From the kitchen there came the sounds of a familiar conversation.

'Now I have told you before that you are not allowed on the table. It's not nice for anyone and it's unhygienic. Now get off.'

Followed by 'Get off . . . ' in a much louder voice. Followed by a little patter of feet .

I have explained to my daughter countless times that cats don't take kindly to a serious head-to-head quality time conversation. You might as well save your breath. And telling a cat to keep off the kitchen table is a bit like setting out a party for five year olds and not allowing them to eat the Cadbury's Chocolate Fingers. You are on a loser before you start.

Anyone who has ever had a cat knows that they are almost telepathically attracted to the forbidden. Try to stop them scratching Aunt Edith's heirloom chair and they will wait patiently until you go out for an evening and you will return to find one of the legs looking as if a mad whittler has been at work. Ditto carpets and rugs.

Cats know instinctively if there are places you don't want them to go in to, and will always be there when you leave the door open. My son can't stand cats on his bed, and usually shuts the bedroom door firmly. The one minute of the day he leaves it open you can bet your boots at least one cat will nip in smartly, jump onto the duvet and will be found sound asleep with its thumb in its mouth and its head on a nice clean pillowslip.

It's the same with stealing. Cats are not able to grasp the concept that a nice tasty titbit has to be on the floor in his or her bowl before it becomes legally available. They see absolutely no difference between a small plateful of chopped up chicken breast in a dish marked Tibbles than the same thing on the table on a plate metaphorically marked 'Dad's Dinner'. And even if you could explain the rule of law to them they would no doubt say 'more fool him for leaving it there'.

My former husband could never come to terms with this. He naively expected that if you left three mackerel loosely wrapped in newspaper on the kitchen counter they would still be there when you returned from a four hour shopping trip and the four household cats wouldn't touch them because they had been fed just before he went out. Poor foolish man - a fed cat is not necessarily an honest cat. A fed cat merely decimates the mackerel and eats a few tiny choice bits of it and leaves the rest in disarray.

This kind of thing invariably led to many an investigation worthy of Scotland Yard. Such as the case of the missing chicken leg. The disappearance of the lamb chop in a locked room mystery. The puzzling poser of the sausageless breakfast. Fortunately he was not a witness to the pilfering of the prime plaice fillet saga - not much of a mystery actually, the culprit was spotted by me and after a short but energetic chase was forced to let go of its booty as it tried to bolt under the bed. A quick rinse under the cold tap and a bit of judicious trimming and prime plaice was none the worse for wear (well not much and anyway it wasn't my supper it was intended for).

If I really wanted to annoy the ex I used to say that it wasn't the cats' fault, they were hunting animals and only following their instincts. He used to point out through clenched teeth that hunting animals don't usually have a cupboard full of Whiskas rabbit flavour, their own cosy basket lined with a duvet and a his and hers set of matching dishes. Nor do they get the top of the milk in a saucer in bed every morning.

The first cat I ever owned was called Panda and was the ace of thieves. If he failed in his mission to steal one edible item per day in our house he cast his net wider to the neighbours' open windows. His haul include a whole kipper, a long string of sausages and a cooked joint of boiling bacon with bits of carrot still stuck to it. When my mother grew tired of replacing stolen items (the neighbours knew exactly where to come when their dinner disappeared) she used to threaten to find him a new home, preferably in Strangeways.

Allowing a cat to exercise its predatory instincts in the larder possibly saves it from using them on the bird population in the garden. I noted that we had a letter in last week's paper from a reader who is less than enamoured by the anti-social habits of cats. This reader sensibly asked for their name and address to be left out, perhaps fearing a visit from a couple of large ginger Toms with shaven bullet heads, tattoos and tight cat suits. I have to admit the writer was right in some cases. Cats can be very destructive. Show them a nicely dug seed bed and they will shout 'yippee, a new and much flatter lavatory'. Go all designer mad in the garden and provide a nice little Japanese garden of raked pea gravel and they will certainly following through on the pea bit.

It's difficult to stop them and I can understand non cat owners getting a bit uptight to see their carefully tended seeds being scattered to the four winds or their favourite robin ending up as a between-meals snack. I'm afraid I don't agree, however, that the solution is to fit cats with little bells. How would you like to go about your daily business (and a lot of other things) with Big Ben hanging round your neck?

At the moment our two are in the minor stages of juvenile delinquency. They have come off slightly worse after an encounter with the rooks nesting in the big tree at the bottom of the garden. They are both accomplished table sitters and will eat anything not meant for them while becoming increasingly fussy about the food actually bought for them. The grey one ate a half a Kit Kat bar the other day and enjoys eating cornflakes with milk but only if he can steal them from under my grandson's nose. In other words - everything is as it should be.