The tale of Sergei Montague Stewart

it’s been ages since I posted on this blog. if truth be known, I have started at least 9 or 10 times, writing about various different things in what has been a pretty insane year for planet earth. Trump, Brexit, Terrorism on UK shores, election chaos, & the unbelievable challenge of looking after 2 kids under the age of 3.

I got between 30-80% through each attempt before ditching it, thinking that mostly they were negative rants that did no one any favours if they read them. And didn’t really fill me with joy either. In terms of my own mood, it’s been a tumultuous time with Lola’s birth, a job change and the usual other stuff but overall I’d say I’ve been fairly good for someone with my history. And then a few days ago, Monday 19th June another life changing event happened, when our cat, Sergei Montague Stewart, was killed in a hit & run outside our home. I’m well aware that at least a few of you reading this will think that a pet dying is a wee bit sad, but “hardly something to dwell on, get a grip etc” especially given the other news in the world, and that’s fine, thats your opinion but to be honest I’m not writing this for anyone else. This is purely for me in the hope that it gets me out of the feeling of being completely lost right now. From the outside, he was a domestic pet, like millions of others, but to me he was so much more and even I didn’t realise it till now.

My wife has always wanted a cat. 2 actually, but we lived in a rented flat with no garden for a long time, and I was firmly in the “Dogs are better” camp. I gradually softened this view, mainly due to 2 cats my brother’s wife had, and the fact that cat’s don’t need to be taken for a walk on a freezing wet November night, and when we moved out of central London to a home with a garden, the pressure was back on from Ann-Marie. Then of course our first pregnancy came quickly and that was that. Until of course we lost Dexter. A few months later I arranged a surprise visit for us to pick a new Russian blue kitten, and by June we had a 2 month old ball of grey fur that we named Sergei Montague Stewart. (I’d originally envisaged having 2 cats and naming them Montague & Capulet, but when we agreed to stick to one it wouldn’t quite work) so we opted for a name in line with his heritage. His Dad was called Napoleon and his mum Xena so he was clearly cat royalty.

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Sergei was never an ordinary cat. for a start, I didn’t just buy him because I’d finally given in to Ann-Marie (that’s not a “I’m not under the thumb” style boast, I’ll happily admit I’ve given in for plenty of other reasons) but it was mainly something to boost her spirits during what was a pretty awful time for us both. I say boost “her” spirits, I was pretty keen on having a cat by now too, but even then I did not think I’d grow as attached as I did to him.

The responsibility of keeping this unbelievably cute tiny fur ball alive, and the joy of having him around were a huge part of getting us back into some form of normality, and while it was clearly never a replacement for Dexter, he became known as a fur baby to Ann-Marie. which sounds a bit crazy cat lady, but she was already married and didn’t wear fingerless gloves, so she was bit more comfortable with using the phrase than a single 30-something may have been. As far as we were concerned, the 3 of us were the Stewart family. One of the first behavioural traits he had was to make sure he was touching us when he got comfy or slept. So he’d often sit in between us on the sofa, with a back paw stretched out to touch me, and a front paw stretched out to touch AM. He was literally bringing us together!

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It wasn’t till much later that I started to really suffer from depression, which I’ve obviously discussed on this blog. It’s kinda the reason the blog exists, and one of the horrible but common themes of the illness is not being able to share it with anyone. to keep everything to yourself, and not reach out to even those close to you. Something I no doubt did as well, but the one exception would be Mr Montague Stewart. When Ann-Marie had gone to bed, I’d sit up and Sergei would sit with me. Never judging (well, that’s not quite true, cat’s always judge you, its part of their charm) but even after a shit day at work, then a phone call about issues from back in Glasgow to make things worse, I could always count on 30 mins of company with Sergei to bring me back level, and make me forget the worst of it all. Ann-Marie would even joke about how I seemed more excited to see him when I got home from work!

So that’s a bit of background as to why he was more than just a pet. I could go on about how utterly devastated we are that he’s gone, get all morbid, and ruin my new macbook with a river of tears. I could go on about how at the moment the house & the garden don’t feel like ours anymore, because they’re missing their main feature. I could get teary at the fact that every single day I woke up at home, my morning routine involved going downstairs and opening the living room door and saying “Morning Sergei”, sometimes before I’d even said it to any of the family, and that since Monday I still open the door each morning and look for him on the couch.

I say “I Could” but basically I just have done all of the above haven’t I, ah the joys of being the writer & editor. And yes I am teary now as I type this but what I was trying to say was I’m not gonna spend the rest of this post talking about the sadness of it all. Sergei’s entire existence in our lives came about because we needed something to brighten us up at an awful time, to lift us out of a very dark place, and if his last act was to plunge us back into that place then that’d be a massive waste and not a fitting way to remember him.

So as I sit here in our back garden, in the dark, in the middle of a heatwave, with Sergei’s arch enemy sitting at the back fence (they fought like cat and, erm, cat) I’m trying to think of some of the funny or endearing stuff he did, to record it here. Maybe when Milo is older and he asks about the pictures we have of him and a cat, he can read here about Sergei.

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One of the worst/best things that happened was when we were gradually introducing him to the outside world, as we didn’t think it was fair to keep him inside all the time. about a month into it, he never came back home. I left our patio doors open all night and left the light on, in case he came back when we went to bed. (he hadn’t worked out the cat flap yet) It would have been a burglars jackpot but it was a risk we were willing to take. With no sign of him the next morning our hearts sank. I left for work on a dreary morning feeling miserable, already late as I’d gone out looking again in the morning. Almost at the end of my commute, Ann-Marie phoned. She’d found him!!! trapped in lock-up 50 yards from the house but she couldn’t get into it. I about turned and headed back, pausing only to email my boss to tell him I’d be extremely late, as I had to go rescue my kitten(!) I had to change my suit after climbing up and into the hole in the roof of the lock up, but we were absolutely delighted to have him back. When AM had heard his faint meow’s from our garden, she tried to follow them, and when she got to the lock ups, another cat was sitting outside meowing back, as if it had been sitting there with Serg, so as to direct any rescuers. It was to be the first of many a scare for us, sitting at midnight worried that he hadn’t come home, only for our worry to turn to anger/relief when he eventually turned up, like a wido teenager breaking his curfew.

Another quality of Sergei’s was his capacity for turning even the most anti-cat person into an admirer. Our neighbours on one side have lived there for 40 years. We get on like a house on fire, which given they live next door is not an ideal analogy but there you go. Anyway Ferd has always shooed cats out of his garden the minute they came in. A complete Cat free zone. Sergei , however,took their mostly open back door as a clear invitation and ended up a regular feature in their house. Sometimes found chilling on their bed upstairs, when he’d got bored of the chat in our house. Their granddaughter Shan, became another of his BFF’s.

I guess, much like your own kids, you probably always think your own cat/dog is one of the greatest and certainly most pretty/handsome but rarely did a visitor to ours not comment on how nice he was. In fact, on his 1st Halloween with us right about when we were debating about letting him out on his own or not, we had some trick or treaters come to the door. About 8 kids of various ages, and a couple of parents. I’m not one to judge, but lets just say they weren’t from the posh end of the borough… My wife opened the door to them and was handing out sweets, when I popped out to see them all with Sergei in my hand. Cue lots of “awwwws” and cooing before a little girl at the back, no more than 7 years old chimed in with “Oooooh, I bet that cat’s expensive“. Not cute, not beautiful. “expensive”. Suddenly we could hear the Vet’s words ringing in our ears “be warned, if you let him become an outside cat, he’ll be a sought after breed”. Anyway, after the artful dodger’s comment, I hid the mini mars bars I had to offer and let them have a satsuma each instead, figuring that the mere sight of fruit would have them running back to their Sunny D stained flat, thereby keeping Sergei safe from their clutches.

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I’m glad that Milo at least got to be Sergei’s annoying little brother for some time too, even if he won’t remember it himself. Milo’s constant switching between being too affectionate (trying to kiss Sergei) and being over boisterous (lots of poking at him with toys) meant Sergei was always kept on his toes. but he always came back for more, in that weird way you do with a sibling rivalry. It always amazed me how Sergei would know to treat Milo differently to us too. One particular time when Milo was annoying Sergei with a drumstick, Sergei had had enough, but before retaliating, he looked at me, almost as if for permission, before taking Milo’s wrist between his jaws. but he then, really slowly dragged his fangs gently down Milo’s arm about an inch, without breaking the skin. Given that he cut me easily, ¬†plenty of times when we were playing, with a lesser movement, I don’t have any doubt that he intentionally dialled it back with Milo. It was still enough to be considered a warning shot right enough and Milo stopped his provocation. I’d like to say he learned a lesson, but right up until the day before Sergei finally left us, Milo was still tormenting. I also remember 2 weeks ago, hearing Milo tell Sergei to get off the bed, and if he didn’t “I’ll count to 3″….”1,2…..3…RIGHT, THAT’s IT”. Basically the routine AM and I give to Milo when he’s in trouble. it was very cute to hear, but also hit home how good it was having Sergei around, for Milo (then eventually Lola to learn things)

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I’ll be honest, as I continue to type this, its not having the massive positive impact I hoped it would. I’m still genuinely gutted and think I will be for a long time. much longer than those of you who aren’t pet people will understand, but it’s a start. There is one other hope though. again in the theme of this blog, the other way I find to get myself out of a mental cloud, is through exercise and it just so happens I’m currently training again for another big event. Cycling this time, and it’s a stage of a the tour de France then the RideLondon event. more info can be found here (including a chance to donate to my still birth charity)¬†JustGiving for Dexter. It’s less than a month away, so if you want to donate, do it now!!

Anyway, last week I had an awful training event and realised I wasn’t fit enough and needed to pick up my training. After Monday I thought the only way I know how to react to testing events in life is to go bury myself in some ridiculous physical challenge. (yes I know it’s weird, but physical pain takes the mind of the mental anguish it seems so I just go with it) So we’re at Friday now and I’ve just had the best midweek of training I’ve had for ages. I’ve got 2 lbs closer to my target race weight too, so if I was to really scrape the barrel for some kind of positive, then due to Monday’s events, Sergei has just become the the greatest coach ever by sacrificing himself for me. He’s the Obi Wan to my Luke. he’s become more powerful than anyone could ever imagine etc. (for reasons of transparency, I should admit that I’m a little intoxicated now and have been for the last paragraph. it’s probably quite evident to be fair.)

So there you have it. Its a bit jumbled I know, and it’s only scrapes the edges of why despite being “only a cat” Sergei made such an impact on me and my family’s life, but I hope it at least goes some way to explaining how his untimely passing has absolutely knocked me for six. Whether he even knew it or not, he played a massive part in my own mental recovery from Dexter’s loss. I’m gutted that Lola will never know the personality of our little furry soviet, but the 4 years he spent with us were awesome and I’m eternally grateful to him for turning me into a male version of the crazy cat woman cliche. (and being a cyclist, I do actually own a lot of fingerless gloves…)

Enjoy your time up there with Dexter, Sergei!

Graeme.