Sarah Woodall

My marginalia and some of the things that I do

just a doodle

She was a rare thing

Darcy reclining on her amplifier

She was a rare thing, fine as a bee’s wing
So fine a breath of wind might blow her away

I’ve been slow getting started on this, but it’s been a month, and I can’t put it off any more. It’s a hard one to write because I want to say it well enough.

This was Darcy—my Miss D. Of all the cats in my life, one of the two best beloved. Born July 2000. Killed by a dog on 15 July 2013 in the garden of the Green Dragon, well within her own territory.

She was a grand adventurer and a great climber. I’ll never forget the first time we saw her dancing along the ridge of the roof, and I’m glad I was never personally a witness to her trick of dodging outside the parapet of the footbridge and trotting over the river along the outer edge. She adored boating, too.

Despite her great spirit and her grand ideas, she was a delicate, fairylike little cat. But she was astonishingly robust. She never knew a day’s ill-health—well, she once had to be anaesthetized for the removal of a grass-seed she’d incautiously attempted to swallow, but apart from that it was, literally, never.

She hated to be shut in, and I always knew there were dangers out there. I tried to protect her as far as I could (that’s why it isn’t generally known that her real name was Brandywell Tenderberry, and that she was a chocolate-shaded silver Burmilla, descended from Grand Champions).

She knew there were dangers, too, and she was careful in her own way. She would meet us at the footbridge when we walked home from town, telling us off roundly with vociferous miaows for having strayed beyond what she deemed to be safe limits. She would permit us to pick her up and carry her home so long as there were no bicycles or cars around, but she preferred to trust her own judgement if there were.

Her attitude to the rest of the animal kingdom was basically hostile. She saw them all as either something to chase or something to run away from. She was deeply suspicious of dogs and certainly wouldn’t have courted her own disaster. But she was a free spirit. ‘Maybe that’s the price you pay for the chains that you refuse.’

She loved people, though—all people: friends, neighbours, strangers and even small children. She had a magnificent, luxurious purr, and she bestowed it lavishly on all her admirers. She spent most of the nights of her life on our bed, often sharing a pillow, sometimes curled up on top of one of us (on her last ever night, it was me) and sometimes more decorously arranged between our feet.

She was a joyously enthusiastic carnivore—red in tooth and claw—so I can’t truthfully claim that the manner of her death was unfitting, though it was horrible and upsetting (but mercifully quick). Her victims must have numbered in the hundreds, and she’d killed a mouse that very morning. But at least she usually ate them afterwards—and a cat can’t live without meat.

She was a rare thing, fine as a bee’s wing
I miss her more than ever words can say
If I could just taste all of her wildness now
If I could hold her in my arms today…..
I wouldn’t want her any other way

(Lyrics by Richard Thompson, though it’s Christy Moore’s version that stays with me, and I’ve taken the words from his site. The rest of the song doesn’t fit what I wanted to say here, but that chorus came rushing into my head four weeks ago, as I stood by our sundial looking down at the fresh little grave, and it’s been there ever since.)

Reasons to be cheerful in midwinter

  • Oranges are in season.
  • I am reunited with certain favourite winter clothes.
  • Underwear won’t show, so it doesn’t need to be chosen with any care.
  • Cats choose to spend more time indoors.
  • I wake with Andrew (not hours earlier).
  • If the garden is tidied, it stays tidy—weeds don’t grow back.

There must be more.

In memory of Muppet

The morning fanfare is the first thing that comes to mind. As I descended the stairs she would swirl around the corner from the sitting-room in a flurry of huge fluffy tail, calling out at the top of her voice, in unmistakeably cheerful tones, a very distinctive greeting: two syllables, rising in both volume and inflection. It sounded a lot like “Hel-LO?!”, and she used it only to mean that (she had different calls for other purposes). I always intended to record it.

My other special memory is of a typical evening at home, watching the television. We’d hear the cat-flap go, and a few moments later she’d appear. Usually she’d come to me first, step carefully and politely onto my lap, pause as if considering her options, and then proceed to her master’s. Where she would circle around through 360 degrees, always in the same direction, swirl her magnificent tail round after her, and settle herself tidily, and rather smugly, down. Sometimes it would have been necessary to displace his laptop or newspaper in order to achieve this. Once established she would stay for hours so long as she was undisturbed. Sometimes he would reach for a comb and groom her fur, which she submitted to with a reasonably good grace (occasionally whinging but never biting or scratching). If he was not around she made do with my lap instead, but it was clear from her demeanour that this was second best.

The name was my idea—I was thinking of one of those cute fluffy monsters from The Muppet Show—and of course I regretted it later. I first heard the word used in its modern sense by Ed Grundy (a streetwise young character) on The Archers just a couple of months after we’d named her. We considered changing it, but it had stuck, so she was stuck with it.

She quite liked other cats. Darcy, who doesn’t, was a disappointment to her as a companion. Muppet’s attempts to start a playful rough-and-tumble were usually misunderstood. The few occasions on which we found them sharing a bed or a sofa were so rare and delightful as to inspire an immediate dash for a camera, so the photographic record is distorted in this respect.

We chronicled some episodes from her life in our Christmas circular letters:

2001


We acquired two new cats. Their names are Darcy and Muppet.
Muppet is Andrew’s cat. She is large and has a tail of great magnificence.
Darcy is Sarah’s cat. She looks like a fragile and elegant little creature, but in fact she is an ardent adventurer who goes out in all weathers.

Muppet contemplating a winter sunrise

2002



2003

What we did on our holidays

Mostly we sat on the sofa on the boat while it went along. Sometimes we sat up inside the porthole instead. This is particularly rewarding when moored in Ely, where lots of people walk past and they all stop and say “Ah”. (Why do people do that?)


We experimented with walking around the outside of the boat while it was going along, but there was a bit of a mix-up when we were trying to get past each other on the gunwhale and Muppet ended up in the river.

Fortunately she turns out to be a very good swimmer, but the master and mistress made a huge fuss about having to climb out onto the bank to pick her up. We don’t understand why, as it was only a thicket of nettles, thistles and rusty scrap iron. They are weaklings.

– Darcy & Muppet

We like to spend quite a lot of time upside-down because it is good for the brain

That year, Muppet also appeared on our Christmas card. She was very well insulated from the cold, and quite happy with snow.

Deep and crisp and even

2004

The feline year

We continue in joint domination of the Water Street area, or at least this bit of it.
There was a serious challenge over the summer from two very uppity young intruders – one night they even invaded the bedroom that we allow the master and mistress to share with us – but they proved no match for our superior running-away-and-hiding skills and they eventually had to persuade their people to move house so as to save face.
– Muppet and Darcy


2006

We were very pleased to see the Japanese guy again. Next time we’ll remember to ask for his name and address. He told us the photos of Muppet that he took at our 2004 Open Studio had been very popular at his own exhibition in Tokyo.


2007

Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?

Many thanks to the friends who helped with posters etc (we were in Paris). No thanks at all to the man who phoned on the fifth day Muppet was gone, claimed he’d got her and demanded a thousand-pound ransom. Fortunately she came home the next morning. We still don’t know where she was.

2008


“I must confess I lack my small friend’s dedication to the pursuit of voles. Problem is, I don’t really like raw vole. But they’ve been so plentiful this autumn that no cat could help catching the odd one. So I hand them on to her. Freaks her out! She’s such a suspicious little thing. I have to close both eyes tight and then, would you believe it, roll on my back and wave my paws in the air before she will actually believe that I mean it as a gift.”

2009

We used a little photo story that had already appeared on Flickr.

Muppet has just died

Muppet was at the vet’s today (well, yesterday, I mean, since it’s now after midnight) for a very minor procedure—flushing out a blocked tear-duct, under sedation. I picked her up in the afternoon and she seemed just like her usual self all evening, only rather cross because she wanted to go out and we had been instructed to keep her in. Then, at about 11pm, Andrew went to get her (she was sitting in the hall) to give her an eye-drop. As he carried her over to the sofa she seemed to shudder, and then she just collapsed. We rushed her to the emergency vet’s in Milton, but she was dead on arrival.

The emergency vet was very kind and spent time with us talking it over. He explained that she died because she had lost a great deal of blood. He said it was most likely internal bleeding (must have been—there was no visible wound), though he couldn’t explain what had caused that. He said that nothing connected with the usual procedure to flush out a tear-duct could possibly account for this, and it was probably a coincidence that it happened on the same day. He said that a post-mortem would be the only way to find out, and of course there was no need for that to be treated as an emergency. So we brought her body home, and will see about that sort of thing in the morning.

She had a good life. She was nine years old (same age as Mercury was when he died), and she was always active and healthy apart from minor things. It is a shock for us, but perhaps not too bad an end for her. It was sudden—no lingering illness—and she died in the arms of her master, whom she adored.

Prey

I have mixed feelings about celebrating the achievements of my small and destructive feline friend (as my Dad is fond of pointing out, it cannot logically be reconciled with my opposition to fox-hunting—especially when, as on this occasion, she hasn’t even attempted to get a meal out of it), but I couldn’t resist making a record of this morning’s specimen. That’s a 12-inch ruler.

How on earth did she manage to get it in through the cat-flap?