I did my dusting to the soundtrack to South Pacific today. This was in honour of my neighbour Wendy, a lover of musical theatre, opera, and animals. It was Wendy who named Cat Fred after Fred Astaire, and his brother (yes that’s right) Ginger which I probably, other than the gender bending, don’t have to explain. The two young cats were adopted by her next door neighbour Lisa and she watched them dancing along the wall. She didn’t like the name I chose for MasterB, saying she supposed I could always call him something else. I held my tongue, refrained from pointing out I had chosen it because I liked it. She was appalled when two days into MasterB coming to live with me she visited, thought he was gorgeous and said to me, “Don’t you just love him?” “No,” I answered, “not yet, I’m sure I shall.” Of course I did and do, but I don’t think Wendy ever forgive me for what she saw as my hard heartedness.
Wendy lived in the street parallel to mine. She was shocked the first time she came to my flat, “You can see straight into my living room!” she exclaimed. I agreed I could. One of the things I used to see was Wendy doing her housework. I would know she had one of her favourite musicals playing at full blast as she whirled about with her duster. It used to make me smile. I introduced her to the Dulwich Cattery Christmas Fair and we would go together. The whole cat-ness of it was a delight to her. The bolder resident cats would recognise her as a soft touch, and if she sat there would soon be a cat on her lap. We would browse and buy, but none of our raffle tickets ever yielded the big prize.
On occasion she would go a second time on her own. It was on one of these occasions she spotted a water colour featuring two cats, one of whom she fancied looked like Freddy (I added the dy to his name after he relocated from Lisa’s and made my home his). She spoke to Chris or Ann who ran the cattery, and which ever one it was agreed. So I got a special present. Wendy’s partner Laurie framed it and it hangs on my wall. A ginger and white cat who looks like Freddy happily grooming a pretty Tortoiseshell who looks blissed out. This is where the resemblance ends. Freddy believed there was only room for one cat in the world, and he was that cat. The idea of him happily sitting with, let alone being affectionate towards another cat requires a leap of imagination that could send you to A&E.
In recent years Wendy’s health has declined. She has had several falls, and was hospitalised before Christmas. Dementia added to her difficulties. She came home, but was now very much an invalid. “It doesn’t look good,” Laurie told me in December. I didn’t like to ask precisely what he meant by that, but this weekend Wendy died, at home, in the early hours of Saturday morning. It’s going to be a quiet funeral but Laurie is planning a celebration of her life. Wendy has lived in this little neighbourhood longer than almost anyone. She used to work at the Royal Opera House, zip about in a little red Fiat, walk her lovely Doberman Juno. We all knew her. It’s the end of an era. This neighbourhood has changed rapidly in recent years, and Wendy was almost the last link with before.
I’m sure the celebration will include music. Dusting? Maybe not.
Rest in peace Wendy. You were one of a kind and we are the richer for you being our neighbour and friend.