Sunday Mishmash

For The Sunday Salon



I’ve heard of Dog Borstal, but whatever does one do with a delinquent cat? Ever since we first had our two cats (the silliest creatures ever to sniff the planet) they have displayed radically different characters. Harvey is bold and daring and a terrible bully, but also the outgoing and affectionate one; Hilly is exquisitely pretty, shy and scared and needy, with what feeble and ineffectual brain capacity she had now crippled by the trauma of being her brother’s favourite victim. I caught them the other day with Harvey sitting on top of the kitchen chair, taking swipes with a lazy but accurate paw at whatever part of Hilly, a quivering wreck underneath it, might risk venturing forth in an attempt to escape. Harvey’s command of the English language is not limited to ‘teatime’ and ‘now’, whatever he might like to suggest and he knows exactly what I am saying when I scold him. But he saunters off, simmering lightly with resentment, like the more superior kind of adolescent. The times I find them, with Hilly backed up against a wall and Harvey menacing her! Now I can’t reach out a hand to Hilly, unless I am sitting down very quietly, without her assuming I’m attempting some idle torture. Mealtimes are particularly tricky as Harvey is a greedy guts and once he has finished his bowl will just snarl at his sister until she goes away. We tried to solve this by shutting Harvey in the downstairs toilet with his meal, but then I once forgot all about him being there for quite some time. Oops. My mother-in-law tells me that it is not possible for cats to overeat; that they only ask for what they need, but I notice a distinct propensity in Harvey to put on weight. I have often imagined him zipping himself into his cat suit and asking, does my bum look big in this? (answer: yes) If a meal is in the offing but is not arriving as fast as Harvey would like it to, he becomes a complete nuisance, leaping onto the desk or the table and clumsily shoving items off of it onto the floor. For those of you who recall the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, he is the very image of Steve Martin when he is pretending to be Michael Caine’s brother, the retarded Prince Ruprecht, who demonstrates his displeasure at being thwarted by leaning an elbow on the mantelpiece and casually tipping the ornaments off it, one after the other. So how do you train a cat to behave nicely? I have to confess that my husband indulges him rather and does not give him the stern lectures on his behavior that I do. Harvey adores my husband and lies in his lap making utterly shameless goo-goo eyes at him, and alas, my husband forgives him everything. Worse still, he points at the cat and says ‘You could learn something from this.’ I will not describe to you, dear bloggers, the look I give in return.




One nice thing that happened last week while I was away: I won a blog competition! This is a bit amazing as I’m not lucky with competitions generally, and certainly not ones where the winner is decided by means of a name pulled out of a hat. When I was a small child every single treat in my school was decided this way as it was supposedly just. It’s little wonder I became a swot in order to try to entice some feedback out of the educational authorities. Anyway, this competition was based on answering some questions and I want to send a big thank you to Bluestocking for the $25 Barnes and Noble gift card. Needless to say, I have already spent it. I wanted to order books I could only get in America, and so I ended up with Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs, another classic novel, The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington which has the look of Edith Wharton about it, and I was in the mood for a good family saga. Beyond that I know nothing of the author or the work. And finally a bargain hardback, Maeve Brennan, Homesick at the New Yorker, as I’ve become very intrigued by the history of the New Yorker since reading Joan Acocella and wanted to learn more about the people who wrote for it. I’m hoping the books will arrive after the middle of April. Whilst I’m confessing, I should add that I went shopping today with birthday book tokens (and a leftover Borders gift card from Christmas) and took advantage of the special offers on new paperback fiction in store to come home with: The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver (I’m hoping to blog next on We Need to Talk About Kevin), Mothernight by Sarah Stovell (which I’ve wanted to read for a while), The Spa Decameron by Fay Weldon (I like Weldon, and this series of related stories told by women together on a health farm is described as ‘Boccaccio on oestrogen’ and that made me laugh), The Rosetti Letter by Christi Phillips (one of those dual time narratives in which academics make historical breakthroughs that are sometimes disappointing but sort of irresistible in principle), The Keep by Jennifer Egan (gothic ghost story featuring Eastern European castle that its owners want to turn into a hotel) and The Dissident by Nell Freudenberger (caught my eye because it’s by a Granta best young American novelist and is all about a Chinese performance artist lodging as Visiting Scholar with a wealthy and dysfunctional L. A. family). So I’ll bet you’re wondering whether that tbr pile of mine is obscenely huge now? I assure you, it is.




Finally, another poem for you. This one is from Nobel prize winning Greek poet, George Seferis. I first heard of Seferis years ago when I went to a talk on him and came away much enamoured of the poems that were given to us on a photocopied handout. At the time I was working hard and suffering badly from chronic fatigue, and so I have absolutely no recollection as to why I was at this talk at all, and have retained not a word of the information imparted at it. What is even more intriguing to me is that when I shuffled through my papers and found the poem I was seeking, it did not strike me as anywhere near as interesting as it had back then. Reading it today, health very nearly regained, it strikes me as being an oddly accurate account of the disembodied, disassociated dream state that I lived in when I was ill. Naturally I would have been incapable of recognizing such a thing at the time, but it explains why the poem remained with me, despite the event itself disappearing into a black hole of fatigue.


I woke with this marble head in my hands;

it exhausts my elbows and I don’t know where to put it down.

It was falling into the dream as I was coming out of the dream

so our life became one and it will be very difficult for it to separate again.


I look at the eyes: neither open nor closed

I speak to the mouth which keeps trying to speak

I hold the cheeks which have broken through the skin.

That’s all I’m able to do.


My hands disappear and come towards me



The moral of the story? Don’t get chronic fatigue: keep life spacious, learn to protect yourself, try not to worry too much about other’s expectations, remember you don’t need to be perfect. That’s a good Sunday thought to end on.


16 thoughts on “Sunday Mishmash

  1. Thank you for an entertaining Sunday Salon post! I can completely relate to your thoughts about Harvey and Hilly as I also have two cats: Maia (the mommy) and Gizmo (her daughter). They also have a bit of an unequal relationship – Maia is the pig and can be quite a bully; she also loves my husband, but merely tolerates me (the person who actually saved her from almost certain death at the local animal shelter). Gizmo is our talker, with a huge personality who can be quite grumpy at the vet (she has been “labeled” there with a large orange CAUTION sticker on her chart for having the poor judgment to bite one of the vet techs). There really is no way to “train” a cat, I have discovered. If you think that you have made inroads, do not be fooled…they haven’t changed their behavior, they are only doing it when you aren’t looking!

    Have a wonderful Sunday!

  2. Tell your mother-in-law to come visit Lancaster County, PA, if she thinks cats can’t get fat. We have yet to see one in the area, other than our own, who doesn’t seem to be a prime candidate for a reality show entitled, “Kitty Loses All.” Meanwhile, how exciting you have all those new books! I am trying so hard to stay out of bookshops while on the road (you were so tempting with your post on Sexton, but I finally managed to control myself), because my luggage is already too full (mainly because I’m carrying around four books and three notebooks with me). And now we all know my handbag is not big enough to slip in a new book, although, I suppose I COULD go looking for a new, larger bag at a store that just happens to be near a bookshop…

  3. I got a good chuckle from your cat-tale. We’ve never had cats (terribly allergic, I’m afraid) but our two little dogs go a very good job of providing an evening (and morning and afternoon) entertainment. Having raised an only child (and been an only child myself) it’s quite intersting to observe the sibling relationship in action, for their behavior definitely mirror that of the bossy older brother and the nuisiance baby sister.

    And lucky you to have gotten so many new books! I fear my own tottering stack is in grave danger of toppling over if I don’t do some serious reading quite soon.

    As for the poem – well, it calls to mind every time I’ve been sickest in my life, which I recall with that particular dreamlike quality the poet makes so clear.

  4. A squirt gun is quite effective, but must be discharged surreptitiously. Though it will not change the cat’s disposition, or its propensity to misbehave.

    Cat’s will not overeat? What of those 40 pounders that appear regularly on YouTube–were they force fed like French geese?

    Bullying is habit forming. The compliant cat becomes a kind large, amusing plaything. That behavior can be modified–the squirt gun is pretty effective if the cat doesn’t see you use it, and bullying tends to get more violent. The docile victim risks serious injury without intervention. I think you should perhaps first apply it to your husband to dampen his amusement at the antics of delinquent kitties.

  5. Like the poem, as if that head which weighs him down contains all the worries of the world, is solid with them, so overfilled it finally bulges out of the skin. Dream? Nightmare more like! Somehow it gives me a picture of one those ancient classical statues of knowledge or wisdom, oppressing me with all the things I ought to know and don’t, but that’s just a personal madness. I’ll try to keep to that wise moral you add at the end and remind you that being its author does not make you exempt from it!

  6. That cat story is hysterical. Pets do make life interesting don’t they? Recently we had two dogs and my dog bullied the other dog something terrible. We smacked her on the behind with newspaper. But I don’t suppose you can do that with cats.

    I’m glad you got the gift card ok! I have another literary quiz I’m writing for my blogaversary in May. This one is 40 question right now! Its getting longer as we speak. I’m thinking 100 questions total. So stop by for a visit in May.

  7. Congrats on winning a prize! I came hom from vacation to find my book from you waiting for me, and with such a pretty and sweet card. Thanks so much. 🙂

  8. Books and cats – a post to start my week. While I do not live in Lancaster, PA (near it, however), I too – with all due respect to your mother-in-law – can attest that kitties can get quite chubby, as mine was, until recently over 20 pounds. But now I defend her food from her hog of a little brother who doesn’t think that just because she had surgery – because she ate packing tape – she should get any special treatment.
    Happy reading.

  9. Litlove, if you can train your cats to behave nicely, please let me in on your secret! 🙂 Mine are pretty good. I know when you have two cats usually one is the boss, but mine are weird. On some things one cat is the boss and on others the other one is. I recently bought the Rossetti Letter, too! I read The Magnificent Ambersons a few years ago. I think he’s not widely read anymore, but I really enjoyed the book. It’s sort of a midwestern version of Edith Wharton. Enjoy all your new books!

  10. Well the phrase ‘fat cats’ has to have its origins somewhere in reality, surely? I have to say we are not a cat household so I can’t offer any helpful suggestions here. On the New Yorker front though there used to be (not sure if it’s still in print) a collection of E B White’s essays for the New Yorker. He is a superb writer so it’s worth asking around to see if you can find it anywhere.

  11. Wendy – I loved your comment and gave it to my son to read too – he thought it was hilarious that your cat should have to have a caution label at the vet! You are so right – they only get sneakier rather than better behaved… Emily – I laughed out loud at ‘Kitty Loses All’. That must surely hit our television screens sometime soon! How did the bag shopping go? You can buy very elegant bags these days with the capacity for several books, but not that I want to lead you astray, of course 😉 Ravenous – I’ll bet your dogs are every bit as much fun/trouble, and my only son agrees that siblings are not necessarily all they are cracked up to be. I’ve been very lucky indeed with books lately, and I love your response to the poem. I see you understand exactly what I mean. Jacob – the squirt gun caused me much hilarity, but I can also see it might be a good idea – so long as it didn’t fall into the wrong hands… Bookboxed – I admire what you say about the poem, and that image of the worries of the world crammed into the head speak very loudly to me. That was exactly how I felt back then. I like your final sentence! I write these things as much to remind myself as anyone else, you know. Bluestocking – I’ve heard that loud noises near cats can sometimes break behavioural patterns, so perhaps I ought to bring the newspaper down on something hard near to where they are (although I might terrify Hilly even more!). Worth a try though. And thank you for the heads-up on the competition – it sounds like it’s going to be amazing! I’m sure I’ll be calling on you before May. Megan – I have heard such good things about this book, I’m really looking forward to it. Thank you so much for giving it a further recommendation for me! Eva – you are very welcome and thank you for letting me know it arrived safely! And welcome home. Andi – What action-packed lives your pets lead – I swear there’s a mini-series in there somewhere. Eating packing tape – ouch! I’m glad to know she is recovering and glad to know other homes are also having to wall the animals off from one another at meal times! Danielle – LOL! I wish I knew it! So glad to think you might be reading The Rossetti Letter too, and thank you so much for telling me The Magnificent Ambersons is good. Now I can really look forward to it. Ann – I saw that volume of E. B. White’s on my travels (if only I could recall where…). Thank you so much for the recommendation. I’m into essayists at the moment and will certainly track it down again.

  12. I needed to hear your last words, as I’m headed into a really busy time of the school year and am letting it all get to me. I must learn to relax and not worry and not try to be perfect!

  13. Well, didn’t get a new bag, but did succumb to favorite bookstore near office headquarters and walked out with FOUR books. Sigh! (They didn’t have Sexton, so I settled for poetry by Sarton and Atwood poetry. Can you tell I’m being influenced by blogs? But they’re skinny books, easy for travel!). See: “#1 Book Slut.”

  14. Your cats sound like a hoot. And your husband’s comment about Harvey’s affection for him made me laugh out loud. My sister had a cat that got so fat she couldn’t keep herself clean anymore. It was the most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen. I hope you enjoy Country of the Pointed Firs. In fact, I am certain you will enjoy it. And thanks for sharing the poem. It does have a dream-like quality to it.

  15. Dorothy – I have such sympathy! I know just how that feels! You really don’t need to try to be perfect: I’ll bet you are wonderful, just doing your thing and sticking with it. Emily – yay for the book buying!!! Not, you understand, that I would ever lead you wantonly astray, you book slut, you. 😉 Stefanie – I thought you might like my husband’s comment – I put them in with you in mind these days! The Country of the Pointed Firs got put in my basket on your recommendation. I knew I had to read it once I’d enjoyed your review!

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