Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Farewell to a jellicle cat

Jellicle Cats are black and white,
Jellicle Cats (as I said) are small;
If it happens to be a stormy night
They will practise a caper or two in the hall.
If it happens the sun is shining bright
You would say they had nothing to do at all:
They are resting and saving themselves to be right
For the Jellicle Moon and the Jellicle Ball.
(T.S Eliot, The Song of the Jellicles).

My Jellicle cat was called Lizzie: a black and white cat who came north to Crouch End from Rotherhithe, 16 years ago, when she was a tiny kitten. She had been advertised, along with her siblings, in the small ads of 'Loot': £5 apiece, although she turned out to be priceless. My oldest son was four years old, and his younger brother was still a baby. Jamie had longed for a cat, and I thought, why not? I liked the idea of another female in the house, so Lizzie arrived at six weeks old, and lived with us thereafter.
She was an independent creature: aloof at times, although she mellowed in old age, when she was happy to sit beside me on the sofa, occasionally bestowing a quick lick on my hand, purring and companionable, a witness to the changes in my life, apparently unruffled by seismic shifts or quakes, a reassuring presence and constant reminder that whatever else, breakfasts and dinners must be served.
In her prime, Lizzie ruled the feline neighbourhood: hence her unofficial title as Queen of the Black and White Club, stalking atop the highest brick walls and wooden fences. As such, she seemed to have more than nine lives: indeed, she survived several days inside the local electricity substation. (No one knew how she had managed to break in, nor her motives in doing so; but fortunately she was rescued by an employee of the Electricity Board, despite his self-confessed fear of cats.) Then there was the morning she disappeared beneath the floor boards, and the afternoon she climbed to the highest branch of a damson tree, and the night she appeared on the roof. But Lizzie always seemed able to find her way back to a saucer of milk in the kitchen...
She had a summer in the countryside, and many seasons in London; picking her way through hard winter frosts, sniffing the soft air of spring dawns, whiskers quivering, then dozing in the warm dusks of June. For a decade or so, she roamed a maze of back gardens, although was never a predator, more interested in sunbathing than killing, but occasionally swatted a fly.
In her latter years, she did not venture beyond her own garden, the walls suddenly grown too high for her; but looked happy enough to be there, especially in the sunlight with someone to stroke her (except when she flicked her tail as a warning, a reminder that there were times when she preferred solitude). Lizzie hated rain, abhorred puppies, and held her own against foxes, even when she was lame and deaf, her back arched with age rather than fury. Not long ago, she appeared to be sleeping as a cub sauntered past; but perhaps she had one eye open, and her claws were still sharp.
Her favourite spot was beneath the magnolia tree, where she retreated more often of late, sometimes breathing so quietly that it was barely perceptible, her black and white fur motionless. There she lay, curled up against the warm earth, enjoying her hiding place on the far side of the tree trunk, enclosed by a circle of lavenders, long after the magnolia petals had fallen to the ground.
As everyone knows who has shared family life with an animal, they gradually overtake us in age; and the days become years, quickening, before you have even noticed that they are gone.
I hope Lizzie is dancing at the Jellicle ball tonight, fleet-footed once more, whisking her way into the darkness, swift as a shadow towards the dawn.

25 comments:

Lou said...

Rest in Peace,Dear Lizzie.xx

kairu said...

What a beautiful farewell, Justine. I'll be dreaming of your jellicle cat tonight, in the moonlit garden where all our faithful, lost friends have gathered.

Carol said...

What a lovely tribute Justine. My old tabby Tinkerbell is much the same age (she came from the RSPCA and they thought she was two) and I recognise the slowing down and the companionable purring.

They really get inside your heart, don't they.

Justine Picardie said...

They do. I woke up this morning, and it seemed quite wrong not to be giving Lizzie her breakfast...

Stephen Pope said...

Was really hoping that ominous first mention of frail Lizzie, in your previous blog entry, wasn't leading to this conclusion (my own adored loyal jellicle went last month without me seeing it coming.) Packing away the empty breakfast bowls is a miserable feeling, isn't it. That's such a lovely tribute you've honoured her with - and we salute her too.

Stephen Pope said...

The passing of veteran cats can be an epic and cathartic event. They've witnessed so much of our personal story that indirectly they can seem like the repository of our very selves and a marker for all the inevitable rites of passage that have occurred during that lifespan (including seeing you through 'her' last book, of course). They're tricky to mourn, special cats...

Hope today somehow brings you an unexpected lift or distraction to compensate.

Mary said...

Lizzie sounds like a very special cat... thanks for sharing her with us. I am sorry for your loss.

Lazywell said...

Yes, what a charming and evocative tribute, Justine. I have never really been one for cats, but Lizzie was clearly an enterprising and feisty character.

I have looked back at your characteristically heartfelt and perceptive pieces about the late Elspeth Thompson and Alexander McQueen. But how welcome it is that just as Catullus could write touchingly about the death of a pet sparrow, so you have brought a warmth and lyricism to the passing of a much loved cat.

Let’s hope Lizzie and Stephen Pope’s lost friend have a moonlit encounter at the Ball.

Justine Picardie said...

Stephen's jellicle cat looked very like mine. Very sad to put the breakfast bowl away this morning. Thanks for the messages from everyone.

Justine Picardie said...

PS. Very kind (far too kind) to mention me in the same breath as Catullus. Must look up his death of a sparrow. Can you recommend the best translation?

the veg artist said...

Our Rupert, who almost reached 18 years, breathed his last ten days ago. The house is not the same. We know just how you feel.

Justine Picardie said...

So the old cats had a last summer, on their way to the jellicle ball...

Karen, Surrey said...

I'm so sorry, your lovely tribute has brought tears to my eyes. They are a bit like a child, our feline companions. We have a little spot underneath an oak at the bottom of the garden where I can see a stone cat sleeping peacefully every day. I think is marvellous that she was canny enough to live to such a vast age in an urban environment. She must have been special.

Karen, Surrey said...

I'm so sorry for Lizzie, and your lovely tribute has brought tears to my eyes. They are a bit like a child, our feline companions. We have a little spot underneath an oak at the bottom of the garden where I can see a stone cat sleeping peacefully every day. I think is marvellous that she was canny enough to live to such a vast age in an urban environment. She must have been special.

oxford-reader said...

She sounds remarkable. I hope you and your boys can manage to get through the sadness and remember the happier times you shared.

jaywalker said...

So sorry, Justine. I'm more of a dog person but I can fully understand your feelings about any much loved pet. The fact that their life spans don't correspond with ours means that we may have to farewell quite a few such dear friends. Our last dog died quietly and 'dignifiedly' at home at the age or 16, three years ago, and we now have a young K C Cavalier who is the delight of our retirement. We love him so much that the mere thought of losing him eventually is a devastating one but for now he's a pure joy.

Stephen Pope said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen Pope said...

Lazywell: "I have looked back at your characteristically heartfelt and perceptive pieces about the late Elspeth Thompson..."

Animals can outlive their beloved human companions too. In a strange obverse of that 'owners-without-pets' emptiness several of us have referred to, I was watching Elspeth's two mother & son lurcher/wolfhounds the other day, tearing along the saltmarsh together like the free spirits they are. The sweep of the bay, the huge sky, and the cheering familiarity of seeing placid Wilma and delinquent Tinker in their environment made for a poignantly beautiful panorama, like a film director had waited for that precise moment to create it...

Stephen Pope said...

The Veg Artist: "Our Rupert, who almost reached 18 years, breathed his last ten days ago..."

Charles Causley, the Cornish children's poet, had a series of faithful cats as his muse - his final companion being the giant marmalade cat in the photo, also called Rupert. I notice Justine links to the blog of writer Susan Hill...who I seem to remember adopted the famous Rupert shortly before Causley died in 2003. I've a vague memory that Rupert continued to publish for at least another three or four years. That was some literary career that cat enjoyed...

Lazywell said...

Catullus Poem 3: I like the 1969 translation by the late James Michie (who used to do those entertaining literary competitions in The Spectator).

"O Venus and you Cupids, shed
A tear, and all in man that’s moved
By beauty, mourn. Her sparrow’s dead,
My darling’s darling, whom she loved
More than she loves her own sweet eyes,
Her honey of a bird. It knew
Its mistress as babes recognise
Their mothers, and it never flew
Out of her lap, but all day long,
Hopping and flitting to and fro,
Piped to her private ear its song.
Nevertheless, now it must go
Down the dark road from which they say
No one returns. Curse you, you spiteful
Swooping hawks of death who prey
On all things that make life delightful! –
That was a pretty bird you took.
Bad deed! Poor little bird – by dying
See what you’ve done! Her sweet eyes look
All puffed and rosy-red with crying."

Justine Picardie said...

Thank you so much -- it's a lovely translation.

Jan said...

I have 2 tabby sisters aged 15.
One sister ( Polly Mook) is on her last silvery stripy legs.
And I shall miss her hugely.... but I'll remember the life she's had, the fun we've had.
Cats walk the Earth knowing it's theirs...and if there's a Heaven it'll be just the same there..!
Look forward to seeing you at Chester Lit Fest next month.

Justine Picardie said...

Will be very glad to meet you at the Chester Literary festival. It's always a pleasure to meet in the real world, along with the blogosphere.

dovegreyreader said...

Justine thank you so much for sending me the link to this today I confess I had missed it and would certainly have added my good wishes. We've just been through it today with Rocky , 15 and witness to so much in our family life with his huge personality and here I am at 1am wide awake and thinking of those last moments as we all sat on the kitchen floor and stroked him on his way this afternoon, in front of the Aga , his 'spot' in the house . And now I guess we'll have to learn to cook without standing a foot away from the pans:-) RIP all these good and faithful felines .

carra said...

Oh my goodness me, I nearly cried my eyes out while reading this loving memorial. So beautiful and touching! I lost my darling cat, Aramis or Da King as he liked to call himself, five weeks ago after 21 years together... almost half of my life! It just breaks your heart when you lose them... I have cried so much. But also laughed, because I have so many silly, funny and wonderful memories. He will always be missed.

So, maybe he and Lizzie are enjoying the good life together now in Happy Mouse Everland :)

Love,
Carra