This photograph contains two much loved and much valued friends, neither of which are now with me.
In the background is Keith my beetle. Named after a character in Mike Leigh's film Nuts in May, this car has served me well, and though I have only owned him a short time, it feels like much longer - the last two years being full of all sorts of significant events and changes. It do feels like longer because my last beetle was almost the same - if a few years older. Keith felt like not do much a different car, but a reincarnation of Oscar, my previous one. Sadly missed. But replaceable.
Which brings me to the other subject in the photograph. Abigail the cat has been with me for almost twenty years. In 1992 I started my first teaching job at Newbiggin Middle school, and one if my pupils, Jen Ridley, said her cad had given birth to a litter of kittens and they needed good homes. I was recently married and living in Lynemouth with Antonia and my cat Garfield. We jumped at the chance to get a kitten. After a very sad false start with Emily, a kitten who died of stomach complications after a few days of adopting her, we took in Abigail, her sister.
Abigail has been there in the periphery vision if my daily life for half of my existence. She has always been very affectionate and vocal. As a young cat she enjoyed annoying much older Garfield in much the same way young Sparky teased her in her old age.
Also as a young cat she would carry around a small length of chain that came from a whistle I got from York Railway Museum - and this chain would go everywhere in Abigail's mouth, swinging and glinting as she trotted from room to room, and frequently left in her food bowl. She would even fetch it if thrown.
As life went on, and in 1995 we moved house to Newbiggin, Garfield grew older and the two cats never really became close or very friendly toward each other as we hoped they would. so when in 2000 Garfield died (a very sad day indeed and I found myself unable to speak to the vet to make the appointment to bring her in to be put down) we wondered if Abigail would like a little friend.
Ginger came along and layer Sparky - both boys and both considered themselves superior to Abigail, the thin old cat. But she was always really in charge - she just didn't care to exercise her right to show it.
Over the past 5 years or so, she has been very reclusive, very seldom venturing out if doors, and living almost exclusively in our kitchen and utility rooms. Last year, her right eye became clouded and infected, and after a spectacular incident involving what seemed like 6 litres of blood, her damaged eye was removed and she became all the more reclusive after the trauma of that operation at such an advanced age - then 18.
Then earlier this year things changed. She suddenly became a little more adventurous and would ask to be out, and enjoy lying in the sun. She would also spend more time with the children and in the living rooms and even on occasion upstairs. It was like she was trying to relive a memory of her younger years.
Then last week, becoming more and more croaky and frail, she changed again, and went into hiding. She preferred the out of the way places, behind the settee. Then on Friday she asked to be outside, and went straight into the garage and refused to come out. Early Saturday morning I checked on her and she was very weak, so u carried her inside, despite her feeble protesting, and put her next to food and water, but she wasn't interested at all. Her last journey was to her little bed, where later in the day she died in her sleep. She looked calm, relaxed and happy. She will be sadly missed. I can still hear her shrill miaow in my mind - the greeting I have heard on entering the kitchen for a good deal of my life. Bye bye xxx