnishing makeshift beds from packaging so that he can take the odd afternoon nap.
Heading onto South Road, Percy finds leisure around Stephenson and Josephine Butler College, with the vast hilly greens of Howlands and their abundance of rabbits proving a great place for a bit of hunting practice. This sometimes unsettles the passing student, attempting fruitlessly to pamper the disinterested and otherwise occupied cat. Otherwise, Percy will typically welcome the casual undergrad’s interest, happily being greeted with a bowl of milk as one porter at Stephenson attests to being his tipple of choice.
It seldom takes long before the cats of any university town find celebrity with its academic community
In the wake of lockdown, the mass exodus of students, and the abrupt end to Epiphany Term, it seemed as though Percy’s jaunts would be in vain. It did not take long, however, before Percy won the favour of some postgraduates at Stephenson, who quickly discovered his taste for fresh tuna. The charity inevitably encouraged Percy to take liberties, with students spotting him loitering around the entrances to college blocks, patiently waiting for a student to provide him with a snack and a roof for the night.
Percy’s means of bargaining proved ineffective when, on one occasion, he presented a small rabbit he had not long caught to a group of displeased faces. Students may have resisted Percy’s temerity, yet now many appear to find pouches of Whiskas making their way into the weekly shop, and feel significant concern during Percy’s habitual long bouts of absence. On learning of his favour with the students, a dedicated Facebook page emerged for students to share their sightings, helping his owners to keep track of his more extensive excursions.
one may catch a glimpse of his ashen hind limbs before he hides beneath the hedgerows of St Mary’s, or the dense bed of daffodils outside Trevelyan
This has undoubtedly gained a particular significance amongst students during these recent months. Lockdown can make Durham feel like quite a lonely place and Percy has unfailingly helped to connect those who needed it most. While his visits prove more seldom at my own college, there is still the knowledge that Percy is out there helping someone feel, if only or a little while, a little less alone.
Image: Matthew Clarke