Friday, November 19, 2021

The Cat Report (Fr. Dec 19th 2021)

 So, after a highly successful kitten event and some follow-up adoptions, today we're left with three cats and four kittens in the Cat Room:  Our veteran resident brother-sister team SIMBA and ZOE, new mama cat ROSIE, the pair of little black kittens JET and JAGUAR (who I think are also bonded) and two other kittens MARBLE and BLACK BEAR.

SIMBA and ZOE didn't get to go out of their cages as much as the last two weeks, to their displeasure, though they did enjoy the time they had, prowling around the rooms. Both had good walks, about twenty minutes each. Interesting to watch how differently they act. Simba walks up to people and presents himself for petting. Zoe ignores people and focuses on seeing what there is to see. Both attracted a lot of attention and a fair amount to petting; good will ambassadors for the cat room.

Leisl commented that Zoe has started giving Simba the occasional swipe or hiss. I've seen this too, and think it's just too much time together in the same old place. If we're worried about this then we cd swap out their double-high space for the little black kitten's top row for a few days and see if just a small change like that helps them out.

Mama cat ROSIE is quite shy but also starved for affection. I picked her up first thing, taking cat-bed and all out of the cage and into my lap on the bench. She didn't stay long, but I repeated the won't-accept-a-no invitation near the end of shift and she was much more willing. In between I had given her a little cachet sprayed with catnip, which interested her greatly. I also knelt down in front of her cage and 'held' her by reaching in and resting a hand and arm on either side of her. And she let me massage the inside of an ear. She may have purred. In any case, think the contact helps reinforce the message to her that we're not cat-eating ogres. Suspect it won't be long before she'll be out and exploring.

The two little black panthers, JET & JAGUAR, were full of energy as kittens shd be. When their time out came they made the most of it. They tore around the room, playing with each other, exploring, and generally delighting by-passers. One of these two (the one without the collar) is a natural-born predator: he kept taking whatever toy he was playing with in his mouth and dragging it off to his 'lair' in the back of the room. The other (the one with the yellow collar) loved chasing the little red dot, which was all the funnier because he hadn't figured out how to handle corners when trying to turn, going skidding off like a Keystone Cop. They also love to purr, especially when they think they're about to get something they want, like let out of their cage.

That just left the other two kittens, BLACK BEAR and MARBLE, who explored until they felt comfortable with their surroundings. They seem smaller than the other pair, mainly staying in the back room, but showed plenty of enthusiasm when it was game time. They were willing to be picked up and held, so long as it wasn't for too long.

All in all, a great set of cats.

--John R.


I wrote up last week's cat report but never got it posted; I belatedly include it here.

So, beautiful Caddie’s adoption meant that our two cream-colored cats had the run of the place, which they clearly enjoyed.

They each got long walks, with a short follow-up walk towards the end of my shift. Both got plenty of attention from cat-lovers in the store.

Simba briefly explored the training room. Zoey made it all the way from just outside the training room to the grooming salon, that whole side of the store.

I learned that Zoey does not like belly rubs.
I bought some live grass for the room as a gift for the cats, but neither showed much interest.

He likes the string game. She prefers the laser pointer.
He likes the outer room best. She likes the inner room more.

She made a point of visiting the communal box rather than her own.

To repeat: no belly rubs, please.

health issues: 
—found a bit of throw-up in the bottom of their cage; clearly it had been there for a while.
—their ears cd use some cleaning.

P.S.: I wonder what twenty-two kittens (and one no doubt v. busy mama cat) looks like. Maybe I’ll be able to drop by at some point during the Kitten Event to see.

—John R.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Filksinging DUNE

 So, DUNE.

Having read the book (once) and seen the old movie with Sting in it (once, when it first came out), I'm not exactly a major fan of Herbert but still thought I shd watch the new film. I'm glad I did. I thought they did a really good job of adapting the book and keeping a complex narrative clear. I was also impressed that it had its own texture and timing --it didn't seem derivative of other science fiction films out there (e.g. the Star Wars and Star Trek films). Best of all, with one exception it didn't have drag-on-and-on special effects scenes.**

Of course, seeing this reminded of the old song by sometimes inspired* filksinger Tom Smith from his 1991 album WHO LET HIM IN HERE?, which uses the melody of the old Crystal Gayle song "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue", the lyrics of which go like this:

The spice melange

It's so cinnamon sweet.

I put it on most every thing I eat.

It's addictive too

And don't it make my brown eyes blue?

Dad got control over all that Spice.

So Baron Harkonnen had him iced.

Tried to kill me too

And don't it make my brown eyes blue?

So me and my mother ran away across Dune.

Got found by the Fremen, not a moment too soon.

They said it was easier to leave us behind.

But if we went with them that wd suit them just fine.

Now I'm dreaming of a big Jihad.

And the Fremen all think I'm God.

Maybe I do too

And don't it make my brown eyes blue?

--John R.

Current reading: THE LAND OF LAUGHS

*other recommended tracks: "I Want to be Peter Lorre", "Return of the King, Uh huh" (Strider as Elvis), and above all "A Frog and his Boy" (Kermit's elegy to Jim Henson).

**the exception for me was the ornithopter flight through the sandstorm 

Sunday, November 14, 2021


 So, as a special treat this Halloween, BBC 4 put on a one-hour radioplay adaptation of Hope Mirrees' much admired but little read 1924 novel LUD-IN-THE-MIST. Neil Gaiman, a longtime advocate of the book, appeared as Duke Aubrey, a sinister figure who is essentially the King of Faerie: this essentially requires Gaiman laugh menacingly from time to time, which he pulls off quite well.

Listening to this radioplay is no substitute for reading the book, but it's a great refresher if you're like me and it's been a long time since you've read the original. And for those who have never read the book it offers them a glimpse of what they've been missing.

Now having heard this, I cdn't say whether her story is better suited to audioplay or film adaptation, but I'd like to have the chance of comparing the two.

--John R.

P.S.: The next day after the Lud-in-the-Mist, the BBC broadcast another one-hour radioplay of another work from 1924: LOLLY WILLOWS by Sylvia Townsend Warner Townsend.  A very different kind of story --in fact, the case cd be made that it's not a fantasy at all* --but also very good. I know it's made me want to seek out the original. Recommended.

--John R.

*i.e. I think it fits in Todorov's category of The Fantastique

Tolkien's Panama

 So, would you like to own Tolkien's hat?

Do you have a quarter of a million pounds lying around?

If so, check this out:

What this comes down to is that  Tolkien's brother Hilary's family is selling off some family letters. Some of these might be among those items printed in BLACK & WHITE OGRE COUNTRY back in 2009. Also, "Tolkien family ephemera such as Tolkien’s own panama hat, "  In addition, I suspect some of the letters listed in this offering wd have appeared in the cancelled book WHEELBARROWS AT DAWN (2009-2010). 

I'll be interested in where this material turns up, and how accessible it is afterwards. 

--John R.


God help us.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

L.T. Meade, Postscript

So, one detail I forgot to add to my post about Meade relates to the title story, "Eyes of Terror". This tale involves a plucky young woman who's being haunted by a sinister figure with glowing eyes. In the end all is revealed: the haunting is a fake staged by her cousin, who wants to break down her resistance to marrying him where he cd get his hands on the family fortune.

All this is pretty standard stuff, and a good example of what Todorov calls 'the uncanny', in that in the summing-up the mechanism behind the haunting is explained.

Except that the explanation doesn't hold water for a modern reader.

We're told the villain has been using radium, which, "as you know, when held near the eyes, can give them a luminous and very ghastly appearance" (Meade p.224). Thus he's using doses of radium to make his eyes glow like Gollum's. 

It's that "as you know" that gets to me here. I've seen this kind of hand-waving around the lesser-known properties of new radioactive elements before -- e.g. in an old episode of THE SHADOW (which revealed the dubious solution that exposure to radium causes whatever pathogens are in the body to re-assert themselves --- thus each victim dies of a different disease from the same cause). Here it makes me think that Meade's scientific and medical advisors were perhaps behind the curve so far as expertise went.* 

One other detail that caught my eye was the jingoism of the recent Boer War** that forms an important part of the background to the tale. We are told that the detective agrees to help the point of view character because she is "the daughter of that Colonel Dallas whose gallant action, when he sacrificed his life for his country on the march to Pretoria, is the talk and admiration of the country" (Meade .201).

So, does the story remain Uncanny, as it wd have been at the time of writing in the intent of the author? Or does the passage of time here undercut the credibility of the solution, transforming the tale into an impossibility, or Marvellous in Todorov's terms? At least we know it's not in the middle category, Fantastique (Fantasy), a designation reserved only to strories which end without the Uncanny vs Marvellous dichotomy being resolved. 

--John R.

--current reading: BARDS OF BONE PLAIN

--today's song: THE BOSTON RAG

*to be fair, after his capture the villain does complain repeatedly that his eyes hurt and that the radium seems to have affected his vision.

**the story was first published in THE STRAND in 1904.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

The Prolific L. T. Meade

So, a few weeks ago a new collection of weird/suspense stories by L. T. Meade arrived --  an author I'd never heard of before ordering this book. Now that I've read it I'm somewhat disappointed; the stories are readable but uninspired. The best ("The Dead Hand") is a first-person narration by a palmist who is called in to read the palm of a murdered child in order to identify the killer: this one benefits from a sympathetic and appealing narrator. Meade wrote a book's worth of stories about the character (THE ORACLE OF MADDOX STREET, 1904) that might well be worth tracking down. For those interested in ghost-hunters there's A MASTER OF MYSTERIES: THE ADVENTURES OF JOHN BELL -- GHOST EXPOSER (1897).

Historically Meade is more interesting for her career rather than by any literary virtue of her work. A professional writer for venues like THE STRAND (famous as the home of the Sherlock Holmes stories), she more than held her own as a woman thriving in a man's world. She was also amazingly prolific, averaged a bit over 2000 words per day for a total of some 300 books, either novels or short story collections featuring one of her many series heroes or villains (and villainesses), in addition to many non-series stand-alone stories. As if this were not enough, she edited ATALANTA, a literary journal of fiction for girls.

Her productivity was no doubt in part due to her never taking a vacation and to her working method. She dictated each story or novel chapter to a secretary, then revised the resulting typescript.* 

Finally, readers of Dorothy L. Sayers' work may be interested to learn that one of Meade's many collaborators whom she relied upon for scientific or medical advice was Rbt Eustace, who later played the same role with Sayers'  THE DOCUMENTS IN THE CASE.  Embarrassingly enough, he gave her inaccurate information which invalidated the crucial bit of evidence that enables that mystery's solution, which is probably why she didn't collaborate with him again.

--John R.

*this was also the method of Earl Stanley Gardner, who famously took 5 weeks to write each of his Perry Mason books.

current reading: THE BARDS OF BONE PLAIN  by Patricia McKillip

today's song: "Get It Straight" by The Rossington-Collins Band

Friday, November 5, 2021

The Cat Report (11/5-21)


With only three cats in the cat room it was walks for everybody. Unfortunately I was so busy walking I didn't make any notes, hence this light-on-detail report.

CADDIE, our beautiful marbled brown and black cat, had a good forty minutes out walking and made good use of it. She tended to ignore people, walking right past them, but was nonetheless much admired. She knows about doors: discovering the door between the cat room and aquariums she sat down facing it and waited for it to be opened for her (which of course didn’t happen).  She tried to exert moral pressure once she discovered the cat-beds, taking the position that since they were cat-beds and she was a cat, she shd be allowed to climb inside and try them out. But on the whole she did great and I think enjoyed herself.

That left our little sandy lions, one longhaired (Simba) the tother shorthair (Zoey).  
SIMBA got half an hour, filled with lots of petting: he walks up to people and invites attention. Between his sunny disposition and beautiful long fur he was much admired. At one point he was in the perfect pose: on the store’s main aisle sitting next to the red ‘Adopt’ sign with an arrow. Unfortunately I couldn’t take a picture and manage the leash at the same time.

ZOEY also got a half-hour or so. She spent the first ten minutes huddled up on the little cabinet thing just outside the cat room door that holds the key. Then she shook herself, jumped down, and started exploring. She went further than either of the other two, and took time to roll over belly-up on the cool tile floor. It was interesting to see that she's okay with dogs so long as dog is well behaved with no barking.

health issue: the bit of what looks to be cat acne on Zoey’s chin has taken the form of a small scab.  Suspect it’d be better to keep an eye on it but otherwise let it heal up on its own.

—John R.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

An Evening of Poe in Renton

So, thanks to Janice's having seen a mention of it on Facebook, the night before Halloween we went to see an evening of Poe at an old theatre in downtown Renton.

I had expected this to be a one-man show, like the one we saw just off the Maple Valley Road two years or so ago, which focused on EUREKA, or the excellent John Astin performance we saw near Chicago over twenty years ago.  Instead it turned out to be readings by a three-person troupe.

First up came THE RAVEN, as was thoroughly appropriate.

But they followed this with a piece I cd have done without: THE BLACK CAT. I can see why they'd want to do this one for Halloween but still its a story of animal cruelty and mutilation I cd have done without. I'd have much preferred THE TELL-TALE HEART if they were going the first-person-told-by-a-madman route.

Then came THE HAUNTED PALACE, which I think of as one of Poe's minor poems and not one I wd have picked, given the riches they had to choose from (ALONE, A DREAM WITHIN A DREAM, ULALUME, ANNABELL LEIGH, EL DORADO).

Oddly enough, rather than end up with THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (which 'Haunted Palace' wd seem to have set up), they closed with the tale USHER II  by Ray Bradbury. Not one of his more subtle pieces, but despite the main character's tendency to shout they did a fairly good job of it.

All in all, an enjoyable evening.  But given the Poe/Bradbury juxtaposition, I don't want to let the opportunity pass to share Bradbury's poem about Poe. I've posted it in this blog before, but that was as far back as 2008, so it seem high time to share it again.


"I Have A Brother, Mostly Dead" 

I have a brother, mostly dead
And angels curled upon his head
Most of my life, mostly unseen,
And yet I feel with him I've been
A cohort playmate friend of Poe
Who tours me where live friends can't go . . .

And so my brother, dead, you see
Is wondrous literate company.
Thus if my Muse says: Nevermore!
I hear a tapping at my door;
My brother comes to saviour me
With graveyard biscuit, rictus tea . . . 

So Idea Ghosts sit up again . . . 
And shape themselves with words for clothes.
All this my long lost brother does
This sibling spent before my cause . . .

. . . sweet brother, flower my tomb
With words so rare and phrase so bright
They'll bonfire burn away the night.

All this to me lost brother is
And I his live sweet Lazarus.
His shout ignore? his cry refuse?
No, no! Much thanks, long-dead fine Muse.

--Ray Bradbury

The Cat Report (Friday October 29th 2021)


We had eight cats in four groupings, each of which got about a half hour’s attention.

FIrst up I let our beautiful little dark torbie, SADIE, our senior cat (I think she’s about nine). It took some tugging,  but once she was out she joined me on the bench, being petted and purring up a storm while grooming my arm. Thought a walk wd be too alarming for her, so we settled for a thorough exploration of the room instead, to help her get her bearing and hopefully feel more comfortable.  An adorable little lap cat in search of a lap of her own.

Next up were our lion-colored returnees SIMBA and ZOEY, a bonded pair a little younger than Sadie (seven I think).  Both had walks. He was calm and unflappable, and actually did some exploring.  ZOEY was more nervous. Did notice what might be some cat acne on Zoey’s chin, but we were outside the cat room on her walk at the time, and she didn’t want me checking on it.

The mother/daughters marbled tabby family CADDIE (2yr) and FLOPPER/SQUEAKER (1yr) were next. I think the one with the red collar must have been Caddie, since the other two played together their whole time out while she kept mostly to herself. F&S love string games and catnip spray. C is quite friendly but likes seeing what she can find while the other two draw attention. Since she had a collar on already I snapped a leash to it, but she immediately moved away from the door, which I took as ’no thanks’ on her part.

The two little black kittens (3 month old) SEBASTIAN and BARNABY finally, finally got their turn with out, after an hour and a half of plaintive cries. They love the string game, and were willing to play from outside the cage with Flopper/Squeak inside it, which was fun to watch. Their cries at being put back in their cage when the time came were just as heartfelt as those from before.

Quite a few people walking by stopped to look at cats but didn’t notice any serious potentials.

Here’s hoping we have a final burst at the end of October that gets a few of these great cats to new homes.

—John R.