When I wrote my previous post in December, I really didn’t expect to be away from this blog for so long. Unfortunately, a combination of a wrist injury, work commitments, and a sort of dullness of heart that made even the idea of writing exhausting took their toll. Also, it’s very hard to pick just one political topic at present. There seems to be a constant barrage of new, most of it either infuriating or depressing.
And I’m not going to write about any of that today, either, though I do hope to be back here more soon.
Today, I want to celebrate the life of a most excellent cat.
We adopted Mayhem and her sister Mystery in 2003. A colleague of mine had a cat who ‘didn’t need to be desexed, because she never goes outside’. When the inevitable occurred, we were delighted to adopt two of the resulting kittens. The other two kittens in the litter were called Mischief and Marco, and we called our girls Mystery and Mayhem.
Mayhem was a kitten of boundless energy, even by kitten standards, and even when she settled into a more sober adulthood, she was a very Mighty Huntress – of mice, insects, butterflies, and, regrettably, pigeons. (Also of roast chicken, fish and chips, diced lamb, raw chicken breasts, glasses of water, cups of tea, ice cream, and anything edible or drinkable that was left within reach – and her reach was fairly significant. In her later adulthood, Mayhem was rather a large cat – ‘full bodied’, as the vet kindly called her.) She and her sister chased each other all over the house during their kittenhood, and would also stalk my hair if I wasn’t careful – there’s nothing quite like having a kitten land on your back with all her claws out when you are cooking. I can’t say I recommend the experience.
Most cats are sensualists at heart, and Mayhem more than most. She loved strong smells, and would frequently come in smelling strongly of rosemary, lavender, or lemon geranium, because she would rub herself all over our herbs and sometimes sleep in them. She also loved less socially-acceptable strong smells, and on one occasion she had such an extended roll in Andrew’s dirty clothes basket that when I picked her up, she smelled like Andrew. After he had been doing a lot of gardening, on a hot day.
When we started going to the farmers’ markets, Mayhem discovered a great love of vegetables. She always had to inspect the vegetables for freshness, and then rub up against the celery or carrots. She loved rhubarb so much that she would writhe all over it, purring madly, until we started to feel a bit embarrassed to watch her. Most of all, she adored strawberries. She didn’t want to eat them, but any strawberry that wasn’t put straight into the fridge would be immediately sat on. She would even knock the punnets over in the hope of getting them open, so that she could sit on them and roll on them more effectively.
It will not surprise you to learn that we were never able to grow strawberries. Strawberry plants, as it turns out, don’t really like being assiduously sat on, even by a cat as beautiful as Mayhem. Her obsession was such that when, on one occasion, I rinsed out a bowl that had been used to hold strawberries and poured the water into a pot plant, she immediately hopped into the (wet!) dirt in the plot and settled down for a comfortable nap.
She was a strange little cat.
Mayhem was also very dramatic. We used to say that she suffered from existential angst, and she would certainly soliloquise at us at times. It was a tragedy verging on abuse if her paws were on the floor when there was a human in the room who could be cuddling her, and she would tell us about this in no uncertain terms. She really loved attention. One of her favourite tricks was to climb up on the easily accessible part of the roof, and then pick her way to the top of the roof and miaow plaintively for someone to come and get her down. We regularly had to go outside and reassure concerned strangers on the street that she was fine, and could in fact get down from the back of the house very easily if she felt like it. It was just more fun to miaow from a great height in order to publicly shame us for being less good at climbing than she was.
Of course, she was never quite sure what to make of other people’s dramatic tendencies. On one occasion, a friend and I were practicing Rossini’s Cat Duet, which is a classical piece for two sopranos, composed entirely of miaows. Mayhem hopped up on the table to watch us, and looked from me to my friend and back again in increasing consternation as we sang. I have never seen a cat look more appalled in my life. She even added her own improvised miaows to the music, in between the human vocal parts. We eventually had to stop singing, because she was getting so upset. I have no idea what we were saying in cat, but it evidently wasn’t anything good.
Aside from this occasion, both cats were usually very fond of supervising my singing practice, and many of my songs developed alternative lyrics which were about them. Mayhem had a particular preference for baroque music, and actually managed to get my computer to start playing Handel’s Messiah one December, just by walking across the keyboard. I wasn’t even aware that I had the Messiah on my playlist. But she also had an ear for sarcasm, and would give me very dirty looks if I responded to a particularly unreasonable level of miaowing by singing ‘she was despised, despised and neglected’.
Speaking of unreasonable levels of miaowing, Mayhem was one of the most vocal cats I’ve ever met, and also one of the bossiest, leading to the nickname ‘Miaow-hem’ when she was in a particularly persistent mood. She had strong opinions about what we should be doing at any given time (picking up the cat, usually), and would tell us in no uncertain terms if we were taking too long to obey. Generally, if you entered a room Mayhem was in, she would look up from whatever she was doing and miaow at you, imperiously. It was a clear instruction to pat her at once. But she was always generous with her purrs if we pleased her, and she certainly never allowed either of us to feel lonely.
Mayhem had very strong opinions about me cooking chicken, too. In her youth, she would try to express these opinions by leaping up onto the bench while I was cooking and helping herself; as she got older, she preferred the wind-oneself-around-the-cook’s-feet-and-trip-her-over method of obtaining chicken. Or the silently-sit-where-the-cook-will-certainly-stand-on-one’s-tail-and-thus-be-compelled-from-guilt-to-give-one-all-the-chicken method. And if those failed (usually because Andrew would scoop her up for a cuddle), there was always the miaow-incessantly-until-the-cook-thinks-she-will-go-mad approach.
(She was also pretty hilarious whenever it was dinner time. She never miaowed when she was hungry – she’d just wait in patient and angelic silence by her food bowl for someone to notice the time. But as soon as the tin was open, she would begin to miaow frantically. I think she was worried that Andrew would lose focus, forget that the food was for her, and eat it himself…)
Mayhem had a strong sense of propriety. There were Ways In Which Things Must Be Done, and there was no excuse for failing to do them. I like to read lying propped on my elbows on the bed. Mayhem decided several years ago that if I was propped up on my elbows, she needed to be lying across my forearms, head tucked under my chin. This was not negotiable. On more than one occasion, I went into my room to read, and Mayhem, who had previously been napping contentedly on my bed, would heave a sigh, get up, stretch, and come to lie across my arms with an air of ‘Humans! So needy! But I suppose they can’t help it, and I know my duty.’
She really was a very conscientious cat when it came to looking after her humans.
Speaking of looking after us well, after Mystery disappeared, Mayhem very kindly took on the important task of bossing Andrew around at all times. This had previously been Mystery’s job, but about a week after she disappeared, Mayhem evidently decided that Andrew was clearly going to fall to pieces if he didn’t have a cat supervising all his activities, and stepped up into the role. Andrew… took a little while to adjust to this, but he really was born to be ruled by cats, so it didn’t take long before he adjusted to Mayhem’s benign regime.
Mayhem slowed down a lot in the last few years. After Mystery disappeared, she chose to become an indoor cat for most of the time. We assume that the outdoors was a bit scarier when she didn’t have another cat to patrol with. But this is not to say that she wasn’t capable of exerting herself when she chose to do so. It was our turn to host Christmas last year, and my brother-in-law and his wife brought their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with them. Mayhem looked the dog up and down and explained to him in no uncertain terms that she was in charge around here, and the dog was clearly far too afraid to argue with her. The power clearly went to Mayhem’s head, because she then spent the rest of the day monitoring the dog and refusing to let him go through doorways (‘oh, hi, I see you want to go through that door. But I’m lying here now. Do you want to try your luck? No, I didn’t think so…’), which was pretty hilarious, because she was never a dominant cat before.
Three days later, we heard the most extraordinary noises from the back garden, and rushed out to find her seeing the local tom cat off her territory. She was visibly pleased with herself for weeks afterward.
Mayhem always enjoyed our Eurovision parties – so many lap-surfing opportunities! – and she enjoyed this year’s one too. She even enjoyed trying to help us play board games the Monday before last. But on the Thursday, she was a bit sick, and in the evening when I went to hug her, she was completely silent – not like our vocal little kitty at all, and cause for concern. The vet thought that she had just eaten something that disagreed with her, and told us to feed her poached chicken and rice, which we did by hand, to Mayhem’s great pleasure, but on Saturday she was a bit floppy and still quiet. She had some blood tests taken – the vet suspected early stage kidney disease – and she had a vitamen B injection to perk her up. We spent the rest of the day and that night cuddling her and cosseting her and holding glasses of water for her to drink and trying to get her to eat. She clearly enjoyed the attention, but she ate only a tiny amount, and she was still very floppy. On Sunday morning, she went outside for a bit, and enjoyed some special time with Andrew in the sun. Despite being clearly very ill, she was actually feeling pretty happy about life – finally, she had two humans focused exclusively on her, and was getting the level of attention and spoiling that she had been campaigning for her whole life! – but she still wasn’t eating, and her back legs weren’t working properly. So we drove her to the emergency vet, who helped us make the decision to put her to sleep.
Which was awful, frankly, even though the vet and vet nurses were incredible, and affirmed that we were making the best choice available to us (the alternative was hospitalisation and more blood tests with a very small chance of a good outcome. We were pretty sure she’d rather just be with us.).
We know we did the right thing. We know that it was the right time; Mayhem was still well enough in herself that she climbed out of the box to try to scale Andrew when they brought her in to say goodbye, but physically, she wasn’t going to have many more good hours. I think if we’d waited longer, we would have been doing her a terrible unkindness. We did finally get the blood tests on Monday, and they confirmed that she wasn’t ever going to get better.
And, look, she had fifteen years of good health, and was sick for three and a half days at the end of it, during which time she had all the cuddles and attention her heart could desire (if also several more vet visits than she would have preferred, though she was always very polite about that sort of thing. Indeed, her first ever medical record had the notation ‘nice cat!’ on it.). We would have loved to have her with us for longer – there’s never a good time to say goodbye to an excellent cat – but that’s a pretty good life by most feline standards. And she loved us, and knew that she was loved in return.
But it still hurts. We came home to a house that, for the first time in fifteen years, has no cat in it. It’s the little reflexes that get you – every time I enter a room, my eyes go to the spot where Mayhem would be sleeping, expecting her to look up at me and miaow. And I keep waiting for someone to miaow at me and tell me off for failing to live up to her expectations, or listening for the little click of claws against the floorboards (Mayhem liked to walk with her claws out). But she persists in not being here.
It’s amazing how much of the house doesn’t have Mayhem in it.
Mayhem was a really great cat. She was affectionate and bossy and talkative and sweet-natured and very beautiful. We were very lucky to have her, and we will miss her terribly.
Goodbye, little May-Fluff. We love you.