Part of the reason for moving to Meadow Cottage was to give Miss Daisy a good few years with a garden and a country lifestyle; from August 2008 to December 2012 she had to put up with a very small patio and this was an opportunity for Daisy to chase butterflies and lay in the sunny borders. We saw an immediate change in her when we moved to Cold Comfort Farm, the rental house; she became quite bold, although she fled home astonished, when she discovered the neighbour’s geese at the end of the garden. As it turned out she didn’t have too many adventures as soon after we moved to Meadow Cottage she was attacked by the local thug–cat and she became reticent and fearful.
For a long time I took her back to our old vet, Alan, but one day she made it clear she’d had enough of that two hour round trip by the watery deposit in her cat basket. There was a gradual edging away from the cat she had once been, a little dementia, the refusal to go to the loo outside — through fear of thug–cat — lately she couldn’t always locate her food bowl. Then there was the stiffness and the incessant yowling, the inability to get up and down to her chair. The trips to the vet became increasingly frequent, often weekly and then emergencies. Medicines were altered; doses upped and lowered, but in the end it was clear that she was suffering and there were seldom good days. I had to face facts; she had lost any quality of life and further investigations would be cruel rather than caring.
Looking after Daisy in her decline had, I know realise, taken up a great deal of my day. There was mopping up the ‘accidents’ where she failed to find the litter tray; the medicating and the sitting and holding and stroking her, sometimes for hours, to comfort her when she seemed confused. I had become Daisy’s carer. I stopped leaving her overnight some time ago, worried that she wouldn’t understand the cat feeder machine and knowing she hated being alone. I could no longer go away, who else could give her the four doses of medicine a day, or pipette water into her mouth when she had not drunk sufficient water.Recently I had found myself saying to friends that I must get back because I really couldn’t leave Daisy for too long.
We found Daisy in the RSPCA rescue centre sixteen years and three months ago. She is the only cat I have owned whose birthdate I know. Born in captivity to a feral mother Daisy was the last kitten from the litter unchosen and alone in the pen; tiny and probably the runt, she was the cutest little tabby, and she was very scared. I remember that she hissed at us and we had to be reassured that she really had a very gentle nature. We had to be ‘vetted’ to make sure that we were suitable owners and a lovely woman, rather wonderfully named, Bunny Alden, came to check that our home and our care was up to scratch. Once home, Daisy spent the first two weeks hiding, mostly behind the washing machine and my daughter finally coaxing her out into the world. Daisy never quite found her inner tigger.
She really was the most delightful and gentle soul, she never lashed out or scratched us and in all her sixteen years and three months she never killed a single living creature. Only once did I find her on the stairs in Earlham Road, with a small yellow bird held gently in her mouth as a mother would her kittens, I told her to let it go immediately and she did; the little bird was completely uninjured and flew away out of the bathroom window.
She had a very different demeanour depending on who was with her. My daughter carried her about in her arms like a baby, spotty tabby tummy upwards and Daisy loved this. My son played hide and seek and catch-me-if-you-can games with her - hilarious - he would get down on all fours and wiggle his bottom in a cat-like manner and she would dash off behind a chair or sofa and then leap out, hit him with her paw and run off to hide again. Later in the game she would get the better of him by leaping up the back of a chair and leaping on him from above; he would admonish her for cheating. I was at the practical end of caring, looked to for rescuing Daisy from garage roofs, or over ambitious tree climbing; she had never been taught these cat abilities and was not a great climber.
I had forgotten that grief makes an idiot of you; I am doing many strange things; silly procedural mistakes when cooking — putting some peculiar item in the fridge. I recognise this as one of the manifestations of grief; I’ve been here before — with much–loved humans. The cottage is silent and the air undisturbed — literally lifeless. Small things trigger a tearful response, I can’t control it, but I don’t feel particularly foolish. When you work in daily solitude the comfort and companionship of an animal is central. Daisy kept me company every day for over sixteen years now this empty space is horrible.
Daisy had a habit of helping us with our work; she would come and sit with the children while they did their homework, sometimes sitting on their essays to gain attention. Robin, our decorator, used to come and paint a large room while we were away on holiday (Robin loves cats) he would feed her and bring her a special diet if he felt she was pining for us. Daisy would sometimes walk in his paint tray to gain attention and he forgave her, Daisy was adept at managing her humans. Over the years there were many feline interventions in my writing, she would deliberately walk back and forth in front of the computer screen and she delighted in the recent upgrade to a touch screen, swishing her tail back and forth, she has had input into several novels and short stories; it was fortunate she never located the delete button! It was her way of telling us that she needed attention far more than we needed to work. Daisy was loved far beyond the confines of our home; she had visitors, my son’s teenage friends would pop by and when told that he was out ask to see Daisy. Family and friends would ring and always ask after Daisy, she was one of us — family, and Miss Daisy had her own fan club. Daisy invited her Norwich Vet, Alan and his wife to the house warming party, to show off her cat paradise; never having had a party invitation from a cat before he couldn’t resist despite the distance.
I know from experience that grieving is a process, that the gnawing pain lessens and that fond memories will replace this gut wrenching sense of loss. We are so fortunate to have the company of animals that love us; Daisy’s happy days will be recalled and cherished. In the meantime I am cleaning everything and anything to disturb the air, and the radio is on, breaking up this empty silence.
03.05.1998 – 19.08.2014
'One of the most gripping and intelligent accounts of an artist's growth I have ever read.' Sunday Times.