Serious Moonlight

No signal was given. As the Bridge of Mists began to form the music from both sides of the Great Chasm died down of its own accord. On the green side, pipers clutched their flutes to their chests in terror and in rapture, and the voices of green-clad choristers died in their throats. On the purple side, drummers ceased their drumming, raggedly, a beat here, a beat there. The player of the Great Viol, that beast of an instrument, dropped his electronic bow. The light was changing. As the moon rose, the bridge began to form simultaneously from either end, iridescent, sparkling, entirely without substance and yet, apparently, real.

On either side there were old folk who had witnessed this event at the second moon of every seventh year, many times before, and yet they stood open-mouthed with the rest; each Bridge seemed more magnificent, more portentous than the one it succeeded.

The structure formed slowly, the purple span and the green span creeping towards one another, coalescing out of the mist that always existed in the Chasm, obscuring that which lived beneath, the Great Dragon who kept the planet alive – guardian of crops, channel for the two suns, bringer of babes and source of all fecundity. But now it had become hungry, as had happened every seventh year, time out of mind. Now it needed them, their joint and willing sacrifice.


Rogoth and Jessika had never met in the flesh. For the past seven years they had communicated via Sunlink, exchanging images, ideas and thoughts. They had carried mobile communicators round with them and charted their days for each other. They had even sung lullabies to each other, when one or the other couldn’t sleep. They had documented their days for each other, and had never felt alone or single. They knew each other intimately and yet, the chasm stood always between them, for Rogoth belonged to the purple side and Jessika to the green.

Such cross-Chasm friendships – business ventures, collaborations – love stories, even – were not uncommon. The Children of the Dragon were one race, or had been once. Long ago, it was said, the planet had not been divided, at least not along the entirety of its equator, and people had moved to and fro. In those days the greens and the purples were almost indistinguishable but as the aeons of isolation passed they began to diverge, physically, the purples accumulating more of the dragon’s features and markings and tending towards the purple side of its iridescence. Greens, like Jessika, tended to have fewer dragon markings and the rudimentary spinal scales were missing, but they glowed more strongly green.

Rogoth and Jessika fell in love, as the stars had always intended them to do. Over the years their love for each other had grown until it equalled and then transcended their love of life. And that was why, as the two spans of the bridge joined over the central and deepest part of the chasm, they were setting forth from either side.

As he walked Rogoth examined his feelings and finally allowed himself to acknowledge that he was afraid, not so much of death – because when it came it his death would be unimaginably swift – but of heights. Ridiculous, he thought, to fear falling when you were about to fall anyway, and had volunteered to fall.

The bridge was substantial enough for the moment. No chance of slipping through it, though it was made of nothing more than air and magic. And it was wide, curving gently inwards at the edges. No chance of slipping off. When he – when he and Jessika – did fall it would be because the bridge had dissolved beneath their feet.

Jessika wheeled her chair towards the centre. Rogoth, of course, knew of her disability, as he knew everything about her. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that she would be able to reach out, touch him, look long (or at least for a long last moment) into those beautiful dragonish eyes of his. Everything about Rogoth was splendid, she thought, finding it harder to wheel herself now, as the bridge became steeper. Her dear Rogoth was …elegant… that was the word for it.

She had sometimes wondered what their children would have been like, had they been able to breed the way people did on other planets, without the intercession of the Great Dragon. Would they have inherited his eyes? Would they have been green or purple, or some intriguingly random swirl of the two? It was possible, of course, that Rogoth would not have wished to breed with her, in such alien circumstances. What could he ever have seen in such a plain, crippled little thing?

Jessika was afraid too, but there was no turning back. She had promised this – they had sworn it to each other, and she would not let him down now. He was getting closer. She could make out his tall figure, an elaborate ceremonial gown, similar to the one she wore, except his was encrusted with amethysts and hers with peridot. Not , as yet, his features.

At last they were face to face. He smiled down at her, and she smiled back and great joy overtook them. Dragon-Bridge began to make its own music, far different from anything the merely dragon-begotten could produce. The Chasm, the Bridge and the Great Dragon that lived beneath it were combining somehow, singing as one.

“Shall we dance, Jessika?” Rogoth asked, extending a courtly hand. He had rehearsed that line so long, wondering if it was too… much. His hand was long and slender, she noticed, and the palms a pale violet. There was a hint of the curved claw to the long, polished fingernails. She could have examined them for ever, she felt. Every detail of every part of him, for ever.

“I’m afraid I cannot…” she began, embarrassed, as much by her own thoughts as by the chair, but he was already reaching down and lifting her. She would never have to sit in that contraption again, she realised. A moment’s exultation! Reaching around his neck to steady herself, she felt the rudimentary triangles of dragon-spine beneath the skin. She looked into his eyes, which were purple with golden flecks, the iris more slit-like and elongated than her own.

If only we could have had more time, she thought, as they commenced their first and last dance together in the swirling mist. If only… as they locked eyes, and the music increased in beauty and intensity, and the Bridge became less and less bridge, more and more air, less causeway, more mist…

Until at last…

The Patience of Gryphons: part the fourth and final

The auctioneer’s assistant carried the missing gryphon out to Henry’s car. On Sybil’s instruction he placed it, very gingerly, on the driver’s seat. (She suspected that this was the same poor blighter who had been responsible for despatching a single gryphon to Surrey after the auction rather than a pair. He had probably had the Riot Act well and truly read to him by the auctioneer when his mistake had been discovered since Sybil and Henry were regular, and therefore much valued, customers.) The second little gryphon stood tall in a cardboard box, wrapped in an old army blanket; a stone ornament being treated with as much care as one of the young Princesses.

Gryphons are known for their patience but even they were becoming impatient now, Greyclaw on the back seat of this… conveyance… and Rainfeathers on the front beside their new mistress: a temporary mistress, as both of them sensed. Woman, yes, this Sybil, but not witch. They required witch.

And still they were not at the right angle and cannot lock eyes – but soon, surely. Even the auction-house man seemed to sense it. The atmosphere inside the motor-car seemed to sizzle, the moment the siblings were together. It was a bit like the Blitz, when the power cables started falling, explosions in a dark sky.

He withdrew his head rather quickly, and doffed his cap. ‘Safe journey, madam.’

The reverse seems to be happening to Sybil. As the man closed the door on the three of them; as she pressed the button on the dashboard and the yellow indicator arm bounced up, and even as she was drawing out from the kerb into the unfamiliar density of rush-hour traffic, she was starting to wonder what on earth had possessed her. Had she truly woken at the crack of dawn, crept out whilst mist still carpeted the lawn, driven for mile after mile down country lanes, scarcely knowing where she was going;  fingers crossed that no mischievous child had turned the signposts to send her off in the wrong direction. Had she really driven all the way to London without informing her husband either of where she was going or that she had learned how to drive during his absence on military duties?

What terrible complications and recriminations her actions were likely to cause – and all for the sake of two garden ornaments!

And on what mad impulse had she brought the other gryphon with her? Surely she wasn’t expecting them to have some sort of conversation on the way home?

The trip home was not even as much fun as the trip in. By the time Sybil regained Sussex and its narrow country lanes, it was getting late – much later than she had planned for. And now the car seemed to be mysteriously coughing and spluttering and slowing down. She pressed her foot down on the accelerator knowing, really, that that wasn’t going to make any difference. The car coasted into a layby beside a wood – not actually blocking the road, there was that much to be thankful for – and died.

Silence: but not before Sybil had caught sight of one of the many dials on Henry’s car’s elaborate dashboard. There was a petrol machine and a kind of gauge… even and as she watched the dial on this gauge was sliding from red to nothing at all. Why on earth had she assumed Henry’s motor-car would contain sufficient petrol for a journey of this length? For all she knew it might have been half-empty when she set off. It now dawned on her that even if she had thought to stop at a garage and ask for the tank to be refilled, she hadn’t brought enough money with her to pay for that. Henry had always been so good at dealing with that sort of…

‘Well, nothing for it, Sybil Old Girl,’ she murmured, unconsciously adopting Henry’s comforting voice. ‘You can’t stay here all night. You’ll just have to get out and start walking. There’s bound to be a farmhouse close by – or similar. Somewhere big enough to have a telephone. ‘Worse things happened in the Blitz, Old Girl, remember that. You’re still alive; it’s just that you’ve been very, very foolish.’ She could hear the ‘stiff upper lip’ voice trembling.

She glanced back into the car before locking it. ‘My poor little gryphons,’ she sighed, ‘reunited only to be abandoned in a nameless country lane! Here, let me turn you to face one another. At least you can have a chat while I’m away.’ The audible quiver was becoming more apparent. ‘But remember, my dears – Careless Talk Costs Lives.’

The siblings had locked eyes, entirely focussed on one another but waiting still; waiting for woman-not-witch to be far enough down the lane to be out of sight of the motor car.

‘Joy, sister!’

‘Joy, my brother!’

‘Three hundred years, and now…’

And then, the light.

Henry is not angry so much as puzzled. One minute he was pretending to read The Financial Times in the drawing room and trying not to worry about Sybil, whilst trying to decide whether to telephone to the police. The next minute he was overtaken – overwhelmed by a kind of longing, an irresistible compulsion to not call the police but instead scrunch down the gravel driveway and hammer on the front door of the gardener’s cottage. He didn’t even know what he was about to say when the door was opened, but it turned out to be:

‘Bert, could you give me a lift on your motorcycle? It’s Sybil – she’s in some kind of trouble.’

‘Yassir,’ said Bert, reaching for his goggles and leather coat. ‘Luckily the sidecar’s already attached so we can bring Missus back in style. But where to?’

Henry didn’t know, and felt extremely foolish. He only knew they had to go, this minute, and that somehow or other they would find her. He scanned the horizon. It seemed to him that he could see, with some alternative ‘eye’ that he had been totally unaware of until just now, a greenish glow spreading out along the horizon.

‘Do you see that, Bert?’ he said, pointing.

‘Nossir,’ said Bert. ‘But you just point the way.’

Sybil had come to hobbling a halt only a few miles down the lane. Her feet, in their town shoes, had developed blisters remarkably quickly. She bent down, wondering whether she might tear her pocket handkerchief in half and use the two pieces to pad out the back of the shoes, or take off the shoes altogether and head back to the car.

‘Chin up, Old Girl,’ she told herself, dabbing at her eyes with the handkerchief.

‘The Blitz, remember? Worse things happening?’

She turned to look back down the lane and caught sight of a greenish glow rising above the trees and blending with phantom clouds in the night sky. It seemed to be coming from where she had left the car. And now, to cap it all, she was hearing things…

The distant but unmistakeably familiar sound of a motorbike with sidecar attached.

The laughter and song of sibling gryffons as they performed an elegant pas-de-deux in the night air.

Beaks entwined, and tails. Paw seeking paw.

Three hundred years!

The Patience of Gryphons: part the third

Sybil was not having a satisfactory day. The whole world seemed to be celebrating but she, at home in Surrey, was fretting about the view from the terrace windows. Grey English drizzle ruined the lovely sloping view down the garden, to the point where it met with a field of grazing sheep. The leaded panes still bore their crosswise brown-paper strips in case of bomb-blast – though that was unlikely, since the War was in the process of ending. Yesterday had been VE Day. Sailors and drunken girls had danced in the streets. Some had climbed lamp-posts to wave at the seething crowds below. The radio had been full of talk of “Good Old Winnie” leading us to victory. Sybil knew she should be happy. She was a well-kept woman of thirty-seven, with a wealthy husband. They and what remained of their pre-War staff had come safely through the six years of War and austerity. Curtyss Manor had suffered no damage, from bombs or shrapnel at any rate. One wing of the house had been taken over by soldiers, for a while, and that had sustained some damage – boot-marks on the skirting board, rips in the curtains, cigarette burns all over the place… why did soldiers have to make such a mess?

It was scarcely patriotic to feel, as she did today, both restless and miserable.

Why does everything conspire to obscure one’s view? She murmured to herself. Now a spring mist was starting to creep in. A moment more and she would no longer be able to see…

Why was it, she wondered, that the sight affected her so, the sight of that lonely little gryphon at the far edge of the terrace? Why was she still annoyed at the auction house for their oversight in delivering only one of the pair. The other was perfectly safe in their store room, they had assured her, and would be delivered next time one of their vehicles was in Surrey. Shortage of petrol, of course. She did understand. They could hardly just leap into their van and make a special trip, for the sake of one garden ornament. But that gryphon, out there in the drizzle, in its lonely singularity, annoyed her. It was designed to be in a pair, it was part of set. Its current singularity irritated her and… and she couldn’t help feeling, illogical though it was, that this gryphon was missing it’s mate, or twin, or whatever you called it. It was as if… as if it was calling to her. Every time she passed this window she felt somehow compelled to look out, and the feeling was getting stronger. It had got so that she couldn’t pass the drawing room door without going in, going to the terrace window, looking out. Just to check…

To check what? What was she expecting, that the solitary little gryphon would have moved since last time she checked up on it? That maybe it would have packed its little stone bags and set off for London in search of its missing twin? Fanciful, thought Sybil, ridiculous! She was normally such a sensible person. Might it be a case of nerves? Perhaps the stress of war had affected her more than she realised.

The rain continued, but Sybil had had an idea. Her little ‘creature’ couldn’t move, but she could. She could pack an overnight bag and take the motor-car to London, herself.  The idea both scared and excited her. There was the London traffic and unfamiliar roads, of course, but that wasn’t it. “It” was that Sybil had been taught to drive by one of the officers billeted at Curtyss. Her husband had been posted overseas for a while, and it had happened during his absence.  For some reason, she had never told him that she could drive.

Had it been to protect his masculine pride? Henry did have rather old fashioned views on women drivers. It was an extension of his conviction that machinery and the fair sex did not mix. Or had it been because that particular officer had been rather handsome? He’d been married, of course. Five years married. Two young boys and a girl, he’d told her. Nothing untoward had happened; no meaningful glances, no accidental brushing of hands. They had been friends, and that was all. And he had taught her to drive. A useful skill, but one Henry didn’t happen to know about.

“Well, I shall just set forth”, she told herself. Her husband was not an early riser. She could be gone before he awoke and deal with the explanations… afterwards.  No doubt it would put it down to her age: hormones and such.

The poor lost creature on the terrace seemed to be calling to her now. Its distress had become hers, and since she had had her Idea the volume of that distress seemed only to be increasing. She could not ignore it. Ridiculous it might be, but she absolutely must set forth and fetch the gryphon’s mate.

The Patience of Gryphons: part the second

And so they waited, meditating, as each had done so many times before, on the moment their Three Hundred Years began.

As history wore on, in books of stories it began to be told that Greyclaw and Rainfeathers, Grimalkin’s gryphon familiars, nested in her skirts.

In fact gryphons do not nest. Being mythical creatures they need no physical shelter or place of rest – neither nest nor lair. What they do require is invisibility, to be obscured from the prying eyes of men, and Grimalkin’s magical skirts had provided this. A bargain is always struck between a witch and her familiars: their assistance – their company – in exchange for… Well, it could be many things. It could be power – her power allied with theirs. It could be invisibility, as in the case of gryphons. It could be as simple as food.

A cat, for example, is made of flesh and blood. She needs food, and the witch provides it. Any ordinary cat may pay for her food in trophy mice dropped on the doorstep, or in real or faked affection. A witch’s cat does the same, but with this sole difference – that she may carry her mistress’s essence from one reincarnation to the next. Felix-the-Cat and Robin-the-Redbreast – these alone of the animal kingdom are entrusted with the soul of a dying witch.

Then came the dreadful day when Matthew Hopkins, the self-styled Witchfinder General, moved into the County. At the age of twenty-five Hopkins was coming close to his own death, though not as yet aware of it, only of an occasional fever and the spitting of blood. Failing health only made him more determined to add to his execution-list. Increasing weariness made him cast around for proxy means of catching witches, and he was inspired, one day, with the thought that he could conserve his own energy by pitting one witch against another.

And he had the witch Thomasine, said to be the most powerful magician in the East.  The woman had been languishing in a roach-infested cell in Chelmsford for some time, awaiting the coming of the Justice. Powerful, Hopkins estimated, but as scared of death on the bonfire as any other old woman might be. For the price of her life Thomasine proved ready enough to betray her sister witches, just as Judas betrayed Our Lord.  For every visit to every town a fee of £20 plus expenses would accrue to Matthew Hopkins and his crew: some towns had to raise a special tax to pay for them. Hopkins still imagined, at the age of twenty-five, that he would be living long enough to savour his riches.

Grimalkin sensed them coming, thin-coughing-man, he of the black hat and buckled shoes, alongside Thomasine, whose energy signature was strong enough to be picked up miles off. Grimalkin warned the little gryphons, who instantly blended themselves into her skirts and adding their power to hers. Grimalkin knew she was fighting for her life, and focussed all her energies on leading the hunters astray or blocking their path.

The soundless spell-battle between the great witch Thomasine and the lesser witch Grimalkin was to last for many days. Both knew it was a battle to the death. If Thomasine won, Grimalkin would die. If Grimalkin won, Thomasine would find herself back in the cell, awaiting the Justice of the Assize at His Majesty’s Pleasure.

Many times, Thomasine and the Witchfinder found themselves lost in scrub or woodland that had not existed a moment before. Darkness fell when darkness ought not to have fallen. Hideous music surrounded the pair, maddening them and confusing their senses. At various times both Thomasine and the Witchfinder woke from a dreamless sleep they were unaware of having fallen into. At times, plagues of frogs streamed across their path and bats curved down in daylight to tangle in their hair.

But Thomasine was the more powerful witch by far, and after many a delay was to lead the Witchfinder to Grimalkin’s cottage by the river. Matthew Hopkins men arrived on horseback and Grimalkin was dragged away to await the Justice of the Assize. And the gryphons…?

Huddled together, dangerously exposed, they prayed for the soul of the Good Witch Grimalkin. They asked for a robin to alight at her barred cell window, or that the jailhouse cat might prove to be no ordinary feline. Matthew Hopkins failed to see the sibling gryphons, even without the protection of Grimalkin’s skirts, but the Witch Thomasine did. She laughed.

Three Hundred Years, she sneered. Three Hundred Years, my lion-lings, before you shall set eyes on each other again. Greyclaw shall fly North and Rainfeathers shall fly South; and when you land, my baby-eagles, you shall each be turned to stone for Three Hundred Years.

NaPoWriMo 1/4/16

I’m being a shameless copycat tonight in imitating one of my favourite bloggers, shimmy440 at edgeofthebellcurve in attempting to post a poem a day. I shall try to follow the prompts provided on the NaPoWriMo website – unless I really hate them.

Today we are invited to publish a lune, so called because of the crescent moon-shaped curve of its 5-3-5 (syllables or words) haiku-like form.

So, here is my April Fool’s Day entry:


Is life magical

Or merely

Mud with glitter mixed?



The child cried at the castle gate, and nobody knew how it had come there. One road only lead across the high moors to Castle Crome and the lookouts on the battlements could see down it for miles, past the forest of dark pines and clear across the lake. There had been no boat on the lake – and no boatman worth his oars would have set forth in this weather. There had been no sound of hooves to indicate that a horseman had brought it here and, inexplicably, abandoned it. And twisted as it was it could hardly have walked. It was as if it had dropped from the sky.

Rain blew in in icy sheet and the winds were such that a grown man would have struggled to make headway against them, yet the child’s cries could be heard over all the storm’s fury. It sounded more like a bird than anything human. There was something inhuman about the pitch, the raucous, pitiful strength, such that all those within were afraid to open the gate to this creature, twisted and spavined as it was. The rough-hewn stick it must use to support itself was sprawled on the wet stone beside it. The child looked half dead – as if not expecting rescue. And yet its cries continued.

From the spy-slot beside the portcullis Gatekeeper Marek observed his latest problem. His life had seemed to be all problems recently. Shreds of black hair were plastered to its face by the rain. It looked as if someone had hacked it off fairly recently with a knife. Its clothes were ragged too. Not even a cloak, or skins for protection. The storm had been raging like this for hours. Why was it not dead already?

Gatekeeper Marek found the hoarse cries distressing. He was a merciful man with children of his own. ‘We must put an end to its misery,’ he muttered. Either let it in and feed it or go out and slit its throat.’ It was like watching a stag die, too slowly, after a hunt – something appalling about it. The twisted child’s cries grew weaker but did not stop.

The cries were carried up on the stormy air and forced Lady Anne to rise from her couch, where she had been attempting to pick up her embroidery where pain had obliged her to abandon it three days before. She had never been physically strong. The birth of her first child had left her bloodless it seemed. No matter: the boy that would both perpetuate her husband’s blood-line and, mercifully, secure her position – always somewhat tenuous for a childless wife in ruthless times. She swayed as she stood. An embroideress hastened to her side.

Take my arm, my Lady.

But Anne shook off the woman’s help. She must be careful to show no weakness, even excusable weakness, now Tervil was gone. The castle was full of ambitious men – women, too – and such authority as she might, for the while, possess as his wife could easily be forfeit. Though weakened by childbed, too young and in no way qualified to rule, she must be Lord in his stead until his return from the Wars – assuming he did return, and in one piece. She shivered, chilled both by the dank, midwinter air and the responsibility and by what the future might hold – for him, for her and for her son. She made her voice stern, unconsciously imitating Tervil.

‘What is that unholy racket?’

A child, my lady. A girl, I think. A-crying outside the gates.

Because the Night


 This mouse is pale as paper, doesn’t eat. Lost, but it doesn’t try to find it’s way into the light.

Instead, at night, unseeing and unseen, it dips its feet into the poisoned ink, and in its agony begins to caper, to conjure up a wizard or a queen.



 The Mouse sits on my shoulder through the night. Again, I sharpen my quills and drag my books into the light. But oh, the hours are long and I grow old.

Magic’s not wanted now, I whisper, spells will be mocked and songs are out of season.

All the more need for you, my Wizardess – all the more reason.


(A brace of night-mouse-magic-type-poems brought to mind by a Daily Post prompt: Because the Night)


It walked on padded feet…

Two carved stone heads had been discovered near Hadrian’s Wall. The woman – an eminent Celtic scholar – took an immediate, instinctive dislike to them; she left them in the box they had been sent in, which she put in her study. She planned to have them geologically analysed and then returned as soon as possible to the North.

A night or two after the heads arrived she woke suddenly at 2 a.m., deeply frightened and very cold. She looked towards the door and by the corridor light glimpsed a tall figure slipping out of the room. Her impression was of a creature dark like a shadow, part animal and part man. It walked on padded feet. She could hear the click of its claws. As if by some irresistible force she felt compelled to follow it.

She heard it going downstairs and then saw it again, moving along the corridor that led to the kitchen; but now she was too terrified to go on. She went back upstairs and woke her husband. He searched the house, but found nothing. They decided that she must have been having a nightmare, and to say nothing about it.

Examination of the heads showed that they were carved from Northumbrian stone, perhaps during the Romano-British period. It was thought that they may have come from a military shrine or temple of the Celtic legionaries who made up a large part of the Roman garrison on Hadrian’s Wall. In which case they could have been guardians outside the shrine of Maponus, a local hunting god. Similar carvings have been found all over Europe. The Celts were head-hunters. For them, severed human heads had magical properties. The heads of enemies were buried under altars, nailed to the gateposts of hill-forts or thrown into wells to convey fertility or ward off evil spirits. Similar powers were vested in the stylised stone heads.

The heads went back to the museum.

She was never to be sure whether the creature had gone back with them.

Illustration: Mórrígan by André Koehne (source: Wickimedia Commons). Mórrígan is a death goddess from Irish mythology. Her most popular embodiment is as a crow, in which form she will fly above the battlefield to take a bird’s eye view.




I reached out absent-mindedly towards my green filing tray – the one with the hundreds of scraps of paper – ideas for all those totally awesome and stupendous future blog posts. But my hand landed upon a sleeping tabby, and something about her sleepingness was saying Wake me if you dare!

So I picked up instead a book I’ve been meaning to examine in more detail for some time now. It’s a huge, weighty, falling-to-bitsy book with a detached spine and no dust-jacket, published in 1973 by the Reader’s Digest Association: Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. Various authors, artists and contributors.

I have been sleuthing around for this particular treasure for some time because I suspect it may be the book given to Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull by his American manager one long-ago rural hippie Christmas, and which subsequently inspired the weird, atmospheric collection of songs that became Songs from the Wood (1977). It’s impossible to know for certain since the CD booklet notes – as might be expected from a 70s prog-rock band – are somewhat artsy-fartsy and airy-fairy – but I believe it may well be. I know – I’m a little old sad person. Things like that interest me.

It’s possible that Ian Anderson never so much as dipped a pointy nose into this volume or followed its tiny text with a pointy fingernail, or stood on one leg and played the flute in the same room as one of its cousins – but I like it in any case. It’s inspiring: a treasure trove of the weird and the arcane – of history, legend, rumour and tall tales. And lots of lovely pictures. You could build an entire writing career around this one volume, if you happened to have a whole writing career in front of you. Unfortunately, I don’t.

So, I turn to the index and find a creased orange postit-note pencilled Cats. References I had earmarked for just such an emergency – when a tabbycat snores in the post-tray.

The first reference to moggies is this one, on page 44:

Witches were once said to disguise themselves as cats, and many people refused to talk near a cat, for fear that a witch would learn their secrets.

Cats were regarded as the most common of witch-familiars. Puss would advise his mistress and run malicious errands for her. Their lives were thought to be so intertwined that if the cat was wounded the witch would be wounded in a similar fashion.

Cats, unlike dogs and horses, are said to be fond of ghosts, purring whenever they meet them. Cats can predict the wind or even, some say, raise it by clawing at carpets and curtains. When a cat washes its ears or sneezes, rain is sure to come, and if a cat sneezes near a bride on her wedding morning she will have a happy marriage.

Black cats are mostly believed to be lucky, although in Yorkshire (they always have to be different in Yorkshire) it is lucky to own one but unlucky to happen upon one by accident. White cats, unlike white horses, are usually said to bring bad luck.

Then of course there is the Cheshire Cat. Lewis Carroll’s Alice met a version of him in Wonderland. It had the ability to melt away into invisibility leaving only its grin behind. However, the common saying “to grin like a Cheshire Cat” was around long before Carroll picked up on it. Some say that Cheshire cheese used to be decorated with the head of a cat, others that the expression comes from the open-mouthed wolf-heads on the arms of the 11th Century Earl of Chester.

There is the story of the Doctor’s Devils. Gustavus Katterfelto, an 18th Century conjuror and quack who toured England dispensing worthless flu cures at five shillings a bottle. He made a grand entrance to each town in an antique horse-drawn carriage with two ‘negro servants’ in coloured livery parading through the streets and blowing trumpets. He kept two black cats with him at all times. These were known as the Doctor’s Devils although, sensibly, Gustavus always denied that they were of diabolical origin.

Witches were supposed to ride to their Sabbats on broomsticks, and in illustrations are often shown with a cat perched on front or back of the broomstick. However, the Cornwath witches, executed in 1664, claimed to have ridden upon ‘cats, cockerels and bundles of straw’.

At the first major English trial for witchcraft, in Chelmsford in the year 1566, Agnes Waterhouse, her daughter Joan and Elizabeth Francis, all from Hatford Peverell, were accused of each possessing in turn a black cat named Satan. Cat Satan was said to talk in a strange, hollow voice and occasionally assume the shape of a toad or a black dog. For each of his services to her Agnes was said to have paid him a drop of her blood: her face was said to be marked by spots where Cat Satan had sucked blood from it. She then apparently gave Satan to the other two defendants, for whom he was said to have spoilt butter and cheese (decked out for the occasion in an ape’s head and a pair of horns with a silver whistle about his neck), drowned a neighbour’s cows and bewitched a man to death.

How foolish and dangerous we all were, and how close even now to such beliefs. All those foolish, innocent girls and women killed. And I try not to imagine what must have happened through the witch-finding years, to those cats that just happened to have been born the wrong colour, at the wrong time, fed by the wrong woman in the wrong village or condemned by a sinister name.