Billy and Sun Tzu

Round here, as you look out of the door at the pouring rain, you might say, ‘It’s not fit to put a cat out.’

In the case of our Billy, feral cat nonpareil, this isn’t really an issue as he doesn’t come into the house in the first place. Yes he has passed through, in summer as doors stood open. He walked in, looked around, sniffed various things of interest, and walked out again. So given we’ve had a couple of wet days, we’ve not seen a lot of young Billy. He has places where he snoozes, watches and waits.

One is the bit of a building we keep firewood in. From his point of view there are several advantages. It’s sheltered, but has a permanently open entrance which faces south so even in winter he can find somewhere to sit in the sun. Also it’s the first building on the route into the yard for vermin coming in from the fields in late autumn. So for Billy, it’s even got a buffet. Then there’s another spot with the straw kept ready for bedding calves. It’s snug, dry, and he can sit there and get quite a good view. Again, should lunch chance to walk by, he can move in and take it.

During the day, when he’s working, you’ll see him walking purposefully from place to place. Sometimes you’ll see him just sitting, watching something. If you’re out late checking to see if a cow has started calving, you might catch sight of him staking out a likely place for hunting.

Our contribution to his diet is to give him a little something on an evening, if he turns up looking for it. On a wet night he’ll probably not bother. Other times you’ll see him picking his way fastidiously across the collecting yard to see if his bowl has anything in it.

Milk cows are something of an issue for him. I suspect from his point of view, they’re just so insanely big. He largely ignores them unless they move towards him. At which point he’ll quietly slip under a gate to be out of their way. He was once meowing to me from the top of a wall, wanting his ears rubbed (feral but quite likes a handful of individual people) and obviously never noticed a cow wander up behind him to see what the noise was about. Dairy cows are notoriously curious. She sniffed him. Given the size of the nostrils, nose, and lungs involved, Billy’s coat was blown about. He turned round sharply to see what was going on, just as the cow put out a tongue longer than Billy is, and licked him. That was the last straw, he jumped down off the wall and stalked off looking affronted.

A week or so back I was busy with one job and noticed Billy was sitting in front of a bucket that was on its side. He kept reaching in but then brought his paw back. Anyway next time I passed he was still there, he’d cornered a rat. The rat was backed up in a corner and the only way Billy could get it was go in after it. That way he’d be nose to teeth with a cornered rat. Next time I passed, Billy wasn’t by the bucket, the rat could escape. Then I heard a squeal and he trotted past me with a dead rat clamped firmly in his jaws. Obviously Billy had read his Sun Tzu. As the Chinese strategist (lived circa 544BC to 496BC) said, “When you surround an army, leave an outlet free.”

This does not mean that the enemy is to be allowed to escape. As Tu Mu (803-852AD), poet and commentator wrote, “The object, to make him believe that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair. After that, you may crush him.” As an aside, as a poet Tu Mu was apparently known for ‘sensual, lyrical quatrains featuring historical sites or romantic situations.’ As a military commentator he was obviously of the ‘Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the women’ school.

It may just be that the great Chinese strategist Sun Tzu had a cat.

Comparing Billy with Sal, their attitudes to what is going on around them are entirely different. Sal as a Border Collie has to join in and be part of it. She will rush into the thick of things to offer management oversight. Billy on the other hand will sit somewhere comfortable and watch it all from a safe distance. There again, if Sal is out and about and wants me for something, Sal will come and find me. Once she’s found me she’ll jump up or prod me with her nose to attract attention. Billy walks into the building and meow’s loudly to attract attention.

But dog and cat still seem to get on. Billy seems to regard Sal as ‘people’ in that she’ll meow at Sal. I’ve not yet seen her meow at a dairy cow. Sal seems to regard Billy as one of the fixtures. She makes no attempt to hassle him and treats him with a wary familiarly. They have the advantage that they’re not trapped together in a small space and can live their own lives.

I must admit I’ve not asked Billy’s opinion of one of the great strategist’s other sayings, “Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

I’m not sure whether he’d reckon it would work with rats or not.


Take it to the experts

The fourth of these collections of anecdotes, rants, pious maunderings and general observations on life. Yes we have dogs, quads, sheep and cattle, but in this one we follow the ‘lambing year.’ It starts with ewes being put to the tup in late autumn and finishes in summer with the last of the laggards lambing.
But as well as this we have endless rain, as well as sleeping in a manger. Be brave and you’ll meet young ladies in high heeled cowboy boots, Sir John Moore of Corunna, brassieres for cows, and, incidentally, David Essex.

As a reviewer commented, “This book charts a year in the life of a Cumbrian sheep farmer. It’s sprinkled with anecdotes and memories of other years. Some parts (especially when featuring Sal, the Border Collie) were so funny as to cause me to have to read them out loud to my husband. It’s very interesting to read these things from the pen of the man who is actually out there doing it – usually in the rain! A very good read.”

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22 thoughts on “Billy and Sun Tzu

  1. Auntysocial November 20, 2020 at 5:19 am Reply

    “The object, to make him believe that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair. After that, you may crush him”

    That’s brilliant. Savage, but brilliant 🙂

    • jwebster2 November 20, 2020 at 5:37 am Reply

      And so poetic 🙂
      And feline

      • Auntysocial November 20, 2020 at 6:03 am

        And female 😂

        “Hold out bait to entice the enemy. Feign disorder and crush him”

        “If your enemy is of temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant”

        Some truly beautiful savagery.

      • jwebster2 November 20, 2020 at 6:33 am

        “Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.”

      • Auntysocial November 20, 2020 at 6:49 am


  2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt November 20, 2020 at 5:51 am Reply

    Sal and Billy are both fuel for philosophizing.

    • jwebster2 November 20, 2020 at 6:30 am Reply

      I did see a nice article which decided that Cats are so secure in their identity and so comfortable in their own skins they don’t need philosophy 🙂
      I suspect that is something worth philosophizing about

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt November 20, 2020 at 6:38 am

        Part of the time I am a cat. I couldn’t possibly be anyone else than who I am, not any more. It’s tough – and keeps getting a wee bit worse – but I hope covid will lead to research on ME/CFS, and if that gets better for me, there is still enough time in my life to get things done. One can hope.

  3. M T McGuire November 20, 2020 at 7:25 am Reply

    Love this. 🙂

  4. jenanita01 November 20, 2020 at 10:59 am Reply

    My kind of cat… that Billy…

    • jwebster2 November 20, 2020 at 12:08 pm Reply

      Yes I’m not a cat person but Billy is definitely his own cat and he’s part of the team 🙂

      Like a Border Collie, he’s promoted himself to Staff

      • jenanita01 November 20, 2020 at 7:40 pm

        Very sensible…

  5. Cathy Cade November 20, 2020 at 12:31 pm Reply

    He can come and stalk our rats any time. (Although I have hesitant hopes for the most recent Jack Russel cross)

    • jwebster2 November 20, 2020 at 12:45 pm Reply

      It was interesting. Sal has never bothered with rats. But when Billy arrived, a few weeks later one obviously irritated her and she flew at it, tossed it into the air and killed it.
      Having proved that anything the cat can do, she can do better, she’s left rat killing to him 🙂

  6. Doug Jacquier November 21, 2020 at 12:20 am Reply

    High wit indeed, Jim. Frankly, I’ve never been a great fan of Sun Tzu; I’m more of a Spike Milligan man. ‘For ten years Caesar ruled with an iron hand. Then with a wooden foot, and finally with a piece of string.’

    • jwebster2 November 21, 2020 at 5:19 am Reply

      I always liked Spike Milligan’s comment, “A sure cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree.”

  7. Widdershins November 23, 2020 at 2:04 am Reply

    I love your Billy Tales. 😀

    • jwebster2 November 23, 2020 at 12:54 pm Reply

      Yes, but because he’s a sensible and respectable cat he doesn’t really do the sort of wild and reportable things you can expect from a dog on a daily basis 🙂

  8. shibumimc January 9, 2021 at 9:48 pm Reply

    You *do* realize you are perpetuating a quite incorrect understanding of Bing-fa, incorrectly called “The Art of War”?

    • jwebster2 January 10, 2021 at 7:09 am Reply

      I suspect that there has been a divergence, in that some of the early Chinese comments on his writing have been entirely military, but that ‘in later years’ people have read more deeply (or just read more) into his words. Certainly he is far more widely applicable than in a purely military context. (Ask Billy 🙂 )

      I’d wonder whether Machiavelli and ‘The Prince’ might be taking a similar path. Originally a guide for the knife wielding ‘politicians’ of Italy people are also seeing it has wider applications.

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