In 2005, as now, we were renovating in France. Renovating is horrible, hard work, and when you’re making it up as you go you need to stop and think often, ideally with an alcoholic beverage for company. Our place for stopping and thinking was the bar in the village 2 kilometres away.
One day, as we were setting off for the bar, Geoff said, “Let’s go a different way”. “OK”, I said, “I know a road I’ve been meaning to drive along to see if it’d be nice for a bicycle ride”.
And a few minutes later, as we drove along that new road, we passed three kittens playing on the grass verge. We carried on for about another 100 metres, expecting to see a house that they could have strayed from. There wasn’t one. They’d been dumped there, probably only a few minutes before.
I reversed the car, and the smallest kitten, a long-haired ginger ball of fur with a sweet face, came pottering straight up to Geoff and readily agreed to be picked up. Geoff brought the kitten to me in the car and went back to try to capture the others. The fluffy kitten immediately began exploring the car.
And so Fluff came into our lives.
We did – eventually – capture the other two kittens, one tabby and one a short-haired ginger, both bigger and clearly more suspicious of people than their little brother. All three of them lived with us for a while until we found a nice new home for Tabby and Ginger (later renamed Tiger Tim and Citron). But by that time we simply couldn’t give Fluff up.
He was the smallest of the three, with tiny little teeth like plastic needles, and it took him ages to eat his food. His brothers would have finished a whole bowl each by the time he’d gummed his way through three mouthfuls, and he’d want to stop eating and go and play with them. In the end we used to have to lift him up to the newly-installed kitchen counter, still wrapped in protective plastic, and feed him separately, just to make sure he’d eaten enough.
This summer, I took a video of Fluff, now 12, eating some prawns off a plate on the kitchen floor. In one minute, he manages to ineptly eat about two-thirds of a prawn, scattering bits everywhere. He just never really got the hang of eating quickly.
He also never stopped being nosy.
Fortunately, he had ample opportunities to indulge his curiosity. He lived in ten different homes in two countries, and spent nights in many hotel rooms in between. He crossed Europe in a 7.5 tonne truck in the worst storm for 40 years, and visited the site of the Battle of Waterloo – twice. He took the overnight ferry across the Baltic several times, and thoroughly enjoyed gawping at the sea. He stared very hard at people on bicycles and children in prams. He made it quite clear that he didn’t approve of the Netherlands, or Denmark, to the point that future crossings of Europe were always planned to avoid both countries.
Although he was free range for the first 18 months of his life, once we moved away from that part of France he became mainly an indoor cat, being walked on a lead twice a day. Walking a cat is actually quite restful, although you rarely cover very large distances. I went through quite a lot of audiobooks while meandering slowly around the garden as Fluff sniffed at things and, occasionally, rolled in deer poo. By summer 2017, he’d got to the point where he could largely be walked without the lead.
Everyone’s reaction on meeting Fluff was the same: “What a lovely cat!” “What a magnificent tail!” “Est-il un Persan ?” “Oh, isn’t he beautiful?” And he was, indeed, very attractive. No matter how grubby he got outdoors he always seemed to be clean again within minutes of coming back in.
But it was his sweet, playful nature that really stood out. He was naughty, sometimes. He was even bad tempered on very rare occasions. But mostly he was an enormously entertaining character, joining in with our conversations, demanding his walks, periodically jumping out from behind the furniture and grabbing us by the knees, tying himself into impossible positions while asleep and still insisting on playtime every day even at the age of 12. And he certainly took in a lot of information from his (too small) box next to my computer as I dictated translations while he snoozed.
He used to invent new games and expect us to learn the rules, and mostly we did – though I never quite understood what I was supposed to do when he was hiding under the table by the door.
When he died, two weeks ago today, almost completely out of the blue, it was a truly enormous blow. Of course it’s nice to be able to have the windows open, not to have fur all over everything and for us both to be able to plan to travel at the same time. But that’s a poor exchange for losing such a loving and amusing companion.
We had one final journey together. We took him back to that village in the Limousin where he’d first lived with us, and laid him to rest in a beautiful, peaceful spot facing the sunset.
He will, naturally, be much missed.