Although it would be something of a stretch to suggest that The Marmalade Shore was inspired by real events, many of its characters were very much occasioned by their eponymous analogues. Thus, “any resemblance to real felines, living or dead, is entirely deliberate” could have been included on the copyright page; and, by virtue of the species-ism ingrained in our systems of justice, without fear of vexatious legal action on behalf of my literary subjects. Still, I did not wish to embarrass them.

It is therefore not without melancholy that I report that the last of the magnificent creatures that inspired the characters depicted in The Marmalade Shore – dear Roly – departed through the great celestial cat-flap in May 2010. May heavenly winged mice ferry him to his rest... His putative guardians, one of whom has a deep rooted predilection for the colour purple, are understandably desolate; I likewise mourn the end of this era (though Conker consoles me greatly; he positively brims with ginger powers).

Here then, in memoriam, but the merest sketch at the “real lives” of four of the principal characters, an homage sadly but inevitably hamstrung by the limited perspective of their biographer.


Ah, dear Bryan. I was witness to his birth, sole witness, in fact. He arrived the first amongst four brothers and appeared initially to be pink, an undignified but potentially lucrative prospect. His mother was well-intentioned but ill-equipped both experientially and intellectually for her responsibilities; consequently he was not infrequently ferried about the house by his ears. Rambunctious from the start, he evolved into something of a bully, picking on the weak whilst recoiling from more vigorous colleagues. Amongst humans he was, however, almost universally revered; amongst women, specifically, he exuded a Byronic charisma... “He walks in beauty like the night; he emanates a golden radiance, like the dawn,” exalted my mother. “Bryan: bellissimo!” purred una donna. Epic verse was dashed off in his honour. Yet it was to my father that he bonded most closely, trailing him from room to room and once mewling in quasi-infantile distress when he perceived him threatened by my mother’s histrionics.

Beyond a standard feline diet, Bryan was particularly fond of both cheddar cheese and crisps; indeed he could detect the popping of a bag of ready-salted from at least 100 feet, and would at once gallop to the source to prey on their savoury bounty. For a good size tom, his mew was high-pitched and mildly effeminate. His gingerness was pure and unparalleled; yet while my mother delighted in his cryptic, hieroglyphic markings, my wife was to describe him as “blotchy,” a slur which compelled us to cover his ears when uttered and created something of a rift on the matter.

As with his life, his eventual demise was rife with melodrama. My wife and I were called to his bedside on no less than four separate occasions over the course of perhaps eighteen months before he finally slipped the earthly knot, bouncing back on each previous occasion, if not to rude health, then at least to a seemly and dignified decline.


Spoon’s nominal guardians were my wonderful friends, Helen Grundy and Ian Rayson. Helen and I studied together at Sussex and both Ian and her took pity on a penniless student by inviting me around for tea and dinner and to enjoy the company of their cats, Spoon and ‘Dite. Spoon was a magnificent creature, large and imposing from a feline perspective; the terraces of Hanover were his alone. Urbane and insouciant, he had a grace incongruent with his size and would on occasion succumb to a stroke or a huggle that was, truth be told, some distance beneath his dignity.

Gertie Tabbytail

My mother found Gertie in a pet shop in Sutton, fell in love and brought her home (though, now I reflect on the matter, I expect my sister had a hand in it). Gertie was our first cat and frankly I was against the idea. Until I saw her, that is, leaping between the chairs under the breakfast table: it was love at first sight. A wild, feral creature, apt to attack humans at the least opportunity, she was also extremely intelligent and fetching in an unconventional way, combining a white front, brown tabby body, silver tabby tail and the odd ginger patch - most everyone commented admiringly on her markings, often prior to her nipping off one of their fingers.

I could never understand why Gertie was intimidated by Bryan, who was her inferior in every respect other than gingerness and non-reflexive bravado. She would flee at his advance despite the fact that a single, quick swipe of her paw would have put pay to his nonsense in an instant.

She lived to the ripe old age of 21, indeed outliving her junior ginger nemesis.

Lady Alicia Von Kat

A diminutive, tortoiseshell creature with a preternaturally short tail, Alice was neither bright nor fully appreciated. Born much to the embarrassment of her pedigree grandmother (a British Blue) and associated human guardians, she was the likely lovechild of the itinerant ginger tom. My sister engineered her adoption by extolling the theory that she would be drowned if we hesitated. As she emerged from kittenhood she was immediately courted by at least two of the local tom cats, and when she was brought to the vet’s to be spade at nine months old we were informed that she was already pregnant. Bryan was the initial product of this untimely union, one of a litter of four, and but eleven months younger than his mother.

Alice’s primary reaction to motherhood might best be characterised as confusion. In the unlikely event that she noticed one of her offspring nearing danger she would pluck them up by their ears and immediately transport them to a more hazardous location, dropping them several times en route.

So much for her faults; these aside, she was the most loving and adorable creature. I once mistakenly shut her in the airing cupboard overnight. While other cats would have mewed vociferously for their freedom, later greeting their rescuer with a vengeful swipe, Alice patiently awaited her fate, making the best of the situation and purring all the while, audible even before the door was reopened, and not the least bit out of sorts for her temporary stint in captivity.

Alice lived a full life, succumbing though to blindness in her failing years. This disability held her back far less than might be imagined, though it did afford her son the opportunity to bat her at whim and without fear of reprisal.