Frolicsome, fantastic, feline frivolity
A chance mention of a Beverley Nichols book on gardens and gardening by a book blogger (thank you Karen) sent me scurrying to my bookshelves to find Nichol’s ABC of Cats, bought for me as a child – though Nichols writing style is anything but childish – by a family friend, who had a slightly waspish and fastidious nature, and didn’t really like cats – or children. He did at least have the generosity to realise the child I was had an enthusiasm for good writing, which ought to be encouraged, and that despite the fact that Nichols was expressing a lot of distaste for children in these pages (with a tongue I hope at least marginally in cheek) his veneration of cats, and approval of those who he regarded as ‘true Fs’ (feline lovers) would meet with my regard. As indeed it did.
So it was with great delight that I re-opened the well battered, oft read, delightfully illustrated – line drawings by Derreck Sayer – Cats’ ABC. With short, letters of the alphabet chapter headings, running from such important subjects as A for Amusements
Let us take as a simple example the familiar device of a length of string to which we attach a screwed-up piece of paper, in order to simulate a mouse. A regrettably large proportion of cat-owners, having manufactured this elementary form of diversion, seem to imagine that nothing remains to be done but to drag the string languidly across the carpet, giving it an occasional twitch, while the cat or kitten leaps and pounces and cavorts in its wake
This is surely the most stingy and unimaginative behaviour; it is totally lacking in drama, and drama is the essence of all feline diversions
to Z for ….
Z stands for…Whatever else we may decide that Z stands for, it does not stand for Zoos. This is a book in which no institution so miserable as a Zoo should play any part. I am totally unable to understand the general public’s attitude to Zoos
with many delightful staging posts in-between. Nichols’ aura is remarkably patrician and has definite sharpness and sting, a marvellous foil to his whimsicality. There is at times an acidity and definite wasp – the reiteration of ‘their horrible children’ though babes appear to escape disfavour somewhat – but his moues of perhaps slightly affected campness are not malicious.
I like to imagine that if I, as a small child, had smeared chocolate stained fingers over the Ming, that my obvious respectful adoration of kitten-and-cat, and my instinctive awareness that any feline should be approached softly and patiently, would have led to Nichols regarding me as ‘needs some improvement, shows promise’ as he summoned Gaskin-the-butler to clean the offending smears off the priceless porcelain, which at least I had had the delicacy and appreciation not to break
Following, mainly the lives, loves and loathings of his three-in-residence, Four, Five and Oscar, affectionate attention is also given to the very lamented Siamese, One, who, for very sad reasons darkens the entry on G for Gardening – one of Nichols other passions, which inspires his writing.
The G chapter made me cry, though he was recounting an event which must have happened nearly 75 years ago, given this book’s publication date.
Other chapters are far happier.
A wonderful divertissement. Cats a springboard to take in other important matters like music (classical) and art.
To my delight I have also discovered he wrote another, similar tome, again with illustrations by Sayer. Which the postie has just delivered, as I sourced a beautifully preserved copy, at reasonable price, from a market place seller. PURR!
The UK edition I have linked is the Paperback One, which seems more readily available at reasonable price, and new, than the hardback. which I have
And, not at all in the spirit of Nichols book, as it is distinctly made to satisfy the non-Fs among us, rather than the Fs, but still too amusing to miss