Friday 31 December 2010

Dog and Cat Diaries - A New Year treat!

8:00 am -      Dog food!  My favourite thing!
9:30 am -      A car ride!  My favourite thing!

9:40 am -      A walk in the park!  My favourite thing!
10:30 am -     Got rubbed and petted!  My favourite thing!

12:00 pm -     Lunch!  My favourite thing!

1:00 pm -      Played in the yard!  My favourite thing!

3:00 pm -      Wagged my tail!  My favourite thing!

5:00 pm -      Milk bones!  My favourite thing!

7:00 pm -      Got to play ball!  My favourite thing!

8:00 pm -      Wow!  Watched TV with the people!  My favourite thing!

11:00 pm -     Sleeping on the bed!  My favourite thing!

Day 983 of my captivity.
My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects.
They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets.  Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.
The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape.  In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet.
Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet.  I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of.  However, they merely made condescending comments about what a "good little hunter" I am.  Bastards.
There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight.  I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event.  However, I could hear the noises and smell the food.  I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of "allergies".  I must learn what this means and how to use it to my advantage.
Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking.  I must try this again tomorrow - but at the top of the stairs.
I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches.  The dog receives special privileges.  He is regularly released - and seems to be more than willing to return.  He is obviously retarded.
The bird has got to be an informant.  I observe him communicating with the guards regularly.  I am certain that he reports my every move.  My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe.  For now...

With many thanks to Lisa Gold (photographer.)

Sunday 19 December 2010

Puss in Boots - a new look at the Pantomime story.

Puss in Boots.

The Pantomime season is upon us once more.

 [I digress, but recently I found an American relative by marriage had no idea what a pantomime was. So for those whose culture is sensible and where men don’t dress up as women and shout ‘He’s behind you’ from the stage, a pantomime is a traditional tale given a modern twist, peppered with jokes and songs…and oh yes, men dressed up as women.]
As a child I remember a Christmas treat of being taken to the London Palladian to see ‘Puss in Boots.’ This is a version of the story of a poor boy, Dick Whittington. He heard rumours that London was paved with gold and gathered all his possessions into a spotted handkerchief and, along with his pet cat Puss, went to the city where the cat helped him make his fortune.

Dick Whittington had often heard
The curious story told.
That far fam’d London’s brilliant streets
Were paved with sheets of gold.’

But this is more than just a story. There was a real Dick Whittington (1358 – 1423), the youngest son of Sir William Whittington, and he did indeed become Lord Mayor of London three times, as told in the pantomime.

‘Poor Dick ran away,
Four miles he ran, then wearied much,
He sat him on a stone,
And heard the merry bells of Bow
Speak to him in this tone –
Turn agin Whittington,
Thrice Lord Mayor of London.’

So, you might well ask, how did the cat make Dick his fortune?
The story suggestion is that Dick sold poor Puss to the King of Barbary, earning a fortune which he then invested.

Meanwhile puss sail’d across the seas,
Unto the Moorish Court,
And to the palace of the King,
The merchant Pussy brought.
For that poor King no rest enjoy’d
All through the rats and mice,
They swept the food from off his board –
Puss killed them in a trice.’

This may not be as far fetched as it seems because there was a regular trade in good British mousing cats, sent to foreign climes to free them of vermin. For example, an advertisement in 1857 offers to buy  live cats to export to New Zealand…and of course not forgetting the generous export of a ship load of cats to St Helena, to free Napoleon (who was terrified of cats!) from a plague of rats.

The King gave him heaps of gold,
For an animal so rare.’

But a more likely explanation is that the ‘Cats’ referred to in the Whittington story were a type of sailing vessel designed for shipping coal. These ‘Cats’ plyed a profitable trade and it is highly likely that Dick Whittington earned his wealth from some canny investments in the shipping trade transporting coal!

‘For Whittington was thrice Lord Major
In great King Henry’s reign.’

Sunday 12 December 2010

Cat pies? -Victorian attitudes to cats.

Would it surprise you to learn that in Victorian times, if you were well off and owned a cat you were liable to

 be called eccentric? This was because although cats were widely kept, it was by the poorer working

 classes who needed them to keep down the vermin population in rodent infested lodgings. An RSPCA

report from the 1857 notes that:
‘…almost every [working class] household has a cat.’

            Indeed for a Victorian to own a cat was tantamount to advertising their impoverished circumstances, as illustrated by Dick Whittington. In the story the future Lord Mayor’s companion was a cat, something the audience would have immediately understood as showing that Dick was a humble man from a poor background.

            In his 19th century ‘Survey of London Life’ Booth observes that a householder’s income was reflected by the condition of his cat.
People are poor indeed whose cats look starved. I have seen the Cats’ Meat Man on his round in a very poor street and no less than a dozen cats were strolling around with tails confidently raised, awaiting their turns.’
In such times, cats were generally not pampered like today’s animals, far from it they were often cruelly abused. Alfred Rosling wrote in the 1850’s:
No boy…would dream of passing a cat without throwing [a stone] at it.’
But perhaps these poor animals were lucky just being stoned since there was a recognised problem with traders who trapped cats for their pelts.
            Victorian times were perilous for cats since it wasn’t just their skins that were in demand, it was also their meat. In Charles Dickens’ novel the Pickwick Papers, Sam Weller discusses ‘Cat Pies’ with Mr Pickwick:
I [Sam Weller] lodged in the same house vith a pieman once…make pies out o’anything, he could. ‘What a number o’cats you keep, Mr Brooks,’ says I ‘You must be very fond of cats’ says I.
‘Other people is,’ says he a-winkin’ at me…and vispering in my ear, ‘don’t mention this agin…but it’s

 the seasonin’ as does it,’ says he, a-pointin’ to a wery nice little tabby kitten, ‘and I seasons ‘em for

beefsteak, weal or kidney, ‘cording to the demand.’

Sunday 5 December 2010

Snow Joke - when you're a cat.

Snow Joke - when you're a cat.

Widget - coping with harsh weather conditions.

This week the UK struggled under an early dusting of snow. Needless to say my cats regarded their frozen garden with utter distaste, seeing it as their duty to pin down the sofa beneath a pile of cushions. Disappointingly, Widget turned down the opportunity of hunting, being camouflaged against the snow, in favor of a snooze on her radiator bed.

A cat’s love of heat and comfort reminded me of the story of a wager between the George IV, when Prince of Wales, and the eminent Georgian politician Charles James Fox.

Charles James Fox, 1782, by Joshua Reynolds.

The story goes that one broiling hot summer’s day, Fox and the Prince of Wales happened to find themselves walk together along St James’ Street, London. Sweltering in their wigs, coats and waistcoats, Fox suggested a wager to take Prinny’s mind off the uncomfortable heat.

Fox bet that he would see more cats on his side of the road, even if he allowed the Prince to  chose which side to walk on. Prinny readily agreed. But on reaching Piccadily it transpired that Fox had seen 13 cats and the Prince of Wales none.

Amazed by this seeming feat of magic, the Prince insisted on an explanation.
“Your Royal Highness,” Fox said, “chose of course, the shady side of the way as the most agreeable. I knew that the sunny side would be left for me, and that cats prefer the sunshine.”

Gillray cartoon of the Prince of Wales.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Victorian Veterinarians - a Woeful Reputation!

I have two addictions – cats and reading and so ‘reading about cats’ is a natural consequence. I recently picked up a fascinating book by Charles Henry Ross. Written in 1868 ‘The Book of Cats – a Chit-chat Chronicle of Feline Facts and Fancies.’ Packed with observations on all things cattish, in one chapter the author touches on health care and veterinarians. 

Being a veterinarian myself, I read this sage advice with a wry smile:

‘In giving a cat the scrapings of dirty plates, it is as well, if you value the animal’s life, to the fish bones, should there be any among the leavings.’

Mr Ross goes on to describe the trauma to pet and owner of a fish bone getting stuck, something he had first hand experience of. Whilst staying with a lady friend, her cat suffered for three days from a stuck fish bone, refusing all food and not even able to lap. Eventually, at her wits end, the owner called on the help of a veterinarian.

‘At last someone suggested seeking the aid of a veterinary surgeon whose dignity seemed just a little bit ruffled by being called in for a Cat, and who, when he did come, did not bring his instruments with him. Nevertheless, he found out what was wrong and forcing open the Cat’s jaws, put in his finger to loosen what he called a fish bone.’

Alas, this woeful lack of regard for the feline species amongst 19th century veterinarians, seems to be the norm rather than the exception, as illustrated in this passage from Hugh Lofting’s famous novel, ‘The Story of Doctor Do-Little.’

‘It happened one day that the Doctor was sitting in his kitchen talking with the Cat’s Meat Man who had come to see him with a stomach ache.
“Why don’t you give up being a people’s doctor and be an animal doctor?” Asked the Cat’s Meat Man.
“But there are plenty of animal-doctors.” John Do-Little replied.
“But you see Doctor,” the Cat’s Meat Man went on, ‘you know all about animals much more than what these here vets do.”
“Yes, there are plenty,’ said Polynesia (the parrot) “but none of them any good at all.”

What a lamentable reputation the veterinary profession had then! But did you also notice the reference to the Cat’s Meat Man? Intriguing…and the subject of a post on another occasion….

Sunday 21 November 2010

Purr Power.

Purr Power.

In the 1970’s and 80’s Russian scientists undertook research into reducing the healing time of injured elite athletes. Researchers discovered that vibrations of certain frequencies did accelerate the repair of damaged muscle and decreased joint swelling and pain - by stimulating the body to produce endogenous non-steroidal anti-inflammatory compounds.

Is it a coincidence that the frequency of a cat’s purr falls within this critical range? Further research showed that vibrations in the region of 25 – 50 Hz can increase bond density, speed up fracture healing and increase measurable bone strength by up to 20%. Elizabeth von Muggenthaler, a researcher in bioacoustics, measured the purr frequency of various felid species from cheetahs to domestic cats. She found they ranged from 20 to 140 Hz with the average house cat clocking in at 25 – 50 Hz – which makes the good old moggie the perfect companion for people suffering from osteoporosis!

There are many legends associating cats with the ability to heal. The Japanese believed a black cat could relieve spasms if placed on the patient’s stomach, and could also cure epilepsy and melancholia.

Scottish folklore tells that fur and blood drawn from a cats, could treat all ailments. For example;
‘Blindness:  take the head of a black cat, burn it to ashes in an earthenware pot, then blow these ashes into the affected eye three times a day from a goose quill.’
 Cat skin was also a remedy for burns. The Dutch believed that wearing the pelt of a freshly skinned cat would cure inflammation of the skin, whilst draping a cat across the shoulders of the afflicted was a certain cure for arthritis.

Venturing further back to the time of the ancient Egyptians and the cat goddess ‘Bastet’ who possessed the ability to heal. Artefacts exist bearing the inscription ‘Bastet – the nurse’ showing an engraving of a cat. The Egyptians put such faith in Bastet’s healing power that households would have a small statue of this regal feline as a talisman to ward off the evil spirits that caused ill health. The equivalent much less elegant, old English tradition was to cut off a black cat’s tail and bury it beneath the doorstep – thus protecting the inhabitants from sickness.
However, it seems not all pets are beneficial for health. An NHS review into reasons for hospital admissions (2002) highlighted interesting statistics. Out of nearly one million people admitted, rat bites accounted for twenty-two whilst one enterprising individual (in England, don’t forget!) went to the trouble of being bitten by a crocodile!
Me? Cant go wrong with cats!


Sunday 14 November 2010

Feline Fables.

Feline Fables  

     Fables were commonly used in the middle Ages, to teach people with little access to education the rudiments of right and wrong. The storyteller used quirky tales that featured talking animals to hold the attention of his audience.
Credited to a 13th century English preacher, Odo of Cheriton, warns to: 
Expect nothing if a promise is obtained unfairly –
‘A cat came across a mouse that had fallen into a jug of beer. Unable to scramble up the smooth sides of the vessel, the mouse was in danger of drowning. After some bargaining the cat agreed to rescue the mouse from certain death. He set the condition that the mouse must come back to the him, when called. This  promise extracted,  the cat scooped up the mouse with a paw and set  her back on solid ground. The mouse scampered away to the safety of her nest.
  A while later the same cat called in this debt of honour. Fearing she would be eaten the mouse refused to join him. Her reason being:
‘A promise is worthless if gained under pressure - AND I was drunk at the time!’’

The story of ‘Belling the cat’ originates from Europe and warns:
‘It’s easier to have a good idea than to put it into action. 
‘Belling the Cat,’ goes like this –
A family of mice shared a rambling, old house with a cat. Sadly for the mice, the cat was a gifted hunter and frequently caught one of their numbers for his supper. Their colony dwindling in size, the mice decided to call a council of war and  work out how best to deal with their problem. After much argument, a young mouse stood up and announced he had the perfect solution. He suggested attaching a noisy bell to the cat, so that they would hear him approach and get time to run away.  All murmured approval except for one wise old mouse, who asked -
 ‘ But who is willing to attach the bell to the cat?’

      The various animals were carefully selected for their human characteristics, for example; a bull for strength, horse for pride, lion for boldness and a cat for cunning. Cats were a commonly accepted short hand to show cleverness or mischief, as shown by Caxton writing in 1484;

‘The devil plays with a sinner, like a cat does with a mouse.’

And finally: ‘ The Cat and the Cockerel.’
A cat caught a cockerel and pondered on a reasonable excuse for eating him.  He
accused the cockerel of being a nuisance, crowing every morning and disturbing
the farmer’s wife sleep. The cock defended himself well and replied that if it wasn’t for his crowing, the farmer wouldn’t be up in time each day, to complete his work. After a short hesitation the cat responded,
‘Although a good explanation, if I was to accept it, I would remain hungry.’
 Without further ado, the cat ate the cockerel.
The message? Justification is nice but not essential!

A clear conscience leads to a restful night's sleep!

Wednesday 10 November 2010

The New Covey Book Trailer Awards!

I'm thrilled to announce that the book trailer for 'A Dead Man's Debt' has been entered for the New Covey Book Trailer Awards.
To view this evocative trailer, as well as the other entries, please visit:

Should you wish to vote for 'A Dead Man's Debt' , the trailer is number 4 on the list.
Many thanks,
Grace x

Sunday 7 November 2010

'Familiar Felines' - cats and witchcraft.

  A Norse legend, tells that Freya, the goddess of love and fertility, rode in a chariot pulled by two black cats. The latter were actually her swift horses that had been possessed by the devil. The cats served Freya well for seven years, and at the end of this time were rewarded by being turned into witches – disguised as cats!

     Centuries old insecurities led the cat to be labelled as the witch’s familiar. The Hungarians even specified that this happened at seven years of age – the cat could be spared this fate by incising a crucifix into its skin before it reached this significant age.    

     So great was the association of cats with witchcraft in 15th century Europe that they became synonymous as a symbol of evil. Scotland had its own sinister cat, the Cait Sith or Highland Fairy Cat. More a demon than a fairy, this monstrous black and white animal with a spot on his chest, was said to be a transformed witch.

     Pope Innocent VIII legalised the persecution of witches, and as a result many women who kept cats were tortured. The hysteria spread, encouraged in the name of ‘casting out the devil.’ When Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne, some protestants staged a mocking ceremony of this superstition, by filling a wicker dummy of the Pope with cats, which they threw onto a bonfire. The screams of the cats was said to be,
‘The language of the devil from the body of the Holy Father.’
This sick cycle continued with Catholics shaving the heads of cats, to represent protestant friars, before hanging the poor animals.

Next week - More Cat-tales from history.

Sunday 31 October 2010

Cats and the Possessed.

        On Halloween, spirits from the underworld are said to roam the earth. This tradition has it roots in the

 pagan festival of Samhain. This marked the start of winter when a portal between the spiritual and physical

 worlds briefly opened. The Anglo Saxons held a similar the festival on the same date ‘Halloween’, before

 the Catholic Church christianised October 31st, as the eve of All Saints Day.

    However, folklore in many countries has it that the devil can enter man’s domain throughout the year, using the cat as his agent.  Old English custom held that a cat roving a graveyard was looking for a soul to possess and a cat sitting on a tombstone meant the deceased now belonged to the devil. Two cats fighting in a cemetery were the devil and an angel fighting over a soul of the dead. Throughout medieval Europe, pagan black mass often involved a black cat, to represent the devil, and a white cat, a healer.

    Remarkably similar superstitions existed in ancient China.  On the death of his owner, a cat would be given away until after the burial. The relatives believed that if the cat leapt over the body, the corpse would rise up and miss its chance of redemption. In parts of Eastern Europe, a cat jumping over a corpse was said to transform the deceased into a vampire and in Northumbria during the middle ages, a cat that walked over a body would be killed, so that it couldn’t steal the soul of the departed human.

     On a more positive note, the Malayan Jakurs believed that when they died, a cat would be ready and waiting to lead them through the fires of hell to heaven, spraying as he went to cool the pathway. Likewise the Egyptian Pharaoh, Tutankhamen, was led to the underworld by a black cat.

Sunday 24 October 2010

'Shackleton Shot my Cat!'

Today's post looks at a touching story of devotion and survival - a man and his cat "Mrs Chippy."

Shackleton's ship 'Endurance' trapped in ice.

In 1914 adventurer and explorer, Earnest Shackleton assembled a crew of like minded men to voygage to the Antartic in the Endurance. Master shipwright, the carpenter Henry McNeish, smuggled a cat aboard in his tool box. Much to the crews amusement this cat followed the carpenter around like 'a suspicious wife checking up on her husband' and despite actually being a tom cat, earnt the name "Mrs Chippy."
Mrs Chippy (acutally a tom cat!) on the shoulder of a crew member.

Aboard ship Mrs Chippy had many adventures of his own. The diary of Thomas Orde-Lees recounts the night of 13th September 1914 when Mrs Chippy fell overboard out of a porthole. Luckily the Officer of the Watch heard the spalsh and was able to turn the Endurance around, and despite spending 10 minutes in freezing water the cat was rescued, fit and well.
Mrs Chippy was not above tormenting the 60 Canadian Husky sled dogs, kenneled on the upper decks - either by sitting for a wash just out of reach, or by sharpening his claws on their kennels. The Bo-sun was so enraged by this activity that he threatened to toss the cat overboard - and was demoted for his efforts!
Endurance - trapped in ice for 6 months then abandoned.
But then disaster struck the expedition. In January 1915 the Endurance became trapped in Antarctic ice sheets. Worse still, Mrs Chippy disappeared for 5 whole days and many feared he had frozen to death - only to reemerge stretching and yawning as if he'd just woken from a good sleep!

'Mrs Chippy 's almost total disregard for the diabolical forces at work on the ship was more than remarkable - it was inspirational.' [A crew member]

Whilst the Endurance's crew eeked out their rations by eating penguin and seal meat, Mrs Chippy refused to compromise and insisted on his preferred diet of tinned sardines. In the 6 months the crew was stranded, Mrs Chippy was the only one to gain weight!
But after 6 months the huge crushing force of the ice took its toil on Endurance and there was no option but for the men to abandon their ship and make a heroic hike across ice sheets to find help. In this desperate survival situation Shackleton has little choice but to insist only items essential to survival were taken - and this did not include Mrs Chippy. After a final meal of sardines Mrs Chippy curled up for a sleep ...and never woke up. Shackleton ordered the cat shot.
Despite the amazing feet of all crew members reaching safety under Shackleton's leadership, a decade later Henry Mc Neish was still bitter about the loss of his cat. When interviewed about his ordeal, all he would comment was, 'Shackleton shot my cat.'
A bronze statue of Mrs Chippy resting on his master's grave.
Happily in 2004, the New Zealand Antarctic Society rectified their separation and commissioned a statue of Mrs Chippy to rest on Henry Nc Neish's grave.-

Sunday 17 October 2010

Cat Armour.

Today's blog post looks at the stunning work of artist, Jeff de Boer.
'Elven Princess' helmet - nickel, brass, leather and jade.

Jeff is a Calgary based artist whose career orginated in making suits of armour for people. Later, when studying at the Alberta College of Art and Design, he married his two interests in a sculpture project - by making a suit of cat armour.

The artist first draws the suit he has visualised. Then using sheet metal and jewellry makers tools he slowly bring the sketch to life, starting with the helmet and working backwards so every piece is in proportion.

Elven Princess Armour.

 Materials used to create one of these materpieces include; aluminium, brass, copper, nickel, silver, aluminium, jewels such as jade and textiles like leather.
Persian Cat Armour.
A suit of armour for a cat takes between 50 to 200 hours to make.
Samuria Siamese Armour.
Not content with the challenge of cat armour, Jeff also designs armour for mice - hence restoring some balance to the universe.

Sketch for Gladiator Mouse Armour.

To make a suit of silver mouse armour takes around 20 hours, and to polish it 10 hours.

Tournament Cat Armour.

I'm sure you will all agree that Jeff's work is utterly stunning both in execution and idea. Many thanks for Jeff de Boer and more of his work can be viewed at his website: