Monthly Archives: August 2015

Martin Delany, cat-lover

 

Four times in as many months, I’ve met somebody new-to-me and got on really well with them.  Then, at the end of our chat, they handed me their contact card – a little Vistaprint type card, or sometimes a postcard.  Since my aim is for me to get out and about much more, I decided to get a card done myself … and they arrived earlier in the week.  I’m very excited!  Or I was – a free metal cardholder was offered, to keep the cards fresh, and it didn’t come – and then I was excited again as there was a freephone number to ring if there were any problems.  Nowadays, if people provide a freephone number, you just know they’re serious about customer service.  And so it proved – I’ve just had an email confirming the little card holder is on its way.

The back of my card shows a quote from a man named Martin Delany:

“If we treated everyone we meet with the same affection we bestow upon our favorite cat, they, too, would purr.”

Martin Delany quote

What an amazing way of putting things!  Succint.  Humane.  Thoughtful.  Empathic.  He was quite a man, Martin Delany.  He was an African-American abolitionist, journalist and writer, born as early as 1812 in West Virginia, and born a slave: his father purchased the family’s freedom in 1823, when Martin was 11, then moved to Pennsylvania in search of a better life.

Image

He had an amazing life: he published his own anti-slavery newspaper in the 1840s; he went to Harvard Medical School (but pressure on the faculty meant he was asked to leave after only a few months); stiill, he worked as a physician during cholera epidemics in Pittsburgh, when some qualified doctors had fled; he lived in Canada but returned from there to become an army officer for the North in the American Civil War, helping to recruit black soldiers, and afterwards worked for the Freedmen’s Bureau, helping freed slaves.   Thank goodness he lived to see the end of slavery: he died in Ohio in 1885.

And in spite of the hard life he led, born in slavery and constantly on the move, one of his most famous quotes is about treating everyone with respect and even love – the same love we give when we’re stroking a cat.  He was an astonishing man; he deserves to be up there with the great campaigners of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Having a quote from a man like him on my card, is just a reminder that we can often see what people are really like by the way they treat animals.

 

This post was originally published two years ago.  Still true, though.

Banners, past and present

When I first started blogging about cats, I had a great time putting together pictures I’d taken to create a fairly detailed (a.k.a. quite messy) blog header.  Scroll forward a year, with a new home for the blog, and I want something quite different.  I want the header I have now – very simple, very cat-focussed, and very happy.  It’s actually a detail from the statue of Dick Whittington and his cat outside Guildhall Art Gallery, and I think it’s a lovely little thing.

The others were gorgeous in their way, naturally!  This was the first:

banner the first one on the old blog

There are a couple of neighbourhood cats I liked, a pair of cats at a harbourside cafe in Hania, in Crete, the motif on a sparkly duvet cover of mine, and a statue in Cardiff, which drapes over a wall.

Then there was the second:

cropped-final-banner on the old blog

One of the neighbour’s cats stayed in, in a different photo, the duvet cover and the statue stayed in, but they were bookended by photos of my own cats, Willow and Jessie.  It was even bittier though!  So I went for simple and classy with the one I have now, with a crop of this photo:

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The Beautiful Cat

Brighton loves cats too

I often pop to Brighton – it’s a pretty normal destination for anyone in London and points south. There are lots of cutey-cats in shops, like this one, for instance:

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Cutey-cats in the shops

as well as some funny/rude ones, like the teatowel holder on the left of this pic below:

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Genius tea towel holder on the left

There’s this shop called Pussy, even though it actually seems to be a Moomin shop:

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Pussy Shop

But Brighton Museum, whose entrance is in the Pavilion Gardens, has definitely had fun with cats. It started with these, a pair of ornamental cats from the 1880s, “wearing chintz kimonos and lace bonnets”. That sounds horrendous, but they look great:

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Brighton Museum Cats

with their description:

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It’s strange that their little medallions should have dogs painted on them, but they do. One of the cats has become a fund-raising icon for the museum – a five foot version is planted in the shop, on a plinth. You can see that he’s nearly as big as the full height windows behind him in the photo below. And it’s even stranger that the medallion on the five-foot-tall version looks completely out of place – to me, anyway. Is it an anthropomorphic cat? Is it a dog? But the ears are too cat-like. Is it a Yeti? It might be. I took the photo, and I really don’t know. Next time I’m in Brighton, I’m going to talk to a museum attendant about it.

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Fundraising Cat in the shop

He’s much more recent of course: the plaque underneath him says he was named Brummel by the listeners of Southern Counties Radio in 2002. I’m guessing here, but a lot of that must be about the dandyism of Beau Brummel and Brighton – these cats are pretty dandified!

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Brummel The Cat

The final note, however, belongs to a street painting – it can’t possibly be called a piece of graffiti. Its on this building here, right at street level:

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Just near the railway station

I’m pretty sure this one’s a cat, it definitely has a cat aura.

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Street Cat

And it has a lovely little face.

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Street Beauty

A surprisingly cat-friendly place, Brighton.

 

Doris Lessing, cat person extraordinaire

Of course, Doris Lessing was a person extraordinaire, as well as a cat person extraordinaire.  But she loved cats too, she wrote a book called “Particularly Cats”, after all, about her cat experiences.

Doris Lessing

She died in 2013, but this is a photo of her taken in 2006, a year before she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.   She was a one-off, in the best sense – insightful, courageous, far-thinking and willing to take risks.

She could be challenging to be around for any length of time, it seems. Her cat book is a case in point: there’s no comfiness – she doesn’t put her cats to sleep when the time comes, they don’t pass on, and they most certainly don’t go to the Rainbow Bridge (which is where my cats are). No, Doris’s cats are “killed”, if its necessary.

My copy of Doris Lessing’s book

I’m sure this has something to do with her childhood circumstances: in the inter-war period, the 1920s and 30s in what was then Rhodesia, out on a farm. It was idyllic, in her memory, but of course it wasn’t a life that would coddle a little girl.

I met her once, very briefly; she came to the Brighton Festival to give a talk on another writer, though when the talk was finished, nearly all the Q&A was about her own work. She was perfectly willing to do a signing afterwards, and she stopped in her tracks, for a moment or two. I’d brought a hard copy edition of one of her science fiction books, The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire. Its a great book, very witty, very funny, and reads a bit more like Monty Python than anything else; she was really pleased someone had brought it along. It was brilliant to bring a spontaneous flash of pleasure to those eyes!

I saw a documentary on TV about her last year, hosted by Alan Yentob, entitled The Reluctant Heroine, in which she’s described as “alarming, radical and strange” by Hermione Lee.  People’s wariness around her is summed up in the film by a little exchange in her kitchen a few days prior to this, as a cat arrives at the interview wanting to be let out into the garden, and Alan Yentob picks it up:

Doris: “That cat could easily bite.  She’s not a sweet little pussy.”
Alan: “No, I didn’t think she would be.”

It cracked me up …