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The thing about cats is they remember they were Gods. They don’t really care if you remember this fact, for they will not forget it and will adjust their behaviour accordingly.

We had two cats when I was growing up. The first, Snowy, pure black fur of course, had  a temperament that owed more to temper than anything else and consisted of snarling, scratching and a propensity to bring home big game. Where other people’s cats popped a gift of mice or the ever popular vole on the doormat, Snowy would drag home war torn badgers, dead dogs, muntjac deer. In the end he proved no match for the traffic.

Sophie was a true goddess cat, sleek and calming, her favourite place to sit was on my dad’s shoulder as he played the piano. His heart broke when she too failed to practice the Green Cross Code.

I did not wish to own a cat as an adult and my children, now in their 20s feel they have had a deprived childhood. ‘We never had any pets’ my son moaned the other day and I reminded him of the cannibal hamsters. I wonder who cleared up that skeletal little mess? Hm? No, sorry, the delights of a cat litter tray were not on my household agenda. My husband didn’t want a dog either, he does not see the appeal of poop-scooping or fleas. We caught fleas once from my mother in law’s dog. She insisted it was the other way around. Lovely.

Instead the brats have had to make do with second hand cats. There was a tortoiseshell type one, very pretty, that they used to feed scraps of chicken and ham to on occasion. Our neighbour’s cat is white and requires no extras as it manages on all the blackbirds it can scoff when I’m not pursuing it with a water pistol.

They lounge about, cats. They swagger and stroll their way through the neighbourhood, parading along my fence as if there are no boundaries. In our old house we were visited by a half feral monster that I called One Eyed Jack. If I left the kitchen door open he would wander in at will and stare at me with that scarred eye until I left, or made an offering, a chicken leg, a haunch of venison, something small and godworthy.

The other day I looked out and almost fell over. There was something swanning around by the raised beds. It was tall, probably a foot high and it had lynx ears, the ones with the crossed spikes of fur. It was grey but that doesn’t really cover the depth of this colour, it was blueish in the sunlight, the deep rich hue of Welsh slate in the shadow. The fur itself was fluffed and extravagant, I’d even use the word flamboyant. I have never seen such a huge cat. It wandered for a while, prowling for the wood pigeons who, for once, had more sense than to get down from the fence. The cat decided to get onto the fence. There was a flurry of wood pigeons and the cat did an impersonation of Blondin, patter footed, tail, extreme fox style brushy tail, flicking with perfect balance and timing. It loped onto the shed, possibly an unwise move since all that is holding up the shed is the cobwebs and the ivy. It sat there for some time surveying its kingdom, as Gods do.

I had to google it of course. It turns out it is a Maine Coon Cat, a rather expensive specimen going for something north of £800.

She doesn’t pop in very often but when she does I generally bow and give up my seat on the bench.

Or hide in the summer house, whichever is quicker.

 

This glorious pic is by Robert Sijka, check him out:

http://metro.co.uk/2016/08/13/photographer-captures-the-majestic-side-of-maine-coon-cats-6065391/

 

It’s #DyingMattersWeek this week and it is also the week that my mum would have turned 80. If she’d had the chance that is.

I think about death a lot, pretty much since the day my mum died. Losing someone will do that to you, bring into sharp focus something that we look away from. I dislike people who say we should ‘face up to death’ and be more pro-active about death. We shouldn’t. There’s a reason we ignore it, it’s horrible. Anyone who has ever sat at a deathbed knows how horrible. I’m not just talking about the physical process, I mean the emotional toll being rung.

We could also start in on an discussion about souls (I believe in them. Totally. Don’t argue with me.) but that’s jumping the gun.

What I mean is that we don’t need to be harping on about it in a patronising self-help manner. I think that most people who chant this slogan have not yet lost anyone. My feeling is that we should treat death the same way our ancestors did, with respect. In a throwaway society we’ve also thrown away heart and spirituality and by that I don’t mean organised religion. I never mean Organised Religion, which for me is up there with Organised Crime. Organised is not a word I have a lot of truck with.

People should be allowed to die how they wish to, from assisted suicide to the simple act of being at home. At the hospice my mum was faced with a doctor who asked her ‘What do you see at the end of this illness?’. My mum responded ‘I see me getting better and going out and enjoying myself.’ The doctor’s reply, for which I have never forgiven him, ‘What do you see at the end of this illness?’. There was a brief silence and then my mum turned to my dad and said ‘Can we go home now?’. My dad took her home within 24 hours and she died there a week later.

What we have to do is care. It is that simple. We have to stop being efficient and businesslike and slow down and look at the place and the time and recognise humanity.

Funerals should not be such an industry although I have to say I quite like the idea of being borne away in my wicker coffin by a plumed horse on a black bier. It’s certainly dramatic but, as my daughter said to me the other day “ I don’t want to come to your funeral. It’d be miserable.” She’s not wrong.

I have no memory at all of my mum’s funeral, I recall only the hearse pulling up and my dad folding my sister and myself into a deep hug. Then I woke up as they say. It was still a nightmare. My mum was still dead.

Funerals are as stupidly expensive as Mulberry handbags or season tickets to Manchester United. There is, I suppose, a health and safety aspect to it all, you can’t just chuck everyone in the river as they do in India as this causes health and disease issues. We don’t want cholera and typhoid back, that’s being just a bit too close to the ancestors. Equally it shouldn’t be an industry, one that penalises those who can ill afford it.

My husband has decided he wishes to be left to medical science so that he can be pickled and pored over by students. If that isn’t possible then he thinks we should be able to put him out with the bins.

My own dream funeral involves a wood somewhere, an ancient one if it can be found, lie me down for the foxes and the crows to peck at so that each of them can take a piece of me out into the world, to feed themselves or nourish their chicks and cubs and no one has to sing a hymn, or eat a ham sandwich that sticks in their grieving mouth like crematorium ash.

 

We should all be living a plant-based diet. I’ve heard this for a while now from my vegan daughter who regularly chastises us for not caring enough about the planet to give up roast chicken or cheese.

That said our roast chicken days are few and far between. We took the idea of Meat-free Monday and ran with it, quite a long way. These days our diet is Meat-free Monday to Friday. Also pretty much Saturday and Sunday too.

I’ve tried growing vegetables myself and its never been a success. I’ve been thwarted by climate, soil, lack of skill or knowledge but mostly by wood pigeons.

There are several wood pigeons in my garden. They remain there because, essentially, they are too fat to fly anywhere. Once in a while, for the sake of conjugal rites, two or more of them will flap up to the top of the fence to do their mating dance, the odd little minuet of bows and cooing. As their feet foxtrot around, the fence bends and creaks under the weight of them. They are fat with my peas, my sunflowers, my courgettes, pumpkins and a meadows worth of wildflower seeds. There is no end to their ingenuity in retrieving seed from bed, box or pot. Even the squirrels stand back, applauding with admiration.

It’s only a matter of time, I know, when that last broad bean pod is popped and my husband and I have to share a dinner only of herbs. If there are any herbs left of course. Then, there will be an almighty rebellion and the hunter gatherer in us will be ignited. Some stealth and the cover of hydrangeas will be required before a lone feather drifts on the wind and, shortly thereafter, the smell of pastry and gravy begins to waft down the garden.

 
 

‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge

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