It would have been an ordinary week in March had the majority of the workforce not left the Foreign Office premises in a Covid hurry. It was late on a Wednesday evening, and after a long day at work in the ghost-town Foreign Office building, I was starving.
I went to the local Tesco in Kennington – one of those Tesco the size of a small country – to pick up something, anything, to eat. There was no food. When I say no food, I actually mean no food. I could see panic in the eyes of everyone dashing around in disbelief…
It was now Thursday, and I was walking into work trying to put on a brave face, but I read in the news that the Government was considering shutting down public transport and bringing in the Army. I changed direction and headed to Waterloo train station and escaped back to Hampshire.
On Friday, I woke up worrying about Palmerston. Let me explain. Palmerston is the famous Foreign Office cat. He is by far the most loved of our 14,000 staff members. He has a following of over 110,000 people on Twitter. For good reason: he is an awesome cat. Confident, handsome and aloof. He would send journalists into a frenzy in his turf wars with Larry the No10 cat.
Palmerston would sit on the grandest pieces of furniture in the Foreign Office (the Gold Command chair in the Crisis Centre was a favourite) and he would nonchalantly pose for photographs with famous people. Sometimes he would hang out in the outer office of the Permanent Under-Secretary, and snore on the chair next to my desk, which was supposed to be for Ambassadors and the like waiting to see the boss. No one ever dared ask him to move.
My number one Friday morning priority became: save the cat from the Covid lockdown…
My team pounced into action, and a few hours later we welcomed His Majesty Palmerston to his new countryside abode… It was only supposed to be temporary. But he suited the countryside.
He became extraordinarily affectionate – preferring his naps to be on our warm laps – and happily chit-chatting away all day long. He loves to walk across our screens on work calls. Once, he muted me when I was briefing the boss, which he found hilarious. He has different types of meows, which we can now easily understand. One particular meow very clearly means: ‘human, lie down on the sofa, it is snuggle-o’clock.’ He also has certain types of facial expressions, some mean ‘I love you human’, some mean ‘I’m going to eat you human’ which is usually followed by him pouncing on our toes in bed. He had never seen grass before but turns out he loves eating grass and he has quite a talent for climbing trees too. He spends his hours pouncing dramatically on insects, intensely stalking rodents, and guarding our rhubarb patch.
Palmerston’s priority was to make sure all his fury and feathered garden friends knew there was a new boss in town. Despite his human advisers trying to persuade him of the benefits of more enlightened social and institutional structures, he preferred rather more threatening and medieval ways of exerting control over his new green empire.
After far too many grooms and naps and snuggles, Palmerston decided to retire to my garden to spend more time relaxing away from the limelight.
Palmerston is enjoying his retirement very much. His new favourite hobby, of course, is doing yoga with his mum.
He likes stretching, especially after a good hunting session, but his absolute darling pose is savasana (corpse pose). He waits until I wrap myself up in a cashmere blanket for relaxation at the end. Then he swaggers over, parades up on my chest like I am one of his many conquered victories, lies his body down (tummy to tummy) and purrs very loudly. He lifts his head to stare at my painting of the full moon in the silver birch tree forest. We always have the same dusty old nostalgic conversation. I say to him: ‘you like that painting, don’t you catty’. He purrs through my whole body in affirmation.