I don’t mean to badger you….but….

I have only ever seen a live badger in the wild once – and that was just a fleeting glance…. Actually, the badger (Meles meles) is one of the UK’s most widespread wild animals and just as common as the fox – just far more elusive….

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Badger 25-07-09 Chris_Parfitt via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chr1sp/3759751616/

When I did  finally get to see a badger close-up for the first time, I was amazed at the power and strength of the creature…. It was during a visit to the British Wildlife Centre, near Lingfield, Surrey, when I was delighted that we had the opportunity to witness one of the resident badgers being fed…. Boy, was that chappie eager for his food….a bit like someone else we know….

Lewes, our ‘a little bit dim’, food obsessed cat has recently started to refuse to come in at night. Up until this point, this hasn’t worried me too much, as he doesn’t go far (unlike his sister) – he prefers to dither around in the garden…. The other night, during the wee hours, the whole household was awoken by the most almighty din outside….a blood curdling screaming…. Assuming Lewes had got himself into a spot of bother with another cat, John shot outside – only to be confronted with Lewes, involved in a punch-up with a young badger…. The noise was horrendous…. Thankfully, at John’s appearance, the fight instantly broke up and the badger scurried off; neither animal appeared to have sustained any damage – Lewes can thank his lucky stars it was a young badger; only a cat with suicidal tendencies will contemplate taking on an adult badger…. Generally, badgers are peaceful animals, they do not go about picking fights with cats; I can only assume the pair came across each other accidentally…. The noise the badger was emitting tells this tale…. When threatened, a badger will give out deep growls, it will bark when surprised – but if it is truly frightened, it will scream in a piercing manner…. I don’t blame this little fella for being terrified – Lewes can be a very scary cat sometimes….(although it’s a good job it wasn’t Lola)….

It’s not the first time a badger has made itself known here…. A few months ago John arrived home particularly late from work to find a badger sniffing around the back door….

Badgers are one of our most beloved animals; children’s tales often involve them – Wind in the Willows or Beatrix Potter for example….even Rupert the Bear…. Badgers are native to all Europe and parts of West Asia – it is our largest land predator here in the UK. Part of the Mustelidae family, which includes otters, weasels and stoats, the badger has a status of ‘least concern’ in the conservation stakes; there are some 250,000 adults in this country….

That said, they are protected by law…. The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 states it is an offence to interfere with a sett or take possession of a live badger (other than to assist an injured or sick animal)…. Conviction for badger baiting can carry a 6 month jail sentence, a fine of up to £5,000 and a ban from keeping dogs…. Once a popular blood sport, badger baiting is a completely barbaric act; badgers are caught alive, put into boxes and dogs set upon them – totally senseless….just like all blood sports….not wishing to be controversial – but everyone’s entitled to an opinion…. Even back as far as the early 1800s badger baiting was recognised as being cruel – The Cruelty to Animals Act 1835….

On looking into the private life of a badger, it is surprising at how social this animal is – they value family, just as we do…. Badgers are nocturnal, explaining why we see so little of them. They live in underground burrows, called setts, which they inherit from their parents; each generation adds to and expands it…. Some well established setts can be centuries old….

Badgers live together in groups; the males are called ‘boars’ and the females ‘sows’…. On average there are roughly 6 adults in a family, although as many as 23 have been recorded. Usually a pair will mate for life; sexual maturity in boars is usually between 12-15 months but it can be up to 2 years – sows normally begin to ovulate in their second year. Mating can happen at any time of the year but the peak is February to May….the babies are born in the following spring, with a litter size of up to 5….

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European badger Marie Hale via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/15016964@N02/5918510994/

When the cubs arrive they are pink with silvery coloured fur but darker hairs begin to appear within a few days. They weigh between 2.5-4.5oz and their eyes remain closed until they are around 4-5 weeks old. It is also about this time they get their milk teeth, they will have their adult teeth by 4 months and begin to wean at 12 weeks, although they may still suckle until they are 5 months old. They emerge from the burrow after 8 weeks – less than 50% survive through to adulthood…. Only mature sows breed, immature females will help with child-rearing responsibilities….cubs tend to remain with the family group after reaching adulthood….

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Don’t be fooled Marie the Bee via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/the_sampler/3552959366/

There is definitely a hierarchy amongst the families sharing a sett; larger boars will show dominance over smaller ones…. Generally, badgers show an enormous tolerance of others, both within the immediate group and outside it…. It is mainly the males that show territorial aggression; during the mating season, males may try their luck in a neighbouring territory…. The size of a territory can range from 30 hectares – (where there is plenty of food available) – to 150 hectares in sparser conditions. When fighting, badgers will attempt to bite the neck and rear end of their opponent whilst chasing them…. Sometimes, wounds can prove to be fatal….

A larger territory may have several setts – the burrows are divided into areas for sleeping, nesting etc.

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BADGERS janetmck via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/janetmck/2847103646/

They even have special latrine areas where the badgers do their ‘business’…. Badgers are extremely clean animals and are very fussy about hygiene…. Soiled bedding is regularly removed and replaced with fresh grass, bracken and leaves…. If a badger dies within the sett, sometimes the chamber is sealed-off, like a tomb; other times, the rest of the family will drag the body out and bury it…. Occasionally, the burrow is shared with other animals, such as foxes and rabbits; although rabbits will choose areas that are furthest away and least accessible from the main living quarters, as young rabbits are in fact prey to badgers….

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Badger Peter G Trimming via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/peter-trimming/7928637394/

Being omnivores, badgers have a varied diet; mainly it consists or earthworms, large insects, slugs and snails, roots, cereals and fruits, such as blackberries. They will hunt small mammals; mice, shrews, moles, baby rabbits, squirrels, hedgehogs. They are able to destroy a wasps nest and eat the contents; their thick skins and hair protecting them from the stings…. Very occasionally, although usually only because food is scarce, they will take domestic chickens – but this is rare….

There have been accounts of badgers being tamed…. They can be affectionate and it is possible to train them to come when called; apparently they can make a loving and loyal pet. However, they don’t generally tolerate living with cats and dogs and will chase them : (did you hear that, Lewes? Guess we wont be inviting your new ‘friend’ to move in here, then)….

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‘Honey’ and Laura Peter G Trimming via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/peter-trimming/5801261291/
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Badger bathtime hehaden via Foter.com / CC BY-NC Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hellie55/28004586220/

In the Middle Ages badger meat was held in high esteem – but back then people ate just about anything…. Nowadays, badger hair is used to make shaving brushes; occasionally, wild hair is used but mostly it comes from animals farmed in China especially for the purpose. The Scottish sporran is also traditionally made from badger fur….

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Badger Charlievdb via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/charlot17/6031750887/

Badgers can live up to 14 or 15 years in the wild, although 3 years is the average lifespan. They have no natural predators here in the UK; the main danger posed to them is us, mankind…. 50,000 badgers a year are killed on our roads….

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Badgers! STML via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/stml/3960249080/

Then there is the controversial subject of badger culling….

TB was first observed in badgers living in Switzerland in 1951. It was discovered in British badgers in 1971 when linked to an outbreak of bovine TB in cows…. It is debatable as to whether culling will eliminate TB in cattle; many feel there is not enough scientific evidence available to warrant a cull. Vaccination against bovine TB is thought to be the way forward….

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Badger Cull Protest-2 davidjmclare89 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidjmclarepics/8986457762/

I, for one, am chuffed to know we have badgers living close by – I just hope ‘Badger Basher Lewes’ hasn’t scared them off for good…. He is now officially on a curfew in the evenings, he is locked in long before it gets dark….

I am surprised badgers come into the garden, as there is no obvious through route – badgers are known to follow well used paths…. I can only imagine the food I feed to the swans is the attraction….

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badger badger badger FatMandy via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fatmandy/4662207017/

Being nocturnal, it is virtually unheard of to see badgers during day-light hours  – but next time you are out and about in your local vicinity….look out for tell-tale signs : 5 toed foot prints, claw marks on trees, remains of discarded bedding, piles of fresh earth, dung pits, wiry hair caught on fences…. You never know, there might be a badger family sound asleep, right beneath your feet…..

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Badger sett muffinn via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mwf2005/7188833725/


Able Seacat Simon….

It was during a family day out to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, that we acquired a new cat…. Not a real one, I hasten to add – but a replica of Able Seaman Simon…. We thought he would be an amusing addition to No.3, as being so realistic he would be bound to catch a few unsuspecting visitors out – and he has, he’s given us a few laughs….

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Whilst researching for my last blog post – “A black cat called ‘Lucky’….”-I kept stumbling across references to the real Simon and intrigued, I realised I had to know more….

Ships have had cats since ancient times…. The Ancient Egyptians carried them on their Nile boats. The Vikings are known to have had them as far back as the 8th Century…. It was Phoenician* cargo ships that first brought cats to Europe, approximately 900BC…        

*An ancient civilisation on the Eastern Mediterranean coastal region : now known to us as Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Gaza and Syria.

Ship’s cats are thought to have spread cats across the World…. Moggies on ‘shore leave’ had ‘romances’, genes spread, as kittens grew and had families of their own, so the kitties we know today came to be….

Cats were an important part of the crew of ships in days gone by; trading, exploration and naval ships all employed their services to control rodents….

Photo credit: The HMAS AUSTRALIA [11] STORY, ca 1950, and other animal stories – Argus Collection, SLV, Courtesy Geoff Eastwood Kookaburra2011 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/41311545@N05/14114943580/
It wasn’t just the cargo that needed protecting from vermin. Rats and mice are notorious gnawers; ropes and wood were chewed and in time and with progression they happily munched their way into electrical wiring too…. Then the ship’s supplies had to be taken care of, a crew of hungry men away at sea for months, maybe years at a time, needed sustenance…. Plus rats and mice carry disease. What better way to deal with this, than with a mouser? Cats also gave comfort to these men….away from home for long periods of time, they provided a link to the life left behind….and then there was superstition….

The ship’s cat was also thought of as a mascot, it brought luck. It was believed the resident moggy could protect against the elements of the weather. There was also a belief storms could start from the magic stored within their tails…. If a cat fell or was thrown overboard a terrible storm would ensue…. If the ship managed to survive this, then it would have to endure nine years of bad luck…. The cat’s behaviour also gave signs to the sailors. If when grooming, it licked its fur against the grain – a hail storm was coming. If it sneezed, rain was on its way, if it started to act in a frisky manner, the wind was going to get up…. There is some truth in all this…. A cat’s inner ear is very sensitive, (this is what allows it to land in an upright position when falling) – this sensitive inner ear is able to detect changes in the weather…. low atmospheric pressure can often make our own domestic cats nervous and restless….

Black cats were the preferred choice, as they were thought to be extra lucky. Polydactyl cats were also very popular. Polydactylism is a congenital physical anomaly, which results in there being more toes than usual on one or more paws. Normally a cat has a total of 18 toes, 4 on each hind paw and 5 on the front ones. Polydactyls can have as many as 8! They were favoured by sailors because of their extraordinary climbing and hunting abilities….

Many ships still have cats onboard today, although the Royal Navy banned all animals in 1975 for hygiene reasons. There have been many notable feline voyagers, such as Jenny, the Titanic’s cat. She survived the sinking of the Titanic on that disastrous maiden voyage and was transferred to Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic, where she lived in the ship’s galley, along with her kittens…. Tiddles served on a number of Royal Naval aircraft carriers; born on HMS Argus and then spending time on vessels such as HMS Victorious, Tiddles clocked up over 30,000 miles on his travels…. Or, what about Blackie? The little cat Churchill found so endearing. Blackie resided on HMS Prince of Wales during World War 2. The ship carried Churchill to meet Franklin D Roosevelt to agree the Atlantic Charter. On leaving the ship, Churchill stopped to say ‘good-bye’ to Blackie. Caught on camera, the resulting photograph went the equivalent of today’s ‘viral’…. Blackie was renamed Churchill and went on to survive the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales…. Then, there was Emmy – of RMS Empress of Ireland. Emmy was an orange tabby who never missed a voyage, until May 28th 1914, when she darted off and refused to be coaxed back. Reluctantly, the ship had to leave without her; not having their lucky mascot was a bad omen for the crew. The following morning, in thick fog, RMS Empress collided with SS Storstad at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. Over 1,000 lives were lost…. Did Emmy have a premonition? But of course, the ship’s cat I’m here to talk about is Able Seacat Simon….

Able Seacat Simon of HMS Amethyst taken 1948/9 Author unknown, likely Crown copyright. Fair use only, no permission received image URL; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Able_Seacat_Simon_(fair_use).jpg

Simon’s story, as a sea cat, starts in March 1948, when he was found wandering the dockyards of Hong Kong, by 17 year old Ordinary Seaman George Hickinbottom. The cat was then about a year old and in a bad way, he was starving and unwell. George, obviously being a bit of a softy, smuggled the puss back onboard the ship he was serving on, HMS Amethyst – a Royal Naval modified Black Swan-class sloop, modified after World War 2 and re-designated a frigate….

Simon quickly became a favourite amongst the officers and crew alike. He earned his keep by catching the rats which were a problem on the lower decks of the ship. He was a cheeky little chap, who liked to leave presents in the beds of his fellow crew mates, in the form of dead rodents….and one of his most favoured sleeping places was in the Captain’s cap….

“By Lt. Commander K. Stewart Hett, M.B.E., R.N. Ret [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons=” “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACrewmen_of_HMS_Amethyst_F-116.jpg”
The ship changed command. The new Captain, Lieutenant Commander Bernard Skinner, instantly fell in love with Simon. Skinner’s first mission, in command of HMS Amethyst, was to replace HMS Consort as guard ship to the British Embassy in China…. Sadly, it was to be his first and last….

April 20th 1949 – HMS Amethyst was steaming up the Yangtse  River, between Shanghai and Nanking (Nanjing), when it was fired upon by the People’s Liberation Army, the armed forces division of the Communist Party of China; what was to unfold was the Amethyst Incident or better known as the Yangtse Incident…. The ship was about to become trapped on the Yangtse River for three months, during the Chinese Civil War….

It was 8.30am and a burst of small arms fire from the PLA suddenly erupted from a field gun battery situated on the North side of the river. It fell well short of Amethyst and the crew assumed its intended target had been the south bank; so, unfurling their large Union flags and increasing speed, they carried on their way….

An hour later, further up river at Kiangyin (Jiangyin) they came under fire again, this time it was more than obvious that it was intended for them. The first shell passed overhead but then in quick succession the wheel house, bridge and power room were all hit. Commander Skinner was in his cabin at the time, along with Simon…. A shell tore through, severely wounding Skinner, who died of his injuries soon after…. Simon was also badly hurt and fled into the depths of the ship….

All personnel on the bridge had been injured; out of control, Amethyst turned violently to the left and grounded on a bank. Unable to defend herself, as the firing circuits to her guns had been disabled when the power room was hit, the ship was helpless….

First Lieutenant Geoffrey L. Weston assumed command, even though he himself had been injured too. Still the PLA  shells continued, exploding in the sick bay, port engine room and finally the generator. The last transmission made from Weston stated : ‘Under heavy fire. Am aground in approx. position 31.10′ North 119.50′ East. Large number of casualties’. These co-ordinates were actually incorrect, the ship was 32.20′ North, not as stated; it is unknown how this error was made, it could have been Weston himself, the signal operator or recorded wrongly in the log books….but it just shows how chaotic the situation must have been at the time….

The order was given to fire the ship’s guns in local control but as Amethyst was positioned in such a way and totally disabled, the guns could not be turned on the PLA batteries. Only the stern turret was operational but was soon hit. Still the PLA kept on firing….causing more and more casualties on Amethyst….

At some time between 10 and 10.30am, Weston ordered anyone who could be spared to leave the ship and get ashore. A small boat was launched and some crew members swam, immediately the PLA’s attention was turned on them….evacuation had to be aborted. In total 59 crew and 4 Chinese mess boys successfully made it to shore. (The following day, with help from Chinese Nationalists and a sampan, the wounded from Amethyst were got to shore and then taken to hospital. That left 60 unwounded men and Simon onboard). At 11am the shelling stopped but movement was restricted for fear of attracting PLA sniper fire…. 22 men had been killed and 31 injured….

At 3pm HMS Consort arrived, having been summonsed to Amethyst’s aid – Consort was flying 3 Union flags and 7 white ensigns; she was immediately fired upon and had to pass the stricken Amethyst at speed. Two miles down river, she turned and headed back to try again, once more heavy fire meant she had to abandon the attempt (but not without using her full armament on the PLA). Consort herself had now sustained serious damage, 10 men had been killed and 23 injured….

HMS Amethyst was refloated at just after midnight on the 21st of April. A message came through to say HM Ships London and Black Swan were on their way to escort the damaged Amethyst – and to be ready…. When they arrived, they too were heavily shelled and had no choice but to retreat : 3 were killed and 14 wounded….

On April 22nd, The Assistant British Naval Attaché, Lieutenant Commander John Kerans, came aboard and took command. Over the next few days, Amethyst attempted to move several times but was unable to make much progress as each time she came under fire. Eventually, she was forced to anchor off of Fu Te Wei….

Five days after his retreat to the depths of the ship, hunger forced a badly injured Simon up on to the deck. Immediately he was taken to the medical bay. His face was severely burnt, he had lost all of his whiskers and he had to have 4 pieces of shrapnel removed. His heart had been seriously weakened, he was not expected to survive the night….

Against all the odds, Simon did make it through to the following morning and slowly he made a recovery. He spent his time in the sick bay snuggling up with and comforting the injured seamen….

On April 30th, the PLA demanded that Britain, France and the US immediately withdraw all their troops from China. They also wanted an admission that it was HMS Amethyst that had fired first and that she was unlawfully in Chinese waters. The PLA did not recognise any treaties made by the previous Chinese Government and Britain. Kerans refused to accept the demands and Amethyst stayed under PLA siege for 10 weeks; vital supplies were prevented from being taken onboard, the Communists determined to make conditions as difficult as possible…. It wasn’t until 1988 that the PLA Commander, Ye Fei, finally admitted the Communists had fired first….

During these weeks of imprisonment, Simon made himself useful. Over the weeks, anchored in the river, Amethyst had become over-run with rats; the little black and white cat made it his mission to get rid of them, including the notorious, hard to catch, king-rat, ‘Mao Tse-tung’ – so named by the crew…. The affectionate little soul raised the morale of the marooned sailors and managed to bring a little cheer….

On July 30th 1949, under cover of darkness, HMS Amethyst slipped her chain and heading down river, made a mad dash for freedom. She followed closely in the wake of a passenger ship, Kiang Ling Liberation, in the hope of confusing the PLA. It worked….the Communists turned their fire on the passenger ship, as a result, sinking it with heavy civilian casualties…. Amethyst was able to make her escape….

At 5am on July 31st, HMS Amethyst approached the PLA forts at Par Shan (Baoshan) and Woosung (Wusong) for a pre-planned rendezvous with the destroyer HMS Concord, who had been ordered to be ready with full gun support. Luckily, Amethyst went undetected by the PLA batteries and the famous signal was sent : ‘Have rejoined the fleet south of Woosung. No damage. No casualties. God save the King’. The two ships managed to make it down river, clear the river mouth and eventually at midday they arrived at the Saddle Islands. After a brief stop, HMS Concord lent HMS Amethyst sailors  to form a functional crew and both ships sailed to Hong Kong. If the mad dash for freedom had not of worked, then the intention of the Captain was to blow the ship up….

A film was made of the Yangtse Incident, with Amethyst being brought out of storage to play herself…. Her engines were no longer operational and her sister ship ‘Magpie’ was used for any movement scenes…. Amethyst was scrapped soon after the film was made….

Photo credit: The Diary March 1958 Crowcombe AL via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/deerleap/3354312918/

Simon became famous, the World’s press taking his story to heart. He was awarded the Dickin Medal, (the animal equivalent to the Victoria Cross), initially instituted in 1943 to honour the working animals in World War 2. He was also awarded a Blue Cross Medal, the Amethyst Campaign Medal and given the rank of ‘Able Seaman’. Lt. Stewart Hett was appointed ‘Cat Officer’ to deal with the thousands of letters sent to Simon by well-wishers and on Amethyst’s return to Plymouth there was a huge welcome for him….

The Nation loved him – but like all animals entering the UK, Simon had to go into quarantine. He was sent to an animal centre in Surrey; he hated it and was thoroughly miserable. Whilst in quarantine, Simon contracted a virus…. Although everything possible was done for him, due to complications from his war injuries, Simon passed away on November 28th 1949; four days before actually receiving his Dickin Medal, which had to be awarded posthumously….

Simon was buried at the PDSA Ilford Animal Cemetery in East London. Hundreds of people, including the crew of Amethyst attended his funeral…. Simon was just two years old….

“By Acabashi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html%5D, via Wikimedia Commons” “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAble_Seacat_Simon.jpg”
London 002 Able Sea Cat Simon HMS Amethyst
Photo credit: London 002 Able Sea Cat Simon HMS Amethyst David Holt London via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/zongo/8245171768/



A black cat called ‘Lucky’….

On my wedding day, my mother handed me a good luck mascot in the form of a black cat – a tradition that originates to the Midlands. Mum, being from that part of the Country (well, Worcestershire to be precise – but it’s in the same region) has always held that particular custom close to her heart, after receiving one on her own wedding day…. Now, some of you may be exclaiming in horror – ‘a black cat on a wedding day – and given by the bride’s own mother!’ To many, a black cat does not symbolise good luck, quite the opposite in fact – it really depends on where in the World you come from….

The Black Cat
Photo credit: ‘The Black Cat’ @Doug88888 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/doug88888/4521073052/

Generally, in the UK, a black cat is seen as a good omen, there are many black moggies to be found answering to the name of ‘Lucky’….In Scotland, it is thought if a strange black cat arrives at the house, it will bring with it prosperity…. However, there are those who believe if a black cat crosses their path, this will bring bad luck; the same if one is walking towards them, where as a black puss walking away signals good fortune…. This possibly goes back to pirates in the 19th Century who held the same beliefs….

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Photo credit: ‘Frankie the pirate’ the1pony via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/the1pony/535438833/

The connection with black cats and the sea is deep-rooted. Sailors always wanted their ship’s cats to be black as they were thought to bring good luck. A black kitty strolling on to a ship was good – but if it turned its back and walked off again, this meant the ship was going to sink…. Fishermen’s wives kept black cats, believing in doing so, they would keep their menfolk safe whilst at sea….

Photo credit: ‘Oh Danny Boy’ hehaden via Foter.com / CC BY-NC Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hellie55/6840498861

Most of Europe views the black cat as a sign of bad luck. However, in Germany it is believed if a black kitty passes from left to right, this is a bad omen but if it passes from right to left, there are favourable times ahead. French peasants once held the belief that if such a cat was released at a cross roads, where five roads intersected, the moggy would choose the road that led to treasure…. The South of France has a superstition that black cats are Magician cats ~ ‘Matagot’ ~ a spirit in the form of an animal. Tradition says a Magician cat must be lured with plump chicken and then be carried home without its new human owner looking back. If treated with respect in its new home, by being well fed with the first mouthful at every meal, the Matagot will reward with a gold coin each morning. So, if you happen to find yourself in the South of France and a black cat decides to grace you with its company, make sure it has plenty to eat and a cosy bed to sleep in and you never know, wealth and good fortune may come your way….

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Photo credit: ‘Odd-Eyed Black Cat fourbyfourblazer via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisyarzab/2847360874/

It is considered that if a black cat is in the audience on the opening night of a play, then the play will have a long and successful run…. In Japan it is said that if a lady owns a black cat she will find herself with many suitors – and if one crosses your path in Japan, this heralds good luck. Black cats are thought to be lucky throughout much of Asia….

In the USA, things are very different, black cats are deemed as being very unlucky. So much so, that American animal shelters sometimes have a difficult time finding new homes for such moggies. The myth still remains that they are evil. Some shelters even halt the adoption of them around Hallowe’en time in the fear they will be used as seasonal ‘props’ and then be left abandoned once again…. August 17th has become ‘Black Cat Appreciation Day’ in the States to attempt to raise the profile of and get rid of the bad image these poor, unfortunate mousers have undeservedly acquired….

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Photo courtesy: George W Bush Presidential Library ‘India peeks around a plant at the White House’ July 10, 2001 http://www.presidentialpetmuseum.com/pets/india,

So, where does this belief that black cats are unlucky and evil stem from? With their association to Hallowe’en and the witch, with her stereotypical familiar, it does appear we have to look back to times when the World was gripped in the fear of witchcraft….

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Photo credit: ‘Hallowe’en’ New York Public Library via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nypl/4056410832/

The Ancient Egyptians worshipped cats, literally. Bast (or Bastet) was the cat goddess. She represented protection, family, music, dance and joy. Originally she was portrayed as a lioness, fiercely protective and warlike; but over time, her image softened and she became seen more like a domestic cat, graceful, affectionate, playful, cunning…. Egyptian households believed by keeping a black cat they would gain favour with Bast….

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Photo credit: ‘bust of goddess Bast’ JimmyMac210 – just returned home from hospital via Foter.com / CC BY-NC Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/silveraquarius/12631394604/

In Norse Mythology, felines had their place ‘up there’ with the gods too….Freya was the goddess associated with beauty, love, sex and fertility. She wore a cloak of falcon feathers, kept a boar named Hildisvini at her side and she rode a chariot pulled by two magical black cats. Farmers would leave bowls of milk for these cats, to bring good fortune for the coming harvest. Freya was also the goddess of war, she represented death and the afterlife….and she practiced witchcraft….

During the Middle Ages, cats, especially black ones, fell out of favour. It is often thought all cats were hated during this time but that is untrue. They were still highly useful to have around as they caught mice and other vermin. The Church was especially fond of them, nuns and priests kept them as pets, presumably to catch rodents. In the 15th Century, Exeter Cathedral even had a cat on its payroll! Its salary was a penny a week. Still today a small cat door can be seen in the south tower of the cathedral…. A hermit was allowed 3 acres of land and a cow but the only companion seen as fitting for an anchoress, was a cat….

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Photo credit: ‘Evil Eye’ Chucknado via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chucknado/4991524418/

So, to say all cats were viewed as evil in the Middle Ages is incorrect; it is a myth. It could hardly be true when those giving up their lives for solitude and prayer allowed a feline presence. However, as much as members of the Church appeared to love their kitties, it could be said it was also the Church that was responsible for the bad reputation the cat, particularly the black cat, was to gain….

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Photo credit: ‘Stray Mog’ paulmcdee via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulmcdee/2744779182/

Muslims in Mediaeval times were very fond of cats (and of course, many still are). There are accounts that say Prophet Muhammed  especially liked cats, he treated them well; perhaps it was their cleanliness he found appealing. Middle Eastern street cats were often looked after by charities…. One European pilgrim, on returning home from his travels in the Middle East, remarked that the difference between Christians and Muslims was that ‘Christians like dogs and Muslims like cats’….

Christians in the Middle Ages thought all animals were made by God to serve and be ruled by humans. Dogs showed obedience and complied. Cats, on the other hand, even when domesticated, kept their independence and wilful ways…. Edward, Duke of York, said the cat had the spirit of the Devil in it….

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Photo credit: ‘Buzzy the cat’ Mark McLaughlin via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/clocky/4198381496/

Writers began to portray cats in a bad light; they compared the way they caught their prey and tormented it to the way the Devil catches souls. William Caxton wrote: ‘the devil playeth ofte with the synnar, lyke as the catte doth with the mous’….

It became widely believed that the Devil could manifest as a black cat. Christianity saw things very much in black and white. White representing goodness and purity; black, evil, danger and corruption. Black cats became associated with witches and heretics. Heretical religious groups, such as the Cathars and Waldensians were accused by the Catholic Church of worshipping cats….

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Photo credit: ‘Purring in the Dark’ Tria-Media_Sven via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tria-media/24356576463/

1022 saw the first burning at the stake of the Cathars in France, when heretical Canons of Orleans perished upon the orders of the King. At the time there was no law to say heretics were to be executed in this way – was it that Robert the Pious was influenced by the Germanic custom of burning witches at the stake? Whatever his reasons, this became the form of execution for the so-called ‘heresy crimes’ of the Cathars….

Emperor Frederick II sanctioned the practice in anti-heresy laws in 1224 and 1232 but only when the Church authorities demanded the extreme sentence. It was believed that heresy was contagious, rather like leprosy or the Plague – many thought the only way to be rid of the disease was through ‘cleansing’ with fire. It was also the Christian belief that reducing to ashes would condemn to eternal damnation, depriving bodily resurrection on Judgement Day….

Witches burned at the stake
Photo credit: ‘Witches burned at the stake’ ancientartpodcast.org via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ancientartpodcast/12760822893/

Burning witches at the stake was a method of execution used across Europe and the UK (no witches were burnt in the English colonies of North America). It was commonly believed both in Europe, the UK and Salem, USA, that witches shape-shifted into the form of black cats in order to roam the streets unobserved…. The streets were dangerous places at night, no lighting meant darkness provided cover for all kinds of villains and evils….Cats, being nocturnal and their ability to see in the dark, made them the obvious choice for a witch’s familiar….

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Photo credit: Image from page 105 of ‘Our domestic animals, their habits, intelligence and usefulness;’ (1907) Internet Archive Book Images / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14763591474/

A Lincolnshire folktale from the 1560s, tells that a father and son were travelling on a moonless night; suddenly, a black cat ran across their path. Fearing bad luck, they started to hurl rocks at it. Terrified and injured, the cat fled to the house of an old woman who had recently been accused of witchcraft. The next day the father and son saw the old woman, she was bruised and limping…. Well, you can imagine the conclusions they drew….

Old women in Mediaeval times often cared for street cats. As the witchcraft hysteria took hold, it was so often that these were the women accused. In Europe there was a large scale massacre of black cats, many of them burnt…. Pope Innocent VIII, in 1484, declared the cat was the Devil’s favourite animal and the idol of all witches….

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Photo credit: ‘This is the season of the witch’ sammydavisdog via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/25559122@N06/5030536735/

Whether these deep seated superstitions have any truth in them, I really don’t know…. Charles I obviously believed in the powers of the cat; when his beloved puss died, he claimed his luck would run out. It certainly did, the next day he was charged with high treason….

Throughout history, the black cat has had an extremely raw deal, considering their only crimes are being nocturnal and they take pleasure from torturing their prey….the same as any other cat does…. Once a year or so, I get to make a fuss of a ‘Matagot’ in the South of France. He is gentle, loving, playful and affectionate, he’s right up there with the best of feline kind; just like the other two black cats I have had the privilege of sharing my life with in the past – and yes! One of them was called Lucky….



Sharing life with a cute, furry Serial Killer….

Oh Heavens!! Spring approaches…. Don’t get me wrong, I love this time of year, all the new life and the promise of Summer to come…. For me, there’s just one drawback, Lola has woken up! Being a fair weather cat, she has been content to stay indoors and sleep most of Winter….

My problem is one many a cat owner will sympathise with…. Spring is prime hunting season….need I say more…. With 7.4 million cats in the UK, it’s estimated between them they catch some 275 million items of prey each year, approximately 20% of which are birds. I’m thankful that Lola is not particularly fond of birds (Lewes is the one I have to watch for that) – but she will try her luck if the opportunity arises. Lola’s preference is for rodents, especially rats….

It is impossible to tell whether a kitten is going to grow to become a prolific hunter; some cats don’t hunt at all, while others are like Lola…. However, just about all cats have an overwhelming desire to hunt, they are born with the instinct.

Through play, they learn the techniques; they develop co-ordination and master how to judge speed and distance…. Eye, stalk, pounce, grab….

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Photo credit: ‘Mousing’ broterham via Foter.com / CC BY-NC Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/broterham/5497129942/

The mother cat will teach her kittens; firstly by bringing prey back and eating it in front of them. She will then bring back dead prey for them to eat. Next, she will bring live prey for them to play with….and learn. Finally, the mother will take her brood out hunting with her….

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Photo credit: ‘Feral cat mom and 3 kittens’ Chriss Pagani via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nwartist/3947695767/

Female cats, (especially those that have been neutered), are far more likely to bring prey home…. A cat without kittens may find it necessary to attempt to feed her human…. So, that rodent dropped at your feet really is a gift for you…. Of course, our reaction to such a present is “Arghhhh!!” – but really we should show appreciation and gratefulness, as this is a real compliment. In the wild, there is a pecking order to who gets first bite of the kill; it is usually the alpha-male, as head of the family. So, by a cat gifting to you its hard-earned quarry, take it as being acknowledged as ‘alpha-human-cat’….

If Lola comes in with a dead something or other, it is not normally a gift for me, (as far as Lola is concerned, alpha-cat is Lola). Sometimes, she will donate her kill to Lewes, I think out of pity, as he is rather hopeless and lazy in the hunting department – thank goodness! Invariably, she will devour it herself, leaving a pile of guts behind – for me to clear up; (actually, now I come to think of it, in Lola’s eyes, I may well be at the bottom of the pecking order)…. Cats tend to eat the heads and more muscular parts of their kills, rejecting the innards….

When I do get gifts, they are usually still very much alive. I am still, apparently, viewed at being at the ‘kitten’ stage; Lola is obviously concerned that I am not capable of looking after myself, I need educating…. I need to learn how to hunt….possibly she has realised her human eats no meat…. Vegetarianism is not a lifestyle choice a cat can comprehend….


In this household, we have what we jokingly refer to as the ‘Mediaeval cat flap’…. John’s DIY skills, (bless him), usually involve large slabs of oak…. We needed to come up with a Lewes proof cat flap, as he rips the doors off of conventional ones, in order to let himself out…. We would probably get a slap on the wrist if Heritage knew we had cut a hole in a Victorian, or possibly earlier, door (whoops! They may know now….) – but I am sure future generations of felines will still be enjoying its benefits for years to come…. Had they of had cat flaps in the Middle Ages, I am certain they would have been very similar to this one….and I must say, it works rather well! The door can be slammed shut in a hurry and the bolt slid across….a necessity with the likes of Lola around….


Only this morning I heard the familiar ‘yowling’ that alerts Madam is home with the spoils of her morning’s hunt…. This is my signal to sprint and bolt the cat flap. Lola was not in the best of humour this morning, so my refusing to allow her and what ever rodent was hanging from her jaws entry, did not go down well. After spending a few minutes trying to ram-raid her way in, she eventually gave up and walked off in disgust. A gift of dead vole was left on the doorstep for me. Now, I could look at this ‘gift’ in one of two ways: either she was saying ‘don’t worry, I understand. I’ll leave your present outside, to show there’s no hard feelings’. More likely though, it was left out of protest, as she knows I hate dead things; like I said, she was not in good humour, as she’d had a worming treatment earlier this morning. Of course, a necessary evil, especially for cats who are keen hunters. I have given up trying to hide powders in their food and attempting to get either of them to swallow a tablet is not a good idea, if I want my hand to stay intact; so, I opt for the spot-on method…. Equally unpopular, it takes two of us to hold down and administer it – but is the least stressful option for all of us….

I have read the various information available on how to discourage cats from hunting, or at least make them less successful…. A collar with a bell is frequently recommended…. Personally, I shy away from cat collars, having experienced a couple of mishaps with previous cats. Luckily, no real harm was done on either occasion but it could have been very different…. Aware of collars getting caught up on branches and shrubs etc. I always chose the soft ones with the safety elasticated piece sewn into them – one of our cats, Bruno, managed to get his lower jaw stuck through his collar whilst grooming…. Bruno was a rescue cat, who had been feral; he was always sweet-natured with us but when this incident happened, he momentarily became quite wild again….removing the collar from his mouth was no easy feat…. The second time happened with Gemma, who somehow got her front leg trapped in her collar, again one very panicked cat…. In both cases the collar had to be cut off, (I am just so thankful somebody was around each time it happened) – and now I vow no cat of mine will wear a collar….

One thing I do try to adhere to though, is keeping both Lewes and Lola in at night. Cats are more successful at hunting at night, particularly in the early hours….

The other piece of advice often given, is one that makes me smile…. Apparently, a well fed cat is less likely to hunt. Firstly, these two couldn’t be better fed, food is always available to them; secondly, Lola seems to treat her kills as ‘appetisers’. The moment she has finished devouring her ‘first course’, she will rush to her food bowl and empty it. So much for that theory….

Cats typically eat small, multiple meals over the course of the day…. I always make sure there is a plentiful supply of dried food available. Pouches are demanded at various times during the day, especially by Lewes, who cannot bear the sight of a half empty bowl – he also has the infuriating habit of sucking the jelly off and spitting out the lumps…. This cat has an obsession with food; he is not really a hunter, although he will go after birds if given half a chance but luckily without much success. Lewes has two main functions in life, eating and sleeping. Any opportunity to eat and he’s there, if it’s in a bowl and looks remotely like cat food, he’ll have it. This includes rabbit feed; which does, I suppose, look a little like cat biscuits – although I can’t imagine it tastes anything like them. Doesn’t seem to bother him though, I’ve lost count of how many bowls of alfalfa hay nuggets he’s scoffed his way through…. Another favourite trick is to sit by the recycling bin in the kitchen – just in case a piece of packaging is dropped in that’s worth a lick – ham wrappers preferably….

I sometimes question whether we have really domesticated the cat or have they actually trained us to suit their needs…. Cats became our companions about the same time man started growing his own food. With the beginning of agriculture came the need to store crops and grain, which of course brought the problem of vermin, in the form of rats and mice….which in its turn, attracted wild cats…. Speculation suggests domestication of the cat started some 12,000 years ago in the Middle East. It is thought the cat we know today descends from a Middle Eastern wild cat named Felis Sylvestris – translating literally as ‘cat of the woods’….

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Photo credit: ‘Chat Sauvage Felis Sylvestri’ Luciano 95 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/giuss95/1391855473/

It didn’t take long for those first farmers to realise the benefits of having wild cats around. In return for their mice catching skills, the felines had access to warm shelter and a plentiful supply of food, maybe with the occasional prepared meal thrown in….

Trying to pin point exactly when cats became domesticated has proven very difficult to do accurately. There is very little difference between the skeleton of a wild cat and that of the cat we know; so, archeological finds have been hard to distinguish. However, a dig on the island of Cyprus unearthed a grave dating back 10,000 years; the person within had been buried with a cat….

It seems ironic that we try to seek ways of discouraging our domestic cats from their natural instinct of hunting, when it was for this very reason we encouraged them to share our lives in the first place….

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Photo credit: ‘Wild Cat’ Cloudtail the Snow Leopard via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/blacktigersdream/16684641742/

I just take comfort from the fact that apparently, as they get older the desire to hunt lessens…. Although, knowing my luck, Lola will be a geriatric serial killer….




Know your place….human!

Not my normal sort of post, I know – but it’s not been a normal sort of week….

The half term holiday, a welcome break from routine…. Time to recharge the batteries, to be able to fall into bed at night without setting the alarm, a chance to have a little lie in each morning – bliss! Well, that was the plan anyway….

So, last Saturday morning, being the first day of the holidays, I did just that…. By the time I eventually padded downstairs, taking care not to awaken the rest of the still slumbering household, it was quite a bit later than the usual 5.45 am and already daylight outside…. I wandered into the kitchen with coffee on my mind…..only to be greeted by the sight of two extremely grumpy cats staked out by their food bowls. The fact that the bowls were still half full of the late supper they had wheedled out of me the previous evening didn’t seem to make any difference; they were holding out for the gourmet stuff they have every morning. Breakfast is a big deal for these two moggies, having ‘posh nosh’ first thing is, for them, a matter of ‘principle’ – theirs not mine; they simply refuse to eat anything else. I let them get away with it in the mornings but the rest of the time, they get pouches like normal cats….


So, feeling guilty, I busied myself tending to their feline needs…. It was at this point I glanced out of the window, to spy three angry swans glaring back at me…. Now I felt doubly guilty, it was becoming blatantly obvious that I was not the most popular human that morning. So, avoiding the venomous stares, I hurriedly got myself sorted to face the day, (there was no way I was going outside to feed swans in my jim-jams, it was snowing!). By the time I was ready, the disgruntled trio had already stomped off back to the pond. Now feeling trebly guilty, I ventured out to give them their bread and grain – they did nothing to alleviate my guilt, I was definitely the errant human – a theme that was to remain with me throughout the rest of the day….


Having already upset cats and swans, I think I already knew the bunnies were going to be equally unhappy with me…. Cookie likes to show his authority at the best of times; this particular morning he lunged at me the moment I lifted the lid to his run. He is a rabbit who is King of his domain; he has a large outside run which is connected to his hutch by a twelve-foot tunnel. He is very much an outdoors bunny, even in sub-zero temperatures he prefers to be outside. In fact, he only retreats to his hutch when sulking, or when he has the urge to ‘trash’ it – he can sometimes behave like a spoilt rock star wrecking a hotel room….


My two girl bunnies are of a gentle nature, they are usually delighted to see me and greet me affectionately. Not so this morning  – as soon as I lifted the blanket that covers their hutch at night, it was apparent I was getting the ‘cold shoulder’….

Things didn’t particularly get any better during the rest of the day. Lola, evidently worried that her brother wasn’t getting the required nutrition to meet his needs, went off to hunt. She came back with an appropriate rodent hanging from her jaws, emitting that ‘yowling’ that alerts us to her arrival bearing ‘gifts’….this is my cue to sprint and bolt the cat flap to stop the offering from being brought indoors. Successfully managing to prevent ‘grand entrance with gift’, I later opened the back door to be confronted by a disemboweled, headless rat….

So, the day progressed…. Evening feed for the swans – I’m used to them coming to look for me when they are ready – not this time though, I had to go and find them. They grumpily scoffed their food, turned their backs on me and ungratefully waddled off…. The bunnies, they were still sulking…. As for the cats, well, I was to pay….dearly! Every night since, I have been woken at regular intervals to be reminded that they are there and it will be breakfast time in a few hours; Lewes has actually taken to demanding an extra meal at the unthinkable hour of 2 am!

I think Lewes is hungry….again!

I for one, am glad half term is almost over…. I am hoping things get back to normal next week….I need a break !!