Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Farewell to Rascal, a loyal writing companion

I hope you'll forgive a rather sentimental post today (and those not particularly keen on animals should stop reading now), but I have been thinking a great deal recently about our much-loved cat, Rascal, whom we had to have put to sleep last year. It wasn't unexpected: he was nearly 18 and clearly failing (in fact very miserable during the last week of his life). I was away at the time so my husband had to take him to the vet and make the final decision, and when I came home, the house was empty. Rascal had disappeared from our life as suddenly and discreetly as he'd entered it, and an era was over. This is the first time I've tried to write a book without his basilisk stare and rumbling purr from the other side of the desk, and it doesn't feel the same. He liked to settle as close to the keyboard as possible, having walked over it first, and once managed to delete three pages of work by treading on the alt, control and delete keys. (I'm convinced it was a deliberate plea for attention.)

We first met Rascal at the Battersea Cats' and Dogs' Home, where he had been brought as an abandoned five-month-old kitten. At first sight he seemed a very ordinary little black-and-white cat, but when I picked him up, I couldn't believe the softness of his fur. He put one paw on either side of my neck and fixed me intently with his big yellow eyes. I understood exactly what he was saying: 'Take me home'. And so we did.

We discovered very quickly that Rascal was a Cat of Character. He particularly loved milk (though it upset his stomach) and used to appear regularly at breakfast, sitting bolt upright at the table on an empty chair and waiting for the moment when he could reach out to swipe some cereal from an unfinished bowl or surreptitiously dip his paw into the milk jug. (He would eat catfood from the tin with his paw too.) If caught in the act, he would immediately look away or pretend to be washing himself. And when I went to visit a friend in the next road, he would follow me through the neighbours' front gardens, miaowing all the way, then wait by her front door until I'd emerged and he could accompany me home again. Perhaps he thought I might get lost.

Engaged on one his favourite activities: sitting in something

He also had a fine line in outrage. When we got our first dog, a small terrier, Rascal was so appalled that he moved out of our house and went to live with the old lady over the road. Should he happen to catch sight of any of us on our way to school or work, he would miaow indignantly, or even hiss if he was feeling particularly cross. Sadly the old lady became ill so Rascal reluctantly returned home; he managed to live with the dog by pretending he simply didn't exist.

And another: sleeping
 Things went from bad to worse on the dog front, however, for a few years later the terrier died and we replaced him with a bouncy rescue puppy who grew... and grew... and grew. Rascal was appalled. Eventually, however, he realised that although he was about a tenth the size of this enormous interloper, he was at least ten times as clever. We once witnessed a particularly fiendish trick of his which reduced the dog to a quivering wreck. Noticing Monty underneath the kitchen table on which he happened to be sitting, Rascal crept silently to the edge and swiped him across the head, before immediately retreating to the centre of the table, out of sight. Monty leapt to his feet and stared around. Unable to see his assailant, he became so terrified that he ran straight out of the kitchen and hid in the cupboard under the stairs. 

After a similar run-in

I miss Rascal hugely: miss his softness when times are hard and comfort is needed, miss his indignant face and the sight of him trotting across the garden on some rascally mission. He used to remind me of the Walt Whitman poem:

“I think I could turn and live with the animals, they are so placid and self contained;
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied - not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is responsible or industrious over the whole earth.”

Thank you, Rascal, for all the joy and laughter you've brought us over the years. Taking you home from Battersea was one of the best things we ever did.

Monty, guarding a carrot; Rascal, pretending he doesn't exist

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