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:

Saturday 9 October 2010

Are you an Ailurophobe?

I'm not an ailurophobe. Quite the opposite in fact.
How about you?

An ailurophobe is a person with 'an irrational fear or hatred of cats.'
The term was first used by the Greek historian, Heroditus, after describing all the cats he saw in Egypt as 'tail wavers' or 'ailuroi.'

William Shakespeare was evidently an ailurophobe.

'I can endure anything but a cat,
the only good cat is a dead cat.'

But Shakespeare's dislike of cats was but as nothing compared to Napoleon Bonaparte's fierce fear of felines.

The French Emperor's Fear.
At the Battle of Wagram, an Aide de Campe heard cries for help coming from Bonaparte's tent. Fearing for his leader was in mortal danger, the Aide drew his sword and entered to find Napoleon sweating profusely and stabbing the air because a stray cat had wandered in. 
Evidently this fear was no secret. On another occaision a political opponent wrong footed Napoleon in an important debate merely by mentionning a cat!
Napoleon Bonaparte, French Emperor - was afraid of cats.
 My favourite Napoleon story comes from after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. Exiled by the British to the island of Saint Helena, Napoleon's residence was the damp, vermin infested estate at Longwood.
'Rats...came out at thick as the floor appeared black.'

Reports filtered back to England that the Emporer had been biten by a rat. Ever compassionate, and perhaps knowing of his fear, it was decided to send a ship load of cats to St Helena. Posters were put up in market places offering sixpence per cat; strays and farm cats were rounded up by the wagon load, and promplty despatched to help with the infestaton. One can only imagine Napoleon's reaction when this cargo arrived at St Helena.

Sir Walter Scott - a reformed ailurophobe.
18th century historical novelist and poet, Sir Walter Scott, came to like cats in later life.
'The greatest advantage of old age I have yet found is liking a cat, an animal which I previously detested.'
He wrote further:
'I suspect many an ailurophobe hates cats only because he feels they are better than he is - more honest, more secure, more loved, more whatever he is not.'

I cant argue with that!

Surely no one could be afraid of such an adorable creature?

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Grace Elliot - blog.: HISTORICAL SLANG.

Grace Elliot - blog.: HISTORICAL SLANG.: "5th October 2010. 'DAYLIGHT ROBBERY.' Surpisingly, the origin of the term 'Daylight Robbery' isnt as obvious as you might suppose. 'Dayli..."