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Melancholia

15 January 2017
Ben Pentreath
58 Comments

This was the first ever photograph I took of Percy…. 

and so, so sadly – this is the last. Taken the day before New Year. On Monday, a week ago, very early in the morning, poor little Percy was run over by a car on the road outside our house. Charlie and Mavis were already on their way down to Dorset, and I was in London, when we got the text from our neighbour Mandy, that a tabby cat had been found and everyone was trying to work out who he was. I don’t think I’ve been as sad in such a long time. It has felt like a whole week of real loss. Percy was a huge character, endlessly racing around the house, climbing up the curtains, causing mayhem. It feels very empty here without him. We loved him so much.  Henry was very sad too, looking everywhere for Percy, but I think he’s on the mend now.  And Mavis has lost a real friend too. The price of love is grief, as a real friend said to me during the week.  One day soon, I’ll post some more photos of dear, missed Percy, but not tonight.

On a cold, wintry Saturday, with a startlingly bright sun, we headed up to the Blackmore Vale for lunch with friends. But we left a bit early with the task in mind of seeing something new…. which, having looked at the map to see where we were going, was calling in to look at the ancient stone porch of Hammoon Manor, a house I’ve longed to see for years and years.
I should say that the house has been rather restored, recently, very beautifully too, but one can’t help missing the romance of the old black and white photographs of the house found in the Historical Monuments of Dorset –

Or in this photograph by Paul Nash, in the Tate, snapped in 1935, when the tiny attic dormer windows were just little holes in the great deep roof, and new brick gate piers announcing private property did not interrupt the long curve of the old low brick wall running beside the lane.

But it is still the dream house; the perfect old thatched manor, with its extraordinary stone porch added in the 1600s.

The church next door is fantastic…and tiny, appropriately for a parish that, in the 2013 census, had a population of 40.

It was also freezing.

I love how every church in Britain has a proper stash of plastic chairs.

Beautifully embroidered hangings on the altar cloth – incredibly fine work, I suspect Edwardian?

The graveyard is shady and empty.

After a lunch full of talk and hilarity, we went for a stroll around the garden and looked over long, flat fields to the looming mass of Hambledon Hill, which I last visited on drawing classes from school, aged 17, and which I long to visit again soon (something else for the something new list).

This morning, in grey, wet weather, Charlie Mavis and I went for a new walk. Well, one that Charlie had discovered a few days ago.

On the way we find ourselves passing the Kingston Russell Stone Circle, which actually I have visited before, when I first moved to Dorset, but have not been back to for years.

I read a little about the Stone Circle this evening. The largest surviving group in Dorset, the stones are Bronze Age, erected sometime between 2,500 and 900 B.C.  It was strange to think, for a moment, of such ancient settlement on this high chalk ridge, with views up and down the coast.  Meanwhile, Mavis went berserk, rushing around the stones and the fields.

The countryside is purely in tones of brown and green and grey, all other colour banished. 

We walked through a fodder beet field, golden glowing orange-yellow.

Sheep, with Kingston Russell House in the background. 

For the first time ever, Mavis jumped of her own accord into the river… finding her wet feet at last. Today, another lunch, with Connie and Tom and their friends Isla and Martin, just to the west of Bridport, north of Chideock, in a lovely bit of country completely new to us.  We came across the perfect Dorset cottage, tucked in a hidden valley with a view down to the shining sea at a fold in the hills.

And then up to Hardown Hill, a stretch of beautiful heathland with views up and down the coast.

Sun streamed through distant clouds, 

And far, far in the east, the Isle of Portland glowed briefly, floating between sea and sky, in the way that sometimes happens in the haze of summer in Greece.

We came across this bench, erected in 1936, 

And felt as if we were in a scene from Thomas Hardy.

The colours of sea, sunset and cloud took on the quality of abstract painting.

And we made our way back to Isla and Martin’s, for apple crumble and tea, and drove home contended at the end of a really happy day.

Our new discoveries, wherever they are, whatever they may be, are someone else’s familiar territory – a walk we make for the first time is a place that for others is their daily round; that beautiful porch we looked at yesterday for the first time is someone’s front door, and has been enjoyed daily in that tiny hamlet for four hundred years.

It’s good to remember how connected we all are, through time, and through space, at times like these.

58 comments on this post

Corneliasays:

I loved the welcome sign in church and the stone circle. I have lots of watercolour sketches of Dorset from my fathers sketchbooks from our family sketching holidays1970s80s. And the insides of churches. He was very good as he dated everything. The hill with the trees looks so familiar. My fav photo was Percy and Mavis in front of the fire on instagram, so sorry for your loss and hugs for the animals missing her too. So lovely as people are often only dog or cat people and why not be both and Percy was a perfect example of animals living in harmony. I also wanted to convey my mothers sympathy as I told her about Percy and although she could not afford your book my mother ordered it for her local library and then took it out to enjoy over Christmas day and saved it for the day. Her message was to tell you the book was wonderful and she enjoyed it so much. Thanks.

Deborahsays:

Condolences to you all. There is no rhyme nor reason for the where, when, how, and why of the ends of lives. Perhaps, to riff off what Richard said in the first comment, Percy had told you all he had been sent to tell, so his work was done. We’ve been there a number of times, and it hurts like merry hell, but Scamp, Monty, Lady, Etta, Fyodor, Lionel, Iris and Rhoda live eternally in our hearts. Sending big hugs.

Debrasays:

Dear Ben and Charlie when read your blog my heart sank such sad news about Percy. He was a beautiful tabby l know how much he was loved by you and everyone who knew him. He had a wonderful however short life with you l hope you and Charlie Mavis and Henry are coping with your loss. It seems unfair doesn’t it you don’t live near a busy road in fact it could not be more quieter. Hope you can remember Percy has a happy contented playful little cat.Sorry l can’t comment on your other beautiful images l will look again when lm not so sad.

EFsays:

Dear Ben and Charlie, I am so sorry for your loss. You gave Percy a wonderful life and were wonderful friends to him. We could see from your photos how very happy he was. He was a special cat, and I know that the loss is so hard.

To all of you who have shared your compassion and your stories about beloved companions gone on before us, sending you all big hugs. You made me cry tears of both sadness and happiness over my own memories and your shared ones.

Teddee Grace, what a fitting and beautiful thing you did for your friend. And, stepmothering can be so difficult sometimes, can’t it? I’m glad that you were able to give your friend a proper burial.

PP, when my parents sold their house, I had all our cats’ grave markers moved to my back yard. It is settling having those stones out there under the trees.

Ben, thank you for sharing Percy’s life with us. My condolences to you and Charlie and Mavis and Henry.

Nicolasays:

I’m reminded of the advice given to the fictional character Manuel in Faulty Towers upoon the loss of his beloved hamster, Basil: to mourn in proportion. I’ve had two cats, one who also only lasted a year, but I still think it was worth it. Thank you very much for the new stuff, especially the gorgeous Hamoon. Best, Nicola

glendasays:

i am sorry of your loss of your beloved percy, dear ben….and charlie and mavis. ya’ know they never leave us, sometimes we “think” we see them, and we “do”! thank you for sharing your still so civilized’ ancient wilderness(s), your photos are soul nurturers, mr. ben!

Charlotte A Fidlersays:

Dear Ben and Charlie, I am so sad to hear about Percy! I loved what those two adorable cats added to your life in the country. They were hilarious sometimes and calming at other times. I had the idea that you lived away from roads, but it just shows that even a quiet village road can be a danger for an adventurous cat. Having had my heart broken again and again by the loss of endless cats when I was growing up – even on a private road in Surrey! – I vowed to never let it happen again and keep our cats inside unless we are in the garden with them (but we have a busier village road). Night and early morning are apparently the worst time….

Gabriele Liechtensteinsays:

So sorry to hear about your loss! Nothing is more sad than to loose a beloved pet. My husband says that they expect us in heaven. And I believe this too. Must be a very sweet new angel!

Annsays:

I’m so sorry to hear about little Percy. He will be in your hearts forever. Your photos are amazingly beautiful and thank you for the Welcome Letter to St. Paul’s Church. We should all remember to live each day with it in mind.

Nicola Lawrencesays:

PS – I forgot to mention how heartwarming I thought the welcome letter at the Church was – someone has a sense of humour and a practical heart. x

Nicola Lawrencesays:

Dear Ben and Charlie – I was so sorry to read about the loss of Percy. You were both, individually and together so kind to me when we lost our beautiful Daphne in similar circumstances last year – and when we were also heartbroken – and it meant a lot. We are so fortunate to love and be loved by our pets (unconditionally – which i think is the very special part of it) – and it is so sad when they are lost to us, whether young or old. Your friend’s words are so true. The warmest of thoughts to you all – I’m sure Mavis and Henry would be feeling the loss too. xx

E-Jsays:

So sorry to hear about poor Percy. My heart goes out to you. I lost my first and most beloved cat to a hit and run on a windy December night just down the road from my cottage. I was amazed by the intensity of grief I experienced. But a bracing long walk in the countryside, even in the murky depths of a washed out winter, is a perfect antidote. Thanks, as always, for sharing.

Ceciliasays:

My condolences, this is very sad news about Percy. I lost a very young cat at about the same age to the same fate and it was a shocking loss. A good friend is hard to lose no matter how brief your time with each other. Thank you for continuing your lovely blog. It is a source of comfort and warmth is this crazy world.

Jacquisays:

I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. We lost our dear Scottie, Fergus, several years ago, and we buried him in our garden here in NZ where I still talk to him when I weed or plant, or admire the flowering snowdrops etc. Even when we moved here many years ago from Australia our young children then asked would we be bringing our buried dogs, Oscar and Gina. ( Imagine what Customs would have thought of that! ) Pets are such a special part of the family. They give us unconditional love, and we benefit in so many ways from their place in our homes and hearts. Thankyou for sharing your thoughts and photos. I especially loved the sign in the Church, just gorgeous!

Isissays:

Your wise friend reminded you of a truth that my boys discovered when we got our beloved border terrier 11 years ago. I will never forget the look on their faces when they told me that they loved Hamish so much but that he was going to die someday. That was quite a profound realization at the ages of 10 and 6, and one that they now know applies beyond the animal world as well. Condolences to all of you

Diane Keanesays:

Dear Ben, I am so sorry for your loss! How terrible to lose Percy so soon. He was a little character, I loved how he tried to comfort Mavis during Charlie’s absence. My own favorite cat ever, Dundee, a big marmalade tabby loaded with personality, simply disappeared one day. Like most former strays, he refused to stay in the house. The extensive woodlands nearby were a favorite haunt of his, and an animal control officer I spoke with when he went missing said it was known coyote territory and they will definitely go after wandering cats. (Why can’t the damn things cull the local deer herd, that ate my hydrangeas almost to the ground??) We will never know for certain what happened to Dundee and I sometimes daydream that he will suddenly turn up after five years. But, having loving pets in one’s life is worth the pain, and sometimes uncertainty, of their departures.

Wonderful photos of the Dorset countryside and skyscapes! Thank you for sharing those, as well as for your usual thoughtful commentary on life and times.

Hugs to you and C,

Diane

Rosesays:

As always your blog is full of beautiful words and photos. You always lift my spirits and lord do we need them in the U.S. thanks you so very much.

Isla Simpsonsays:

Loved poor Percy’s stripes, it is the only downside to having a pet – losing them.
The Church welcome sign is genius, I love a good sense of humour from a Vicar. So funny seeing another Isla mentioned, my Mum, Granny, Great Granny and Great Aunt were the only ones I knew growing up.

Jennifer Phillippssays:

Very sorry news about dear wee Percy…..as a pet owner, like many others words above, I know how hard it is to deal with such a loss, but he will remain with you in photos and memories…..always nice to read your thoughtful words.

Chris & Mikesays:

Hello Ben & Charlie

We are very saddened by the news of Percy. Having experienced your beautiful home and garden in Dorset when we met you in June last year, we are certain that Percy had a beautiful life in such an idyllic location, albeit a short life. We hope your broken hearts mend soon. Chris & Mike, Christchurch, NZ.

Kathsays:

I’m sitting having coffee in a small historic mining village called Arrowtown in Central Otago New Zealand reading your blog. Loved that place you’ve just visited.
So wrenching to read that your mog Percy has been killed. I know how you are feeling. Great that you do have happy photos of him.
I read all your blogs and long to get back to the UK. I’ve never been in your region but on my must visit list. And also to visit the London store.
I had your latest book sent out to me. It’s fantastic. You do have the ideal job.
Thanks again for your most interesting writings and photos..
Your house and gardens are gorgeous.

Judith Haxtonsays:

Ben, I am so sorry about Percy however your picture of the stone with Charlie and Mavis is him forever.

Laurensays:

Sending my deepest condolences on your loss of dear Percy from Vermont. The price of love indeed.

PPsays:

Oh the absolute heartbreak! Poor sweet Percy -and poor you, Charlie, Mavis and Henry. Our beloved Bingo went the same way nearly two years ago and I finally plucked up the courage to accept another cat into our menagerie only two months ago. Within hours of Mrs Tibbs’ arrival, I knew I should have done it months and months ago. It’s never about forgetting or replacing but I’m sure when you are ready you will never regret expanding your family to fill the void caused by the loss of Percy. It’s very much like having children – waiting for the arrival of the second, you wonder how you your heart will every stretch enough to love them as much as the first. But that’s the wonder of the infinite capacity of the human heart to love. And as your friend so wisely said grief is the price of love – be it for our two or four-legged friends – and one so worth paying.
My amazing grandmother alway used to say no garden can ever be complete without its own pet graveyard. I am just so sorry that you have to start yours with one so young and not an old creaky boy at the end of a very long and happy life.

Mary Haynessays:

So sorry about beautiful little Percy.

Your dead tree photo very Paul Nash.

Jagnansays:

So very sad about Percy. He was a beautiful cat.

I love the idea of visiting something new each week. You are a real trouper, Ben. Thank you so much for sharing your travels with us.

Susansays:

So sorry for your loss of Percy. I know there is a hole in everyone’s heart.

mlleparadissays:

so so sorry about the little mog. so hard to keep them safe – even in a lovely world like yours. all our sympathy and best wishes from our animal house to yours.

Shelbysays:

Thank you so much for this beautiful and detailed blog that gives so many of us such pleasure. And, thank you, too, to your reader correspondents for their sensitive commentary. Both renew my faith in humanity in the face of unpleasant and mostly incomprehensible times in the States. Although I never knew Percy and haven’t had the pleasure of knowing the rest of his little family personally, I do mourn his loss as one of your larger family of readers.

Jeb Bonnersays:

I had a photo of Percy, half in the planting bed, half on the grass, stretched out, smiling in the sun, on my office door, to illustrate the concept of work/life balance. He will continue to be an inspiration. And my sympathies to you all.

MTSSsays:

So many words already expressed so well. I learnt last week that this happened and, like everybody else, I’m so terribly sorry. You tickle their ears and whisper words of warning, but young cats are skitty and silly and daft. It’s so quiet where you are, it’s truly bad luck. I had generations of unscathed cats in London, but within 6 weeks of moving to the country, one of our cats got clipped. Fortunately for him he was lucky. Issue a stiff warning to Henry, but let him roam, he is a country cat

Winona Stewartsays:

What a beautiful beautiful post. Your blog actually enriches the quality of my life, which is already amazingly blessed. So sorry about Percy….. His short life was it seems a very happy one. The photos, as always, are incredible. Thank you thank you…

Brendasays:

Please, please do get the book, “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney”. It is a children’s book about a little boy and when his cat dies they bury him in the back yard. He is so sad so his mom tells him to think of ten good things about Barney the cat. You will laugh and cry about the things he thinks of but the tenth one is the best! We have had two cats die years apart but I always get out this book and it brings me comfort. It can be purchased on Amazon and it is a thin paperback. So very sorry about your kitty.

Teddee Gracesays:

I am so sorry for your loss. I, too, had a rescue cat that was a full-grown neutered male when I adopted him, accustomed to roaming free, who was hit by a car. It is difficult, if not impossible, to try to convert a full-grown male cat to being a house cat, but I have always felt guilty about his death. He was one-of-a-kind, part Maine Coon, I like to think. He died while I was out of state visiting my mother for our Thanksgiving holiday. My stepchildren had unthinkingly shut him out of the house for long enough that he was trying desperately to get back in to eat, heard one of them returning in one of our cars and tried to dash across the street from the neighbors’ yard and got clipped. The neighbors buried him in their backyard, but when I returned I could not rest until I retrieved his body, which appeared unharmed, cleaned it and reburied it in our backyard, wrapped in my favorite robe which was also his that he loved to knead. I rested easy after that. I hope your lovely outing provided some solace. Such a beautiful country.

sarahsays:

Dear Ben

I meant to say in my previous post that, unless you know already, there’s a private view at 5 on Sat 28th for Rose Hilton’s celebratory show of work at the very special Tremenheere Gardens, overlooking St Michael’s Mount – despite a long drive, a nice weekend distraction admist a sad week would be a treat to look forward to, and some daffodils be out by then too down there in the warmer air. It would be nice to say hello in person if you go!
best wishes

Sara-Janesays:

So so sorry Ben and Charlie for your loss.
My old soldier Gorgie (a black and white cat that was rescued from Battersea Dogs Home many moons ago) died yesterday at the age of 22 – and whilst he lived a long life compared to Percy; the wrench has been unbelievably painful.
A lot of tears still to come for me too.
I often read your blog as we I’ve just around the corner from you in London and are slowly restoring an ancient Somerset stately home close by to Long Bredy.
When you pass by Montecute drop in for a cup of tea!!

judithsays:

my condolences to you all; so sorry.
With my heart in Dorset I am, of course, a lover of Thomas Hardy. One of his poems is ‘Last Words to a Dumb Friend’ (cat) beginning – Pet was never mourned as you, Purrer of the spotless hue –
too long to write here but just lovely to read. I recommend…

danasays:

our fur babies bring so much love that the grief is bound to be enormous when it comes.I’m very sorry for your loss. It helps me to remember the quote from Dr.Seuss, “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”.

Juliannasays:

I’m sorry about little Percy. He will be missed by your readers as well.
Thank you for the beautiful photos of Dorset. I love the grays and greens. Also love the little church. That posted letter enough to get me there for a visit.

sarahsays:

Dear Ben, further to my earlier post, I meant to mention, in case you hadn’t heard, there’s a lovely sounding exhibition of Rose Hilton’s work and a private view at 5pm on Sat 28th Jan at Tremenheere gardens, a special place overlooking St Michael’s Mount, tucked away in the fold of the hills.

A nice treat, despite the long drive, is in order after such a sad week, and it would be very nice to say hello in person. Like Dorset, it’s great to go out of season too.

Valeriesays:

So sorry for your loss. Its always devastating to lose an animal, especially a young one, and unexpectedly. Last time I had to say goodbye to one of my cats I went down to the village church, sat there, and sobbed and sobbed! A bit crazy, but it helped. Take care x

Angelasays:

I’m very sorry to hear about Percy. That is tragic. My condolences Ben and Charlie. xx

Duffysays:

“There isn’t enough darkness in all the world to quench the light of one small candle”
I know your wee candle ,Percy, will glow always brightly in your memories.

Virginiasays:

Dear Ben, I look forward to every picture and description you put out for all of us adoring public. I am so very sorry to hear about Percy. So devastating for you, Charlie, Mavis and Henry. Every time we loose a pet and throughout our 45 years together we have lost quite a few, we are so touched by the grief of our other pets. I am so very sorry – I always told our children that their hearts would grow to love another animal we would bring home. However, the truth is no one replaces the lost love. But, the heart does grow to love another. Sending hugs.

Clementinesays:

Sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing those witty and beautiful welcoming words you found in this little church.
Clementine, from Provence, a French reader of your blog…on every Monday !

Barbara Shamblinsays:

My heart goes out to you and Charlie. You will have a broken heart for a long time, and I am so sorry to read about it.

Georginasays:

As the current owner of the Manor House and church warden of the church in Hammoon I am thrilled that you stopped in lovely Hammoon. Do knock on the door if you are ever passing again.

Katesays:

I’m so sorry to hear about Percy. He had wonderful owners and couldn’t have had a lovelier cat life.
So sad – my sincere condolences.

Annasays:

The loss of a dearly loved animal leaves a big hole. Although I’ve had cats since, I’ll never forget a particular one that held a special place in the household. Commiserations to you and thank you, as ever, for your wonderful photographs and writing.

Deesays:

So sorry to hear about your loss of little Percy… Such a difficult time. When the same happened to our family we felt devastated. Hopefully you will all comfort each other, humans and animals. Thank you for your beautiful pictures, as always.

Sarahsays:

Im so sorry to hear about Percy, how really awful for you all – my cat Millie died in December and I was absolutely heartbroken, still am. My commiserations to you all, very sad indeed.

On another note, the exhibition of medieval embroidery at the V & A is absolutely exquisite, hugely recommended . Thanks so much for the blog, will mentally note that walk, looks lovely
x

Richardsays:

Beautiful pictures, beautiful cat… Terribly sorry for your loss. But remember whatever your cat has told you
Will remain in your heart forever >/\../\<

Meadowlasssays:

How sad that such a beautiful cat should have his life cut short. But thank you for such beautiful photographs and words about Percy and Dorset and for sharing them with after such a shock. I don’t suppose you will ever not feel sad when you think about Percy but I hope the thoughts will be less painful as time goes on. Pets are not humans but they are never also just an animal and they enrich our lives.

David Sanderssays:

Ben your grief over the loss of Percy, really hit home with me. When I lost my cat Mandy, I was overwhelmed with grief, to such an extent, that it was a bit frightening. I share your appreciation of old black and white photographs; they have such an atmospheric quality, that convey a real sense of history, and yes “romance.” Loved your beautiful snaps of the sheep gently grazing in the heavenly pastures of Dorset – so relaxing for body and soul.

Rachelsays:

Sincere condolences on the loss of Percy. Your final photo of him is so touching.

Hilarysays:

It was so sad to hear about the loss of little Percy. Through the power of instagram and your wonderful blog, it was clear to see what a character he was, and how much he was loved – reassuring Mavis when she was missing Charlie so much. I think Percy had the best life any little cat could have wished for.

Mikesays:

My condolences to you,Charlie & Henry. Losing dear Percy is heart wrenching- all of us pet lovers have found ourselves in this unhappy circumstance at least once. May your happy memories be a balm for your grief.

This Yank really appreciates your attention to architectural detail and patterns in nature. Having toured the leylines and standing stones in the English countryside many years ago in my youth, this post was particularly delightful even though it was tinged with grief. Many thanks for this blog which has provided me with countless hours of enjoyment and inspiration.

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