Monday 31 January 2011

Fiction Books 5 / 5

I was thrilled, this evening, to find this lovely review of 'A Dead Man's Debt' by Yvonne from
'Fiction Books.' 

A creative, page-turning drama, a poignant story, characters totally engrossing in their complexity, with the distinctive essence of each easily discernible, sensual and evocative writing, from a great new author.
Worthy of:  5 out of 5 for a book in this genre.

Sunday 30 January 2011

The Lambeth Pedlar, his dog and a church window.

A 17th century Pedlar, his Dog and a Painted Glass Window.
A drawing of the Lambeth pedlar window.
         I came across the story of the Lambeth Pedlar and his dog whilst researching an article for the veterinary press. In the parish church of Saint Mary’s, Lambeth there is a painted glass window showing a man weighted down with a back pack, with a dog at his feet. This is not the original window, which dated back to 1608 (destroyed in a WWII bombing raid.) After the war Saint Mary’s parishioners, loyal the memory of the mysterious pedlar, commissioned the replacement window that exists today. But who was the pedlar, and why is there a picture of his dog on a church wndow?
A view over Lambeth Palace in 1685.

Local lore has it that this window depicts the Lambeth Pedlar and his faithful companion. The story goes that this eccentric salesman hoarded the money earnt by selling his wares door to door and the only comfort he allowed himself was his dog. When the dog died the pedlar was so bereft that he pledged to leave all his money to the parish if they agreed to either bury the dog in the churchyard, or commerate him in the church.  The churchwarden’s account for 1608 includes the following:
            “Two shillings paid to the glazier for a panel of glass for the window where the picture of the pedlar stands.”
Pedlars, illustrated above, were a common sight in the 1600's.
An alternative explanation of the Pedlar’s window has also been suggested. This involves one Henry Smith or “Dog Smith” a wealthy London Alderman who died in 1627. At the time he was a well known benefactor to the poor and it was rumored that Henry sometimes dressed in rags to travel in cognito, accompanied by a dog to test out the character of those he was thinking of helping. His would visit a village and beg a bone for the dog and bread for himself. If the villagers turned him away empty handed then he to, declined to give charity to the Parish.
            Whichever explanation is correct; a story of doggy devotion or eccentric benevolence, this glass window reminds us to this day, of the generosity of the human spirit. 
A Cats Meat Man - another type of street trader who peddled his wares door to door.

NEXT POST (Tuesday) "The value of a cat" - in Medieval Wales.

Sunday 23 January 2011

The Name of the Cat.

If you take the responsibility seriously, it is surprisingly difficult to choose the right name for cat. I was recently thrown into confusion when an RSPCA inspector asked me to name the litter of kittens she’d brought in for vaccination. Rescue names usually follow a theme eg. Animals abandoned at Christmas will be named Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe, Noel et.c. When suddenly landed with the responsibility of naming my mind went completely blank – each theme I thought of seemed too cliched or not nice enough, so despite my best efforts those kittens left nameless.
Going back to medieval times the most popular name for a cat was ‘Gibbe’ which is a shortened form of the name ‘Gilbert.’ Chaucer mentioned “Gibbe our cat” in ‘Romance of the Rose’.
 In Skelton’s 1509 elegiac ‘Phyllp Sparrow’ it is a cat called Gyb that is responsible for the death of Jane Scrope’s pet sparrow. The name was equally popular in France, where the equivalent name was Tibert or Thibert. The name remained popular, especially in Northern England, until the 1860’s but is now largely forgotten.
The most common cat names in 2010 were; Molly, Charlie, Tigger, Poppy, Oscar, Smudge, Millie, Daisy, Max and Jasper. A recent list of the worst cat names includes; Small Man in a Cat Suit, The Urinator, Hanibal Lickter, Ducttape, Fattie and Uranus.
           My personal favorite humorous name is Furkin. A good school friend called her cat this….think about it…calling out; ‘Has anyone seen the Furkin cat?’    
"What did you just call me?"

So how about you? What is your favourite name for a cat. Do leave a comment, I'd love to hear your stories.

Sunday 16 January 2011

Devilish Cats - how felines got a bad reputation.

In the Middle Ages, any self respecting witch kept a familiar, an animal acting as a link to the devil. The most commonly recognised familiar was a cat, preferably a black one. But have you ever stopped to wonder how such a perfectly adorable animal became linked to black magic and evil?

To answer that question we need to look at the reputation cats had in medieval times. Highly prized as a catcher of mice the 10th century law of Hywel Dda has this to say.

“The value of a kitten from the night it is born until it opens its eyes, one legal penny:
And from then until it kills mice, two legal pence:
And after it kills mice, four legal pence,
And that it remains for ever.
Her properties are to see and hear and kill mice.”

But it was this reputation as a mouser that also got cats into trouble, as typified by this quote by Caxton from the ‘Royal Book’ of 1484.

“The devil playeth often with the synnar [sinner] lyke the catte [cat] doth with the mous. [mouse.]”

This symbolism, with the cat as the devil, toying with the human soul was widely popular in churches and depicted in the misericords. These small wooden ledges, designed to rest against during long periods of standing, were often ornately carved with scenes from cautionary tales. Misericords were seen, and the message understood by illiterate ordinary folk at church.

An example of a misericord - a simple wooden ledge for leaning on during lengthy church services.
With this in mind it’s not surprising that as early as 1211 Gervase of Tilbury writes about the cat as a shape shifting manifestation of a witch’s familiar.

“Women have been seen and wounded in the shapes of cat by persons secretly on the watch.”

These same wounds were later identified on the woman….Just a thought but surely having the cat and woman present in the same room at the same time would rapidly discount this argument?

Wednesday 12 January 2011

The Cats' Meat Man ...and Jack the Ripper (Part 2)

Following our introduction to ‘The Cats’ Meat Man’, this second post looks further at his work and considers the grizzly (and real!) link between a Victorian pet food seller and Jack the Ripper.

            But firstly, consider what a service the Cats’ Meat Men provided to previous centuries of animal lovers. Each Meatman had a territory and knew where prospective clients lived and who was prepared to pay what. Some customers were ‘every other day’ clients and on the off day, the neighbourhood cats learnt to ignore the Meatman as he passed by.

For regular customers the Meatman was prepared to post meat skewers through the letter box and collect his money weekly. The cheaper cuts were dyed green as unfit for human consumption and the customer would dip it in weak vinegar and rub with a cloth to remove fly eggs and maggots! Yewh!

But not all customers were good ones; again Charles Ross writing in 1868;
            ‘Old maids are bad though very plentiful customers… they will pay one half-penny and owe another, and forget that after a day or two.’

            Cats’ Meat Men were not just a UK phenomena and in New York, there was also a thriving community of them. Artist and cat lover Louis Wain celebrated their humane services to strays by hosting an elaborate supper in honour of the Cats’ Meat Men. It seems the American Meatman offered whale to his customers, as well as horsemeat; the meat sold raw, except for a small amount boiled specifically for invalid cats. Not to be outdone there was shark on the menu for customers of Meatmen in Australia.
A typical painting by 'cat' artist Louis Wain.

            But what has this to do with Jack the Ripper – I hear you ask. Well,
            Even in deprived areas of London selling pet meat could be lucrative enough to finance a shop. One such shop at
29 Hanbury Road
, Whitechapel hit the news in 1888 when one of Jack the Ripper’s victims was discovered in the back yard. The shadowy cut through neighbouring the property was popular with local residents, a fact that hadn’t escaped the Ripper.

29 Hanbury Street, Whitechapel.  A Pet Meat shop and site of Anne Chapman's murder.
The mutilated body of Anne Chapman was found in the yard of Samuel Stockton’s Meatshop on 8th September, by one of the 17 residents living in rooms above the shop.
The back yard at Hanbury Street. Anne Chapman's body was found lying parallel to the fence, her head almost touching the steps.

Of course, feeding cats or eating cat, was perhaps a matter of need and perspective. In Victorian times, it seems a not uncommon dish for the less well off was ‘Cat Pie,’ as hinted at in this passage from Charles Dickens’, ‘Pickwick Papers’.

‘Veal pie,' said Mr. Weller, soliloquizing, as he arranged the eatables on the grass.  'Very good thing is veal pie, when you know the lady as made it, and is quite sure it ain't kittens … they're so like veal that the very piemen themselves don't know the difference.'

Sunday 9 January 2011

Author interview with Joselyn Vaughn author of 'Courting Sparks.'

GE - I understand you have exciting news that Courting Sparks has just been published. Please tell me a little about it.
JV - Courting Sparks is about falling in love with your best friend.  Daphne realizes she’s attracted to her best guy friend, Noah, at one of her friend’s weddings and she tries everything she can think of to ignore the attraction. 

Joselyn Vaughn.
GE - What aspect of the book are you most pleased with?
JV - I really like how the story came together.  As I wrote it, pieces just fit together.  And Noah is such a sweetheart; it’s hard not to fall in love with him. Daphne is also a bridesmaid in several weddings, so I got to have a lot of fun with all the bridesmaid duties.

GE - How did you feel when you first learnt that Courting Sparks was to be published?
JV - I was so excited.  It was the second book I had written and the second book I had published.  I think no matter how many books you write, you fear that your editor will hate the next one and this fun adventure you’ve been on will just disappear. So when it does sell, it’s even more exciting. 
I was also pregnant with my youngest daughter and had just crawled in bed for a nap when my editor called.  I just listened to the answering machine then called her back after I finished my nap.  I didn’t really sleep much, but I was too tired to move.

GE - What is the best and the worst thing about writing romance? Do you find some aspects more enjoyable than others?
JV - I love writing romance because of the fairy tale aspect of it.  There’s always a happy ending.  It’s a magic we all yearn for and like to see happen for everyday people.   I think the worst thing for me is finding a large enough chunk of time to concentrate, especially for revisions. When I’m writing the rough drafts, I can just concentrate on the moment and write, but with revisions, I need to keep track of what is happening in the story and who is standing or sitting.  Otherwise I could have someone sit down three times without standing up once.  I once had a character attempt to curl up on a couch that I had removed from the scene while she was balancing a pie in one hand.  My critique group had a lot of laughs over that one.

GE - What would your nearest and dearest say is your most annoying habit?
JV - I tend to be very focused when I’m working on something.  I have a hard time switching gears and doing something spontaneous when I have a routine set. Especially knowing the work that will be required with three kids off their nap schedule.
GE - It’s been lovely chatting with you today Joselyn and before you go, where can I find out more about your books?

JV -
There is more information at my website

Dusting off the ashes of a failed relationship, Daphne Morrow decides she is ready to date again. But when her scorched prom photos are discovered to be the ignition point for a small forest blaze, marking her as the prime suspect for the arson, she finds they’re not the only part of her past sparking interest. After a friend’s wedding provides a romantic interlude with her longtime friend Noah Banks, Daphne tries to explain away her attraction to him: the atmosphere of the wedding, his resemblance to her ex, his heroic efforts as a volunteer firefighter. Still, their desire just won’t sputter out.
When the arsonist strikes much closer to home, Daphne fears she must risk Noah’s friendship to find the culprit and clear her name. She’ll know their love is real if his interest isn’t put out by her need to uncover the truth.

Courting Sparks – Excerpt
Noah waved her over. “Want to dance?”
“Sure.” She followed him to the dance floor. He pulled her into his arms and they swayed to the music. She expected the casual comfort she usually felt when Noah touched her.  She didn’t get it. Her nerves sparked like downed power lines. Miranda and Max playfully bumped into them as they spun around the floor.  Miranda grinned at Max like he was her prince.  They kissed.
“It’s the romantically tinged atmosphere of the wedding,” she muttered, as Noah twirled her around and they proceeded to bump Beth and Jake. 
“What was that?” Noah asked.
“You know I’ve danced at weddings in every color.  Purple, blue, yellow, Barbie pink, several times.” She nodded to her dress. “But never white.”
“It’s not a bad thing it didn’t work out with Aaron.”
“I know.  It’s better to know he’s a weasel now rather than be stood up at the altar, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less.  At least he could have had the guts to break up with me in person.  Maybe then I wouldn’t be taken in every time he calls. Sorry, I shouldn’t say things like that about your cousin.” She sighed. “But whenever he calls…”
“It reminds you of it all over again,” Noah finished for her.  “You’re the only one he calls anymore.  I think he’s really messed up.”
“He sounds so contrite about cheating on me. About how much he regrets it. I’ve stopped falling for it and I shouldn’t dwell on it.” She shook her head. “What about you?  Do you think you’ll ever get married?”
Noah looked away.  She saw resentment and disappointment cross his face.  “I want to.  But it’s complicated.”
Daphne wanted to ask why but the tight look on his face told her he didn’t want to talk about it. The first beats of the hokey pokey blared from the speakers.  Noah hurriedly steered her off the floor and toward the bar. “Do you have any practical jokes planned for Miranda’s apartment while they’re on their honeymoon?”

Sunday 2 January 2011

The Cat's Meat Man. (part 1 of 2)


            Hello and welcome to my first posting of 2011!
            This week I look at how the Victorians fed their pets and the ‘Cat’s Meat Man.

‘Many visitors came to the streets…the muffin man and Cats’ Meat Man. The latter carried their wares on long skewers over their shoulders. The smell drew all the strays.’  
(A London resident writing in 1920.)

            From the 1700’s until the early 20th century the ‘Cat’s Meat Man’ was a common sight, hawking meat around the city streets of Britain. Charles Dickens even wrote about how, as a 6 year old child when confined to the house through ill health, he wrote a play called ‘The Cat’s Meat Man.

Indeed the Cats Meat Men had a uniform, as described by the Victorian chronicler of London life, Henry Mayhew. This consisted of a shiny hat, black plush waistcoat, corduroy trousers and a blue apron with a blue and white spotted handkerchief around the neck.
In their heyday around 1,000 Cats’ Meat vendors; men, woman and boys, plied the pet meat trade.  Part of the attraction was the low set up cost to make a relatively lucrative living. A man could set up with a couple of shillings for initial meat supplies, a barrow, knife and scales, all of which could be purchased second hand for between 4 and 15 shillings. They plied their trade with a familiar cry, much like an ice cream van’s tune today, of:

            “Cats’ meat – cats’ meat, on a skewer come and buy.”
(Sung to the tune of ‘Cherry Ripe.’)

Each seller serviced on average 200 cats and 70 dogs and some did extremely well, such as one Mr. Cratchitt. When Mr. Cratchitt’s estranged wife was taken to court for none payment of debts, her husband came to the rescue.

            ‘It’s all right Your Worship…I’ve arranged to pay all her debts. For 30 years I’ve had a cats’ meat round in the City and …so I’m a man of independent means.’
            ‘What,’ cried the magistrate, ‘You’ve made a fortune out of cats’ meat?’
            ‘Yes,’ said Meatman Cractchitt, ‘Funny isn’t it.’

Next week: Part 2 - Jack the Ripper's link to the Cat's Meat Man!!

PS - For a great review of 'A Dead Man's Debt' visit:
If you have any appreciation for historical romance, you will not only enjoy this novel immensely, but will want to make a space for it on your keeper shelf! A Dead Man¡¯s Debt will charm you, surprise you, entertain you...and by the end, will warm your heart with the overall beauty of this story.