'Can we get a cat?" My eldest asks me this every couple of weeks, so she's not serious.
Were she serious she would ask every minute of every hour of every day until I cracked. That's the usual pattern. A cat is clearly on the outer limits of her wants and needs (these two concepts are one and the same to her, of course).
Thing is, though, I like the idea of having a cat again. But I think it's just the idea I like. I'm not sure I can deal with the grief. That's grief in the dictionary meaning of the word. We haven't had a pet since the hamster and we only had it for a year or two, because that's the thing about pets. They don't last long, do they? How many pets have I loved and lost over the years? Sparky, Snowy, Titch, Scamp, Snake, Syd, Roxy (1), and at least a couple whose names I have long forgotten. And that's without mentioning the pets – Cash, Audrey, Sandy (2) – that belonged to the family I married into.
All gone now. Pets are just a way of familiarising you with the idea of mortality, I reckon. As a kid I remember taking Snowy to the vet and returning with an empty box. As a teenager I heard Titch get run over by a car beneath my window and the knock on the door from the apologetic driver. A few years later Scamp dug up his skull from the back garden where we'd buried him and presented it to me. Not my favourite gift. Then there was Roxy, who loved J and was perfectly indifferent to me. The time I had her out a walk, slipped off a wall and broke my face, did she keep me company? Did she hell. Anyway, she lost control of her legs and had to be carried around during her last days. Syd was the worst. Because I bloody hated that cat. And then adored it. Liver failure. Or maybe that was Snake, the cat that accompanied us from student dorms to England and back to Scotland, who we found stone cold dead one morning when we got up. "All the dogs and the horses you'll have to outlive," as Neil Hannon (3) sings on his album Casanova (not that we ever had any horses; not the right class for that. Hannon, the son of an Anglican bishop, obviously was).
There must come a point, though, where you start to worry that your pet will outlive you. Ten or 20 years down the line there's the fear you'll end up in one of those downpage stories where your body is discovered a month after you've died and, as the paper gleefully, ghoulishly points out, your beloved moggy, having scoffed all the Kitekat in the bowl, has started on you. Maybe that's appropriate in a way. After all, what are we to our pets? A source of food, I guess.
Can we have a cat? If we're happy that at some point the cat can have us.
 Budgie, white cat, Yorkshire terrier, King Charles cavalier spaniel, tortoiseshell cat, black cat, whippet.
 Alsatian cross, rat, collie.
 AKA The Divine Comedy.
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