Awful Sadness: Bye Bye Merly Boo

I’ve been trying to write this post for a while now. It’s about our cat, Merly, who we don’t have anymore. I can’t find a way to start writing about her. She’s gone now, but I want to be able to remember how she fit into our lives, made them whole and happy. Our experience of having Merly in our lives changed everything. Without her there are so many gaps –  all the ginger jigsaw pieces have been taken away. I’m not sure we can see what the picture is any more.

Losses and New Beginnings

We acquired the little beastie not long after losing our previous cat, Spats. Spats had apparently died just after killing a bird and scattering it around the kitchen; I suppose she died doing what she loved. That was painfully traumatic. We’d acquired Spats, our Little Miss Moomin, when we moved into our house, taking the little black and white stray renegade with us. I fondly remember her stealing chips as we celebrated a successful move. We only had her for a few years and her loss was devastating.

merlyxmasAt around the same time unbeknownst to us, my step-mum’s sister was working away from her home, leaving her cat and dog mostly alone and fed by neighbours. We became an obvious potential home for Merlin, a rather large ginger cat aged about 7. When we went to meet her, neither of us was really ready for a new housemate, but the absence in the house was unbearable. We met a very well fed, placid and gentle pussy cat. We cried over her and made friends. She moved in with us the same day. A lot of the stuff around her settling in and us eventually buying our home for the three of us are mixed up in my head – she so quickly became an intrinsic and intimate part of our lives that it makes no sense in my mind to separate them. Her name changed quite naturally from Merlin (for the distinctive ‘M’ on the top of ginger cats’ heads) to Merly as she took up her rightful place. When Lady M was away for a term at Birmingham Merly was with me constantly, I fondly remember her climbing into bed so I could completely wrap my arms around her as we slept.

Adjusting to A New Housemate

As with any pet, there’s an endless list of adorable things and memories. Merly was a cat for whom enough sleep had no meaning. I’m sure she hit about twenty hours of sleep a day. She quickly established the regular sleeping spots – on the bed, preferably on Lady M’s soft pink dressing gown; or next to the pillows facing the headboard. On rare occasions she would disappear and we’d find her asleep under the bed in some hard to reach nook between boxes of books, or under the folds of the blanket at the foot of the bed. The last resort for finding her would be snuggled down on a large cuddly Bagpuss in the corner by the window. She’d only really be content in the spare room if she could get into the cupboard and shred wrapping paper and bubblewrap into a nest. Merly was able to detect that cupboard being opened from anywhere in the house. Messy beast.

Downstairs, boxes and cardboard featured heavily in her kitchen sleeping. All boxes, and all things paper and cardboard were subject, and had to be subjected to her nuzzling approval. Every book was also faithfully attended to: our little Librarian. Merly had a small shoebox by her food, so she could flatten it out and sit on it. Recently we got an absurd amount of brown paper in a package from Amazon – it was quickly converted into Merly’s Paper Nest, one of her favourite places in the world. The living room was just one big sleeping space. A small sheepskin rug we got for Merly seemed to put her in a state of treading ecstasy, sinking in halfway up her legs in something almost as fluffy as her. On the other end of the sofa a Nici giraffe cushion (the giraffeangle), ideal for mid-afternoon. Naturally the door mat,  any cushion approaching horizontal and any paper item were also adopted.

We’d find her in any of those places when we got home from wherever we’d been. Seeking her out, and trilling for her and saying hello were part of the returning home ritual. Often she’d be sitting by the window, ready to hop down with some demanding quacking for attention. Attention we never failed to provide. I’ve never had a cat so cuddly. Merly generated astonishing quantities of fur. You could get knuckle deep in her crazily thick fur, with its ginger whorls, white tummy and bib and fluffy hind legs. Her short ringed tail always seemed completely independent, and surprised her constantly with its thrashing. We have so much fluff from combing her… it’s in all of our clothes and in all the carpets. When we first got her we had to wash her a few times because she apparently never learned to groom from her mum because she was taken away too early. I’ll never forget her heartbreakingly aggrieved meows while sitting in the bath with her. For all the grumbling though she didn’t try to escape (although I did get clawed quite severely), which made it all the sadder. She did look adorably spiky while drying. She got better at grooming herself, but needed help during the summer. I think it was because she had far too much fur and it got hot and itchy so she ended up with some bald spots that needed looking after. Poor little sweetheart.

I’m not sure if it’s because we sort of renamed her when we got her, but we kept adding names and variations, diminutives and nicknames. They emerged and fit perfectly every day. Lots of them are variations on Merly Boo. I don’t know where ‘Picklemoose’ came from. Maybe it was something to do with how damn fluffy she was, dainty little paws surrounded by all this thick fur. She was also quite fat when she first moved in with us. Her placid bumbling around was adorable, her very causal investigation and somewhat dopey sniffing of curious items and places. So sweet. I think the names she got reflect how deeply we loved her and how she fit so completely into our lives.

Living With A Cat

Merly Names

Every day began and ended with Merly. I’d often be woken up by her some time before my alarm as she leaped onto the bed, claws extended, landing on my arm or chest. I’d like to keep all those scratches. If I didn’t wake until my alarm I’d wake to find her asleep on my shoulder blade, purring gently to herself, vibrating through my chest. Frequently that would put me back to sleep, usually with my fingers trapped underneath her. Once it was clear I was actually getting up she would bumble about on the bed until finally getting around to hopping down and watching until I was definitely going downstairs. We’d go downstairs together, or she’d hop a few steps ahead. If I was slow I’d just be able to see her shadow from the kitchen on the carpet at the foot of the stairs. I look for that little  shadow every day. The meowing and trilling and quacking would commence, along with the winding around ankles until she got fed. For the last few months she needed a tablet an hour before eating, so that was her ‘Marmite time’ – a smear of yeast extract around the blue pill was quite sufficient to persuade her to eat anything, she’d crunch the pill like a Smartie quite happily once it had been licked clean. There was much grumping about not being fed immediately afterwards; that became a part of the Lady M’s daily routine instead of mine. I’d usually pick her up for a cuddle and ruffling before placing her halfway up the stairs: she’d scramble up the rest by herself and return to bed.

Before leaving home  I wake up Lady M, and without fail would find Merly settled on top of her, tail to Lady M’s face (tickling with random lashings), purring with her paws tuddled neatly under her bib (her chicken pose). I’d kiss them both good-bye and go to work. My wallpaper on my work computer, my phone and tablet are all pictures of my Bookin; I see her all day, I’d ask after her at lunchtime. Finding ginger Merly fur in my clothes never fails to make me smile. It’s amazing how few t-shirts I have that are fur free; I’ve got trousers I have to wrap in gaffer tape to clean them.

Coming Home

Merly Cuddling TimeComing home to Lady M and Merly was the reason to come home. Unless Merly was in a deep snootle (she did not cat nap, but dozed incredibly heavily so you could sit next to her and stroke her for a while before she’d wake up startled by our sudden proximity, and sometimes not even then) she’d soon be seeking me out. A scooped up Merly in my arms, her loud purr and hopelessly soft fur to stroke and nuzzle is one of the best and happiest things in the world to me. Gathering her hind paws in one hand and stroking the soft fur inside her ears, tufting the cheek fur and under her chin so she sticks her head out and then stroking up her nose between her eyes and stroking down on the very tip of her nose; all good and lovely things for us both.

Once home, she’s everywhere. Underfoot while cooking (of course), hopping up onto Lady M’s lap during breakfast after patting the edge of the chair seat with a tentative paw. A pretty much guaranteed companion while sitting on the sofa. Merly had a particular fondness for lying over our wrists, especially when trying to type. She’d nestle down in crossed legs or between us on a cushion. While messing about with Lego she’d stomp through boxes of bricks and sit in my lap regardless of how much Lego was already there. She did object to further movement with a grumbling quack. The range of weird noises she’d make to herself was extraordinary. I’ve never known such a vocal cat. Her purr went from a Geiger Counter ticking right up to a deep and loud revving purr which collapsed when it reached its rumbly peak. We ended up imitating her inquisitive trills, both to find her and signal to the others where we were ourselves.

Marilyn and MerlyEven if she wasn’t actively asleep on one of us, we’d go and find her in between doing something or other. Frequently she’d just forgotten we were home (asleep again) and was curled up somewhere else, sleeping on her head (making it rain) or nose buried in the tip of her tail. We habitually check for her in a room that we pass, and stroked her. That constant looking is really difficult to stop. There’s a ginger shadow in my eyes, at the edge of my vision everywhere I go. Merly would fiercely police any food being consumed, frequently trying to climb onto Lady M’s plate while we watched TV. She had no regard for our meals and would climb over hands with knives in and displace plates from laps. In the morning she’d be treated to ‘morning butter’ – a lick of the post-toast butter knife. She’d happily pester for and thieve crisps, chips and at least sniff-check anything that looked like it might be consumed.

Comfort is A Warm Kitten

Most of my evenings ended with a book and glass of whiskey, stretched out on the sofa or kitchen floor with a Merly on top. A few snacks for her before bed, and she’d pursue us upstairs, and with a little trilling coaxing would gain confidence and hop onto the bed (or adopt the digging in of claws and pulling herself up that has made such lovely work of the leather sofas downstairs…). If we weren’t actually horizontal and appropriately laid out for her she’d either make do, and have to be moved, or grump off to the end of the bed until we were. During the night she’d stomp across us (sleeping tablets keep me out cold), kick Lady M’s glasses off the bedside table and clumsily negotiate the curtains to stare at the outside. Very occasionally she’d sleep between us, or between the pillows on her back, all four paws curled in the air.

When the front door was opened, she would go out to inspect her holdings. She’d never go far – I only saw her as far as six houses away a couple of times. Recently she’d been nuzzling the doorstep and rolling madly in the weeds growing under next door’s doorstep. Crazy little Boo. She stood her ground fairly well against neighbouring cats and I’d watch her in those strange silent Mexican stand offs they have. She seemed to like hopping back inside. Out the back are her flowers. At the right times of year we have tulips, roses, lily of the valley and her beloved bluebells. She’d roll in those and come inside smelling beautiful; I never figured out why the Picklemoose smelled of Chewits some days. She was never a roaming cat- the few gardens either side of ours had enough to entertain her, as well as our lavender tree whose trunk was her main scratching post.

Fearsome Worra Beast

I once, wholly uncharacteristically saw her in the middle of a mad half-hour outside in which she ran straight up the tree and into the branches; I think she had surprised herself, I helped her get down. She really liked to be accompanied and reassured as she wandered outside, but was also perfectly happy to nestle down in one of her grass forts and watch the insects do their stuff. Often she’d come bounding back in crazily, skittering across the tiles and lino floor of the kitchen, skidding further with claws clacking onto the laminated wood of the living room. A couple of circuits might precede going back out again or racing up the stairs (claws still extended) to dive into a deep sleep. Unpredictable, and very funny.

Merly Petal PawI don’t think I ever saw her attack anything successfully – she ran away from big spiders inside, and didn’t really know how to hunt. Lady M once saw her watching a squirrel avidly, doing that quivering that cats do pre-pounce… and then just sitting back down again. She was a very sweet natured beast, who only went in for hissing and biting (or rather licking and gumming since she had only a few teeth, but she did do a brutal and vigorous grooming of your fingers) if she’s had too much attention or was in the middle of a shoelace frenzy. Merly was never one for toys, though we did get her a few before recognising her total lack of interest. She might nuzzle it if it had corners… and so the cardboard and paper became her play areas. She’d go briefly wild at heaps of wrapping paper at Christmas and birthdays (and always chose to sit on the paper when wrapping gifts to begin with) and enjoyed chasing balls of paper for a bit. It was only a shoelace that really got her going (actually a couple of laces from the ends of combat trouser legs). I could tease her with those for ages in the kitchen and she’d skid over and round chairs and her paper nest to get at the taunting strings. Eventually she’d become overwhelmed and would either race back up the stairs or have to go out for a bit to calm down. Typically she’d stand and wait by the (electronic tag-operated) cat flap until one of us opened the door for her. We were good servant humans.

The Queen of The Ball

Merly EntuddledMerly-Boo was surprisingly popular with everyone else too, even people who don’t like cats. I suppose it helped that she was so sociable. She’s always come and inspect newcomers and visitors. The door knocking used to startle her, but eventually she’d just stay on the sofa, half-watching the door to see what came through. We’ve got lots of friends who Merly loved to sit on, and cause powerful allergic reactions in. At parties she would hide/sleep upstairs until people stopped moving around too much and then come down to great acclaim to take a turn around the kitchen and living room. I’m glad that a lot of people who Merly considered friends (or notable humans, or whatever it is that cats label us in their heads) got to see her in the last few weeks before her untimely death. She looked intensely pleased with herself, curled up on her paper nest under the table at our last party.

I’ve spent days watching her, gazing at her little face as she slept – at the chocolate chip freckles on her ears and tiny heart shaped pink nose, or as she groomed herself (mostly just the face and head before getting distracted, maybe the paws – oh the beautiful pink petals paws), or went berserk at nothing in particular and ran off.

I miss seeing her, I miss stroking her. I miss the warmth of her fur, her quick heart beat and drilling purr when she’s cradled in my arms, or settling down on me to go to sleep. Her purr sent me to sleep in bed and drove a deep satisfaction into my heart. I miss being startled by her mysterious teleporting around the house. I miss being able to wonder what she’s been doing while we’ve been out, or where we’ll find her when we get home; there was always an excellent chance that she’s have slept for the entire time we’d been out and hadn’t realised we weren’t there. I miss being able to tell Lady M, or our friends about the adorable things Merly has done recently. I miss the feel of her teeth rubbing against my hand when she nuzzled at my fingers. I miss the sound of her everywhere, her crazy trilling and purrkling. I miss the smell of her fur, the feel of her tail flicking out from between my fingers as I stroke her. I miss her pretty little green eyes lazily blinking or winking at me as she dozes off or tries to wake up. I miss tracing the patterns in her fur. I miss finding and making up new names for her. I miss seeing her and smiling. I miss seeing Lady M with Merly and that making me smile. I miss having our little companion – a third of our home is gone. I miss our little babe, our little love.

Merly Portrait

So Many Names…

Adorabeast  ~ Adventure Kitten ~ Bearbaby  ~ Beastie-Boo ~ Beastling ~ Boo ~ Boo-baby  ~ Boo-Bear ~ Boo-berry Muffin ~ Boo-berry  ~ Booclid  ~ Boo-Fluff ~ Bookin  ~ Bookin McNoodle ~ Booxunamoon ~ Bumbelino  ~ Bumble Bear ~ Bumble Muffin ~ Bumblebeast ~ Bumble-Berry ~ Bumblelion ~ Bumblenoodle ~ Bumblepuff ~ Bumbletufts ~ Bun Bun  ~ Bunbury Muffin  ~ Bunny Bear ~ Bunny Kitten ~ Bunny-Boo ~ Chicken Cat ~ Claw Footed Boob Stamper ~ Cloddipaws ~ Crazy Faced Beast ~ Cream Filled Ginger Truffle With Chocolate Chips ~ Cuddle Duckling ~ Cuddle Puffling  ~ Cuddlekin ~ Darling Beast ~ Duck Filled Fattypuss  ~ Dumpling ~ Dumpling Beast ~ Fluffkin  ~ Fuffenoodle ~ Fuffino ~ Fuffkinoodle ~ Fufflemoose  ~ Fufflepuff ~ Furbeast ~ Fuzzkinoodle ~ Fuzzlekini ~ Ginger Angel ~ Ginger Fluff  ~ Ginger-Puff ~ Grumbelino ~ Grumbletuft ~ Grumpet ~ Grumpkin ~ Grumpkinoodle ~ Honey Bumble ~ Honeybear ~ Honkit ~ Incapacicat ~ Kitkin ~ Kitkinoodle ~ Kitly-Boo ~ Kitten Fluff  ~ Little Beastie ~ Little Face ~ Little Fuffkin  ~ Little Gubbinsy Beast ~ Little Puff Princess ~ Little Seussical Feet ~ Little Tigglet  ~ Marmalade Badger ~ Merly ~ Merly Boo ~ Merly McBookin  ~ Merly Whirly Bookin ~ Merly-Bookin ~ Merly-Burly ~ Merlypuss Maxipuss ~ Mi Kitling ~ My Little Cloddipawed Beastie ~ My Little Quackling ~ Noodle ~ Noodle Pipkin ~ Noodle-Boo ~ Noodleboodle ~ Noodlekin ~ Noodle O’Kitticus ~ Noodlepippin ~ Noodlepuffkin ~ Patty-Paws ~ Petal Paws ~ Picklebeast ~ Pickle-Boo ~ Picklebumble ~ Picklekini ~ Picklemoose  ~ Picklepuff ~ Pickling ~ Picklopufficus ~ Pipkinoodle ~ Pissy-Paws ~ Pixelmoose ~ Pixie ~ Pixie Mittens ~ Pixie Puff ~ Pixie Puffle ~ Pixie Sweet ~ Pixie-Mittened Beastie ~ Pixiepuff ~ Pixling ~ Pooklefluff  ~ Puddle Duckling  ~ Puff Puff  ~ Puffenoodle ~ Puffinbumble  ~ Puffkin  ~ Puffle Munchkin ~ Puffle Pixie ~ Puffle-Bear ~ Puffleberry ~ Pufflebumble ~ Pufflefluff ~ Pufflemoose ~ Puff-Pixie ~ Pumble Bear ~ Purr Baby ~ Purrklekin ~ Puurkleotron ~ Purrklemoose ~ Quacklino ~ Quackula  ~ Scamperkin ~ She of the Fur Pantaloons ~ Skitterkin ~ Snooklepuff  ~ Snootle-Pixie ~ Snootlepuff ~ Snootlepuffkin ~ Snootlepuffling ~ Snufflepuff ~ Snufflopufficus ~ Snuggle Bundle  ~ Snugglebeast ~ Snuggledumpling ~ Snugglepuff  ~ Snugglepuffling ~ Snugglino ~ Squeaklekin ~ Sweet Beast ~ Sweet Beastie ~ Sweet Pickle ~ The Sepia Bagpuss ~ Tuddleosaur  ~ Tuffin ~ and so many more

Slightly Broken: Sadness and Grieving

I Ha’ Been Away

It’s been quite a while since I’ve done any proper writing. I stopped because I was overwhelmed by other things such as work, stuff and other stuff. It’s not a good thing to stop doing though, especially if, like me, you happen to have a memory like a broken colander and your writing is the only way to keep track of anything. It’s also my main outlet for mind screaming, uninterrupted babble and the road to organising my ideas into stories and partly coherent thought cubes. I’ve been Legoing and things in the meantime, but that doesn’t fulfil the same internal purposes of key-twatting.

So my stories lie tailless and lost, my thought threads are unwoven, my emotions become opaque and unknowable. I was about to begin writing again, at least a weekly update (my diary) or some Lego pictures, but then our baby, Merly-Boo was killed by a dog not ten feet from our back door. I have no real way to convey the loss of a cat or any pet who is so loved. I know that not everyone gets it – some people just don’t understand how you could feel more for the loss of a pet than another human being -stranger, friend or relative. So the first thing I wrote in months was a eulogy to our Picklemoose. Four weeks on now I don’t feel as if I am any more ready to embark on life. Every return home and doorway we pass through is an opportunity to forget what has happened and be bereaved anew. The constant heartbreak is awful. My Dad has thoughtfully brought us some children’s books about understanding and accepting grief for our small fuzzy friends. I can hardly bear to look at them, but I think they will help.

Sleeping Merly

I’m Not Back Yet

At times I feel like a balloon that has lost its skin. It is hard to focus, to create, to live. It is necessary though. I know that there will come a time when I think of Merly, or see my other half think of Merly and I won’t want to stab myself in the heart to let out the pain. That’s almost worse though, to know that grief, the remembering of love can end. Does that mean the love ends? I know it doesn’t, but right now it feels like moving on requires some kind of forgetting and I think I equate forgetting with not caring (because how can I care about something if I don’t remember). I suppose that’s a stage in grieving too.

I miss all of the beloved creatures who have left life behind. I remember the cats: beautiful crazy Smokey, who was killed by another cat when I was maybe only five or six, Bonny who moved to Staffordshire with us and was black and soft and lovely. Little devilish Jeri, a pint-sized cat with half a tail who I used to carry around in my dressing gown pocket – fierce, who loved to bite and claw at a sock dragged half off your foot, and the first cat I’d known from kittenhood. Lovely honey-coloured tabby Holly who lived in my bedroom and visited the world through a catflap we cut into the glass window; the first cat I’d had sleep with me every night. The first cat Marilyn and I had together: Spats, a feisty independent black and white cat with the smartest white tie and spats you ever did see. She preceded our Merly-Boo.

And there are all the other cats we’ve met. Befriended through patience, squeaking and purring and crouching behind cars in the rain. We name them all, and think of them. There are too many to list, but for now I’ll happily recall Mini-Spats, a tiny tiny clone of our darling who used to make me late for work by being adorable and affectionate. Twinkle, a massive white cat with black ears and tail who Spats absolutely loathed despite his overtures of friendship. Powder, who as a kitten climbed up my bicycle and onto my head. Oscar the flat faced ginger cat who headbutted at the gate in his urgency to be stroked and to nuzzle at knuckles. So many friends. All now moved away or otherwise gone with no explanation. I miss them all and think fondly of them.

No longer expecting to see someone is not the same as forgetting them, but I think it’s necessary to keep on going.

I have you!
I have you!

Lighter Bits of Brain Not Worklings

Being a bit fucked in the brain does however offer some entertainments. Three of my mind-spazzes that amused me today:

1) Gazing uncomprehendingly at the grill tray because it had the liner but no grill bit. It just looked wrong but I couldn’t figure out what was missing. It took me several goes to correctly layer tray, then liner, then grill, then foil and finally gammon.

2) Losing the word ‘beat-boxing’ when trying to talk about Reggie Watts turning up in Pitch Perfect 2 (not a bad sequel, but is far too long with too many new characters, none of whom were better than the funniest characters in the first one. I really enjoyed the mashup songs though). The only version I could produce was ‘mouth beating’. It really doesn’t sound as good. “Reggie Watts is an excellent mouth beater isn’t he?”

3) I no longer understand clocks. In trying to figure out what time an item on eBay was ending, I added four hours to seven PM and got one AM. I appparently think there are now twenty hours in a day. That does explain quite a lot.

(for fuck’s sake)

Awful Sadness: Bye Bye Merly-Boo

Colin Barnfather – Scattering His Ashes

Bringing People Together

Colin_potraitXIn September 2013 my uncle, Colin Barnfather, went missing when hillwalking in the Scottish Highlands. We didn’t know he was missing for a week, and by that time it was too late. Just over a year ago (I know, because Facebook popped up a ‘happy memory’ photo yesterday) I joined my Mum, step-father and brother and sister in travelling way oop north (beyond the bits where ‘oop’ would sound normal) to the area outside of Fort William where he fell and was later recovered.

I’d intended to publish this at the time, but it didn’t seem quite right for reasons I can’t adequately explain. I guess it was a private family pilgrimage. It’s rare for me to spend that much time with family – not because I don’t like them (they’re all mostly lovely most of the time), but I’ve become used to being a bit more solitary. I’ve no idea whether that’s a good or bad thing, but I did enjoy these few days together very much.

Mission Time

It’s a hell of a drive, heroically undertaken by my step-father. Of course my siblings made the trip vastly more complicated, joining us at Inverness airport. So we drove up to Inverness, from Burton on Trent, via Nottingham and Newcastle in a day. The scenery (even Newcastle) was stunning, and driving up into Highlands was particularly magical while listening to the BBC Radio drama version of Lord of The Rings. Mountains, moor, sky and lochs which all seemed like places the Riders of Rohan could be crossing, or the heroes trudging across in their apparently endless quest. An awesome trip. I can provide wholly anecdotal and unreliable testimony that crystallised ginger is the partial solution to all of the world’s problems: travel sickness.

Our accommodation for the trip varied widely between the gorgeous The Croft at Cranford (soooo going there again) and the dive B&B for night two in Fort William. I can’t give you the place’s name but they were triple over-booked and couldn’t muster an apologetic tone or a functioning bar; Tim, Liz and I shared a three bed room – Tim and me in a bunkbed. He was thrilled; I was pleased for him. The last night was spent in Gretna Green on the way back down, where Tim and I got hammered in the hotel bar during a wedding; pints of some fairly awful “smooth” and drams of excellent whiskey make the night fly by…

Between hotel arrangements we drove. A lot. Colin went walking in a beautiful area – Kinloch Hourn, which is some miles out of Fort William and vanishes off into a 22 mile long single track road to nowhere. We became lost several times in the winding roads that vanish into moors and nowhere. Last time Mum and my step-father were here it was night and filled with police and helicopter crews, so it looked quite different on a beautiful sunny day. Eventually we did find the right road, and were promptly challenged by car sickness because the road frankly takes the mickey, rerouted around boulders, up and down in lurching heaves. Just thinking of it gives me a ghastly flash of nausea and has me reaching for ginger.

Raw Natural Beauty

I hadn’t been out into the wilderness of Scotland for quite a few years and I’d forgotten just how astonishing it is. The route down into the valley took us past mountains, a huge reservoir and dam, deer, endless heather and gorse but what struck me again and again were the broken teeth of rock jabbing up and through the startling green. It made me think of broken giants, collapsed after battering each other to death. It’s shockingly empty of human life and the quiet is almost intrusive (I liked it). We made it to the end of the trail at last – literally, it just stops. There’s a tiny farmhouse cafe and a friendly horse who I gave some attention to. I enjoy making friends with strange animals. It seems easier than with people.


I suppose it’s quite rare to visit the place that a loved one died, even quite strange. That’s on my mind because our cat died just outside our back door and I pass it at least twice a day. We’d gone to scatter Col’s ashes. I can’t deny that there’s a certain strange irony in returning Colin’s earthly remains to the place we took them from. It’s not like he planned to die there, so would he really want to be put back? Well, those are the options that you don’t get once you’re gone. It makes sense to us, plus not all of him has gone back – Mum’s still has some of his ashes. Even writing about this now seems really odd… all I can say is that it didn’t at the time!

It was difficult in the day time to properly identify the cliff that Colin had fallen from. I’m not sure we did figure it out definitively. I found my eyes kept being drawn to one ridge in particular, which fit my mental image of how and where he died. It’s fairly unlikely that I’d intuited it correctly, but we run on symbolism and imaginary memories all the time – this, to me, is where Col died. At its foot runs a lovely little stream, with scrub and mussel shells scattered around. We drank champagne, ate lunch, toasted Colin and proceeded with scattering his ashes.


Human Ritual

Just as at Colin’s funeral it was absurd and implausible that he really was contained in that long box, it seemed even more improbable that he could be inside an even smaller box. Nevertheless, we are materialists and atheists in my family. We don’t believe in an afterlife or gods, or ghosts. Our lost and loved ones live on in the only place they ever did – inside our minds. The constantly decaying and renewing flesh of our bodies is inconstant and transient. Our thoughts and memories are even more so. Only by remembering do we reinforce our memories and the ideas, emotions and people who reside therein. The flecked white and grey ash that remained of Colin was not ng different from the matter that encased his mind and its collections of thoughts. Burying or scattering those mortal remnants is an action for us, for those who persist in this world of space and time.

As with all things human, the action of solemnly taking a fistful of ash and scattering it over the land, watching the motes of my uncle vanish into the grass and water is at once deeply serious and tinged with humour. My sense of humour is cheerfully grim and I find laughter in most things. So I was kind of cheered to note that we weren’t really paying attention to the direction of the gentle breeze that had joined us. So we quite quickly coated each other with ash… Fingernails and palms already white with familial dust, we got Colin ground into every fold of clothing, each stitch and seam. I remember the taste of the ashes distinctly, salty and well, exactly like ash from a fire. We’re made of the same stuff as everything else. Despite my inappropriate amusement, it felt like a good and fitting tribute to my uncle. All of us there ambling around this beautiful place with handfuls of ash.

What We Leave Behind

As we left the valley, and Colin’s ashes behind I stuck my camera to the window and filmed the first few minutes of the route out of the valley. It’s beautiful, and paired up with music from The Lord of The Rings it captures both the beauty and my feelings about the place where my uncle died.

It’s also just been Col’s birthday so I did what I’m getting into the habit of doing: sending him a text message and ringing his phone. That’s the same as I tried when we were up in Scotland: his phone was never recovered. I like to think that there are messages bouncing around out there somewhere and that some inevitable bumping of related electrons takes place, linking us all together.