Archive for the ‘sad’ Tag

My Life in Music: 1974

The song for this year I remember being in the charts, and in a way it’s the song that indirectly inspired this series of posts. I remember every time I heard this song, I felt sad and I couldn’t understand why. I was too young to understand it at the time, but it’s the song that first made me realise the power of music on our emotions.

The song is about death, and I think I knew that. But at the age of four I didn’t really understand what death was about. All of my grandparents were alive, my parents were still together, and I didn’t really appreciate what grief was all about.

I started school in September 1974, at All Saints’ Infants School in Mossley. Fun fact – TV presenter Melanie Sykes was my classmate in junior school, all the way from the first day of school until my family moved to Canada in 1980.

The school was an old building, and we spent three years there before moving up to the junior school next door – Micklehurst – which was a newer building and had portacabins for some of the classrooms, and went from Junior 1 to Junior 4. I looked online for the school, which is still there, but it looks like they’ve now combined the infant school with the junior school, and the nursery school next door which I also went to. I don’t recognise any of the pictures at all. The location is the same, but either the school’s been renovated beyond recognition over the last forty years or they pulled the old buildings down and rebuilt it completely.

My best friend at that time was a girl named Helen, who lived down the street from us. Her father was a policeman. He died, in this year or the following one, I can’t remember exactly. This was my closest experience of death at that time, and all I really understood was that Helen’s daddy wasn’t around anymore.

This song still makes me feel sad. It makes me think of primary school, and the house we lived in until 1976, the first place that I came to understand was ‘home’. There’s also a very odd memory that comes to mind whenever I hear this song. At the age of four I was still trying to understand the world and every day was a new adventure. I had very little understanding of what a cruel place the world could be. I knew that wars existed, but it was all so remote from my own existence. I guess I was lucky in that sense. But I remember my mother talking about a news story in the paper. There was a picture of a woman lying on the ground, and one of her feet was gone. My mother said the woman’s foot had been blown off. I didn’t know what bombs were at that age. The only thing I knew of that could ‘blow’ was the wind, and for quite a long time afterwards I was afraid to go out in a strong wind, because I thought wind had the power to blow body parts off.

It’s a strange memory, and I have no idea why I connect it to this song, except perhaps it was playing on the radio in the background at the time of the conversation, or maybe my immature brain connected this song about death to the article about war and destruction, in an attempt to understand the adult world.

The picture of me here is from a day trip – to Great Yarmouth, I believe. I don’t remember the day out. I do, strangely, remember the anorak I’m wearing.

So, here is the song for 1974 – ‘Seasons in the Sun’ by Terry Jacks. The video is a series of images that relate to the lyrics of the song. I can’t watch this video without crying. This song has that kind of power over me. And that’s why it was the only choice for the song for 1974.

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My Life in Music: 1971

Throughout the 1970s, I was growing up in Lancashire in the north of England. My life experience was limited, and although I have memories here and there from quite early in life (the earliest one being riding in a little seat that was fixed on top of my baby sister’s pram, at which point I would have been about three years old), the memories are snippets, and a bit hazy after all these years.

Toddler Sara, in 1971

In the picture here I think I am about 18 months old. Clearly not yet toilet trained as the nappy is on full display. There were no disposal diapers in those days; they were all terry cloth, with plastic elasticated pants worn over the top. I remember a big yellow plastic bucket that my mother used to wash my little sister’s nappies in. It smelled of ammonia. I can still recall that smell.

I also don’t know where this particular picture was taken, but I always thought I look quite determined to make my own way down from wherever it was.

Anyway, for the next couple of entries in this series about music I am cheating a bit because I really don’t remember much about the music of the early 1970s. So instead I am picking a song that was released this year, but which meant a lot to me a bit later in life.

I was six when my parents divorced. I don’t have many memories of us all living together. What I do remember, though, is that after that point and before we moved to Canada, my sister and I spent weekends with my dad and we listened to a lot of country music because that was what he listened to. I grew to like it. I still have a liking for country music, however uncool it might be to admit it, and for the last couple of years I have attended the Country 2 Country Music Festival weekend at the O2 in Greenwich. I go with my dad because there’s nobody else in my life who likes country music enough to put up with a whole weekend of it.

Anyway, when we left England to move to Canada with my mother, my dad gave me a cassette of all of my favourite songs from his country collection. I was ten years old at the time, and moving thousands of miles away from my dad and from everything in my life that was comfortable and familiar was a big upheaval. I listened to the tape a lot, because it was the only link I had to my dad, and every time I did so I felt desperately homesick.

So the song for 1971 is by John Denver, and was released in this year, and it’s all about longing to be home. Although he’s singing about West Virginia being home, whenever I hear this song I think of my dad’s house in Ashton-under-Lyne, which had no TV and no central heating and was never actually my home, only a place I stayed on weekends; but still I hear this song and I think of it. And it takes me back to being a lonely, homesick ten-year-old.

I still cry every time I hear this song. So although the memories it holds for me are not from 1971, the song has such a powerful hold on me I had to include it in this series of posts.

Here, then is the song for 1971: “Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver.

Doing It For Fun?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It’s sometimes hard to explain, to a non-writer, why I write. The confusion generally comes when the non-writer discovers I am not a full-time writer. “So it’s a hobby,” they say. “You do it for fun.”

I can’t explain that it’s not a hobby – more a need. And most of the time, it’s not fun. It’s not fun to experience the crushing self-doubt that arrives on a regular basis and convinces me that every word I’ve ever written is complete rubbish. Or that feeling of rejection that comes with every email beginning, “thank you for sending us your manuscript. We regret to inform you that it will not fit our list at this time.” Or, for me, getting up at 5:20am to write before work when really I’d much rather have an extra hour in bed.

Generally when such conversations come up I have to start by explaining that much as I would love to write full time, it’s not economically feasible. It doesn’t help that these conversations are generally with people who are not only non-writers but pretty much non-readers. They might have read Harry Potter, or Fifty Shades of Grey. So they think ‘writer’ and JK Rowlings and EL James spring to mind. And they’re rolling in it, so all writers must be loaded, right?

My last royalty statement was for all of £5, and that represented a year’s worth of sales. I am so far away from being able to make money from the writing that it seems an unobtainable goal. Giving up the day job is simply not an option because I have no other form of income.

At times I get completely overwhelmed. I leave the house at 6:20am so I can write before work. I generally don’t get home before 7pm. I have French lessons and bass guitar lessons and admin stuff to deal with like emails and blog posts. And this is before we get to household stuff – laundry and remembering to pay the credit card bill and so on. Sometimes I get to a point when I feel I just can’t cope with it all any more.

Logically, the thing to give up is the writing, because I kill myself trying to do it for no apparent reason. But even the mere thought of doing so makes me die inside.

And that’s really why I write. Because I need to do it to keep on living. Not writing is as unthinkable to me as not breathing.

It may be I never manage to make enough money from the writing to give up the day job. But I will, somehow find a way to fit it into my life because there’s just no other option.

Farewell to Dot Lumley

I was saddened this week to learn that literary agent Dot Lumley had lost her battle with cancer.  I met Dot on several occasions over the years, and she was a lovely lady, who always had time for writers, be they new or more established ones.

Dot handled many genres of fiction incuding both crime and horror.  I submitted both SUFFER THE CHILDREN and DEATH SCENE to her.  She rejected both, but with personal letters and encouraging words that convinced me she had taken the time to read them through, instead of going down the form rejection route.

Our paths crossed at a variety of conventions – since she dealt with all genres she attended both the crime and the horror/SF/fantasy Cons.  At the St Hilda’s Crime Conference in August 2009, I found myself sitting next to her at dinner on the Saturday night.  The contract for SUFFER THE CHILDREN from Lyrical Press had come to me days before, and I was still trying to decide whether or not to accept it.  I knew that Lyrical Press was an e-book only publisher, and by accepting the contract I was likely to forfeit the opportunity to ever see SUFFER THE CHILDREN in print.  I took the opportunity to ask Dot for her advice.  She told me that if this was a manuscript that was doing the rounds for a while (it had been), and if the e-book contract was for a finite length of time (it was), then I had nothing to lose and I should go for it.  When I returned home at the end of the weekend, I took Dot’s advice and sent an email accepting the contract.

Me and Dot Lumley, January 2011

Me and Dot Lumley, January 2011

The last time I saw Dot was in January 2011.  The T Party Writers’ Group hold a Winter Social in the early months of the year, where we get together for food, drink and chat.  In the last few years we have taken to inviting guests – authors, agents and editors who have come to speak to the group or got involved with us in some other way.  Or sometimes just because we like them.  Dot was attending our social event as a guest that year, and I spent a good part of the evening chatting to her.  In fact, at one point it was just her and me sitting in a corner on our own.  Then my husband started chatting to one of our other guests, Mike Carey – it turns out they have a shared interest in building model kits – and a few minutes later I realised that the rest of the group were pulling chairs up to join us at the table, and we had been hogging the special guests.

This picture was taken on that evening.  Much wine had flowed by that point.

When I heard about Dot’s death I felt compelled to pay homage to her in a blog post.  I had to look back at previous posts to avoid repeating myself, as I was sure I had told at least one of these stories on this blog before, but it turns out that I hadn’t.  Sometimes I think about posting things and then don’t, for whatever reason.  I think in this case I wrote a post about our social event and the famous guests I had been schmoozing with, and was worried it would come across as nothing more than blatant name-dropping so I deleted it.  I also had a reluctance to share this photo, which I considered somewhat unflattering at the time.

But now Dot is gone, and this is the only picture I have of the two of us together – a record of the last conversation I will ever have with her.  Once again I am reminded of how brief and fragile life is.  Now I want to share this photo with the world, and it no longer seems unflattering, because in it we are both alive and well, and smiling.

Dot was an exceptional lady and the publishing world is all the poorer now she has left it.  Jo Fletcher has written a very touching blog post paying tribute to Dot’s courage, and I encourage you to go read it. It’s far more eloquent than what I have written here.

Many literary figures have left us of late – James Herbert, Iain Banks and Ann Crispin are names that immediately spring to mind.  Dot Lumley was not as famous as these other names, but she touched many lives in the publishing world, including mine.  Her absence will be noticed.

Goodbye, Dot.  I shall miss running into you at conventions, but I hope you have found peace.

RIP Misha

We had to say goodbye to our last cat Misha yesterday. We lost her sister Misty in September of last year – two days before we moved house. We wondered at the time how Misha would cope alone, as the two of them had always been together. The house move probably helped all of us – we had too many things to do to dwell on the loss of Misty, and there were no memories of her in the new house. For a while Misha seemed a bit lonesome, but she seemed to settle quickly into the house. In fact she became a much more outgoing cat. It had always been Misty who had been the one to come down and socialise when we had visitors. After she died, Misha became much more sociable.

Misha. 1 August 1996 - 15 June 2013

Misha. 1 August 1996 – 15 June 2013

But by the time Misty died Misha was old, and I always feared she was living on borrowed time. Most pedigree cats don’t live beyond 14. Misha was only half pedigree, but she was approaching her 17th birthday.

It was about March I started to realise something was wrong. Misha was drinking an awful lot. She was drinking water wherever she could find it. Out of the glass I keep by the side of the bed at night. She was even drinking the filthy water from the pot Hubby washes his paint brushes in. I took her to the vet and was told she was in the early stages of kidney disease. Not uncommon in elderly cats, but sadly there is no cure. She was put on a prescription diet of low-protein food and I was told to bring her back in two months.

Over the last few weeks, she had degenerated rapidly. She stopped eating, getting about seemed to be an effort, and it appeared she was unable to retain fluid. She would sit for hours with her face in her water bowl because she was feeling so dehydrated. Yet she would still jump in my lap and start purring when I stroked her.

I took her back to the vet, who ran more blood tests. She rang me with the results on Thursday. Results were all off the scale, the vet said. The poor cat had so many toxins in her body she was unable to function normally. I was at my desk at work when the call came. I had to leave the office and find a quiet room to cry in.

The problem with being a pet owner is that eventually you have to say goodbye. Knowing that Misha was suffering the only humane solution was to put her to sleep. To keep her alive without proper kidney function would probably mean she would die slowly and painfully from acute dehydration, or worse. Deciding to terminate her life was still one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, though.

We took her to the vet for the final time yesterday – a Saturday. Because I couldn’t bear the thought of coming back home with an empty cat  carrier, I carried her in my arms in the car, while Hubby drove. She’d never been in the car untethered before, and after a week of lethargy this new experience suddenly perked her up. Adrenaline, perhaps. I’m convinced she knew she was dying, and in her last couple of days she seemed calm, and accepting of her fate, even through the discomfort she was suffering.

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Misty and Misha – always together

Misty died very suddenly. With Misha, we picked the time the end was to come. In some ways it was harder. There’s more time to cry.

When I was growing up, we always had cats in the house, but Misty and Misha were the first two I had total responsibility for in my adult life. The first cats I took from kittenhood to old age. And now, for the first time in 17 years, I find myself living in a house without cats in it. It feels very strange. Filling the cat bowls with food and water is no longer a part of the morning routine. There are no plaintive ‘meows’ to greet me when I come in from work. No furry body leaping on my lap when I sit down to watch TV.

I used to say that when my cats died I wouldn’t get any more – they are really not good for my asthma. But I am a Cat Lady, through and through. A house without cats just doesn’t feel like home.

There will be more cats in the house before too long, I hope. But I will never forget my two fluffballs Misty and Misha.

Shara Returns

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It’s been 18 months since I finished the third draft of the second Shara Summers novel, entitled DEAD COOL. I haven’t touched it since then.

Why? I got discouraged. Feedback I had from beta readers suggested there was a lot of work still to do on it. So much so, I didn’t know where to begin.

Some writers refuse to listen to criticism. Sometimes I think I have the opposite problem. I listen to too much criticism. Someone says to me, “I don’t think this plot is working”, I look at it and think, “they’re probably right”. But then I have no ideas for a new plot so I just stop working on the story. I have had a few people say, “I don’t like your amateur sleuth; she’s not a strong enough character to take through a series”. This triggers a little voice in my head that insists there’s no point in carrying on with any more books about this character because no one likes her.

All this effectively meant I got so discouraged about writing about Shara I couldn’t carry on with the series. A book I got three drafts into has been languishing on the PC ever since.

Two significant things happened since then. First, my NetBook died about a week after the crit session I had for this manuscript. I had been using said NetBook to make copious notes about what my critiquers were saying. I didn’t back this up anywhere. When the NetBook died, this file was lost in the ether forever. Given that this was some time ago, I no longer have a clear memory of what I was told I needed to fix.

Second, I have recently had feedback from someone else I gave the manuscript to – a retired copper who used to work for the Metropolitan Police Murder Squad. I gave him the manuscript because I wanted to know if I was making any glaring errors in the police procedural bits.

He came back to me recently and told me how much he enjoyed it. It was a good holiday read, he said – the sort of story he’d probably take to the beach to enjoy while relaxing in the sun. And he had no problem with any of my procedural scenes (except apparently they don’t draw chalk lines around bodies anymore). He also didn’t have a problem with my amateur sleuth taking advantage of the fact that one of the investigating police officers fancies her, and using that to get information about him about the case. My writing group critiquers had a problem with that. It’s highly unethical for a police officer to have any kind of relationship with someone who should be a suspect, they said.

It might be unethical, but as my copper friend pointed out, policemen are as human as anyone else. They might well engage in unwise relationships with someone they encounter on a case. In fact, he’d come across such things happening in his career.

The strange thing is, encouraging comments from just one person who enjoyed the book have inspired me to finish it. And maybe the fact I no longer have my crit session notes is not such a bad thing. There’s a balance to be had between ignoring all criticism and heeding every negative comment. Sometimes, you have to trust your instincts.  With the Shara books, the fact that I enjoy writing about her should be enough to keep me coming back to her.

And that small voice inside? That’s the voice of self sabotage. That’s the voice that tells me to listen to all the criticism. And I think maybe I need to learn to ignore her every once in a while.

Shara Summers will be back very soon. And if you haven’t been introduced to her yet and are curious about my actress amateur sleuth, DEATH SCENE is available for the Kindle for a mere £2.59. American readers can find the US link here.

In the meantime, I am working on the fourth and hopefully the final draft of DEAD COOL. And you know what? It’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was.

End of the Pity Party

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I’ve been rather neglecting this blog of late. I don’t really have any excuses to offer – I’ve been off my game but that’s not an excuse.

Since the end of December I’ve had a lingering persistent mystery virus that’s left me feeling permanently under the weather. It’s been an unusually long cold winter in the UK. Generally by March we can expect temperatures to be rising into double figures. March this year we were still getting snow. In fact we were still getting snow in April. Now we’re into May, and it’s more like March – cold and wet.

These things have all contributed to a general feeling of malaise that has gripped me since the beginning of the year. The upshot is, I haven’t done nearly enough writing. When I’m not feeling happy I don’t sleep. When I don’t sleep it’s harder to get out of bed early, and I spend the day feeling fatigued. And this leads to not being able to concentrate.

These are all pathetic excuses. The facts are, I have two WIPs on the go (actually three, since I’ve decided to get back to the second Shara Summers book – but more about that at a later date) and I’ve not done any work on any of them for weeks.

In the meantime, my last new release was over a year ago, I have no new books out in the foreseeable future and the book-buying public has a very short memory. Sitting about feeling sorry for myself will not get any books finished. It’s time to give myself a kick up the backside.

There are no more excuses. Writing is about discipline, about getting it done, about putting in the hours for word counts and the promotion. I’m leaving this pity party now. I’ve got books to write.

Anatomy of Grief

I went to a funeral yesterday. The service was to say goodbye to Denni Schnapp, who committed suicide on 17 January, after years of struggling with depression. She was 48. She had been a member of the T Party writers’ group for many years, and that’s how I knew her.

There were maybe a dozen people representing the writing group at the funeral. Funeral services are, of course, always sombre affairs. Denni was an atheist. Her funeral service was humanist – celebrating her life, and giving everyone permission to mourn her death. Accepting the person she was, and the way she chose to die, without judgement.

Following the service there was a wake, held at the pub that had been Denni’s local. There I met others who had shared Denni’s life, and it became clear that there were so many facets to her that I had never known about. We knew Denni the writer. Others there had known Denni the scientist, Denni the scholar, Denni the traveller. It seemed she compartmentalised these facets of her life, presenting the face that was most appropriate. There were very few people indeed who knew every side of her.

The tragic news about Denni reached us two weeks ago. I can’t communicate the story behind this quite as eloquently as a fellow T Party member has already expressed on her blog, so go read it now. Come back when you’re done, and I’ll finish my story.

For two weeks after Denni’s death I felt like I was wading through treacle. Getting out of bed every morning was a struggle. I dragged myself through the business of the day, finding it hard not to fall asleep at my desk, and yet when night came I lay awake, unable to sleep. I attributed this to the weather. It was dark and cold in the mornings. There was snow on the ground, and January is a notoriously depressing month. I had some variation of Seasonally Affected Disorder, maybe.

I realise now that I was in a state of grief. This revelation came as a surprise. Denni was not a close friend. The death of my grandparents did not hit me as hard as her death appeared to. But in retrospect, I suppose one expects to outlive one’s grandparents. I reached the age of 26 with four living grandparents – I’d had many years to prepare myself emotionally for the inevitability of their passing, and when it came (and they all died with a span of three years), I was sad, but I could accept it. The death of someone who was of my generation, someone with whom I shared the common interest of writing, has affected me in ways I could not have anticipated.

Denni was someone I knew socially, and I realise now I did not know her well. But I’ve chatted to her. I’ve drank with her, most notoriously at Heather Graham’s infamous pierside party at HorrorCon 2010 in Brighton, where there was a free bar. I’ve critiqued her work and had her critique mine. She had a towering intellect, to the point that the rest of humanity seemed way down the evolutionary scale. She wrote hard SF stories that often featured groups of humans adapting to life on an alien world. The research was meticulous, with every detail of the ecosystem considered and accounted for. She was fascinated by humanity, but often seemed unable to connect with it – in the way that a scientist might study a beetle under a microscope.

The way she chose to die should not have surprised anyone who knew her – she had broadcast her intentions often enough in the public domain – but her death still came as a shock. Mental illness is a tragedy. I often say I get depressed, but my kind of depression is pretty lightweight from a clinical perspective. I have days when a black cloud hangs over my head for no apparent reason. When getting out of bed is a struggle, and I go through the motions of life feeling no joy. But I have never – not for a second – considered ending it all. When it comes down to the bare bones, I want to live. That most basic of human instincts – survival – will always kick in. And intellectually I know the black cloud will move on, as suddenly as it appeared, in a few days. Because it always does. Those who suffer real depression, clinical depression, have some chemical imbalance in the brain that seems to over-ride that survival instinct, and sometimes it leads to them feeling the only release is death. Because Denni was an atheist, she did not even believe that she was going to a better place. I find it incredibly heartbreaking that for her, complete oblivion was preferable to the pain of living.

All of these feelings have been churning away in my brain for the last two weeks, but I was not able to differentiate and define them. Only when I was on my way home yesterday after leaving the wake, did the cloud suddenly lift and I was able to identify it at last. It was grief. Grief for someone who passed through my life and left an indelible impression.

I now feel I understand grief in a way I never have before. Death is painful, but inevitable. Grief is a part of the process. Grief affects people in different ways. It can’t be predicted, and it can’t be denied. The only way to be able to move on from death is to embrace the grief, and let it take its course. The lady who led Denni’s funeral service began with words that pretty much reflected this sentiment. I now understand what she meant.

Goodbye, Denni. I feel privileged to have known you. I am sorry that you could not find peace in life. Those of us whose lives crossed with yours are all the richer for it.

Hibernation

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

My dislike of January is well known – I do a post like this about this time every year.

I don’t like the cold. I seem to have the blood of a lizard. And I really don’t like snow. When you can sit at home all day by the fire, and don’t have to be anyplace, it probably looks pretty, but when you have to go to work in it – particularly on public transport – it’s a pain in the backside. At least in London our snow fall is generally fairly short lived. If I liked snow I’d still be living in Canada, where it covers the ground for nearly six months of the year.

I spend January bundled up in thick jumpers and thermal vests and socks, shivering on the station platform waiting for a delayed train, arguing with my office mates about how hot we can have the central heating (I want it at ‘tropical’ mode – they don’t), and generally feeling tired and run down. I seem to go into a kind of hibernation. Getting out of bed in the morning is a supreme effort and I drag through each day feeling half asleep, not being able to focus my brain on anything. Moving becomes an effort. I don’t go to the gym, I don’t do much writing, and I spend as much time as possible in bed. But it doesn’t really matter because no matter how much or little sleep I get, I still struggle to stay awake during the day. And I crave sugar and carbs even more than usual, because I feel I need the energy.

When I’m not at work, I spend my time playing video games, because they don’t require too much mental energy and distract me from how tired I’m feeling. Now, I am aware of my weaknesses. I would be quite capable of spending all day, every day playing video games if I didn’t have to go to work. And there are many weekends in January when I do pretty much do that, leaving the sofa only to use the bathroom, go to bed, or get myself more chocolate. But the price you pay for being a grown-up is having to do stuff you don’t really want to do a lot of the time, like go to work every day.

So far I’ve not had a terribly productive January. I’ve eaten a lot of biscuits, and made progress in ‘Dragon Age’, but not done much else. Come to think of it, I was in the same situation last year.

Roll on Spring, when I can wake up and emerge from my hibernation…

Goodbye Misty

Misty: 1996-2012

This is my cat Misty, who died on 16 September 2012.

She and her sister, Misha, were born on 1 August 1996. Their mother was a pedigree chocolate point British shorthair who belonged to a colleague of my husband’s. This particular cat, though being very well-bred, obviously fancied a bit of rough as she escaped one night and went out looking for some mongrel action. She must have had herself a good time, because she came back pregnant. She gave birth to a litter of five kittens. One of them was a beautiful British blue – exactly the same colour as her uncle, another pedigree (also owned by Hubby’s colleague). Two of them were black, and the other two were a random tabby colour – possibly an indication of the mongrel tom who fathered the kittens.

We’d just moved from our flat into a maisonette, and since we now had a front door of our own, that could be used for feline egress, we decided the time was right to get a cat. In fact we decided to get two – since we were both out all day, we thought two cats from the same litter would keep each other company. We went to see this new litter of kittens, and we picked two. We had the British blue, which we named Misty, and one of the black kittens, which we called Misha. When they came to us they were about nine weeks old – adorable little bundles of fluff.

Misty & Misha as kittens

Being half pedigree, these cats had been born with generations of the inclination to do nothing but sit around on cushions looking pretty bred into them. They were always rather lazy, even for cats, and both got rather fat as they got older. They were also not exactly at the top of the feline IQ chart – generations of inbreeding tends to make pedigrees rather less bright than moggies. But they both had a very gentle nature, and were very sweet cats.

Misty’s unusual colour always drew attention. Every time we had visitors, they would make a fuss of her and say, “what a beautiful cat.” She got rather big-headed about this after a while. Whenever someone came to see us, she would emerge, and pose in the middle of the room, as if to say, “well? Aren’t you going to tell me how pretty I am?”

Misty & Misha getting comfy in a guitar case

Misty had a thing for boxes. Every time something new came into the house, she was there waiting for us to unpack the box so she could squeeze into it. Even if she was too big and the box too small, she would try to squeeze into it anyway. She was particularly fond of hubby’s guitar cases, which had the added advantage of being felt lined, so more comfortable than regular cardboard boxes.

She liked to sit in the bathroom when I was taking a bath. The first few times she did this, as a kitten, she would sit on the side of the bath with her tale hanging down into the water. The fact that it would be getting wet appeared not to phase her. Once, she tried to jump on me while I was in the bath. I saw her sizing this up for a while, and then she took a flying leap off the side into the water. She hit the water, yowled, turned around in mid-air and shot back out again, before shooting out of the room. This all happened in one movement, and was rather amusing to watch. Suffice to say she never tried to jump in the bath again. She would instead come in and sit on the bath mat while I was bathing.

Misty and Misha spent all their lives together, and right to the end they would curl up and sleep together. But over the last few years I was aware that as cats they were past the expected life span, and would not be with us for much longer.

In the summer I took Misty to the vet, who confirmed that she had lost quite a lot of weight – a kilogram in the last 12 months, specifically. The vet offered tests to find out what was wrong. I declined at the time. Misty seemed quite happy – she was still jumping up and purring. She wasn’t eating as much, but she’d been a very fat cat to begin with, and she didn’t appear to be in pain, or particularly miserable.

Two days before we moved, she came down the stairs vomiting blood, and we had to take her to the emergency vet surgery (it was a Sunday – the usual surgery was closed). She died on the way there. It turned out she had a throat tumour. If we’d have had the tests, we might have found out about the tumour, but it was untreatable, so we could not have done anything about it. All we could have done was wait for her to die. In the end, she died in my arms, which is probably the way she would have wanted to go. Sometimes I feel bad that I didn’t do the tests and find out earlier what was wrong. Partly it was because I think I didn’t really want to know. But the other part is I didn’t think it was fair to subject a 16-year-old cat to tests and treatments that were going to be painful and distressing. In the end she got to spend the last few months of her life at home, in comfort, with the humans she knew and loved. The end, when it came, was sad, but it was all over quite quickly.

In retrospect, I am convinced that Misty knew she was going to die. The night before she’d been unusually active, coming down to talk to us and our guests and visiting favourite spots she hadn’t been to in a while, like the windowsill. I think she was saying goodbye.

It seems Misha knew it, too. We took her on that final journey to the vet, because we knew at that point Misty wasn’t coming back, and we wanted to make sure Misha understood that. Misha has settled into the new house well. I think she’s a bit lonesome, but she’s accepted the fact she’s now the only cat in the household. And the vet says she’s surprisingly healthy for an old fat cat, so hopefully she’ll be with us a bit longer.

I think perhaps moving to a new house immediately afterwards helped all of us. It made a stressful situation even more stressful, but we’re in a new place where there are no memories of Misty. She was with us for 16 years, and I think she had a happy – if lazy – life with us. Losing a pet is always hard, as they become part of the family, but we can remember the happiness they brought us.

Goodbye, Misty. You were a special cat, and I will always remember you.