When Mother’s cousin Olga fell last year, she gave her name and address to the paramedics, but was silent when they asked her date of birth.

Thinking she was perhaps hard of hearing, they asked again.

“I always understood,” she said with dignity, “that a lady should not be asked her age.”

Good on her. Continue reading

Twentieth Anniversary

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of my father’s death.

One way and another, mortality has been pretty high in my mind for several weeks.

My father died very suddenly. One moment he was turning out his bedside light, the next he was unconscious. An hour later he was dead. I was in London, and received a phone call to say he would probably not survive. I did not have the option of racing to his bedside, but instead sat beside the ‘phone drinking camomile tea and hoping he would not survive if this meant a further reduction in his quality of life. Continue reading

A Leg At Each Corner

I hadn’t had a pet for quite a while. And I’d never had a cat. My great grandmother was a cat lover, and that seems to have turned my father off completely. He disliked her thoroughly. He would tell us how he had to kiss her through her veil. Her house number, 51, remained a symbol of bad luck to him all his life, though I can’t remember him being superstitious in any other regard. Cats became part and parcel of the antipathy he felt about everything connected with her.

So, we never had cats, though others in the family did. In some way, I believe I thought them rather inferior creatures, though likeable enough.

Consequently, when Cat strolled, or marched, into my life, I was unprepared for his personality. As far I was concerned, he was an attractive furry thing with a leg at each corner; a pleasant but not terribly significant animal. I didn’t expect him to have his own agenda.

But he did, and he wrong footed me from the start.

He had definite ideas about how our time together should be spent, and was not shy about making his feelings known. I’d be miaowed at; pawed; my papers would be scattered; he’d smash his food bowls together to get my attention or express his disdain for their contents; pull books from the shelf; shred newspaper.

He ate my flowers. If anyone gave me carnations he’d be straight at them. When I asked the vet if this was normal behaviour, she looked at me as though I were quite mad. He learned that a sure way to get my attention was to leap onto the chest of drawers and start rocking the vase of flowers there. If I’d had a naughty step, he’d have been on it quite a bit.

The friend-who-gave-him-the biscuits was probably the most obvious cat lover I knew. Ungrateful for her rôle in getting me to feed him, he would treat her to his most brattish behaviour when she visited. He’d huff when she arrived. If she sat beside him on the sofa, he’d get off it. If she tried to stroke him, he’d glare and move away. He would deliberately turn his back on her, and if I cooked for us, it was the only time he would leap onto the table during a meal. Had he been a child, I’d have hauled him into another room for a hissed telling off. She became inured to his surliness, and then one day when she came, he greeted her like a long lost friend, rolling over onto his back and purring at her, and that was that. Continue reading

Street-Fighting Cat

Cat must have been neutered when he was very young, but the testosterone leaked in somewhere.

He had no interest in girls, but he certainly understood the importance of territory. Our trips to the see the vet were usually fight related, as Cat racked up an impressive number of abscesses from his war wounds, and, on one occasion, a huge rip that curved under his arm. A few drops of blood on his fur made me investigate further, and off we went again. This time he had to have surgery and stitches. His chest was shaved, making him look like a half-plucked chicken. Not a good look, but it soon grew back.

I used to lecture him; “What goes around comes around,” I’d say, holding his face and looking seriously into his amber eyes. “You won’t always be the youngest fittest cat on the block you know, and you won’t be so handsome with only one eye.”

He took no notice.

One of the worst times when some neighbours decided to let their female cat have kittens before they had her neutered. They actually approached me to ask if Cat might do the deed, but I had to explain that was no longer in his power.

The easiest route into their garden was through ours, so a motley assortment of intact Tom cats presented Cat with opportunities for daily fights.

This was right up his street; in his prime, a day without a fight was a day wasted as far as he was concerned, and even recently he has chased younger cats out of the garden, or terrified them with the force of his glare.

His opponents were not beautiful. Their bodies showed the toll of serious fighting for the right to pass on their genes. They had ragged ears, motheaten coats and half-closed eyes. They were the Bill Beaumonts and Henry Coopers of the feline world, whereas Cat was more in the Leslie Phillips mould.
Continue reading

A Toast to Cat

I’m off to see a good friend and have lunch, also a bit of feline therapy.

Tonight it will be one week since Cat died.

Earlier, in the bath, I was thinking about him, and I decided that tonight I shall light candles in the windows, and drink a toast to him to mark his passing.

So maybe one or two of you would like to do the same, and raise your glass of water or wine or whatever, your cup of tea or coffee, – I think I’ll probably have a glass of whiskey – and for a moment or two remember Cat and the animals we have loved, who have enriched our lives and whose memories remain precious.

To Cat.

In the Beginning

We were in my car, me cradling Cat, while my friend drove. We were taking Cat’s body to the vet’s so that he could be cremated.

My friend tends to drive on the fast side. I begged her to make it a gentle journey; being stopped by the police with a dead cat on my knee didn’t sound a good idea.

I never wanted to have a cat. I was, as my friend reminded me on Monday, A Dog Person.

Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t dislike cats, I admired their looks and would never have hurt one. I was even friendly with a number of local ones. Yogi, a large black and white from over the wall, used to lie down behind my car in the morning if I tried to go off to work without giving him the attention he craved.

But I never wanted one of my own. As pets, they ranked several steps below the dogs and guinea pigs on my personal wish list.

I remember when I first saw Cat, or maybe it was his brother. It was a while before I realised there were two of them. He was walking purposefully along the wall that separates our garden from the neighbouring houses, and I thought, “So there’s a new young Turk on the block.”

In time, the personalities of the brothers became clear. Brother was a hunter; a pigeon-a-day boy, who I thought of as The Killer. He was beautiful and unpredictable. One moment he’d be purring under your stroking hand, the next spitting furiously and rushing away. Cat’s love of humans and antipathy to other cats meant Yogi had a bad time. He would also beat up The Killer if his brother encroached on any humans Cat regarded as his own.

Everyday when I came home, Cat would come to greet me. I wondered how he knew I was there, until one day the penny dropped; I always got my keys ready as I neared home, and Cat would hear their jingle. At that time, I called him You, as in “Hello, You.”

So I’d fuss him in the garden and nine times out of ten he’d follow me round to the front door and try to come in. “No,” I’d say, “this is not your home.” And so it went on through the autumn and winter of 1996. Then one cold and damp February afternoon in 1997, I succumbed. What harm could it do? Well, I got the answer to that one on Sunday night. Continue reading


Ian McMillan started it. He was on Desert Island Discs on Sunday, and he chose Stockhausen’s four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence as one of his tracks, though for obvious reasons they couldn’t play the whole thing on Radio 4. But it got me thinking. And listening. So all week, on and off, I’ve been tuning out and tuning in.

Yesterday I was at Westminster Abbey for the opening of The Field of Remembrance. Continue reading