Thursday, 5 March 2020


To London and back to see two of the children and potter around Highgate, hand in hand with enchanting little Omi. Then back to Belfast, to a forlorn and empty house and the ghost of our Clementina - a small, white-throated, black and amber shadow, glimpsed for a moment, then gone.

As always, it's books that help me through bad times: Penelope Fitzgerald's wonderful 'The Beginning of Spring', the quirky 'Lonely Life of a Peculiar Postman' by Canadian Denis Theriault (thank you, Kelly McCaughrain) and Deirdre Madden's 'Molly Fox's Birthday'. I'd only read one other novel of hers - 'Time Present and Time Past' - now I'm looking for all the rest.

Little Omi, not yet two, has a room full of books already, as do all his cousins - even 3 month-old baby Cian has a shelf. I can't bear to think of a childhood without books. I was lucky: my whole family wrote - father, mother, brother, sister - and we all read voraciously, and widely. Although I really don't think it matters what you read - I hate to hear anyone's taste in reading being mocked - so long as you have the habit, books will get you through a lot of life's disasters. And the one thing you can be certain of is that disasters will occur.

So. After a convivial evening with two good friends, in the middle of the night I sit up because I am suddenly coughing and can't breathe. This is a distressing, but not a disaster: I find my asthma inhalers, take a couple of puffs and put the kettle on for hot honey and lemon. Eventually I get back to sleep. In the morning I have an early doctor's appointment - routine but timely - so we drive down and Gloom goes in to say his wife has been through three airports in the last 10 days, none in an infected area, but she's suddenly coughing: should she come in or go home again? The receptionist sighs deeply and says she might as well come in. This is probably because 99.9 percent of all the patients currently waiting are hacking and wheezing, so one more won't make any difference.

Helping to edit
My doctor, to whom I am devoted (she is wonderfully phlegmatic: a combined case of Ebola and Leprosy might just give her cause to raise an eyebrow, but then again, possibly not) tells me I have a chest infection and sentences me to a week of antibiotics, steroids and rest. Fortunately I have, at the last count, the new Spring edition of Slightly Foxed and at least another 20-odd books, waiting to be read - including Simon Sebag Montefiore's 'Jerusalem', which is around 700 pages long. I'm reading that in stages, but every time I open it, I am swept away by this extraordinary biography of a city, and the beauty of the writing. And as soon as I've finished the medication, I'm going to finish off all the best wine in the house, just in case it turns out to be the coronavirus after all.

Listening to Mozart
Clementina's ashes were returned to us in a carved wooden box. We are now debating where to put the little casket: burying it in the garden doesn't seem right - she was far too strong a presence, a household goddess and my personal daemon, whose rightful place is here, somewhere inside the house, with us. I suspect a ghostly paw will eventually nudge us in the right direction. And she'll have another memorial, some day, because the morning after the night she died, I switched on my laptop to distract myself from the desolation that I felt, and there was a message from a writer friend concerning a Kickstart project needing backers - a proposed short film set in Belfast, about a love affair that begins with the Good Friday Agreement. I liked the premise, and thinking it would be the perfect way to honour Clementina's memory - she was, after all, a cat with artistic sensibilities: she enjoyed listening to Mozart and often helped edit my work by walking on the keyboard - I signed up.

I was surprised to get an immediate and grateful response, and when I wrote back to explain what had prompted my gesture, I was promised that when 'Another Day in '98' is made, the credits will include the name of Clementina. Our beautiful, adored, imperious cat may no longer gaze at us with her yellow eyes, or purr in my ear at the dead of night, but her name will be up there in lights. I'm pretty certain she would feel it was no more than her due.


  1. As always, I laugh and cry my way through your musings! Thank you for always mentioning your current books! I find that so helpful and interesting. Speedy recovery!