When Mr Brown… left Cairns Mill for his new residence, mawkin was placed in a bag and conveyed along with the other chattels. On the following morning pussey was found…sitting on the door of her old residence.
St Andrew’s Gazette 23rd June 1866
(Mawkin or maukin is an old Scots’ word for cat.)
Mud on the Paws and a Glint in the Eye
Forgive me if I am mistaken, but I do not think you have had the pleasure. This is more than I can say for her next door’s cat who frequently comes over the dyke with mud on his paws and a glint in eyes. In that respect he is very like his master Mr Macaulay, the millionaire bungalow builder who is worth is weight in concrete. What we are talking about here is an opportunist. From where I sit, usually on the garden bench, I can see that when Mrs Macaulay goes out Mr Macaulay takes every opportunity with “her at number 26 – you know the blousy woman, new money at ‘Mon Repose’ as it has been renamed”.
As far as I am concerned it matters little. You see I have been “seen to” and at my time of life one is just glad for the attention. On the other hand the muddy paws of Harry, “who’s a handsome boy then”, annoy Mrs Travers who works (or so they say) for my owners the Wylies of Glasgow’s exclusive West End which is very posh and also of somewhere in Dumfriesshire, which is Scotland’s Norfolk, only less forward thinking and with fewer windmills.
Post Office Dangers
Let me introduce myself. My name is Zelda or really if one was being strictly accurate, Griselda Pomegranate Scheherazade Wylie. I am now quite an elderly cat, a bit of “a has been” in fact; or as I heard Mrs Travers say one day after I had stolen a sardine destined for a toast in front of the fire suppa, “a never was been”. I should have been a Siamese pedigree and “First in Show”, but unfortunately mother who lived in the house of the local M.P. fell during the summer recess. While the Member for Scottish things and his family were in Antibes doing everything they could to get away from a Scottish summer, mother had a visit from Frank from the Post Office. Frank was an ardent suitor and it was said the caterwauling could be heard in the next Parish.
Mother always blamed me for ruining her chances at Olympia and I live with the stigma to this day. I hate it when I have to go and stay with that awful woman Mrs Cynthia Savage who is in Pickles and Condiments for she has a pedigree Siamese called Bangkok Betty, who claims that in her youth she was at the court of King Rama VII. That silver collar is just too showy for my way of thinking for a real princess.
I just have to put my best paw forward and these days it is hard to remember which one. As mother said in one of her kinder moments “Zelda just remember show your teeth, hiss and glide”. It is not always easy especially when one gets out into the garden on a sunny day or moonlight night to be greeted by a gang of tortoiseshell terrors and a chorus of “here comes the postal order girl”; or “look out girls here comes something from the Royal Male”; or “pay attention ladies see what the counter signatory has dragged in”; or the unkindest of all “was he a frank love, was daddy a frank? We hear you can get anything franked at a post office, is it true there were three deliveries a day then darling?” It seems there is no end to the post office illusions; the feline world is a very cruel place.
The Naming of a Cat
In case you are wondering I am named after Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of one of my owners’ favourite authors.
You may have heard of “Mumsie” as Mrs Wylie calls herself when she thinks no one can hear – she is known for her marvellousness and her withering look, which I see quite a lot. She tells me this Zelda I am named after was a high spirited beauty and encapsulated the Jazz Age, whatever that was. I am not sure why Mr Wylie refers to himself as “the Dada” as he is about as far from the avant-garde movement as his wardrobe is from that of the current Teddy Boys.
Although I have no memory of the incident it seems I was “saved” by “the Dada” one morning when he went to put some of his secret winnings from the “gee-gees” into his Post Office Savings Account, which Mumsie knows nothing about. “The Dada” also had to collect a parcel containing another piece to add to his Capodimonte Collection, whatever that is, when he noticed a hessian sack about to be put into the postman’s satchel for the midday delivery and saw that the contents were moving. “Oh don’t worry about that” said the postmistress busy stamping dockets, “it’s just another of Frank’s little indiscretions. Sir Fergus up at the Grange was furious, although I am not sure he can prove it, apart from the fact that Princess Phuket is a pure Siamese and Frank a moggy as black as the Earl of Hell’s waist coat just like the contents of that bag except she has a Siamese face. So I said we would deal with it. The postie is going past the loch so a couple of bricks should do the trick.”
Fortunately for me “the Dada” does not like Sir Fergus Lobby-Fodder, who apparently represents the Conservatory party and “the Dada” prefers the Surrealism party with its free callipers and little round spectacles. “The Dada” said this was typical of the harsh Cap – it – Alls and their treatment of the underdog, or in this case cat. So he took me home where Mumsie who runs a Home for Fallen Women when not being marvellous said I could stay, as a mouse had nibbled its way through her plaited straw handbag from Madeira and I might be a deterrent to such actions in the future.
Old Age Does Not Come Alone
That was a long time ago and now I am old and stiff and I fear the mice sense an opportunity once again. I am a little poorly this week and Mumsie says it is a pity I have not done more pelvic floor exercises and then Mrs Travers would have less reason to use her mop and bucket and the Jeyes Fluid. They took me to “a nice man” who turned out not to be nice at all and looked in all sorts of places a girl cannot even mention.
It seems I am not bad for my age and have been very well looked after. Mumsie asked the ‘nice man’ and I quote “In the words of T. S. Elliot, Mr Barker – and you can give it to me straight please – is it time for Zelda to go Up, Up, Up Past the Russell Hotel, Up, Up, Up to the Heaviside Layer?”
It is not yet time for that. Instead I require two jags a day which is to be administered by “The Dada”.
Pricks and Tinkles
So here I sit between pricks, on a crocheted blanket placed on an Edwardian lady’s chair which “gives her height to feel safe and low enough for tinkles”.
The Wylies have gone out leaving me with Mrs Travers which I heard the Dada say “is a bit like leaving someone to stay overnight with Albert Pierpont.” I am not sure who that is, but I did not care for Mrs T’s look when she gave me the leftover fish pie.
Talking of fish the owners (ha!) have gone to The Rogano for lunch. Mumsie, it seem “needs a break”, although I am not quite sure why as she has done little, but order more white vinegar which apparently makes my sleeping quarters smell like the House of Guerlain. The Rogano has ‘Karisima” on special today – a “hot lobster dish, par excellence”, which is “served in delightful cubes of effortless enjoyment.” I can confirm that this was not how yesterday’s fish pie was served; it was grudgingly, rather than with any form of delight.
They have quite a lot to do after lunch. Mrs Wylie wants to get tickets to hear Lord Hailsham Q.C. speak to the Glasgow Unionist Association at the St Andrew’s halls. “The Dada” wants nothing to do with this, because Lord Hailsham is with the conservatories and so Dada is going instead to see if he can get into the Joseph Thomson Centenary lecture on Thursday which is being held in the smaller Berkeley Hall. The lecture, The Opening Up of Africa – A Scottish Achievement is being given by Professor Ronald Miller and has “colour slides”. Mr Wylie is interested in Joseph Thomson as he comes from Southwest Scotland where we live at weekends or in the holidays in our rural bolthole. A gazelle has been named after him, Mr Thomson that is not Mr Wylie, who has nothing named after him.
The Latest Sensations
They both want to go to Mitchells at Great Western Road. This is a shop which sells gramophone records. They have been advertising a new “45 Counter” in their “luxury record department”. They mean rotations per minute not the thing with Bonnie Prince Charlie. This department specialises in the new 7 inch records which are the current sensation, unlike Bonnie Prince Charlie who long ago ceased to be a sensation and became a myth, or so I heard when “the Dada” practised his lecture for the Hysterical.
Both Mr and Mrs Wylie are very keen on current sensations. Mrs Mumsie is also very enthusiastic about new clothes and hopes to call in at “Marie Flaubert’s, the Continental Dressmaker” in St Vincent Street as she has “nothing to wear”. As I sleep in all her wardrobes I beg to differ.
Mr Dada is, according to what I have overheard Mrs Travers tell Grace, (the lady from the other side of the world and I don’t mean the West Lothians) is trying to avoid going past Couper’s Furs in Sauchiehall Street as they are “the first house in Scotland” to have coats from Alaska. As you will know if you spend any time around here, Mrs Wylie likes to be the first to have anything new. Occasionally she is pipped at the post by the irrepressible, but “very common”, Mrs Macaulay who “makes up for what she lacks in class with animal cunning”, as Mrs Wylie told Mr Wylie this morning, “I wouldn’t be surprised if she is wearing an Alsakan coat at Church on Sunday. Knowing her she will have been hanging around the Princes Docks all night waiting for anything to dock with snow on it or looking vaguely Alaskan.” Mumsie has raised the dramatic tension by constant references to how cold she is and how only something from Alaska will stave off the hypothermia.
The Worst Winter in Ages
Poor Mr Dada; the weather is to a large extent on her side as we have had the worst snow in Scotland since 1947. Trains from London have been delayed for 8 or 9 hours, coal is running short in household bunkers and last Sunday there were even emergency coal deliveries. For those of you who have never been to Scotland on a Sunday this was pretty exciting, but as it broke the Sabbath an extra psalm will make up for the laxity. Doctors have been ski-ing to attend their patients in villages outside Edinburgh, an affectation one might expect and ambulances are stuck in snow drifts.
Even the gentry, who are pretty gung ho about weather conditions and usually like to prove how hardy they are, have suffered. Lady Forteviet’s cattle float containing 4 bulls from Dupplin Castle has been stranded for 8 hours only 6 miles from Perth Auction Mart, ironically one bull is called “Snow Pilot”.
What Cats are Supposed to Do
Oh it is so boring when everyone is out. I know Mrs Travers is in but she is busy preparing a steak pie and rice pudding for Dada just in case he is peckish later. Grace, the new lady from far away, is damp dusting the stair carpet with used Earl Grey tea, scented with oils just in case I have made a mistake there. It seems I make increasing mistakes and if I do too many or even one on the washed Chinese rug, (which Mr Wylie says was woven by virgins under water and even he is not allowed to stand on it), it will be The Russell Hotel for me.
This just goes to show no one has noticed I have not been upstairs for months. The old back legs are just not up to it anymore. Pity really because I like to go up to the nursery on the top floor as that is where young Gayle lives with the nurse and there is always a little milk available and some delicious Heinz Beef and Vegetable, provided they don’t see which they usually do not.
Gayle is looked after by Hairy Mary who is from the Highlands and has wild backcombed hair. She speaks Gaelic and calls me “Cat Sith”, a legendary cat from Celtic mythology which haunts the Highlands. They are black with a small white spot on the chest just like me. Some believe the “Cat Sith” will steal the souls of the dead and so they are not allowed into the room where a corpse lies. For this reason no fires are lit at a passing, as they attract this particular kind of cat. On the other hand a house which leaves a saucer of milk will be blessed. Some believe that a cat can transform itself into a witch and back, nine times and that is the origin of the saying a cat has nine lives. I think I must have used up most of mine by now. Still some lobster leftovers might do the trick and perk me up.
Oh For a Visit to the U.S.A.
If I lived in America I might get lobster every day. I know this because the Wylies have left the Glasgow Herald spread out on the floor “in case of accidents” and there is an interesting article by Marie Muir about the lives of Transatlantic Cats. Please do not worry about the accidents I am hanging on and anyway Mrs Wylie has removed the Court and Social pages and any photographs of the Royal Family or the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. After all as she said to Mrs Travers if I were allowed to have a tinkle on Princess Margaret then we might as well declare Scotland a republic.
I am sure Princess Margaret has cats; she looks very intelligent like a cat person. Anyway according to Marie Muir, cats in America are very well looked after and she knows one called Edward who lives in Beverley Hills next door to a film star. When his owners go away Edward goes to a Cat Hotel where he has a suite and garden of his own with patio.
When they are away the manager of said hotel insists that the cats’ owners write to their cat. This must not be a postcard “but a real letter with the scent of the owners’ hands which are opened under his nose and left for him to mull over”. Another, called Chee-Chee, has warmed pork, liver, gravy and string beans everyday, French style, served on a hand painted plate. Another called Oscar has a daily doughnut with peas and a soft boiled egg which must be from a brown shell. He knows when he is being short changed with a cheap white shell.
America is the land of opportunity and choice. It seems there is an American cat food manufacturer who says “Few cats will eat a second meal out of an opened tin.” They want to live with Mrs Travers.
Mumsie and the Dada Return
“Hello Mrs Travers, hello Zelda, we are home, we have brought you Jailhouse Rock Mrs T to remind you of your Billy and some left over Karisima “for effortless enjoyment”, for you Zelda. Haven’t we Jasper?”
“Oh Muriel I thought you had it. I must have left it in Mitchells’ 7 inch department. Oh Mrs Travers what to do?”
“Never mind Mr and Mrs T I have some left in that tin from earlier in the week it should be enough for a third helping. Mrs Sweet and Sour, I mean Mrs Savage, the pickle queen said she would be delighted to take Zelda for a night, it will be company for her pussey who gets so lonely.”
“Mrs T what is for suppa?”
“Oh Mr Wylie Steak pie with beef links and rice pudding with skin and raisins.”
Later in the Wylie Drawing Room
Zelda is sleeping on Mrs Wylie’s knee, dreaming of lobster chunks. Jasper is struggling to stay awake.
“Jasper you know how you bought Mrs T that new Elvis Presley?”
“Did you get me something from the hit parade?”
“Muriel of course I got you something; I got you Marion Ryan singing “Love Me Forever.”
“You’ll never leave me, lost and alone?”
From Lobster Land