Category Archives: Personal

The Years Roll Past, But Love Never Dies

Dear Readers, Sunday was Mum’s birthday and this year she would have been 88 years old.  My brother sent me a photo of the family gathered for Mum’s birthday dinner at a local pub in 2016. We had booked a table at the restaurant  but sadly, though they took our reservation, when we rolled up the place was in darkness. Much hammering on the door resulted on it being opened, and the beleaguered woman who answered it was horrified that we were in our glad rags and expecting dinner. Nonetheless, she made us welcome, and the few staff who were there went into the kitchen and knocked us up something with chips, which we ate in solitary splendour. They even turned on the Christmas tree lights. Looking at the photo now, I’m struck by how pale Mum and Dad both look – by this point, life was a constant stream of hospital stays and antibiotics and steroids for chest infections. But if I could see which way the compass was pointing, I chose to ignore it. After all, Mum and Dad had both survived so many illnesses that would have killed lesser mortals that I fully expected that that would continue to be the case.

This was just a month before Mum and Dad came to stay with me in East Finchley for  Christmas, and Mum ended up nearly dying of a chest infection in Whittington Hospital. In 2017, Mum and Dad celebrated 60 years of marriage, but in 2018 Mum died, followed by Dad in 2020.

I have the scarf that Mum is wearing in the photo in my wardrobe, along with so many other things that she made. Every so often, I pull something out and wear it. It feels as if she’s giving me a hug. She taught me so many things – how creativity is sometimes easier if you share what you make with other people, be it a scarf or a piece of writing. How everybody is interesting in their own way. And most importantly of all, how to be kind, and how to put aside judgement and work on the basis that everyone is doing their best. I don’t always manage it, but she makes me want to try, even now.

And here is the piece that I wrote last year, and here is the piece that I wrote in 2019, the year after her death. It’s interesting to see how grief morphs and changes as the years go by. We are never truly ‘over it’, but somehow joy returns, and the memories of the last awful years no longer overshadow all the good times.

And, as I said last year, I am sending love out to everyone who finds this season painful. There will be people reading this who have lost someone close to them this year, and for whom this will be the first Christmas without their loved one. Be gentle with yourself. Do what you need to do. Don’t strive for perfection, there’s no such thing under the sun. Follow the old family traditions where they bring comfort, but be prepared to ditch them if they no longer make sense, or are too painful. Grief is a process that never truly ends, and there is no right way to feel or not to feel: don’t let anybody tell you something different.

Mum at the Royal Oak pub in Milborne St Andrew 2012



Farewell, Margaret Lovett

Margaret in C’a D’Oro in Venice

Dear Readers, back in 2016 I visited Venice with my friend Margaret Lovett. She was 89 and a bit years’ old then, and had mentioned, rather wistfully I thought, that she’d love to see Venice one more time. I had been visiting Venice regularly, and usually stayed in an apartment right on the Cannaregio main canal, so I said I’d be glad to go with her. And so, off we went.

Margaret had had an interesting life. She was the daughter of the Vicar of Sherbourne in Dorset, and lived in the town throughout her life, when she wasn’t off on some adventure or another. She trained as a nurse, and for a while she was living and working in Samoa.  In her forties she had had a spinal fusion operation, which she said had made all the difference to her mobility, helped by the fact that she had assisted the surgeon who operated on her during many similar procedures, and therefore was confident that he ‘knew his stuff’.

When she retired, Margaret took up travelling with a vengeance. We met in China, on a gruelling expedition along the old Silk Road to Kashgar, the centre of the Uigher community at that point. Margaret was in her 80s then but bore with the extreme heat, the dust, the dodgy toilets, the tight timetable, and even the being manhandled on and off of a Bactrian camel in the Gobi desert. We became fast friends, but catching up with Margaret was always tricky – she returned to the Silk Road twice more, and also spent months in Australia, visiting with her nieces and nephews.

Margaret never married, but she has a whole raft of people to buy presents for, and so visiting a gift shop was always high on the agenda. In Venice, we’d accidentally left it until a day when the Aqua Alta (the occasional minor flooding of the streets) happened, but, undeterred, Margaret paddled through the water in her sandals to buy the necessary trinkets. Her suitcase, which was light as a feather when she arrived in a country, was always perilously close to over-weight by the time she left.

Margaret had a tricky relationship with Venice – on her previous visit, she had tripped getting into a Vaporetto, and got a nasty gash on her leg. She told me with some glee that she’d been blue-lighted in a water ambulance to the hospital, and that she’d watched with interest as her leg was sewn up, much to the surprise of the surgeon, who’d expected her to look away squeamishly.  On our trip, she tumbled over once but bounced, and was quickly relieved by a sit down and a prosecco. In fact, Margaret loved a prosecco on every possible occasion – lunch, with dinner, after dinner, and on one memorable occasion, at breakfast.

I thought I knew Venice, but Margaret persuaded me into many churches with Veronese and Titian altarpieces. I’d never visited C’a D’Oro ( a palazzo come art gallery) either, in spite of it being so close to where we always stayed. And when we went to Murano, so that I could buy a genuine Venetian chandelier (a very small one I should add), Margaret galloped through the streets so that we could visit a church with a famous altarpiece before it closed at noon.

It’s rare to find such delightful and congenial company, but Margaret was the perfect travel companion. She never complained, she was clear about what she wanted to see but was always interested in what you wanted to do too. Every morning we’d work out what we were doing, and there was never a cross word. She saw the positive in everything, even when we had to get up at 4.30 a.m. on our last day to beat yet another Aqua Alta. She was learned, but she wore her learning lightly, and her smile lit up the room.

Earlier this week, I discovered that Margaret died back in May, aged 97. I had been meaning to get in touch, but hadn’t done so, and now it’s too late, so let that be a lesson to us all. I am sure that she will be missed in Sherbourne, on the other side of the world in Australia, and by everyone that she came into contact with, and there can be no better memorial than that.  Farewell, Margaret Lovett, and safe travels.

The Results Are In….

Dear Readers, as you were all so long-suffering while I was studying for my Open University science degree this year, I thought the least I could do was share with you my results for my 2022/23 courses. This is the first year of study that actually counts towards my degree, so I’m very happy that I’ve got a good foundation, and I’ve absolutely loved everything that I’ve studied this year. I’m grateful that I have the time and resources to do this, and I can definitely feel it expanding my brain.

But what does the next year hold? I’m going back to Environmental Science next year, having done a year of biology, and will be studying module DST206 – Environment – Sharing a Dynamic Planet. The blurb says:

Environmental issues pose challenges. What are the biophysical and social causes of environmental change? What exactly is an environmental issue and why are they often controversial and difficult to resolve? How can we make a difference? You’ll address all of these questions as you explore four key global environmental concerns – life, water, carbon, and food – through a rich and interactive set of study materials. As you do so, you’ll develop a distinctive way of thinking about environments and environmental issues that draws on the insights of both natural and social sciences to be at once intellectually innovative and practically relevant.’

So, having been extremely ‘sciencey’ for three years, this module brings in some of the social aspects of environment issues: I don’t think that you can think about the science without considering the impact that the changes we’re seeing will have on people. I expect it to be very challenging and intellectually stimulating, and of course I’ll keep you posted on the key things that come up for me. As I’ll be retired by the time we start (and indeed have timed my last day to be the opening day of the new module) I’ll be able to devote a bit more time to it. And it will be easier to manage one course rather than juggling two this year, fascinating though it was. It’s funny how much more time two courses take, even though the marks are the same in the end.

And because I can’t get enough of this stuff,  I’ve also just signed up for the Life Sciences Online Summer School, which is free and doesn’t contribute to your overall degree, but just sounds like a lot of fun. Just look at the topics! And here’s me with a pond!

  • Survey of aquatic life: Using invertebrates as an indication of water quality.
  • Microbiology of water: Culturing bacteria from water samples
  • Investigating the effects of varying nutrient levels on different cell lines
  • Finding better sunscreens from molecules found in nature

It starts next Monday, so again I’ll keep you posted. Who knows what I’ll find out? I’m just very excited to be getting stuck into sciencing again.


Dear Readers, as you might remember I have been having tests over the past few months, following a persistent cough – I’ve had a CT scan and various ultrasounds, with an echocardiogram last Sunday. Everything has come back negative except one. The CT scan picked up that there was something ‘dodgy’ about my heart – there seemed to be fluid around the heart, and the aorta seemed to be dilated. None of these things exactly filled me with cheer, and the echocardiogram doctor seemed to think that there was definitely something amiss.

Although this hasn’t been confirmed yet, she thinks that what I have is a congenital heart defect – where in the diagram above it says ‘tricuspid valve’ (meaning ‘three leaves’), I only have a bicuspid valve. For the early part of life this usually causes no problems, but as you get older it can become less and less efficient, so the blood may leak, and the aorta grows to compensate. The only symptoms that I have are breathlessness, which I was putting down to two years of sedentary lockdown, and rather too many cakes (ahem). However, it might seem that the cakes are not to blame at all.

I am waiting for the echocardiogram report to make its leisurely way to my GP (hopefully next week) and then I am assuming that I’ll be sent off to a cardiologist, probably for yet more tests. There are no drugs for this condition, so depending on my overall health the most likely outcome is probably a valve replacement. The bad news is that this is a major operation, but the good (in fact great) news is that it’s been discovered, and that once I’ve recovered from the operation I’ll be as good as new.

It’s all been a bit of a shock, and of course there is lots of uncertainty at the moment, but if the past few years has taught me anything it’s that nothing is ever actually certain, and that we have to take each precious moment as it comes. So, I am letting you know just in case you have any experience of something like this (Mum and Dad had all sorts of heart problems but this was never picked up, although if it does turn out to be congenital one of them would have had it too), and also because I think it helps to share these things (and because you have been such a wonderful support through all sorts of shenanigans over the years).

I must say that my science studies are actually helping – I am so curious about what will happen next! I have spent more time in hospital on my own behalf in the past few months than in the whole of my previous 63 years, so it’s been quite an education, and it makes me realise how incredibly lucky I’ve been on the health front. I am 100% up for whatever happens next, so let’s see.

At The Whittington Hospital

Dear Readers, this morning it rained and rained, after nearly a month of tinder-dry weather and so, as I headed off to Whittington Hospital in North London for a routine thyroid check, I wasn’t surprised to see a whole host of snails enjoying themselves in the damp conditions along by the main hospital wall.  I have always had a soft spot for these molluscs, and I love the way that they glide along.

It’s fair to say that the many, many people walking down from the hospital were a little confused about what I might be doing, but most of them simply glanced and then gave me a very wide berth. After all, there is a wide variety of people in Archway, not all of them 100% benign, and so eccentricity of any kind tends to be a bit of a red flag. One small girl did stop and gaze at me, wide-eyed, before being ushered along by her mother. To think that she could have been another mollusc-fan, and we didn’t get a chance to swap notes! What a shame.

Anyhow, I went up to the imaging department, and was handed a pager (who knew that they still existed?) and told to go to Room 12 when it buzzed, which of course it did as soon as I had my reading glasses on. My appointment was for a thyroid ultrasound – the CT scan that I had a while back to try to find the reason for my cough found all sorts of strange anomalies, one of which was a slightly enlarged thyroid. I wasn’t worried because my thyroid function blood tests had all come back with normal readings, but I do love an interesting (and non-invasive) medical procedure. Fortunately there was also a young medical student in attendance so, as I lay there with my throat exposed like some sacrificial lamb, the doctor talked through everything she was finding – nodules, cysts, colloid and even (get this) some comet-tail artefacts – these happen in an ultrasound when it finds something reflective, usually just some kind of protein. Comet-tails are perfectly normal, and apparently a good sign.

I do have a couple of tiny nodules that are too small for the ultrasound to investigate, apparently, so what the doctor is recommending is that I return for another ultrasound in about six months, and if there’s no change (which is what she expects) I’ll be signed off on the thyroid front.

And so I head off home, passing some more snails en route. What calming animals they are (apologies to anyone trying to grow vegetables; you probably take a rather less sanguine view)!

I have a great fondness for the Whittington – I credit it with saving my mother’s life when she came down with sepsis and complications back in 2015, and I have been here for numerous blood tests and X-rays and CT scans over the last six months. I have always found the people who work here to be helpful, kind and knowledgeable, from the volunteers who direct visitors around this maze of a building to the consultants and radiographers and nurses. Strangely enough, the place is starting to feel like home, much as it did when I was visiting Mum during her long stay eight years ago. I would rather not have any health problems (clearly) but as I do, I am so glad that this is my hospital.

Cut Flowers – Yes or No?

Dear Readers, I have always felt a bit ambivalent about cut flowers. There’s something a bit wasteful about them, and about the fact that they’ll soon be dead however careful I am. However, this week there was a special offer on British-grown flowers via Abel and Cole, and in the midst of my revision frenzy I couldn’t resist. They do say that there’s only so much willpower that you can call upon at any one time, and clearly all of mine is going on keeping me in my seat and forcing me through the endless things I seem to have to get into my brain. There’s no room for saying ‘no’ to antirrhinums and sweet william and cornflowers and night-scented stock, and my second-hand jug seemed to be just the thing to stick them in. See what you think.

I read a lot about growing ‘cutting gardens’ and am always very impressed, but as my garden is north-facing, it isn’t always full of blooms (though I have to say that the mock orange (Philadelphus) is doing really well this year). My sunny front garden feels a little too small to raid, especially as it seems that the bees need all that they can get at the moment. I know some people who grow flowers as well as food on their allotments, which seems like a splendid idea, but requires a bit too much time for me to look after at the moment.

The ‘British Grown’ bit was important for me – I do appreciate that flowers grown in places like Ethiopia contribute to the local economy, but I’m never sure how much the actual growers get (though if you know of any companies that seem ethical do let me know). And then there’s the air-freight bit, which freaks me out (I do work for a climate-change charity after all). But all these things are a balance, and in these difficult times I would never judge anyone for wanting to bring a bit of colour to their lives. In the summer, though, it’s well worth seeing what’s available from closer to home. I love my flowers, and this week they have certainly hit the spot.

What cheers you up when you’re up against it?  In addition to flowers, I could mention chocolate, a new knitting project, a walk around the garden or a new episode of the Great British Sewing Bee (or my new secret vice, Glow-Up). As far as the TV shows go, I love watching people being creative, and I love how the UK programmes generally show people being collaborative and caring rather than in-your-face competitive. I find it comforting, and sometimes surprisingly moving, old softie that I am. There is something very inspiring about ‘ordinary’ people creating extraordinary things.

Anyhow, back to the stomata and the turgor pressure and the transpiration. Roll on next week….

Fear of the Market

Monument Valley – Photo by Scott Ingram at

Dear Readers, I strongly suspect that one of the side effects of living through the pandemic has been a rise in agoraphobia (literally ‘fear of the market’, and usually expressed in terms of being afraid of crowds, wide-open spaces or even just leaving the house). In the past few days I have talked with several people whose loved ones are now terrified of going outside the front door. These were people who were previously adventurous and confident, but now experience panic attacks, dizziness, a feeling of being out of control, breathlessness, sweating and disorientation, even for a brief trip to the shops.

I’m no psychologist, but observing my poor Mum in her last years brought out a few common factors for me. Being housebound, or at least spending a long period of time indoors seems to shrink not only our physical but our mental worlds, to the point where we only truly feel safe inside four walls. Couple this with social isolation and you have a recipe for anxiety. Then, there are the added problems of hearing and sight deterioration which happens as we get older – if we are going out regularly we may adapt to these changes, but if we are confined and then suddenly broach the outside world, it can all feel too much. Next, there is a genuine fear of falling, made worse by feeling giddy and by having lost fitness over months of walking no further than the fridge or the end  of the garden.  And finally, there’s the fear of infection and of the possibility of getting sick, especially as so much of the world has gone back to ‘business as usual’.

Personally, I have long had a fear of being in situations that I couldn’t escape from, and that has definitely gotten worse. Just before Christmas, we went to see a play in the West End, and passed through Leicester Square tube station. It was absolutely rammed, to the point that I was afraid that there would be an uncontrollable crush as there wasn’t room for people to get off the escalators. I could feel myself beginning to panic in a way that I probably wouldn’t have done pre-pandemic -after all, I’ve lived in London all my life and being surrounded by people is nothing new. Fortunately nothing happened, but it’s a long time since I’ve been so afraid.

It feels to me as if there has been a great mental forgetting of the cost of Covid in human terms, but for many people, their bodies haven’t forgotten, and are bearing the fear and anxiety that it’s no longer acceptable to express openly. Personally, I hate that we have had no real, official reckoning with what happened, no acknowledgement of the history that we lived through, and of the price of it for so many of us. There can be no true moving into the future without weighing up and acknowledging what’s happened, the mistakes that were made, the things we learned, and what needs to be put in place for the future. For those still mourning a loved one, or suffering from Long Covid, or still sheltering, the pandemic has ongoing consequences. And for those who still don’t feel ‘normal’, who sometimes panic in open spaces, who hyperventilate in crowds, who still automatically do ‘the dance of social distancing’, I know how you feel. I would be intrigued to know how you’re doing, lovelies. Do you know people who are struggling? Are there things that you notice about yourself that have changed? Or is it just me?

Farewell to Fran Freelove, the Queen of the Quizzes

Fran Freelove with her cat Toby

Dear Readers, I wanted to share with you the sad news of the death of one of the blog’s most regular contributors, Fran Freelove. For anyone who did my weekly quizzes, Fran and Bobby Freelove were the ones to beat, and very rarely was this accomplished, even though for the past six years Fran has been undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer.

Fran and Bobby were sisters, but her son Antony told me that it was actually Fran who normally did the quizzes. Her range of knowledge was astonishing – everything from plants and insects to songs and birdcalls were all taken in her stride. She was always generous to anyone who did manage to beat her, although this was a rare occurrence indeed.

But there was so much more to Fran than her knowledge of the natural world. Although we never met, I always thought of Fran as a kindred spirit. We agreed on so much. Here is Fran writing about the foxes in her garden, for example:

We’re extremely lucky to have three, Betty, Bass and BonBon, we haven’t seen our fourth one, Stump ( he only had half of his brush) for quite some time. They do get fed and they’re very good at time keeping! We have cameras so we can watch them, it’s quite amusing the antics they get up to. With their mortality rate being so high we must do all we can to look after these beautiful creatures.

Like me, she was often horrified at the way that people treated the natural world, and enjoyed trying to make things better. And how I loved her sense of humour too!

You are so right Bugwoman. We too have collected rubbish for the nearly four years on our daily walks, we hate to see our beautiful countryside spoilt by other peoples thoughtlessness. If everyone just did a little bit wouldn’t it be a nicer place.
We’re always surprised about the number of Red Bull cans, it obviously doesn’t ‘give them wings’ enough to put them in a bin. Litter picking can be quite therapeutic we find.

And here is Fran, feeding her extremely lucky tadpoles…

We feed ours with the tadpole foods you can get, early and late stage, quite expensive but they seem to like it. When they come up to feed don’t you just love their little faces. 😀

And she and Bobby had different opinions about frogs:

You have touched on one of my most favourite subjects, frogs. Whilst i read your post avidly it has to be said Bobby was the total opposite, they give her the heebie jeebies. During the season i often get a phone call with her panicking at the end of the phone because she’s found one in her garden. While she actually locks herself in her house i have to go and rescue the little treasure and take it back to my pond, good job we only live four doors apart. I think they are the most amazing little creatures so i never mind adopting yet another one. My pond is right under my bedroom window and the sound some nights of the frogs singing is wonderful.

We had the same attitude to pesticides too.

We totally agree with Anne on the use of pesticides, we would not dream of using them, and we’re lucky enough to have foxes and hedgehogs as well as a vast array of birds. Our gardens are healthy and full to brimming. As we’ve said before, everything is here for a reason.

Fran had been commenting on the blog since 2017, but the first time that she even mentioned that she was undergoing treatment for cancer was in 2020.

We too very much enjoy your posts. It’s so important to be involved with nature, i’ve (Fran), been battling cancer and am now, after two major ops, masses of radiotherapy now in fortnightly chemotherapy. To be outside is so important surrounded by all the lovely things, we so love our walks and it definitely helps take your mind off things.

And I mustn’t forget to mention Fran’s faithful cat Toby. Here is Fran talking about her cat.

They truly are one of the best companions, throughout my illness there are days when i have to spend days in bed, he will not leave my side and lies on the bed with me even on lovely sunny days when i know he’d much rather be outside.

Between 2018 and 2020, I had seen the decline and death of both my parents, and Fran was such a comfort to me, even though she was going through surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy herself. She was such a kind and generous woman, and I will always be grateful for her insight and empathy. Here is Fran after I posted about Mum and Dad going into a nursing home:

You have done this purely for the right reason and that is the welfare of your parents. You have always done everything possible for them so you have absolutely nothing to reproach yourself about. We remember when our father went for respite care for a while what a huge weight it was off our shoulders to know someone was there 24-7 for his needs. I’m sure your mum will soon adapt to her new surroundings and it sounds like your dad will be fine. We wish you and your parents all the very best and we’re sure we’re safe in saying so does everyone who reads your post and feels like they have been on this journey with you.

And here is Fran after my Mum’s death in 2018.

We were so very sad to hear of your mother’s passing. A difficult time for you and your dad but a gentle release for her. Your mum will still be with you, just in different ways, you have some wonderful memories to look back on which we know will help you through the coming times. take care xx

A blog is a strange thing. I never met Fran, and yet my world was always a happier place knowing that she was in it. My dream when I started Bugwoman was that it would create an online community of people who cared about the natural world wherever they lived, and Fran was so much part of that. I’d like the finish with the first comment that she ever made on the blog, back in 2017. I would have loved to have Fran and Bobby as my actual neighbours too, but I will always think of Fran whenever I see a fox in the garden, or a frog in the pond. Farewell, my friend, and heartfelt condolences to Bobby, Fran’s sister, Antony, her son, and to her other family and friends. I am holding all of you in my heart.

Hello Bugwoman, my sister and i thought we must comment on your blogs, we found you quite by accident some while ago after i had major surgery. We adore everything to do with nature and wildlife and we can’t wait to read your brilliant blogs every week, so informative and you have such a lovely way with words. We walk every single day through our local woods whatever the weather and there is always something different to see. You sound so much like us we’d love you as a neighbour, Fran and Bobby.

A Bit of a Disappointment

Dear Readers, today is the start of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations here in the UK, and between 1.06 p.m. and 1.15 p.m. there was said to be a good chance of seeing the planes that made up the celebratory flypast. The Red Arrows display team was involved, along with various Spitfires, Hurricanes, a Lancaster Bomber and a wide variety of helicopters.

I’m not really into the whole Jubilee thing. I’m really glad that  people are finding a reason to celebrate and be happy, to have fun and to enjoy themselves. Goodness knows we deserve it after the last few years.  I also know that the Queen is a hard worker, though so are the people who worked on Covid wards or wore themselves out delivering parcels or exposed themselves to the virus while they were driving buses and I don’t see them getting a flypast. I look around at people plunged into poverty, people with Long Covid, people worried about their jobs and their electricity bills and their rent, and it all feels a bit bread and circuses. And where is the reckoning for the whole Covid fiasco, with its strong whiff of corruption and one of the highest death rates in the world? I am still too sad, and too tired, and frankly too angry to be putting up bunting and pretending it didn’t happen.  If that sounds curmudgeonly, so be it. Regular readers won’t be surprised.

Having said which, I do love a good flypast, in spite of the shedloads of carbon involved. And so I sat on the front step with my camera and my binoculars trained on the sky. I had my ears wide open for the rumble of engines.


Well, not quite tumbleweeds. Next doors’ cabbage palm is flowering, and you can smell the sweet blossom from right up the street. Combined with my lavender, which is just coming into flower, it makes for a heady brew, and the bees love both of them.

Cabbage palm

It feels as if pretty much the entire street has taken the opportunity to go away on holiday for the week. it’s so quiet that I can hear the wood pigeon cooing away on the television aerial opposite.

The green alkanet is still flowering, though it is a very untidy weed, and there is more cuckoospit on the lavender than I have ever seen. The buddleia is more or less aphid free though, which makes a pleasant change from last year when the honeydew rained down on the wheelie bins and made them very attractive to wasps.

And then, finally, I hear a rumble. Is it a World War 2 bomber? Is it a Spitfire?

I rather think it’s an Airbus.

And so I have no idea where the flypast went but the airspace above East Finchley remained serene, and I toddled back indoors to get on with my maths revision for the exam on 13th June. There’s another flypast planned for Sunday. Let’s hope it has a better sense of direction.

The Great Cat – Poems About Cats

Dear Readers, buying me a book can be very hit and miss, as my poor husband has discovered over the past twenty years. Either I’ve already read it, don’t want to read it, or it’s just a little bit off of the hub of whatever I’m interested in at the time. I sometimes feel like one of those children who is fascinated by horses for twenty minutes, just enough time for the grandparents to get the toy stable for her birthday, unaware that by bedtime she’s already changed her passion to dogs. Hey ho. But for once I really loved this book – it has a surprising selection of unusual poems about cats, along with the ones that I already knew. And it seems very appropriate as our little cat Willow has been a bit in the wars just lately, and that makes me appreciate her even more.

Willow in a patch of sunshine

Firstly her blood pressure has gone up, and we are now on the maximum dose of the drug that we use – hypertension can be dangerous in cats, causing blindness amongst other things. Fortunately her readings are ok at the moment. People often ask me how on earth you measure blood pressure in a cat, and the answer is by putting the cuff around the tail. Who knew? Not me for sure.

And now her weight is going down. I suspect that she wasn’t feeding properly while we were in Canada – she often goes off her food while we’re away. We had someone coming into feed her because she hates other cats and so a cattery is out of the question, but I think she gets lonely. Hopefully her weight will go up again now we’re back.

For a while there she was yowling her head off during the night (just what you need when you’re jetlagged) but fortunately she’s settled back into her routine. Cats love their routines (or at least mine does) and she gets very cross if we aren’t in bed/on the sofa/ available to groom her at the specified times. She has us extremely well-trained but every so often we do something radical like go out or stay up late, which she doesn’t approve of. Plus, for two years she’s had people with her all the time. Nobody being around must have been an awful shock.

And now for a couple of poems. This one is by Marge Piercy, better known for the novel ‘Woman on the Edge of Time’, which I devoured as a young woman, but she is also clearly a fine observer of cats.

The Cats of Greece by Marge Piercy

The cats of Greece have
eyes grey as the plague.
Their voices are limpid,
all hunger.
As they dodge in the gutters
their bones clack.
Dogs run from them.
In tavernas they sit
at tableside and
watch you eat.
Their moonpale cries
hurl themselves
against your full spoon.
If you touch one gently
it goes crazy.
Its eyes turn up.
It wraps itself around your ankle
and purrs a rusty millenium,
you liar,
you tourist.

This poem, by Thom Gunn, is so well-observed. I love the way that the cats fight and decide when enough is enough.

Apartment Cats
Thom Gunn

The Girls wake, stretch, and pad up to the door.
They rub my leg and purr;
One sniffs around my shoe,
Rich with an outside smell,
The other rolls back on the floor –
White bib exposed, and stomach of soft fur.

Now, more awake, they re-enact Ben Hur
Along the corridor,
Wheel, gallop; as they do,
Their noses twitching still,
Their eyes get wild, their bodies tense,
Their usual prudence seemingly withdraws.

And then they wrestle; parry, lock of paws,
Blind hug of close defense,
Tail-thump, and smothered mew.
If either, though, feels claws,
She abruptly rises, knowing well
How to stalk off in wise indifference.

And my mind turns to the inevitable. This is so poignant and fresh that it gets me every time I read it. I love the conversational tone of Billy Collins’s work. You might want to skip it if you are missing an animal who has died.

Putting Down The Cat

Billy Collins

The assistant holds her on the table,
the fur hanging limp from her tiny skeleton,
and the veterinarian raises the needle of fluid
which will put the line through her ninth life.

‘Painless,’ he reassures me, ‘like counting
backwards from a hundred,’ but I want to tell him
that our poor cat cannot count at all,
much less to a hundred, much less backwards.

And finally, although this one is also sad, there is something about the unexpectedness of it that makes me pause. I love the last stanza, so unexpected and yet so true. I love Jane Kenyon’s poems. She always makes me think.

The Blue Bowl

Like primitives we buried the cat
with his bowl. Bare-handed
we scraped sand and gravel
back into the hole. It fell with a hiss
and thud on his side,
on his long red fur, the white feathers
that grew between his toes, and his
long, not to say aquiline, nose.
We stood and brushed each other off.
There are sorrows much keener than these.
Silent the rest of the day, we worked,
ate, stared, and slept. It stormed
all night; now it clears, and a robin
burbles from a dripping bush
like the neighbor who means well
but always says the wrong thing.