During lockdown I have reached to the very back of my over stacked bookshelves to try and find something I never got round to reading, and pulled out Hemingway Islands in the Stream. This turns out to be a book about love and loss, where the central character loses pretty much everyone he ever loved (a real pick me up for the lockdown blues that one, masterpiece or no). But somewhere in the middle is a wonderful description of the man’s love for his old cat, Boise, and the cat’s love for his man.

‘The way he and Boise felt now, he thought, neither one wanted to outlive the other. I don’t know how many people and animals have been in love before, he thought. It probably is a very comic situation. But I don’t find it comic at all’.

Which got me to thinking about my cat Claudie, I was certainly in love with him, and he was mostly in love with me. I was definitely his ‘person’, but he was a little fickle. When I went on holiday, he certainly did not pine, but relaxed into the infinitely tender care of my Mum. He came home fat, and badly behaved (she not having the heart to stop him stealing the fish off her plate with an expert lightning swipe of his paw, but instead resorted to cooking him his own piece when she made her dinner). But he trusted me more. For me, he would quietly take his thyroid tablet, but after two weeks of looking after him, my Mum’s hands and arms looked like she had had a lawnmower accident. He would come up to bed every night, jump up with a merrow, and tuck himself under my arm, his paw in mine (look no claws…). But when he was really sick, he always wanted Daddy, the big alpha cat who could protect him.

He had his fair share of ups and downs. He started off a stray (we went to pick up a small female tabby and found a huge male). In the first few years someone shot him with an air rifle (I never did find out who, probably just as well…). Then he was run over and we were not sure if he would live as they thought the nerves to his bladder were fried (never been so happy to see him pee…never was again, more of that below). Finally, he had another argument with a car, and lost his leg (we moved house so he could be safer, but he was a cat who loved the outdoors). After a fight, he developed a slightly lopsided eye.

When he died, I was broken. He was very old, and very senile. He would come in through the cat flap at night and wail his head off like he was being massacred until I came down, when he would chirrup and trot upstairs to bed (on seeing me having realised where he was, and of course by then having thoroughly disturbed my sleep). His continence took a downturn too (why is it cats never pee on the floorboards or the tiles but always the carpet?). But he was still my baby. To me, he was still the youngster jumping almost to shoulder height for a prawn, or laying across anything I was trying to do looking up purring, or chasing anything tied to a bit of string. As time went on, we had to make a step for him to get up on the bed. Then one morning there he was, under his favourite bush in the garden, curled up like he was asleep.

So as an artist, what do you do? Of course, you try to paint him. And I did try, for weeks, but the tears kept smudging on the page. So my lovely friend and very talented artist Marilyn took pity on me and painted his portrait. She just caught the essence of him, his slightly scruffy old fur, and his squiffy eye. This week I moved it into the living room. It’s been cracking on 15 years before I could bear to look at it every day. There are things I don’t miss of course – the live rabbit let go in the living room which went to ground under the sofa; the pair of crow’s feet left neatly on the doormat; the feel of cat poo between your toes on an unsuspecting morning. But I still wake up and hear him calling for me in the night. Being in love is like that.