Today’s song is ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ This song was the theme song for the eponymous movie, sung by British singer Tom Jones, and written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Nominated for the ‘Academy Award for Best Original Song’ in 1966, it lost to ‘The Shadow of Your Smile’. It peaked at Number 11 in the UK and it reached Number 3 in the US. The song has been performed by numerous others.
My relationship with cats has been one that witnessed a conversion around the late 1990s. Prior to my conversion, I won’t say that I hated cats but can honestly claim to not liking them and their slinky presence as they surreptitiously crept among us. I had always been a dog or a horse person and can even admit to shooing the pesky creatures away from my garden should they trespass. In fact, I’d even as far as declaring that cats (being secretive in nature) were the common pets of devil worshippers, white witches, kinky men and suspicious spinsters!
Around 1998, I agreed to write some books to help the 32 schools in Falmouth, Jamaica (the old slave capital port) raise vital funds for vital school resources. I wanted to engage in a trans-Atlantic pen-pal project involving 32 schools in Falmouth that would be paired with 32 Yorkshire schools. The prime purpose was to help black and white pupils understand each other’s culture better in the hope of reducing racist attitudes, beliefs and behaviour. To assist in this work (that lasted around three years), involved two monthly visits to Jamaica along with working in conjunction with the Jamaican Minister for Education and Youth Culture, the Mayor of Falmouth (known as the Custos), and a total of 64 headteachers, over 400 school teachers and approximately 10,000 pupils in Trelawney and West Yorkshire. This was an extensive trans-Atlantic project, involving lots of committed work and numerous collaborations with people in both England and Jamaica.
I wanted to write around five books to help raise tens of thousands of pounds for school materials in the 32 Falmouth schools, and one of these book projects would be a Trilogy; the central theme of which would be discrimination of all manner, but in particular racial discrimination between different cultures and skin colours. The book would be set in Ireland, Northern England and Jamaica and would involve ‘the Troubles’ in Ireland, violent flare ups, riots and corruption in Jamaica and the riots in the north of England during the 1990s that were mostly between black and white cultures.
While deciding how best to construct this Trilogy of books that would take four years of research and writing, and especially the book characters, I eventually decided to make every character in the trilogy a breed of cat which displayed human characteristics (with the one exception of a human man and wife). The reason I selected cats was because of their numerous breeds, and also because cats are travellers in every sense of the word. These three books were titled, ‘Truth’, ‘Justice’ and ‘Freedom’, and the series was titled, ‘The Kilkenny Cat Trilogy’. The story is told through the eyes, experiences and travels of a gipsy band of cats through Ireland, Jamaica and England, encountering racism and discrimination in every country and culture they encounter.
As my knowledge about cats and their many breeds was scant, I used the services of one of England’s cat experts for three years along with my reading of dozens of cat books about the numerous breeds I elected to write about. The upshot was remarkable in the personal conversion that took place inside of me. Whereas I once hated the presence of cats, I gradually came to love and appreciate them! I was eventually obliged to conclude that my initial dislike and mistrust of felines lay in my ignorance of them, but once I started to learn about them and their ways, I gradually grew to appreciate them and moved through the phases of liking them to loving them.
When I thought about it, I had undergone the very same process of increasing my understanding and reducing my discrimination, just as I had planned for 10,000 school pupils in Falmouth and Yorkshire. I then appreciated that the process is precisely the same for humans. We tend to fear and discriminate against the people and customs we do not understand and our way out of this ‘ignorant entrapment’ towards ‘unqualified acceptance’ is through increased familiarisation and better understanding. Whenever thereafter I saw a cat enter my presence, instead of shooing it away, I welcomed its presence.
‘The Kilkenny Cat Trilogy’ available in both e-book format and hard copy and is available from Amazon. All book sale profits go to charitable causes in perpetuity, along with the £200,000 already given to charity since 1990. The trilogy is not suitable for readers under the age of thirteen as they contain some graphic violent scenes in places.
I dedicate my song to three Facebook friends who are each celebrating their birthday today. Happy birthdays to Catherine Foley from Carrick-on-Suir in County Tipperary, Ireland; Nora Galvin from my hometown of Portlaw, County Waterford, Ireland, and my wife’s Singaporean school pal, Marie Ann Mathot from The Hague in the Netherlands. I don’t know whether Catherine or Nora are cat lovers, but I do know that my wife’s school friend, Marie-Ann is. Have a lovely birthday all of you and thank you for being my Facebook friends. Bill x
Love and peace Bill x