Liz Jones’s Diary: In which I look back at my life in cats

The year was 1991. I was working on a new women’s magazine called Mirabella. The staff were stellar: the editor was Lesley White, who started out on The Face. Deputy was Sally Brampton, the Vogue talent winner who launched Elle. She had cropped bleached hair, wore Levi’s and was unerringly encouraging to us minions. Fashion editor was the legendary Caroline Baker, who had worked at Nova – and would later work at YOU. And my trainee, J, from Central Saint Martins, would go on to be my best friend and a star in his own right.

Abbey Lossing

We tended to put the celebrities on our cover sitting on a chair, so it looked as if they were on the loo. Perhaps that’s why, in May that year, I was hauled into the managing editor’s office to be told the magazine was closing. I was just about to buy a flat in London’s deeply unfashionable Old Street; I used my redundancy pay as a deposit but had no job to go to.

Another friend from the magazine came round to see my new home. I can’t remember her name, just that she had been on the Marchioness when it sank, and had choked on silt at the bottom of the Thames before somehow swimming to the surface. She gave me some wise advice: ‘Life is short. You need a cat.’

A fashion designer friend had a litter of kittens from a stray. I took Snoopy home. Soon came Squeaky, who squeezed her way into my flat via the catflap (she wasn’t slim). When I moved to my first house in Hackney two years later, along with a live-in boyfriend/cat sitter, I adopted Susie, born on the streets of the Isle of Dogs. Next came Sweetie, who had been battered by her previous owners, leaving her with brain damage and a broken tooth. Sweetie was indeed very wobbly; she once fell into a pond, emerging wet and embarrassed, smelling of fish. My life revolved around my cats and my, by now, husband loved them, too. He’d phone me at work to say, ‘I’m having a contest to find out which cat has the best tail.’ When I became editor of Marie Claire, a newspaper ran a story saying I’d failed to turn up for work on the day of the total eclipse of the sun as I was ‘shielding my cats’ eyes’. It was a lie. I had, in fact, rushed home to feed them, thinking they would be looking at their bowls instead of skywards. When I was sacked, I wrote a press release announcing the news, saying I had left because, ‘I want to spend more time with my cats.’

After my divorce, a few weeks before I sold my London house and moved to Exmoor, a kitten turned up in my kitchen. Leo was badly wounded from fighting, as he hadn’t been snipped. I took him to the vet, where he was treated and microchipped. My last night in London, he escaped: he had managed to move a huge pile of Vogues blocking the catflap. What a strong little man. It was years before we were reunited.

And then, while still on Exmoor, a reader got in touch. Her cat, a large, long-haired male called Minstrel, had bitten her husband, who ended up in hospital. Would I take him? The couple, clutching his special blankets and boxes of food, were tearful when they dropped him off. He had huge green eyes. He would wee in plug sockets, fusing everything. He was the feistiest cat I’ve ever met.

When it became clear Gracie my collie was not to be trusted – she killed Leo, having lived with him for a decade – Minstrel went to live with my assistant Nic. If he ever loses sight of her, he screams and searches. He sleeps on her head. For the past year or so, he has been having fortnightly injections of steroids. But in the past few weeks he has developed an inoperable tumour. He will no longer even lap condensed milk. And so it is that tomorrow his usual vet, whom he trusts, will go to the house to put him to sleep. He has so loved being a cat. But he’s the last one. I won’t be getting any more.