Saturday, March 14, 2009
A Yoo Lojjee ("eulogy" to you) to Biggles
The story starts in Avignon in the summer of 1996. We visit there and it is festival time. It is an amazing festival, the equivalent of Edinburgh. Daniel (aged 15) sees a jester's hat that he really wants and we buy it for him. His sweet little sister (aged 12) throw a total wobbler until we buy her one too. Daniel is not unreasonably miffed at this as he feels that he can't have something without Zoe having it too. He turns and says that Zoe has a cat, Figaro, so he wants a cat too. We agree to this. Figaro was a long haired tabby with the longest tail any of us has ever seen, when it went up in the air at the pleasure to see it went all the way along his back. Sadly, he was run over while we were away on holiday, hence going to the Mayhew Home for two kittens, not one.
So, we visit the RSPCA Mayhew Home and ask for two HEALTHY kittens (our first cats from the Mayhew Home, Oedipus and Rex, had both been sickly when we got them and it was quite complicated getting them both well). Well, the staff clearly knew a nice middle class family when they saw us and steered us towards the hospital and to a cage with THREE kittens in it. Daniel was immediately taken with a very small tortoiseshell kitten who immediately buried her head in his arm - he thought this was affection, in fact, she was trying to escape and was in a panic. Zoe saw the runtiest thing you have ever seen, skinny, wonky with hardly any whiskers as its first owners had tried to feed it on porridge; this was something for a girl to love and nurture back to health. Ignored by both children was a little, slightly tubby ginger and white kitten that waddled to the front of the cage and looked out at us with a wonderfully open friendly face. Well, Liz and I picked up this little chap and he was clearly incredibly friendly and sweet, so we decided that this would be our cat.
At home the three kittens got on terribly well, played together and often slept together. They were fun and gave us great pleasure.
Biggles showed this wonderful friendly nature and sense of fun. In those days orange juice was sold in 6 packs with the litre cartons contained in a cardboard carrier. I would put several of these together to make a tunnel. I had found one of the children's paint brushes; Painty Brush had a long thick handle and lots of soft bristles. I would stratch Painty Brush at one end of the tunnel or use a pencil and Biggles would zoom down this tunnel at full speed to catch his prey. We played with boxes and Painty Brush for many hourse, especially when the boxes had lots of holes. Biggles was often very fierce with Painty Brush and attacked it with fervour. I had hoped that these training sessions would become transferable skills and would lead to Biggles becoming a lean, mean fighting machine - I think it is fair to say that he failed on all these counts, and that transferability of skills was not one of his strongest points. (More on adult games below).
As Biggles grew I started to call him Bodge and Bodger because, to be honest, he was not the lightest of leapers with the finest sense of balance, and tended to bodge things as he went around. I had also assumed that as he grew up he would learn to sit with his front paws together like a normal cat - er, no, his front paws always stayed apart for balance even when he was a slim adolescent. He was also sniffly; this was, we discovered, because he had had cat flu as a kitten and some nasal passages were clearly blocked or permanently irritated.
So, what made Biggles, the Mighty Thunderer, such a special cat?
Well, he was just incredibly personable and he loved to be around his family. Daniel was like a big bruv that he liked to follow around. Zoe was much more a rival for 4th place in the pecking order and they did fight for places on the sofa and various other things. Biggles won when Zoe left home to go to university.
When opening the door to the playroom where the cats slept out would come Biggles and head straight for the bowls. Most often he would look up first and have one stroke and then eat. He was a brilliant multi-tasker and could eat food and purr simultaneously without any difficulty.
Even when deeply asleep if one of us came into the room he would wake up and sort of smile (or as close to a smile as a cat can get - and Biggles did have a sort of smile) and look for his stroke. If you didn't stroke him he would follow you round the room and contort his body as he stretched for his stroke, so he got it. And much pleasure he got from it.
When we would come home, he would usually be asleep upstairs and he would totter down the stairs 99% asleep as he heard the key in the lock, to greet us with great pleasure. If we had shopping to bring in he would sit out on the path with the bags guarding them or rolling over on his front territory hoping to get stroked.
He loved showing his tummy, a fine expanse of wonderful fur. BUT his tummy was most private and he did not take kindly to having it stroked despite it being irresistible. In fact, he loved running out of the front door like a naughty boy and checking both the front door gardens which were part of his territory.
So, what else did he do? Well, he would always accompany you when you walked up the garden, walking by your side with his tail up. Sometimes he would wander off a bit but mostly he would be very close by and looking to see what you were doing. If I hung out the washing he was always there, and Tosca was usually around too, and he would expect his strokes as he guarded the washing. He loved it when the basket was nearly empty and I was hanging out a whites wash he would love to leap in the basket and ideally leave his paw prints on the clean underwear. He just loved to do this. But once the basket was empty and I had turned it upside down (to avoid his muddy paw prints on the inside) he would jump up on it and make it absolutely clear that as the Top Cat this was HIS laundry basket; very Lion King! If he managed to get inside the basket well, then he would play and I have to tell you (perhaps small children should look away at this moment) that to see Biggles attack a dead leaf was a pretty scary sight as he would grab it and tear at it without any fear.
He really did like the company going up the garden which was very much HIS territory as he spent most time in it. I remember once going up the garden when it had snowed in wellie boots and Biggles came out with me and clearly found the snow unpleasant but instead of staying in he obviously thought that if I was going to be brave and walk up the garden then he would walk with me.
He had his Butch Bowl on the patio. This was his major outdoor drinking hole, his big bowl of water. He would drink from it just like a mighty lion on the savannah, looking at his territory as he drank. He had several drinking holes. His water bowl in the playroom, his butch bowl outside, the one with the food bowls which he didn't like much and in the downstairs bath where he had a small Clover pot. Runty being totally obsessed with drinking from taps (and will wait until all her internal organs look like sun dried tomatoes rather than drink from a bowl) would also drink from the bath downstairs. Biggles really liked this idea but and took it up from Tosca but, being a far more talented cat in his own eyes he did not drink from the bottom of the bath but drank only from mid stream. He thought he was just totally brilliant at this and found water quite fascinating, when he had finished drinking he would watch the water with his head going first to one side and then to the other. After watching it for a bit he would try and catch it in his paw with no great success. As he got weaker I noticed that sometimes he had difficulty jumping into the bath and out but he seemed to strengthen shortly before the operation. Talent, eh?
He was always thrilled when we came home and would often need lots of attention but he was not naggy or "needy" per se (well, he was in his own way). But he was there and thrilled when you came home. When Liz would get home on most evenings Liz would lie on a sofa. Biggles would come and sit on her chest, gaze into her eyes with his front legs stretched out in front like a male lion sitting smuggly under his tree watching his females. He would sit there looking smug for about twenty minutes and then that would be it, enough, done, contact reestablished, ascendency established.
Often with me he would jump on the table in the morning put his large bum on the paragraph of The Guardian that I was reading and stare at me with benign love. "Bugger off", I would say, "you're not allowed on the table", and he would just sit there staring at me, grinning, purring waiting for his strokes. And a wonderful, responsive cat he was to stroke, he didn't just sit there accepting the stroked but he would move his head in response and often his body. Sometimes he would hold my hand between his front paws, grip it with enough claw to keep it firm without hurting me, and rub my hand against his nose to kiss/mark my hand as his.
Oh, yes, he would mark me to make sure that everyone knew I was his. If I went out in the garden in shorts when, of course, he would accompany me, he would smear both my calves several times, quite passionately, to make sure that any other cat sniffing me would know that I was his.
Even on his final weekend when Daniel and Rosie visited, he came into the front room and sat on everybody's lap in turn, giving each person a few minutes of his time. He would then sit in the middle of the room, roll over (a flollop) and then expect to be stroked.
He would, actually, go flollop alot and would expect his strokes. If he went flollop and did not get his strokes he would look up with incomprehension at his humans (who might be eating) and not understand why he was not being stroked.
But there was an edge to Biggles, as one would expect from a top cat (I sometimes wondered if they had a left a tenth of a ball behind when he had his little op). Oh, yes, his little op. He came home and it was obviously a little itchy/sore down there and he licked the operation patch and looked up completely startled at the discomfort. A few minutes later he did the same thing with the same reaction. He learned then and didn't lick it again.
Biggles did not share nicely, except, perhaps, a sun lounger with Runty (but one suspected that this was not out of kindness but because he had the top end and couldn't cover any more of it). Nope, if he wanted a bit of settee or a lounger or a chair then he wanted it and would become quite violent if you tried to move him. This could cause problems.
I have what I think of as MY desk and MY desk chair but there was a running dispute for several years over this (even I, with the hand that fed him most often, was not secure in my superior position in the pecking order). He liked my desk and would often come and mark important papers with his seal of approval, several muddy paw prints. He would often sit on them and it would be just about impossible to get them out from under him, and if I did try I risked serious injury, and if I succeeded because I really needed them then he used language the like of which I will not put into a blog. MY desk chair was even worse and I invariably ended up on a hard white chair instead until Daniel gave me a nicer chair that he no longer needed. Did this mean that we had a chair each? Nope. He wanted the nicer, newer one. Oh, yes, he would pretent to be perfectly happy on my desk but the moment my bum lifted from my chair and I moved no more than 3 feet from the chair (that's ninety something centimetres for the young folk) he would be on the chair and God help me if I tried to get it back.
Yes, he considered "Bugger off, Biggles" to be one of his favourite terms of endearment and he would always look back as if to say; "Yeh, and I luv yoo two".
He did not take neglect kindly. If he felt neglected he would lie on my desk with his head just by the mouse knowing full well that if I was going to use the mouse he would get several strokes on the head.
You may think that I have made up the stuff in his blog about him feeling that he had territory and he went on patrol. Well, he did. Clearly, he has been feeling ill since late autumn and one of the consequences is that he has gone out much less this winter, generally only to go to the toilet. The consequence has been that four cats are currently fighting over our garden to have it as their territory and are terrorising our females. One in particular, whom we have discovered is called Sylvester and lives across the road - he has one eye and a strange jaw due to coming off second best with a car - Sylvester is a chancer and is trying to get into the house when ever he can and is trying to establish this house as his territory along with the garden!!! This just would not have happened in the past.
Of course, he liked his bed too. This he considered a time share and it was his for most of the time. If one of us was ill, well, he was very pleased to see us for a short while and then really he wanted to go to sleep and would we kindly bugger off.
Biggles and Tosca spent alot of time together. Frequently, they would sleep together or very near each other. Or they would sleep in the same area of garden together, say, a couple of feet away in a flower bed. Of course, being a top cat he would sleep where ever he chose, and every now and then Runty would be deeply asleep when Bodger would see her and conclude that Runty was actually in the finest, warmest spot in the garden and in all of the 100ft by 35ft of garden and he had to have it. He would approach her, sniff her, wake her up, maybe even give her a couple of licks and then pounce on her. Runty would jump in the air, totter off about 4ft, give herself a consoling like. Bodger would look very smug, settle himself down, have a little satisfied lick and clearly say to himself; this is just the very bit of garden that I needed to lie in.
Gwenny was not allowed by Biggles to use the garden. The truth is he didn't like her and would sometimes bully her in the house, even though Gwenny is the fittest, fastest little packet of feline muscle I have ever known (and a superb hunger in her youth). When told off he would dash out through the cat flap and sit on the patio about 6 inches away looking totally smug. I remember many years ago he chased Gwenny out of the garden, she ran behind a shed he chased her and nearly got totally stuck as he was not very slim and had to wriggle his way backwards and try not to look embarrassed. Just to clarify; his territory covered the gardens either side of ours.
I am just restarting this eulogy the following morning and I have just had to stop Sylvester from going up our stairs and to chase him out!!!! (Runty is marking my laptop as hers - no Biggles to contradict).
There was no more reassuring sight than Biggles sitting on his patio, with his tale swishing, looking up the garden, with nothing really going on in his brain, with that fine white chest of his clearly visible to all as he never learned to sit with his front legs together in the proper cat manner. Sometimes when he was sitting at the top end of the garden, lazing in the sun, we would exclaim; "Oh, my goodness! Is that a fiercesome lion lying in our garden???!!!! No, it's alright, it's Biggles".
In fact, Biggles swishing his tail was not just a sign of anger it was also just a sign of a top cat is out and about even if he was purring. He didn't like being picked up. So, if you picked him up he would purr and looked very pleased but the other end of him was swishing away looking very cross, and there was no gratitude in this, top cats are just not picked up and used in that sort of way and you would have to put him down within half a minute.
Ok, let's be honest, was Biggles a scary, lean mean fightin' machine? Er...........no. Yes, he was brilliant at protecting his territory and let me, here, state some factual information - since acquiring Biggles we have not been burgled - and yes, he would protect his territory from other cats (although he was very accomodating to the local foxes) but the question is, was he a brave cat? Well, no. At the slightest loud sound or unusual, strange movement the look of fear and panic in his eyes was immediate and few cats would move faster through their cat flap. Fireworks were especial torture. There was a credibility gap between his perception of himself as the big, tough top cat and the reality that we saw.
In order to keep in trim in winter he put himself through a very rigorous programme particularly with Corky the Cork. Any champaigne bottle cork on a piece of string was going to have a pretty tough time from Biggles and it didn't matter which of the four corks it was. And even worse was what he would do to Green Fishy (a Mayhew Home toy). Amazing hunting, fighting, killing skills!!! And this play.......er...........sorry............ keep fit and keep fight work would go on every evening. He was even bought a fighting exercise bit of apperatus (these are not toys, ok?) by Rosie, but it was not built to withstand Bogger attacks.
He did create two games; Pat the Frog and Moth Play. Sometimes frogs would come through from the garden next door if one came near to Biggles he was quite fascinated. The frog somehow realised that it was near a lean, mean, fighting machine and would go dead still. Biggles would look at it and pat it on its back, the frog would leap in the air uttering a cry of despair. This would startle Biggles but the frog would then return to the ground and be dead still again. So, the mighty Bodge would then pat it again and again it would leap vertically and let out its froggy cry. This was all he would do with the frog until I rescued it and put it back through a hole in the fence into its own garden. His other game was to catch a moth and bring it in doors and play with it; he would then roll over and expect the moth to fly up and play on him, not realising that it had a torn wing by this point and was not able to take turns in this way.
Oh, yes, he did hunt. He would sit under the buddleia trying to stay awake so that he could catch the butterflies that foolishly flew too low. And let me tell you he would leap up very high and do brilliant acrobatics to catch the butterflies and then he would eat them. A hunter catching his own food - although how much nutritional value there is in a butterfly for a cat is a question I cannot answer.
He was not a cat who liked change. He liked his daily routine. He liked his food to be where it was and to be there when he wanted it. Oh, yes, he liked his food. He liked Hill's Science Adult Light, he did not like Hill's Science for the Senior Cat or anything else (except for eating a bit of Runty's even more expensive food for her urinary tract issues - sorry, patient medical confidentiality prevents me from saying more here) but that was it. You could offer him a bit of the very finest sirloin steak or a piece of organic roast chicken, both without any seasoning; he would sniff it and then look at you as if to say; "Yoo ca'nt fuel mee thats' not reel food, reel food is maid bye Mr Hill Science, ha!", and walk off looking most smug at seeing through the con. Yes, a cat who loved his food.
I could write so much more but I suppose I ought to stop now and say what I will miss most.
Well, he was just there. He was there to greet us when we got in, he would find us if he didn't know where we were. One would hear his thumping paws going along and then he would pause to hear where we were with that sniffly, heavy breathing due to his kitten flu and then he would find you and be so pleased.
I am beginning to get used to not seeing him when I get in but I found not seeing him when I did a food shop strange. I miss the way he would give Liz 20 minutes' of totally devoted attention each evening when she was home from work but not with gratitude like an underling but with smug satisfaction.
I will miss him sharing a sun lounger with me not very nicely (and waiting for me to get up so that he could take the commanding position).
I will miss eating meals on the patio and putting out a chair and cushion for him as he would join us.
I will especially miss walking up the garden this summer, doing jobs in the garden and especially hanging out the washing without him. It was genuine friendship, love and companionship.
He loved people, he loved his family - he was always thrilled when Daniel or Zoe visited - and, especially, he loved Liz and me. He was our cat and we were his best friends, his "payrents".
I have had cats all my life and, as a child, had cats who grew up with me and one who lived until he was around 20 (Toots), Liz grew up with the mighty Mitten who even in his latter years when I knew him was a magnficent, large tabby beast, but for sheer all round friendship and love was Biggles.
He loved us both equally, he was a wonderful part of our lives, and we miss him terribly.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
A cat very much mourned
This is Biggles' dad and I have to write with huge sadness that Biggles died between 6 and 6.30pm on Tuesday, 10th March 2009. It feels a bit strange to be writing on his blog without him sitting by the computer or my new laptop (well, shared laptop as he marked it several times a day to establish primary ownership).
Since last autumn Biggles had been losing weight and I suppose we had not also noticed that he was really slowing down and not playing with corky the cork wun, corky the cork won or corky the cork 1 (I have omitted the other cork as his counting was not that brilliant) nor was he playing with fishy on a string, which took a fearful beating from him. He was not there by the front door within seconds of it being open or coming out to guard the shopping while it was carried in. But he still seemed ok, one tends not to notice a slow decline or rationalises it in other ways.
In February we took him to the vet who said he was suffering from hyperthyroidism and that one of his thyroids (yes, cats have two too!) was huge. Medication gradually regulated him and on his last weekend (see photos above) he seemed in particularly fine fettle, his old self. The vet strongly advocated removing one or both thyroids and said that cats function very well without. Certainly, giving him tablets twice a day was not something he particuarly liked even though he was not that uncooperative, but I was not very keen to have to do this to him for the rest of his life, and it also made the thought of going away, even with leaving him in charge, very complicated. So, we agreed on surgery and Biggles was passed fit for it. I must confess I didn't really discuss it with him as I know he would have asked who Sir Gerry was and why Mr Josh was being called a Sir John.
He went in for the surgery on Monday, had both thyroids removed and all seemed to be fine for him to come home the following morning. I brought him home and he seemed really fine for the first couple of hours or so and then he began to decline. I wondered if he was just tired or in pain. I phoned the vet mid afternoon and spoke to the junior vet who rather fobbed me off and said that the blood tests had all been fine and maybe he had just eaten too much food; she did not ask any questions as to what my specific concerns were. I then phoned later and spoke to Mr Josh who did ask some questions and agreed that he should be seen towards the end of surgery at 6.30pm. Biggles then made his way upstairs and went under our bed right up by the headboard; I thought he has either gone to die or for a quiet sleep in a very safe place. He was very difficult to monitor there but I could see that he was breathing.
Around 5.15pm he came out from under the bed and gave two very deep yowls. He slumped on his side and peed on the carpet. He got up and moved a few feet. Now it was clear to me that he was breathing at 3 or 4 breaths a second, was glassy eyed and struggling to stay alive. I phoned the vet and told them that I was bringing him in immediately and that it was an emergency. He was at the vet's by 5.30. Around 6 o'clock I was taken to see him; he had an oxygen bag over his head and he was being given 100% oxygen and he was being given drugs to stimulate the heart. He was clearly failing. I went home and a few minutes after I had got home I was phoned and told he was dead. I phoned his human big bruv, Daniel, and his sister Zoe wot he yoosed to fite for forth plaice in der peckin order (as he would have put it) and, he would add; "I one!!!". I then went to the Tube station to wait for Liz and then we went to the vet to say our goodbyes to the very Best of the Best of the Best. We are both grief struck and I will write another blog entry about just what made him such a very special cat.
I was phoned Mr Josh, the vet, on the next day to be told that histopathology had tested some of the tissue from the very large thyroid that had been removed and found that it had been cancerous, which made the the growths on his spine possibly secondary tumours. Does this explain why Biggles collapsed after the surgery? Not entirely. But I suppose it showed that Biggles was not long for this world.