Children need education, that is a truism so true as to be self-evident. What constitutes education though is another question.
Much of my childrens education came from their pets and today, the last of the original 'magificent three' passed away. I'm not counting the fish, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits and assorted bugs in temporary capture nor the worms in a wormery or the seemingly endless 'things we grew in water', brine shrips, scary things and a host of others including tadoples for frogs and toads, nor the newts that have taken up residence in the pond.
No, the 'magnificent three' consisted of a loopy labrador and two cats, rescued from the Cat Protection League when my daughter was three and my son, 5. Living on a farm, cats were a necessity if we weren't to have more mice than an IT classroom.
Their favourite book was 'The Mousehole Cat' and the brother and sister kittens were named Mouzer as she was the very spit of the cat on the front cover, and Old Tom - cue odd looks from the vet when presented with a 10 week old kitten named so, but my children were using their imagination.
Old Tom passed on some time ago aged 15 after he fought, killed and dragged home one ferret too many. He never really adapted to 'indoor' life except in the winter, when the lure of the Rayburn became too much and he curled up, resting his bones and restoring his muscles in his quest to be the Ultimate, the most dominant life form in Hampshire. He loved Christmas Day too, when the Turkey roasted and he had a series of large and juicy slices of his own. Smudge, the loopy labrador went last year achieving a fantastic 15 years on the farm, proud to have chased Rabbits and Hot Air Balloons with equal passion. Mouzer just went on and on and on.
Over the years, the animals fell to one injury or another, nursed by the children. The earlier days of indignity, when wrapped in blankets and transported with a resigned tolerance we would all do well to learn, in a Ladybird dolls pram by my daughter, were forgotten. Flinty paws were bathed, Ferret bites were cleaned and the entire contents of a cows backside, which had fallen onto a dozing Mouzer and set like concrete in the heat of a summers day in the buttercupped meadow were scraped off and the remaining dross bathed away with love and care.
Mouzer went everywhere my daughter did; sleeping on her bed, following her to the bathroom, kitchen, down the garden and back in the most devoted way imaginable. Mouzer was her cat and no others. Once she disappeared and we plastered the area in posters and our local postman kindly stuffed flyers though everyones letter box for us. She turned up in our neighbours house, fast asleep in the airing cupboard, sadly on top of the clean white sheets, but the look on my daughters face when reuinted with her beloved pet was beyond priceless. She had learned to love, unconditionally and to understand that sometimes, things are not permanent.
As cats they had a poor start in life; abandoned in a sack, contracted Cat Pox and were isolated until they were 10 weeks old. When we finally got them home, they raced around the house as if their tails were on fire, then slept behind the fridge for a week until they felt more confident. My daughter, aged 3 sat by the fridge all day, trying to tempt them out. As soon as Mouzer appeared, she climbed on to my three year olds shoulder and rode, like a parrot around her new domain. It was wonderful to see such a bond form.
As she grew, Mouzer continued to devote herself to the girl. When she came home from school, Mouzer would be waiting, she joined in the birthday parties, wandering from tent to tent and stealing bits of sausage as we held mini-festivals in the back garden, charming all who met her and guarding my daughter as she slept. She was a one girl cat and it was mutual.
She's grown now, and moved out, to live her own life and it was the hardest thing I've had to do, to tell her that Mouzer had finally gone in her sleep and the last of the triumviate was no more.
We buried her in her favourite spot, under the Buddlia bush in the sunshine with a cushion of springy Hampshire moss and sweet Clover for her cover and gave thanks for her life. She was a cat who taught my daughter so many things and gave me the deepest pleasure in watching her learn them.
RIP Mouzer (21 years of age).