It’s a year to the day since my old feline friend Columbo passed away. I still miss him, and have indeed felt his absence as strongly as ever over the last few weeks. Still, going through photographs and other memorabilia recently has not been without its therapeutic value. Here are a few pictures over the years, showing how Columbo stayed with me through many changes of hairstyle! Most of the pictures were taken in my flat in Bethnal Green during the 90s; the last one in my house in Beeston, Nottingham. The antepenultimate picture shows Columbo with my mum…Follow @telescoper
Archive for Columbo
According to the WordPress stats, the old blog seems to have been unusually popular this week. I don’t really know why, as I don’t think I’ve posted anything of any great consequence. Perhaps it’s just a random fluctuation. Or maybe they’re calculating things differently. I don’t know. I always find it strange that so many people read my ramblings because I’ve no idea who most of them are, as only a small fraction leave a trace in the form of a comment. Anyway, it’s very flattering. Vanity is, of course, the only reason for writing a blog.
I’m not really in the mood to post very much today, but there have been a couple of things that I thought I’d mention, just for the record. At least occasionally, this blog serves as a sort of diary which might be useful in the future when I need to remember when certain things happened.
Yesterday I noticed that a new comment appeared on a post about my old cat Columbo who died nearly three months ago. That comment got me thinking about the old moggy and I finally plucked up courage to do something I’ve been putting off since he passed away. The vet had given me a yellow plastic “sharps” bucket to dispose of the hypodermic syringes that I used to inject him with insulin. These buckets have to be disposed of carefully, by the vet, as the used needles are contaminated with insulin and so can’t be just thrown out with the rubbish. However, the last time I went to the vet was sufficiently traumatic that I’ve not been able to take this article back there, until today.
It was a lovely morning, actually, as I re-traced Columbo’s last journey. The streets were full of saturday morning shoppers enjoying the fine weather. I walked to the vet in quite high spirits and handed over the container, thanking the staff once again for all they did for Columbo and apologizing for taking so long to return it. It was only when I was coming back home that I felt a bit emotional, remembering what it felt like the last time I made the return journey, without Columbo.
So that’s one thing. The other was a more upbeat event, but also a farewell of some sort. Yesterday I chaired a PhD examination in the School of Physics & Astronomy. We’re quite unusual in Cardiff in that a thesis examination here involves a Chair in addition to the Internal and External Examiners (and the candidate, of course). The Chair is there as a sort of referee, ensuring all proper procedures are followed and that the questioning of the candidate is done fairly. The Chair doesn’t usually get involved in the actual examination, but sometimes intervenes if things are getting bogged down. The candidate yesterday was Lorenzo Moncelsi and it all went off without a hitch. The best bit about chairing a viva voce examination is that you get to tell the candidate the result: “The Examiners have agreed to recommend that you be awarded the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy”. The formal decision to award the degree comes later, via some Registry Committee or other, but it’s a nice feeling to pass on good news like that. In fact, it’s the best part of being an academic, getting to congratulate people on their success whether undergraduate or postgraduate.
Lorenzo is off to Caltech next week to continue his research career with a postdoctoral position and will no doubt in the meantime be continuing the celebration he started last night. Congratulations to Lorenzo, and
bon voyage buon viaggio!
UPDATE: Here is a picture taken just after the end of the viva, featuring Supervisor (Enzo Pascale), student, Examiners (Bruce Swinyard and Matt Griffin) and Chair!
It’s a gloomy Sunday here in Cardiff with dark clouds and heavy rain most of the morning. That, together with the impending ordeal of a trip to Swindon, has obviously dampened my mood a bit after the last couple of days. It has however at least given me the right frame of mind to write something about my dear departed Columbo, who passed away on 1st August. Was it really so long ago?
I’ve found it difficult to know what to do about writing about Columbo in the weeks that have passed since he died. I was devastated, of course, and often felt the urge to write something on here, but was anxious not to allow myself to get too mawkish about things. To do that would have exceeded even the generous allowance of self-indulgence which comes with writing a blog, so I’ve held off and tried the best I can to deal with it on my own. Now, though, I think I’m ready to write something about the past weeks and months. Who knows, it might even help other people going through similar things themselves.
When Columbo died I simply couldn’t face going straight back to work so I took a day off. What I did that day will probably seem strange to many people, but I felt I had to do it. I got rid of all Columbo’s things: his basket, toys, food dishes, the lot. The only thing I couldn’t dispose of was the yellow plastic “sharps” bucket containing the used hypodermic needles that I’d accumulated during the course of his treatment for diabetes. These constitute medical waste so it’s not permitted to throw them away with the usual refuse; I’d have to take them to the vets for disposal and pay a few pounds to have them incinerated. In fact, I still haven’t done that. My last visit to the vets was so traumatic that I still haven’t been able to face going back there.
I was even going to take all the posts I’d made about Columbo offline, but in the end decided not to. That was mainly because people have told me they enjoy reading some of the old items and I therefore thought it would be a bit selfish to take them away. I know I’m not the only one who misses the poor old thing.
After a day or two of vegetating at home, I went into work. I almost came straight back home again after bursting into tears on the way to my office, but soldiered on. Over the next few days and weeks I tried to work as hard as I could to distract myself from things and adopted a “business-as-usual” approach to the blog. Although I was at work I tried to keep myself to myself more than usual, avoiding our communal coffee and lunch breaks, trips to the pub, and so on. Going away to a conference also helped. Sudden mood swings came and went, but gradually their amplitude decreased. NowI think I’ve regained some sort of equilibrium. Life has changed, but goes on. The Columbo Era has ended.
Which is not to say that I don’t still miss Columbo terribly. Coming home from work there’s still the shock of an empty house and no Columbo to greet me at the door. Being an old fart it was my habit to take a nap on Sunday afternoons; Columbo always joined me for a loud purring session. Without him I simply can’t do that anymore. No cat, no nap…
I’m not the only one to miss Columbo. A couple of days after he went to meet his maker, one of the neighbours’ cats appeared at the glass door in my dining room peering inside. This cat, a female of the species, was quite friendly with Columbo. I don’t know her name. Although she wears a collar I never managed to read the tag; I call her Maud because she comes into the garden. Although she’s been a regular visitor to my little garden I’d never seen her so close to the house before. I watched her searching all around, mewing plaintively. I could well be reading too much into this, but I do think she was looking for Columbo and was upset by his absence.
As time has passed, other cats have visited the garden with increasing frequency. There’s a very sleek black tom cat, a strange skinny cat with a big nose, and a young tabby who I first saw as a pair of green eyes staring out of the bushes late one night. Although Columbo was never much of a fighter these other cats didn’t come down into the garden very often while he was here; they usually sat on the fence or shed roof. Now there’ll probably be a turf war over who gets to count my little patch as part of their territory. I won’t chase them away. In fact I’d be quite happy if one day I could make their acquaintance properly. At the moment they all scarper as soon as I open the door.
The only other thing I want to say is to answer those people who have asked me whether I am planning to get another cat. Well, to be honest, I haven’t got any plans to do that. I just couldn’t face it right now. I’m not sure I ever will, actually, but you never know. Just not in the foreseeable future.Follow @telescoper
Sometime during the night Columbo had some sort of a seizure. When he didn’t jump on my bed first thing this morning, I thought something might be wrong and when I got downstairs I found him in a state of total collapse in his basket. He was breathing, but cold to the touch. His eyes were open, but he clearly wasn’t seeing anything. His legs were twisted as if they had suddenly crumpled underneath him. Thinking it might be a hypoglycemic attack, I squirted into his mouth some of the syrup I keep for such emergencies. Normally this would cause a quick recovery, but although he did start moving he was clearly in a bad way, lying on one side with his back leg drawn up. I waited by his side for the recovery to come, but it didn’t. He just became more and more agitated, paddling his legs and crying in discomfort.
I got him to the vet’s and they checked his blood sugar, which was fine, suggesting that it wasn’t hypoglycemia behind the problem. They put him on oxygen, but as they checked him out he had another seizure. The vet said he had almost certainly had a stroke at home and then probably another one as they examined him. If that was the correct diagnosis, then his prognosis for recovery was very poor.
Given that, and the obvious fact that, although not fully conscious, he was clearly extremely distressed, I felt I had to take the decision to have him put to sleep (although I found great difficulty in saying the words). The vet was very kind, and gave us a few minutes alone. She said she was sure this was the right decision. I signed a consent form and when the time came he passed away quietly as I stroked him. My old friend was gone, the last of his lives used up.
I knew Columbo wasn’t going to live forever, but that didn’t make it any easier. I had hoped he would pass away peacefully at home, rather than on the vet’s table, but I don’t think he really knew much about what was going on during his last hours, so hopefully he didn’t suffer too much.
I’m not going to try to explain how much I’ll miss Columbo. Cat-lovers, especially those who met him, will understand. Others will just think I’m a sentimental old fool. It doesn’t matter. He’s been a part of me for over 17 years, in London, Nottingham and in Cardiff. He’s put up with me far longer than any human being ever has. And now he’s no more. The house seems dreadfully empty already.
If I don’t post much for a while, I hope you’ll understand why.Follow @telescoper
Back late from a very pleasant evening out with the Cardiff cosmology group, I’ve just got time for a quick post to avoid letting my blogging average slip. Today’s been an enjoyable one, but also a bit fraught. Columbo suddenly developed a rather exaggerated limp this morning. At first I thought it was a deterioration of his arthritis but on closer inspection I discovered that he has a swelling on one paw. He’s also indulging in the strange practice of putting the affected paw in his water dish. It’s obviously causing him a bit of discomfort, but the likeliest explanation is that he’s been bitten by a wasp or something; if so it will eventually die down. I’ve left him alone all day and it doesn’t seem any better now that I’m home. I think I’ll leave it overnight and if it hasn’t improved by the morning I’ll have to get him checked out by the vet. Apart from the difficulty walking, however, he doesn’t seem too bad so I hope whatever is troubling him is a minor ailment.
Other than that, there’s not much to report other than it’s an exceptionally sultry evening and it’s nice to have my former PhD student and current postdoc at Cape Town, Rockhee Sung, visiting, in whose honour we had dinner tonight. Rockhee and Columbo are old acquaintances from Beeston days, in fact, so it will be interesting to see how they get on when they meet again, which hopefully won’t be too long!Follow @telescoper
I thought I’d post a quick update about ye olde Columbo because last week I mentioned that I was a bit concerned about his health. I’m glad to report that there’s been no re-occurrence of sickness (that I’ve seen). I started him back on the anti-inflammatory drug and that, probably together with the warm weather we’ve been having recently, has improved his mood considerably. He’s been spending most of his time outdoors lately, in the shade among the bushes at the end of the garden, emerging only to answer the call of nature or to cadge some food. Despite the fact that he’s not exactly Speedy Gonzalez these days it’s still quite difficult to take a picture of him, as he won’t look at the camera, and when I do manage to get a snap he always seems to look grumpy.
Up bright and early this morning as I have to spend the day in the Big Smoke on external examining duty, after which I’m going to see Tosca at Covent Garden. Anyway, just time for a quick snap of Columbo while I drink my coffee. I’m a little concerned about him. Yesterday he was sick in his basket, which may be a side-effect of his new arthritis medication, so I’ve stopped giving it to him. I’ll try again with a small dose in a day or two and if he gets ill again I’ll just throw the stuff away. I hope it’s nothing worse than a dicky tummy.Follow @telescoper
I came home last night to the sad news of the death, at the age of 83, of the actor Peter Falk, most famous for his role as the eponymous Lieutenant in the TV detective series Columbo. The newspapers are rightly filled with tributes today, but it can’t do any harm to add one more of my own. Falk was a fine actor, and I think the character of Lieutenant Columbo was a truly brilliant creation. I’m going to spend this evening watching a few old episodes on DVD.
Columbo was remarkable in many ways. For a start it eschewed the conventions of the usual detective story because the audience knows exactly what’s going to happen before it’s even started. Its lack of reliance on the traditional elements of a murder mystery means that you don’t watch Columbo to find out who did it, or whether or not the Lieutenant will ensnare them. We know who did it and that Columbo will catch them out. But how will he do it?
Every episode begins with the murderer – nearly always a highly intelligent, highly successful and extremely confident individual, often from the upper echelons of society – carefully planning and executing what looks like the perfect crime – establishing an alibi, removing forensic evidence, and so on. It always seems to work, at least until the shabby character of Columbo shuffles in to inspect the scene. The criminal always underestimates Columbo, at least at first, but in that grubby raincoat hides his nemesis. The lieutenant is a lot smarter than he looks. Sub pallio sordido sapientia.
The show’s creators, Richard Levinson and William Link, in fact based the character of Columbo on Petrovitch, the detective in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Both men have keen intellects masked by shambolic exteriors, and way the detective drives to distraction, and inevitable capture, a criminal who makes no attempt to run also echoes the great Russian novel. It was an ingenious idea, but it needed a great TV actor to make it work. In Falk’s hands what might have been a clumsy stereotype became a marvellously believable character, sometimes infuriating, sometimes comical, in his own way lovable, and always fascinating.
There’s also Columbo’s wrong-footing “false exit”, accompanied by the catchprase “There’s just one more thing…”. Just when the perpetrator has begun to relax, the bloodhound returns. The more trivial the “thing” is, the more damning it proves. As an application of psychology, it’s a superb tactic and it slowly but surely grinds down the criminal’s resistance. Often the murderer’s exasperation at Columbo’s relentless badgering leads to rash actions and errors; the second murder, if there is one, is never as carefully planned as the first. .
It’s hard to put your finger on exactly why this plot format works so well, but it certainly does. Episodes of Columbo are still shown on TV all around the world. As a matter of fact, I watched one on TV in my hotel room in Copenhagen on Thursday night (with Danish subtitles). Part of it is the delight in seeing the humble but decent detective bring down the rich yet evil murderer. But most, I think, is just the excellence of the central performance by Peter Falk. He didn’t do much else of any consequence – an exception is a very amusing self-parody in the spoof detective film Murder by Death – but who cares? As Columbo he was quite superb, and he’s left a woderful legacy.
Rest in peace, Peter Falk.
P.S. It’s no secret that I named my cat Columbo in honour of the detective, largely because of his habit of leaving through the catflap only to return suddenly a moment later. He doesn’t say “just one more thing…” but I’m sure he would if he could. I do hope the passing of Peter Falk isn’t an omen for my Columbo…Follow @telescoper
Just time for a quick post today, as I’m off to the airport this afternoon for a short trip (which I’ll no doubt blog about at the weekend when I get back). I’m also late into the office because I had to take my cat Columbo to the vet for his six-monthly check-up.
Columbo is now 17 years old (and a few months) and has been diabetic for the last six or seven of those. He needs to have a check-up every 6 months primarily to monitor whether his insulin dose (which is administered twice a day) is adequate to control his blood sugar level. The vet also gives him a general medical, and weighs him, during these visits.
This morning Columbo was even more reluctant than usual to get into his box for the trip to the vets. Eventually I got him in, but was apprehensive. Usually when he’s in that sort of mood he retaliates by befouling the box. This time, however, he settled down quite quickly and there were no toiletary disasters en route. The vet’s waiting room was empty when we arrived at 9am so we got seen straight away.
The vet was impressed by his age, especially when she saw how long he has been diabetic. Even without this condition 16 is a pretty good age for a tom cat. Columbo has been through a number of serious medical episodes, at least a couple of which took him near death, but he has always managed to bounce back. He may be an old boy now, but he gets 10/10 for resilience. Looking back over his (substantial) medical history, the vet seems to be amazed by his powers of recovery although history is now definitely taking its toll and he’s looking a bit frail nowadays.
The vet noted the effects of the advancing years. His eyesight has clearly dimmed. He’s never been very good at catching birds and mice, but I think he struggles even to see them nowadays. Despite the glucosamine treatment he has been having, his arthritis has also deteriorated. The stiffness in his joints makes it difficult for him to groom himself, so his coat isn’t in great condition even though I brush him regularly. He’s also lost a bit of weight since the last visit; not enough to be life-threatening, but significant nevertheless.
On the other hand, his heartbeat and other vital signs seem to be in order, and he purred contentedly on the table during the examination. The vet was a little concerned about his weight loss, but said he clearly wasn’t in any discomfort and trying to prod and probe, take blood samples and whatever to find out the reason was just going to cause him distress. And even if they could fix it, he was still going to be a very old cat if and when he recovered and there’s no cure for old age.
During these visits the vet usually takes a blood sample in order to check glucose and fructosamine levels for diagnostic purposes. This time, however, she suggested that it was probably best to skip it. The business of drawing a vial of blood from a cat’s neck is unpleasant and extremely distressing for the animal. Given that his bodily signs were OK, there seemed little point in subjecting him to this. Instead she suggested we just maintain the current insulin level unless and until something appears to go wrong. I agreed.
Not doing the blood tests saved me a bit of money, but that’s not the point at all. I know the old boy is much nearer the end of his life than the beginning. I just want his last days to be as comfortable and happy as possible. I don’t see the point of making him uncomfortable to satisfy veterinary curiosity or to prolong his life by a few months. When the time comes, I’d rather he went peacefully.
The one thing I did agree on was to try some anti-inflammatory treatment for his arthritis, stuff you squirt on food. If that works it might make it easier for him to get around, and also groom himself. It does have a side-effect with some cats, making them nauseous, so I have to build it up slowly and keep an eye on him in case he gets sick.
Anyway, when it was time to go he climbed willingly into his box – the cat-box process is a very different business at the vet compared to what it’s like at home. When we got home he bundled out at high speed and headed straight for his food dish. He still has a healthy appetite, that’s for sure.Follow @telescoper