Good evening, I am Timothy the Talking Cat wearing a clumsy photocopy of a mask of veteran science broadcaster James Burke and tonight I will be unravelling a chain of historical events that answers key questions of modern times.
Tonight I answer the question: how come cats are all the same size?
Like many modern Americans* I marvel at how convenient cats are compared to every other pet. Each cat we purchase, adopt or are viciously clawed by as we walk down the street is exactly the same size. The average length of a cat varies by degrees so small that it requires specialist equipment to identify. [scene change]
Here I am at the Conseil européen pour la recherche nucléaire or “CERN” in Geneva. Only here at the pinnacle of modern sub-atomic particle research can scientists determine the minute differences in cat length. To better understand our question I have taken two dogs and placed them within the seventeen mile long Large Hadron Collider. Within this massive apparatus, the two dogs will be accelerated to extraordinarily high speeds until, somewhere close to the Swiss-France border the two dogs will collide resulting in a cascade of elementary dog-particles. [background noise of loud barking and somebody shouting “d’où venaient ces chiens?”]
But where did this extraordinary precision come from and why, specifically, was the unit of one cat length chosen? Why, for instance, were cats not standardised to the lengths of rabbits or cows? To understand better I have come here to the Old Wild West. Here we see a scene familiar to fans of cowboy films, the Western Saloon. In the days of Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp a lonely cowboy could here and drink whiskey and spit into buckets. However, the frontier was no place for cats and cowboys had to make do with daguerreotype pictures of cats to provide them with psychological comfort. These proto-photographs were sold as being “incredibly life like” but for ease of manufacture they were printed on standard size paper that was exactly one cat length in width (excluding margins). Without these pioneering cat pictures America would have no pet cats west of the Mississippi and instead the humble armadillo would be the national pet of America. [scene change]
But why were the cat photos printed on paper of this size? To answer that question I have come here to Edinburgh, Scotland. Here the humble cat picture was born in 1933 when Angus McCatpicture pioneered taking photographs of cats scowling at their owners. To re-enact how this very first picture was taken I have put three small pug dogs in this barrel and intend to push it down this very steep road from Edinburg Castle into the city below.[Sound of Scottish person shouting “Hey, get my dogs out of that barrel you psychotic feline.” scene change]
Or was it? In fact, the very first cat picture may not have been in 1930s ‘swinging’ Scotland at all but here in the Indus Valley in the 12th century BC. [Sound of police sirens…scene change]
Or perhaps here on the magnificent Hoover Dam in Nevada. Each day eight gazillion mega-pints of water flow through this dam in a bid to make the whole point of a dam redundant. By placing multiple dogs into the lake above the dam, we can imagine how they might get sucked into the turbines below. Some might say that is a cruel idea but also I am a cat and frankly your ideas of cruelty have no bearing on me or my kind, you sanctimonious primate you. [scene change]
To really unravel this mystery we have to go deeper. That is why I am now here at New Scotland Yard in London. Here classic crimes of the past were solved in ye olden times (cut to library footage of a stereotype English bobby walking through fog-filled cobble stoned streets) but these days the boys in blue of London’s Metropolitan Police Force use more modern techniques to solve crime. Currently they have just made an arrest in a case of international dog-theft and attempted dog-murder. [scene change]
Which takes me to here, The Old Bailey, the seat of English justice. Here the fraught question of why cats are exactly the same size would be determined in a historic court case of “Timothy the Talking Cat versus The Queen and a Whole Bunch of Very Upset Dogs”** [scene change]
Here, amid the historic walls of Wormwood Scrubs Prison we have traced our question through the ages to this one iconic place. What we have learned is that it is not the length of the cat that matters but the width. As it happens I can easily fit through these bars despite my portly appearance. You’ll never take me alive coppers!
*[No Americans were involved]
**[All the dogs got away safely]