The Latin tag above is by Manilius. It means “from the moment of our birth we begin to die, and the end of our life is closely linked to the beginning of it.” An early English gravestone I once saw paraphrased Manilius perfectly: “When we to be to be begunne, we did beginne to be undonne.”
My cat, Beachy Bede, was killed today. Some of you may remember a number of Bede stories I have told over the past few years. He was an outstanding cat, in his prime, and very much the Alpha male here at the stables. He had three on-site girlfriends, Zoe, Figgy, and Olive, and an elderly male chum, Caspar. He lorded it over them all. Weighing all of 15 lbs, he dwarfed the other cats both in terms of character and size. He had just had his sixth birthday in August - a Leo, of course.
This afternoon, a lady who lives across the way knocked at my door. “I think your cat’s been run over. He comes and visits us sometimes. I’ve moved him to the side of the road.” It was true that the Bede travelled far on his hunting sorties. And when Ned Halley and I have our literary lunches, he often followed us on long walks. He was splendid company.
Yesterday he had a particularly affectionate day, with much lounging on my mouse platform (beside my computer), on the gate post (as I lean across the gate, both of us monitoring the comings and goings at the stud), and on my and my wife’s lap (in that order, watching the news and a recording of University Challenge). He had also been having a magnificent mouse harvest recently, with the occasional rabbit thrown in for good measure. Two mornings ago he surpassed himself by leaving a mouse just outside the bedroom door, upon which my wife trod on it in bare feet first thing, letting out a terrified shriek. This gave him immense pleasure - you could almost see the grin on his face.
He was a philosophical cat - addicted, unfortunately to knitting (kneading), which caused him to drool with pleasure. I banned him from knitting on my lap, and he adhered to this with difficulty - but adhere he did, preferring the prospect of the lap, sans knitting, to no prospect at all. A great joy would be to hide behind the stairway curtain and swordfight with me through the material. He usually won. He was also prone to giving me double bats on the back of the leg if he felt I had done him a disservice - claws sheathed, needless to say. I had begun to train him to sit in my wife’s bicycle pannier, but he would only last a minute or so before ejecting himself onto the verge. He was an adept at wire-walking, however, and often soft-footed across the ten foot long metal gate top with an extraordinary assurance.
I went to collect him from the side of the road and carried him back to the stables. I found an old coal scuttle and placed him inside to protect him from predators - an irony, as he was the greatest predator of all. I sealed the mouth of the scuttle with a stone, rather as one would seal a sepulchre in the bible. I buried him behind our shed, on the land he used to hunt on. I won’t put up a plaque. It’s unnecessary. He will eventually become part of the soil he lived on, just as happens to us all.