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For I Will Consider My Cat Pongo

February 28, 2009


For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his fore-paws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the fore-paws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For Sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For Seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For Eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For Ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For Tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incompleat without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.

from Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart . Written between 1759 and 1763, during Smart’s confinement for insanity in St. Luke’s Hospital, Bethnal Green.

I can practically hear Steven Augustine’s mocking laughter: I knew it, man…behind all the sophisticated banter and purported interest in things of the intellect was another fucking cat blog, biding its time…

A cat blog has become short-hand for the banal, the trite, the smarmy and saccharine: what could be duller than some half-wit gushing over the astonishly human qualities of his or her cat?

Now, I’m no friend to anthropomorphism and I avoid sentimentality like I avoid bars filled with ferns and women I slept with before I was married–but Pongo has featured so often in my doggerel and various scribblings that it seems somehow perverse not to write about him. The degenerate Guardian gets space. A respectable cat deserves no less.

I won’t, however, tell you that Pongo is almost human–he’s not. He’s a cat.

I found Pongo–literally. Leaving the house to get cigarettes and the paper early one bitterly cold January morning, I paused on the doorstep to button my jacket. In the still, frozen air I heard a faint mewing. I searched for the source and finally lit on the bushes by the front door.

Crouching down and peering under the shrubbery, I found my gaze met by a pair of green-eyes in a tiny black face. It was a kitten, no more that 4 weeks old and too frozen and weak to do more than offer a perfunctory hiss and baring of miniscule milk-teeth. I reached in for the kitten and it made a feeble attempt to claw me. Near death and as game as Ned Kelly. You have to admire that.

I scooped the kitten up and stuck him under my pullover and t-shirt, next to my skin. He (as the kit turned out to be) was frozen, too cold to shiver. I went back indoors and sat down, keeping the kitten under my pullover. I thought perhaps it was too late.

I know that when a mammal’s core body temperature drops below a certain level, its chances of survival are slim. After perhaps 20 minutes, the kitten started to shiver uncontrollably. That was a good sign. After about another 15 minutes, the shivering stopped.

I lifted the neck of my jumper and looked down at the kit. He stared back at me and bared his teeth, but his heart wasn’t really in it. I began to stroke him. He was pitifully thin. After a few minutes he began to purr.

In the meantime, my wife went to buy some baby formula. Until he found his feet, I hand fed him, tempting him with minced meat, tuna, raw liver, cooked chicken, herring roes–anything to build his strength. In time, he began to grow into his enormous paws.

He rapidly turned into a big, muscular, confident cat, glossy-coated and affectionate. My children, under the influence of the recently watched Disney cartoon 101 Dalmations, insisted he be called Pongo.

Despite being an approachable and affectionate beast, he remains very much my cat, in the same way that Honey the dog is very much my children’s dog.

Where I sit, Pongo sits. Where I lie down, Pongo lies down. Where I sleep, Pongo sleeps. When I go away on trips, Pongo somehow senses my return and goes and lies by the door an hour before I actually get home. I imagine that he somehow picks up something from my family, an anticipatory air or something. But that doesn’t explain how he does it it when I return 2 days early without telling my family I’m coming.

Yet he does. I have no explanation but it happens without fail.

Pongo’s come to exhibit a kind of…how to put this without slipping into anthropomorpic mode?…a kind of brand-loyalty. When Honey the dog was a pup, a friend of mine came to call. My friend got down on the floor with Honey and started to play fight and wrestle with her, as one does. She, of course, liked nothing better.

Enter Pongo. Taking in the scene at a glance, he gave an ear-splitting howl and flung himself on my friend’s back and sank his formidable claws in. Pongo had half-raised Honey. As far as he was concerned, she was under attack. So he joined the fray. No skulking poltroon, he.

A few months ago, our postman–a flabby, shifty looking fellow with a repulsive manner that alternated between impertinent and ingratiating–discovered Pongo’s brand-loyalty for himself. I’d come to the door to sign for a package when the oily postie, in the course of his usual small-talk, made some remark about my wife’s startling beauty.

He wasn’t mistaken, of course, but coming from his mouth, it just sounded wrong. I instantly bristled. The postie, while indisputably an oaf was not a moron. He sensed that he’d offended me and in a hasty effort to redeem himself the postie sought to beguile Pongo, who as usual had followed me to the door and was sitting by my feet.

“Nice kittie,” said the hapless postman and extended a plump, strangler’s hand toward Pongo. Unfortunately, Pongo had picked up on my hostility. He gave a brief warning growl and then sank his fangs into the postie’s hand. The postman’s girlish shrieks rattled the windows. You’d have thought the silly bastard had never seen his own blood before.

This put me in an awkward position. In the performance of his duties, the postman had been attacked and blooded by my pet. There was no getting around that. Loathe as I was to do it, pragmatism dictated that I make nice.


So I took the postman indoors, sat him down in the kitchen and broke out the antiseptic cream and bandages. Meanwhile, the injured postman blubbered and whined as I spoon-fed him a rather good cognac and a half-dozen DF-118s (strong prescription pain-killers).

Presently, the drink and the pain-killers began to take hold and the fat postman’s repulsive character began to re-assert itself. He began to speak of reporting the incident, of having this dangerous cat destroyed. I began to eye the kitchen knives and consider suitable venues for the disposal of a corpse.

He had no idea how close he came to becoming a small story on an inside page of the East London Advertiser: Fat Postman Disappears – Police Baffled.

Luckily for both of us, my wife returned home.

Paralyzing the oaf with a smile, she soon soothed, charmed and mollified the fool. I sent the son of a bitch on his way with a bottle of brandy that was far too good for him (and hoped he’d choke on it) and a handful of painkillers.

Pongo the diplomat swiped the man’s leg as he went out the door. I scratched Pongo behind the ear and told him he was a good cat. Which he is–no respecter of persons, but a good cat and an excellent judge of character.

He sits next to me on my desk as I type this, occasionally batting my hand with a languid paw, just to let me know he’s keeping an eye on me. The funny thing is, I would much rather be caught behaving badly by many people I know than by Pongo.

I’m convinced he holds me to a higher standard…and I try to meet it. He’s not human or human-like. He’s a cat and a very discerning one. So I try stay up to scratch. After all, I don’t want to get the sack.

  1. February 28, 2009 7:38 PM

    Ah I think I’d like Pongo! I always felt like the 6th member of my family growing up, the cat, a year older than me, being the 5th. Not that she was ever any more than a cat, like you say about Pongo. She was always a good listener and not quick to judge. I know I would never find another like her so I remain catless. The best way!

  2. MeltonMowbray permalink
    February 28, 2009 11:03 PM

    I wrote this tasteful doggerel, or catterel, about our late pet:

    Harley! You were always the prince of cats
    though your feline skills were less than perfect:
    you displayed a neurotic fear of rats,
    and every year you missed your mousing target.

    What a beautiful animal you were!
    But I don’t miss the harvesting of hairs,
    or sanding the scratches off the furniture,
    or treading in your puke on the way downstairs.

    Such a kind and gentle and lovely friend!
    Kind to rodents, though you dished out the pain
    lavishly to hominids. Still, they’ll mend,
    and I’m sure Aunt Edna’s eye will see again.

    One way or the other you‘re in our thoughts,
    and you surely had your uses, old chum,
    when Saints lost, or I was feeling fraught
    it was a tonic to kick your furry bum.

    Harley now resides under the lawn in an Amazon box with some grave goods. There’s a distinct depression where he lies (as in so many other areas my interment skills are sketchy) and the grass is noticeably thicker, which is how they find the bodies in former Yugoslavia (according to Silent Witness). In life he pissed me off quite frequently, though I was sorry to see him go. In his final days he became quite affectionate, which was a nice change.
    Cats. You could write about them for ever.

    • mishari permalink*
      February 28, 2009 11:37 PM

      I remember that poem. Didn’t you post it on Billy’s thread (or possibly POTW) ?
      The following might amuse you:

      … a beast of uncertain hair and color. For some cat is white, some red, and some black, some calico and speckled in the feet and in the ears… And hath a great mouth and saw teeth and sharp and long tongue and pliant, thin, and subtle. And lappeth therewith when he drinketh…

      And he is a full lecherous in youth, swift, pliant and merry, and leapeth and rusheth on everything that is before him and is led by a straw, and playeth therewith; and is a right heavy beast in age and full sleepy, and lieth slyly in wait for mice and is aware where they be more by smell than by sight, and hunteth and rusheth on them in privy places.

      And when he taketh a mouse, he playeth therewith, and eateth him after the play. And is as it were wild, and goeth about in time of generation. Among cats in time of love is hard fighting for wives, and one scratcheth and rendeth the other grieviously with biting and with claws.

      And he maketh a ruthful noise and ghastful, when one proffereth to fight with one another, and unneth is hurt when he is thrown from a high place. And is a cruel beast when he is wild and runneth in woods and hunteth the small wild beasts… And falleth on his own feet when he falleth out of high place… And when he hath a fair skin, he is as it were proud thereof, and goeth fast about.

      A description of cats given by Bartolomaeus Anglicus (Bartholomew the Englishman), a 13th c. Franciscan monk and encyclopedist who wrote the 19-volume De Proprietatibus Rerum (On the Properties of Things), an exhaustive work on theology, medicine, the natural sciences, and geography, some time before A.D. 1260.

      Tink, you should really get a cat. They’re soothing and amusing to have around. Consider getting a Bengal cat. A breathtakingly beautiful animal…

  3. March 1, 2009 9:57 AM

    We had a cat for 19 years.

    Our old bed-sit in Manchester in a semi-derelict house became infested by mice. The cat ( who never caught a mouse in her life )became deaf and through smell knew where to sit in wait but crucially couldn’t hear so missed them helping themselves to her food in another part of the room.

  4. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 1, 2009 10:11 AM

    Nineteen must be pretty ancient for a cat. Ours lasted fourteen years, but had been looking fairly decrepit for a while.

  5. mishari permalink*
    March 1, 2009 10:29 AM

    Nineteen is a venerable age for a cat. I wish Pongo weren’t quite so deadly. Birds, rats, mice, frogs, large insects…they’re all grist to the mill.

    I don’t mind him killing rats, though. I do wish he wouldn’t insist on bringing them to me as gifts. I woke up early one morning recently to discover an enormous rat on the bed between my wife and me.

    Pongo was sat next to it looking pleased with himself. I got rid of the rat before Inez awoke only to discover that it was positively seething with fucking fleas, which meant giving the bastard cat a thorough flea-bath…

    PS: Yesterday’s search terms included–

    progrock 70 kuwait

    balthus knickers

    black and yellow fist ho

    stick the boot in too

  6. March 1, 2009 11:40 AM

    Progrock 70 Kuwait? Was there any? I had a very entertaining cassette of Lebanese heavy metal – fuzz guitars with the traditional darabouka/tambourine rhythms. Sadly time ( and cheapness of production no doubt ) has done for it.

  7. mishari permalink*
    March 1, 2009 11:47 AM

    Highly unlikely or else it was so far underground that even habitues of the demi-monde like me never heard of it…

    I saw a documentary on Death Metal, a form of heavy metal distinguished by lots of make-up and nihilistic lyrics. It featured Death Metal bands from Iran, Iraq and Egypt. They sounded exactly like their confreres in Sweden and Norway…

  8. March 1, 2009 12:43 PM

    Shame I’d pay top dollar for Emerson, Lake and Al Adwani.

    My partner had a record of a Salsa concert in New York. It had all the usual mob Tito Puente, Celia Cruz etc. etc. plus a Japanese band.

    They are actually very good and the woman singer spends a lot of time rolling her r’s ( the letter r that is not her….oh never mind ) whilst singing in Spanish. It’s a very noticeable and affected mannerism so she’s possibly singing that way to demonstrate that the Japanese can manage the pronunciation of this letter.

  9. mishari permalink*
    March 1, 2009 12:58 PM

    As in so many other things, the Japanese have proven themselves master copyists. I’ve got albums by Japanese samba bands,salsa bands, jazz bands etc. and they really are very good.

    Speaking of copyists, I hear Mowbray the rapper (he performs as Poof Daddy, apparently) went over a treat at the Womens Institute dinner in Ryde last week. Here’s a brief sample of his opening (and closing) number:

    The Shanklin Rap

    I say, Caroline, would you care for a crumpet?
    Yo, bitch, start blowin’ on mah trouser-trumpet
    Coz ahm a mac daddy, bitch, an ahm gonna sing
    All ’bout gettin’ up an’ nasty in yo bad thing.

    Good heavens, Caroline, I hope I’m not crass?
    Coz ahm tight, that’s right, gonna tear me some ass,
    When I slaps mah whore she jus beggin’ for more
    Another big shot from mah bad .44.

    One shot two shot, that bitch be real sick;
    Caroline, darling, have you seen Clamydia’s hockey stick?
    Etc, etc….

    It’s heartening to see a slippered pantaloon staying au courant.

    Check out the just-discovered Indonesian funky psychedelic fish, a new species that bounces around the sea-bottom like a rubber ball…

  10. March 1, 2009 1:26 PM

    The discovery of the psychedilic bouncing frog-fish was the best bit of news all last week. At the risk of sounding like a naff observational comedian ( hasn’t stopped me in the past ) why does it need to jump around the sea floor when it’s got the ability to swim?

  11. mishari permalink*
    March 1, 2009 1:37 PM

    Because it can?

    Asked what he (Bono) thought of (Chris) Martin (Coldplay frontman), he replied:
    “A Wanker. He’s obviously a completely dysfunctional character and a cretin.”

    The Independent, March 1

    Wanker Calls Wanker “Wanker” Shock. A Nation Reels

  12. March 1, 2009 3:24 PM

    My estimation of Chris Martin has soared after this news.

  13. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 1, 2009 4:31 PM

    What a coincidence. I happened to catch a clip of ‘Prince’ Mishari at the Water Sports Benefit the other night.

    I never meant to cause you any sorrow
    I never meant to cause you any pain
    I only wanted to stop you laughing
    That’s why I put a bullet in your brain.

    Golden rain, golden rain,
    Golden rain, golden rain,
    Golden rain, golden rain,
    I only wanted to bathe myself in your golden rain.

    He was hopeless. (Lèse majesté–Ed.)

  14. March 1, 2009 7:01 PM

    It’s odd: I started one book today about a family who adopted a dog they found; and then read a short story about a man who adopted an injured goose.

    There is a cat lying next to me now whom I’ve sort of adopted. Actually she was adopted by my neighbours (a thin, flea-ridden thing at the time). I just borrow her when she chooses to be borrowed.

    I was (one day) going to write a novella about Christopher Smart. It was going to be a two-piece work, along with a novella about William Cowper, both of whom were confined to asylums for religious manias, but entirely opposite ones: Smart because he believed he was unimpeachably saved, and Cowper because he believed he was irretrievably damned. Oddly perhaps, Smart was by far the madder. Cowper just seemed to suffer from clinical depression; Smart saw angels in trees etc – and even Samuel Johnson thought he was very bizarre character.

  15. mishari permalink*
    March 1, 2009 7:48 PM

    obooki, one might almost say that not being certain whether one had a saviour or not (i.e. being agnostic) is a definitive sign of sanity…

    Which reminds me of the mad poet Nathanael Lee’s words to Roger L’Estrange on being visited in Bedlam by L’Estrange:

    Faces may alter, but names cannot change;
    I am strange Lee altered; you are still L’Estrange.

  16. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 2, 2009 11:07 AM

    It’s not often I can reference calypso singer Lord Invader twice in a week. I noted his song here a few days back for referring to a judge with my surname. I then considered that his solution may be an apt approach to the current ‘robustness’ of bankers. And now I can include this transcription on-topic in a thread about cats. A cat that, according to Invader, is also a time bomb:

    The only thing to stop these hooligans
    From causing panic in the island
    The only thing to stop these hooligans
    From causing panic in the island
    Well I know that the government
    See they need another kind of punishment
    I say one thing to put down this crime
    Is to bring back the old time cat o’nine

    So the old time cat o’nine (bring it back!)
    And they’re bound to change their minds
    It’ll send them careering with their lips like fire (?)
    And they’re bound to surrender

    And in the days of Judge Gilchrist, as you know,
    Nothing ever happened so
    Any man pass under his hand
    Can tell you of the rod of correction
    He (never) use to treat them meek and mild
    Well he never spare the rod to spoil the child
    I say one thing to put down this crime
    Is to lash them with the old time cat o’nine

    So the old time cat o’nine (beat them bad!)
    And they’re bound to change their minds
    It’ll send them careering with their lips like fire
    And they’re bound to surrender

    The police working harder and harder
    To see this thing go no further
    Every night they on duty
    To safeguard us from violence and robbery
    But he wouldn’t stop at all
    Peter is going to pay for Paul
    I say one thing to put down this crime
    Is to bring back the old time cat o’nine

    So the old time cat o’nine (lash them hard!)
    And they’re bound to change their minds
    It’ll send them careering with their lips like fire
    And they’re bound to surrender

    And every night they walking about in a band
    Singing the song called Robust Man (have you heard it?)
    ‘I’m a robust man… *not sure of this bit*
    The judge and jury
    Can settle this thing easily
    So the cat is the only time bomb to drop
    And this robustness will stop

    So the old time cat o’nine (beat them bad!)
    And they’re bound to change their minds
    It’ll send them careering with their lips like fire
    And they’re bound to surrender

  17. March 2, 2009 11:54 PM

    “I can practically hear Steven Augustine’s mocking laughter: I knew it, man…behind all the sophisticated banter and purported interest in things of the intellect was another fucking cat blog, biding its time…”

    You’ll think me a liar, but not five minutes prior to clicking to these parts I was wielding the Cat Blog Trope (to great effect, with a lit chum). Time to retire that one, I suppose… but it feels so *good* on the tongue, dammit. I suppose Cnut Blog’ll do.

  18. March 2, 2009 11:58 PM

    ***Asked what he (Bono) thought of (Chris) Martin (Coldplay frontman), he replied:

    “A Wanker. He’s obviously a completely dysfunctional character and a cretin.”***

    Sadly, I think that’s merely an example of japey fraternal butch-muso arse-slapping between chummy CEOs.

  19. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 2, 2009 11:59 PM

    Lips like fire. How many women whispered that phrase as I kissed them in the days of my hot youth! I think my lips are the one portion of my face which have retained their boyish look, though their calorific value has probably declined. Everything else is grey, sagging or wrinkled. If I was a cat I would be less than eight, though I could barely pass for Alarming’s animal.

    I am glad to report that the postman, or poster, is now a young blonde woman instead of the curt beast in shorts who used to hand me a spittle-flecked wodge of bills with a grunt. If I had a cat I would certainly have egged him on to bite the pig, since I’m pretty sure he swiped the Fursts. Not to read, you understand, but to block up the holes in his kennel.

  20. March 3, 2009 10:21 AM

    Mishari The Bukowski doc you sent is very good. I’m agnostic about him – some of his stuff is perilously close to bar-room aphorisms ( not unsurprising really but a bit TOO close ) but he reads some very nice poetry on it.

    Unfortunately Bono is there too and his final comment confirms every bad feeling you ever had about his monumental ego. Nothing to do with Bukowski and everything to do with getting him to like U2 .

  21. mishari permalink*
    March 3, 2009 10:53 AM

    I know what you mean about the bar-room aphorisms, but even if the old reprobate had written nothing but Post Office, I’d still have a soft spot for him.

    As for the revolting Bongo (ever since you told me about Beefheart calling him that, I can’t call him anything else)…Balthus, Bukowski…maybe the insufferable bastard is working his way through the Bs…

    Aldous Huxley once boasted that he was reading his way through the Encyclopaedia Britannica, causing Bertrand Russell to remark that you could always tell by Huxley’s conversation which volume he was on…

  22. March 3, 2009 11:08 AM

    I saw a Belgian film about 20 years ago called ( I think ) Mad Love based on 3 Bukowski short stories which was very good. It came out a bit before Barfly, was superior in every way and of course never stood a chance against the Hollywood product.

  23. mishari permalink*
    March 3, 2009 11:21 AM

    Yes, as far as I remember it, Barfly was pretty wretched.

    I saw a film of Factotum recently, a low-budget production with no names I recognized and it was actually pretty good. It captured the sort of aimless, self-loathing, nihilistic life that Bukowski described himself living at that period.

  24. March 3, 2009 11:25 AM

    re; Bongo these older men are just too polite ( or in Balthus’ case dead ). When David Bowie started trying to attach himself to younger artists with hip credentials to try and revive his sagging career he wrote to the Chapman Brothers who told him where to go in no uncertain terms. I can’t find any link but their comments stuck the knife in deep.

  25. mishari permalink*
    March 3, 2009 11:29 AM

    It is a bit pathetic, though. I mean, it rather highlights the fact that people like Bowie aren’t nearly as significant as they imagine they are.

    In the past, great artists had younger artists flocking to sit at their feet…now aging has-beens flock to sit at the feet of the young, as well as trying to dress like them, adopt their style, etc etc. It’s all so infra dig, my dear…

  26. March 3, 2009 12:05 PM

    I think it’s because they have money and prestige which allows them to buy into other talent. So probably no different from yesteryear. I think Bowie underestimated how “grateful” some of these artists would be to have their name attached to his. Hirst collaborated but hats off to the Chapmans for telling him to fuck off ( which I seem to remember they actually did ).

  27. Zephirine permalink
    March 3, 2009 12:19 PM

    No doubt telling Bowie where to go added to the Chapmans’ of-the-moment cred no end. Perhaps he just contacted them to say he liked their stuff.

    Talking of great art, Mishari, now you have a cat blog you will of course be visiting for stylish graphics and feline-based wit…

  28. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 3, 2009 12:32 PM

    Bowie was dressing up in other people’s clothes from the very beginning. Lester bangs describes him as leeching from hipper artists, hanging in the background, “pure Lugosi”. His early career is – regardless of the quality of the music – a series of opportunistic costume changes. It’s been argued that he never found an original sound until Station to Station.

    Can we expect a piece on the psychetastic Louis Wain, Mishari?

  29. mishari permalink*
    March 3, 2009 12:53 PM

    Thanks for the link, Zeph…

    Louis Wain? Jesus, Baron…I’m not that far gone yet. I have a copy of Bangs’ greatest hits called (I think-haven’t looked at it in a while) Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung. I must dig it out and re-read it.

    I first discovered Bangs in the pages of Creem Magazine, back in the mid-70s. It was like my discovery of Raymond Chandler when I was 16. A real eye-opener…

  30. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 3, 2009 12:53 PM

    Bowie looted the imaginary museum like everyone else does, including those Britart shysters. Full respect to them for their ability as conmen, but they can’t hold a candle to Bowie in terms of skill and invention (and reinvention). As for Lester Bangs, words fail me, as they so often did him.(Heretic. Unclean, unclean–Ed.)

  31. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 3, 2009 1:05 PM

    Of all the criticisms you could target Bangs with, Melt, I don’t think a lack of words is one of them. Call him on his amphetamine-driven disregard for facts, logic, grammar and anything that wasn’t his beloved ‘horrible noise’. Then perhaps you’d be onto something. With you on most of the Britart crew, though. I don’t know much about art but I know what I don’t like.

    I probably read Psychotic Reactions more than I lsiten to many of the records Bangs praises. Mainlines and Bloodlines is a good secondary collection.

  32. March 3, 2009 1:11 PM

    I like the Chapmans. They write crap, they sneer too often but on the evidence of the retrospective at the Tate Liverpool a few years back their work is great – very well-crafted, provocative in an interesting rather than attention-seeking way, they can certainly draw, paint and sculpt plus they are not one-trick ponies. Time will tell of course.

    Bowie almost certainly told the Chapmans he liked them – he wanted to collaborate on sculptures or painting. They told him they didn’t think his visual art was any cop and that his ability to get exhibitions in galleries was solely because of his name rather than his ability. I must say I’m with them on this but then again they get exhibitions on the strength of their name as well so……. You take sides depending on taste I suppose.

  33. mishari permalink*
    March 3, 2009 1:15 PM

    Ah…there speaks Mowbray the unregenerate glam rocker. Still wearing the spangly lycra strides, 10-inch platforms and make-up are we? I’d lose the make-up, though.

    It might have been mildy daring back in the day in a sort of épater les bourgeois sort of way…now it just makes you look like an old queen.

    Just trying to help…

  34. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 3, 2009 1:16 PM

    I could forgive the Chapmans for doing work that doesn’t interest me, that’s just taste. But there was something about the thing they did with the Goya etchings that felt very wrong indeed.

  35. mishari permalink*
    March 3, 2009 1:21 PM

    I must say, I don’t really have any strong opinions on the Chapmans one way or the other. I’ve heard, read and seen them interviewed and they seemed bright, sardonic and self-aware. What little of their work I’ve seen seemed interesting.

    I certainly wouldn’t class them with Hirst, Emin and the rest of the artfuckers, whom I cordially loathe…

  36. March 3, 2009 1:36 PM

    Baron the Goya etchings were not originals – they were prints made from the original etching plates long after his death by unscrupulous printers eager to make more cash from extra series. A sort of 19th century equivalent of an illegal download. .

    They were at the Liverpool exhibition and they are actually rather lovely – the Chapman’s rhetoric about them very far away from the detail and attention they put into their additions.

  37. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 3, 2009 1:45 PM

    Thanks, Al. I have seen them myself somewhere or other. Whilst it’s good to know they weren’t originals (I have an entirely atavistic and unreasonable respect for all aged objects). Whatever the intention, the work seemed to insist that the viewer buy into the conceit – with the stress very much on conceit – that Goya’s Disasters of War could be rendered somehow more horrifying with the Chapmans’ trademark addition of clown faces.

  38. mishari permalink*
    March 3, 2009 2:12 PM

    I saw an exhibition of Goya’s Disasters of War drawings in their entirety in Barcelona a few years ago…I can’t imagine them being made any more horrifying than they already are…

    I daresay this photo would appeal to the Chapmans

  39. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 3, 2009 2:23 PM

    Isn’t that the Chapmans sitting on the step, soaking up the inspiration? Or maybe they’re wondering who tipped their bins over.

  40. March 3, 2009 2:35 PM

    Baron I don’t think that is their intention at all. It’s more about the effectiveness of art in the face of real-life horror I’d say. Their position being that a puerile approach is no less effective than an exquisitely crafted approach in the end. Both are impotent.

    Whether you buy into that is up to you of course. I don’t like their mannequins particularly but their later work including the big concentration-camp-as-modelled-by-hyperactive-heavy-metal-fans tableaux are very good.

  41. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 3, 2009 2:43 PM

    Oh dear. I don’t think we’re going to agree on this, Al! And you’re right about the teen-metal connection. When I was a kid I used to collect and paint lead fantasy minatures – very geeky, I know – the Chapman piece reminded me of a large and very repetitive version of the kind of flock-and-Araldite-orcs-and-mayhem dioramas you see in the windows of gaming shops. More important, I didn’t rate the quality of the models (they were plastic, I think. lead produces far finer detail). Take away the swastikas and the piece would differ in no way from the teen efforts of me and my friends. And if that’s the point, I don’t get it.

    I did like their McDonalds fetishes, though. The room they were in at Saatchi was dimly lit and it took a moment before all the faces began to become familiar. An effective and very eerie moment.

  42. mishari permalink*
    March 3, 2009 2:43 PM

    Speaking of representations of the horrors of war, my local gallery, The Whitechapel, played host (along with the Stepney Trade Union Council) to Picasso and the first exhibiting of Guernica in Britain in 1939.

    It was to raise funds for the Spanish Republicans. Visitors were asked to donate boots and some 400 pairs were collected for troops at the front.

  43. March 3, 2009 2:58 PM

    Baron. Strange – the ones I saw had exquisite modelling and a very nice and thorough attention to detail throughout from the vegetation to the flocks of different birds on the rooftops. But as you say we’ll probably fail to agree on this one.

  44. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 3, 2009 3:03 PM

    Not that it’s relevant but I’ll take any opportunity I can to pass on this quote from Samuel Johnson:

    “I would rather see the portrait of a dog that I know than all the allegorical paintings they can show me in the world.”

  45. mishari permalink*
    March 3, 2009 3:05 PM

    Never mind all that. What about William Burrough’s shopping list, yours for a mere $500? What can it tell us about man’s inhumanity to man?

  46. freep permalink
    March 3, 2009 3:18 PM

    Just back from the South. Disgraceful territory. Decadent. Starving bankers on every corner. The corpses of insurance salesmen hanging from every other lamp post. Surprised Pongo stays there.
    But weird, mishari, that you had posted up the Christopher Smart, since I had been discussing it with a poetry group I run on Fridays. The other C18 cat poem I rather like, as a cynophile, is Gray’s Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes, which I hope you recite to Pongo as a cautionary tale with regularity.
    Stories about Gray (and Walpole) are often good; I like the one about Gray’s departure from Peterhouse college. Some aristocratic wags, knowing that the poet had a vast fear of fires and had installed a rope ladder mechanism by his upper floor window, bribed a college flunkey to shout ‘Fire!’ at midnight, and placed a large butt of water under said window. The poet in his shirt descended into the butt and endured the same fate as his creation, the pensive Selima, tho’ avoided drowning. This prank induced the humourless Gray to leave Peterhouse for ever and take rooms in Pembroke coll.
    But Jeoffry was, I am sure, an excellent specimen, and Smart a more interesting poet than the snooty Gray.
    His chum Walpole was sometimes referred to as ‘the hermaphrodite horse’.

  47. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 3, 2009 3:25 PM

    You were obviously hanging out in some swanky boroughs, Freep. South of the river we’ve been eating the salesmen straight away. It’s only in Chelsea they hang them up to get more gamey.(More gamey. Is that possible?–Ed.)

  48. March 3, 2009 3:43 PM

    Mishari – William Burroughs has a cat side too by the looks of things. Awwwwww!

  49. mishari permalink*
    March 3, 2009 3:48 PM

    I noticed that, food and vodka on the list. A man after my own heart.

    Welcome home, freep…I feared for your safety, envisaging you taken captive by impecunious and unscrupulous bankers (are there any other kind?–Ed.) and shipped into slavery. I know the Gray poem, though like you, I prefer Smart…

    How about this one by Baudelaire:

    Les Chats

    Les amoureux fervents et les savants austères
    Aiment également, dans leur mûre saison,
    Les chats puissants et doux, orgueil de la maison,
    Qui comme eux sont frileux et comme eux sédentaires.

    Amis de la science et de la volupté
    Ils cherchent le silence et l’horreur des ténèbres;
    L’Erèbe les eût pris pour ses coursiers funèbres,
    S’ils pouvaient au servage incliner leur fierté.

    Ils prennent en songeant les nobles attitudes
    Des grands sphinx allongés au fond des solitudes,
    Qui semblent s’endormir dans un rêve sans fin;

    Leurs reins féconds sont pleins d’étincelles magiques,
    Et des parcelles d’or, ainsi qu’un sable fin,
    Etoilent vaguement leurs prunelles mystiques.

    …of the many translations, I like this one by poet Roy Campbell best:

    Sages austere and fervent lovers both,
    In their ripe season, cherish cats, the pride
    Of hearths, strong, mild, and to themselves allied
    In chilly stealth and sedentary sloth.

    Friends both to lust and learning, they frequent
    Silence, and love the horror darkness breeds.
    Erebus would have chosen them for steeds
    To hearses, could their pride to it have bent.

    Dreaming, the noble postures they assume
    Of sphinxes stretching out into the gloom
    That seems to swoon into an endless trance.

    Their fertile flanks are full of sparks that tingle,
    And particles of gold, like grains of shingle,
    Vaguely be-star their pupils as they glance.

  50. March 3, 2009 5:18 PM

    I wonder what Baudelaire would have made of gerbils?

    Hairy,rat-like and rampant breeders both
    In their ripe season, cherish gerbils, the pride
    Of exercise wheels and to the sunflower seed allied
    However not allied to the sloth.

    Let it never be said that I don’t spend my time profitably.

  51. freep permalink
    March 3, 2009 5:41 PM

    I like that quote, Baron: ‘I would rather see the portrait of a dog that I know than all the allegorical paintings they can show me in the world.”
    Put me in mind of Sir Thos Browne after his rejection of coition, which he deemed ‘the foolishest act a wise man commits in all his life … I could be content that we might procreate like trees, without conjunction….nor am I averse from that sweet sexe, but am naturally amorous of all that is beautifull; I can look a whole day with delight upon a handsome picture, though it be but of an Horse…’
    It’s how we spend our time up North, which explains our economic failure. Trouble is, we lack the exquisite tongue of Baudelaire to do justice to cats.

  52. mishari permalink*
    March 3, 2009 8:44 PM

    And following on from Browne, Chesterfield advised his son (from memory) that: “The position is ridiculous, the pleasure momentary and the expense damnable…”. Of course, Johnson said of Chesterfield’s letters that “…they teach the manners of a dancing master and the morals of a whore.”

    To be fair to Chesterfield (inventor of the buttoned leather sofa) {And the velvet-lapelled overcoat favoured by spivs–Ed.}, Johnson had a bone to pick, a bone that occasioned one of the most delightful “go fuck yourself” letters in history. Let’s see if I can find it…Ah, here:

    My Lord,

    I have been lately informed, by the proprietor of The World, that two papers, in which my Dictionary is recommended to the public, were written by your lordship. To be so distinguished is an honour which, being very little accustomed to favours from the great, I know not well how to receive, or in what terms to acknowledge.

    When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchantment of your address, and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself Le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre;—that I might obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending; but I found my attendance so little encouraged, that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue it.

    When I had once addressed your Lordship in public, I had exhausted all the art of pleasing which a retired and uncourtly scholar can possess. I had done all that I could; and no man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it ever so little.

    Seven years, my lord, have now passed, since I waited in your outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it, at last, to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance , one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before.

    The shepherd in Virgil grew at last acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks.

    Is not a patron my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it: till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it.

    I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as owing that to a patron, which providence has enabled me to do for myself.

    Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any favourer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should conclude it, if less be possible, with less; for I have been long wakened from that dream of hope, in which I once boasted myself with so much exultation,

    My Lord,
    Your lordship’s most humble,
    most obedient servant,

    …they don’t write ’em like that any more.

  53. 3p4 permalink
    March 3, 2009 10:05 PM

    In the Dictionary itself,Johnson defined a “patron”as “one who countances,supports, and protects-usually a writer;who supports with insolence and is repaid by flattery.”
    In a mans letters, you know, madam, his soul lies naked.

    (What’s this? Single commas? I almost didn’t recognize you–Ed.)

  54. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 3, 2009 11:12 PM

    Evelyn Waugh’s pre-printed postcard is simple yet elegant:

    Mr Evelyn Waugh regrets that he is unable to do what is so kindly proposed.

    It covers most eventualities.

  55. mishari permalink*
    March 3, 2009 11:22 PM

    I can’t remember who, but someone’s standard response to unsolicited manuscripts was: “Thank you for your manuscript. I shall lose no time in reading it.”

  56. March 4, 2009 11:17 AM

    Stop the presses; open the Seventh Seal; get your papers in order. Banville in the GU has sorted it for us with a snappy little tautology that kinda says it all:

    “Civilisation’s greatest single invention is the sentence. In it, we can say anything.”

  57. March 4, 2009 11:30 AM

    Steven – the very tip I need to help me write the great British novel.

  58. March 4, 2009 11:51 AM

    That’s why I’m doing my best to get it out there, Al. It’s big, man.

  59. mishari permalink*
    March 4, 2009 12:02 PM

    I dunno…I don’t like the sound of it. I never was one of those ‘early adopters’. The broken phrase, the brief ejaculation, the muttered blasphemy…they served our forefathers well…words in nice, short segments. Sentences? Bah….They’ll never catch on.

  60. March 4, 2009 12:07 PM

    Give it a chance. You’ll see. The first time you actually say *anything*… it’ll change yer life, man.

  61. freep permalink
    March 4, 2009 12:18 PM

    The paragraph has its supporters.

    In Army recruitment advertisements, there is no distinction between sentence and paragraph.

    Every sentence deserves its own paragraph.

    It’s manly.

    Like life in the Army.

    Join the men who make things happen.


  62. March 4, 2009 12:26 PM

    Freep I’m just getting the hang of being able to say anything in a sentence and now you throw this in.

  63. mishari permalink*
    March 4, 2009 12:33 PM

    It opens a door into a new and complicated world. I can’t picture it. In fact, me no Leica…

  64. March 4, 2009 12:45 PM

    As valiantly as I tried getting banned during that Zadie Smith catharsis of a few weeks back, I found I was able to post a snide comment on the GU just now. Is it a trap? A twist in the new libel laws meaning I have to do it x-number of times before they can orange-jumpsuit me, jet me off, de-orange-jumpsuit me and photograph me shining in a sloppy pyramid of posterior asterisks with a camouflaged thumbsupping dyke in the background… ?

  65. mishari permalink*
    March 4, 2009 12:49 PM

    Is there a special Guantanamo for artists? Maybe you get to design your own jumpsuits and torture one another with increasingly abtruse works.

    I see the Grauniad have an article about and photo of Sebastian Barry’s room. Sean will be pleased…

  66. March 4, 2009 12:51 PM

    “Is there a special Guantanamo for artists? Maybe you get to design your own jumpsuit and torture one another with increasingly abtruse works.”

    But isn’t that what we… etc.

  67. March 4, 2009 12:56 PM

    Anyway, Zadie will be pleased: I took a swipe at Banville, and he doesn’t even have functioning mammaries! (There is the matter of his mangina to consider, though…)

  68. mishari permalink*
    March 4, 2009 1:05 PM

    As to Banville not having functioning paps…who knows?

    A friend recently showed me some anti-ulcer medication he’d been prescribed. I read the accompanying literature with increasing horror. Among the long list of side-effects were the growth of breasts and chance of lactating…lactating for fuck’s sake…I advised him not to touch the stuff with a ten-foot pole…

    So there is an outside chance that Banville does, in fact, have functioning mammaries…

    BTW, where is this Banville piece? I’m damned if I can find it…

  69. mishari permalink*
    March 4, 2009 2:19 PM

    I’ve never trusted Toibin since he confused Barcelona’s Cathedral with Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. In his book on the city, where he taught English for a few years, he wrote that Orwell had wished the anarchists had blown up the Cathedral. Toibin proceeded to sympathize with Orwell’s view.

    Toibin goes on to describe the building and clearly means the Gothic Cathedral in the centre of the Bario Gotic. How he confused the two, I’ll never understand. (Orwell wished they’d blown up the Gaudi church and described Sagrada Familia as looking like “four upturned bottles”, i.e. nothing like the Gothic Cathedral.)

    The Cathedral is a completely different edifice. There were other errors in the book and lots of opinions that only someone who hadn’t really got to know the city could hold.

  70. mishari permalink*
    March 4, 2009 1:36 PM

    Ah, gotcha….so…”The novelist daily at his desk eats ashes, and if occasionally he encounters a diamond he is likely to break a tooth on it.”
    What if he (must it be ‘he’?) encounters a rhinestone? Or piece of amber? Flint? Granite? Bite it or spit it out? Geez, this novel-writing business is brutal…

    How are the teeth, Steven?

    Anyway, his notion that the sentence is an “invention of civilization” is patent nonsense…

  71. March 4, 2009 1:37 PM

    “How are the teeth, Steven?”

    Oh, they’re fine. I hire a woman from Manilla to eat all my ashes for me.

  72. March 4, 2009 2:10 PM

    The Colm Toibin article that these came with is a barrel of laughs as well. I admire his honesty even if I don’t entirely believe him.

  73. March 4, 2009 2:31 PM

    I must say I don’t know the Barcelona cathedral and would have assumed the Gaudi Sagrada was it ( a monstrosity if you ask me and I like Gaudi ) but then again I’ve never lived there.

  74. mishari permalink*
    March 4, 2009 2:36 PM

    Nah…Barcelona Cathedral is in the centre of the Old Town, a 14th century edifice. Sagrada Familia is in the Eixample, north (actually, I always made the shoreline South and the opposite direction North. But Barca sits at a funny angle, so it’s probably actually West. Wake up in the back–Ed.) of Poble Nou.

    Nobody who lived in Barca and was paying attention would make such an elementary mistake. It’s a tourist’s mistake, which made me leery of the whole book, which wasn’t, in truth, very good. Toibin’s main interest appeared to be gay culture in Barca at the time. The city viewed through that specialised prism is a very limited one.

    Latest search terms:

    saw ’em off hat


    sheep sacrifice cartoon

    mr. natural #3.

    on liberty mill


    crum+zadie smith

  75. March 4, 2009 2:51 PM

    Ah then I do know the Cathedral but never put two and two together. It has very impressive gargoyles including an imaginative rendering of an elephant by someone who’d obviously heard about them but had never seen one.

  76. mishari permalink*
    March 4, 2009 3:15 PM

    Yes, a bit like Durer’s Rhinoceros…

  77. freep permalink
    March 4, 2009 3:26 PM

    …and the proper old cathedral has geese in the quad. Not many cathedrals have resident geese. I find the Sagrada Familia very very unpleasant indeed, the worst kind of sickly piety.
    I have a test for English churches and cathedrals; if they let my dogg in, it’s an ok place of worship. Norwich and Ely, no good; Lincoln, Southwell, Durham, dog friendly. Show me a cathedral with a resident zebra and I’ll turn papist or whatever they profess. If they have a rhinoceros grazing among the gravestones, so much the better.
    Saw a genuine white hart on Sunday, grazing on the edges of Dartmoor. Expect it’s a lucky omen.

  78. mishari permalink*
    March 4, 2009 4:16 PM

    Apparently, freep, the geese actually pre-date the Cathedral. As is so often the case, the church stands on the site of a pagan temple (in fact, more than one–Mithras, favourite of Roman soldiers, and Jupiter) and the temple kept geese after their famous service as watch-erm-dogs in Rome.

    The cloisters are lovely, with the geese, the fountain, the shrubbery and fantastical carving…it softens the austerity of the Iberian brand of Catholicism exemplified by the Cathedral…

    Perhaps your sight of the beast is an omen that you will inherit a pub of that name…

  79. March 4, 2009 4:45 PM

    Jesus, someone has written a cartoon about sacrificing sheep?

    Our local cinema (still an independent picture house) has guard geese – nasty little buggers!

  80. mishari permalink*
    March 4, 2009 6:24 PM

    Actually, Tink, the brewery over in Wandsworth (Young’s, I think) has or had last time I was by there, guard geese, too. They certainly are noisy, aggressive buggers…

    Oh, and the latest search term is ‘common decency explanations’.

  81. BaronCharlus permalink
    March 4, 2009 6:33 PM

    Interesting that you’re familiar with the hostility of the guard geese in Wandsworth, Mishari.

    I’m picturing you and Melton running from the scene of the crime with kegs under your arms, geese pecking at your ankles.

  82. mishari permalink*
    March 4, 2009 6:53 PM

    Actually, Baron, a friend who worked there showed me around (this was about 15 years ago) and I remember the vicious geese (one blow from a gooses wing can break your back, you know…or am I thinking of pterodactyls?)…

    although with the collapse of Western Civilisation imminent, it might be a good idea to get out the felony shoes, the black outfit and the clapped-out old van and pay them a visit….

  83. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 4, 2009 10:22 PM

    I haven’t run since 1987. I went for a walk a couple of years ago.

  84. March 5, 2009 9:28 AM

    I was chased along a canal toe-path by a swan once, the last time I did the running thing in any real sense, apart from the annual woefully misnamed “fun run”.

  85. March 5, 2009 9:28 AM

    Oops – towpath… it just seems related to feet and I get confused!

    (I believe a toe-path is what you get when you cross a foot-path with a hiking-trail–Ed.)

  86. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 5, 2009 4:37 PM

    Zeus has lost a yard of pace over the years. Scoffing all those fishing weights must slow you down a bit.

    (Politely Homicidal. Where the classical allusions just keep on coming–Ed.)

  87. March 5, 2009 5:11 PM

    Oh you think the swan was really a dirty old god in disguise? Should I not have run so fast? Could have got my name in Heat or somewhere giving birth to some wierd goose-man-child…

  88. mishari permalink*
    March 5, 2009 5:34 PM

    The next time Pongo acts up, he knows what to expect:

    AP News

    Mar 03, 2009 19:23 EST

    A Nebraska man who stuffed his girlfriend’s cat into a makeshift bong and filled it with marijuana smoke says he had done it previously and that it calmed the cat down.

    Acea Schomaker of Lincoln said Tuesday that he never intended to hurt the cat, Shadow.

    He says the cat would bite and scratch him and his girlfriend but he didn’t want to discipline it by swatting or squirting water at it.

    Schomaker says he put the cat in the bong three times over the last week and it made the cat “act like a stoned person.”

    He says he knows now that what he did was wrong.

    The unemployed 20-year-old and his girlfriend each were ticketed for misdemeanor animal cruelty.

  89. March 5, 2009 5:45 PM

    I knew a very unpleasant man who gave his cat a blow-back from a spliff (covered it’s mouth and nose and blew the smoke in), said he did it regularly and the cat liked it – how would he know? It did act stoned, completely unable to walk and deeply confused – it was quite frightening and upsetting to watch the poor thing. Didn’t realise I could have shopped him for animal cruelty. Actually could have shopped him for people cruelty!

  90. MeltonMowbray permalink
    March 5, 2009 7:49 PM

    Your choice of offspring could include celeb love-rat Helen of Troy, hubby-killer Clytemnestra or zany twins Castor and Pollux, Tinkerbell. Max Clifford could make you some serious money.

    How you give a cat a wash, let alone stuff it in a bong is beyond me. We tried to sponge some creosote off ours and it inflicted vicious scratches on everyone in the room. It was a bit of a sociopath, but I would think that most cats have an aversion to water.

  91. March 5, 2009 9:24 PM

    I still have scars from attempting to wash creosote off a cat – most be a popular cat hazard!

Comments are closed.