How sensible and sage this old proverb seems. But before we accept this hackneyed wisdom as our own, we should methodically put to the test its premises.
In order to do so I have set myself out on the communal lawn of where I live. I am in a deckchair, the summer sun is making my wait quite enjoyable with its lulling heat. I have taken my shirt off.
At my side, I have a plate with three shimmering silver sardines upon it, and lain on my lap, a dayglo orange waterpistol.
Patience is the watchword here.
It only takes some twenty minutes before my virtue is rewarded. A ginger cat of the ‘mangy tom’ variety skulks among the cars parked to my right. Its nose quivers with delicious acknowledgement of the sardines. Green eyes gleam with anticipation. The cat pads delicately towards me. Stopping at a safe enough distance to consider the circumstance.
With the indulgent grace of some benevolent King I take in my hand a fish and toss it onto the soft grass between us.
Certainly, this particular cat seems to affirm as true the first premise, that all cats love fish, as it hurries towards the scaled treasure with a delighted swagger.
No sooner has the cat reached its prize and sought to deliver it to its grateful throat than I am setting about testing the second premise.
A deft aim and squirt sends a shoot of cold water onto the hapless moggy’s legs. An indignant cry tears the air and the cat bolts away from this cruel lawn. Leaving behind half of the fish, which stares at me with blank yellow eyes in what appears to be cold and judgmental consideration.
This case study certainly seems to confirm that cats love fish, and also that they hate to get their paws wet.
I had planned to repeat the experiment, in order to have a statistically viable sample. But clouds have rolled before the sun, and with the chill, I also feel some sort of guilt, so instead I leave the remaining two and a half fish on the lawn, as offerings of concilliation to the ginger cat with the wet paws.
Seems true, but I hadn’t the heart to test it any further.
About the proverb
Appears to be old English:
‘The cat is fain the fish to eat, but hath no will to wet her feet.’
And also appears in a Scots version:
‘Like the cat, fain fish wad ye eat, but ye are laith to weet your feet’
It appears in a collection of proverbs from 1663 by Pappity Stampoy
Yes, THE Pappity Stampoy.