Simon’s Cat: The Christmas Collection

Merry Christmas!

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Hans W. Silvester: Asleep in the Sun

Asleep in the Sun - Hans W. SilvesterSiesta and Tenderness

“For those who would learn to siesta well, I advise taking a cat as a teacher,” German photographer Hans W. Silvester writes in this book’s preface. And anybody who has ever owned a cat knows that he has a point: Cats sleep up to 17 hours a day, preserving their energy for the moments when it is really needed – even if they live in an environment where they never need to hunt (there’s still that all-important playing, after all!); and even if a cat’s sleep is never so deep that it can’t be stirred at a moment’s notice (hence the term “cat nap”). While cats may change their sleeping places several times a day, they will always choose a spot that affords them equal measures of comfort and protection: warmth and soft ground or soft bedding, but also shelter from the wind and from unwanted intruders.

Silvester is a well-known photo journalist with an established track record for environmentally sensitive reporting (including, inter alia, a widely publicized report on the destruction of the Amazonian jungle). Cats have been a part of his life for well over 40 years; and his love and intimate knowledge of his subject is quite obvious from the photos in this magnificent coffee table book, originally published in France under the title “Sieste et Tendresse” (“Siesta and Tenderness”). Although based in the Provence, for this project he traveled to the Greek Cyclades Islands, where cats are virtually omnipresent: unlike their domesticated brothers and sisters elsewhere, carefree outdoor dwellers who may or may not be attached to a human family; nor, however, exclusively scrawny back-alley bags of bones. The presence of cats is an everyday fact of life in Greece; humans and felines coexist without (for the most part) human attempts to over-domesticate their feline neighbors. Cats are appreciated for their help in keeping rats and mice in check, and while the local approach to animal control can occasionally be drastic as well, overall feline life in Southern Europe (and particularly in Greece) is probably much closer to their natural existence than in many other Western societies, where they are all too often either pampered and overfed indoor dwellers or abandoned, raggedy, disease-ridden skeletons who have learned to expect nothing but evil from humans. The photos in this book depict outdoor cats in unposed, natural circumstances; and yet in positions and situations every cat lover will instantly recognize.

On almost 130 pages, Silvester thus chronicles cats of all colors and sizes curled up with complete abandon on rooftops, windowsills, concrete and wooden stairs, balconies, flower pots, cafe chairs, benches, sofas, a fruit vendor’s empty cardboard boxes, wooden boxes, trailers, fishermen’s boats, the hood of a car, high grass and next to a chapel bell, stretched out in the middle of a street, next to a wooden fence, on a balustrade, a quai or a wall, squeezed into the branches of a tree or beside a building’s wooden beams, perched into a corner, a group of large rocks, a spot of soft earth in the middle of a meadow, a cast-iron balcony roof grid, an abandoned tire or the wheel of a concrete mixer, piled up on top of each other, yawning, playing and exchanging little tendernesses, and even a few pictures of kittens happily feeding from their somnolent mothers. While the photographer’s focus is clearly on his feline subjects, many of his pictures also show the unique flavor of the Greek islands where they were taken; the Cyclades’ sun-drenched landscape, the deep blue of the Mediterranean, the white of walls and houses, and the peeling blue, green and red paint of wooden fishing boats, doors and window frames. This is a book to contemplate, smile and, occasionally, laugh out loud – a marvelous gift for cat lovers young and old.

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Hallmark / Hulton Getty Picture Library: Pussycats

Pussycats - Hulton Getty Picture Library StaffFeline Mini-Masterpieces

Looking for that perfect stocking stuffer for the cat lovers among your friends; or for that little extra on top of another gift? Look no further, I think you may have found it.

“Pussycats” is the cat-themed entry in the mini-picture book series from the Hallmark/Hulton Getty photograph collection (whose dog-themed entry is incidentally entitled, you guessed it, “Puppy Dogs”). But despite its title and although published by Hallmark, the photos compiled in this little book don’t have any of the saccharine flavor otherwise frequently associated with the products of that company. These are gorgeous black and white photographs, some from as early as the 1920s, others from the late 20th century, depicting cats in all manner of poses and situations. Some cats are shown with their famous owners, such as actors Oliver Reed, Ann Todd and James Mason, or (inter-)acting with human co-stars in a movie (like the cat held up by Anita Ekberg in a scene from “La Dolce Vita”) or in a commercial (like the 1980s’ cat food commercial star Arthur); but most of them are just doing what they do best – being cats. There’s the title photo kitten weaving his way through a row of milk bottles taller than himself, cats watching gold fish bowls, sitting next to a garden pond marked “no fishing,” and with their paws in creamers and their noses in cups and buckets full of fresh milk; looking out of briefcases, baskets, suitcases, windows (one next to a “no vacancy” sign!), out of post office shelves and, feline wet dream of wet dreams, a fridge; playing with toy mice and balls of wool; dozing on pillows, human laps and next to a birthday cake; tiny kittens not larger than the size of a hand; and a cat stopping traffic by walking across a busy street completely unconcerned by the cars. (That particular photo is from 1934 – I’m not sure a similar scene would still work out quite the same way now.) There are cats slurping milk out of the same saucer as a dog, tiny kittens standing between much larger dogs’ feet, and cats sharing the spotlight with children, ducklings and dolls. There’s the cat answering a 1930s’ model telephone (who but for the type of phone could almost be one of mine – I’m sure many a cat owner will recognize their feline loved ones in these photos) and, last but not least, the one trying to open a milk bottle with his teeth.

Each photo is juxtaposed with an aphorism or a quote from a famous cat lover; and often the combination of picture and text adds an extra touch of humor or poignancy. A picture of two cats greedily watching their food being cut up, for example, appears next to the English proverb “In a cat’s eyes, all things belong to cats;” and the photo from “La Dolce Vita” showing a fur-coated Anita Ekberg holding up a cat is set against Théophile Gautier’s quote: “The cat is a dilettante in fur.” And who could doubt Mark Twain’s statement that “[a] cat is more intelligent than people believe, and can be taught any crime” when looking at the picture of a cat rising on his hind legs for a big chunk of freshly caught fish? Who would dispute Rob Kopack, who said that “[i]f cats could talk, they would lie to you” when looking at the two cats sitting in a fridge; and who dare contradict Scottish writer Hector Hugh Munro’s (“Saki’s”) assertion that “[t]he cat is domestic only as far as it suits its own ends” when watching a cat being fed with a large wooden spoon by a pint-sized human kitchen helper at some point in the 1930s?

All photos are individually credited at the end of the book, but there is nothing else in the way of text or information: this is, as the subtitle aptly states, “a photographic celebration;” nothing more, nothing less. But it is a pure delight to leaf through, and will surely give great pleasure to any cat lover receiving it. And after all, that’s what cats are best at anyway, aren’t they?

“Dogs come when they’re called; cats take a message and get back to you later.” – Mary Bly.

“The smallest feline is a masterpiece.” – Leonardo da Vinci (attr.).

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Mordecai Siegal, James R. Richards (eds.), et al.: The Cornell Book of Cats

The Cornell Book of Cats: The Comprehensive and Authoritative Medical Reference for Every Cat and Kitten - Mordecai Siegal, Cornell Feline Health Center, James R. RichardsIndispensable

“A cat is only technically an animal, being divine.” – Robert Lynd.

“The twenty-first century may be the century of the cat,” says Franklin M. Loew, former Dean of Cornell University’s renowned College of Veterinary Medicine in this book’s preface, citing statistics according to which even at the end of the 20th century, the number of cats in the United States alone already equaled that of the entire human population of Europe (and with sinking birth rates among humans, it is not hard to guess where that particular trend is headed in the near and midterm future).

Authored by the staff of Cornell’s Feline Health Center, “The Cornell Book of Cats” is an indispensable reference guide for every cat owner who cares about his or her feline companion(s). The book provides detailed coverage on every aspect of feline life, from the cats’ origin and breeds to cat (mis-)behavior, nutrition, anatomy, reproduction and all major instances of disease and infirmity. Particular attention is given to kittens, aging cats, skin and sensory disorders, internal disorders and medical emergencies. While the explanations do rely on a number of medical/veterinary terms, they are generally clear, comprehensive and easy to understand; in addition, most of the veterinary terminology is defined in a 22-page glossary at the end of the book. Numerous figures, tables, sketches, statistics and photos further illustrate the text; and treatment suggestions are provided for all diseases and disorders described. As the authors point out, this book is not intended to make a visit to the vet unnecessary in each and every instance (and sometimes, the remedies suggested here are only the beginning of the path to complete treatment) – but the book does help a cat owner determine when the often not inconsiderable expense of a visit to the vet is truly warranted. Moreover, it is a tremendous supplementary resource to even the best vet’s recommendations, and it provides a wealth of background information on our four-pawed friends. Highly recommended.

“A house without a cat, and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat, may be perfect house, perhaps, but how can it prove its title?” – Mark Twain.

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T.S. Eliot: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (Audio) - T.S. Eliot, John Gielgud, Irene WorthFor “cats are very much like you and me” …

Based on works such as the poems “Prufrock” (1917) and “Ash Wednesday” (1930) and the drama “Murder in the Cathedral” (1935), American-born and naturalized British poet and future Nobel laureate T(homas) S(tearns) Eliot – also founder and editor of the literary journal Criterion – was already an established writer when, in 1939, he came up with this series of poems for children, which due to their timeless charm and humorous insight into the feline nature had long become literary classics for the young and old alike before Trevor Nunn and Andrew Lloyd Webber used them as a basis for their award-winning musical “Cats.”

My favorite rendition of these poems, which were originally a gift from “Old Possum” Eliot to his godchildren, is the 1983 recording featuring Sir John Gielgud and his recurrent stage partner Irene Worth, who alternatingly read the poems and bring to life the likes of Jennyanydots the old Gumbie Cat (who at night displays a show of unexpected zeal in training mice and cockroaches in the art of keeping a clean house), the old “bravo cat” Growltiger (who, already having lost one eye and one ear in battle, one balmy night has “no eye or ear for aught but [the lady] Griddlebone,” thus at last making himself vulnerable to his many enemies and “forced to walk the plank”), Rum Tum Tugger, the “curious cat,” who very much has a mind of his own and always seems to want exactly the opposite of what you have given him (“For he will do as he do do, and there’s no doing anything about it”), and Macavity, “the Napoleon of crime,” who controls even notorious scoundrels like Mungojerrie and who is fatefully remeniscient of Berthold Brecht’s Mac the Knife in rhyme, metre, name and character.

Sir John Gielgud and Irene Worth bring not only their entire impeccable theatrical training to the project but, more importantly, a great sense of humor and a true feeling for the nature of each feline protagonist – and for their canine adversaries; because, as nobody can seriously doubt any longer by the time when we have reached the last poem, “a cat is not a dog!”

So you truly hear that Chinese vase go “bing!” when Irene Worth tells the story of the eternal pranksters Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer; you see them turning the basement into a “field of war,” and you hear the cook’s desperation when she has to inform the family that there will be no meat for dinner because “the joint has gone from the oven – like that!” You can picture Old Deuteronomy sleeping or sitting in the sun, and see his slow, ponderous movements as you hear John Gielgud’s rendition of the oldest village inhabitant’s ever-unchanging comment: “Well, of all … things … Can it be … really! … No! … Yes! … Ho! hi! Oh, my eye!” Reading about “the Awful Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles,” Irene Worth does not merely give you the dogs’ various kinds of bark; true to character she moreover endows them with their respective Pekinese, Yorkshire and Scottish accents. Similarly, hearing John Gielgud read the story of the great conjurer Mr. Mistoffelees (whose name is another one of the numerous literary allusions hidden in Eliot’s verses – and of course this particular cat is “black from his ears to the tip of his tail”), there can be no doubt about the degree of amazement in which he holds his audience (“Oh! Well I never! Was there ever a cat so clever as Magical Mr. Mistoffelees!”); and of course it also falls to none other than great Shakespearean actor Gielgud to tell us about Gus, the old “theatre cat,” and his thespian exploits, endowing the four-pawed stage veteran with a dignity that would do any of his human colleagues proud. Irene Worth does much the same for the St. James Street club-going, pompously condescending (and shall we say it? remarkably fat!) Bustopher Jones, whereas Gielgud’s voice finally assumes a hurried, but regular pace – much like a train rattling down its tracks – as he reads the story of Skimbleshanks, the “railway cat,” who keeps the train in order from luggage car to passenger compartments, always ready to assist personnel and travelers alike.

The first and last poems, “The Naming of Cats” and “The Ad-dressing of Cats” are read by Gielgud and Worth together, both in turn taking a verse at a time – and unflappably pronouncing tongue-twisting, “peculiar” cat names such as Munkustrap, Bombalurina and Jellylorum, and lines like the closing of the first poem, which refers to a cat’s meditation on his “ineffable effable effanineffable deep and inscrutable singular Name.” – You can, of course, always pop in a video or DVD and watch the musical based on T.S. Eliot’s poems – but for a closer interpretation of the originals, few versions are as enjoyable as this classic recording featuring two of Britain’s all-time greatest actors, at the end of which you truly “should need no interpreter to understand [the cats’] character.”

 

Favorite Quotes:

“The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, or George or Bill Bailey –
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter –
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum –
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover –
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
The Naming of CatsOf the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.”

The Ad-dressing of Cats
“You’ve read of several kinds of Cat,
And my opinion now is that
You should need no interpreter
To understand their character.
You now have learned enough to see
That Cats are much like you and me
And other people whom we find
Possessed of various types of mind.
For some are sane and some are mad
And some are good and some are bad
And some are better, some are worse –
But all may be described in verse.
You’ve seen them both at work and games,
And learnt about their proper names,
Their habits and their habitat:
 : But
How would you ad-dress a Cat?
So first, your memory I’ll jog,
And say: A CAT IS NOT A DOG.
Now Dogs pretend they like to fight;
They often bark, more seldom bite;
But yet a Dog is, on the whole,
What you would call a simple soul.
Of course I’m not including Pekes,
And such fantastic canine freaks.
The usual Dog about the Town
Is much inclined to play the clown,
And far from showing too much pride
Is frequently undignified.
He’s very easily taken in –
Just chuck him underneath the chin
Or slap his back or shake his paw,
And he will gambol and guffaw.
He’s such an easy-going lout,
He’ll answer any hail or shout.
Again I must remind you that
A Dog’s a Dog – A CAT’S A CAT.
TS Elliot, The Ad-dressing of CatsWith Cats, some say, one rule is true:
Don’t speak till you are spoken to.
Myself, I do not hold with that –
I say, you should ad-dress a Cat.
But always keep in mind that he
Resents familiarity.
I bow, and taking off my hat,
Ad-dress him in this form: O CAT!
But if he is the Cat next door,
Whom I have often met before
(He comes to see me in my flat)
I greet him with an OOPSA CAT!
I’ve heard them call him James Buz-James –
But we’ve not got so far as names.
Before a Cat will condescend
To treat you as a trusted friend,
Some little token of esteem
Is needed, like a dish of cream;
And you might now and then supply
Some caviare, or Strassburg Pie,
Some potted grouse, or salmon paste –
He’s sure to have his personal taste.
(I know a Cat, who makes a habit
Of eating nothing else but rabbit,
And when he’s finished, licks his paws
So’s not to waste the onion sauce.)
A Cat’s entitled to expect
These evidences of respect.
And so in time you reach your aim,
And finally call him by his NAME.”

“Gus is the Cat at the Theatre Door.
His name, as I ought to have told you before,
Is really Asparagus. That’s such a fuss
To pronounce, that we usually call him just Gus.
His coat’s very shabby, he’s thin as a rake,
And he suffers from palsy that makes his paw shake.
Yet he was, in his youth, quite the smartest of Cats
But no longer a terror to mice or to rats.
For he isn’t the Cat that he was in his prime;
Though his name was quite famous, he says, in his time.
And whenever he joins his friends at their club
(which takes place at the back of the neighbouring pub)
He loves to regale them, if someone else pays,
With anecdotes drawn from his palmiest days.
For he once was a Star of the highest degree
He has acted with Irving, he’s acted with Tree.
And he likes to relate his success on the Halls,
Where the Gallery once gave him seven cat-calls.
But his grandest creation, as he loves to tell,
Was Firefrorefiddle, the Fiend of the Fell.”

Macavity
“He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!
And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair
But it’s useless to investigate Mcavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
‘It must have been Macavity!’ but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long-division sums.
Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spaer:
At whatever time the deed took place MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!”

Cats: Old Deuteronomy: Old Deuteronomy‘s lived a long time;
He’s a Cat who has lived many lives in succession.
He was famous in proverb and famous in rhyme
A long while before Queen Victoria’s accession.
Old Deuteronomy’s buried nine wives
And more – I am tempted to say, ninety-nine;
And his numerous progeny prospers and thrives
And the village is proud of him in his decline.
At the sight of that placid and bland physiognomy,
When he sits in the sun on the vicarage wall,
The Oldest Inhabitant croaks: “Well, of all …
Things … Can it be … really! … No! … Yes! …
Ho! hi!
Oh, my eye!
My mind may be wandering, but I confess
I believe it is Old Deuteronomy!”
Old Deuteronomy sits in the street,
He sits in the High Street on market day;
The bullocks may bellow, the sheep they may bleat,
But the dogs and the herdsman will turn them away.
The cars and the lorries run over the kerb,
And the villagers put up a notice: ROAD CLOSED –
So that nothing untoward may chance to disturb
Deuteronomy’s rest when he feels so disposed
Or when he’s engaged in domestic economy:
And the Oldest Inhabitant croaks: “Well of all …
Things … Can it be … really! … No! … Yes! …
Ho! hi!
Oh, my eye!
My sight’s unreliable, but I can guess
That the cause of the trouble is Old Deuteronomy!”

Cats: Rum Tum Tugger: The Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat:
If you offer him pheasant he would rather have grouse.
If you put him in a house he would much prefer a flat,
If you put him in a flat then he’d rather have a house.
If you set him on a mouse then he only wants a rat,
If you set him on a rat then he’d rather chase a mouse.
Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat –
And there isn’t any call for me to shout it:
For he will do
As he do do
And there’s no doing anything about it!

Mr. Mistoffelees from Cats: The Musical: Magical Mr. Mistoffelees
“He is quiet and small, he is black
From his ears to the tip of his tail;
He can creep through the tiniest crack
He can walk on the narrowest rail.
He can pick any card from a pack,
He is equally cunning with dice;
He is always deceiving you into believing
That he’s only hunting for mice.
He can play any trick with a cork
Or a spoon and a bit of fish-paste;
If you look for a knife or a fork
And you think it is merely misplaced –
You have seen it one moment, and then it is gawn!
But you’ll find it next week lying out on the lawn.
And we all say: OH!
Well I never!
Was there ever
A Cat so clever
As Magical Mr. Mistoffelees!

Bustopher Jones - CATS: Bustopher Jones is not skin and bones –
In fact, he’s remarkably fat.
He doesn’t haunt pubs – he has eight or nine clubs,
For he’s the St. James’s Street Cat!
He’s the Cat we all greet as he walks down the street
In his coat of fastidious black:
No commonplace mousers have such well-cut trousers
Or such an impeccable back.
In the whole of St. James’s the smartest of names is
The name of this Brummell of Cats;
And we’re all of us proud to be nodded or bowed to
By Bustopher Jones in white spats!

Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer were a very notorious couple of cats.
As knockabout clown, quick-change comedians, tight-rope walkers and acrobats
They had extensive reputation. They made their home in Victoria Grove –
That was merely their centre of operation, for they were incurably given to rove.
They were very well know in Cornwall Gardens, in Launceston Place and in Kensington Square –
They had really a little more reputation than a couple of cats can very well bear.
If the area window was found ajar
Cats: Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer: And the basement looked like a field of war,
If a tile or two came loose on the roof,
Which presently ceased to be waterproof,
If the drawers were pulled out from the bedroom chests,
And you couldn’t find one of your winter vests,
Or after supper one of the girls
Suddenly missed her Woolworth pearls:
Then the family would say: “It’s that horrible cat!
It was Mungojerrie – or Rumpelteazer!” – And most of the time
they left it at that.
Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer had a very unusual gift of the gab.
They were highly efficient cat-burglars as well, and remarkably smart at smash-and-grab.
They made their home in Victoria Grove. They had no regular occupation.
They were plausible fellows, and liked to engage a friendly policeman in conversation.
Edward Gorey Practical Cats (Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot) 1982: When the family assembled for Sunday dinner,
With their minds made up that they wouldn’t get thinner
On Argentine joint, potatoes and greens,
And the cook would appear from behind the scenes
And say in a voice that was broken with sorrow:
“I’m afraid you must wait and have dinner tomorrow!
For the joint has gone from the oven-like that!”
Then the family would say: “It’s that horrible cat!
It was Mungojerrie–or Rumpelteazer!” – And most of the time
they left it at that.
Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer had a wonderful way of working together.
And some of the time you would say it was luck, and some of the time you would say it was weather.
They would go through the house like a hurricane, and no sober person could take his oath
Was it Mungojerrie – or Rumpelteazer? or could you have sworn that it mightn’t be both?
And when you heard a dining-room smash
Or up from the pantry there came a loud crash
Or down from the library came a loud ping
From a vase which was commonly said to be Ming –
Then the family would say: “Now which was which cat?
It was Mungojerrie! AND Rumpelteazer!” – And there’s nothing
at all to be done about that!

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Isabella Beeton: Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management / Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace

Well, one day I may well get around to writing proper reviews of these two iconic books (both in their own way) after all, too. But until then, quite unapologetically, my Goodreads Celebrity Death Match Review Elimination Tournament entry will have to do …

Felines at War, or:
Celebrity Death Match Review Elimination Tournament Review: Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (16) vs. War and Peace (17)

Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (Oxford World's Classics) - Isabella Beeton    War & Peace - Leo Tolstoy, Anthony Briggs

Give a cat a fish...and he will come back every day expecting you to give him another fish.

With a satisfied flick of her tail, Mrs. B. groomed back into place two stray hairs that had come lose in her shining black fur during her foray into the pantry, then she snatched her prize – a delicious-looking fillet of salmon –, crossed the kitchen and made for the outside door. There, however, she stopped in her tracks, her every hair standing on end.

Assembled on the doorstep was the better part of the Russian emigré mob that had recently surfaced in the neighborhood, hungrily eying her salmon. Mrs. B. speed-assessed the situation and concluded that there was only one thing to do.

She turned tail and raced straight back into the kitchen with the Russians in hot pursuit, smashing through the heavy oak door and making it bang into the wall with the explosive force of a canon ball.

Breathlessly Mrs. B. made for the nearest counter where, in landing, she toppled a stack of plates and sent it clattering to the ground, which however only gave her a momentary respite as the Russians dodged the flat, flying missiles that splayed into pieces on the tiled kitchen floor. In passing she set spinning a large chef’s knife, which promptly buried itself into the sides of the most forward of her pursuers, an elegant Russian Blue female whose coat began to turn red as she remained behind with a gasp and a whimper. “Sweetest Natasha!” roared the leader of the mob, a bulky creature sporting scruffy fur of an indistinct color and the obvious bearing of the newly-rich, who now hefted himself to Mrs. B.’s hind paws. “I’ll make you pay for this, you dirty English tart – this means WAR!” He charged forward, careening into a sauce dish filled with melted butter which Mrs. B. had neatly sidestepped at the very last moment. The bulky Russian slithered through the pool of sticky yellow liquid that had spilled from the dish, straight into the hot iron thing that humans called a stove. Mrs. B. did not take the time to look back, but his momentous growl and the smell of singed fur told her that another one of her pursuers was evidently out of combat. Swiftly jumping down again from the counter, she ducked under the table in the direction of the opposite wall, now chiefly pursued by two sleek young males who looked like the brothers of the injured female Natasha, and by a meager, vicious-looking Donskoy. Scampering along the wall, Mrs. B. just barely managed to leap over a mouse trap which Natasha’s brothers, jockeying for position at her heels, noticed too late, and which promptly fastened itself to the first brother’s right front paw, making him go down with a yelp and causing the second brother and the Donskoy to tumble over him. This resulted in a momentary scuffle as the Russians disentangled themselves from each other with much clawing and screeching. Mrs. B. meanwhile leapt onto another counter and further up onto the spice rack above, from where she showered her reappearing pursuers (now reduced to the second brother and the Donskoy) with salvos of capers, flour, salt, pepper, and other assorted ground substances, sending earthenware containers flying right and left as she rushed forward, finally making a blind jump for the kitchen window ahead in the hope that it would not be locked.

The window was not locked. It nevertheless proved not to be a suitable exit route, either. For in it had appeared, seemingly out of nothing, another recent arrival to the neighborhood; a dark Chartreux who made up for his shortish legs by a ridiculously imperial manner. From day one, Mrs. B. had been as weary of him as she was of the Russian emigré mob.

The Chartreux graced Mrs. B.’s pursuers, who were sitting on the ground, squinting from pepper-burned eyes and busily cleaning large quantities of flour and spices from their fur, with a contemptuous sniff: “Leave this to me, you inept Russian peasants.” Then he turned to Mrs. B. “Madame,” he said, “I have come here to offer Peace. Indeed, I am offering you an entente tout à fait cordiale.” He eyed the fillet of salmon which, though slightly worse for wear, Mrs. B. was still holding firmly clenched between her teeth. “Now, if we were to divide this truly superb fish, and you were to give me half and you and those Russians were to split the …”

“Let me pass, Sir. NOW.” To actually voice this, Mrs. B. would have had to open her mouth and let go of the salmon, which was the farthest thing from her mind. But her demeanor and a determined growl made her point quite clearly enough.

“Tsk, tsk. Nobody sidesteps Napoleon.” As the Chartreux slightly shook his head, his claws burrowed into Mrs. B.’s neck, instantly drawing blood. Mrs. B. suppressed an unladylike squeak and relaxed her stance. Ridiculous upstart, she thought but this time tried hard not to convey by her manner, which instead she changed to utmost submissiveness. The flattery worked like a charm: slowly, the French male’s claws came out of her neck and he began to eye her curiously.

This was the moment she had been waiting for.

Suddenly tearing up Napoleon’s sides with her front claws and giving him as hard a push as she could, she turned and jumped onto the kitchen table, then scattered past the assorted copper pots, pans, bowls, spoons and ladles left to dry on a rack next to the sink. The quickly-recovering Chartreux hefted himself hard to her heels with a furious snarl. Misstepping ever so slightly, however, he upset the pile of pots and pans lying in his way, which left him scrambling for balance and ultimately landed him in the still half-filled sink. Before he had regained dry ground, Mrs. B. had at last made her escape through the kitchen door, leaving behind a field of destruction and barely in time to hear an angry human voice exclaim: “Now, what happened here, for Chrissakes? Dammed strays – get out of my kitchen AT ONCE! OUT, I said!”

A little later, lying on her favorite pillow and languidly licking a last drop of melted butter from her paw, Mrs. B. mused that collared salmon, lightly salted and with hot butter sauce on the side, actually made for quite a satisfactory dish. A piece of salmon, say 3 lbs., a high seasoning of salt, pounded mace, and pepper; water and vinegar, 3 bay-leaves …

She purred contentedly, curled up, and was soon fast asleep.

 :

Merken