Friday 21 October 2016

Tama the cat saved a railway, so maybe we should give our pets a chance in power

It's been a dreadful few years for the people of Japan.

Tsunamis, typhoons and the terrifying nuclear meltdown at Fukushima contributed to an environmental and economic crisis for the country.

Yet through their trials and tribulations, there was one ray of sunshine for the beleaguered nation.

The success of Tama (inset), the station master at the Kishi station, was a source of pride and wonderment for people the world over.

Ten years ago nobody was taking the train to Kishi station, the last stop on a remote branch line of the Wakayama Railway. Business was so bad, the station was facing closure. That's when Tama stepped in.

The tortoiseshell-tabby had been hanging around the station when someone had an idea. Why not make her the station master. Daft, you might say. But, guess what, Tama saved the day. And the station.


When word got out, passenger numbers increased. Tourists began to flock to Kishi to see the stationmaster stroll around her office wearing a little hat and badge of office.

Within a year, the cat in the hat had brought in the yen equivalent of €9m to the local economy. Sales of Tama mugs and t-shirts soared, and the feline became an international celebrity.

Soon, French and Italian filmmakers were jumping on board with documentaries.

Tama's success makes the entrepreneurs on Dragon's Den look about as qualified as frantic pan-handling prospectors up to their privates in icy waters of the Yukon River at the time of the Klondike gold rush.

Sadly, this week rail users are leaving flowers at Kishi station because Tama has taken her last train. She was 16.

The railway company she saved from extinction will be holding a funeral for her on Sunday. The local governor has already sent a message of condolence. It's a sad day.

Two years ago, her second-in-command and successor was named. Hopefully Nitama (Tama the Second) will do a better job than David Moyes (Little Fergie) did at Old Trafford.

Could the Tama business model work here? I think so. For starters, given her track record (no pun intended) Tama could probably take over from our councillors and a make a go of it.

It's well known that cats can't taste sweet things. This aversion to sugar puts them on the same page as those south Dublin county councillors who are calling for a crackdown on cafes as part of a war on sugar.

You know who they are: Deirdre O'Donovan (Independent), Francis Duffy (Green) and Paul Gogarty, Francis Timmons, Guss O'Connell and Liona O'Toole (all Independents).

The country is snowed under with crack, smack and all sorts of blow that's whack and our councillors want to have "a conversation" about cafes. Suffering divine. This country isn't half-settled yet.

Here's a suggestion: invite the councillors to step aside. And let our pets take over. I'm not saying they'd make more sense but they'd liven things up and, before you know it, tourists would be flocking around.

And why stop at local legislators? I know a few ministries that would have benefited from having my pet hamster Bongo on the job. Tragically, in an incident that's not spoken about in the family (one involving my cousin's poodle), Bongo is no longer with us. But I know a few of his offspring who I suspect we'd be happy to see representing us in Brussels.

I'm not advocating taking the pensions off our public representatives. Well, maybe just enough to cover some cat food.

But if Tama could save a railway company from being shut down, maybe it's time we invited a gerbil or a greyhound to do something positive for Clerys or any of the other companies sacrificed on the altar of corporate expediency.

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