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Ta da! Here she is:

Her official name is Cleome, which is apparently a flower. We were going to call her something different, but somehow Cleo just stuck. In our house, Cleo is short for Cleopatra.

She and Schubert are siblings from different litters — and her resemblance to Tilly is striking. So striking that at times we’ve all been a bit sad. HOWEVER. She is a delight, much more outgoing than Tilly, hugely soft natured, with a purr like an idling train. And obviously artistic: within 24 hours, she’d turned one side of herself red by rubbing against pastels, and dyed her tail yellow by brushing against lily pollen. (The lilies are in now in the bin. Fortunately they were on the way out anyway…)

In three days, Schubert has progressed from hissing at her with disdain, to sniffing her even while in the litter tray (yuck!), watching her from on high (kitchen counter – not allowed but somehow he’s got away with it this week, windowsills), tolerating her rubbing up against him, then tolerating a ‘tail tackle’ from her…

Then, this morning, he suddenly did a kittenish four-paw-spring, scat-catting around the kitchen, sweeping down a picture frame and telephone in his wake, ears back. Cleo chased him, hardly believing her luck.

He’s a changed kitty. He hasn’t leapt like that in months. He hasn’t sat on my desk in months. He hasn’t finished my tea and then knocked the cup off the side — in months. And now he’s downstairs rolling around, chewing a cat toy, Cleo looking on. And now — I just had to look — they are wrestling. Sniff.

Quiet celebration. As R says, a cloud has lifted.


Not that I was so confident that first morning, when I was up at 6am, struggling to feed them in different locations. And a Cleo wee on the kitchen floor. And a poo protest from Schubert, right smack in the middle of the bathroom. Lordy.

It’s been a tough old week. After Tilly, a number of things. But it’s also been life-affirming in many ways. Mainly because of friends. And R and Mom. And E and M. 

I came to friends late in life, having the ‘desert them before they desert me’ mentality of someone used to not trusting anyone. For good reason, I might add.

Anyway. Despite several wonderfully loyal and giving friends hanging with me through my teens, twenties and most of my thirties, it wasn’t until my late thirties that I finally stopped running. I looked around. I saw wonderful women (mostly) around me, offering friendship, true friendship. Most of them had been there for some time. I have the feeling somehow they just decided not to give up on me. For which I remain absurdly grateful. Such a simple thing.

I have a thing about not taking anything for granted. Seems almost disrespectful to do so. Yet some things are meant to be taken for granted. They flourish by being as a ‘matter of course’; they quietly sink roots beyond the surface, where wind and a heavy rain can’t dislodge them. They need tending, but only in the daily run of things, no more, no less. They are there, no matter what happens.

No matter what happens! No matter what happens. This is the secret celebration for me, the unexpected. It’s no big deal, no drama. No questions need to be asked, no unspoken price.

Two phonecalls, three texts, many blog comments. Several emails. Four, five, six face to face conversations. A raucous dinner.

So, to all of you, thank you. I’m not looking forward to the week ahead, but — cliche upon cliche — you’re making it bearable.

I started this post wanting to point you to my good friend Nancy Wilson‘s Flickr widget that I’m so thrilled with. I love her stuff, really love it. I just wanted a bit of her kind of light on these pages. 

To get you started. And me. Happy Monday.

be the food of love….

We had alot of music in the house this weekend, due to concerts and, well, maybe the sun, maybe Tilly’s death. Anyway, M on the violin, learning fourth finger position (don’t ask me, but it’s difficult) with impeccable (examiner’s word) tuning, and E returning to Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude, which he played in last autumn’s Kent Piano Festival. He’s brushing this piece up for a winner’s concert on 8 June at 3 pm, in St Peter’s Church in Canterbury, if anybody’s interested.

I simply love hearing my children play music. It has the same effect on me as reading poetry. More than that (of what I don’t know, but more of it) indeed. How often have I just stopped outside the closed sitting room doors, just to listen…

Here’s the Raindrop Prelude, played by someone else, but at a similar speed to E. I find it hugely powerful, always have.

The story of the fox cub is important in all this.

Last Friday, the day we took Tilly to hospital, the vet phoned through with blood results: dangerously anaemic, jaundiced. It could be, we decided, that her brother Schubert could save her life with a transfusion. R came home to help, and we made the decision, loaded S into the car. The car pulled away, and hidden underneath it was a tiny fox cub. No obvious sign of injury, eyes wide open, but unmoving. 

We wrapped it in a towel and took it in the car with us. So there we were: a critically ill kitten, another on the way to give blood, and a little fox cub wrapped up in a maroon towel on my lap. It dozed off. The sun was shining. 

At the vet’s, we left Schubert to be cross-matched. The fox was examined. Suffering from shock, no injury. About three weeks old. Advised to try, try to link it up with its mother. Just two nights before we’d seen them — mother and two babies, playing in the back garden by the stream.

We went back home with the fox, and laid him gently by the shed. 

Another phone call: Schubert is not a match. Tilly must try on her own, with oxyglobin to help ferry the oxygen around her system.

Eventually Schubert returns and E and M arrive home from school. Everyone is shaken. The baby fox is still in the back garden, has hardly moved. We decide he needs to go back to the vet’s to be re-homed. M and R carefully gather him up. This time he rides on M’s lap all the way; by the time he arrives his name is Robert.

E and I stay at home, playing cards and talking.

Later, R reports back: when I handed the fox over, I said we’ve got a very sick kitten here. So any good news you could tell us about Robert would be wonderful. Any good news.

Two hours later, the vet phones. The fox has died. Upon closer examination, they found an enlarged liver. Probably born with the condition that would kill him. The children seem to absorb this fairly matter-of-factly, although when she first hears, M covers her face with the sofa cushion.

By contrast, the fox dying simply does R and I in. In a world where little ones are dying, why can’t we save them?


We just can’t. Yesterday afternoon we had to put Tilly to sleep. She had taken another downturn, and for the first time seemed unhappy. She was slipping and struggling. Just could not round the corner.

We did what we could, but not too much. The right decision doesn’t mean it isn’t desperately sad. 

So. She was not a strong kitty, perhaps not even from birth. But she was petite, soft-natured, and very very beautiful. Liked to be treated with extreme gentleness. Would have been one year old tomorrow. We are missing her. Last night of all nights her brother wandered the house, yowling and scratching at doors. And first thing this morning, he didn’t want to go out.

The sun shines and shines. I wait for the intrigue of butterflies and warm spots to draw him out, and now, at 11 am, they do. A part of us stops, and a part of us continues.


Just to say that Tilly is still hanging in there. She’s better, then a little worse, then…we don’t know. The vet is not without hope. Still on IV in the hospital, she looks a bit battered, but pushes her head against my hand. We think of her welfare, a different kind of balance to be striking. 

And to say too that there are so many foxes out in broad daylight at the moment. Yesterday a cub paused in the sunshine by the side of the road as I drove by.

For many reasons, I’m thinking again about loss. In the last week, we’ve lost a good friend, a baby fox (another story I’ll tell in time), almost lost Tilly, and now this morning I hear of another loss, a family one.

We haven’t lost each other though. This morning E says at breakfast that Tilly being unwell has brought us even closer. Indeed.


From January 2010, my new blog is Waving and Drowning


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Who am I?

A writer born in Texas, who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (yes, like the song), and who's been living in the UK since 1988. I've published two books (see below), and teach creative writing at the University of Kent. I'm married to a composer, and we have two young children. See About for my full profile.