All posts by Jan

Hodge

Imagine the scene … high summer last year … too high, in fact, to do much serious sightseeing, and there’s always serious sightseeing to do in London. But me and my companion gave it up, for an hour or so, and instead we went to pay homage to Hodge The Cat.

Gough Square

What cat blog has not discussed Hodge the Cat? Not many, so now it’s my turn. First off, what a great location: it’s immediately north of Fleet Street, between Fetter Lane and Shoe Lane, but it’s so quiet, you’d never think it was in the middle of one of the most densely populated cities in the western hemisphere. And here’s a view of charming little Gough Square itself, you can see how beautifully Hodge is catered to, even now, hundreds of years after his death. Those wooden chairs that gather around him are really comfortable, too.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESHis oysters are still there for him to claw at (oysters were cheap back then).  And he’s still sitting on Dr Johnson’s book … it’s only when you walk all the way round that you can see his plinth is definitely a book, from this angle it’s very clear.

 

 

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESHe still gets his milk delivered, too – lots of it (okay, so this was sitting on the doorstep of some nearby offices, but it could have been for Hodge).

 

 

 

Hodge was the cat of Dr Samuel Johnson, the famous man of letters (which sums it up, really, today he’d be a web pundit, without a doubt) of the eighteenth century.  Even if you don’t know of him directly, you’ve probably heard of one of his best-known sayings: “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”.   He didn’t write directly about Hodge himself, we only know of the beautiful mog because of Boswell (the Watson to Johnson’s Sherlock, really) who said: ” I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily, one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, “Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;” and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, “but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.”

The statue itself was only unveiled in 1997, and apparently the sculptor Jon Bickley made it the right height for adults to hug.  He knew!  He really did.  I do wonder why Hodge was chosen, since Johnson says he liked other cats of his better – but I wonder if he was teasing?  Or embarrassed to be showing such affection?

Whatever the truth, Hodge is A Very Fine Cat indeed, just as the plaque tells us, and in the city which provides all that life can offer, the companionship of cats is an essential part of it all.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Cats

c Nicole Hrustyk Dreamstime
Mrs Norris remembers                                         c Nicole Hrustyk Dreamstime

 

Cats are threaded through the whole of Harry Potter, it’s a wonderful thing to see – maybe that’s one of the reason I feel so at home in that universe? Although, in researching for this article, I discovered the not-so-secret secret that JK Rowling is allergic to cats, and doesn’t like to be in the same room with them for too long. She isn’t particularly fond of them, either.

However, she’s very fair: the first book tells us nearly everything about cats that JK Rowling wants us to know, and that is that cats are almost exactly the same as people. Some are good, some are bad, according to their own nature. The only difference between cats and people is that there’s no cat as evil as Voldemort, not that I can see, anyway, and that’s kind of JKR when she’s not fond of cats herself. Cats are integral to the wizarding world, just like they are to the muggle world.

The very first cat we see is Professor McGonagall, when she’s already Transfigured – Mr Dursley, on his way to work on the morning of that fateful day, sees a tabby cat reading a map. And she’s sitting on his garden wall when he comes home in the evening, but she waits for Professor Dumbledore, who doesn’t arrive till nearly midnight, and that’s Minerva McGonagall to a T – always active, and always supporting Dumbledore.

We only hear about the next cats, we don’t see them. These are the ones belonging to Arabella Figg, who used to babysit Harry during Dudley’s birthday trips out. But on those days, “Mrs Figg made him look at photographs of all the cats she’d ever owned … Tibbles, Snowy, Mr Paws and Tufty”. We soon find out that she’s gone off her cats a bit because she broke her leg tripping over one of the cats. Mrs Figg has her own secrets, of course, but we don’t even know that they exist until much later in the series.

Cats are one of the three sorts of animals allowed for first-years at Hogwarts: toads and owls are also on the list. So when Harry gets to platform nine-and-three-quarters for the first time and sees the wonderful engine building up steam for the journey to Hogwarts and the chattering crowd on the platform, “cats of every colour wound here and there between their legs”.

And that’s the point, really: they’re there, all the time in the background. Occasionally, one steps forward into the foreground and in this book, that’s really Mrs Norris, the cat of Mr Filch the caretaker. She has “bulging, lamp-like eyes just like Filch’s”, and quite like this Cat Pottery cat in a recent post of mine:

“She patrolled the corridors alone. Break a rule in front of her, put just one toe out of line, and she’d whisk off for Filch … it was the dearest ambition of many [students] to give Mrs Norris a good kick.”

 

Mrs Norris patrolled on her own!  Wizarding cats are more than our cats – more than our cats let us see, anyway … but Mrs Norris definitely isn’t likeable. Even Hagrid, when Harry and Ron go to tea with him for the first time, says “An’ as fer that cat, Mrs Norris, I’d like ter introduce her to Fang some time. D’yeh know, every time I go up ter the school, she follows me everywhere? Can’t get rid of her – Filch puts her up to it”.

No matter what – in the first film, Mrs Norris is a beautiful, beautiful slim long-haired Maine Coon – actually, three Maine Coons, according to the website Showcatsonline, which even shows behind the scenes training moments. I’ve not seen that anywhere else, and I really, really like Harry Potter.

Interestingly, there’s an interview on with Gary Gero on Scholastic, the wide-ranging learning website.  Gary is the animal trainer who provides many of the animals on the Harry Potter sets, and he has this to say about Mrs Norris (well, Tibbles): “we have to very carefully select cats. That’s one of the keys—you get a cat who enjoys work and enjoys the environment and enjoys new people and new situations. And then, it’s all about dinnertime with cats, isn’t it? We take their dinner and we divide it up into training sessions, and they’re pretty much working for their dinner. Then, they get a bowl of food at night as well. But they’re food is all regulated, and they’re fairly intelligent. Their training method is a little less direct than, let’s say, a dog. You make smaller steps. And again, once you understand exactly how a cat learns and what progress it makes, it’s not difficult. They try—you just have to be careful that you don’t expect too much of a single training session.”

Mrs Norris pops briefly into the story again when Harry and Ron visit the Mirror of Erised together at Christmas. They’re wearing the Cloak of Invisibility, but they can’t tell whether or not it works on cats. And JK Rowling doesn’t tell us at this stage!

She also pops in at the very start of the evening when Harry has his first confrontation with Voldemort, but it’s more a case of remembering that she’s there, and adding colour to the journey. It’s important to remember, though, that Mrs Norris looks at our heroic trio, even though they’re under the Invisibility Cloak. She doesn’t betray them, either.

And that’s it! For the first book, anyway. Though I should say, Gryffindor House has a lion as it’s symbol. Cats rule Hogwarts, just like they rule the Internet.

 

 

Belgian cats rule the world

I never thought I’d write about terrorism in my cat blog. I’m still not, actually – I’m writing about what the residents of Brussels did yesterday, when asked by the security services not to broadcast what they were seeing of police and military operations, in case it aided the terrorists.

The news media are just as liable to spread news and pictures, of course, but it was the residents who responded so magnificently: “the internet is made of cats” proved true last night. The internet, human individuality and irrepressibility, whatever you want to call it.  It exploded all over the web last night, spontaneously.  It was fun, as well.

Just as the people evacuated from the French national football stadium sang La Marseillaise, just as Parisians vowed to go out and enjoy themselves on Friday 20th, one week after the attacks, so Belgians showed that while they could co-operate with their security services, by staying inside and by not tweeting details of actions, they could also still undermine the grip of the terrorists, by laughing and refusing to be overcome.

Some of the pix are already famous – and some have been thought up on the fly. Belgium has never been particularly famous for it’s sense of humour: Poirot and Tintin are fun but kind of humourless. That sense of stodginess has been changed forever.

So sing along with me, to the tune of Lady of Spain: “Kittens of Belgium, we adore you….”

You’ve probably seen most of the pictures, they’ve been all over the web, but they’re irresistible, so here are some of them again:

They got him“They got him” …

 

 

 

Vader-alike.jpg large Vader-alike.

 

 

 

 

Stay away from the windows“Stay away from the windows”.

 

 

 

Tweeting There was British input too, in support of the Belgians.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love from the Belgian police.png largeAnd earlier today, the Belgian police themselves tweeted a thank you to the cats that helped them so much yesterday.  Love those police forever.

The Smithfield Cat

I was lucky enough to go to the church of St Bartholomew the Great, to see the Smithfield Cat, on a day when there was a 30 minute gap between two weddings – it’s a really popular church for that, being so old and so photogenic.

Most of all, it’s atmospheric, mysterious. The original nave of the church was lost when Henry VIII dissolved the priories along with the monasteries, so what is now the church is amalgamated from pieces of the original priory. Lots of nooks and crannies and tiny archways in thick walls. It’s absolutely beautiful.

The history of the immediate area is mixed: back in the twelfth century, it was a huge, open plain used for knights on horseback to joust. One hundred years after that, it was the place of execution for William Wallace, who fought so hard for Scottish independence, and later in the fourteenth century Wat Tyler of the Peasants’ Revolt was executed there too. Then, for five hundred years or so, it’s been both the site of the legendary Bartholomew Fair, and of the Smithfield Meat Market (which is still there! Very odd, since nowadays it’s right on the doorstep of the City of London financial community).

Sitting there all this time, since 1123 in fact, is the priory church of St Bartholomew the Great, founded just before the Meat Market, a great engraving of which has been put online by Victorian Web **

I do wonder if the Smithfield cat was a local moggy!  Maybe a cat that was adopted by the priors, or even by the builders of the priory? It wouldn’t have been in the nave of the church originally, the first nave is now the raised churchyard, according to the church guide.

And it’s still mysterious.

Technically the Cat is a corbel, a load bearing stone jutting out from a wall. When you see the Smithfield Cat described online, it’s often claimed that carved corbels are later than the St Bart’s interior, but just having a quick look at architectural history tells me that isn’t true. Lincoln Cathedral, for instance, was built at the same time as St Bart’s, and has a few very famous corbels (the images are copyright, so I can’t show them, sorry).

The Smithfield Cat looks a bit like the grinning Cheshire Cat … and it’s very, very high up.  A bit of a photo commentary below, as I really loved the place.

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The entrance to the church itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe cat is on the left of the pillar, high up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I only found the Cat because I asked a friendly verger – and although the whole place was bustling, she was very friendly, and led me directly to the right pillar. You know, the whole complex of buildings was built in the twelfth century; a medieval working man carved this Cat one winter, ready to be hoisted far into the air during the next spring, to be set in its place for getting on for eight hundred years now. The Cat is just a minor part of the priory, not even mentioned on their website, but weirdly I think he’s on Google. The interior of the church is available on streetview! I’ve no idea why, but it is, and if you go there, turn away from the altar and look up on high magnification, you have a sort of side view of the Cat. It’s badly lit (it’s a church!) but it’s there. Really, really something.

We need a real live cat to finish off, so here’s Miss Joan Brown, interviewed just over a year ago, who was the first lady to actually work in Smithfield Market, in 1945. She has a wonderful cat!

Joan Brown and her cat

 

National Cat Centre, East Sussex

I had an afternoon out at the National Cat Centre recently – a fascinating place. There’s a cafe and shop (a really good shop!) as well as a nature trail.

National Cat Centre

The whole thing has had a refurb and rebuild, as they only bought the site in 2002 – these are some of the catteries, which are beautifully designed. The stones in front are part of a flood defence.

Cattery space with flood defence

Everybody in the area is very proud of the visit that JFK paid to the site, just a few months before he was assassinated in 1963. His helicopter actually landed at the Centre itself, which is quite something – he was visiting the prime minister of the day Harold MacMillan, who lived close by.

They do a huge amount of work, of course – neutering, rehoming, education (lots of leaflets to download free from their website).  They get out and about a lot of the time too.

On the go

As an aside, it’s become a really good local alternative to Wakehurst Place, for locals to go have a coffee and a little walk – Wakehurst now charge for parking, they don’t have anything savoury in their free-to-access cafe, and they’ve dramatically downsized the amount of merchandise in their shop, which is weird. In contrast, the Cat Centre has free parking, lots of lovely nibbles in the cafe (it’s not as big, but there are outside tables too) there’s quite a bit of exhibition space, and even the 10 acre nature walk part of the site is free. Its an absolute bargain for a low-key afternoon out, with plenty of space for kids to run about.

Right next door is the Red Lion pub, a big, nineteenth-century country pub with modern facilities, and really friendly staff.

I had to pop in once I noticed their pub sign – which is a white lion. No one at the pub on the day knew why they had a white lion, but I thought it was pretty cute. There was more Macmillan/JFK memorabilia there too.

And here’s me, making sure I got every scrap of cat-related images I could find, I like the way this one sort of looks as though I’m a lion:I'm a white lion, really

Just to finish up, this is confession time. I didn’t see a single cat, I didn’t go into the catteries at all. I just saw dogs! But it was all very lovely.

I just saw dogs

 

My Cat Pottery cats

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As I mentioned, I’m posting now to show you my own Winstanley Pottery cats, which I bought because they were so like my own beautiful mother-and-daughter moggies.  The photo above is my pottery cats, of course, and just below this paragraph are my own beautiful cats:  Jessie, the stubby-legged daughter, and Willow, the aristocratic-looking grey one.  She was just as much a moggy as her daughter, her littermates were all sorts of colours, but she came up trumps (well, I think so) in the genetic lottery.  The two of them were very close, and they lived together all their lives.

Starting to settle in

The photo below was taken in the middle of a house move, and once they saw the empty cupboard, it was irresistible.  Willow, of course, claimed the top spot, she always did!

Cats and moving house, Jan 98a

And the house move photo shows exactly why I bought the particular statuettes I did, the big grey one looking directly at me, and the anxious little black and white deferring:

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The colours were off the shelf, the direction of the eye movements were individual, and they expressed very clearly what my own lovely cats looked like. They’re made of ceramic, with glass eyes, and the glass is described as cathedral glass. I don’t know if that means they’re made from glass with the same chemical breakdown as cathedrals in this country, or whether some collapsing cathedral somewhere has sold off their windows to finance a renovation, but the result is gorgeous, the eyes definitely feel alive.

Close up, the eyes might look a bit spooky, like the photo below, but in truth this is exactly what Willow looked like first thing in the morning as she peered over the top of my duvet, demanding that I get up and provide her with breakfast, in the manner to which I made her accustomed.

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I’ve got to hand it to Winstanley Pottery, they’ve done a marvellous job of showing the different characters cats can have.  Thank you, Winstanley.

The Cat Pottery, North Walsham, Norfolk

Last year, I made a repeat visit to a hugely important site in Norfolk for cat lovers: the Cat Pottery in North Walsham. It’s just outside the centre of this beautiful little market town, I’m sure it was only a five minute walk. I went along there with family, and even my mum, who now uses a walking stick, found the walk easy enough.  The entrance is entrancing, let’s say, as you can see in the pictures below.  There’s love and thoughtfulness in the welcome – beautiful displays of plants and railway memorabilia, and a few cats peeping out too, hinting at the riches within.

2014 Norfolk Cat Pottery

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And what riches! The finished products are on display – apparently about 30% of the business is now hares, but that still leaves cats with 70%, so that’s okay.

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The detailing is exquisite … I took a close-up of this one, in a display cabinet, it’s a little different from their normal range.

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The moulds, and some unpainted work just out of the kiln, are also to be seen – not just hares, but I could see a few meerkats as well, and a frog, and a dog, and … and … lots of things.  I got very excited at the time, and I’m excited all over again now, it was such a beautiful atmosphere there.

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Luckily for me, I came across Nick Allen, the son of the founders of the Pottery, Ken Allen and Jenny Winstanley, and he was happy to have his photo taken by me.

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I love this place. It’s world famous, and deservedly so. I mentioned the Pottery’s “normal range” in the first part of this post, and it’s the eyes of the cats in that range that are most striking. They’re like nothing you’ve ever seen, deep, luminous and full of expression.  The photo below, taken from one of the cats in the cabinet, is an attempt to show how beautiful they are.

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The first time I went, years previously, I just had to buy a couple that were like my own cats, and I was able to find cats that were just right, already in stock, I didn’t even need to use their bespoke service. I’ll post again showing the comparison, and showing the luminosity of their eyes.

It was lovely to be in a place where little cat movements are captured so well, and where the markings of the cats are so finely distinguished. A blissful experience.

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.

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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.