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The Cats Of Elder St

May 15, 2015
by the gentle author

Our Photographer & Cat Correspondent, Chris Kelly, went to visit the felines of Elder St recently…

Peggy & Basil Comely

“Donʼt put me down as a cat person. Cats are ideal for lazy, inefficient people and thatʼs me.

I moved here from Camberwell with an elderly cat. But the stairs killed Connie, she was dead within six months and her ashes are in a box in the kitchen. I rescued Connie from a cage in a pet shop in 1985. There was a monkey cage on top and fleas were dropping off the monkey onto her. She cost five pounds.

Then came Piggy & Peggy. I went up to the Mayhew Animal Home at Kensal Green to find a replacement for Connie. Other people were choosing cats and they all wanted the cutest kitten. I saw a furry ball of two cats fighting like a Tom & Jerry cartoon and I said, “Iʼll have those.”

Piggy died last autumn at the age of fourteen. I thought that was a bit pathetic but the vet says itʼs a good age. Peggy was always the one who owned the house, whereas Piggy roamed in and out of other peopleʼs houses.

He was an absolute tart and a bit of a bully. The catʼs home had called him Lennox, after the boxer, but I renamed him. He was much cleverer than Peggy. He used to vanish occasionally but he always came back. Heʼd go along the rooftops and into someoneʼs attic. I was always afraid heʼd get stuck in a room somewhere.

The two cats didnʼt like each other much but they didnʼt fight very often. Just once in fourteen years they curled up together in a basket. They roamed the house but they werenʼt allowed in the bedroom. They did try though. Paws used to appear under the door.

Peggy is fifteen now and she doesnʼt do much. She eats and yowls but sheʼs quite fit. Sometimes, she sits in the open window of my office on the third floor and sways in the wind. The two cats used to fight there occasionally much to the consternation of passers-by. People would stand in the street and watch.

Iʼm not sentimental about animals. When Peggy dies, Iʼll go out and get another cat. Iʼve already decided itʼs going to be called Bunny. Piggy is buried in the yard. I wrapped him in a cashmere sweater, dug a hole and replaced the flag stone. Iʼm going to put up a headstone with his name on it.

I did have a tortoise called Oswald living here, but it wasnʼt the right place for him. He now lives with my brother who has a house with a garden in north London.”

Peggy & Basil enjoy the sun in Elder St

Gus, Molly, Paul Gazerwitz & Andrew Brader

I moved to Elder Street twelve years ago with five cats. I chose the Burmese because they are so friendly and affectionate. Iʼve always liked dogs but it seemed unfair to have them in the middle of the city, so I kept cats that most behaved like dogs.

I already had two Burmese when I went to a cat show and saw the curly coated Devon Rex cats. I acquired one of those – they have similar personalities to the Burmese – and then a chocolate Burmese. They all love humans, and can be quite clingy and very playful. They were mainly indoor cats although Coco disappeared once and was found in the brewery on Brick Lane.

We have just two cats now. Molly is a lilac Burmese and Gus is a Bombay. Bombay cats were first bred in America from Burmese and American shorthairs to resemble miniature panthers. You can see the brown Burmese colour coming through in certain lights and Gusʼs brothers were more brownish than black.

Gus and Molly go out into the garden when next doorʼs Welsh terrier Daisy is away. She doesnʼt like cats at all and they taunt her by jumping into the window when she goes past. They go out on the roof if we forget to close the bathroom window.

They are not enthusiastic hunters. Gus caught his first and only mouse last year. He has very few teeth left, only three actually. “He wasnʼt brushing enough,” says Andrew. He loves having his armpits scratched and is very greedy. He likes to be carried around the house sitting on someoneʼs shoulder like a parrot.

Molly loves milk foam. If we have cappuccino at the weekend, we make a small milk foam for her as a treat. If we donʼt do that she tries to scoop the foam out of our cups. Other favourite things are carrier bags and Parmesan. Our lodger Guidoʼs family make the Parmesan cheese, he offered her some once and she loved it.

They have separate apartments next to the Rayburn. These are small compartments meant for kitchen utensils but the cats have taken them over. If you put anything on the shelf there now Gus and Molly will push it out.

They love the snow and they have a country break at Christmas when they go to Suffolk. Gus is a very good traveller but Molly screams all the way there. She doesnʼt like the tube either which weʼve used for visits to the vet. Sheʼs been known to tear a wicker basket to shreds.”

Andrew, Paul & Molly

Molly

Gus - “The cats often leap into the window to taunt next doorʼs terrier Daisy”

Mollyʼs space next to the Rayburn, Gus usually occupies the next slot down

Molly & Paul

Gus & Paul

Maud & Oliver Black

“Maud was three when she came to live with us in Elder Street two years ago. We chose her from a cat rescue centre in Hornsey that had been recommended by friends. We looked at the photos on the internet before we went.

Our first choice had been a small black cat. She looked pretty in the photograph but in reality she was rather mangy and timid. Our second choice was a majestic fat cat but he turned out to be diabetic and insulin dependent. Then a beautiful tabby poked her head out of the cat box and we fell for her straight away. On our way home from the first visit we realised weʼd only seen her head so we went back to check that the rest of her was sound. She was duly picked up and inspected from all angles and we knew weʼd made the right choice.

Her people had called her Suki and gave her up when they moved to a flat where pets arenʼt allowed. Itʼs a common reason for rehousing cats apparently, along with sudden allergies. We thought the name was a bit soppy so we changed it to Maud. We wanted a Victorian girlʼs name and I had fond memories of a cleaning lady we had when I was a child, who was called Maud and had the sweetest nature ever.

Maud certainly seems to be quite happy here. She settled in with no trouble at all, and has learned that she can go round the block and come back to the front door. Sheʼs been a bit nervous since she was chased home by a large tom. She has caught a few mice but no birds fortunately. She caught a mouse the first night she was here which impressed Jenny, my wife.

I sometimes rescue undamaged mice if they manage to get away from the cat. I remember chasing a badly injured one and wondering how I was going to despatch it if I caught it before the cat did. The problem was solved when I accidentally trod on it with my bare foot.

Maud has already had some press coverage. I recently wrote a humorous piece for ‘Lancet Psychiatry’ magazine on my experience of psychotherapy. They gave it the title ‘Shrunk’ and published a photograph of Maud basking on the stairs, totally relaxed.

My illness was the reason we adopted Maud. Iʼm an Academic Philosopher and Research Professor at Kingʼs College, London, I write novels and, until the end of last year, I was also a City Lawyer. I became exhausted and my GP recommended psychotherapy. I saw a few people without success until eventually I was referred to a Spanish psychotherapist. He was a practical man but his accent was rather hard to understand.

He said, “You feel ill because youʼre stressed. Youʼre someone who is constantly trying to achieve, excel and impress people.” I said somewhat flippantly, “Perhaps I should get a cat. Theyʼre notoriously hard to impress.” What I think he said was, “Yes, you should get a cat.” But, given my difficulty in understanding him, he might have said, “No, donʼt get a cat.”

Anyway, we acquired a cat and Iʼm much more relaxed. This could be because, after twenty-five years, Iʼve stopped being a City Lawyer and now work mainly from home. However Iʼm sure Maud is a contributing factor.”

This photograph by Oliver Black appeared in ‘Lancet Psychiatry.’ Oliver wrote an article for the magazine about his experience of psychotherapy and the calming influence of cats.

Photographs copyright © Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly’s THE NECESSARY CAT – A PHOTOGRAPHER’S MEMOIR is available from many independent bookshops including Brick Lane Books, Broadway Books & Newham Bookshop.

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You may also like to see

East End Cats (Part One)

The Cats of Spitalfields (Part One)

The Cats of Spitalfields (Part Two)

Blackie, the Last Spitalfields Market Cat

and read about

Mr Pussy in the Dog Days

Mr Pussy is Ten

Mr Pussy in Winter

The Caprice of Mr Pussy

Mr Pussy in Spitalfields

Mr Pussy takes the Sun

Mr Pussy, Natural Born Killer

Mr Pussy takes a Nap

Mr Pussy’s Viewing Habits

The Life of Mr Pussy

Mr Pussy thinks he is a Dog

Mr Pussy in Summer

Mr Pussy in Spring

12 Responses leave one →
  1. May 15, 2015

    Wonderful stories and photos of the cats, their servants and where they reside.Greetings from my felines Lucky and Lilly, Valerie

  2. Dianne permalink
    May 15, 2015

    Thank you Gentle Author – another charming and gentle cat story to soothe us into the end of the day. Although I do think Basil Comely is fooling himself if he thinks he is NOT sentimental about animals :)

  3. May 15, 2015

    There’s nothing like a cat with attitude for showing its human the facts of life. Perhaps with a spanish accent, this should be the cats of life.

    Lovely article, but missed a pic of Piggy.

  4. Jane Jones permalink
    May 15, 2015

    Can’t wait to buy the book. Why is the minutiae of every detail of a cat’s life so fascinating? This is a delightful piece and the cats’ pet humans are charming too.

    What a great start to the day reading about worthwhile matters and drooling over beautiful photographs.

    Many thanks

  5. May 15, 2015

    That was utterly delightful. Thank you very much. The visiting Burmese and I both enjoyed it! :)

  6. May 15, 2015

    Wonderful House Tigers …!

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  7. Annie permalink
    May 15, 2015

    I love Maud. On the step, in the sun, nothing to worry about. That’s why cats are brilliant. Milk foam, cosy bed, Parmesan and a carrier bag. What more does life have to offer? But GA, what about you and Mr P? I yearn…

  8. Miss Jackson permalink
    May 15, 2015

    Such beautiful photographs, a pleasure to read!

  9. May 15, 2015

    What a great post…and what great cats! Also interesting to see glimpses of the gardens of spitalfields where these cats hang out…and how do you get a job as cat correspondent? I’d like to apply!!

  10. May 16, 2015

    This was a beautiful story and gorgeous pictures (both the people and of course the cats). Great writing.

  11. Caro permalink
    May 17, 2015

    People always reveal so much of themselves when talking about their animals.. A lovely post and great to see Basil Comely. I’ve always thought he wasn’t a real person with a (wonderful) name like that.

    And could you publish a link to Oliver Black’s article?

  12. Nancy K Clark permalink
    June 24, 2015

    I’m having a bit of difficulty typing this as my Tuxedo cat, Kitlyn is trying to take up residence on my laptop as I type. Good…now she’s given it up to go back to her usual morning perch on the back of the sofa in front of the open window where she can observe the birds and other wildlife in my neighborhood in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

    I love your site, which I was just referred to by a commenter on a story about historic neighborhoods in London which you apparently did the wonderful split screen shots of locations now and a hundred years ago. I’m going to add your site to my favorites, as I see that there is plenty of fun to be had here.

    I’ve had cats most of my adult life, and have loved them all. One of my favorites was the magnificent Blizzard, a gorgeous black cat who shot through my front door one winters day when I opened it to see what was causing the horrible commotion outside. He ran through the apartment directly to the bowl of food I’d put down for my two cats. I certainly wasn’t about to toss him back out into the howling blizzard, so then there were three. I learned from the neighborhood children that Blizzard, as I then called him, was a stray, only about 5 or 6 months old per the vet, and he was sweet. He also was historically polydactyl. He had an extra toe on each back foot, and two PAWS on each front leg! Where his dew claw should have been, he had another whole paw with three toes and a palm pad. He was a formidable fighter on the rare occasions he chose to fight, and was the sheriff of the neighborhood. I was informed by neighbors that they witnessed Blizzard breaking up fights among other cats by just showing up. I had him for 13 years, and had to have him put down eventually when his liver cancer finally caught up with him. He was magical, serene and had a wonderful life.

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