They say you should never meet your heroes and I'd agree with that, unless your hero happens to be a) a cat-lover, or/and b) a keyboard-playing man of the people, who once sneakily ate a whole curry live on stage and cheerfully turns up at in your local town every December to turn on the Christmas lights. With this credo in mind, I recently played golf with the prog-rock raconteur Rick Wakeman. I'd always thought of Rick as a Dog Bloke, but it turns out that he and his wife have three rescue cats, all of which wake Rick up at quarter to six every morning by crawling all over his still-impressive seventies rock mane. Rick kept me entertained with lots of rock'n'golf anecdotes*, not all of which were about cats, but nearly all of which left me laughing so much that I spent much of the round in serious danger of falling into the course's numerous greenside bunkers. He also told me one very sad story, which concerned Bob, the club cat at Diss Golf Club, the Suffolk course local to the two of us where Rick is now a member and which I used as a practice facility whilst conducting my year as the UK's most inappropriate golf professional for my book Bring Me The Head Of Sergio Garcia.
Bob was not a conventional golf club cat, in that the club didn't own him in any official sense (not, of course, that you can own any cat in an official sense). He simply wandered over from a house in the nearby village one day, liked what he saw, and decided to stick around. There was always at least one bowl of milk, wet cat food or biscuits waiting for him outside the pro shop, and during 2006 I spent many an afternoon sitting on the practice ground tickling his neck: time I should really have been devoting to a different kind of grooming - that of my own swing in preparation for trying to qualify for The Open. Had it not been for the fact that the editor of Bring Me The Head Of Sergio was a card-carrying mogophobe (and, very sensibly, saw little correlation between overfed tabbies and the rigours of PGA life), I imagine Bob might have played a fairly prominent part in its early chapters.
I've previously written about how the not particularly animal-friendly nature of my favourite sport can frequently put me off it, but I was far from the only golfer at Diss who was regularly cheered up by Bob's bright-eyed presence. Further proof of this is the fact that, when he was facing an operation a year ago, the club had a whip round, and came up with a total sum £1200 greater than the one required.
When I stopped playing at Diss, last year, I knew I'd miss its signature hole, the vertiginous dogleg par four 13th, not to mention its par three predecessor, where I'd had my first hole in one, but I also knew I'd miss Bob more. Heartbreakingly, though, a few months ago Bob was hit by a car on the road that bisects the course. According to Rick, by the time a kindly member had rushed him to the vets, there was nothing to be done to save him. But as the news of his demise funneled its way down the fairways, each and every golfer there - a sizable club tournament had been in progress at the time - abandoned his or her round and made their way back to the clubhouse in tribute. Nobody wants to be reduced to a wibbling, pathetic globule of fruit preserve in front of a titan of mystical man rock, less than an hour after making his acquaintance, but as Rick conveyed this information, it took all my steeliest inner resolve not to break down right there, over my tricky eight foot par putt on the fourteenth green - even more so when Rick added that he had recently inaugurated a competition called The Bob Cup in memoriam. I asked if I might be permitted to play in it. "I'll see what I can do," he said, "but it's heavily oversubscribed."
More sad news: my condolences go out to littlecatdiaries reader Jane, whose beautifully dunderheaded Mitchell (see below) was killed by a car recently. Those who followed littlecatdiaries' recent Most Witless-Looking Cat competition will remember Mitchell as one of the three charismatic winners. I never met him in person, but felt like I knew him, so wonderfully, effervescently bonkers did he appear in Jane's photos. Anyone who, like me, read Jane's Facebook status updates with a lump in their throat in the days following his disappearance would have been left in no doubt whatsoever that here was a cat who was, in his unjustly curtailed life, truly loved and cherished.
*If Rick is reaching his anecdotage, rest assured it is a vastly more entertaining, discerning kind than that experienced by the rest of his musical generation.