"There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember ..."
William Shakespeare. Hamlet
I always enjoy April, bringing, as it does, the green shoots and
bright flowers of spring, April Fool's Day, National Siamese Cat Day (I hope
you remembered to give your furry ones an extra big
hug!) and this year, Easter too. For those who celebrate, I hope you all had a very happy Easter weekend.
April runs like a thread through everything in this month's newsletter, in which I'm taking some time to revisit and remember old friends, as well as meet new ones.
For starters, April 23rd was Shakespeare's birthday, and our opening quote is said by Ophelia in Hamlet; rosemary, as Ophelia knew, is a symbol of remembrance.
The rosemary bushes by the path outside my kitchen, where Bandit used to love to lie and warm himself on sunny spring days, are in full flower right now so it seems like an appropriate time to remember my much-missed boy, whose 'Gotcha Day' was on April 1st.
I've been doing a lot of reading this month, enjoying the antics of both fictional and real-life Meezers, revisiting old fictional friends Koko and Yum Yum in Lilian Jackson Braun's 'Cat Who' mysteries (April 1st was a pivotal date in these novels, as you'll see) - and meeting real-life ones too numerous to mention in Siri Zwemke's newly-published autobiography, Rescue Meez.
So without much further ado ...
Hamlet provides an important clue in helping to solve the mystery at the heart of The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare, the seventh of Lilian Jackson Braun's series of twenty-eight 'Cat Who' novels.
Most of us are probably familiar with at least some of the books, but for anyone who isn't, we first meet the hero, down-on-his-luck Jim Qwilleran (Qwill to his friends) when he applies for a job as a small town newspaper reporter.
Qwill has seen better times - he'd once been a sports writer and police reporter, a war correspondent and the author of a book on urban crime - but as the series begins he's divorced, a recovering alcoholic, and unemployed.
Taken on as a features writer by the Daily Fluxion (Lilian Jackson Braun came up with all sorts of unusual names for her locations and characters!), Qwill is given a series of assignments for which he's totally unsuited but usually good at, from reporting on the local art and design world to becoming a restaurant food critic.
Along the way, he solves a series of mysteries with the help of two Siamese cats; handsome Koko, who joins Qwill after his owner is murdered, and later by dainty, sweet, cross-eyed Yum Yum, who is turned out of her house after her owner dies, and is rescued by Qwill as a companion for Koko.
Koko, in particular, is an extremely clever cat who's instrumental in helping to solve the mysteries as well as providing background commentary on Qwill's love interests (Koko usually doesn't like them!)
In the early novels, life for Qwill, Koko and Yum Yum settles into a routine of mysteries to solve, new loves for Qwill, casts of unusual characters - until, in an unlikely turn of events described in The Cat Who Played Brahms, Qwill inherits a vast fortune - on condition that he moves for five years to Pickax, Moose County - a very small town 'four hundred miles north of everywhere'.
The Will from which Qwill gains his inheritance is dated April 1st - so of course, he thinks it's an April Fool's joke!
Over the years I've read some but not all of the Cat Who novels, and I'd missed this crucial turning point in Qwill's life so I decided to track it down, fill in some other gaps, and go through the series in sequence from the beginning.
I've now read the first seven books, taking me up to The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare, in which Qwill, Koko and Yum Yum have moved to Pickax, and in which, as I mentioned above, Hamlet plays an important role.
Koko helps to solve the mystery at the heart of the book, becoming fascinated by leather-bound copies of Shakespeare's plays and particularly Hamlet, which he knocks off its shelf until Qwill makes the connection that the plot of Hamlet is similar to the very plot he's trying to solve!
Although Lilian Jackson Braun died in 2011, the whole of the Cat Who series is still available, both in paperback and in Kindle format. Buying the whole series of 28 books in one hit could prove a little costly, but second-hand copies are available and can sometimes be found inexpensively through Amazon's 'Used Books' feature, which is how I bought mine.
As a snippet of trivia for you, I was curious to know whether Pickax, Moose County, 'four hundred miles north of everywhere', was based on anywhere in particular so I did some research and discovered that Lilian and her husband lived for many years in a place called Bad Axe, located near the top of the 'thumb' of Michigan.
Although never explicitly stated, it seems that her experiences there translated themselves into Pickax.
Lilian always described Koko and Yum Yum and their antics perfectly, and this quote from The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern works beautifully with the photo below it, posted to our Facebook page this month (thank you,
Fictional cats are one thing, real-life cats are quite another! This
month brought news of rescuer extraordinaire Siri Zwemke's newly-published memoir, Rescue Meez.
Siri (who is probably just as well-known to many of you, as Lilian Jackson Braun was to her many fans) single-handedly started Siamese Rescue, which with time grew to encompass the individually-operated Rocky Mountain Siamese Rescue, Pacific Siamese Rescue, and Southern California Siamese Rescue as well as her own branch, the Siamese Cat Rescue Center of Virginia.
Together, they've rescued and rehomed over 25,000 cats - a truly wonderful achievement.
Needing a way to move rescued cats to
their new homes, Siri also founded the 'Meezer Express' - a huge network
of volunteers who give their time and energy to transport Siamese cats
over a wide area of the United States.
Rescue Meez tells you all about Siri's experiences. It's honest, funny, and at times heartbreaking as Siri details the mistakes she made, the successes she had, the things that went right and the things that went wrong over twenty years of being a self-described 'crazy cat lady'.
The book is both a delight and a tear-jerker, with tales of shelters, hoarders, cats rescued from terrible conditions (and guns), Siri's personal favorite cats and a cat so desperate for a home of his own that he forcefully trades places with another cat about to be rehomed and hitches a ride to North Carolina!
Friendly, easy-to-read and unputdownable, it's a must for all Siamese cat lovers. To date it's received 66 Five Star reviews on Amazon. Available in both paperback and Kindle format, you can find it here.
Speaking of rescued cats ... April 1st was Bandit's 'Gotcha Day'; the first one without him. It was a bittersweet day when I found myself missing him even more than I usually do.
April Fool's Day seems as good a time as any for a Siamese cat to come into your life ... and Bandit was always something of a joker, who led us a merry dance on many occasions.
(There were no birds here at the time!)
He came to us aged four or five - we were never sure of his age as he'd been found as a stray, and lived in the rescue cattery for three months before coming to us.
His original owners never came forward to claim him, in spite of advertisements in the area where he was found, and for the first few years I kept a lookout for any news of anyone missing a cat of his description.
Looking back, and especially in the light of Siri's book, he settled in remarkably well. I'd read the advice and made plans to keep him confined to one room in case he ran off and hid somewhere, and bought all sorts of treats to tempt him in case he wouldn't eat (no chance of that - nicknamed Munchkin because he didn't have a name when we first got him, he remained 'Munch' throughout his life. He loved his food!)
After a long drive home from the Rescue, in which he protested loudly every few minutes and especially when going round corners, he sauntered out of his carrier, took a quick look around as if to say 'ok, this'll do', gave himself a good wash and then settled down for a nap on the couch with me. I'm not sure which one of us needed it most!
He taught me so much - and there are many things I'd do differently now - but I'll come back to that another time.
His passing left an enormous hole in our lives, as departed Meezers do everywhere; their vibrant energy and mischievous personalities are so vast that they manage to worm themselves into every aspect of our lives, leaving no corner untouched.
People have asked me when, or whether, I'll get another cat and the honest answer is, for many reasons, 'I'm not sure yet'. I know there are many of you, because you've told me, who are equally missing your own much-loved cats and asking yourself the same question.
It takes time to come to the right decision and my heart goes out to each of you. You'll know when the time is right.
We haven't had a 'Fun from Facebook' feature for a while, but I loved this photo of Annalise Peet's rescued pair, Hetty and Simon, which is very much in keeping with our 'rescue' and 'cats who solve puzzles' themes this month.
Annalise first got in touch to ask about feeding portion sizes, as Hetty, especially, was a little on the large side. Both cats are now doing very well, and it certainly looks as if they're settled in their new home.
So now I have a question for you! Have you ever traveled long-distance with your cats either by car or plane, cross-country or overseas?
Following a request from one of our readers I'm putting together some information and would love to hear your experiences. Please contact me through the message form if you have any thoughts or tips to share. I'll put a thread up on the Facebook page as well in the next few days, if you'd prefer to interact there.
As April fades into May, with the weather warming up for some of us and getting colder for others, I hope that May brings you everything you could wish for!
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