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Hope For The Whitechapel Bell Foundry

June 21, 2018
by the gentle author

Commemorative wall to workers at Whitechapel Bell Foundry

It was in these pages that I announced the pitiful loss of the historic Whitechapel Bell Foundry – the world’s most famous bell foundry – which closed a year ago when the building was sold, all the staff lost their jobs and the equipment was auctioned off. At that time, ten thousand people signed the East End Preservation Society‘s petition to Save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry which was delivered to Downing St by Dan Cruickshank, without any response.

Last June, the building changed hands, sold first by bell founders Alan & Kathryn Hughes for £5.1 million to East End property developer Vince Goldstein who resold it on the same day to Raycliff Capital, the company of the American plutocrat Bippy Seigal, for £7.9 million. Subsequently, Raycliff have acquired two additional sites at the rear of the bell foundry and plan to redevelop the entire location as an upmarket boutique hotel with the foundry itself becoming a restaurant.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom Historic Building Preservation Trust, an independent charity under the founding patronage of His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales, have announced a partnership with Factum Foundation, a leader in the use of technology for the preservation of cultural heritage and a multi-disciplinary workshop which manufactures sculptures for some of the world’s most famous artists. Together, they have the resources to buy the buildings off the developer at market value and re-open them as a foundry, re-equipped with up-to-date machinery, for the production of small bells and art casting.

This project would become an international focus for digital casting alongside traditional methods – merging old and new technology –  and develop an apprenticeship and training scheme for bell-making and tuning in partnership with the Prince’s Trust. Installation of an electric furnace can deliver a zero-emission workshop with the heat produced being channelled to deliver power to a new building at the rear, providing affordable live-and-work spaces for local artisans. Many of the original foundry staff would regain their jobs and there would be increased public access.

Factum, founded by Adam Lowe, has pioneered the use of digital casting and famously cast a replica of the oldest oak tree in Windsor Great Park, which was commissioned by the Royal Academy and presented to the Queen as a gift for her ninetieth birthday in 2016.

The UK Building Preservation Trust is celebrated for buying the Burleigh Pottery Factory – one of Britain’s oldest potteries – in Stoke, after it closed a few years ago. They re-established the pottery as a commercially successful business, saving the employees’ jobs and contributing significantly to the regeneration of Stoke. This remarkable success makes them the ideal organisation to take on the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

Thus we arrive at a watershed moment, offering a stark choice between a reinvigorated foundry with a sustainable future as an asset for London or yet another luxury boutique hotel. Raycliff commence their public consultation in a week’s time, displaying a model of their hotel in the foundry workshop. UK Building Preservation Trust and Factum have already won the support of heritage bodies and consulted with Tower Hamlets Council. Recently, a conversation between Raycliff and the partnership of UK Building Preservation Trust and Factum has been initiated.

In order to proceed, the developers require permission for change of use, from bell foundry to hotel, from Tower Hamlets Council and it is essential that this is not granted if Britain’s oldest manufacturing business, which can trace its roots in Whitechapel back to 1363, is to be saved.

The widespread disappointment at the closure of the bell foundry revealed the scale of feeling among the general public and the deep affection in which this venerable institution is held by Londoners, but now declarations of support from major political figures in the capital are required – speaking out on behalf of the people.

Internal courtyard of the Bell Foundry in snow (photograph by Derek Kendall)

Handbell workshop at Whitechapel

Bell cast for the memorial to commemorate the 9/11 attacks (photograph by Kieran Doherty)

Casting bells at Whitechapel in 1997 with the traditional loam and green sand method

Working on a bell for St James’ Church, Chipping Campden, in 2004

Members of East End Preservation Society deliver their petition (photograph Sarah Ainslie)

“The world famous Whitechapel Foundry is a landmark – both for its splendid use and its fine historic buildings. Bells cast at the foundry have sounded in cities around the world for hundreds of years. For many, that sound represents the heart and soul of London, and in the case of Big Ben in the Palace of Westminster it is the sound of Freedom. The existing buildings deserve the highest level of recognition and protection as a unique and important part of our heritage.”

Dan Cruickshank

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Cecile Moss Of Old Montague St

June 20, 2018
by the gentle author

Cecile aged four

Although Cecile Moss lived in Old Montague St for fourteen years, this is the only photograph taken of her in Spitalfields, and it was taken for a precise purpose. A photographer came round to take it in 1955, the year Cecile arrived from Jamaica aged four years old, and the picture was sent back to her family in the Caribbean as evidence that she was attending a proper Catholic school with a smart uniform and therefore all was well in London. Yet in contrast to the image of middle class respectability which Cecile’s mother strove to maintain, the family lived together in one room in a tenement and the reason there are no other photographs is because they had no money for a camera.

Almost no trace survives today of the Old Montague St that Cecile knew – a busy thoroughfare crowded with diverse life, filled with slum dwelllings, punctuated by a bomb site and a sugar factory, and lined with small shops and cafes. There, long-established Jewish traders sat alongside dodgy coffees bars in which Maltese, Somalis, Caribbeans and others congregated to do illicit business. In fact, Old Montague St offered a rich and stimulating playground to a young child filled with wonder and curiosity, as Cecile was.

The novel presence of black people proved a challenge to many East Enders at that time. “Sometimes, they knotted their handkerchiefs when they saw me,” recalled Cecile with mixed emotion, “and they’d say, ‘If you see a black person that’s good luck.’” Fortunately, Cecile’s mother’s professional status as a teacher proved to be an unexpected boost to Cecile in this new society and later Cecile became a teacher herself, an occupation that she pursues today from her home in New Cross Gate where she lives with her children and grandchildren. ”Since the new overground train, I’ve spent a lot more time in the East End and I still have a lot of friends there.” she admitted to me when I visited her, “As you grow older, you tend to want to go back to your home.”

“We came to England from Jamaica in 1955, me, my sister Clorine and my mother, Marlene Moss, to Old Montague St in Spitalfields. She left my father and came over to live with her sister, Daisy. I was four years old and I didn’t know I was coming to England, I was traumatised. But I remember what I was wearing, I wore a double-breasted coat with a velvet Peter Pan collar and lace-up shoes. My mother was a teacher in Jamaica and she didn’t want us to look like refugees arriving in England. The voyage lasted ten days and we were met by my uncle at Southampton. It was very confined on the boat so that when I got off, I kept on running around.

We lived in a building where the Spitalfields health centre is today. We were 9b, above a shop where two elderly Jewish sisters lived. My mother cried for days because we had to share one toilet with three other floors, so it was really quite disgusting. I was told that I had come to get a doll. But it was an ugly chalky-skinned blond doll, and I was so angry and upset that I threw it away and smashed it, which made my aunt think I was a very ungrateful little girl. My mother,my sister and I all lived in one room. My sister was eleven and she remained silent, whereas my mum and I just cried a lot. I missed my family in Jamaica.

Because we were Catholics, we went to St Anne’s Catholic church and mother got talking to the priest. He told her she could teach in St Gregory, a Secondary Modern in Wood Close, doing supply work. When she started at the school she was shocked. One of the pupils was absent from the register and they said, ‘He’s gone down for GBH.’ My mother came back and asked my aunt, ‘What is this GBH?’ She said she was going introduce Shakespeare to the school but they said,’We don’t want you bringing any of your kind of rubbish here!’

I went to St Patrick’s school around the back of St Anne’s and my sister, because she had already passed the eleven-plus, went to Our Lady’s convent in Stamford Hill. Yet I only lasted two weeks at St Patrick’s because the kids hit me and pushed me over. I can’t remember if they called me racist names, but I know I was terribly unhappy. My mother took me away and sent me to Stamford Hill too. I was five years old, and she put me on the 653 bus and told the conductor where to let me off. The people on the bus would look after me and I never missed my stop. I felt safe. So we lived in the East End but we went to school in North London. That was unusual but, because my mother was a teacher, we were middle class, even though we lived in Old Montague St which was a slum. Old Montague St had quite a reputation for drugs. There were dark tenements with dark passages with dark dealings.

When my mum got a permanent job at St Agnes’ school in Bow, she took me away from Our Lady’s at seven years old. So I never went back to school in Spitalfields but I used to play out on the street a lot. Most of the children I played with were second generation Irish with names like Touhy, O’Shea, Latimer and Daley - that’s who I grew up with. There was an older Irish boy who looked out for me, he said I was part of the gang. He told us we mustn’t speak to the people on Brick Lane because they were Jewish. He was looked after by his grandmother. She was a character. Every Saturday night, she went to the pub on the corner of Chicksand St and filled a jug with port or whatever and stumbled back singing, ‘Daisy, Daisy give me your answer do.’ And my mother cried and said, ‘Look what we have come down to.’ One day, the old lady, she tied a skipping rope across the street to stop the traffic so that we could play. When the police came along, she said, ‘ The children have got nowhere to play.’ And we were all shocked, but later they opened a playground on the corner of Old Montague St and Vallance Rd.

I loved going to Petticoat Lane. Every Friday, my aunt would go and get a chicken – you could choose one and they would kill it for you. There were street entertainers, an organ grinder and man who lay on a bed of hot coals. Walking up  Wentworth St, there were all Jewish shops with barrels of pickles and olives outside. I was fascinated but my mother said, ‘That’s not our food.’ A lot of the stallholders were quite friendly to me and my mother because they thought we were the next wave of immigrants. There was a cafe I walked past with my mum, it was full of black-skinned men but I couldn’t understand what they were saying even though they were like us. They were Somalis. The men outside, they’d give me sixpence and put me on their knee. They liked to see me because they were away from their own children. I think we were some of the first West Indians here, there were no other black kids.

I spent a lot of time in the fleapit cinema on Brick Lane on Saturdays. But by the time I turned seven, my mum stopped me playing out. She forbade me, so my wanderings around Spitalfields stopped and I don’t mix with the kids on the street anymore. Instead I became more friendly with the kids I was at school with in Bow.

My aunt Daisy went back to Jamaica and my sister returned when she was eighteen. So it was just me and my mum in the end. We shared a bedroom and we had a sitting room, with the kitchen in the hallway. I was very embarrassed about where I lived and I didn’t bring friends home because it was a slum. All this time, my mother was not divorced, she was still married and it really held her back. She even had to ask a friend to his name down for her to be able to buy a television.

There was a hardware shop and other shops run by Jewish people, where they got on well with my mother. There was a bit of snobbishness because she was a teacher. It used to cushion me too, I was Mrs Moss’ daughter. When she complained, they used to say to her, ‘Never mind, we had it, now it’s your turn.’ Referring the racial prejudice, they meant it was something you put up with, then it would pass. And by the time I left Spitalfields, it was the Bengalis coming in, so it was quite profound what they said – it was a rite of passage at that time.

When I was eighteen, we moved out. Looking back on it, I’ve got to say it was a happy time. I knew when I’d forgotten Jamaica and made my transition to England. I played a lot on the stairs and I pretended to have a ‘post office’ there. One day my mother was there too, washing some clothes on the landing and she corrected my speech. ‘It’s not ‘spag-ETTEE,” she said, ’It’s ‘spaghetti” And, I realised then, that was because I’d left Jamaica behind and I spoke Cockney.

Today I often teach immigrants, children for whom English is their second language, and I can say to them, ‘I know what you are going through.’”

Old Montague St 1965 by Geoffrey Fletcher

Cecile Moss

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The Map Of Shoreditch In Dreams

June 19, 2018
by the gentle author

Adam Dant is giving two illustrated lectures in the next week in celebration of the publication of his magnum opus MAPS OF LONDON & BEYOND. You can catch him in at the Wanstead Tap in Forest Gate on Thursday and Stanfords in Covent Garden next Tuesday, and he has two exhibitions forthcoming too.


THURSDAY 21st JUNE 7:30pm: Lecture at THE WANSTEAD TAP, 352 Winchelsea Rd, E7. Click here to book

TUESDAY 26th JUNE 6:30pm: Lecture at STANFORDS, 12-14 Long Acre, WC2. Click here to book

29th JUNE – 14th JULY: Exhibition of Maps of London at THE MAP HOUSE, 54 Beauchamp Place, SW3. Opening Thursday 28th June 6 – 8:30pm

5th – 22nd JULY: Exhibition of Maps of the East End at THE TOWN HOUSE, 5 Fournier St, E1. Opening Thursday 5th July 6 – 8.30pm


(Click to enlarge)

This is the first map Adam drew of his chosen neighbourhood of Shoreditch back in 1998.

“I’d been thinking about how Shoreditch existed in people’s imaginations and subconscious and how I could render that visually,” explained Adam, “So I went to a lecture at the Jungian Society in Hampstead on the subject of ‘Collective Dreaming.’ It turned out to be a circle of people sitting in a room with a ‘dominatrix’ holding a clipboard – bobbed hair, German spectacles and pencil skirt – and she asked people to describe their dreams, with a view to explore common themes that might point to a collective unconscious. It was very embarrassing because people were revealing things about themselves that if they were aware of the language of psychoanalysis they would have kept mum.” He added later in qualification, “I wasn’t using ‘mum’ in a Freudian sense.”

Taking his cue from the Jungian Society Lecture, Adam set out to collect the dreams of his neighbours and other residents through surveys and in conversation. Then he portrayed them all on the map you see above as a means to illustrate the heaving and teeming collective unconscious of Shoreditch. I was astounded when Adam showed me his huge drawing done directly in ink onto a piece of paper that is a metre square, without any single mistake or even an inkblot that might open itself to interpretation – almost obsessive compulsive in its neatness, you might say.

As we commenced our cartographic analysis, Adam explained that his orientation was looking to the West with a rat-infested Shoreditch High St crossing the map laterally. In the bottom left of the map, he pointed out the tiger prowling the streets continously and, further up to the right, the facades of the Boundary Estate propped up by wood, and then, over in Hoxton Square, the giant Teddy Bear at its centre. Images pregnant with meaning yet resisting simple interpretation. Most fascinating to me were the elements of premonition within the map – the giant pizza outside the Tea Building on the corner of the Bethnal Green Rd exactly on the site of the new pizza restaurant which opened more than a decade later and the bendy bus in the centre right of the map, drawn years before these strange vehicles became actuality and then became defunct.

You will note that this map was drawn and published under the name of Donald Parsnips – Adam Dant’s creative alter-ego – and it is the image of Donald Parsnips in his tall hat that dominates the centre of the chart, produced when Adam was also publishing “Donald Parsnips’ Daily Journal” distributed in a daily edition of one hundred copies free to the people of Shoreditch. Subsequently, Adam produced maps of Shoreditch under his own name, but whether we can infer some kind of reconciliation of the ego and super-ego as a result of his work in cartographic interpretation of Shoreditch in Dreams, I leave you to decide for yourself.

Or, to quote a speech bubble from the map, “The finer points we’ll leave to the discretion of the silly folk!”

Adam Dant’s  limited edition prints are available to purchase through TAG Fine Arts.



On Missing Mr Pussy In Summer

June 18, 2018
by the gentle author

With your help, I am collecting the stories of my old cat Mr Pussy who died last year into a book entitled THE LIFE & TIMES OF MR PUSSY, A Memoir Of A Favourite Cat to be published by Spitalfields Life Books on 20th September.

There are two ways you can help publish the book.

1. I am seeking readers who are willing to invest £1000 in THE LIFE & TIMES OF MR PUSSY. In return, we will publish your name in the book and invite you to a celebratory dinner hosted by yours truly. If you would like to know more, please drop me an email

2. Preorder a copy of THE LIFE & TIMES OF MR PUSSY and you will receive a signed and inscribed copy in September when the book is published. Click here to preorder your copy

Below you can read an excerpt and in coming days I will publishing more of these stories.



Extract from THE LIFE & TIMES OF MR PUSSY, A Memoir Of A Favourite Cat


While Londoners luxuriate in the warmth of summer, I miss Mr Pussy who endured the hindrance of a fur coat, spending his languorous days stretched out upon the floor in a heat-induced stupor. As the sun reached its zenith, his activity declined and he sought the deep shadow, the cooling breeze and the bare wooden floor to stretch out and fall into a deep trance that could transport him far away to the loss of his physical being. Mr Pussy’s refined nature was such that even these testing conditions provided an opportunity for him to show grace, transcending dreamy resignation to explore an area of meditation of which he was the supreme proponent.

In the early morning and late afternoon, you would see him on the first floor window sill here in Spitalfields, taking advantage of the draught of air through the house. With his aristocratic attitude, Mr Pussy took amusement in watching the passersby from his high vantage point on the street frontage and enjoyed lapping water from his dish on the kitchen window sill at the back of the house, where in the evenings he also liked to look down upon the foxes gambolling in the yard.

Whereas in winter it was Mr Pussy’s custom to curl up in a ball to exclude drafts, in these balmy days he preferred to stretch out to maximize the air flow around his body. There was a familiar sequence to his actions, as particular as stages in yoga. Finding a sympathetic location with the advantage of cross currents and shade from direct light, at first Mr Pussy sat to consider the suitability of the circumstance before rolling onto his side and releasing the muscles in his limbs, revealing that he was irrevocably set upon the path of total relaxation.

Delighting in the sensuous moment, Mr Pussy stretched out to his maximum length of over three feet long, curling his spine and splaying his legs at angles, creating an impression of the frozen moment of a leap, just like those wooden horses on fairground rides. Extending every muscle and toe, his glinting claws unsheathed and his eyes widened gleaming gold, until the stretch reached it full extent and subsided in the manner of a wave upon the ocean, as Mr Pussy slackened his limbs to lie peacefully with heavy lids descending.

In this position that resembled a carcass on the floor, Mr Pussy could undertake his journey into dreams, apparent by his twitching eyelids and limbs as he ran through the dark forest of his feline unconscious where prey were to be found in abundance. Vulnerable as an infant, sometimes Mr Pussy cried to himself in his dream, an internal murmur of indeterminate emotion, evoking a mysterious fantasy that I could never be party to. It was somewhere beyond thought or language. I could only wonder if his arcadia was like that in Paolo Uccello’s “Hunt in the Forest” or whether Mr Pussy’s dreamscape resembled the watermeadows of the River Exe, the location of his youthful safaris.

There was another stage, beyond dreams, signalled when Mr Pussy rolled onto his back with his front paws distended like a child in the womb, almost in prayer. His back legs splayed to either side, his head tilted back, his jaw loosened and his mouth opened a little, just sufficient to release his shallow breath – and Mr Pussy was gone. Silent and inanimate, he looked like a baby and yet very old at the same time. The heat relaxed Mr Pussy’s connection to the world and he fell, he let himself go far away on a spiritual odyssey. It was somewhere deep and somewhere cool, he was out of his body, released from the fur coat at last.

Startled upon awakening from his trance, like a deep-sea diver ascending too quickly, Mr Pussy squinted at me as he recovered recognition, giving his brains a good shake, once the heat of the day had subsided. Lolloping down the stairs, still loose-limbed, he strolled out of the house into the garden and took a dust bath under a tree, spending the next hour washing it out and thereby cleansing the sticky perspiration from his fur.

Regrettably the climatic conditions that subdued Mr Pussy by day, also enlivened him by night. At first light, when the dawn chorus commenced, he stood on the floor at my bedside, scratched a little and called to me. I woke to discover two golden eyes filling my field of vision. I rolled over at my peril, because this provoked Mr Pussy to walk to the end of the bed and scratch my toes sticking out under the sheet, causing me to wake again with a cry of pain. I miss having no choice but to rise, accepting his forceful invitation to appreciate the manifold joys of early morning in summer in Spitalfields, because it was not an entirely unwelcome obligation.





The Life & Times Of Mr Pussy

June 17, 2018
by the gentle author

Over the past nine years of publishing daily in the pages of Spitalfields Life, some of the most popular and best loved stories have been those about my old cat Mr Pussy who died last summer. So, with your help, I am collecting them into a book entitled THE LIFE & TIMES OF MR PUSSY, A Memoir Of A Favourite Cat to be published by Spitalfields Life Books on 20th September.

There are two ways you can help me publish the book.

1. I am seeking readers who are willing to invest £1000 in THE LIFE & TIMES OF MR PUSSY. In return, we will publish your name in the book and invite you to a celebratory dinner hosted by yours truly. If you would like to know more, please drop me an email

2. Preorder a copy of THE LIFE & TIMES OF MR PUSSY and you will receive a signed and inscribed copy in September when the book is published. Click here to preorder your copy

Below you can read the opening pages and in coming days I will be publishing further excerpts.




THE LIFE & TIMES OF MR PUSSY, A Memoir Of A Favourite Cat


I was always disparaging of those who doted over their pets, as if this apparent sentimentality were an indicator of some character flaw. That changed when I bought a cat, just a couple of weeks after the death of my father. My mother was inconsolable and sat immobile for days. So I bought her a tiny black kitten in Mile End in the East End of London – no bigger than my hand – and I took him on the train to Devon, arriving late at night and giving him into her care.

At that moment, she transformed from a woman with a bereavement problem to a woman with a cat problem. Looking back on it, I attribute Mr Pussy’s placid intelligent nature to those first impressionable months of his life with her. Time passed and six years later, after she died, he returned to live out his days with me in Spitalfields.

I understand now how pets become receptacles of memory and emotion, and I have learnt that this is why people can lavish such affection upon animals. Mr Pussy’s age measured the time since I lost my father and, as he grew into maturity, my father’s memory lived through him, while his distinctive personality reflected my mother’s own nature. I held him in trust for her and in memory and love of them both.


* * *


I think back to when I woke one night and decided to get a cat. It was just a few weeks after my father died and I had been lying thinking of ways to console my mother. The funeral was over but we both were still enveloped by the crisis. I decided a cat was the answer, so I set out to find one that day and take it with me on the train to Devon, as a gift for her. Yet I hit a blank at once when I rang a pet shop and discovered that cats cannot be bought. I spoke to cat charities and they could not help me either. They told me they required an inspection of the prospective owner’s house before they could even consider offering me a cat.

As a child, I owned a beloved grey tabby that I acquired when I began primary school and which died when I left home to go to college. The creature’s existence spanned an era in the life of our family and, at the time, my mother said that she would never replace it with another because its death caused her too much sadness. Yet I always wondered if this was, in fact, her response to my own departure, as her only child.

Now my father was dead, she was alone in a large house with a long garden ending in an orchard. It was an ideal home for a cat, she had experience with cats, so I knew that at this moment of bereavement, she needed a cat to bring fresh life into her world. I called her and discussed it, hypothetically.  She told me she wanted a female.

I rang veterinary surgeries asking if they knew of anyone giving kittens away, without any luck. Working systematically, I rang every pet shop in the London directory, asking if they knew anyone wanting to dispose of kittens. Eventually, a pet shop offered to help me, as long as I could be discreet, they said. They had rescued a litter of kittens just a few weeks old, prematurely separated from their mother and abandoned on the street, and they needed to find homes for them urgently. Naturally, they could not sell me one because that would be illegal, but maybe – they said – I could give them something to cover the costs of taking care of the others?

So I went to the pet shop in question, in a quiet street around the back of Mile End tube station. It was mid-afternoon and the light was fading. I was planning to go to Paddington directly afterward and catch the train to Exeter. As I approached the shop, my heart was beating fast and I recognised my own emotionalism, channelling my sense of loss into this strange pursuit. I entered the shop and there on the right was a cage of kittens, all tangled up playing together. Instantly, one left the litter and walked over to the grille, studying me. This was the moment. This was the cat. A mutual decision had been made.

I asked the owner if I could have the black one that was now clawing at the mesh to hold my attention. The shopkeeper assured me the cat was female and, after a short negotiation, I gave the owner forty pounds. Becoming distressed when it was time for me to leave, “You will take care of it won’t you?” he implored me, tears dripping from his eyes.

Startled by his outburst, I walked away quickly and got onto the tube just as the rush hour began. The tiny creature in the box screamed insistently, drawing the attention of the entire carriage. It screamed all the way to Devon and that night I lay in bed clutching the animal to my chest, as the only way I could find to lull it enough to sleep. My mother christened it “Rosemary” and the cat grew calm under her influence, as she sat by the fireside reading novels through the long winter months.

The next summer, I moved back to live with my mother in the house where I grew up – when it became clear she could no longer live alone – and I discovered the new cat had fallen into all the same paths and patterns of behaviour as my childhood tabby. But when we sent the cat to the vet for neutering, there was a surprise – they rang to inform us it was a tom cat, not a female as we had believed. The name ‘Rosemary’ was abandoned, instead we called him ‘Mr Pussy’ in recognition of this early gender confusion.

I cared for my mother until she died five years later and I had to keep Mr Pussy away from her room eventually, because the presence of a cat became too threatening for her in her paralysis. Mr Pussy skulked around in disappointment and revealed an independent spirit, running wild, chasing moorhens through the water meadows of the River Exe. But then one day, I picked Mr Pussy up and sat with him on my lap in the cabin of a removal truck as we made the return journey to London for good.