Monday, 16 December 2019

A Thousand Ships - Natalie Haynes

This year has seen no shortage of novels inspired by the Greek legends, Madeline Miller’s Circe and Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls spring immediately to mind. They all emphasise the place of women in these tales from history. A Thousand Ships is no exception and an absolute delight to read. Now I’m a little late to the party with this one but some things are just worth waiting for, 

At the heart of this tale is the Trojan war and Ms. Haynes’ take on it is to offer the premise that women suffer just as much as men in these conflicts. The most compelling argument looks at Paris’s’ wife Oenone who is overlooked by Homer who prefers to see Menelaus as the most injured party as Paris steals Helen, his wife. Paris leaving his own wife and child seems merely incidental. But all the women, goddesses and mortals, are given voice, given the opportunity to tell it how it was, or how Ms. Haynes imagines it, which I have to say is as convincing an account as any. I tried the Iliad once, it was all Greek to me. ;)

I feared it might be a heavy read that would demand my intellect remain on turbo power but it is a delightfully accessible book. An easy, narrative style that offers just enough detail without digressing too much from the womens’ stories to decorate our senses with superfluous imagery. Ms. Haynes creates a palpable sense of what it is to endure ten years of war and siege. These women have lost fathers, husbands and sons without losing themselves and their integrity and they are given articulate voices to express a grief that grips deeply. Unstated in concrete terms the reader is persuaded that it is not only lives and lands that are lost in war. Dominant, too, is the aftermath. Some terrible things to endure when you think they’ve surely endured all there is to endure. 

For those familiar with Greek legends and the tales of Troy the bare bones of the stories are there. But the treatment they’re given is refreshing especially the contest between the three goddesses that set the whole damn Troy ball rolling. There’s something so contemporary about the writing that if they were here today they’d all be posting on Instagram and comparing their follower counts!  The variety of styles is also enlivening. I particularly enjoyed  the epistolary tongue lashing Penelope gives Odysseus in letters dripping with wit, sarcasm and resentment but also a potted version of the Odyssey.  But synthesising it all together is Calliope, the narrator, chief of the Muses, whose all too brief lyrical invocations delight the reader, well they delighted me, dammit! Oft quoted are the opening lines to significant and classic works, I’d like to submit the closing lines of this to go down in history as a perfect ending for this book.

‘Sing Muse, he said.
Well, do you hear me? i have sung.’

I’d like to thank my local library for procuring a copy for me, even if I did have to wait for it. ;)

Top Reads of 2019

Always a tricky one. So hard to limit myself to a mere ten books. But I did it last year and I’ll do it again this year but I will reiterate that I remain ambivalent about the ultimate value of compiling such a list. Last year Elizabeth Lowry’s Dark Water was easily my favourite book but I found it harder to determine that this year. So if these books appear in a any kind of order it is not necessarily an indication of a favourite or lesser favourite. I’m not sure I have an actual one favourite book this year, although Do Not Feed The Bear is quite a contender as is Unfollow. But even as I contemplate my ultimate shortlist of contenders I realise what a close thing it's been. 

1. Unfollow - Megan Phelps Roper
A book of hope and optimism. When someone has been indoctrinated from conception
almost to preach hatred and hell fire to everyone but their own cult and to believe absolutely everything  they have been brought up to believe in BUT end up completely changing their beliefs, with the acknowledged help of social media is enough of a story. But to do it with such grace, such wisdom and humility makes for a profoundly moving book. Megan is articulate, sanguine and writes with such honesty. An uplifting book.

2. Do Not Feed the Bear - Rachel Elliott
This was one of those unexpected, unsolicited books that just blew me away. At the time of reading and reviewing I averred that it had made its way to my top read of the year . It remains there. It could have been written just for me. It’s quirky and compassionate and shows a keen observation of human behaviours and emotions with understanding and compassion. It’s a book about how some singular, yet flawed people find each other and are offered the opportunity to understand each other. And I guess it also offers hope.

3. Shamus Dust - Janet Roger
I went with my gut instinct and accepted an author’s unsolicited offer for a proof of this.
Boy, am I glad. It’s that rare thing, a literary crime thriller with a substance of language and expression that enhances the complex plot and storyline. It captures a mood and transported the reader back to film noir and B movies, gumshoes and organised crime. It was sheer delight to read it. 

4. Arguing with the Dead - Alex Nye
I always think it’s a brave move for a writer to produce a work of fiction about an actual person. Dead or alive it can go so horribly wrong if your research isn’t right up to scratch. But this book goes wonderfully right. And the portrayal of Mary Shelley was as I’d always imagined her to be. It was as if the writer got right into her head. A wondefully compelling fiction about the life of Frankenstein's creator.

5. Mud - Chris McCabe
This was pure, sheer, innovative delight. A fiction that was more like an art installation than a mere novel. It defies any real categorisation other than loosely retelling the Orpheus and Eurydice legend. But it’s explosion of words and images. It is profound and witty and a little sad but it’s such a wonderful experience.  The most unusual book I read this year. 

6. The Night Tiger - Yangtze Choo
I had the most delightful experience in participating in an online buddy read for this book. It was sheer pleasure to exchange and bounce ideas off other readers. Did that enhance my response to the book? Not sure. But the book is a delight. Mysticism and superstition, Chinese traditions and social history with some memorable characters including the wonderfully endearing Ren, who comes across with such purity he tugs at your heart strings. It’s a rich book with something for everyone. There’s nothing to not like about it. 

7. The DollMaker - Nina Allan
This is a rich, stylistically diverse story, part epistolary, part stories within a story and
straightforward narrative.  But it is also genre defiant which it makes it hard to sum up. Simply, it is the story of two people who find each other, two fairly unique people. But then again it is so much more. There’s much to consider concerning the nature of life and how we deal with it. 

8.The Freedom Artist - Ben Okri
My first Ben Okri and, oh, what a treat! UPWAKE! I thought Kafka had returned and written a new novel! It’s one of those books that leaves you almost lost for words. The poetic identification of how as a race we have lost our spirituality and what we might do about it. I feel this is an important book and relevant  for our times.

9. Washington Black -  Esi Edugyan
One of those rare books that where every reader wilt make something different from it.
Yes, it tells us a story. Washington Black is a beautiful soul and we will him to succeed and overcome adversity. But entwined within the pages of an adventure story are some truths and insights relevant to our world today. 

10. A Drop of Patience- William Melvin Kelley
A Different Drummer made it to the list last year so I guess it's no surprise that this second novel figures highly. The jazz writing is some of the best I've read. I used to think Jack Kerouac couldn't be surpassed, this comes close. And how better to explore racism than through the eyes of a blind man? And what better way to expose the blindness in us all as we read the account of Ludlow Washington's life. Against a backdrop of the US jazz scene the syncopation and improvisation of the music serves as metaphor for the life of a blind, black man abandoned to a children's home by his parents in a manner that will squeeze your heart.

There you have it. It's been tough. I would also like to commend these books which weren't far off making it..... - Beth O'Leary's The Flatshare,Jem Tugwell's Proximity, Paul Tudor Owen's The Weighing of the Heart, Barney Norris' The Vanishing Hours, Barbara Bourland's Fake Like Me - yikes, I could go on...........

Friday, 13 December 2019

Mudlarking Lost and Found on the River Thames - Lara Maiklem

As an estuary dweller and the daughter of a Londoner the River Thames is a part of me. Just gazing out across at it and smelling the cockle heavy, salted air revives me. My mother spent the bulk of her childhood in the City, in a street running parallel with Cannon Street and knew that area like the back of her hand, excursions across the river being common place. That she was aware of mudlarks and mudlarking was made known to me when as a small child I delighted in a song by a singing group called The Mudlarks. The song was called ‘Lollipop’  and was perfect for a small child with its vacuous, repetitive lyric of ‘Lollipop, lollipop, oooooh lolly lolly lolly’ So when I curiously asked what mudlarks were, she told me. I understood right away. Or I thought I did. I believed that I was a mudlark then. But I wasn’t. I was a beach comber. I still am given the opportunity when my deranged spine behaves for long enough. I’m also a history nerd who gets excited about the tangibility of history. Put me a few feet away from the bones of Richard III and I go light headed and tingly. Let me hold something from the past and I’m catapulted to a potential past life. So I get this book. 

However I’m not going to attempt to conventionally review it. Elizabeth Lowry did such a fantastic job of that for the Wall Street Journal. I’m just going to respond to it. I love searching the seashore for shells, stones and glass. It’s not mudlarking though. I’m not even sure if it’s beach combing really. I think I’ll call it sandlarking. There is plenty of mud on the estuary but it’s like quicksand and has devoured many a flip flop. it frightened me a bit when I was younger because it was like some sci fi creature from the depths coming to suck me into a dark, suffocating oblivion. Now I’m just too old and unsteady to fight it! But it feels fantastic on your skin. Very uplifting. But I love the search at the sandy, water's edge. When you get your eye in and nothing else matters. You can cover amazing lengths of shore without realising it. I found a glass screw or stopper and I found a section of a glass container where I could read some letters. It’s thrilling. Stones too, they take on a whole different appearance when they’re wet and look like gemstones until they dry. I'd love for Ms. Maiklem to divulge the whereabouts of the cornelian and agates she mentions. I once found a piece of rose quartz at a beach on Martha’s Vineyard and I was ecstatic for days! Shells on the estuary are plentiful, cockles, mussels, oyster, some razor shells, whelks, venus shells.

But I loved reading this book and I loved the dual meaning of the title because I can relate to the healing power of a river when you are feeling lost. But I love reading about people and their passions. For when someone is passionate about something their eloquence flows uninhibited and it can be infectious. I defy anyone reading this book not to surely contemplate trying a little mudlarking for themselves. 

But I also get that indescribable joy at finding something special, meaningful and unique. I am imagining Lara Maiklem’s house as overflowing with artefacts that tell centuries of the social history of the Thames. But I think the book also reminds us of how in our arrogant and thoughtless ‘progress’ we have created social mystery rather than social history as we abuse the river with ‘fatbergs’ and our lazy disposal habits and ‘laboursaving’ pursuits. I mean what is a wet wipe but a pre soaked piece of toilet paper? The water can tell us the truth. Never underestimate a river. 

I also loved the fact that one seemingly simple find could sent this author into a maelstrom of research that yielded such potent facts abut people, a person and their lives. It's fascinating and inspiring. And testament to how tangential life can be if we let it and we run with it. So, yes, this is a book about mudlarking but it also tells a subliminal story about life and how we live it. 

I borrowed this book from my library but it’s not enough. I need to own a copy. 

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Festive Feelings - A Fragment

As time marches relentlessly on and refuses to allow me to slow this hideous ageing process down I approach the festive season with feelings inside that seem directly opposed to my younger sensations of anticipation, excitement and exuberance. There is a sense of sadness and dread. However many of my contemporaries do not seem to experience the same reversal of emotion so it has caused me to ponder Christmas and why I feel the way I do now. I don’t want to feel like this, I might add. I would like to feel joyous and excited again! 

The first memory I have of Christmas is entering a room lit by a coal fire, with an enormous Christmas tree, fully illuminated and surrounded by gifts wrapped in brightly coloured Christmas paper. Unwrapped, though, was my present, a blue baby’s cot with a doll sleeping inside it. Now as I analyse the memory I think it might be a false one because the picture in my head doesn’t match the reality of the proportions, the artefacts and the geography. Except for one thing. The cot. I still have it, and the doll. It was in fact made by my father out of an old orange crate and painted with blue gloss paint, with the bedding and doll’s clothing made by my mother. 

My second memory is immense! I was about 3 or 4 years old, an age where the anticipation of Christmas was palpable, the thought of Santa real. It was Christmas Eve and I’d been put to bed with my stocking at the end of it. But I couldn’t sleep, for the feeling in the pit of my stomach was almost making me nauseous. I was bursting with excitement. And some fear. Had I been good? Would he visit? All the possible Christmas anxieties a toddler could muster. Then I heard them. The tinkling of bells. Tiny bells. Silver bells. And old as I am now I can still hear that sound in my head. We lived in a corner house and mine was the corner bedroom. If I sat up in bed I could see out of the window.  I sat up. I pulled the curtain aside. I looked into the clear dark blue night sky. And then I saw him. Father Christmas. Six reindeer, pulling the sleigh. Arcing across that night sky. The red tunic. The white beard. He was coming. Here’s the thing though. It was such a powerful vision  I can STILL see it now.Just as it was then. Even though I know it couldn’t have been so. But I could still swear that I saw Santa Claus that Christmas Eve.

Further memories seem to be a conglomerate of traditions and an ambience of the season. Visits to see Father Christmas in the local department stores. The purchasing of the Christmas Tree, usually no more than a week, ten days before Christmas,  and the giant box from the loft that contained all the decorations, so familiar, year in, year out. The unusual large, lotus flower tree lights we had. My Dad bringing the step ladders indoors to hang the garlands across the lounge, or front room as we called it. My mum dressing the sideboard with crepe paper, most years Xmas colours, one year rainbow colours, and loading it until it was groaning beneath the weight of annual treats and delicacies that had me salivating - Percy Daltons peanuts in a red metal tin that you opened with a key, a box of sugared orange and lemon slices, Turkish Delight in an octagonal box, Black Magic chocolates that were in a black box with a red tassel, and a bowl of cracking nuts and the family nutcrackers taken out of retirement for their annual airing, tangerines and sugar mice. For a child it was like living in a sweet shop. And underneath the sideboard - fizzy drinks of all flavours which the Corona man delivered. 

Christmas morning smelt like no other. Awake early to check the stocking and to explore the contents with my younger sister. Desperate to get up and see what else Santa had left for us but knowing we couldn’t wake our parents. Back then we were unaware just how tired they were for we had no idea of all that they did to make Christmas so magical for us. But my mother was obsessively house proud and we could not enter the front room until it had been heated though by the Belling electric fire we owned with the flickering light coal effect and she had hoovered thoroughly. Years after when we spoke of it she bitterly regretted her behaviour. The cooking of the Christmas dinner infused the house with a mouth watering aroma that accompanied our frenzied present opening, our dear Mum returning to the kitchen continually to check on everything and we got annoyed with her! The meal and the crackers and the gifts from the Christmas tree and a feeling of fullness as we left the table to play with our new toys and my parents dozed in an exhausted food coma. I was desperate not to go to bed on Christmas night because I never wanted the day to end. We were all together, all harmonious. I wanted to capture the moment and never let it end. That was my childhood Christmas.

My teenage Christmas wasn’t very different if I’m honest. I still got excited. We still followed the same customs, and the day still smelt the same.  I didn’t go to Sunday school or church. I was desperate for the Christmas lunch to be over so I could watch the Christmas Top of the Pops as I was hormonally infused with the self absorption of the adolescent. I had made Christmas lists with a materialism I had never known in my childhood. 

Young adult Christmas where the biggest worry was if the hangover would impact on the day. But the traditions endured apart from a toning down of the sideboard display and fewer decorations across the room. Even after we stopped believing in Santa we still hung our stockings at the end of the bed! Mum and Dad still crept in with the filled one! Our stockings were our Dad’s old army socks, three pairs, three kids, six socks, three empty to be hung, three filled to be exchanged. When I think of the years we never twigged that!

The spiritual side and meaning of Christmas was not ignored. There were years when my brother and I were bundled off to Sunday School on Christmas morning, (my sister was too young and I envied her) but for me it was interminable because all I wanted was to get home and open my presents. But I’m glad now that I had that installed in me as a child. Not to forget what it’s really all about. 

I remember the first Christmas when I was in my own home. Although it was a given that I would go to Mum and Dad’s and stay, with cats in tow, I wanted to make a contribution. I made sweets and biscuits and cakes. And even though my parents were older the feeling endured.It was unmistakably Christmas. In following years when sometimes with partners and children etc it wasn’t possible to spend Xmas Day at ‘home’ or even see my family until Boxing Day I felt there was something missing.

The first Christmas without my father was tough as it was in the November that he died. Understanding partners allowed us all to be together with my mother on Christmas Day. My brother’s young son was the only excited party that year. And I guess that was start of what I now call the Xmas decline. For it could never be the same again. Dad loved Christmas. And every Christmas without him made us miss him all the more. Traditions were let go. But some things remained. My Mum’s Boxing Day trifle. The Xmas copies of the Radio and TV Times. The smell of Christmas Day! That never changed. 

And then the inevitable passing of my mother. I do remember her final Christmas. She was 82 and had cooked a Christmas dinner every year of my life. My sister cooked it that year and somehow that felt to me like another significant change although we didn’t known then that she wouldn’t be with us the following Christmas. 

Since then I haven’t really enjoyed Christmas. The first one after Mum died I was still looking after her cat and had to trudge over twice in the snow on Christmas Day to her house to feed him. Then there was the time when my cat was hit by a car the week before Christmas and her life hung in the balance. I spent that Christmas Day watching her anxiously. She survived until the July of that year. 

Now I go through the motions of Christmas. I buy gifts and send cards and I try to participate in the various activities. I toy with decorations and the myriad festive lights. Sometimes I get a frisson of that old feeling, the Christmas Market in Bruges one year made me feel gloriously Christmassy but it was fleeting. It’s all tinged with a nostalgia that hurts somehow, if that is the right word? For I find myself tearful at the snatch of a familiar Christmas tune and I can recall my Dad playing carols badly on his Yamaha organ or my Mum singing along to Slade or Elton John. And the coloured lights suffuse me with emotion as I recall our simple family Christmas tree and its beautiful lights. For I did love Christmas. Once. And I can’t seem to love it now. I despair at receiving Christmas cards in November. At trees and decorations being put up so early they become commonplace and you almost stop noticing them. The commercialism and zeal for profits from brands and companies. Maybe if I’d had children of my own I would feel different. For I believe it is primarily a family time whatever your beliefs. I wish I could thank my parents for the Christmases they created for us. Like so many things i took it all for granted. But now I look back upon it all I know that Christmas was all about love.  

Friday, 6 December 2019

Sea - A Fragment

‘I be the sea. I am. I be. You will never tame me. You, with your silly pieces of plastic, letting them sink and float and dance on my waves and sink in my depths, hurting me and mine. Your stupid fishing nets that drag and swell with water that is MINE, mine, mine. Maim and kill. Why you do it? See the sea. What it is. Why, t’is another universe on the bottom of this land world. You seek legends of Atlantis. You claim Atlantis is lost. No. I do not lose anything. You lost it. Because you cannot see that the whole of the ocean bottom is one big city. Atlantis. Why, the sea t’is manifold!

I is moving always, never still, flowing. All rivers flow to reach me. Even when they reach me still they must move, never ceasing. Carrying life with me. Beware. When the water is still, beware. Don’t try to sail your little boats when the sea is still. And not when the ice bergs are dancing their spring wave waltzes. Calm. The sea can claim you. You will never tame me. Rough. The sea can claim you. You have seen me when I angry. Spitting my foam across your world, frothing at my sea mouth in madness and ire. You will never tame me. Go home Canute. And you’re foolin no one, Poseidon. 

Peace and silence rules my world. Down, down in those depths you will not hear the jiggedy jangling of your bickerings and mutterings. Your devious devices cannot survive beneath the epidermis of my seaweeded sea skin. T’is calm. T’is a place of life and a place of death.  Full fathom five. Bones hide. Feed the fishes. Stop dropping your wrecks and leaving them here. It’s messy, untidy. You took your Mary Rose, now take the rest. If I could spit them out I would. Ha! What a sight that would be on your deck chair, suncream kissmequick hatted beaches.

Stop stealing my fishes. Have something else with your chips. You do not need to eat them. My seals and dolphins and bears and whales and sea lions need them. They  only take what they need. Never greedy like you. Sharks and tunas and mackerels and swordfish need them, only eat what they need. Do you see them come ashore and take all your takeaway, throwaway, can’tgiveitaway MacKingChicken VolvicEvian NandoNachoCrispPringle StarbuckCostaNero CadburyGalaxy? No. The sea and all its creatures behave with respect. Why not you? 

Now, now. No need for those tears. I is okay. Salty tears but a drop in the ocean. Forgive me punning. T’is not all bad. Just get cross sometimes. Just get frustrated. Despair. I knows there are those who knows what to do and never try to tame us. I knows there are those who understand us. I see you. I see you watch us from afar. I see you lift your heads and breathe us in and smile. I see your heart be lifted by my cousin sun shining across our diamond sparkle waves. I see you understand the up and down, yin and yang, give and take, rough and calm. I see you who understand the balance of land and sea. And that’s all I ask. Love the sea’

Monday, 2 December 2019

Guardian - A Fragment

It was neither a warm day nor a cold one. It was neither bright nor gloomy. She wore her school gabardine raincoat. With a hood. She loathed it. The hood primarily but the raincoat too. Some kid had chalked ‘Kick Me’ on the back and she hadn’t been able to get it off properly. But she had been told to wear it as she sat outside on the curious garden seat her Dad had fashioned out of odd bits of old wood. 

Strange day. A day of elation. But she was not a child given to any excess of emotion. Only those who really knew her could tell how pleased or unpleased she was. Last week the letter had arrived that told her she had gained a selective place at a grammar school. That was good. It was expected but still good and The Parents were pleased. As was the fashion of the time such an achievement was to be rewarded. Her reward was a guinea
pig. Collected this Saturday morning. And anyone who knew her could tell by looking at her that she was deeply elated. 

The trembling life she held in her hands was the recipient of as deep a love as a child can give. She was almost breathless with the wonder of this creature who now belonged to her and was dependent on her for its well being and survival. And she sat patiently as the little furry mass nibbled and moved and snuggled in her lap. Every so often she gently raised it to her lips to kiss. It wasn’t until the sweet little pelted organism peed on her that she moved, with a reluctance to divulge the incident to The Parents who would be cross, she was sure.

It wasn’t the first pet in the home but it was her first pet. There was a cat in the house. He was a sweet natured black and white moggy called Geoffrey. She remembered the day they brought him home. She was about five years old. He was from a farm, a six week old kitten. They put him in one of those orange mesh, vegetable sacks, in the absence of a cat basket. He struggled restlessly all the way home in the car. He was fascinating. The Parents made  balls from silver foil and he chased them endlessly around the room. Then when exhaustion hit he curled up beside her in the wing chair. She was amazed that they could both fit so comfortably in that chair. But Geoffrey wasn’t hers. He was everybody’s. And that was fine for it didn’t mean she loved him any less but she knew she had to share him and he had to share his love.

But the guinea pig was different. He was hers and hers alone. There was to be no sharing. Stuart was his name. Perhaps it was because of Stuart Little but it also might have been because of Stuart at school who she liked because his mum made her beans on toast with bacon when she went round for tea. Beans on toast with bacon and with brown sauce. Stuart was albino. pure white with red eyes. One red eye to be correct. His left eye was colourless and too small. When a vet saw Stuart he reckoned that it was unlikely Stuart could see out the bad eye. She loved even more because if it.

She was ten years old and Stuart became the focus of her life. With some,less odd but still old, bits of wood her Dad had made a cage for Stuart. He was cleaned out regularly with straw and hay from the pet shop, and sawdust from the nearby joinery yard. She went to collect the sawdust in an old, square biscuit tin that her mum gave her. The joinery yard was scary because of all the machines and the blades that cut wood. Not to mention the vans and the lorries. And she had to bravely ask the fierce man in charge if she could collect some sawdust for her pet. But Stuart’s well being was paramount and she loved him and so she overcame the fear. She was his guardian, after all.

She was subconsciously aware that caging an animal was to render it a virtual prisoner so she made sure that Stuart had plenty of opportunities to run free. That was not without peril. For once he escaped through the neighbours’ fence. He was only gone for a brief while but it felt longer and it frightened her. After that she made sure to only let him run on the larger expanses of lawn. He took to following her. In time she had another guinea pig, Scrappy,  as a companion for Stuart and her brother had one too, Lucy, in a separate cage. They knew their pecking order. Stuart would follow her, Scrappy would follow Stuart and Lucy would follow Scrappy. If she stopped so would Stuart and the other two would bump noses on respective bottoms. 

Geoffrey, the cat, was jealous. Once, in an effort to try and mean as much to her as he thought Stuart did he squeezed himself into Stuart’s cage and if a cat was capable of sticking out his lower lip at her that was what Geoffrey was doing. If all the guinea pigs ran past him in the garden he would pat them on the head with his paw. He never hurt them. His claws were retracted. She loved him so much for that. He knew they weren’t mice or rats. He had that intuition, unspoken. Something between them that said I may be jealous of them but if I hurt them I hurt you and I won’t do that, for you love me and I love you.

Being with the animals made her happy. She decided that she would be a vet when she grew up. And when other kids were getting Saturday jobs she was helping at the local vets for free because she loved animals and you couldn’t put a price on love, could you? But she realised that actually being a vet wasn’t just about loving and caring about the animals. It was about dealing with people and running a business too, and making decisions that hurt her heart. So she knew she would never be a vet because it wouldn't make her happy. 

The hard lesson she learnt in owning and loving pets was that they weren’t going to outlive you. Boundless love didn’t make them immortal. When Stuart died at the age of six she wanted to die with him. She had never in her life known such heartbreak. What she didn’t know then was that such heartbreak would not be uncommon in her life for the more you love the more you miss, the more you grieve and the more you hurt. The love for an animal was special. It was different from any other love. It rolled inside her like a giant ball bearing. Always there.

Now in her twilight years with no pets around her she could recall with ease all those who had shared their lives with her. She could weep for the six month old kitten killed on the road over thirty years ago, loving him no less for his short life than she did sweet Geoffrey who lived to be twenty one. She could feel the calico warmth of her shadow cat and she could feel the soft, silky head of her magical, black cat who appeared one day and refused to leave until death came to call, too. 

The love for an animal never ceased. It was always interrupted by death but it never wavered or faltered. Something so special. And whatever opinions might be as to whether animals possessed emotion she knew with an absolute certainty that she had been the recipient of an infinite love.