Foss Dansant ~ loved companion of 19th Century English writer and artist Edward Lear . And master of nonsense verse . Who has left with us the lasting and incongruous images of the Owl and the Pussycat locked in loving embrace.
Afloat in ” a beautiful pea green boat ” they went to sea ” for a year and a day.” Then,given a ring by Piggy-wig ,they were married next day… and hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, They danced by the light of the moon, The moon,, the moon, They danced by the light of the moon .”
The Owl and the Pussycat, written in 1871 , remains to this day one of children’s most popular poems . The lilting cadence , the pairing of the Owl and the Pussycat , the detailed departure ” they took some honey and plenty of money ” , the wedding ceremony “they danced by the light of the moon ” – convey a sense of joyousness . And infinite appeal to children .
Edward Lear & Foss
Edward Lear’s pen and ink sketch of himself and important fur person Foss .
Foss, a tabby , was given to Edward and his family as a kitten . Lear became so devoted to Foss that the servants cut off half his tail in the superstitious belief it would stop Foss from straying . Foss now sleeps peacefully in his master’s garden – a villa in Italy designed especially to please Lear’s devoted fur person .
There have been / and are many fur persons of consequence .The devoted companions of writers, artists , musicians , poets… What is it about their presence that meets creative needs ? They intuitively know how to be there when needed . And they move with grace and beauty …
Balanchine and Mourka
Balanchine & Mourka . Mourka ~ le Grande Jete
Mourka – le chat, le grande jete – ballerina exutraordinaire . Mourka, famed fur person of choreographer George Balanchine . Balanchine is one of the 20th Century’s most famous choreographers . Russian born, he was initially choreographer for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes . And later, co-founder of the New York City Ballet .
An American newspaper in 1970 published the following tribute to Balanchine : ” The greatest choreographer of our time, Balanchine is responsible for the successful fusion of modern concepts with older ideas of classical ballet…new techniques… which have altered the thinking of the world of dance … he has created ballets that are celebrated for their imagination and originality .”
Balanchine is accredited with revolutionising classical ballet, adding a repertoire of energised moves and increased momentum . The credit for these in good part belongs to Mourka . Balanchine, fascinated by the grace and elegance of Mourka’s movements began to train her in a range of leaps and jumps that were then choreographed .
Balanchine & the NYC Ballet . le Grande Jete – Balanchine’s Jump
Mourka’s repertoire included the grande jete – informally known as Balanchine’s jump . A combination of movements requiring strength and skill on the part of the dancer . To Mourka of course , the jete came naturally . An ability found in many fur persons – but for Mourka enhanced by the love of a great choreographer
Solomon Dancing .
Solomon Dancing – no balletic finesse , just sheer exuberance and the joy of life . Siamese Solomon : ” I had never once seen him come into a room with that dawdling, elegant walk of his, without marvelling at the perfection of his beauty . He had the proud, high-boned features of the East from which he came . His face shone with dusky silk . And if his slanted , sapphire eyes had faded a little over the years, they were the most loving, communicative eyes I have encountered in a cat . ”
Doreen Tovey . Cats In the Belfry
Cats In the Belfrey ~ Doreen Tovey . First edition 1957 , 2016 edition .
Solomon, Sheba, Sugeigh, Saska, Seeley… a succession of Siamese cats , their stories told by English writer Doreen Tovey over fifty years ago .And so loved by fur person devotees, they remain in print to this day . The story begins with the invasion of the Tovey’s Somerset cottage by an intrepid group of field mice – seen to be waving happily from the top of the bread bin early in the morning . Something Had To Be Done . Initial enquiries in the village were unsuccessful . Then they met Mimi . “Beautiful as an Egyptian queen carved out of ebony… from her tapered black head… to her elegant tail .” Her offspring Sugeih arrives in the Tovey household – and the chaos characteristic of the idiosyncratic Siamese breed quickly results . The field mice remain – and the Tovey’ s sucumb to the demands of a Siamese fur person
” After the noisiest marriage in the history of the cattery Sugeih embarked on a pregnancy… ” Her kittens arrived at the end of March . Among them Solomon . Sugeih quickly adopted the role of ” Perfect Mother .” And then, suddenly and unbelievably, she was dead . The Tovey’s had decided to let her have only one litter . And in those days spaying was not without risks . ” We buried her under the apple tree, where only the night before, we had watched her playing with her kittens . ” The Tovey’s kept two of her kittens – the irrepressible Solomon – and his sister Sheba .
I have written this story at length for a number of reasons : Firstly it describes with a delightful degree of English eccentricity an era now past . Tovey tells of the time when the vicar and his wife came to take tea – and to raise money for the church organ . The unsuspecting vicar’s wife leaves her hat, sans feather, on the hall table . On departure the hat is nowhere to be seen – but there are two very satisfied Siamese sitting on the stairs, with remnants of feathers still floating around them .
And Tovey cleverly imbues her Siamese fur persons with all the Siamese characteristics by creating a dialogue for them : ” It was always Solomon who led the way , shouting . .. Of Sheba he said ,What About Smacking Her Bottom For A Change he roared , in a voice that would have done credit to a lighthouse keeper … Then he bowled her over, just to show who was who .”
Tovey not only succeeds in creating distinct personalities for her Siamese team – but in writing what are the funniest fur person books written – and still loved more than fifty years later
The repertoire of English fur person stories would not be complete though, without The Minack Chronicles .
The Minack Chronicles . In London , in the immediate post-war years a young couple, Derek and Jeannie Tangye, were busily occupied with their respective roles : Derek with MI5, Jeannie, a classical English beauty , as Publicity Officer for the Savoy Hotel . Then, to the consternation of their friends , they decided to leave their London lifestyle . And to buy a daffodil farm on the coast of Cornwall . They found an old stone cottage near Lamorna Cove . Then began a succession of fur persons – and a succession of books . Known collectively as the Minack Chronicles .
Like Doreen Tovey, Derek Tangye’s books remain in publication more than fifty years since being published . Both capture the very essence of cat . Tovey, with irrepressible humor, describes the idiosyncratic nature of the Siamese . Tangye’s books are a gentle intermingling of his love for Jeannie, of their love for the wild Cornish landscape , anecdotes of their life in London . And of the fur persons of consequence that shared their lives at Minack : Monty, Ambrose, Llama ..
There is a particularly beautiful passage in Tangye’s writing that captures perfectly the complete and utter happiness that their lives in Cornwall meant . Derek is walking through the fields of daffodils on a sunny morning with the little black cat Llama following .
” That September morning I lay… with Llama on my tummy purring… I lay there with that sound in my ears, and the sound of the sea caressing the rocks, a gull or two soulfully calling , and the poignant trilling of the oyster catchers..below Carn Barges . A moment of great happiness, complete, breeding no greedy wish for something better . This was the kind of moment which men and women, in old fashioned wars, were ready to die for, believing that the simple basic pleasures offered the key to happiness . A kind of moment which bypassed the sophisticated theories which try to govern our lives today ….. Llama, I can still hear her purring . ”
💥 The Minack Chronicles : Minack is now a Nature Reserve . There is a group called Friends Of Minack dedicated to the memory of Derek and Jeannie Tangye .
The Very Essence Of Fur Persons .
The Silent Miaow : Author Paul Gallico and photographer Suzanne Szasz .
The Silent Miaow . Paul Gallico . Writer Paul Gallico and photographer Suzanne Szasz in 1964 compiled the ultimate manual for fur persons on how to deal with the species known as human . If the human is at first resistant to any request for accommodation then keep on trying – quietly . A plaintive miaow is indicated – and eventually, permission is granted . However, once inside, there is further work to be done . That is to make the human think they cannot possibly exist without you. There are numerous techniques that can be used . Success is accomplished when you have the choice of the best chair in the house , the warmest place on the bed . And , of course , a selection of gourmet items .
The writer previously mentioned, Derek Tangye, describes his own efforts to resist the silent miaow . Tangye , from childhood, was a dedicated dog lover . Jeannie, a dedicated cat lover . Tangye was determined he was ” not going to be hypnotised by gentle purrs, soft kneading of paws… I most certainly would not have one in our home .”
Then , one day in Jeannie’s London office, Tangye meets a kitten . ” He was the size and colour of a handful of autumn bracken… the silky white shirt front , the smudge of orange on the left paw.. his tail with its dark rings against cream… Monty had entered our lives .”
Gallico, an American , wrote a number of books about fur persons . And like those of Tovey and Tangye, despite their publication dates, are still loved to this day .
” I am cat, I am honourable, I have pride, I have dignity, And I have memory, For I am older than you, I am older than your Gods ; the Tree Gods… The Thunder and Lightning and the Sun Gods.. Let us remain honourable friends .”
There are many wonderful books about fur persons of consequence . But I would like to make mention of two here not so well known and nonetheless beautiful in their own way :
John Brown, Rose and The Midnight Cat . An award winning children’ s book first published in 1977 . John Brown, an, English sheepdog is dedicated to the care and protection of the elderly widow Rose . The two are inseparable . That is, until the Midnight Cat appears at the window . John Brown sulks . Then Rose does the unthinkable and puts a saucer of milk out for the visitor . And John Brown in his doggy wisdom realises there is room for three of them . The book won multiple awards – both for the story and for the art work that accompanies the first edition .
John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat . John Brown loved the elderly widow Rose ~ and he certainly was not going to have a cat in the house . Jenny Wagner. 1977
The Tale Of Toby Jug . The actual title of this book Paw Tracks In the Moonlight suggests a tizzy tale . Instead it is an endearing and funny account of a young university lecturer’s efforts to keep alive a kitten rescued one snowy English night . A kitten so small he keeps it in a softly cushioned Toby jug to ensure its survival . And Toby Jug does survive – and becomes a very fine cat indeed . A tale told with love and humour .
A Very Fine Cat Indeed. .
The title is taken from the 18th.Century English writer Samuel Johnson’s reference to his fur person Hodge, whom he describes as ” a very fine cat indeed .” Johnson ordered the servants that Hodge should be given an oyster for lunch every day . An Elegy On The Death Of Dr.Johnson’s Favourite Cat in 1778 says : ” Who by his master when caressed, warmly his gratitude expressed, and never failed his thanks to purr, when’ere he stroked his sable fur .”
A great deal deal has been written about fur persons of consequence and artists, writers , musicians… themselves persons of consequence . I will not presume to write again about Matisse, Hemingway, Collette, Twain, the Brontes … except to ask what is it about the fur person that finds such affinity with the creative spirit ?
” If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing… acquire a cat. .. The cat will be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding … And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you.so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self command it has lost . You need not watch the cat all the time . It’s presence alone is enough .The effect of a cat on your concentration is very mysterious .” Muriel Spark. English writer .
Fur Persons Of Consequence In Art .
Japanese artist Miroco Machiko is accompanied in her studio by cats Soto and Bou . Her colourful, distińctive style is immediately recognisable .And she delights in the creative presence of her fur persons in her studio .
It is impossible to write about artists and cats without including some works . Miroco Machiko is a definite personal favorite because of the vibrant colours and idiosyncratic style .
Artist Miroco Machiko
Fur Persons Of Consequence On Stage and in Film .
The Lion King for the brilliance of the puppetry , the vivid colours, the music… The film version just to hear Jeremy Irons as Scar . And Cats. . TS Eliot’s book though is a first favourite .
My first encounter with TS Eliot was at age five when the school poetry reader for the year featured a black and nimble Skimbleshanks leaping all over the red cover : ” There’s a whisper down the line at 11:59 When the Night Mail’s ready to depart Saying Skimble ! where is Skimble…? … He will watch you without winking. and he can tell what you are thinking… He’s a Cat that cannot be ignored .. “It was this early encounter with Elliot and the definitive persona I assigned to each of Elliot’s fur persons as a child just did not accord with furry stage version . Apart from which :
The Naming Of Cats Is A Difficult Matter .
Unless of course one is TS Elliot and, in lieu of Tiger, Spot and Cat, can create a veritable cornucopia of exotic names : Rum Tum Tugger, Jellicle Cats, Mr.Mistoffoles, Growltiger, Gus / Aparagus, Rumpleteazer, Macavity and – from an unpublished manuscript – Grizabella… Memories : ( To this distinguished list I would add, in memory, that of a much loved dark chocolate Burmese with the exotic name Sharam Tashan . As a retired stud boy bestowed with a generous nether end, affectionately also known as Pumpkin Bum . )
Cats ~ the musical The Lion King ~ stage show
Cats, the musical, opened in the West End of London in 1981 . And premiered on Broadway in 1982 . The musical, based on Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats, has been seen and loved by millions world wide.
Lion King, the Disney film version , premiered in 1994 .Made by a team of Hollywood’s top animators, music by Elton John and a caste of veteran actors providing the voices , the film won multiple awards .
Lion King – the stage musical , based on the Disney film, was first show was first shown in 1997 and was an immediate sensation. The stage show has extraordinary vitality and energy . The colours, the costumes, the puppets….. !
When Whiskers Start To Wilt .
The time inevitably comes when whiskers start to wilt . And the lion loses its spring . The English literary critic, AL Rowse, on retirement , moved with his fur person and his books to a home in Cornwall . The poem The White Cat Of Trenarren is dedicated to his ageing fur person .
When a fur person is of particular importance , the transition can be so significant, it can feel like a journey never completed . So I will end at the beginning . With artistic tributes to the Owl and the Pussycat .
Acknowlegments : Images : Miroco Machiko – from ilove cats.com . Origin the artist’s personal website . All images : Google search . Graphics AE