Two Dutch Girls on a Road Trip to Wiltshire

Road Trip 2017 (2) - Richmond to Chawton to Salisbury.

Good afternoon! Would you like to join me for the second part of my road trip in the South-West of England? A long time wish of my daughter...

Friday, 16 January 2015

What IS our fascination with cats?

Personally, I blame my Mum. She gave birth to me whilst allowing her big ginger tomcat to watch the proceedings on the bed from a distance of 30 centimeters. So, the odds that the very first thing I ever saw was a cat, are huge.
In fact, my very first memory is of pulling said cat's tail. Peter, his name was. He turned on me and scratched my scrawny arm (I was an undernourished child). I was 1,5 years old.

Peter's revenge didn't turn me off cats, to the contrary. They have had my fascination and love ever since. 
Unfortunately, no photographs of Peter survive. But my Mum told me he was a large cat, and a good mouser. 
There were always cats in our house. Usually two, but sometimes more. And guest cats coming to stay. And neighbouring cats coming to visit.
Here speaks your original cat lady, making conversation with every cat I meet on the streets, and making friends with them where ever I happen to stay. 

My Viggo

But I am in good company. I've read that cats, and photographs of cats, are paramount on Facebook, Google+ and other internet services. So what causes us humans to want to share our lives with a cat?
Pete Etchells of the psychology section of The Guardian has written about this phenomenon. 

A study in 2010 asked 4,500 people to self-identify as either a dog person, cat person, both or neither, and looked at five personality traits using a self-report questionnaire. People who identified themselves as cat people showed significantly higher scores for neuroticism and openness than dog people, and significantly lower scores for extroversionagreeableness and conscientiousness. In other words, we (I'm a cat person) tend to stress more, be more open to a variety of experiences, but show poorer self-discipline, cooperativeness and assertiveness. 
And according to another survey from 2010, people who are more highly educated were 1.4 times more likely to own a cat than a dog. This doesn't mean that cat people are smarter than dog people, more that there's a link between higher education and longer work hours. Cats are less time-consuming than dogs, and so people who work longer hours will be more likely to choose cats as pets to fit in with their work life. " (source: The Guardian)

But this still doesn't answer my question. Why do cats fascinate a huge part of the population so much that they feel the need to plaster photos of cats all over the internet?
And many of us get stroppy about it too. A nasty comment about a cat photo will risk the commenter getting verbally lynched or worse.

When I was still using Facebook, I posted a photo of a cat every evening, just before going to bed, as a 'good night' to my 'friends'. In over 7 years, it have been those photos which have generated the most comments. Usually just 'Aw', to 'Aaaaawwwwww', to 'Lovely'.
Because this (in turn) fascinated me, I kept it up. Now that I've stopped, I wonder if all my friends miss me, or just my sweet cats.
(The cats! Wanna bet?!)

So. To come back to the original question once more:
let's face it. Humans have always been fascinated by felines! As far back in (written) history as you can get, there are references and pictures of cats. Writers, painters, composers, they all put cats in their creations.

Dogs feature quite a bit too. Cats though, win the game, hands down. And now that we ordinary humans all have the means of expressing our likes and dislikes on the WWW, cat lovers have seized their chance. From Grumpy Cat to Schrödinger's Cat to French-speaking philosopher Henri to my Viggo, cat lovers just lap it up like our cats lap up cream.

What do we all like so much? Cats have a couple of things dogs do not.
# grace
# aloofness (think Greta Garbo)
# pride/dignity
# a natural ability to rule the household
# independence

Apart from that they are funny, intelligent, cute, gorgeous, and original. And ruthless. That is a mix that cannot be ignored.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Haiku on Kabouter Buttplug - Rotterdam

You what? A Haiku on a statue-with-a-rude-name? Yep, sorry, we Rotterdam people have the habit of coming up with imaginative names for objects in the public eye. Especially the more, shall we say, explicit-looking objects.

This statue is by Paul McCarthy, and boy oh boy did it cause a stir and a stink when it was unveiled. 
Now, let this image slowly sink in. What do you see?
No, dear, it's supposed to be Father Christmas. At least, that is what the Rotterdam Council spokesperson tried to tell the good people of Rotterdam, who were bewildered by what their Council had spent their (tax)money on.
Look, see, he carries a Christmas bell in his left hand.
And what does he hold proudly up in his right hand?
Obviously! A Christmas tree!
Now, of course that was the very first thing that sprang to your mind, right?

The funny thing is that the same sculptor has managed to sell one of his huge statues to the council of Paris, where it caused the same kind of stink, as it carries the same lewd thoughts into people's minds as Kabouter Buttplug does in Rotterdam.

Art is supposed to evoke emotion, and cause commotion I suppose.

Do I like this statue? Hmmm. No, not my taste. But there is no accounting for taste, so if you happen to like it, fine.
Any way, it did inspire me, some time ago, to write the following Haiku.

Buttplug in the rain
gleaming rivulets drip down
like tears of a clown

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Art of Haiku.俳句

Hiya. Yep, you've read it correctly. This is a post about writing Haiku. 
How erratic can you get, eh?

What? Haiku? You're supposed to blog about music. Or post recipes, for Frith's sake! (Yes, I can hear your thoughts. I'm scary that way)

True, true, I have been known to blurt that I would only write about my love of music... Except I seem to have developed a (temporary I'm sure) writer's block about the music angle. So I reverted to my ordinary stuff about food, Viggo, Birdlife, more food and more Viggo. 
But ever since I made Viggo write a Haiku, I have thrown off the cloak of shyness I have been hiding my Haikus under, and decided to share this secret corner of my frenzied over-stuffed mind with you.

For the un-knowing amongst you: Haiku is a Japanese poetry form, with a very specific rhyme pattern. 
The traditional form is that you write 3 lines; the first line takes 5 syllables, the second line 7 syllables and the third line again 5 syllables. The traditional, classical Haiku is an elegant but simple poem about nature. The author often expresses (almost childlike) wonderment, innocence. It is not an art form to express violence, or huge emotions. Although the more modern Haikus (especially the Western kind) have left the classical path, and only the purists care.

I have first come across Haiku when I started teaching literature, some years ago. Part of the curriculum for my pupils was to make them aware of different poetry forms, and in my research for this I stumbled across Haiku, and was struck by its seemingly simpleness.
Since then I have always made my pupils write Haiku, with glee, but often with immense satisfaction as well. For, after the initial "oh-yuck-no-must-we" reaction, many times I have found little gems amongst the muck of my pile of assignments. 
One year a couple of boys (13 years old) tried to out-do each other in writing Haiku about sex ("well, that's nature as well, right, Miss?), and they had so much fun that I didn't have the heart to stop them.

So. Interested?
Here is a Haiku I wrote especially for you.

wild windy wetlands
reeds bend backwards in despair
clouds chase clouds chase rain

Oh...go on, give it a try. 

Monday, 12 January 2015

Viggo's Haiku on Voles

Cats have their own unique viewpoint of the dark, wet, Wetlands Winter months; at least...Viggo has!

Viggo in his custom-torn take-away bag

Q: You were an Autumn baby. Do you have a special affinity with Autumn?

V: Technically I was a late Summer kitten. And no, I prefer Spring. When the frogs and toads start to jump back to the pool, that's wonderful. And all those young birds that still cannot fly very well. And the butterflies, and the bumble bees, oh...bumble bees! And dragonflies! Poetry in motion.

Q: Do you mind getting wet so very often in Autumn and Winter? You never seem to mind the rain in our wetter than wet Wetlands.

V: Rain doesn't bother me at all. Must be my alleycat background. In fact, it is a great pleasure of mine to come in sopping wet and then curl up on your lap. As you well know. The way that you always dry off Gina, with one of those smelly dog towels...ridiculous. No towel needed here; I simply wait until my fur has dried out by itself.

Q: Most cats lick themselves dry. You don't seem to do that. Can you explain why not?

V: As I said, I prefer to lie in your lap, or your bed, and get dry. I wouldn't mind curling up next to Gina occasionally, but for some strange reason she doesn't want me in her basket. Every time I try, she growls most unpleasantly. Stupid, it's big enough!

Q: She's old. And you are allowed onto the furniture, she isn't, so...

V: So what? 

Q: Now don't get nasty.
  The reason for this interview is your latest Haiku. Would you like to share it with your readers?

V: Well... Yes. I'm quite content with it. It came to me when I was stalking one of those irritating voles near the shed, and I thought about it some, and finished it last Saturday when I was in my take-away bag.

Q: The floor is yours.


Smallish brownish prey
its shivering whiskers twitching
walks into my mouth

Q: Thank you so much, Viggo.

V: Hey, you promised to feed me extra if I shared that poem. Move it, woman!