'Django Reinhardt – Last Cat Standing'



DJANGO REINHARDT, THE LITERARY CAT, IS DEAD. He took his last breath at 5.45pm on 19 June 2015 in a tiny veterinary surgery in the West Country, falling asleep with my hand stroking his head, much as he had done so many times in our years together.

greeneyesHe barreled his way into my life on Good Friday 2005, scrambling through an open doorway, a shivering, storm-soaked, scrawny scrap of a cat, all eyes, yowling his fury at the world. After wolfing down a plate of tuna, the only cat-friendly food in the house, he retreated upstairs to the sanctuary of Richard’s Eames chair, curling up on an old silk throw of my mother’s, never to leave again.

Malnourished and ill, over the next few days, he gradually revealed himself: a handsome shorthaired tabby with vivid Galaxy chocolate brown markings and a pair of shockingly bright green eyes.

Fiercely independent, he took to roaming the West London skyline, investigating at first Willesden Junction, Kensal Green and Notting Hill and, later, Northfields from the rooftops, watching the world from on high. His favourite perch was the roof of The Literary Shed, the studio in our last house in London, where he would crouch, peering over the edge, often accompanied by John Barry, the squirrel who’d adopted me, to watch me potter around the garden, as I snipped and cut back, sowed and planted, gradually regaining my equilibrium after a particularly trying day at work. Every so often, he would leap down to bat my ankles with soft paws, darting away to take refuge under a faded wooden deckchair under a laden damson tree, while he planned his next attack.

And, when things fell apart about four years ago and life as I knew it dissolved, seemingingly in a heartbeat, he saved me. He became my shadow, sitting on the kitchen table while I worked, draping himself across the keyboard of my laptop, sleeping across my body, warming me until I slept and, then, in the morning, padding and jingling the bells on his collar until I had no choice but to get up to face the world, even when I didn’t want to.




HE CAME WITH ME FROM LONDON TO DORSET in mid-August of 2014, where I’d decided to live for a year and regroup, his presence, his company, his friendship making the transition to living in the somewhat alien countryside so much easier. By then, he was at least 10, still extremely agile, a handsome strong cat, who climbed the rooftops of Shaftesbury, clambering over the thatch of the cottage I’d rented to find a new feline friend.

He always had a gang, wherever we lived, cat friends with whom he’d hang out – from ‘Herbie Hancock’, the black burmese kitten, and ‘Keith Pole’, the tabby in a onesie, named after a friend of my niece, who would wait patiently in the mornings on the doorstep of my sister’s home and trail adoringly in his wake around the streets of W10, to the traumatised semi-feral cats, who lived next door in our last house in London, who’d been locked in a garage for the first six weeks of their life and understandably hated humans.


MrGingeandDjangoHERE IN DORSET, he found Mr Ginge living next door, an enormous but timid apricot-coloured cat with the voice of a eunuch. They whiled away many an hour in silence, sitting in the walled garden of my house, one above the other on the park bench that I’d brought with us from London or perched up on the rooftop of The Literary Shed in Dorset.

It was in Mr Ginge’s company that Django became ill on 18 June, my neighbour Rachael coming home to find her cat guarding mine as he lay semi-paralysed in her garden. It was Rachael who knocked on my door at 6.15pm, who piled both of us into her car to drive us across Dorset to Wincanton in Somerset, where the out-of-office hours surgery was based. And it was Rachael, who, even though I’d only met her briefly in passing, stood by me as Vicky, the very proficient female vet, told me what she thought was Django’s ‘grave’ prognosis.

All the while he was crying, my normally silent cat, struggling to get up as I held him, stroked him, so distressed because his back legs wouldn’t work and he couldn’t stand up at all. But, still he tried, my brave boy.The pads on his back paws were blue, his feet cold and he was in such pain.

I left him there in Vicky’s care, while she ran tests and medicated him with opiates for his pain. An hour or so later, she called me at home to confirm that Django had suffered an aortic thromboembolism, a blood clot that had travelled from the left atrium of his heart down to lodge at the place where the aorta splits into two arteries, effectively cutting off blood flow to the pelvic limbs. His heart was enlarged and he had fluid on his lungs. He’d been given oxygen, was medicated but still was in a lot of pain. The next 24 to 48 hours were crucial; the prognosis grave.

During the night, I read pretty much every veterinary journal article on ATE or ‘saddle thrombosis’, as it’s also known, wondering what, if anything, I could have done differently and how my seemingly healthy cat, who’d been running around the garden and walking agilely along the top of a 2mm-wide fence just hours before, had become so ill so quickly.

The internet is a wondrous, but horrific beast, throwing at us so much information in a matter of seconds, and yet it’s often contradictory. And I wanted that contradiction because in those differing opinions, those varying conclusions and prognoses, there, at least, would lie some modicum of hope. In this case, the information was pretty consistent and the outcome for a previously relatively healthy, agile cat, who loved the outside, just catastrophic.

On Friday morning, he rallied slightly, regaining some movement in one of his rear legs, but he was still in pain and my cat, who liked people and women, in particular, couldn’t bear to be touched by anyone and cowered in the back of the cage in which he’d been placed on a drip. By late morning, he’d lost feeling in both rear legs, his condition deteriorating. After talking to what seemed like every vet and nurse at the surgery and weighing up Django’s quality of life and level of pain, even if he were to make any recovery at all, I made the decision to let him go with dignity, my beautiful boy, who had brought me so much comfort, solace and joy.

He died at 5.45pm, in my presence, slipping away in seconds. My handsome lad.




DJANGO REINHARDT IS DEAD, but he’s not gone.

He is here in my home – on the chaise longue – on which he’d slept ever since I bought it many years ago in an antique shop in Rye and on which I never got to sit because it was his – on the wooden church pew in the garden from which he would watch me work and on the dining room table, lying across my arms as he peered at the screen of my laptop to see what I was doing.

But, more importantly, Django Reinhardt’s definitely not gone because he’s here, here in my heart, admittedly currently battered and fractured, but here none the less, forever part of me, part of who I was, who I am, part of who I shall be.

Rest in peace my old friend, my much-loved boy, and know that you brought me so very much joy.

Django Reinhardt, The Literary Cat. 25 March 2005 to 19 June 2015. RiP.


Music for The Literary Cat:  Sergio Mendes’ ‘Mas que nada’ (1967); introduced by the original Cat Woman herself, wonderful Eartha Kitt.


With grateful thanks to Vicky Sands and the staff at Southill Vets in Wincanton for their excellent treatment of Django and me; to all Django’s many friends and loved ones; my sister, Nina, and an extra special thanks to Rachael, my neighbour, for going that extra mile, and to Karen, Django’s friend, who drove me to the surgery yesterday afternoon and waited outside, until Django finally slept. Thank you so much.



Images: Django stretching in the house in Dorset, shortly after we arrived, September 2014; Django in silhouette, the sitting room in West London, Christmas 2011; Django and Mr Ginge (on cushion) on the reclaimed park bench in the garden in Dorset, April 2015; Django in the garden in West London, The Literary Shed in the background, c.2011.

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