Living in this house has, for the first time in over 20 years, almost become a cat-free existence. Not so long ago, we had three cats of contrasting demeanour, but three years ago we lost Oscar, a Persian/Tabby cross who we all loved unreservedly and who loved us back with equal enthusiasm. Now, we have lost Eric – very much the yin to Oscar’s yang – “a cat’s cat” as many have said, a character, a curmudgeon and a cat who, late in life, discovered a scathing meow of such howling intensity that it brooked no denial.
Now we only have Charlie, a nervy, needy, small, black, neutered tom of about 15 years, who has reacted to Eric’s demise by effectively choosing to live outside in the back garden through most of the recent hot spell. He comes in only to eat, then bolts out through the catflap as though pursued by a pack of wolves. Then again, he’s always been neurotic, so who can say with any certainty what this bizarre shift in behaviour presages?
Eric – we reckon – was about 20. When we first encountered him, he was called Simon by the woman who had adopted him and about 100 others in a council house in Quinton, out to the west, where Birmingham imperceptibly turns into the Black Country. Eric’s dignity was clearly affronted by being landed with such an inappropriate name but his haughty demeanour softened a little once the partner’s niece had re-christened him Eric, after United’s maverick French talisman, Eric Cantona. Like Cantona, Eric was a little bit haughty but like Cantona he was the Boss. Even on the way back from Quinton in the car, he sorted Oscar out with a judicious clip round the ear, thereby establishing a pecking order that was to persist until Charlie arrived to disrupt everyone’s equilibrium about 5 years later. Eric’s story was that he had already had a false start with an Afro-Caribbean family in Handsworth; the lady of the house ‘returning ‘ Eric after a week with the news that her kids didn’t like him.
Their loss, our gain, although we took the view that Eric had faced early competition from either another cat or maybe a dog in that Handsworth household. In his early years with us, if Oscar got too close to Eric’s food dish whilst he was eating, Eric would growl in his throat, warning Oscar to keep his distance.
Whilst Oscar concentrated on winning hearts and minds indoors with his ludicrously loveable behaviour, Eric was out ploughing the lonely furrow to preserve his territory. He was always a scrapper, often returning with his ear shredded or scratch marks across his nose. he spent far more time outside than Oscar and that only increased once – for better or for worse – we added Charlie to the merry feline throng about 5 years later.
In latter years, and particularly once Oscar was no longer around him to protect him from Charlie’s needy behaviour, Eric – as so many cats do – found a second home next door with our neighbours Steve & Kat. In their house, he had no competition and would sleep the day away in peace before returning home for food and another nap. By this point, Eric had acquired a piratical air, having lost many of his teeth and about half of one of his ears. His fighting days were over, but thanks to Charlie (we think) he learned how to meow late in life and developed a screeching howl of great intensity that he used when he decided that we should feed him.
Eric’s demise was signalled by increasing unsteadiness of gait and (if possible) an increase in his need for sleep. Towards the end, he spent more and more time next door where he was dealt with by Steve & Kat with enormous kindness and sympathy. When the end finally came, we buried him at the point where he would cross from our garden into Steve & Kat’s garden – it seemed appropriate.
Bon voyage, Eric – we all enjoyed being members of your staff for so many years. We are diminished by your loss and life will never be quite the same.