I and Claudius – Travels with My Cat

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I and Claudius: Travels with My Cat, Clare de Vries, book reviewBereavement is a great catalyst for change. It makes us stop and reconsider what we want from life and in the case of a sudden loss, that sense of ‘do it now’ urgency is enhanced. Clare de Vries lost her mother very suddenly to pancreatic cancer, looked at her job and her life in London and wanted out of both. The problem is that sometimes when you want a change, you need someone to keep you company and your friends and relatives don’t want the same things you want or aren’t available when you need them. How could she find the perfect travel companion? Enter Claudius – the perfect loyal friend to take on a road trip across the USA. ‘I and Claudius‘ is the story of their road trip – and it’s fantastic.

De Vries describes what she was aiming for as a Thelma and Louise experience – without the rape and the killings of course. What makes this book different from most buddy road trip stories is that Claudius isn’t a man – he’s a 19 year old chocolate Burmese cat who’s been Clare’s buddy since she was ten years old. Clare could do the ‘sensible’ thing and postpone her trip until Claudius dies or she could do the unthinkable and pass him on to someone else to look after and go on her own. But the concept of the life changing road trip has never been about doing sensible things. Claudius (or Claude as she most often calls him) is an old boy and he won’t last forever. If she leaves him behind there’s a strong chance he’ll die alone with her thousands of miles away. If she takes him with her, she can’t come back until he dies as she’ll not subject him to quarantine. So they set off knowing that for one of them at least, this has to be a one-way trip.

Starting in New York, the aim is to make it to the West Coast. Pacing the trip is never going to be easy; go too fast and they’ll be left wondering what to do; go to slow and Claude might not make it.

Claude and Clare have a remarkable relationship and you can’t help but love the pair of them. Does she behave utterly irresponsibly rather a lot of the time – absolutely. Does she smuggle him and his litter box into hotels with ‘No Pets Allowed’ signs on the door – of course. Does she cringe now more than a decade later when reading about the drugs and inappropriate men – very probably. Does Claude get to ride on the passenger seat without a harness or even sitting on her lap and is that really rather dangerous – yep, you bet. But doesn’t everyone who has ever loved a cat dream of taking them traveling with them as an equal and not a fur-bag in a cat box? Don’t we all long for a cat that exhibits all the ‘stay with you and not wander off when they feel like it’ characteristics of a dog even whilst we celebrate their independent ways?

“I’ve seldom read a book where I could so totally relate to the emotions that the writer was going through and I blubbed like a baby.”

Claude and Clare break all the rules – he strolls around the plane when they fly over, walks the streets with her, gets smuggled into museums and national parks in a back pack and stays home in the hotels when she goes out partying with dodgy blokes. This is a pre-9/11 book when security in the USA was at best rather lax. Clare and Claude spend a lot of time getting told off but they also come across some incredible examples of kindness to strangers. People they meet pass them on to friends and family allowing them to eke out their budget by mixing homestays with cheap motels and the occasional blow-out hotel.

The world can be divided into those who love cats and those who don’t – fortunately enough of the former exist for Clare and Claude to get away with lots of naughtiness. One thing that you can’t fail to pick up when reading this – even if you think de Vries is utterly certifiably bonkers – is that she adores Claude and he gives every impression that he’s just as smitten with her.

The inside cover of my copy has pictures of Clare and Claude on their travels. Curled up by the car, standing beneath a road sing saying ‘Welcome to Claude’ and on his last legs, standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s nothing to suggest he’s not having a great time. This book is a tale of equals – as much about Claude as it is about Clare. It’s not all plain sailing – loads of stuff goes wrong. She ships a sports car to the USA only for it to break down on the first day. They get thrown out of hotels and have to sleep in the car which she narrowly misses getting stolen by a couple of good looking con men. But all those things she can deal with – it’s when Claude gets sick (which happens often) that we feel Clare’s pain.

If you’ve ever had an old cat you’ll have gone through the horrible situation of having to decide when they’ve reached the end. We know this story has to end with Claude’s death – there is no other way it can play out and we’re told that from the beginning. We also know that there’s a high probability that Clare will have to take the decision of when enough is enough. We’ve been through it with three elderly cats and it hurts like hell. I’m choked just typing this but I was utterly weepy reading the last chapter of I and Claudius. I’ve seldom read a book where I could so totally relate to the emotions that the writer was going through and I blubbed like a baby.

My Burmese buddy Baloo will just about put up with a short ride in the back of the car in a cat box. If I took him on a road trip he’d be crapping in the boot and off after the first squirrel he saw. There’s no way that most cats and their humans could pull off a trip like Clare’s and Claude’s but I loved sharing their adventure and their friendship.


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I and Claudius - Travels with My Cat
by Clare de Vries

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Written by koshkha
koshkha

Koshkha has a busy international job that gives her lots of time sitting on planes and in hotel rooms reading books. Despite averaging about 3 books a week, she probably has enough on her ‘to be read’ shelves to keep her going for a good few years and that still doesn’t stop her scouring the second hand books shops and boot-fairs of the land for more. At weekends she lives with her very lovely husband and three cats, but during the week she lives alone like a mad spinster aunt. She will read just about anything about or set in India, despises chick-lit, doesn’t ‘get’ sci fi and vampire ‘stuff’ and has just ordered a Kindle despite swearing blind that she never would.

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