Poor old Mog. I only hope she didn't suffer at the end. Mind you, at 32 she was no chicken – well, of course she wasn't, she was a cat and the news that her creator, the children's author Judith Kerr, has decided to hang up her flea collar (Mog's, not Miss Kerr's) and call it a day strikes me as eminently sensible. On second thoughts, in the interest of truth – never lie to a child – maybe Mog should have suffered, gone deaf, refused to eat, whimpered, become incontinent and done all the other distressing things pets do when they grow old. It might even have been a good idea to have Debbie, Mog's owner, accompany her mother, Mrs Thomas, in the car when she drives to the vet to have Mog put down, but maybe that's taking social realism too far.
I expect you know the story about the child who was given a marmalade kitten for her birthday at the beginning of the summer holidays and called it Paddy. Child and cat are inseparable, play together all day and share the one bed at night. With the holidays over, the child has to go back to boarding school and tears flow. "It's all right, darling, don't worry. I'll look after Paddy," says the mother. Of course, after a week or so she forgets, opens the door for the postman, the cat races out and is knocked down by a car. At half-term, when the child comes home, the mother says: "I'm so sorry. I've got bad news: Paddy is dead. He was run over." The child says nothing, unpacks, watches television, eats and goes to bed. She seems to have taken it incredibly well, and the mother confesses to her husband when he comes home late.
Next morning, the child comes downstairs and asks, by the way, where's Paddy? "He was run over. Remember?" asks the mother, surprised. The child freezes, pales, shrieks and begins to weep inconsolably. "But I told you about it when you came home from school," protests the mother. The child lifts her grief-stricken face and sobs: "But I thought you said Daddy!"
I wonder if Beatrix Potter ever thought of killing off Mrs Tiggywinkle. For my part, I would happily organise a coachload of countryside campaigners in green wellies to go to Cumbria and hunt down every last frog, fieldmouse and squirrel in the Potter canon. Hounds, ferrets, rifles, smoke-bombs, whatever it takes. Then we'd shove them into sacks, bring them to London and impale them on spikes, still in their blood-stained knickerbockers and gingham pinafores outside the offices of Puffin Books as a warning to children's authors to lay off indoctrinating kids with such anthropomorphic twaddle. I cannot stand animals wearing clothes. Underneath those yellow-check trousers I expect Rupert Bear was a perfectly reasonable fellow.
That's what my children liked so much about Judith Kerr's Mog. Mog was a character, a proper person, but she was never twee. Children brought up to believe that animals like wearing waistcoats and Bobby Shaftoe shoes grow up into the sort of adults who take dead pets to fur-and-feather funeral parlours instead of digging a hole for them at the bottom of the garden.
One of my first reporting jobs was to investigate a company called All God's Creatures in Yorkshire that advertised "death with dignity for domestic animals from goldfish to Rottweilers". The proprietor, a dead ringer for Uriah Heep, said that it was the only company to offer a comprehensive service catering to all denominations.
The previous week he had made up a coffin for a pony with brass handles and a Star of David on the lid. As far as he knew, it was the first Jewish Shetland pony on their books. They had had several Catholic hamsters and a Hindu snake, but most dogs and cats were C of E, though they had had quite a few Baptist rabbits. In their chapel of rest, a minister from the appropriate faith performed the funeral rites but, according to the brochure, the final resting place was across the Pennines in the Ribble Valley. The brochure showed a river meandering through pastures with what could have been gravestones in the distance, but the last that the bereaved owners saw of their pets was when the coffins were loaded into the back of a hearse and driven to Lancashire. It transpired that the hearse went round the corner, dumped the animals at a local tip and recycled the coffins, brass handles, Stars of David and all.
I got a front-page scoop headed "Ribblegate!" next to a picture of a coffin with a plaque that said: "In Loving Memory of Our Beloved Bunny, Cottontail". Beatrix Potter, with any luck, is turning in her grave.