Study of aloofness, as only a cat can do it

Lucy LocketHere is a picture of my cat, Lucy Locket, that I did this week. It’s scratchboard (appropriate for a cat as subject) with Derwent Inktense ink sticks. She’s a sweet little thing, isn’t she? I know, I know, she doesn’t look sweet…

All right, she’s not really sweet. She’s likely to walk away when called, and to look into the distance, or past me, or at a spot on the floor instead of at me. And this week when she was at the vet’s for a routine visit, she cuddled up to him—little traitor.

That’s just how they roll, I guess.

By the way, I should add that this drawing was based on a photograph taken by my husband, Gordon. Cats do not make good subjects to sit for portraits!


When a pet is sick

LLMy much-loved cat nearly died this week , and I’ve been beside myself with worry. I’m happy to say she has suddenly started to improve, but for a while there, I feared the worst.

My husband explained best how we felt when I heard him speaking on the phone to a friend: “We’ve had her nine years; she’s part of our family,” he said. (She, being a cat, would maintain that she is in fact the head of our family, I’m sure).

I’ve always been a ‘cat person’. My parents had a cat before I was born; for all my childhood and whenever possible in my adult life, I’ve had cats. When I don’t have a cat, I feel like something’s missing.

My husband and I have both had bad luck with beloved cats being run over, and when he bought a tiny, fluffy tortoiseshell kitten for me just over nine years ago, we decided she would be an indoor cat, allowed outside only as far as our courtyard.

Lucy Locket has been a great indoor cat. She’s naturally lazy, timid, averse to strangers and likes her home comforts. She probably could jump the fence if she wanted, but she doesn’t.

That was the way, we thought, we could have our pet for a long time.

But that was in doubt this week when she came down with a serious mystery illness: she was barely able to walk, was not drinking or eating and had a very high temperature.

The vet admitted her to the hospital in his clinic, and there she stayed for three days on a drip and medication.

They couldn’t get her to eat, and it’s very dangerous for a cat to go beyond three days not eating, because of possible liver complications.

But she was so traumatised by the hospital experience, that she had lost all interest in food.

So we had to bring her home to try to coax her to eat. I found some great information on line about how to get a sick cat to eat (here’s a link). It was just tiny bits at a time, but at least it was something. Each minuscule amount she ate seemed like an enormous breakthrough.

Then this morning, she was much better. She is eating again (about half her normal amount, but enjoying it), meowing for a brush, and sitting in the sun. She’s still weak, but I can tell she’s improving, because her weird little habits are back, such as scritch-scratching under a bag if it is placed on the floor.

We still don’t know what the illness is. Blood analysis was inconclusive (and two of the three samples clotted), but seemed to point to a virus. It’s not one of the serious viruses such as feline aids or leukemia, as she has no contact with other cats. It could have been an infection “somewhere”, so she’s also had a long-term antibiotic shot.

The worst thing about an animal being sick is that they can’t tell you their symptoms or where it hurts. She’s much better, though, at letting me know she is getting better: from the trot back in her gait, to the demand for a brush, to the quickly turning head when a bird flies overhead.

Let’s hope the mystery illness doesn’t return.

Felix, that wonderful cat with his bag of tricks

There are some animated characters that stay with you all your life. I was never much of a Mickey Mouse fan. My favourite character was always Felix the Cat.

The cartoons were very old when I was a child, being made in the 1920s, long before even my mother was born, but great animation always remains so. The song was what got me, too, and the idea of having a bag of tricks that you could reach into whenever you got “in a fix”.

I went to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) at Melbourne’s Federation Square recently. Having an interest in the history of film and TV, I kept meaning to go, and never quite got there. Fortuitously, this outing was part of a class trip I had to take some students on.

ACM’s permanent exhibition, Screen Worlds, is free, and it is packed with films, sound, interactive opportunities and memorabilia. How delighted I was to come across this little fella, then. Yes, it’s Felix, and it reminded me that it was an Australian cartoonist and silent film maker, Pat Sullivan, who was one of the originators of Felix.


This is controversial: although Sullivan (c1887-1933) was the owner of the character and the producer, he always said he had originated Felix.  US critics have usually credited his American employee, Otto Messmer as the original animator, but an Australian Broadcasting Corporation show, Rewind, in 2004 seems to have confirmed Sullivan as the originator. Whatever, Messmer and Sullivan drew the comic strip, which started in 1923, with another American animator, Joe Oriolo, later replacing Messmer. It was Oriolo who gave Felix his famous bag of tricks.

Felix started out as a character in the silent film short Feline Follies (1919), before being adapted for print and syndicated in hundreds of newspapers. He was around long before Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse. Ironically, a mouse often being the target of a cat, it was the popularity of Mickey Mouse that led to Felix’s demise in the 1930s, before he was reinvigorated by Oriolo for US TV in the 1950s and given that magic bag of tricks.

Some trivia: the original voice of Felix in the 1930s was performed by Mae Kwestel (1908-1998), who also did the voices of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl. She appears to be the only woman to have voiced Felix, with at least eight male actors to have played Felix over the decades.

Interestingly, DreamWorks Animation acquired the rights to the character this month (June 2014), with CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg quoted as saying his company will make Felix into ‘one of the most desired fashion brands in the world.” Oh no! I was hoping for a new Felix cartoon series also starring Felix’s nephews Inky and Winky.

For the record, Felix the Cat was ranked number 28 in TV Guide’s list of the “50 greatest cartoon characters of all time” in 2002. Well, Felix is still number one for me.





Felix the Cat official website

The Wrap




It’s a cat’s life

Sometimes, I wish I were a cat. Well, I wish I were my cat, Lucy Locket. She has a charmed life, though in her typical cat’s way, she would probably dispute that, saying she has only what she deserves, as princess cat of the world.

Anyway, this is what I mean. While I was making a start yesterday afternoon on marking 92 exams of 1800 words each, this is what she did. I will let Lucy Locket tell the story herself:

“Started the afternoon with a nice nap in my upstairs bed, but was woken by Mama phaffing around with some papers.”

Lu 1

“Since I had been rudely awakened, it was time for a stretch.”


“And a wash. My owners have been putting some vile stuff on one of my claws lately, on orders of my doctor. Really! Hmmm, did I hear a bird out that window?””




“No, no, it was thataway. Better investigate.”

Lu 4

*Makes a flying leap on to desk and sidles behind computer to look out the second-storey window*


“All quiet on the western front.”


“Hmmm, think I’ll just sit here for a bit. Nice change of scene.”


“Well, that was a hard day’s work. Think I’ll go back to bed, and the afternoon is…”





“…just about…






The cat’s verdict: unimpressed

Little Girl Lost: Lucy Locket in her new house. Has decided she doesn't like it. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2014

Little Girl Lost: Lucy Locket in her new house. Has decided she doesn’t like it. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2014

While we humans are loving our new two-storey townhouse in the country, there is one member of the household who is not. Lucy Locket, our tortoiseshell cat, is not impressed one bit.

In the old house, she and I used to play a game I called “The Lost Girl”. She would go into a mini-courtyard at the side of the house between my office and bedroom. Then she would howl at the bedroom window, as if unable to find her way back to the door at the other end. I would take that as a cue to come and stand at the door and call her, and she would then make her way back through fully two metres of ‘jungle’ to find her way back to me.

Dopey, yes. Her, not me. Well, she’s an indoor cat—she’s amused by small things.

Anyway, from playing ‘The Lost Girl’, she has become the Little Girl Lost. The best she can do at the moment is sit on the middle of the bed, looking plaintively out, as if to say, “This is all I have left of my life, a shadow of its former self”.

Moving on: my 46th address, 50th move

This is what my house looks like today:

My study...or what's left of it.

My study…or what’s left of it.

Yes, we’re moving in a few days, after our long-time rental accommodation was sold and vacant possession required. It will be my 46th address, and I’ve lived in 13 cities or towns in five countries.

We are moving from the inner-city funkiness of Northcote, Melbourne, to a cute double-storey townhouse in an outer suburb that still has a country village feel to it.

We get much more for our money out there, and we’ll be paying $60 less a week in rent. AND, we can hardly wait for next summer and the first 40-degree (Celsius) day, because guess what? Now, we have airconditioning!

In another advantage, it’s easier for me to get to work, and I’ll be catching one train each way instead of two. It’s also closer to my mother: instead of a 145km round trip to her place, it’s about 35.

Miss Lucy Locket doesn’t approve much of the move, as most cats wouldn’t:photo 2

She was on high alert last night, doing her spooky Bat Girl impersonation:

Spot the cat

Spot the cat

But she’ll be happy when she gets to the new place and sees her new little private courtyard—this is one of the main reasons we took the new place, because she is an indoor cat, but she likes to have somewhere safe on which to sun herself and chase moths.

Despite all the advantages of the move, we will be sad to leave Northcote. It’s strange when the packing’s been done but you haven’t quite moved in to the other place yet: you’re in a kind of limbo, not really living at either address. You haven’t moved on to the next place, but you can’t go back to life as you knew it at the other.

Goodbye to all that: decluttering your life

Goodbye, dear little car. Photo ©Gordon Dann 2014

Goodbye, dear little car.
Photo ©Gordon Dann 2014

We’re trying to declutter our home because we foresee we’ll be moving in the next year or so, and because we simply have too much stuff. Yesterday, my husband’s beloved 1958 MGA car was picked up by its enthusiastic purchaser and taken away on a truck. He had owned the car since 1969, when he bought it as a teenager and as his very first car. But he was pleased to see it go to a new person who would love it: he didn’t want to restore it (again) and he wants to do different things these days, such as travel to India.

I don’t have anything as large or valuable to get rid of, but I still have too much. A lot of the stuff I have is kept for sentimental reasons, but sometimes I wonder if these reasons are misplaced. For example, I have a novelty Easter bunny cup given to me by my brother when he was a little boy…truth be told, my mother probably bought it for him, and he wouldn’t even remember it now that he is nearly 30. The cat book-ends and the husband-and-wife cats with parasol I bought from Bali can probably go, too. Then again, when I grouped them for a photo for this post, I found they all looked so cute, I couldn’t do it. Back on their shelves, they went!

The Balinese cat book ends, the Balinese cat couple, the novelty Easter cup...could you part with these? Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2014

The Balinese cat book ends, the Balinese cat couple, the novelty Easter cup…could you part with these?
Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2014

There are some things I will keep forever and never even contemplate giving away. For many years, I’ve had a small art-deco style turquoise glass vase that I love—I’ve even done a painting of it:

"My Mother's Mysterious Vase", oils on canvas, painted by Caron Dann, 2011.

“My Mother’s Mysterious Vase”, oils on canvas, painted by Caron Dann, 2011.

My mother gave the vase to me, and it had belonged to her mother. But recently, I mentioned it to Mum, and she couldn’t remember off-hand which one it was. That’s because she gave it to me so long ago, and it was just one of those things she had in the cupboard and perhaps didn’t care for that much herself.

Talking about gifts, when people give me something, I am very appreciative. I love receiving a present and always feel so happy that someone has taken the trouble. I love beautiful wrapping paper and cards, too. Many of the presents I receive are things that I treasure for years, and keep for sentimental reasons. Yet, if you asked the person who gave you a particular present years ago, they probably wouldn’t even remember it, unless it was special to them, too. That’s because they bought it for you, had it for a very short time, then handed it over, duty done, and forgot about it.

Sometimes a present just wears out. In the late 1980s, I met a young woman who was to become my lifelong friend, and she gave me a huge framed Man Ray print. I loved this print and it travelled with me everywhere. It’s been on the wall of at least 13 different residences I’ve had over the years. Sadly, I realised recently that not only was the frame falling apart, but the print itself was the worse for wear. So, unfortunately, it was given away to the local second-hand shop. But someone else may be able to repair it and use it.

A few weeks ago, my mum finally gave away an old cassette recorder she bought in the US in the 1970s: actually, I would like to have kept this gadget, but it is gone now. Luckily though, I did this painting of it last year:

Old Gadgets #3: Panasonic cassette player-recorder, 1973; Sony Walkman, 2000. Acrylics and Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens on treated board.By Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013.

Old Gadgets #3: Panasonic cassette player-recorder, 1973; Sony Walkman, 2000. Acrylics and Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens on treated board. Painted by Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013

Sometimes, over the years, I’ve lived to regret what I’ve discarded. For example, all my handwritten notes and essays from my bachelor’s degree. Now that I’m a tertiary educator myself, I would love to be able to look back on my own undergraduate work.

But the worst decision I made about throwing something away was an electronic gadget my parents gave me in 1983. It was an early word processor, a light and portable machine about the size of a current-day notebook computer. It even had a small memory, and you had to buy special “thermal paper”, which you inserted in the top and which it then printed on as you typed. I wish I had kept that: it belongs in a museum, now.

A Perfect New Year’s Day

Today was pretty much a perfect day for me. Why? This is what I did:

—Reading (about 50 pages of Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, by Helen Fielding, the third instalment in the series);

—Writing (350 words on my new novel);

—A long walk, during which we got caught in the summer rain. But hey, it’s only water.

—Art (including a quick sketch of an imaginary cat I am calling Michael, pictured below);

—And a dinner cooked perfectly for me by my husband, Gordon, to end the day.

In the words of the famous Australian movie, The Castle, said in awe-struck voice: “How’s the serenity?”MichaelCat

Life in the margins—of books, that is

I still buy print books: these are from my "to read" shelf. But half the books I buy now are for an electronic reader.

I still buy print books: these are from my “to read” shelf. But half the books I buy now are for an electronic reader.

About half the books I read now are just electronic files on a Kindle. No creases on the cover art, no dog-eared pages, no margins to write in. This is one thing ebooks cannot replicate: the stuff that happens to the book during the reading process. Somehow, electronic highlights and comments on an ereader are not quite the same.

Do you fold back your covers? Often I can’t resist, as I start a new book, pressing the cover open: a loved book is a creased book, after all.
And despite all my efforts to stop them, successive cats I have owned have ALL enjoyed chewing the corners of my books, tell-tale fang holes appearing mysteriously after I’ve been out of the room.
When I was growing up, we were taught never to write in the margins of books. So-called “marginalia” was acceptable only in a text book and then only if you owned it and you wrote in pencil. On a novel, though, the most you could do was write your name and maybe the year on the top right of the title page. It goes without saying that writing anything on library books was forbidden.
So, most of my old books are pristine: but now I wish I’d broken the rules and written my thoughts in the margins.
I made an exception when I was studying German language and literature at university. German was hard and I’d go through texts meticulously, translating every word I didn’t know. Recently, I came across one of my books from that time, a Hörspiel—a radio play— Zum Tee Bei Dr. Borsig, by Heinrich Böll. As well as copious and tedious translations in pencil, my 19-year-old self had written in the margin of one page, “Sooo boring”!
Go back further to myself as a child, aged about 13. My family and I had lived in Los Angeles for a few years and I’d acted in some TV shows and films, so I fancied myself as quite the director-producer-performer when we returned to New Zealand. Back home from Hollywood though and it was back to amateur stage shows in and around Auckland, and fierce competition at auditions.
You were always supposed to give back scripts at the end of a production, but somehow,  I  still have a script from a 1970s production of  The Sound of Music, a typewritten, plain brown-covered script stamped throughout with “TGA Choral and Operatic Society Library”. Although the script says it’s published by the Rodgers & Hammerstein Music Library, I somehow doubt that, because on the title page in capital letters, it says it is “THE RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN LUBRARY EDITION”. Yes, a typo.
SOM-scriptUntil recently, I had forgotten about this script, but my mother found it stored in a box and gave it to me. In it is a lot of marginalia by various actors who performed in the show over the years—pencilled-in dance steps, rehearsal dates, changes to lines, stage directions and so on.

SOM-script3_0002On p. 3 is the cast list, and you can still make out my additions: I’ve obviously been dreaming (quite ridiculously) about producing The Sound of Music at school, because beside some of the characters on the list, I’ve written the names of various friends I thought might be right for the role. Never mind that we were an all-girl school, and Debbie would be cast as Captain Georg von Trapp, while Lucy would have to make do as Franz the butler, and Andrea would be Friedrich. There is no name beside the lead character of Maria—of course, I would have been secretly casting myself in that role.
SOM-script3_0001As ebooks take over (and don’t get me wrong, I love this format for its portability), and even actors use tablet computers to rehearse their scripts, marginalia like this will no longer be made. How we read our books, how, why and where we marked them: these are fascinating insights into our lives and times.

Spooky little Monday morning

All year, I’ve been promising myself that one Monday, I would lie in bed until lunchtime, reading a book and thumbing my nose at the workaday world that normally rules my life.

Today, I did just that.

In an instant, my cat Lucy Locket—a main-chancer as all her species are—was up on the bed and ready for a daytime nap. Even the flash of the camera didn’t dissuade her. She was staying put for the morning too! I laughed when I saw this picture with the ghostly eyes—my spooky little cat was born on Halloween, so it’s her seventh birthday on Thursday.

Halloween birthday girl-to-be Lucy Locket gets spooky on Monday morning.  Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann

Halloween birthday girl-to-be Lucy Locket gets spooky on Monday morning.
Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann

And I did read away the rest of the morning. I’ve always loved lying on my bed and reading, since I was a small child. There’s something enormously decadent about it—yet you feel smug that you’re not wasting time, because you’re engaged with literature, after all.

What I’m reading though—oh my! It’s the wonderful novel The Luminaries, which has just won the Man Booker Prize for its 28-year-old writer, my compatriot Eleanor Catton. (I will write more on The Luminaries in a separate post when I’ve finished it).

For now, I am lost in this story set in and around the goldfields of New Zealand’s South Island in the 1860s.

While I’m reading, and the rain is falling gently outside, and the cat snuggles closer, the rest of the world has slipped away.