Dear Readers, a few nights ago Bailey, the King of the Cats, went to sleep for the last time at the fine old age of nineteen years. He has been so much part of our life, and of the lives of many people who lived in the County Roads, that I wanted to pay tribute to him here.
I first met Bailey before we even moved to East Finchley. We were standing on the patio of what was to become our new home when we heard a loud and persistent miaowing issuing from the bushes. Up strode Bailey. He bobbed up for a head scritch, rolled on his back and then marched up to the back door, demanding to be let in. As it wasn’t yet our house, we decided that this probably wasn’t the best idea, but once we were living there he became a regular visitor.
On one occasion I heard the voice of Bailey’s owner, followed by an all-too familiar wailing.
“Bailey! Come down from there. Don’t make a show of yourself”.
And there was Bailey standing on top of the ten-foot fence at the end of the side return. He had gotten up there, but seemed not to have worked out how he was going to get down. We humans stood and considered what to do. I tried standing on a chair but it wasn’t quite high enough. Fortunately at that point my six foot three inch tall husband arrived home from work, fetched a stepladder and rescued him. Carrying Bailey up the road to his actual house became part of our weekly routine. I think he regarded us as some kind of taxi service for when he was too tired to walk the last hundred yards home.
We soon made friends with Bailey’s actual family (or ‘subjects’ as I’m sure he thought of them). We were in regular contact, as Bailey developed a habit of wandering off. We never fed him, but other people did, and locating him became quite a problem. I am convinced that Bailey never thought of himself as a cat, but as a small furry human being. He would make himself at home on the armchair and watch benignly as I worked. He also loved sitting in the sink, normally (but not always) when there was nothing in it. We learned that what he loved was to drink from a running tap.
You would not believe that in these photos Bailey was already fifteen years old. He retained his elegant good looks for most of his life, and he was such a popular character on the street that everyone seemed to know his name. Well, you couldn’t really miss an extremely vocal pure-white cat who simply demanded to know who you were and what you could do for him. I had the sense that Bailey always knew what he wanted, and a bit more besides. We found we had a lot in common with Bailey’s owners, and we would probably never have found out how much if Bailey hadn’t ‘introduced’ us. He always seemed preternaturally wise to me.
As the years wore on, Bailey got a bit slower and a bit stiffer, like most of us, but he was still a regular visitor to the garden. The birds never bothered about him, and I never saw him try to catch anything. Other cats scattered at a glance. He would sometimes pay a visit to the garden ‘waterhole’ for all the world like a domestic lion.
He’d always march straight up to the back door and yowl to be let in. If he caught your eye from an upstairs window he would re-double his efforts.
In April this year he paid a visit to the garden. He was clearly a very elderly gentleman, and yet he still announced himself in the usual way,
He was very wobbly on his legs and so we called his ‘Dad’ who came to carry him home. It is so sad to see an animal towards the end of his days, and yet Bailey was a cat who defied pity; he was still the same regal cat that he’d been when we first met him eleven years ago. He loved people, was never happier than when he was plonked down in a patch of sunshine, and seemed to be of the opinion that everything had worked out for the best. He was, as Samuel Johnson said of his beloved cat Hodge, a very fine cat indeed.
R.I.P Bailey. The street is quieter, and much sadder, without you.