Thursday, 20 May 2010

History of Cats - The Cat in the Barrel

3. Fastelavn - Norway's Easter Festivities

Fastelavn is a carnival that takes place in Norway 7 weeks before Easter. It is similar to Halloween in that children get dressed in costumes and collect sweets from neighbours. Lots of party games are played, and one of the most popular ones involves black cats.

A barrel decorated with black cats is hung up and filled with candy and oranges. Children take turns to hit the barrel with sticks, very much like piñata. The first to break the bottom of the barrel and cause the candy to fall out is named Kattedronning - Queen of Cats. The one who knocks the actual barrel down is called Kattekonge - King of Cats.

Of course, as is often the case, this game is based on more serious traditions. Black cats have always been a symbol of bad luck or evil, and in the 15th and 16th centuries a real cat would be placed inside the barrrel. The Dutch Farmers would then beat the barrel with sticks and clubs until the cat fell out, and it would then be chased by all the villagers and, if caught, beaten and often killed. This was superstitiously thought to safeguard them from evil and chase the bad luck from the village.

It wasn't until the end of the 19th Century that the cat was replaced by a drawing and it became more of a children's game than a serious event.

Other traditions include Fastelavnsris which involves children flogging their parents to wake them on the morning of Fastelavns Sunday. They use bunches of twigs from fruit trees decorated with feathers, egg shells, storks and little figures of babies or wound with crepe paper and covered with candy. This probably comes from an old fertility ritual and has been absorbed into Christianity to fit with the Easter celebrations.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Hidden Treasure

I've looked after many kittens and cats over the last few years, but the excitement of seeing these tiny creatures progress from being completely unable to walk or do anything for themselves to independent strong-willed mischief makers never fades.

The Little Gems are 3 weeks old today and have just started to find their feet. They are turning into chubby little girls with loud voices and an insatiable hunger. Here is Emerald, she loves having her tummy tickled and was the first to start playfighting her sisters.

Their heads are still too heavy for their bodies so they bob them up and down as they try to walk which is really funny to watch. They can't quite focus on items yet, but when I talk to them, they look up and start to crawl towards me. Above is Garnet - very difficult to photograph her as she is totally black. She is the shy girl of the bunch but looks intently into your eyes as though she's trying to read your mind.

This is Quartz, the runt of the litter. She is about a week behind the others in weight, and quite noticeably smaller than the others. I was quite worried about her a week or so ago as she was always the one pushed out when the others wanted to feed from their mum. I often walked in to find the other four feeding and her asleep at the side of them. So for a couple of days I would move the other four into a different room for 10 minutes or so to give her time on her own with her mum. Her weight started to pick up and now, although still small, she has become much more feisty and fights for her spot at the dinner table much more successfully.

Here is Amethyst, the biggest of the babies. She is the leader and loves cuddles when her mum isn't looking. She has big blue eyes and tries really hard to focus on your face when you talk to her.

And here is Topaz. She looks very much like Charlie Chaplin and is the comic of the bunch. She seems to go into deep thought when you talk to her, and was the last of the babies to get the hang of walking. But she was the first to try playing with toys and to turn on her back to have her tummy tickled.

I hope I have the opportunity to look after kittens like this many, many more times. It really is a privilege to be part of this and I intend to make the very most of it each and every time.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

History of Cats - Maneki Neko

2. The Japanese Bobtail


The Maneki Neko, or Beckoning Cat, can be found in many homes and businesses and Japan. The left arm raised supposedly attracts customers whereas the right arm attracts money. This makes it the logical choice of ornament for shop owners. They are often made of ceramic and are sometimes used by children much the same as piggy banks are used in Europe.


The Maneki Neko are actually depictions of the Japanese Bobtail, a medium sized, friendly cat which arrived in Japan from China over 1000 years ago. They have a very unusual tail, about 4 inches long, that is tightly curled into a bob. They usually have 3 or 4 kittens and compared to other breeds, these are bigger, healthier, and walk earlier with fewer diseases. They are talkative cats and are capable of nearly the whole scale of tones. They are known for almost always speaking when spoken to. (I soooo want one!!). They are very human and family oriented and are very easy to teach tricks.

There are several stories as to the origins of the Maneki Neko ornament, my favourite being the following: - A very poor monk lived in a poverty stricken temple and shared what little food he had with his beloved bobtail cat. One day a wealthy lord was caught in the rain near the temple and sheltered under a tree. He spotted a cat in the entrance to the temple beckoning to him. As he approached the cat the tree he had been sheltering under was struck by lightening and fell.

Grateful to the cat and its owner, the wealthy lord became patron of the temple which soon became prosperous. When the cat eventually died, the image of the Maneki Neko was made in its honour and quickly became the symbol of good fortune.

The temple still stands and its walls are adorned with many pictures of cats, and owners of lost or sick cats often visit the temple with prayer boards to this day.

Six Little Gems

I'd like to introduce you to Marina and her 5 little girls, Garnet, Amethyst, Emerald, Topaz and Quartz. Garnet is completely black, the others are like feline Dalmations and I have no idea how I'll ever tell them apart when they get older!


The reason I have them is quite a sad one really. The Little Miss kittens were ready to be rehomed, and the RSPCA, knowing how much I am longing to see kittens being born again, asked if I'd like to look after a Persian cat who was about to give birth.

Because the previous kits had had a cold, my fostering room had to be disinfected and left for 48 hours before she could come to me. Unfortunately that very night she went into early labour and the kittens were stillborn. I'm very, very grateful that this happened at the RSPCA centre as she was in the best place possible and she would quite likely have lost her own life if she had been at my home.

But she has survived and she will now be neutered and rehomed. And as my home was ready and waiting, Marina arrived on Thursday along with her lovely 4 day old babies. She is a very gentle loving mum who very rarely leaves the kittens, and I think we will have lots of fun bringing them up together over the next 8 weeks.