There are no ordinary cats
Collett (a well known French writer)
Coffee at the County Hotel, Dumfries
“Well Darling”, said Lady Pentland-Firth as she arrived at the County Hotel handing her coat to the waiter, putting her handbag on the floor, untying her silk scarf and glancing at the menu, “you have certainly had a difficult few weeks.”
“That is something of an understatement”, replied the simply marvellous Muriel Wylie looking in the mirror of her compact and wondering if she was entirely happy with the shampoo and set she had just had at Joyce, Hair Fashions in the High Street of Dumfries.
“What kept you?”
“Sorry Muriel, I dropped the car off at Rosefield Mills, there is the tiniest of dents in my bodywork and then I dashed round to Percy Bros in English Street where I have been having my Bush seen to and Thomson’s where my gold watch was being cleaned. How about you, what have you been up to?”
“Oh, I was on time as ever Patience, even although I had to go to the Bank for Jasper, but I was in town early as I had a couple of appointments of a business nature.”
“Don’t say, Muriel you are trying to flog that awful Scandinavian furniture with the sticky out legs here in Dumfriesshire? You will never get anywhere, it’s worse than Norfolk; they haven’t even come to terms with the Black Death.”
Work Takes Muriel’s Mind Off Things
“Very funny Patience, but I will have you know that the managing directors at both The North British Rubber Company and Carnation Milk have asked me for a price to redecorate their Management Dining Rooms. I know things are a little behind the times here, but I may just have persuaded them that it is time to say goodbye to the Jacobean Age.
Anyway even if my suggestions for glass tables and lemon leather chairs with black tapered legs come to nothing, it has taken my mind off things. I know Winnie would have wanted to die as she lived with a crotchet hook in her hands, but the finality is never easy. Especially after all we went through in France in the last Unpleasantness. It was Winnie who kept me going when I was tortured by the Gestapo.”
Lady P-F Wants the Gruesome Details
“What was it they did again Muriel? Remind me of their bestial acts once more.”
“ Patience they confiscated my foundation and lipstick and cut out the lining of my Mappin and Webb lizard bag as they believed it concealed the date of the DDay landings in 1944.”
“And did it?”
“No of course not that would have been too obvious; the date was in the inside of my Rayne shoes. Of course I wanted it to be the 5th of June as I felt the 6th suggested I had too large a grip on terra ferma, but Winston was having none of it.
Honestly Patience, not only did I have those brutes thinking I took a size 6 in shoes but I had to have the bag relined in 1946 at considerable personal expense as S.O.E. said it was a hazard of the job. I will never forget Winnie singing one of her knitting songs as I nursed the minuscule amount of Helena Rubinstein’s “Deep Coral”, which somehow they had overlooked when ravaging my bag. Fortunately the clasp was so good it suffered no ill effects and is still going strong.”
Any News of the Intruder?
“What about the burglary?”
“Well that was unfortunate, luckily no one was hurt although Mrs Travers, who was of course busy sleeping rather than doing anything useful, was a bit shaken and had to be restored with half a bottle of brandy. She had the foresight to contact the Handsome Stranger who came at once.
I sent Jasper home to Glasgow to keep her company as there was no point in us both going; it would only raise suspicions. The only thing that was missing was of course the draught excluder containing the map. I don’t as yet know all the details, but it seems the intruder left some important evidence which the Handsome Stranger said was really quite tasty with some fried onions and French mustard. He has also sent a ticket stub to Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, at the very good varsity in Glasgow. Although the conversation with Mrs T on the telephone was a little disjointed, due to her hysterical shrieking – such a feature of the working classes, I gather there is something significant to do with the horns of an animal.”
“I thought the Professor only worked in the Music Faculty. What on earth can he know about bits of ticket stubs with the picture of animal horns on them?”
“Oh Patience he is a man of many parts and knows a great deal about codes and secret signs and symbols. Music is full of them apparently.”.
“Well I like a man of many parts, let us hope he can shed some light on things.”
“Indeed Patience we really need to find that map, we do not want the comrades getting one over on us do we.”
“No of course not, Muriel off course not.”
A Face from the Past – Perhaps
“Are you ladies ready to order now?”
“Yes waiter, two Viennese coffees, which come from a city in Austria and two tea cakes with jam, which I presume are from the bakers around the corner?”
“Yes indeed madam. Excuse me Madame, are you or I mean were you once Miss Lily, who ran the “Eastern Promise” Club in Shanghai and who went on to sing in Berlin in all its decadence?”
“Indeed ce moi, who wants to know?”
“Don’t you remember me? I used to tune your ukulele, if you know what I mean?”
“Good heavens, Tommy Top Note! Well I never, and my goodness you knew how to get a top A, you naughty boy. I never saw you after the long Night of the Appfel Strudel, what happened?”
“Oh I was arrested for theatricality as in my spare time I was Vibrato Vera from Venezuela.”
“Gosh I remember that routine, didn’t you work with Alistair Faulks from Airdrie?”
“Yes he was Angel Falls, wonderful in silver lame. He had the legs for it, we had that routine with a parrot, a fan and a can of petroleum.”
“Goodness, what a small world. May I introduce my friend Mrs Wylie, we are currently engaged in matters of international espionage, but two toasted teacakes would hit the spot just like you used to!”
“Oh, Madame coming up.”
“That’s what you always said, you tease’ don’t forget the jam.”
“On the house.”
“Fancy that Patience, coming across someone you worked with all those years ago when you were free and easy.”
“Oh Muriel Darling I haven’t a clue who he is, but we won’t have to pay a thing for this; maybe we should stay for lunch? And just for the record, I may have been easy but I was never free. As I used to say when I tickled anyone’s fancy – ‘don’t call me dear, call me expensive’, which reminds me how is your lovely husband; still hiding in his shed, is he?”
“Well I expect so Patience; he is desperately upset about the death of Zelda you know. We had to take her last week and help her on her way to the Heaviside Layer, past the Russell Hotel and the Jellical Moon.”
“Oh Muriel I am so terribly sorry, she was a very special cat.”
“Thank you Patience, but then as Collette, writing as the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette said “there are no Ordinary Cats.”
“True perhaps Muriel, but Zelda was extraordinary especially as she liked to run away in Co-op vans and hide in suitcases. Jasper must have been distraught.”
“Yes he is, as am I. He saved her you know as a kitten from drowning. He has decided to have a sort of memorial evening for her. He has an idea for an evening of music and poetry and prose all about cats, to raise funds for charity.”
“Well people do love cats, except those who like dogs. What is he going to call it.”
“A Night of Pussies.”
Lady P-F Senses a Commercial Opportunity
“Well Muriel! What can I say! I can tell you with my commercial hat on as Managing Director of Pentland-Firth Estates, that will pack them in, what about having it at the Hall? I should be happy to host, for a small fee of course.
We could theme the whole place. You and I could do the “Cats’ Chorus”.
Now let’s get paper and pen, Oh Vera, I mean Tommy Darling, can you bring your old friend a few sheets of foolscap? I was just thinking about that night in Berlin, you bad Tommy, and would you be a love and top up the coffees Muriel and I are talking Pussies. By the way Muriel who is the Heaviside Layer?”
“Not who exactly Patience, it is a layer of ionised gases 90miles above the earth. It was named after Arthur Kennelly and Oliver Heaviside.”
“Muriel I do envy you your private education.”
“Mr Wylie that is the Handsome Stranger here again, will I bring some tea?”
“Thank you Mrs T, that would be wonderful, just send him down.”
“Mrs Wylie telephoned to ask if you would like Lady Pentland-Firth to host the memorial evening.”
“That is kind say, yes. Oh hello there.”
“Good afternoon Jasper, nice to see you in reasonable spirits despite everything. Organising the memorial service for Winnie will take your mind off everything.”
“Oh no it is not for Winnie; it is for Zelda, my cat.”
“My apologies, yes one forgets how attached to animals certain people can become. I came to say that Boozy Hawkes is in touch with his chums in manuscripts and says he will have an answer in a day or two.”
“Jolly good show. Now do give me your opinion. I am thinking of opening with Kitten on the Keys or do you think something by either Debussy or Ravel would be more suitable? They were very keen on cats too.”
“What about Scarlatti’s Cat Fugue?”
“Good choice and I think Lady P-F has a harpsichord.”
“What else are you thinking about for the programme?”
“Well I was thinking about a short historical presentation with lantern slides, featuring how other civilisations have looked at cats. For example the ancient Egyptians mourned the death of their pet cats by saving off their eyebrows to signify their loss. Then perhaps we might see how the Chinese liked cats for pest free fields and the Celts who saw cats as having strength and magic.”
“What about the Christians and cats?”
“Good point Handsome Stanger, although they have always tended to be ambivalent seeing evil and witchcraft in cats although St Gertrude of Nivelles was the Patron Saint of cats, although we will need to be careful Muriel and the Moderator are already on a collision course over so many things. Cats might be the last straw.”
“I imagine you will be reading some extracts from T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Cats.”
“Yes of course. I shall be Bustopher Jones, the cat from St James’s Club land, although I hardly think I am quite as fat.”
“No of course you are not Jasper; and Mrs Wylie?”
“The Gumby Cat perhaps, but I also want Muriel to read from Lewis Carol, as there are Dinah, Alice’s own cat, and the philosophical Cheshire Cat. I myself am thinking about reading from Saki and his tale of Tobermoray, the cat who is given the gift of speech and turns out to be haughty and sarcastic with something on all those assembled at a country house party including their backstabbing and infidelities. After all cats see all and hear all.”
“You will have to have Edward Lear and The Owl and the Pussy Cat.”
“Indeed I will, you really are being most helpful. Won’t you stay for suppa? Mrs Travers is doing some nice sardines on toast and a milky pudding.”
“No thank you Jasper. I must get on the trail of international bad people. I think you could do with a few days of quiet in the country old chap.”
“Nothing wrong with me, best to keep busy, what about the Tale of Ginger and Pickles and Miss Moppet by Beatrix Potter.”.
“What indeed Jasper; would you like a whisky and soda?”
From the Heavyside Layer way past the Russell Hotel
“Oh dear, “the Dada” is in a bit of a state. I shall have to tell him I am fine and all is well.”
“Mr Wylie suppa is ready and oh yes there was a strange telephone call from someone. I think she said her name was Gertrude sounded as if she lived in Nivelles which must be on the south side, but she says you are not to fret and the night of Pussies will be a great success and you are not to worry as all is well beyond the Russell Hotel.
You do know some peculiar people if you don’t mind my saying so. By the way have you noticed that since Zelda died that ginger and white cat has moved in. He caught a rabbit this morning, looks like a wee bit of a chancer to me.”
“Oh dear Mrs T, squatters already.”
“Life goes on Mr W, just wait till the mice find out. Now I have cut the heads off the sardines. Do you want tomato sauce in the bottle as she is oot, as they say – when the cat’s away…… oops sorry Mr W poor choice of figurative language.”
“That’s all right Mrs T. I know you meant no harm and anyway as someone said time spent with cats is never wasted.”
“Wasn’t that Freud?”
“No one is sure, but it does not really matter who said it; just that they did.”
In memory of Zelda – a small cat, who talked a lot, enjoyed the Third Programme and liked to climb trees and have the company of people in her garden.
And for more information on T.S. Eliot and his cats, please have a look at this.