Author leaves legacy of laughter, memorable cats and tears

Cover of Paws in the ProceedingsI was saddened to hear recently, via the library necrology, of the death of the writer and broadcaster Deric Longden. He had a great talent for finding the extraordinary in the ordinary and for bringing to life the people and cats he encountered – I have thoroughly enjoyed re-reading his complete works.

I first discovered Deric when I heard him speak in Grimsby many years ago. On that occasion he was talking about his first two books Diana’s Story and Lost for Words which respectively tell the story of his first wife’s debilitating illness, now believed to be ME, and the final few years of his mother’s life. These books are full of his characteristic warmth, humour and delight in everyday happenings but are tempered by sadness and tragedy. The portraits he creates of Diana, so courageous and determined despite constant pain from a then undiagnosed condition, and his mother, who also has a wonderful way with words but then suffers a stroke, are truly memorable and moving. These are two books which can make you laugh and cry, sometimes in the same sentence.

Cover of A Play on WordsDeric hints at an interest in cats in these two works – I particularly enjoyed the references to the tall kitten next door – but from The Cat Who Came in from the Cold to Paws in the Proceedings, his final work, the cats in his life take centre stage. The everyday adventures of Thermal, Tigger and friends (including Ralph the sultana) are interspersed with the Huddersfield-based experiences of Deric and his second wife Aileen (novelist Aileen Armitage, who is registered blind). A visit to the local shops can become an epic journey with many eccentric characters and situations to encounter.

Some cats come and go – over-excitable kitten Frink, old timer Arthur and feral Nokia – but ever-loyal Thermal and mother hen Tigger are recurring characters and it is a delight to follow them over the years, from adorable kittens to elder statescats ruling the Longden household.

Deric was remarkable for his ability to provide a warm and loving voice for the elderly, the disabled, the eccentric and the feline, and for his celebration of everyday life.