Inevitably, we are missing the old thing terribly and I hope you won't mind if I mention him now and again and I feel sure there will still be the occasional picture of Rocky on here. He was a real tart in front of the camera and I particularly like this one with his ear on the TLS.
So, no more thud of paws onto the worktop to help himself to a new dish of butter when the backs were turned (always a new one which then had to be thrown) and, despite having been 'done' as a kitten, no more furtive tom-cat marking along the lowest bookshelf in the right hand corner of fiction A-Z.
With apologies to Fay Weldon, her oeuvre has regularly suffered in this regard.
And now a sort of gaping space at the foot of the Aga as well.
This means you can now very easily get to the bottom oven, and likewise not fear dropping something on Rocky when you get a dish out of the top oven; you can cook without standing a foot away from the saucepan and gone is the fear that the boiling water might miss the teapot and go over his head.
All welcome anxieties that we'd become accustomed to.
But if we have been sad, that seems to be as nothing to the confusion of Muffin, Rocky's handmaiden, a year his senior but very much in his thrall, who would regularly curl up with him.
I'm not sure I had ever given much thought to how another cat might react in this situation... I mean how does it work?
What are they thinking?
Is it all about habit and a sort of sub-conscious constant proximity to something else warm and furry and purring?
If so Bookhound and I, and our other cat Tess (Rocky's sister, and seemingly OK with getting to the food bowl second rather than third now) seem to be poor substitutes, and Muffy has done a great deal of door-watching and waiting along with plenty of aimless wandering and pacing around the flower beds looking for him in all his old haunts since his departure. She even sat on his spot in front of the woodburner and watched the whole of Autumnwatch on TV the next night, perhaps in the hope he'd appear on the screen, and by this time I was beginning to hope he would too. We realised of course that they have never been apart, have been together here every single day for fifteen years, so it's hard to imagine what it must feel like, we can't ascribe human emotions to a cat but something must be happening in the pining department.
So we hunkered down last week and, with what must seem like indecent haste (on my part) had the big debate about when to start restocking our herd of ageing cats. It's all made us realise that our cat population is now reduced to two dowagers and we need to be thinking about kittens in the not too distant future, which has surprisingly cheered me up immeasurably, even if it also struck me very forcibly that when the next lot reach sixteen (deo volente) we will actually be seventy-three (more dv) ... tempus fugit very fast and it's pointless saying there's no use in thinking like that because I just couldn't help it. Not something that has ever occurred to me when thinking about pet acquisitions before, but the thought of a house without cats... well, living where we do it would be a house not a home.
Quite unexpectedly what happens next is that you then have no control over the direction your thinking travels. For several appetite-less days and wakeful nights there's no diminishing it or keeping it within the perspective of the loss of a much-loved cat, that is just the start of it because the sadness and melancholy rapidly connects to everything else that you love and treasure and have lost in the past, or may in the future.
I tell everyone else on a daily basis that that is normal, so I had to tell myself that too and howl it all out, and felt better for doing so, though poor Bookhound has had to keep his wellies on indoors and escape to his roof on a regular basis.
And, thank you again for all your comforting messages and e mails.
I know it's raised all sorts of old sadnesses for many of you, and for some a sense of dread that your own felines will be in this departure lounge one day, and I'm so sorry for those who have been really upset by it all as I know some of you have ((((((hugs)))))
The V.E.T. did several things that made a huge difference to our memories of that afternoon which are very quiet and peaceful ones, nothing traumatic, the gentle passing of a happy, purring cat in a warm sunny kitchen, and we did several things ourselves that also eased the way and I'm happy to share those with anyone off-blog, please do e mail me if you find yourself in that position and want to know more.
We've been blessed with an Indian summer here in much of the UK, and certainly in the Tamar Valley, since that day which has been really uplifting; a chance to sit outside and say 'serves me right for doing the summer-winter clothes swap,' time to get in the apples and do plenty of comfort baking and a bit of comfort reading which is really what this post was supposed to be about.
My huge thanks to Justine Picardie for answering questions in comments about Coco Chanel last week and thank you Team Tolstoy for a great discussion about our first thoughts this weekend, all fortunately prepared before the events of last week so ready to roll.
But it's all made me think about what makes a good comfort read and that has surprised me.
It's quite hard when your thinking is scattered with the distractions of a sadness that must be attended too, yet reading is a habit for me and one I can't quite leave behind, somehow I have to drag it along and make it fit the moment. Funny or light wasn't right at all, I needed a book that would chime with how I was feeling. I tried a bit of Barchester to no avail, War and Peace has been a comfort read before so I wasn't in the least surprised to find that ready and waiting, and I have decided to pick up and follow Roger Deakin's Notes From Walnut Tree Farm for another year having already done it once, but then I dabbled around with some new fiction.
To my surprise several very good books have emerged and seem to be working wonderfully which makes me think there's no rhyme nor reason to all this, no set reading recipe for melancholy moments, it's about what works for each person. I'd have put money on the English nineteenth-century novel but on this occasion I was mistaken.
The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker, an Adele recommend when we met a few weeks ago, and I'm not sure I could have chosen something more melancholy and haunting yet so beautifully written, full of gaps and silences. The winner of the 2010 Impac Dublin Literary Award, a novel of 'restrained tenderness and laconic humour' according to J.M.Coetzee and the story of a man living on a remote Dutch farm with his ailing father.
Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt, so far an impressive first novel that is knocking my socks off for its originality and has completely captured my imagination, don't be deterred by the idea of a dog knocking on the front door asking to rent a room, I can't wait to see where this one goes.
And Dark Matter - A Ghost Story by Michelle Paver, a riveting read that has me putting my warm woolly socks back on again as a 1937 Arctic expedition sets off for the remote and uninhabited bay of Gruhuken, home to the explorers for the next year and eternal Polar night is about to descend, but it seems they are not alone.
So that's me feeling much comforted, but I wonder which direction you would turn to on your bookshelves for moments like this?