It was on a freezing British night in the middle of January that I had my first encounter with DeDe. Not that I knew her name then of course; she was just a black shape, emerging from a black gateway, on a black night.
The soft tinkle of a bell located the approaching shape; a miaow and the feeling of fur around my ankles, identified it as friendly. Now, I’m not one to spurn a friendly overture, so I stopped for a minute or two to stroke what turned out to be a thin and desperately affectionate cat, before continuing on my way.
As I walked off down the street, I had a fleeting glimpse of a passing black shadow, which resolved itself at the next street light into the figure of a cat, tail held high, trotting briskly down the path ahead of me. Reaching the first drive she took a few paces up it, stopped and turned to look at me. Even to a human uneducated in the nuances of feline communications the message was unmistakable.
“Is this the house where you live?”
I walked on by and she immediately back-tracked to the path, and shot ahead once more, the tinkle of the bell at her neck the only sign of her presence in the blackness. At the next gate she again took a few paces up the path, stopped and looked back.
“Well what about this one then? ...No? .... Right, on to the next one!”
And so we proceeded, in and out of pools of street lighting, leapfrogging down three streets, until I turned to walk up my own drive.
And she raced up the drive to be waiting for me as I reached the front door, greeting me with a succession of miaows, and purrs, and frantic gyrations as she rubbed herself against my legs. Round and round in circles.
“Go on! Open the door. Then we can get inside out of the cold. Go on. You might be able to find me something to eat. I’m really very, very hungry. Go on!.... Please.... Please.... Pleeeeease !!!!”
Fool that I am, I did let her in, and fed her, and fussed her. Now, several years later, she’s still here.
Over the intervening period I have had ample opportunity to study the phenomenon of human/feline communication. From the start it was clear that when DeDe wanted to get a message across it was usually by means of a combination of voice and body language. Thus a simple miaow could be given a different meaning dependant on the actions accompanying it. For example:
A miaow while rubbing lightly against your leg, “Hello”
A miaow while standing with tail held erect, “Oy you! Pay attention!”
Soon after DeDe moved in, it became apparent that she had a wide range of vocalisations, which were being used in specific circumstances. The meanings of some were only too obvious. A curious sound like a staccato miaow, translated very clearly into,
“Stop flying around up there, little birdies. Come down here on the ground. I’ll have you. I will. Just fly that little bit closer, and see if I don’t.”
Unfortunately for DeDe, the only response that she gets, from those flying feathery irritants, is the avian version of blowing a raspberry.
That was an easy message to decipher, but what was I to make of the ‘chirrupprrrrr’, or the ‘mew’, or the quiet little ‘ow’, or the whole range of miaows of various intensities. Years of research and observation were needed to find some of the answers. Hundreds of hours spent assiduously watching and waiting for DeDe to say something before I could attempt an interpretation, while DeDe resolutely stayed fast asleep on my lap.
Although my researches are far from complete, I am finally able to reveal to an anxiously waiting world just some of what our feline friends have been saying to us, for all the centuries that they have deigned to let us look after them. I give as an example a typical conversation between myself and DeDe.
DeDe : ’Chirrupprrrrr’, (While strolling by, tail casually brushing against my leg).
“Hello Paul. It’s so good to see you. You really are a wonderful friend to a poor pussy cat. And by the way I am feeling just a little bit peckish you know.”
Paul : (Pretending not to understand) ‘Hello DeDe, have you had a hard day.’
DeDe : ’Mew’, (Strolling by again, but this time rubbing her body against my leg, then turning to look up with big wide open eyes), ‘Mew’, again.
“I really like it when you stroke me Paul. Can you spare a few moments. Have you noticed that my plate is empty?”
Paul : ‘Does DeDe want me to make a fuss of her’. (Paul picks up DeDe and gives her a big hug, and puts her down again)
DeDe : ’Miaooow’, (Rubs against my leg again, in a more determined manner, turns round and goes down the other side as well).
“I would respectfully like to point out that my plate IS empty.“
Paul : (Stubbornly refusing to take the hint), ‘Do you want to go out?.’
DeDe : ’Miaow’, (Standing, all four feet firmly planted on the ground, and tail held high).
DeDe stalks out of the room. Ten minutes later she returns. Quietly walks to sit on the floor behind me, waiting.
DeDe : ’Me-ow’.
Paul : ‘Don’t sit there, DeDe, I’ll trip over you.’ (Picks her up, giving her another hug, and places her gently in the armchair.)
DeDe : ’Huff’, (Sitting in chair with indignant look on her face, tail twitching spasmodically).
(No translation necessary. It’s exactly the same as in humans.)
Paul : ‘Why don’t you just sit there. It’ll be dinner time in a couple of hours.’
DeDe : ’Mrrr-ew’.
(Translation is not repeatable)
Another five minutes pass, then DeDe jumps out of the chair, and stomps up to sit on the floor directly in front of me. Looks up with eyes wide and pupils closed to slits.
DeDe : ’Miaow’.
“FEED ME!…. NOW!!!“
Paul : (nearly treading on DeDe), ‘Stupid cat!’
Okay, so I may not use exactly those words, but you get the idea.
DeDe retreats once more, waits for an opportune moment, then-
: ’MIAOOW!!’, (This is the cry to make a politician weep. Really. It is the sound of a creature which has been subjected to the cruellest of unjust deprivations. But here it is used merely to grab attention, for the real message is pure body language. Looking up, I see DeDe sitting on the floor by the settee, calmly inspecting a paw which is now filled with five razor-sharp scimitars).
“Okay, pea-brain. Get the meat on the plate, now, or the sofa gets it!!!“
What can I do? I've never had the courage to take this conversation any further. So I stop what I’m doing, and open a tin of the finest, most exquisite cat-food available, according to the label, and serve an impatiently waiting DeDe a meal fit for a queen. Placing the plate on the floor, I’m greeted by a joyous -
“About time too. Thank you, thank you. I take it all back.“
One sniff at the plate, and DeDe returns to the armchair.
“Oh no! Not that again!“
Tuesday, 28 September 2010
For nearly fifteen years she had been my companion, ever since that winter's evening when she had followed me home and decided to move in. I don't really remember being given much choice in the matter; it was more or less "I'm going to be living here from now on - OK". And that was it, I had a cat.
Where she came from I have no idea. The village grapevine could only report that she had been around for a couple of weeks; begging here and there, because the collar and bell at her neck would stop her hunting. Very slowly she had been starving to death.
Over the following months, she learned to trust again. At first she would only allow herself to be touched gently on the top of the head. Slowly, oh so slowly, she let me stroke her more. On to the neck, the shoulders, the back, and finally right to the end of her thick bushy black tail.
And she learned to play too. Cat toys were never her thing, but a screwed up piece of paper would get her scampering all over the place. Just briefly, until she would stop and look round self consciously, then quickly lick her paws clean, as if to say "No, that wasn't me. I was too busy cleaning myself!"
The collar had come off on Day 1; as a free cat who was merely living with me, a collar was not appropriate. So she started to hunt. Just not very well. Hunting was one of those things she felt she should be doing, but the mechanics of it mostly eluded her, though there were enough little victories to keep her interested. In the summer the swifts built their nest in the eaves at the back of the house. Two storeys up - so should've been safe enough. But they chose the spot where the ridge of a single storey roof met the wall. DeDe worked out that she could jump onto the garden wall, climb the trellis on top, walk along to the end and hop up to the flat roof. An eight-foot jump across space would get her onto the next roof, and then she could sit there on the ridge waiting for a swift to drop into her mouth. And wait she did. On and off all summer, while the swifts swooped around her head screaming at her. And the next summer. And the one after that.
Then one evening in the following year. I heard her come in through the cat flap. Her joyous miaow could only be described as 'muffled'. Without looking I could tell what had happened, and having announced her victory, she left to enjoy her feast. It was the one and only time she ever succeeded in getting one.
As the years progressed, the effort of getting onto the roof became to much for her, and the swifts were safe. DeDe had to satisfy herself with watching from the lawn, while the swifts still swooped and screamed at her overhead.
In her later years, I did the unthinkable, and got married. Not only bringing another person into her house, but another cat too. The relationship with Magic was never better than "I will tolerate you because I have to." Much to Magic's regret.
And then even worse than that I brought into the house something called a Baby - first one, and then a second.
But DeDe put up with the upset, perhaps even better than Magic, but she wasn't keen on the time she was obliged to spend outside or in her shed.
With the passing away of my father at the beginning of the year, DeDe went to stay with my mother. Two old ladies keeping each other company. We thought at the time that it was likely to be DeDe's last summer, and she would have a little more comfort and peace (apart from, of course, when the grandchildren came calling).
Yesterday, too soon, far too soon, I had the call. DeDe needed to take a trip to the vet, and I had to make that final decision. She passed away bright eyed, and with a miaow on her lips.
That evening my tears mingled with the muddy earth as I laid her to rest in the garden.
Home again, now and for always.
Saturday, 12 June 2010
Tuesday, 11 May 2010
Leaving the canal near Stockton, the route now took us on the lanes through Broadwell, and Grandborough. Nice level ground to cycle on, but out of the shelter of the canal I had to face that other scourge of the cyclist – the headwind. Fifteen miles gone, and five still to go before lunch, and the morning was becoming a bit of a slog. Then just to finish the morning off I found that my lunch stop in Barby was at the top of a hill!!!
From Barby there was one hill to climb to reach Dunchurch, and then I was heading back towards Warwick. Wonderful!!! From now on it was mostly downhill, and the wind was behind me. Just that little difference makes a big difference. Even though I was pulling a heavier passenger, and I had already covered twenty miles, the return trip was actually easier.
Skirting round Draycote Water, Amy informed me that there were sharks and whales in the sea over there, although I missed seeing them myself.
Leaving Draycote we encountered a small problem. The route was an official cycle route, but the people who had designed it do not consider that cyclists might pull trailers. So when we reached the exit, I found a bend too tight to manoeuvre through with the trailer attached. To get through, Amy had to get out, and walk through. The trailer had to be detached, and the bike and trailer taken through separately, and all put together again on the other side. Just a little irritating!
Nearing the end now, and I had covered 35 miles, which we had been told was the distance of the ride, and I wasn’t yet back at the finish! And here was another cycleway, with another gate impossible to get through. Having yet again reassembled everything on the other side, I only had half a mile until there was another chicane to get through. This time I just shuffled and dragged everything round the corners.
At this point I rejoined the canal, and retraced the outward route back through Leamington to Myton Hospice. Not 35 miles, but 40. But the day had stayed dry, and I even had slight sunburn. It had been a good day, even if my legs were now telling me to go and sit down on a comfy chair for a long long time.
Many, many thanks to everyone who sponsored me. At the time of writing I don’t have a final figure for the money raised, but it will certainly be over £200.
Paul A Grant
Sunday, 2 May 2010
Sunday, 25 April 2010
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
4th January 1925 – 19th February 2010
In the early hours of a snowy February morning, Joe Grant, my father, slipped away. The lung cancer that had been sapping his strength for the last few months had finally taken him from us, leaving us with only memories.
Joe was a life-long resident of Fenny Compton; born in the same house that he had lived in for all his long life. Indeed, with the exception of National Service, and one six month hiatus, he had worked his whole life in the village too, and consequently was known by many who live or have lived in the area.
While still a teenager war came to Europe, and he started his career as a gardener at the Red House. In the latter war years he was called upon to serve his country in the RAF. He was sent to France in the aftermath of the D-Day Landings, following the route of the invasion. An enduring memory for him was seeing the utter devastation of Caen as he passed through the town. After serving throughout northern Europe, he was posted to Egypt, where he tells us his RAF buddies taught him to swim - by throwing him in the swimming pool.
On de-mob he returned home to Fenny Compton and a career working for the village Co-op. One day while making his deliveries, he met Margaret who was making hers; she was the local mid-wife, but soon to become Mrs Joe Grant.
Many of the older residents of the area will remember the old green van that he drove as the Co-op extended deliveries to the surrounding villages, and perhaps also they will remember the young lad who would occasionally go with him. Certainly going on the rounds with Dad, is one of my earliest memories.
With a wife, daughter and son to feed, Joe made good use of his gardening skills, maintaining several plots around the village and keeping a regular supply of fresh vegetables on the dinner table. Yet he still found time to grow splendid chrysanthemum blooms of prize winning standard in his back garden.
Growing up with Dad I learned to appreciate Fenny Compton and the countryside around it. Blackberrying in autumn, sledging and jumping in snow drifts in the winter. One summer, as Dutch Elm Disease ravaged the Warwickshire elms, Dad was given permission to collect the treetops left behind after the dead trunks had been sold. We spent many evenings and weekends in the fields chopping, sawing and gathering the firewood to fill his barn. What we couldn’t use was burned on endless bonfires: Dad could never resist stoking a good bonfire.
In due course the Co-op stopped making deliveries, but found themselves in need of a new manager, and Dad took a step up. I don’t remember it as the happiest period of Dad’s life, and eventually he parted company with the Co-op to work in the stores of Compton Buildings.
On his retirement, Joe and Margaret took a long planned break to travel the world – six months in Australia and New Zealand. On his return he found that he had time on his hands, so he took on a paper round; finishing his career as he had started it – making deliveries! And not forgetting supplying firewood or bedding plants in season, helping my sister with her gardening business, and passing the time of day with anyone who happened to be passing. And of course when I had a garden of my own, he was there digging and planting and mowing, all in addition to doing his own.
As he reached his eighth decade, he had to start making concessions to advancing years; a walking stick, and watching someone else swing the axe to chop his firewood. But he could still watch the street from his living room window, and invite in friends and strangers alike with whom he would share his wealth of opinions, even when, last year, the first symptoms of cancer made him feel unwell. Many people have told us that Joe was the first person to welcome them when they moved into the village.
Last Christmas, though frail and ill, he would still watch for the school children to pass by, and keeping out of sight, he would get the Santa Claus figure on his window cill waving at them, just as he had done every Christmas for so many years.
Dad’s final weeks were spent at Warwick Myton Hospice. Their wonderful care gave dignity back to this once active man, his body failing, though his spirit wouldn’t. Even a few days before his death we had hopes that he would yet see another spring. Maybe even that he would be able to come home to his beloved Fenny Compton, but sadly it was not to be, and my Dad is gone.
In his long life Joe Grant was many things to many people. At his funeral, Fenny Compton church was filled with so many of those who had known and loved him over the years. Inside the church, they would not have seen Joe get his final wish; to journey up to the church on the old wheeled bier, which had been paid for by public subscription over 100 years ago and hadn’t been used in over 70 years. Amongst those who gave money for it were Charles and John Grant; his own Dad and Grandad.
Someone once said that the measure of a man is not how much you love, but how much you are loved. My Dad was greatly loved by so many. If you only had two words to sum up 85 years of life, then perhaps it would be difficult to choose a better two than ‘Greatly Loved’, unless it was just ‘My Dad’.
Paul A Grant
On 9th May I will be doing a sponsored cycle ride in aid of Myton Hospice. The ride will be a 35-mile round trip between the Myton Hospices in Warwick and Rugby and back. Joe’s granddaughters will be joining me in a trailer towed behind my bike.