I paused a while this week to pay my own tribute to Vince. It is a month since this much-loved stalwart of our local community died – left for dead by the side of the road after being hit by car.
In the days following his tragic and sudden demise, the floral tributes and messages of grief slowly built at his favourite bench on York's Bishopthorpe Road, where he would pause to watch the world go by and catch up with some of his many friends. When I visited the other day, however, I found the tributes had been stripped down to a single drooping flower and a plaque bearing the simple but eloquent epitaph: Vince – Everybody loved him.
I would like to think that when it is my turn to go something similar might sum up the general sense of despair and universal fond remembering that surrounds my passing. Unlikely I know, because I am merely human and Vince, of course, was a cat. Much of Vince's appeal, it seems, lay in his habit of following people to their homes as they got off the bus after work or escorting them down to the parade of shops. Being a cat that hated being indoors, needless to say he got into his fair share of scrapes and his owners conceded that he had used up all nine lives by the time the fatal collision occurred.
What got me thinking about Vince was news from another part of the North that a memorial has been planned to honour Bee Bee, a little black hen which lived along the roadside on the busy A66 in Cumbria. Another small, lamented victim of Britain's overcrowded roads, Bee Bee died on the stretch of highway she had made her own after escaping from her allotment home at Great Broughton, near Cockermouth. Motorists used to toot their horn each time they passed her by as she strolled around pecking in the dust and more than 200 joined a memorial site on Facebook to pay their respects.
The subject of animals has made a surprising return to my own household in recent days. Having deftly palmed off the family cat when we moved north last year we have been happily pet-free for the last 12 months. Twinkle, as she was rather lamely christened by my three-year-old daughter, had been taken in on a whim after she was discovered lost in the street one night shortly before Christmas. She in turn was replacing a previous cat that on a similarly rash impulse I had acquired as a tiny kitten on returning from the student union bar one lunch time in the early 1990s. Mau Mau followed me around over the following years and escorted me through all the major landmarks in early adult life – graduation, first job, marriage and children.
But when her time was up I felt only fleeting sorrow and vowed never to share my home with a non-human again. So it was with some surprise and not a little horror that I found myself the other day agreeing to get a dog.
The argument for, my canine-loving friends explained, was the unquestioning companionship and joy afforded by this faithful addition to the family. I was more convinced by the prospect of it persuading my daughters to overcome their terror of those leaping hellhounds we meet in the park and perhaps occasionally even leave the house on the lure of taking it for a walk through some of the wonderful countryside that surrounds us.
Since agreeing to this – incredibly – I have found three dogs on two separate occasions running loose in the street outside my house. Both times I have done the right thing and contacted the RSPCA but it seems a higher power is intent on matchmaking me with a suitable pooch.
At present we are engaged in a phony war of pre-dog ownership as we must until my younger daughter is out of nappies before we take the plunge, dog-wise. In the meantime our eldest child has had to make do with two snails in a Tupperware box which she found at her granny's and which she grazes on the hosta leaves that we have carefully guarded all summer from savaging gastropod teeth.
I fear the snails – rather like the stick insects I kept in a sweet jar as a boy – will prove a passing phase for her. But one thing is haunting me. When they are gone – how should we remember them?