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Durham legends: the Catboy

Posted on 18th January 2008. No Comment

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A dedicated follower of feline
Ever heard the faint jingling of a bell when you’ve been walking down the Bailey? Has your view at lectures ever been obscured by a pair of black, fuzzy ears? If you can answer ‘yes’ to one of the previous then you’ve probably experienced one of the greatest legends of Durham time: the Catboy.

Computer Science student Michael – better known as, you guessed it, the Catboy – is a well-known creature at the Chemistry department, most notably seen roaming about the Chemistry Cafe. Donning a pair of cat-like ears, a collar with bell accessory and a long, furry tail, he rarely escapes the attention of his peers – be it a purr of delight or a hiss of contempt.
The reason for this strange choice of attire is unknown. Questions have been asked, information has been mewed for, some have even begged for the revelation, but the Catboy remains as mysterious as the Sphinx itself.

Naturally, this makes the whole thing an issue for wild speculation and debate. Students Nick Eaton and Toby Jones have done the sensible thing by setting up a Facebook group dedicated to Catboy discussion. Slightly worryingly, the group is called ‘The Catboy Hunters’, but the admins reassure all who care to read that their motives are sincere: “Who is this dude who dresses up as a cat!?” they appeal to the masses. “I should emphasis that this group is not here to mock him or take the piss…I just wanna know who he is and find out if anybody knows anything about him…”

Looking at the 121-member group, plenty of people claim to know something about him. Almost everybody seems to have their very own cat-related anecdote – some of them bogus, others with a ring (or, rather, a jingle) of truth to them. “His mum doesn’t know,” comments a matter-of-fact Cairan Walsh; “He doesn’t wear them [his cat accessories] on Wednesday mornings, but he wears them in the evenings,” reveals Helen Farrell. And then, best of all, “He wears girls’ clothes!” exclaims an amazed Stu Mark. Erm, I really don’t think that is a point of controversy for a guy who chooses to live his life dressed as a cat, Stu.

Others report rather radical experiences of his feline ways: “My friend was sitting near him in a lecture recently and apparently he took off his ears and started licking them clean…” reveals Charlie Talbot-Baker. Another person recounts his experience of sitting next to Catboy in a lecture one day and hearing him purr with laughter.

The rumours surrounding Michael’s lifestyle choice are just as elaborate. According to legend, Michael agreed to dress as a cat for a whole year if he was made President of an animal rights group, but that claim is now redundant given that he is a finalist and has been wearing fur throughout his entire degree.

The far less glamorous reason for his wacky attire is that… he does it for no identifiable reason. Several people have claimed Michael himself doesn’t know why he dresses as a cat; he just does it.“I lived next door to him in first year,” says Tom Wood. “And upon asking him why he chose to wear a tail (that’s all it was then) I received the answer that he hadn’t thought up an adequate answer yet.”

Exclusive interview with the, err, man himself

Dissatisfied with the lack of factual information kicking around, durham21 decided to approach Catboy and ask him a few questions…

When did you decide to start dressing up as a cat?
Sometime before I actually did it.

Is the ‘Wednesday morning’ rule true?
Yes, I do not wear the ears on Wednesday mornings.

Your girlfriend dresses up as a cat too! And there’s another girl with ears in a few of your pictures. Do you have a feline following now?
I think a ‘following’ would be exaggerating. I have sympathisers.

Who makes your cat attire?
The lovely people at pawstar.com

What’s the worst experience you have had due to being dressed as a cat? And the best?
On the bad side are the insults and threats. For the good, there was one occasion in Tesco when a young girl passed me in the aisle and gave me the hugest smile possible, as if it was the best thing ever. That’s the good part, any time when you can make someone’s day more interesting in a happy way.

Do you ever get upset by any of the jibes?
It’s hard not to, but I expected them, so I don’t let it get to me.

Do you have a pet cat?
No. Actually I prefer dogs when it comes to pets.

Do you like fish? Have you ever tried catfood?
No, I have never eaten cat food, nor any other food not intended for human consumption. The only fish I much care for is battered fish-shop fish, or peppered mackerel fillet. I don’t like Sushi.

What do you think about the rumours surrounding you?
Which rumours are these? If you mean the one where I wash my clothes by licking them clean, it’s fortunately not true.

Do you really like cats? What’s your favourite type of cat?
I like them yes, but they aren’t my favourite animal. As I mentioned before, dogs are nice because (disclaimer to all cat lovers) in my own experience dogs like you regardless, whereas cats are only in it for what they can get out. One of my favourite types of cat is the Norwegian Forest Cat.

What’s your favourite cat film? Do you like the Aristocats? Do you like the song ‘Everybody wants to be a cat’?
Haha. Trust me, none of my favourite films feature cats. Except perhaps Neko No Ongaeshi. (A Japanese animated film, childish yet endearing. In English that would be “The Cat Returns”)

Have you ever had a near-death experience and used up one of your nine lives?
Yes, I have one every day crossing the road at the New Inn, like most of us.

And lastly, why do you dress up as a cat?
As for why I dress as I do, the reason nobody knows is because I am yet to come up with a satisfactory answer myself. The factors contributing to it are many, and hard to disentangle. Simply put it seems like the right thing to do, odd though it may be. I knew I would get my fair share of mockery because of it, so much is expected, but such things are not going to bother me unless they come from people whose opinion I value.

Join Catboy’s Facebook Group at http://dur.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2229654824

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  • Catboy follower said:

    This is really interesting. I’ve seen him around the science site and always wondered what inspired him to dress as a cat.

    I think we can all learn from the cat boy. His eccentric dress brightens up my day. He is truly legendary.

  • Iain said:


  • Chris said:

    This is the best piece of journalism ever.

  • Dom said:

    Great article :)
    I found the cat thing weird at first, then accepted it; now I’ve got a lot of respect for him keeping it up for so long!!

  • Toby Maguire said:

    I’d be more impressed if he was a cat who dressed like a man.

  • Charlotte said:

    I’ve heard people question it and even been a bit rude about it, but I reckon if that’s how Micheal feels comfortable, good on him. Quite a few people live a similar lifestyle, it just isn’t that well documented. If we can dress as a chav, or a rah, or whatever, why can’t someone dress as a cat?

  • Toby Maguire said:

    When people start to keep rahs or chav as pets then I would understand your comparison.

    It is peculiar behaviour and while most people do peculiar things when when alone or in the presence of friends catboy’s decision is a very public one. As such, the absence of an explanation for why he dresses like a cat makes me a little wary of his motives and his state of mind.

  • Olivia said:

    One thing I’d like to know is whether any tutors have taken umbridge at the strict dress-code… also whether Michael will continue wearing ears when he’s going for job interviews or is employed… ‘Religious reasons’? :-p

  • Charlotte said:

    It’s just some cat ears and a tail! Big deal!

  • The Eye Collector said:

    Someone should start captioning his pictures – he’d make a great lolcat.

  • Sage Wise said:

    Good article. In reality we may never now his motives, but perhaps we should accept that.

    Curiosity killed the cat, people.

  • Anonymous said:

    Good to see that Durham21 attracts the Daily Mail readers. They in your target demographic?

  • Speaker to animals said:

    Hes a kzin!

  • John Shafer said:

    That’s not the Durham cat-boy I recognise. Are there more than one?

  • Vicki said:

    I am not aware of another catboy, but as the above picture suggests, there are indeed more ear and tail enthusiasts out there.

  • Anonymous said:

    google (or wikipedia) “furry” “fursuit” “yiffing”

    I definitely suggest image search (particularly for yiffing). (with a strong stomach and not in public or using ITS computers!)

  • Karol WojtyÅ‚a-Vorderman said:

    Good on Catboy for being himself and making the world a more interesting place. The real freaks in Durham are those who hurl abuse at him. What kind of warped mentality do they have?

  • Dave D said:

    Doesn’t know why he does it; seems like the right thing to do…

    An obsessive compulsive, perhaps…?

  • Steph said:

    Catboy has turned up in Huddersfield – So far minus the Catboyness, but then he is living at home – Whatever would his mummy think?

  • Catboy said:

    Indeed, whatever would my mother think! Some news is exceptionally hard to break. I’m curious though as to where you saw me (and how you know I’m living at home for the moment ;) )