Milo the Cat died of kidney failure on October 12th 2002. He was sixteen years old.
I first met Milo and his sister Ginger when they were only a year old. My wife Rosemary spotted the advert in the paper.
"Look," she said. "Milo and Ginger. Terrible names, but you cant have everything. The owners are going overseas. Lets ring them up and go and see the cats."
"Do we need two cats?" I asked, dubiously.
"Of course we do," said Rosemary, horrified that I could ever have thought otherwise.
We took the travelling cage with us, just in case Milo and Ginger wanted to come home with us that day, and off we went to meet them.
The lady of the house answered the door. "My husband cant come to say hello," she said. "Hes in the lounge with Milo."
I found this a puzzling statement, but she took us through to the lounge and all was revealed. The man of the house was lying to attention in an easy chair. Milo was sprawled out huge and black on his chest, purring like a power drill and dribbling copiously. This was a position with which I was to become all too familiar over the next fifteen years
"Sometimes you have to turn him upside down," explained the man, and he demonstrated the technique. "That way the dribble goes back inside." Milo lay blissfully content while the man tickled his tummy.
Gradually it dawned on Milo that something new had happened. Oooh! People! Are they any good at stroking? He struggled upright, yawned like a gaping chasm so that we could admire his fangs, and then jumped down onto the floor.
"Oooof!" came a sudden gasp as Milo propelled himself into space from the launching pad of the mans tummy. This too was a noise that I would soon become very practised in making
Milo rubbed himself against us and we stroked his soft, black fur. Ginger came in from the garden where she had been chasing butterflies, and she too immediately made a bee-line for us and got a good stroking. I looked at Rosemary, and Rosemary looked at me and she nodded. No words needed to be said. We both knew that we had found two wonderful cats.
We put them in the cage, which surprised and upset them. I carried the cage out of the house and put it in the car and they began to wail piteously. As I drove away, I saw the lady of the house waving goodbye to them. There were tears streaming down her face.
Milo and Ginger howled and cried all the way home. Rosemary spoke to them soothingly as I drove, but they paid no attention. Their world had been turned upside down, and they didnt care who knew it.
I carried the cage into the lounge and we made sure all the doors were closed. Then I opened the cage. Ginger jumped out and immediately began to explore. She was obviously frightened, but she had an urgent need to know where she was. Milo took one horrified look at all the strangeness that surrounded him and immediately ran underneath the couch where he stayed immobile for twenty four hours until hunger, thirst and internal hydraulic pressure forced him out into the world again.
From the point of view of Milo and Ginger it was an inauspicious beginning. But it would lead to great things for all of us.
We soon learned their idiosyncrasies. Ginger was very athletic and liked to chase things. There was a tree in the front garden that shed small, hard unidentifiable fruit all over the deck. I would throw these, and Ginger would leap off the deck and chase them as they bounced around the garden. When she was sure they were dead, she would sometimes bring them back to me as a gift. Milo would watch all this with a slightly bewildered air. He was a somnolent cat and he had no truck with all this activity. He preferred to curl up in the sunshine. As the sun moved away, he would sigh heavily, and plod after it until he found another comfortable patch of sunlight to plonk himself down in. He would sometimes give me reproachful looks. Why did I keep moving the sun thereby forcing him to expend energy chasing it? He always forgave me at dinner time.
Both cats appeared to be descended from monkeys and would happily chase each other up trees. Ginger in particular seemed more comfortable the higher up she was. But even Milo appeared to get pleasure out of high things. Once I was standing in the kitchen doing the washing up when I glanced out of the window and saw Milo walking casually over the roof of the house across the way. This was astonishing for there were no trees or poles overlooking the house and I have absolutely no idea how he got up there. I can only assume that, like most cats, he had the ability to teleport himself into and out of anywhere at will; provided nobody was watching of course.
He wandered up to the top of the roof, sat down and washed himself and then vanished down the other side. He was back safely in time for tea. He was always back safely in time for tea. In the whole of his life he never missed a meal.
Ginger was the hunter of the family. Most nights Milo would sleep on the bed with us, but Ginger would spend the night outside hunting things. In the morning she would often refuse breakfast because she was full of fur and feathers. She would bring home the choicest kills for all of us to appreciate and we soon got used to being woken up in the wee small hours of the morning when she came in howling that very special howl that means, "Come here immediately and see what Ive got for you!"
Birds, lizards, mice, rats and miscellaneous insects and arachnids all were ruthlessly hunted down and killed and eaten. Her greatest triumph, from my point of view, was an entire birds nest complete with two dead birds; though she herself seemed far more proud of the chicken breast she hunted down and killed one Saturday afternoon at next doors barbecue.
During one particularly productive week, she brought home three lizards, half a dozen mice, a rat, two wetas, four birds, a kitchen sink and a partridge in a pear tree. The pear tree was too large to fit through the cat flap, but she brought it in anyway. Milo and I were ragged and irritable with lack of sleep for we had been woken up at almost hourly intervals during the week to admire her trophies. Milo decided that something would have to be done.
At some ungodly hour the next morning I was woken by the familiar howling, but this time the voice was slightly deeper and more penetrating. Blearily I staggered to the back of the house where the cat flap was. Milo the great hunter was there to greet me.
"Look at that!" he said proudly and showed me a stick insect.
He was good with insects. We had a large population of cicadas in the garden and during the spring and summer they would buzz their little hearts out, sometimes drowning the sound of the television. On several occasions I saw Milo sneak up on a cicada and grab it. Then he would sit there looking slightly bemused as it buzzed inside his mouth. Eventually it would get waterlogged and stop buzzing and he would spit it out onto the lawn. It would crawl away wetly, a sadder and a wiser insect. Meanwhile Milo would go and catch another one and do it again. I think he liked the vibration inside his head. Probably it echoed through the vast empty caverns of his skull (lets face it, there werent any brains in there), and it just felt good.
I used to put scraps out for the birds. If ever Ginger was around the birds would fly up into the trees and hurl insults at her. But many times I saw Milo sitting benignly in the middle of the lawn while around him whole flocks of birds hopped and pecked and guzzled. They had him sussed straight away; they knew he was a wuss.
After fourteen years of being educated by Ginger, Milo finally caught a mouse. Actually I suspect it was senile and had died of old age and decrepitude. He probably found it lying somewhere and he only pretended to us that he caught it but lets give him the benefit of the doubt. He was ever so proud of himself.
"Look! I got a mouse! Isnt it the best mouse you ever saw?"
Ginger watched all this with mounting horror. Mice were hers! How dare he encroach on her territory. She sat in his blind spot awaiting her moment. Then she spotted her opportunity. Her paw shot out as fast as lightning and she hooked a claw into the mouse, dragged it away from Milo, popped it in her mouth and then ran out to the back of the house and ate it. It was all over in a fraction of a second and Milo blinked and missed it.
"There was a mouse here a minute ago. I remember it distinctly it was a wonderful mouse! Wheres it gone?"
He looked terribly bewildered, and he spent the next hour or so sniffing here and there in a bemused way, searching for his mouse.
But now that hed finally learned to hunt, he realised it was in his blood. There was more hunting to be done; and on some nights, when it was fine and there wasnt an R in the month, he would desert the warmth and comfort of the bed and go hunting for prey.
One bleak morning at 3.30am I was woken by the familiar howling and I went to investigate. There was Milo, proud as a peacock. Hed hunted down and killed a slice of bread. There was the corpse, eviscerated on the kitchen floor. I praised him to the skies. Milo the Mighty, great hunter, great warrior. He lapped it up. Life doesnt get any better than this.
A few days later I was again woken by the howling. Milo really was making the most of this hunting thing. But when I went to examine what he had brought home this time, I found that he looked a little dejected and there was nothing to be seen. There was only one logical conclusion to be drawn. The bread must have put up a fierce struggle and escaped!
But Milo didnt despair and he didnt give up. About a fortnight before he died, he really got the hang of this hunting business, and he scored his ultimate triumph. He brought home a slice of toast. Nunc dimittis.
And then, soon after, a hooded shape leaned over Milo holding a scythe. The face deep in the hood was in total blackness except for blue, gleaming almond shaped eyes.
IT'S TIME TO GO, MILO.
"Go where?", said Milo. "I'm happy here."
TOO LATE. HERE YOU ARE, said the Death of Moggies.
"That's what I said," Milo replied. "I'm happy here. Wha... Where's the sunshine? Where's Alan? Who are you? What are you doing in my yard? I'm going to tell Alan. He'll fix you."
SOME THINGS EVEN ALAN CAN'T FIX. I'M DEATH. I'VE COME FOR YOU, MILO.
"No," protested Milo. "I have things to do, sun to sit in, mice and bread to catch. I have to catch up on my sleep. And I have to watch that Ginger. Grrr, look. That darn Ginger is eating my food. I'll fix her. Whoops, my paw went right through her nose. Hey, I don't hurt anymore!"
THAT'S RIGHT, NO MORE PAIN. UNLESS YOU CHOSE ANOTHER LIFE. The Death of Moggies sounded a little uncertain about this last statement. He knew all about death, but he found life a little puzzling.
"Mrrr," said Milo. "I think I'll just have a snooze and think about it. I'm not sure I could ever have another home as good as this one. Poor Alan, how will he manage without me?"
YOU HAD GOOD KARMA. The Death of Moggies was quite certain about this point. ALAN WILL BE PLEASED ABOUT THAT.
"Too right," said Milo. "Meow."
I am very grateful to my good friend Nancy Peterson who eavesdropped on the conversation between Milo and the Death of Moggies and who reported back to me what was said. Thank you very much, Nancy.