All posts by Jan

The bliss of catsitting

I had an amazing time catsitting in London early last month. I was doing it for family members, so I’d met the cats a couple of times over the last few years (two of them, rescue cats that are thought to be mother and son). They’re house cats, so there was no fretting (from me) about whether they’d be safe in traffic, but at first I saw them very little, they didn’t have much to do with people in their early years, so they’ve been terrified of even the most well-meaning humans.

However – that was old news, they’d grown less timid in the last year or so, observed closely by my lovely rellies, and I was told (correctly, happily!) that they’d come into the bedroom to be with me if I let them. You can guarantee that I let them! And by the end of the first week, that’s what was happening – though one of them was still under the bed rather than on it with me.

At the end of the second week, the transformation was almost complete: both of them would lie on the (nice big) bed with me, and when I sat down in an armchair, or on the sofa, the brave one would leap up onto my lap, especially if I had a thin cushion there to make it easier to loll about. Even better, sometimes he’d leap straight onto my lap, but if I was in an armchair, he’d circle about me, like Simon’s Cat: jump onto an armrest, up onto the back, across the back, down to the other armrest, and then onto my lap, having claimed me completely as his own property.

A happy cat on my knee
A happy cat in my chair

I did get out and about a bit – I used to live in London, so I went up to Central London to meet a friend, and saw that the lions on the Houses of Parliament are actually being very rude to passers-by:

Parliamentary lions pull their tongues at tourists

And when I popped up to Euston (to take pictures of the Carreras Factory, for a later post on here) I saw a logo for a transportation firm that was just adorable:

Logo for a transportation company!

Back at the catsitting gig, the timid one never sat on my lap, sadly. And she never stopped hissing in fear when I happened to walk by her plate of food as she was feeding, though she did stop running away, that was something.  I absolutely loved the catsitting, though, and hanging out in a new-to-me area of London, especially with such gorgeous cats to  get to know better.

But I had the greatest compliment a cat sitter can have the next week, once my relatives were home: I was told that when the brave one jumped up on their laps, he looked at them like he expected someone else to be there! Me, I think! Life is good!

Fiery Buttercup: Catching Fire

Buttercup is still a presence in Catching Fire, thankfully.

In the book, Katniss has been out hunting alone, taking care of Gale’s traps now that he’s in the mines and she’s a Victor. She uses the old house, that she used to live in with Prim and her mother, to change her clothes – and Buttercup turns up, wailing, at the old place when she’s there. Buttercup is the first being Katniss meets in the book of Catching Fire. To me, the subtext is crystal clear – Katniss and Buttercup are strongly linked together. Him being the first, and him being the only other one who uses the old house, again mark him out as being special in the book:

“He dislikes the new house almost as much as I do and always leaves it when my sister’s at school. We’ve never been particularly fond of each other, but now we have this new bond. I let him in, feed him a chunk of beaver fat, and even rub him between the ears for a bit.”

Even though she tells him he’s hideous, again, there’s obviously an affectionate bond between them. But Katniss doesn’t let herself bond with anyone other than Prim, her mother and Gale, so she sees Buttercup as connecting to Prim and Prim alone. Katniss has focussed on survival, and only survival, since she was eleven years old.

In the film, of course, Katniss has already met Gale out hunting and they’ve talked, agonisingly, about the Victory Tour. So she just walks by Buttercup as he’s sitting on an unused fountain in the Victor’s Village, both of them looking very unhappy and grumpy.

That’s the only time we see Buttercup in Catching Fire (apart from a couple of times when Prim can be seen in the background, holding him, supporting the connection betweeen Prim and Buttercup too). Logically, that’s because Katniss is taken from District 12 so soon by the forces of the Capitol – and the subtext reinforces that: because Katniss has once again become a pawn for the forces of the Capitol and of District 13, the part of her that’s not like Buttercup is the only part of her that belongs in the film.

They’ve got the colour of the cat right this time – it’s huge, but still not scruffy, in fact it’s really beautiful. It definitely manages to look grumpy and dissatisfied sitting on the fountain. I bet Buttercup has been hunting too, or trying to.

Apparently Buttercup was played by two cats in this film and both Mockingjay films: one was good at sitting and being held, the other at scampering around. And of course in this film, Buttercup is the colour he’s supposed to be – on the DVD extras, there’s a not-so-jokey comment that the assistant who got the cat’s colour wrong in the first film had some death threats, poor thing. It’s very clear that fans really, really disapproved of a black and white Buttercup.

Personally, I approve of any film that has a cat as a character … though I too am glad that Buttercup is the right colour.

Long Live Buttercup.

Buttercup Is Katniss Everdeen

Not literally, of course.   But to my mind, the lovely muddy yellow cat represents Katniss in a very real way.

katzenminze-06-and-buttercup

He’s mentioned on the very first page, standing guard over Prim as she sleeps. Not a plot point, not really light relief but he’s definitely subtext. In the third book, the subtext becomes overt, and it’s clear that Suzanne Collins planned it that way the whole time.

What Buttercup does right at the start of The Hunger Games is let us know right away that Katniss, our wonderful heroine, isn’t perfect, or romantic in any way. She tried to drown Buttercup, after all, because she didn’t want to have to feed him, only letting him live when Prim cries for his life. “Entrails. No hissing”; Katniss thinks that this is the high point of the relationship between Buttercup and her.

The first film is just as explicit at this stage: “I’ll still cook you”, is all Katniss says to Buttercup, as she walks past to go hunting. Buttercup is “the world’s ugliest cat”, and although the cat in HG1 isn’t the right colour, it’s not ugly, the poor thing. The first time I watched it, by the way, I had the sound quite low, and I thought she said, “I’ll kill you”. That works too, judging by their expressions.

Having watched the Special Features on the 2 disc version of The Hunger Games, I’m really puzzled that such an elementary mistake was made, in casting a cat of the wrong colour. I mean, the name is a clue as well. Most of the animals on the film were provided by Jungle Exotics, who don’t seem to have provided the cat, they list that they supplied birds, dogs and insects, but no cat. So it’s not their fault! They have a great website, and if they did tours round their 60 acre facility, I’d definitely sign up for one.

Anyway, back to Hunger Games. Of course, Katniss’ nickname is “Catnip” – which cats love. I don’t think Katniss knows how much she’s loved, and that comes out again and again in the rest of the book too. That informs everything she is, and everything she does: losing her father in the mine explosion when she was only 11, at which her mother slipped into a dark depression that lasted months, when Katniss and her little sister Prim almost died of starvation and Katniss herself was the one to figure out how to feed them. These things would leave their mark on any of us, and Suzanne Collins shows those emotional scars on Katniss very clearly. They match Buttercup’s looks, actually, all scarred and mashed.

And as Katniss falls asleep on the train that’s taking her towards The Hunger Games, Buttercup is almost the last thing she thinks of before she falls asleep: “scruffy old Buttercup”, watching over Prim, ready to nose into her arms to comfort her until she sleeps.

Prim is able to love openly: she loves Buttercup, and she loves her goat; but Katniss can’t love in the same way, not at the opening of the first novel. She loves Prim, and this is all we see for now of Buttercup and of Prim herself, because this has been the day of The Reaping, and Katniss has volunteered, to save 12 year old Prim.

The next time Buttercup turns up is at the very end, when Katniss first wakes up after being declared one of the winners of the 74th Hunger Games: “Home! Prim and my mother! Gale! Even the thought of Prim’s scruffy old cat makes me smile. Soon I will be home!”. It’s a poignant interlude, especially as we know that Katniss has so much more that she has to face.

Buttercup will stand by her.

 

 

Photo credit: thank you to Grey Geezer, who released Katzenminze-06 via Wikimedia for other web users.

The Golden Cats of London

When I go walking in London, I keep my camera at the ready, and I noticed a trend: here and there are beautiful, golden cats, watching us and sometimes growling at us. They’re all beautiful, of course.

The first is this little chap below: in the street picture below him again, you can see the entrance to a building on the right hand side. There are two lamp-posts at the door to that building, and that’s where these little cats huddle together.

I’m cheating with the next one, because it’s not a moggy, it’s a lion, but it is golden. It’s on Prince Frederick’s Barge, at the Greenwich Museum. It was renovated a few years ago, and looks absolutely splendiferous, doesn’t it?

At St John’s Zachary, in the City itself, is another big cat, and it is utterly, utterly gorgeous. But fierce! It’s a leopard, and it was made by apprentices at the Rural Development Commission in Salisbury, managed by the Blacksmiths Company. It’s completely appropriate that the leopard is golden, as this land was once owned (starting in the fourteenth century!) by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. Being right in the City of London, the area was badly damaged in the Blitz, but it was turned into a garden even during the war itself, and then afterwards, with all the rebuilding work going on, an effort was made to have a few green spaces. The leopard is pretty new, added during redevelopment work in the 1990s. At A London Inheritance, a fascinating photography blog, there’s a picture of the rebuilding work – I don’t yet have permission to post that picture here, so I’m just linking for now.  It’s the very first picture in that post.

In contrast, there really is a cat on the Cutty Sark, right here. This is genuinely known as a catshead! The function was to help secure the anchor, and in the fuller picture immediately below  our golden friend (who is tiny, you have to look hard to see him) you can see the anchor at bottom left. No one knows which came first, the name or the carving, but its produced some beautiful works of art, that’s for sure.

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Dick Whittington’s Magical Cat

At the beginning of this week, there was an article in The Guardian about a bequest to the Guildhall Library in London, from an American lady who’d lived in England since the 1950s, Ellery Yale Wood. She died three years ago, and it sounds like her executor is still in awe of her. Only a part of her bequest is about Dick Whittington and his famous cat – the rest is an eclectic mix of Harry Potter, children’s books, cameras, Manchester United … the list goes on.

And the library, of course, was the one founded by Dick Whittington himself, in 1425, so her bequest makes absolute sense. Some of her material will be included in the 900th anniversary celebrations to be held in 2025, and in the meantime, I hope we’ll be able to see some of it very soon.

I was at the Guildhall Library a few years ago, and part of their lovely statue of Dick Whittington and His Cat is my header! Here it is in full:

The wonderful mog is all over London, hospitals and pubs and everything in between is named after him. There are intimate little touches too: on the stairwells over the busy roads that lead to the Museum of London, Dick and his cat are ever present:

There are a few I haven’t photographed yet: the one in Archway, and the inside of the window at St Michael’s (I’ve got a photo of the outside, where you can see the cat, but it looks like it’s in shades of grey: not a very interesting photo!). There are some great pantomime adverts too, it’s one of the favourite panto titles in the UK.

Honouring the two of them isn’t a modern fashion by any means. The Bodleian in Oxford holds an eighteenth century board game, and there’s a seventeenth century woodcut held in Boston that shows them as well.  That’s easier to see than the others, so here it is, with Dick carrying the cat in case the dog goes for it:

Sir Richard Whittington by Thomas Fleet via Wikimedia
Sir Richard Whittington by Thomas Fleet via Wikimedia

What was the real story? Our Dick was Lord Mayor four times, did some good works including rebuilding Newgate Prison, and didn’t have a cat. That’s it!

As an assessment of the myth and it’s magic, I can’t better Nick Green’s analysis in his guest post at the utterly amazing steelthistles blog. But the myth itself is that his childhood was poverty stricken, and he went to London because he’d heard the streets were paved with gold. He lodged in the attic of a wealthy merchant named Fitzwarren, and bought a cat for a penny (earned by shining shoes) because there were so many mice and rats.

Then Dick consigned the cat for sale on a voyage to the Barbary Coast (that is, he gave it away to be sold abroad, for profit). But he was disenchanted with London and started to return home to his poor village. And thats when he hears the voice, “turn again, Whittington”.

All ends well for Dick: he goes back to London, the cat has been sold on the Barbary coast and earned Dick a fortune, whereupon he marries the daughter of the family he works for.

Nobody talks about the cat! She’s been sold abroad (to the Barbary Coast, i.e. Africa, where cats actually come from), and that’s where she seems to have lived for the rest of her days. She’s better off there than with Dick Whittington, if you ask me.

All of this was very, very unexpected to me, and I’m almost relieved to go with the magic of the myth.

After reading the steelthistles blog, by the way, I was so impressed, I’ve just bought the fantasy novel Cat Kin, by Nick Green, so I’m really looking forward to that. Youngsters in London, cats are involved … it’s kinda sorta Dick Whittington! I’ll write a review on here later, but here’s a link for now.

 

A railway cat

Chloe is the queen, that’s the basic truth.  And her servants at Horsted Keynes obviously know this truth very well.

I haven’t been writing for a few months, I’ve had a lot of things going on – some good, some bad – but way back in March, I had a little trip to Horsted Keynes Station, on the Bluebell Railway Line, a tourist steam train that travels through some of the most beautiful countryside in England. The stations are pretty beautiful too – Horsted Keynes itself can be seen as Downton Station in the Downton Abbey series.

There’s a long history of railway cats on the Bluebell Railway: the brilliant Purr-n-Fur has a piece about five cats through the years that lived at various stations on the Bluebell line. The current cat at Horsted Keynes, Chloe, is pretty new, as her predecessor Gizmo only died in 2014, but she’s taking to it as to the manor born. It was raining hard the day I was there, so I mostly went to the carriage works facility, where the volunteers refurbish all the old rolling stock that they can lay their hands on – most of it was abandoned in the 1960s or earlier, so it’s in quite a state. Wonderful to see it being rescued now, and it’s a very popular attraction in a county of popular attractions.

Repairing the carriages
Repairing the carriages
Chloe avoiding fans
Chloe avoiding fans
Cat biscuits, in the carriage being repaired
Cat biscuits, in the carriage being repaired

I was desperate to get a good picture of Chloe, and she wasn’t at all interested that day, so the kindly volunteer I was chatting to told me that her biscuits were kept at a certain spot. I managed to restrain myself from rushing towards her just long enough to get a lovely snap of her finding the cat biscuits in their usual place … and later, of course, the only picture about cigarettes that I’ll ever publicise, advertising Black Cat Virginia tobacco cigarettes.

Black Cat Virginia cigarettes
Black Cat Virginia cigarettes

Even though the weather was so bad, I had a great day!

The Cat House in Henfield

I was out on a country walk a few weeks ago, based on a local village picked from the map more or less at random by my sister. Henfield is the charmingly medieval village name, and what should we find there but The Cat House. Amazing village, amazing house!

It’s a Grade II listed building now, since the 1950s, which is when the picture below was taken.

The lovely people at Francis Frith allow free use of their photos on websites, after a courtesy email, and I’m indebted to them for this. And this is part of the description on the British listed buildings site: “Probably 16th century timber-framed refaced with brick, now painted, on ground floor and with weather-boarding above, painted in imitation of timbering with figures of a cat holding a bird under the eaves.” And that really, really doesn’t do justice to the place – it’s so quirky, and so beautiful!

The quirkiness started with a nineteenth century owner, Bob Ward, who kept canaries. A canary was killed one day by a cat, owned by local churchman Nathaniel Woodard. Ward was enraged, to put it mildly: he put pictures of the cat, holding the bird, all round his house, so it would be seen by the churchman every time he passed the house on his way to the nearby church. Ward also put up strings of shells to rattle in the wind – presumably to disturb the cat on its future hunting forays. There’s also rumour of a black figure appearing at a small window, called the zulu hole, when the churchman walked by.

A 19th century painting by M. Russell, held by the Henfield Museum, shows how quirky the quirkiness got, shown immediately below. The Museum has been kind to me too, instantly allowing me to show this amazing painting, which was commissioned by Bob Ward himself.

M Russell, The Cat House HenfieldThis is real! Its not a hippy tangent from the 1960s, its a historically accurate depiction of what the amazing Bob Ward did over the years, painted in 1882. I think it’s fantastic, I was beside myself with joy when I discovered this photo.

 

The Henfield Hub website mentions that “Robert Ward bought a number of metal bird scarers – the cats that now line the upper storey – and positioned them all round his house, at ground level, threading a long string through them on which he tied a large number of bells. Whenever Nathaniel Woodward passed on his way to or from Henfield Church, pulling of the string saw him greeted by the sound of metal and bells to remind him of the ‘crime’ his cat committed.” That man must have really loved his canaries, and hated the cat.

My own photos are below, and I’m missing an overall view of the front, sadly – I was so entranced by the detail, I completely forgot. Never mind – I’ll be passing that way again, and I’ll make sure to get another view. Of course, it’s also a private house, owned and occupied, and that has to be respected too.

One of the many panels
One of the many panels

It does make me wonder about the phrase “the cat that ate the canary”, which seems to be an American saying according to this blog. Cathouse is an American phrase too – not one associated with actual cats, of course … Staying in America for a moment, cinema loves the phrase as well: there was a Bob Hope/Paulette Goddard film in 1939 called The Cat And The Canary, but the title was used as far back as 1912, in a silent short, and then in a full length film in 1927.  Thank you IMDB.

 

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The thatcher’s cat?

 

A little cat struts along the ridge of the thatch, tail held high and proud: the thatcher’s signature, or extra cat-ness?

 

 

 

 

Side view
Side view

 

 

Such a great afternoon out!

Orangey, the cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Orangey with Audrey Hepburn
Orangey with Audrey Hepburn

Cat (with his trainer, Frank Inn) is part of the opening credits – that’s pretty good! Deserved, I think, he’s an integral part of the plot, after all. And he appears only five minutes into the film, waking up Holly Golightly from her respectably single-bedded sleep when the doorbell rings. They’d met by the river one day, and they just took up together, as you do, but he can’t have a name from Holly until she feels settled, until the mean reds are banished by real life. It’s quite existential, thinking about it.

The cat’s almost as big a character as Holly. She swans off to visit Sally Tomato in Sing Sing, and meanwhile Cat is sitting in the kitchen sink, watching the world go by.

 

Cat is an absolutely brilliant metaphor for Holly – they’re both taking part in life, but doing their own thing, and absolutely unbound by any conventions or rules that others adhere to. Cat is at the party, but he sits on a top shelf, and the only thing that interests him is taking a swipe at the cigarette perched at the end of Holly’s cigarette holder. That cat is impeccably trained – he’s reliable enough to be in a panning shot, just sitting there being a cat, when all the extras below him are buzzing about yelling over the music, just like a real party.

Interesting that the love interest, Paul Varjak (played by George Peppard, well before the A-Team) has written a book whose name is Nine Lives.  And when Paul starts to write his next book, which is why he’s there in the first place, what does he write? “There was once a very lovely, very frightened girl. She lived alone except for a nameless cat”. And then Holly’s history starts to appear: just like a cat, any cat, she’d drifted from a bad situation to a better one, and then a better one, but staying self contained, never giving her heart. Not yet, anyway.

That’s what people don’t understand when they try to keep her safe; if you try to love a wild thing, if you give your heart to a wild thing, because they’re hurt or broken, they get stronger and stronger, and then they fly away.

And either that trainer deserved an Oscar, or Audrey was covered in catnip for some scenes, because in spite of the fact that she’s playing drunk (really well, actually), Cat is definitely following her around, and nuzzling at her legs.

The cat references keep on coming! When they steal “something” from the five and ten as a dare, what does Holly steal but a cat mask. Cat strongly objects to the one Paul steals, which is a dog mask, oops.

There’s one scene that absolutely wouldn’t be allowed these days; Holly receives a telegram telling her that her beloved brother Fred has been killed, and she trashes her apartment in her grief. But as part of that, she rips the dressing table mat from under Cat’s feet, and he really does go flying; and in the next shot, someone has obviously thrown the poor cat at the shutters on the window, he lands on his feet, of course, and hangs onto the slats; then the final shot of him is his jump down to get away from the crazy lady. He obviously wasn’t harmed, but he must have been very scared. I’ve seen criticism of him as a “mean cat”, but really, given that they did things like this to him, I’m not in the least surprised he was mean sometimes.

Still, at the beginning of the next scene, there he is again, up near the ceiling – this time on the stuffed head of a cow, referencing the herds of beef that Holly’s fiancé-of-the-moment owns in Brazil.

And he’s brought in the taxi, when Holly gets bailed out of jail. This time, he’s been wrapped in a towel – I suspect he’d had enough of being chucked around, and this was the only way he’d stay still. But he’s still “a poor, no-name slob”.

He’s really not a decoration this cat – he’s a solid character all the way through, and he must be onscreen as much as Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard, which is saying something. Holly rejects him too, from her grief at her isolation and her fear of Paul’s love: as she prepares to throw the cat out of the taxi in the pouring rain, she says “What do you think? This ought to be the right kind of place for a tough guy like you, garbage cans, rats galore. Scram!” The poor cat is obviously extremely reluctant to go out into the wet, and when he’s pushed off the verge of the car door, he trots off smartly, hopefully to where his trainer is sitting, calling encouragingly. The seemingly last sight we have of him is of him wet, bedraggled and lost, with his front paws draped over a railing, and the rain is still lashing down. Paul is so horrified at this that he pays the driver off, gets out of the car, and delivers the turning point speech to Holly: that she’s scared, of life, of love, of happiness, that her fear of being bound is already keeping her in a cage, she just doesn’t know it.

And that’s it. She runs after him, to find that he’s gone back to find the Cat. She searches for him, in the sopping, grimy entryway, and just when everything seems lost, and she and Paul are looking mutely at one another, Cat miaows, and they’re together again, huckleberry friends just like in Moon River. Both sopping wet, but they’re two drifters who’ve found one another, never to be parted,.

The lovely ginger moggy was named Orangey, and he made a TV serial and almost a dozen films, including My Favourite Martian and The Incredible Shrinking Man, though the names of the three dozen or so cats who went by the name of Orangey, and the names of the cats he played, have got a bit mixed up over the years, but the basic name is Orangey. He’s also (uniquely) the winner of two Patsy Awards, the Animal Oscars, one of which was for this film. Bless. And Orangey himself, whichever cat he was onscreen, is said to be remembered at Forest Lawn Memorial park, in Hollywood Hills.

Catslides and totem poles

Catslide Roof, Priest House
Catslide Roof, Priest House

 

 

Sussex is quite a place to be a cat lover. I recently came across the term “catslide roof” at the Priest’s House in West Hoathly, for instance. Never heard of it before … online research seems to say it’s American, but whichever side of the pond it’s from, it’s definitely about a long roof, sloping from the top of a two-storey structure to the edge of a one-storey add-on. It’s irresistible to think of a cat losing it’s grip, maybe in a frost, and sliding down it, but no one seems to know. I’ve even seen references to a “catslide dormer”, so it’s obviously here to stay.

 

Puddy Cat at Lewes Totem Pole
Puddy Cat at Lewes Totem Pole

There are no cats on catslides. But if you go to the All Saints Art Centre in Lewes, there’s a cat on a totem pole – All Saints was de-sanctified 35 years ago, so the art is cute, not blasphemous. Anonymous, though, unfortunately.  The picture below shows the little mog at the top of the pole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cat at the top of the world
Cat at the top of the world

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brighton Oxfam loves cats too
Brighton Oxfam loves cats too

Sussex also has Brighton, of course, which I’ve covered before. But this little group in a well known charity shop was new to me, when I visited the other day. Adorable, as is the “not for sale” notice.

In the meantime, I’m devouring all three books of The Hunger Games, and as well as liking it much more than I expected, Buttercup the cat is taking up space in my brain. More of Buttercup in the next post.

The Amberley Museum Cats

When you love cats, you find them everywhere. So there I was, out for the day at the Amberley Chalk Pits Museum, indulging one of my other hobbies – industrial and agricultural history, which I find fascinating. They run courses on countryside skills too – pole lathe turning, for instance.

Anyway.

There I was, wandering over the rails of the little railway that runs throughout the site, when I saw this little scene. I had to look further, as you do, and found a touching story of the cats that lived and died here from the 1980s onwards. They were brought to the site by Ian Dean, the museum’s first director.  Chalk (the gorgeous white one) wandered away to live with a family nearby, as cats do, but returned when his brother became ill. His brother, Pepper, was only five when he died, but after that Chalk stayed at the   Museum for all of his long life, 21 years in total.

They were followed by Nelson, who had an even shorter life than Pepper, but was obviously just as loved.

Another cat is commemorated here, Miss Agatha – she has no Victorian Celtic grave marker, as the others do, but a little plinth, set with her picture – she too was loved.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThey’re all buried together, in a quiet spot at the edge of the museum proper, on a slight slope, with a good view of the rats and mice they loved to catch. It’s a sweet, serene little place, and I was so happy to have found it.