Sunday, November 25, 2012

That Darn Cat!

Whilst filling my brain with sludge from H2 this morning - notably an episode about "The Egyptian Book of the Dead," prompted me to do some Wikiwandering. Mostly, I was interested in Sir E.A. Wallis Budge, who spirited the Papyrus of Ani out of the Middle East in his role as an Egyptologist at the British Museum.
"He was one of only two people that Mike the famous cat of the British Museum would allow to feed him.[5]"
Well, you know that caught my eye!
The house cat of the Museum taught the young Mike to stalk pigeons by pointing like a dog to the intruder. Under the kitten's guidance the house cat would proceed to corner the pigeons, daze them, then bring them to the house keeper, who would exchange the bird for a morsel of food and milk, and release them unharmed.
Abandoning Wikipedia for the World Wide Net that Google will show, I found this page.
As time went on Mike began to prefer living at the lodge, where he had free access to come and go as he pleased, day or night, and a special corner shelf, away from draughts, was made available for him to sleep on. But he continued to patrol the Museum, and in return the Keeper of the mummified cats continued to make sure he was looked after; even during the lean years of World War I he made sure that Mike did not go without. The cat led a good life, often being given milk and scraps in the evening by the refreshment-room waitresses, and being frequently entertained in the houses of some of the resident keepers. As did his predecessor, he also liked to grace the Reading Room with his presence.
Mike was famously misogynistic - and there were only a very few men he would allow to pet him or feed him - a couple of the gatekeepers over the years, and Sir Wallis. He was also death on wayward dogs.

He'd puff himself up to twice his size, and scare off the dogs
Alas, cats do not live forever, and Mike began to fail:
Sir Wallis Budge, when he himself retired, would come to visit his friend and every week would bring sixpence towards his keep. During Mike's last couple of years he became difficult to feed because his teeth were decaying, but the three gatekeepers, who 'treated him as a man and a brother', took it in turns to prepare tender meat and fish (on alternate days) for him. It was said he 'preferred sole to whiting, and whiting to haddock, and sardines to herring; while for cod he had no use whatsoever'. Eventually his health failed to the extent that he was unable to eat, and it was felt kinder to 'put him to sleep', and so this famous cat passed away on 15 January 1929 at the age of about 20 years. He was much missed by a host of friends and acquaintances who had appreciated a cat that knew 'how to keep himself to himself'. He had become one of the minor sights of London, and news of his passing saddened admirers around the world who had encountered him during their visits to the city.
And after he had passed, there was a tribute:
Died Jan. 15, 1929,
Aged Twenty Years.
All ye that learnèd hours beguile
In the Museum’s dingy pile,
And daily through its portals pass,
And marked the cat upon the grass
That sat — alas, he sits no more! —
Give ear a moment, I implore,
And mourn the fate of poor old Mike!
When shall we ever see his like?
No fate untimely snatched away
This pussy-cat Methuselah;
When Death removed him, he had near
Accomplishèd his twentieth year:
For since we are a learned crew
In the Museum — Michael knew
Of Argus, that famed hound of old
Who lived through hunger, heat and cold;
And when his lord came home at last,
When twenty years were well-nigh past,
Looked up, and wagged his tail, and died:
But Michael, stiff with feline pride,
Vowed, by a dog he’d not be beat,
And set himself to cap that feat.
He’d sit and sun himself sedately,
No Sphinx or Sekhmet1 looked more stately;
He cared not in the very least
For human being, bird or beast;
He let the pigeons eat their fill,
Nor even one was known to kill;
But scared them if they stayed too nigh
By the sole terror of his eye.
To public, and officials too,
He showed the scorn which was their due:
And if perchance some forward minx
Dared to go up and stroke the Sphinx —
Her hand shot back, all marked with scores
From the offended Michael’s claws.
And he who writes these lines, one day
Ventured a compliment to pay,
And for reply received a bite —
No doubt you’ll answer, "Serve him right!"
So out of all the human crew
He cared for none — save only two:
For these he purred, for these he played,
And let himself be stroked, and laid
Aside his anti-human grudge —
His owner — and Sir Ernest Budge!
A master of Egyptian lore,
No doubt Sir Ernest had a store
Of charms and spells decipherèd
From feline mummies long since dead,
And found a way by magic art
To win that savage feline heart.
Each morn Sir Ernest, without qualms,
Would take up Michael in his arms;
And still remained his staunchest friend,
And comforted his latter end.
Old Mike! Farewell! We all regret you,
Although you would not let us pet you;
Of cats the wisest, oldest, best cat,
This be your motto — Requiescat!

F. C. W. Hiley

1 A lion-headed Egyptian goddess
Mike expresses his opinion of a dog he just ran off
Rowhrrrrr!!! Gotta love it!

Pictures from here!

1 comment:

threecollie said...

Great story! I love stuff like this.