I know it is wrong to anthropomorphize animals, but it is very hard not to see human characteristics in the beasties that prowl, flutter or slither over this blue marble we call home.
This is the story of just one of them and I make no apologies for calling him “The King of Mountsandel”.
For the past 2 years I have been walking to work and my route takes me down the Mountsandel Road, one of the main arterial roads into Coleraine and the site of the old Coleraine Hospital. The old hospital complex has been demolished these past 10 years and more and the only building left standing is what used to be the oldest part of the hospital and as a result of it’s age it is a “listed” building and has to be preserved. The rest of the site is a mixture of rubble and green spaces slowly being taken over by small trees and shrubs.
Every morning on the way by there would be 5 or 6 feral cats mooching around mostly ordinary unremarkable felines apart from “The King” who like GrowlTiger in TS Elliot’s poem had one ear, one eye and a broken tail and a patchwork of scars to rival any prizefighter. The King’s favourite spot was to sit on the step of the admin building and survey his domain. The other cats would sit in such a way that they never caught his eye and ensured they stayed well out of the way. Contrary to the evidence of his scars he appeared to be a relatively benign ruler, when kittens appeared on the scene every few months he didn’t seem to mind the occasional small ball of fluff making a pest of itself.
I would get a 3 minute window into the world of the Hospital Cats every morning as I walked past and I found myself disappointed if The King was not there to ignore me when I wandered past on route to my desk.
This morning as I looked through the fence, The King was on a window ledge and I paused , why I paused I have no idea but pause I did. The King jumped down onto the cracked tarmac and it was obvious that all was not well. His usual regal demeanour was gone, he looked like every year of his life and every fight that he had picked had happened in the last 24 hours.
He made his way out of the shadow of the building and found himself a place in the sun between a purple patch of flowering Rosebay-Willow Herb and the ash tree the cats used as a scratching post. He lowered himself down onto his front legs and very gingerly his rear end followed suit. He raised his head, closed his eyes and for a second savoured the sun’s warmth, then his head fell and like a discarded rag doll he rolled onto his side and lay still.
It took me a minute to find a way through the wire fence and by the time I got there it was obvious The King was no more. I know that death is part of life and everything dies and in the wild it just happens and the world moves on. However it seemed wrong to just leave him there for the scavengers so I lifted his body and placed it behind the scratching tree, covered him with a piece of sacking and made a small pyre of stones to cover his cooling corpse.
If cats have a heaven I hope he made it in and now has all the comforts life didn’t seem to afford him in great measure.
The King is dead, long live the king!