It was 06.38, Thursday 18th July as I left my home to drive over to Harrogate. I was attending a crime writing event for the second year running in a beautiful Yorkshire city. Known as Creative Thursday, the event is designed for aspiring writers like myself, eager to improve their craft and also to provide an opportunity to pitch your novel / book to four agents / publishers in a literary version of the famous Dragons Den. I warned my wife before leaving that one of the family cats had left a present or two on the kitchen floor. I arrived at The Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate at 08.15. parked my car then headed into town in search of a decent latte. I walked through a part of Harrogate that was new to me,impressed by the beautiful old buildings all around. It was a beautiful sunny morning, I was looking forward to all the events and everything thing seemed set up for a day to remember. It was.
The first event was a workshop with M.R Hall and William Ryan on how to build characters and plot. Dividing us into groups we first explored and built up some fictitious characters involved in a hotel murder. We then explored plotting a crime novel. Excellent first session. Next up was a session with Callum Sutherland, showing us all very real ( or realistic) crime scenes in a powerpoint presentation and asking us to become detectives. This was focusing on the work of CSI’s and how easily mistakes can be made investigating crime scenes.
Dinner was then served in the old wood-panelled restaurant, the same one used by Agatha Christie, who famously disappeared in 1926, resulting in a public furore over the 11 days that she could not be traced. After dinner I checked my phone for messages as I switched it off in the workshops. No messages or calls. I didnt attend the first afternoon session with the accountants touting for business: I had already heard what they had to say the year before. The final workshop was with Henry Sutton of the University of East Anglia, exploring in some detail the works of six modern crime writers. Another interesting and thought provoking session and six more books to put on my reading list.
A small break and then we trooped back in for the final event – “Dragons Pen”. I had already registered my interest so sat patiently waiting for my name to be called…… and waited ….and waited. The event started at 17.00 and would finish at 18.00. At least four names called out were not answered. Two who were called out and present made their excuses. We were told there was just time for two more. Then my name was called out. I walked to the front and microphone and was asked what I did for a living. I replied “I am a gentleman of leisure!” I was then told to start my presentation knowing I had to finish within two minutes. Those two minutes seemed to be gone in a flash and then the panel were asked to comment. The first panellist was Gordon Wise of Curtis Brown and nominated for literary agent of the Year. He thanked me for my punchy presentation then went on to say he though there was too much in it or words to that effect. I replied that actually everything I had read out had actually happened to which he replied . “Truth can be stranger than fiction.” My story is indeed that. The other three panellists then made comments. Not bad ones but not very encouraging either. My session ended,there were no requests for my synopisis or a chapter or two. So that would be a No from all four then. I thanked the panel and respectfully waited for the final presentation and the end of the event and entire day. To be frank I was not too disappointed. After two sessions observing Dragons Pen the truth finally sank home. I was the wrong sex, wrong age and had worked in the wrong sector. Clearly this panel were looking for the next Val McDermid. I noticed how interested and supportive the panel were of the pitchers who had a police / forensics/ medical / psychology background, one female candidate clearly being told this BEFORE she pitched her book. I concluded I may have to do a J K Rowling to get noticed!
I left the hotel and arrived back at my car at 18.00. Turning on my phone I had two texts from my wife, both disturbing and sent between 14.00 and 15.00. “Katy very ill, ring urgently” and “ASAP” . I rang her straight away and she was sobbing saying she thought that Katy was dying. I told her I was leaving and would drive back as fast as I could, my mind in turmoil. Traffic was heavy and progress to the A1 was slow. Reaching the motorway I put my foot down and soon joined the M1, then turned off on the junction for the A628. I arrived home at 19.50 and found Katy slumped in her basket, seeming immobile and looking smaller somehow. I had to touch her to make sure she was breathing. I knew she had been sick a number of times before I left in the morning . Now my wife told me she had become very ill around 14.00 with diarrhoea, then wobbly back legs and struggling to breathe. She had tried to get some water into her little mouth. Realising she must be severely dehydrated after being ill on the hottest day of the year ,I knew we had to get fluid inside her. We part filled a plastic bag with milk cut a small hole, then I held her jaws open while my wife squeezed some liquid into her throat. We repeated this technique at 09.10,10.10 and 11.10 only using water making sure she had extra in the last session, then put her in her basket. Knowing from bitter personal experience that both people and animals give up the ghost in the small hours around dawn,I hatched a plan. I brought a single mattress from downstairs and laid it next to her basket. I would stay with her all night. She slept peacefully for hours, breathing gently. Around 04.40 she got out of her basket, walked over to the water dish, seemed to take a little. then walked to the food dish but did not eat. She then returned to her basket.
At 05.oo I noticed her breathing change and her eyes were now open. She seemed to be struggling to breathe. I called my wife downstairs and after monitoring her for a while we decided to make an emergency call to the vets at 5.30. We arranged to meet the vet at our local surgery at 06.00 and took Katy into an examination room. The vet agreed with my diagnosis of dehydration then examined her, telling me her kidneys were shrunken and she had found a mass in her abdomen that could be cancer.She seemed to be telling us that it was best for Katy to be put to sleep there and then. I argued that Katy was not really our cat, it was our youngest daughter’s and we wanted to try and get some fluids into her as we could not do that properly. If there was any chance of helping her we would take it. The vet agreed to put her on a drip and we left Katy in her care. At 0830 we received a call to say that Katy had been attached to a drip and was settled and we would receive a call back later. My wife and I could do no more than wait. Dinnertime came and went but I was not hungry. By 15.00 I had waited long enough and rang the vets for a status report. The Vet gave us some good news, the fluids seemed to be helping, she had made a small improvement but they were concerned about her body temperature which was too low . They would keep her in overnight and call me in the morning. Relieved by some good news at least we relaxed a little. Exhausted by the events I went to bed at 22.00 but I was comforted in the knowledge that Katy was being looked after. I quickly fell asleep. At 22.30 My wife woke me, telephone in hand and tears rolling down her face. The vet had been to see Katy at 22.00 and found her unconscious with no eye reflex. I presume that means a torch shone in her eye had not caused the pupils to change.Katy was dead yet somehow I was calmer that I thought I would be. It still took me more than two hours to get to sleep.
When I woke in the morning the anguish really hit me. We would never see Katy again. She was a tiny cat, often mistaken for a kitten and likely the runt of a litter. She was almost completely black, down to her black whiskers and paw pads. She had just one tiny patch of white fur on her chest. I had bought her and another kitten for my two daughters when both were still in primary school. She had been an energetic little bundle of black fur almost til the end of her life, famous for flying up the stairs like a rocket. No-one could have guessed she was 17-18 years old and in fact an old lady cat. I rang the vets to say we wanted her to be cremated at a pet cemetery and her ashes sent back to us in a casket.
Now I had another big problem. Both of my daughters were in Majorca on holiday and I simply could not tell them until their return. They arrive back into Manchester airport tomorrow Monday 22nd July at 14.00 and I have arranged to collect them. It will fall to me to tell my youngest daughter that her pet cat has died. It will be her first real experience of bereavement and I know it will break her heart. It will be the worse because we all thought Katy was in better health than our other cat called Rosie. She certainly is showing signs of aging; Katy was not. That said I realise now that Katy did have some serious heath issues and that this prolonged hot spell is somehow responsible for her very sudden decline and death . Cold comfort to know that.
From the highs of Thursday morning to the lows of Thursday evening, from the hope of Friday afternoon to the despair of Friday evening, these last two days have been one emotional roller-coaster ride for me. I write this with a tear in my eye and a sick empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. Time is hanging, the day crawls by. I cannot have closure yet because my parental duties are yet to be completed. Losing a pet is never easy especially one who has been around so long. Circumstances have conspired to create a very difficult passage for me. The fickle hand of fate draws me yet another bad card. I draw some small comfort from the fact that Katy did not suffer too long and was well cared for. My wife nearly joined me for a day in Harrogate and had she done so we would have come back to find a little black body in our kitchen.
Katy lived a long and happy life and was given a good, caring home. We fought very hard to save her. She will not be forgotten. Farewell Katy and rest in peace.