It is a fairly key moment for a teacher born in Reading.
There I was, discussing finance with the secretary and bursar in the school I ran, which perched on the hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean: and a parent flew in through the double doors with news.
“Go and stand on the cliffs!” she gasped between breaths. “There are basking sharks off the coast!”
Basking sharks. Gentle giants who feed on plankton which inhabit the warmest part of seawater; that layer just before the surface. The warmth of the sun reaches through those upper lapping layers, and creatures great and small rise to meet its rays. They bask.
It is the deep, golden mindfulness of basking which seems most at one with the earth as it turns. As if the great creatures slow to the rhythm of the planets and their brilliant star.
I stayed to work but I, too, should have stopped to bask in life’s rays, out there on the North Cornish clifftop.
Today, at lunchtime, during Felix’s birthday party for his close friends, Phil dropped a blob of cottage cheese on the floor.
He waited for the dog to fetch it and clear it up, but Macaulay is a sloppy operator, and choosy about his hoovering. With creditable speed, the cat shot in and claimed it as her own.
For 18 years, she has been dominating this family, and today was no exception.
Later, I found my old cat in the back garden, stretched out for all the world as if she were basking.
Except that she was not. When I looked closely every breath was a gasp. She was labouring terribly. I was horrified. I scooped her up and cradled her and willed the breathing to become regular again, but it would not. Each breath tortured the fiery soul who has lit our days for almost two decades.
As I sat with her on my knee, stroking her, I knew this was not fair. I should not be asking her to fight this fight.
Phil called the vets. 15 minutes, they said.
I called Maddie and Felix, and they said their goodbyes. There is no happy ending for our lives. It ends, and we are wrcnched unceremoniously away from those we love. But to some of us is given the serendipity of a goodbye.
I helped her into a cat box. She did not complain, and that in itself was deeply unusual.
And I walked out of the front door into sunshine. The drive was baking warm. And normally, as I headed out anywhere, I would look down and see a cat with a fierce face, half-ginger, half brown, basking on the drive, barely acknowledging my passage, imperiously flicking her tail.
Today, I must carry her past that baking warm drive and away, into the shadows.
Which I did. I held her as she entered them. One day I will follow her there.
Millions have said it before, and millions will say it after. But we are born into this wild, beautiful, terrible world, and we have but a short time here, to live in vivid technicolour. We seem to have little choice, like meteors which appear and trail an effervescent tail through the cosmos, and then are gone.
This creature could no more stop time than any of us. But she seemed to stretch it, long and languid,with her habit of basking on the concrete drive in the noonday sun.