Over the weekend I officiated at a funeral. Earlier in the morning there had been lowering rain clouds, but by the time we dug the grave there were blue skies to salute Albert’s passing. He deserved them. It was also appropriate that he died just before the anniversary of Jutland, for this was a feline dreadnought. Black as the darkest night and a prodigious slaughterer of vermin, he also ranged well beyond his owners’ policies in search of tabby-cats on heat or toms up for a fight. No one knew exactly how old he was. He had arrived 20 years ago as a young stray, to a family who were not sure whether they liked cats — always an irresistible challenge to any self-respecting moggin — and set about earning his keep by massacring rats and mice.
There were regular bewailings over the inevitable songbirds; Albert was un-bellable. Nor was he an effusively affectionate cat. When he sat on a lap there was always an air of condescension. In his last years he would often park himself on the husband’s chaotic desk, in the midst of a chaotic study. This was popular. Albert had a knack of reclining on a pile of letters from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which provided an excuse for delaying their opening. All in all, he had become part of the household.
Six years ago, the owners decided that it was time for him to take his sweater, at least in some respects. As far as they could tell — and the complaints from other owners seemed to bear this out — he was still winning his battles. But by then it was Borodino rather than Austerlitz. His ear-flaps were increasingly ragged: the scars increasingly angry. So he was gelded — with no discernible effect on his behaviour.
After we laid him to rest below the terrace on which he had often sunned himself, I delivered the eulogy. ‘Well, old friend, so here it is at last, the distinguished thing. You may now be able to answer all the great questions. If so, the celestial authorities might not yet realise what has hit them. One can imagine the capellmeister of the Heavenly Host apologising to the Almighty. “Eternal Father, I am so sorry. I’ve never heard the music of the spheres sound as rough. But none of the Cherubims and the Seraphims could hit a note. They were complaining that some tomcat’s yowlings had kept them awake all night: not enough sleep to last for the twinkling of an eye. Some of the younger ones are saying that he is obviously a hell-cat who should never have been allowed in here, for he will be as troublesome as a rebel angel.” Then God would summon the mightiest warrior angel and the greatest warrior saint. “Michael, George: pray track down this new cat on the block and explain to him the concept of eternal peace.”
‘No doubt the powers above would devise a modus vivendi which did not involve deportation. Even so, if heaven is perfection, Albert, you have presumably been restored to your full Nimrodic grandeur, in which case cat lovers among the Blessed will shortly be competing for the attentions of some scampering black kittens.
‘Or is all that just a charming fantasy, and you will be lying for ever in an earthen basket, among the surroundings which you revelled in? If so, it may not have been an eternal life, but it was a fulfilled one. You took pleasure: you gave pleasure. Well done, thou good and faithful moggy.’
We toasted his passing in a splendid champagne: Henri Giraud, Hommage à François Hémart. Our hosts had just brought back a people–carrier-load from Ay. As a relatively new fizz on the block, it is still good value. But its price is bound to rise. One or two girls thought that some should be poured as a libation, but opinion was against them. Anthropomorphism must have its limits. Even such a grand pussy cat does not deserve grand cru champagne.