Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Of Cats and Men

What greater gift than the love of a cat?

Charles Dickens said that, and I for one think he was onto something.

Meanwhile, William Blake saw God for the first time in 1762, His big old face pressed against the living room window. And Little Billy Blake, only four years old, screamed. Awwww. Even at that age, an absolute looney. But what a talent. Then, somewhere between eight and ten, William Blake was on Peckham Rye. He gazed upon an ordinary tree and do you know what he saw? He saw angels. Or rather, ‘a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars’.


Peckham Rye is just down the road of course. And round here Blake’s vision is rightly revered. Here is an artist’s interpretation on the side of a local house.


So, naturally, under the circumstances, on Thursday evening, Keith and I set out to find Blake’s angel tree. Within a matter of minutes, as if by divine providence, we found it. Or at least one very similar. Albeit sans readily visible angels.

Then we came home and, with Pablo still on his blanket on the living room floor, we became intoxicated. We looked up cat quotes online. There are a great many.

Here are a few of my favourites:

Dogs are dogs, but cats are people.’ – Iranian proverb

Way down deep, we're all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by them.’ - Jim Davis

The little furry buggers are just deep, deep wells you throw all your emotions into.’ - Bruce Schimmel

Poets generally love cats because poets have no delusions about their own superiority.’ - Marion Garretty

I also told a few Pablo stories. Here are a few of my favourites:

There was the time he enraged an elderly neighbour by killing one of her rosette-winning doves. I tried to explain to this furious woman that Pablo would never do such a thing, but when I found him later, there were still giveaway white feathers all over his face. I tried to chastise him for that, but he seemed so proud, and really, it was hilarious.

Then there was the time he brought home a beautiful grey squirrel he’d caught and heartlessly murdered for his own pleasure. I love squirrels and was really quite angry with him. But again, you know, what can you do? He was a killer. He loved to kill. And deep down I couldn’t help admire him for it.

When he was a kitten he grew very attached to a straw shopping bag a friend brought round to the house. So attached did he become that the friend brought the bag back the very next day, empty, as a gift for Pablo. We then developed this game, Pablo and I, wherein Pablo would climb into the bag and I would swing him backwards and forwards, causing him to grizzle with pleasure. That low slightly-spooky cat-growl that he’d do when I gave him cat-nip. The higher I swung him, the more he would grizzle, until eventually I was swinging the bag around the room in full circles. Then when I’d stop he would stagger out of the bag, still deep-purring but unable to walk in a straight line. This hilarious pastime came to an end one day in the back garden when the bottom of the bag came loose. Pablo flew out and away, high into the air in the direction of the house. He landed just above the kitchen window, where he remained, clinging to the brick work like a terrified drunken bat.

Then there was the time he wouldn’t stop shitting everywhere, a couple of months into our relationship, and I picked him up and shouted at him and threw him onto the ground like a bow tie I couldn't fasten, hurting him quite badly in the process. He squeaked in pain and when he righted himself he was limping quite badly. Immediately disgusted by what I’d done I went to comfort him, to apologise, and he hissed at me.

I never forgave myself for that. It made me question everything I thought I knew about myself. It made me wonder who I was and what I capable of. It made me question whether I was fit to have children. It made me go into counselling.

I have still never forgiven myself for that. And I think it’s important that I never do. But Pablo forgave me. And that made me love him more than I think I have ever loved anyone.

‘Let’s buy a house,’ said Keith. ‘Then we can get another cat.’

‘That seems a bit extreme,’ I said. ‘But maybe, yeah.’

Then, when it was properly dark and properly late and only cats and drunks were out roaming the streets, two drunks armed with a dead cat, a garden fork and a spade sashayed suspiciously over to Peckham Rye, heading for Blake’s Tree of Angels.

Now, I haven’t dug a hole since I attempted – as I imagine all children do - to tunnel my way to The Bowels of Hell aged five or ten. Turns out it’s bloody hard work. Despite Keith’s manly arms, it took us over an hour to get the hole deep enough so that we had no fear of it being dug up by dogs. And that was with the bare minimum of cannabonoid breaks.

To begin with, Keith – who sings the outdoors electric, frankly, and makes Ray Mears look like Margot Leadbetter – sliced up and removed a few squares of turf a couple of inches thick and put them to one side. Then, with our grave template in place, he unfurled a large sheet of tarpaulin, or, as I rather wittily insisted on calling it, Tom Paulin, and we got to digging in earnest by the light of the moon, Pablo already stationed above us in the branches of Blake’s Tree, angel feathers stuck to his cheeky chops.

When the hole was good and deep and the Tom Paulin piled high, I took Pablo’s body, blanket and all, gave him one final hug and kiss and placed him deep down inside the soft wet earth. Then I recited my poem:

Pablo, Pablo, burning bright, Bespangling all with purrfect light. Sleeping now where angels played, Your life has left me less afraid. And though your days of play are gone, The love you made lives on and on. Bespangling still my heart with light, Forever Pablo, burning bright.

Believe me, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Then we covered him over with earth and earth and more earth and stamped down hard on top of him, which felt a bit wrong but Keith insisted it was necessary to make him safe, to seal him in there, in the heart of the planet. Then we replaced the grassy bits and stamped them down too. For minutes we stamped and stomped and chanted like weird warriors. 'His name was Pablo Cattermole,' we chanted. 'His name was Pablo Cattermole.' The leftover earth we tossed around and kicked about. Then we went home to sleep.

I checked the grave on Friday afternoon and it was fine. A damn good job in fact. You could barely notice it. I had decided that I didn’t want to mark it because, well because it isn’t necessary – I know where Pablo is; Pablo is in my heart. Also, marked graves are easily damaged. By sick, sick human beings.

Then on Saturday, in another stroke of brain-boggling coincidence, Keith and I met Fred, a 12-week old ginger tom owned by Rex and Rita, two Keith's friends. They live in Hampshire. They had invited Keith along for a barbecue. Keith invited me. I went along and met Fred.

Here, readers, meet Fred, and remember the words of Leonardo da Vinci: ‘The smallest feline is a masterpiece.’

There were quite a few humans at the gathering too, but I paid them very little heed, spending most of my Saturday with Fred.

Lots of people have suggested to me in the last few days that I should get a new kitten, and it’s easy to see why so many bereaved pet owners do immediately get involved with new animals. In fact, the only reason I’m not going to is because I can’t, because my pseudo-Chinese landlord won’t allow it.

I don’t think the procuring of a new kitten is an attempt to replace that cat so much as finding another avenue for that love that you still have inside you but which suddenly has no place to go. I suppose in that sense it’s a little like relationship rebound. But hopefully not as temporary.

Here’s another quote:

Another cat? Perhaps. For love there is also a season; its seeds must be resown. But a family cat is not replaceable like a worn-out coat or a set of tires. Each new kitten becomes its own cat, and none is repeated. I am four cats old, measuring out my life in friends that have succeeded but not replaced one another.’ - Irving Townsend

It upsets me that I cannot get a new cat at the moment, without incurring the wrath of the man-ferret Dudley, but so be it. The next house will have space.

And that’s it. I think I’m done for now.

Oh, except to say that at the weekend, Rex and Rita mentioned an article which had appeared in the Guardian a few weeks ago, about the death of a cat called Wilson. I’ve just searched it out and read it. It made me cry.

Rest in peace, Pablo.

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oatmeal girl said...

"I don’t think the procuring of a new kitten is an attempt to replace that cat so much as finding another avenue for that love that you still have inside you but which suddenly has no place to go."

That is it, so perfectly. You can never replace one love with another, you can only try to fill the whole. Which explains how I, for one, was able to grieve and love and grieve and love all at the same time.

Don't let that hole close up. The time and place will be right and it will be filled to overflowing.

(I can't believe I went all this time without discovering you. I can't even remember what path brought me to this space. But your writing is rich and true, and I treasure good writing. Not just as art for art's sake, but by how its prism breaks apart and then reshapes the world. Thank you.)

Je ne regrette rien said...

and without reading your link, just your post itself, I cried as well. Yesterday I put up a poem for you and Pablo .. actually a poetic excerpt from Walt Whitman which sums up nicely animals' true place in the world ... ever so glad to be reading you BDJ, ever so glad.

DJ Kirkby said...

'I don’t think the procuring of a new kitten is an attempt to replace that cat so much as finding another avenue for that love that you still have inside you but which suddenly has no place to go.' You are such a wise really you are! I think I am in love with that sweet little kitten.

Gordon said...

Beautiful, moving, funny, emotional.

RIP Pablo.

Anonymous said...

I think this is the best post you ever wrote! Heavenly indeed. Bravo!

By the way, on the subject of cat quotes: Dogs have owners, cats have staff ;o)

Zoe said...

great place to lay him to rest. I'll hug my cats closer when I get home tonight

bittersweet said...

A beautiful post.

Misssy M said...

Landlords that don't allow cats are inhuman. Don't they know that people who love cats are good people? I have had a few friends in my time who have not liked cats, usually in quite a extreme matter how much I liked them in the first place, I like them a little less after they make their announcement.

You never get over a pet dying, but it won't be as horribly gut wrenching in a wee while. My Molly's in my garden and I give her the nod every day.

suburbanhen said...

Missy M, I found I liked David Tennant the actor a little less when he mentioned in interview one day that he had never had a pet. Not ever.

Damn you Bete for making me cry. AGAIN. How dare you make me feel things.

Alan said...

Another wonderful post, and I really do feel your loss of Pablo. You're are right about finding another cat, you can never replace any pet, merely give another outlet for that love.

Over the years I have had a number of all different pets, cats and dogs, as well as other animals. We have a dog now, and love him to bits, and a part of me lives in dread of the day we part. I also remember all the past pets too though, and I don't love them any less now than I did when they were alive.

The only other thing to add I think is that when you do get another pet, you will instinctively know when the time is right, and pets tend to find owners not the other way around.

Finally, very cute pics of Fred, bet that made your Saturday.

Take care, and I am thinking of you.

Angela-la-la said...

Fred is gorgeous. As is this post.
RIP Pablo.

Delores said...

RIP Pablo - what a lovely send-off.

And Penelope - that's one of my favourite cat quotes too (one I particularly recalled the other Saturday when my cat woke me at 7.30am to open the living room blinds so he could look out of the window).

Great photos of Fred too.


Anonymous said...

Bonjour La Bête,

After reading your last 2 post, I had to grit my teeth to avoid drowning my keyboard under streams of tears.

Repose en paix Pablo.

Uncle Did

janetyjanet said...

am crying and remembering my old boy Brang and will now go and give a big hug to Meena (who won't appreciate but will permit me to give her some extra biscuits later)

Pearl said...

William Blake's tree. It's the perfect place for Pablo. What a beautiful last act of love.

Anonymous said...

You had me right up to the hilarious killing of the pet dove. Bird lover see. Still feel your pain though.

eileen said...

This post was heat wrenching...RIP Pablo.

kr said...

I cried and cried and cried while reading this post. it brought back memories of the death of my own cat, who was the cat of my life.

I just randomly found you today and I'm so glad I did. Your writing is so good and your honesty overwhelming at times. I find myself getting caught up in it all and I want to cheer your successes on and commiserate with you on setbacks. Oh, and bitchslap anybody who has ever been mean or hurtful to you.

LW said...

There are more comments over on your livejournal feed (someone's pasted your RSS over there). Just so you'll know.

And your post is faulty for it makes me laugh and yet the screen goes blurry.

SwissToni said...

Hello. You're Post of the Week again. I think that means you now ascend into the Hall of Fame and we all have to call you "Milud", or something.

Congratulations, and as you know, the long and the short of your prize (apart from all of the glory, of course) is a cordial invitation to do some judging for us. See here for more details.

Well done.


(Incidentally - I've got a cat, and I would be devastated if she were to be taken from an especially worthy winner, in my view, and a fitting tribute to Pablo. Have you ever read the Neil Gaiman short story about a cat defending a family from the devil? Pablo looked just like how I imagined that cat to look....there's a version of that story here.)

La Bête said...

Thanks, everybody.

I think that's enough grieving now though. I think it's time to move on.

Let's move on.

Kono said...

Dear Sir, before we move on, i'd like to share with you a bit of info, my cat Pablo, named for a certain eccentric painter passed away on June 13, 2008, he was just short of 14 years old, he died of natural causes and at home which is surprising in this day and age and though i was sad and shed many a tear that night i went out and celebrated his life with a few Guinness and a turkey and ham sandwich, his favorite. My condolences.