It’s not just cats who get nine lives

Arabella McIntyre-Brown stares the Grim Reaper in the eye


The Grim Reaper is a poor opportunist: I can count at least six near misses when he could have had me.

If the Cat Law of Nine Lives holds good for humans, I’m on a warning. Maybe we get an extra few chances, like points on one’s driving licence.

There were a few shaves with the old scythe-wielder in my early years, since we lived in deepest rural Sussex and my parents were content to let me and my chum Giles hare around doing unspeakable things involving the river, trees, swords, ladders, fire, cows, sharp objects, guns and farm machinery.

Oddly enough none of these were involved in my near-death experiences; I was capable of fatal events all on my own.

We had a large oak dining table in a room with parquet floor and the customary hard, unpadded walls. As a small brat I would run round and round the table until either I got dizzy and fell over, banging my head on something unyielding and angular, or slipped on the beautifully polished wooden floor, banging my head ditto.

But these events appeared to coincide with the Grim Reaper’s tea-breaks, since I survived, though the concussions might explain some of my personality traits, I suppose.

One of my mother’s favourite stories was the one about me and the horses. To be precise, me and the race horses – there were several near-fatal equine encounters.

At an Easter point-to-point we had a picnic beside the track, and in those days there was only a rope to mark the course. The rope was the perfect height for a four-year-old to swing on. ‘Don’t swing on the rope, Arabella.’ I swung. ‘Don’t swing…’ Too late. Gleefully I swung harder and tipped over, banging my head on the turf, knocking myself out and landing flat out in the track just as the closely bunched field turned for home. My mother saw her little darling right in the path of a million thundering hooves, about to be mashed to a pulp under tons of murderous horseflesh. But the Reaper had gone for lunch, and my heroic mama grabbed my feet and whisked me to safety with milliseconds to spare.

Once, I nearly drowned. My mother had gone to see her crony Marjory Dallas, and I went too. After lunch in the garden the two of them were gassing, swigging back pink gins in the sun; so despite being told not to, I ran round the corner and jumped into the swimming pool, out of sight and earshot. There was no shallow end, and I couldn’t swim properly. I didn’t dare shout for help because I wasn’t supposed to be in the pool, and I remember sinking twice before one of Marjory’s sons chanced by and hauled me out. He was sporting enough not to sneak, and I had time to dry off in the sun before being called to heel. I was too embarrassed to say anything, so my parent never knew how close I’d come to an Ophelian end.

Some years later, my mother took me to a meet of the Cowdray hunt so we could follow for a while. When the hunt roared off up the field towards the woods I galloped, on my own feet, after them. But instead of crashing into the first covert, the whole bloody lot turned round and galloped straight back again. It had just been a warm-up before they set off in earnest. Well, for god’s sake, how stupid, I thought, as I stood facing fifty pink coats on vast gleaming snorting steeds charging at me like cavalry at a rabbit. Horses, the clever creatures, have an aversion to treading on people, so the line broke around me and I was unscathed apart from the lash of curses from rightly enraged riders. My mother, once over the shock of another Arabella/horse encounter, was in tears of laughter when I’d trudged back across the muddy furrows. I thought the embarrassment worse than death.

Since then there have been two very close shaves while driving, and a moment on skis, up a mountain. There will have been others but I’m in denial. With all these endorsements on my life licence, the scythe must be sharpened and waiting to fall.

First published in the North West Enquirer 2006


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