Friday, June 24, 2016

Turn again, Dick Whittington

An Old BALLAD of 
Who from a poor BOY, came to be THRICE LORD-

HERE I must tell the praise of worthy Whittington,
Known to be in his days Lord-Mayor of London.
But of poor parents born was he, we hear,
And in his youth brought up in Somersetshire
Poorly then up to London came this simple lad,
And with a merchant soon a dwelling had:
And in the kitchen placd, a scullion for to be, 
And a long time he passd his labour drugingly.

His daily labour was turning spits at the fire,
To scour pots for a poor scullion's hire.
Meat and drink his pay, of coin he had no store,
And to run away in secret thus he bore:

So from the merchant Whittington secretly
Into the country run, to purchase liberty.
But as he went along in a fine summers morn,
London bells sweetly rung, Turn again Whittington
Evermore sounding so, Turn again Whittington,
For thou in time shalt be Lord mayor of London,
Whereupon back came Whittington with speed,
A servant to remain, as the Lord had decreed.

Still blessed be the bells, this was the daily song,
That my Good fortune tell; most sweetly have they rung,
If God so favours me, I will not be unkind,
London my Love shall see, and my bounty find.

But for this happy chance, this scullion had a cat,
That did his fame advance, and him wealth go.
Whittington had no more but his poor cat then,
Which to the ship he bore like a valiant man.
Venturing the same, says he, I may get store of gold,
And the Mayor of London be, the bells have me told
Whittingtons merchandize carried unto the land,
Troubled with rats and mice as we do understand,
The king who there reignd, as at dinner sat,
Daily in fear remaind of many a mouse and rat:
Meat that on trenchers lay, no way could they keep safe,
But by rats torn away, fearing no whip or staff.
Hereupon they brought, Whittingtons fine cat,
By the king was bought, heaps of gold given for that.
Home again they hie, with their ship laden so,
Whittingtons wealth by his cat began to go.

A scullions life he forsook, to be a merchant good,
And soon began to look how his credit stood.
After he was chose Sheriff of the city we hear,
And then quickly rose, as it doth appear.
For the citys grace, Sir Richard Whittington,
Came to be in his days thrice Lord Mayor of Lon-don.

His Fame to advance, thousands he lent the king
To maintain war in France, glory from thence to bring.
And after a feast, which he the King did make,
He burnt the note in Jest, and would no money take
Prisoners cherishd were, widows comfort founp
Good deeds far and near by him were done,
Whittingtons College is one of his charities,
Newgate he built, where many prisoner lies.
Many more deeds were done by Whittington,
Which joy and comfort bring to those that look on.
Somerset, thou hast bred the flower of charity,
Altho hes dead and gone, yet he lives lastingly.
Call him back no more to live in London,
Those bells that calld him back, Turn again Whittington.

Printed and Sold in Aldermary Church 
Yard, London.

This, as usual, started off as Something Else. Every once in a while I become feverish to find the records of my childhood: those scratchy old 78s that occasionally surface on the internet, sounding better than they ever did when I was (seemingly, by the sound of them) using them as Frisbees or even eating lunch off them.

I found lots of them: Pinocchio with Paul Winchell (though I loathe the man and his offputtingly aggressive voice), The Travels of Babar, Robin Hood, Cinderella, Pedro in Brazil, Build Me a House, Slow Joe, and . . . the rest wouldn't interest anyone else.  But it's a strange feeling to listen to something you haven't heard in 50+ years, such as Jimmy Stewart narrating a completely charming version of Winnie the Pooh. The voices of the characters are so perfect that it makes the horrible Disney version even more cringe-inducing (see: Paul Winchell as a thoroughly obnoxious Tigger).

You'd think all these weird auditory vibes from the deep past would bring back your  childhood in a flood, but they actually don't. There's a  lot of variation in quality, and sappiness is the norm. The thing I notice most, eerily, is how short these things are. Each side of a 78 is only 3 or 4 minutes long, and they used to last at least a half-hour. Or so I thought.  Robin Hood or some other four-sided epic would go on for hours, not for 14 minutes! I can only surmise this is the same phenomenon that made it seem like years and years while you were waiting for it to be Christmas.

On a site called Kiddie Records Weekly I rediscovered, to my dismay, a few recordings which had been shoved down our throats (for I didn't buy any of these myself - they were purchased by my parents): Pee Wee the Piccolo, Pan the Piper, and the dreaded Rusty in Orchestraville (with the Miracle of Sonovox!). These were part of our Musical Education and were simply dreadful, and even more dreadful when I forced myself to listen to them again.

But then today I happened upon a very short and very dear-to-me record, a story only four minutes long that as a child I had not encountered anywhere else. It was Dick Whittington and His Cat. 

I guess it's a silly record, but then, why did it make me cry? Why does it still make me cry? It's, to some extent, the very realistic cat noises Dick's cat makes. But it isn't that, it isn't. The cat, with the silly name of Ripple-dee-dee, is Dick's beloved companion, causing him to exclaim things like, "Oh cat, I love you so very much!'

I have a cat I love VERY very much, and sometimes he makes me cry. His name is Bentley, and he almost wasn't, or wasn't in my house anyway. I've written about this before, but I still find it hard to write about because of the circumstances.

I had a sweet, friendly baby lovebird called Paco. I had only known her for a couple of weeks - and already she had become the family's beloved pet, tame and outgoing with everyone, including the grandkids - when she died. No one could figure out why.

It was stunning. Just stunning - the sudden drop of unexpected loss. My last lovebird Jasper had lived for eight years, and some birds live for fifteen. Paco was only about eight weeks old.

I felt a kind of disorientation emotionally, because I had prepared myself to enjoy a good, long life with Paco (who by the way was a glorious lavender colour). Meantime my daughter had just lost her handsome cat Oscar, an awful thing which caused the whole family to turn inside-out with grief. They sought a new cat, and found an adorable kitten they called Mia.

"Come on, you guys," Shannon said to me (enraptured with Mia, as the whole family was). "You're retired. You need a cat."

A cat?!

We were never getting another cat, not after Murphy (the catriarch of the family since my kids' pre-teen years) died at the age of seventeen. But during my most awful day of grief and anger over the loss of Paco, I found myself bitterly exclaiming to Bill, "Well, Christ, I guess we might as well just go out and get a cat!"

"We could get a cat," Bill said. He had actually taken me seriously.

Suddenly the flame was lit, and I was on the internet seemingly night and day, seeking a suitable cat on SPCA sites. We were soon to find out that kittens got snatched up almost immediately, so we were likely going to have to choose a mature cat.

Though it did not take all that long, it went a way neither of us could have expected. I saw a mug shot of a year-old cat on the local SPCA site, went crazy, and told Bill, "We HAVE to see this cat tomorrow."

"Why not today?" Bill said, so we jumped in the car and drove to Maple Ridge.

The cats were in "dorms", quite comfortable cubicles with lots of "up" space, and bunked in twos and threes, except for the cat I wanted to see. He was by himself. What was going on here?

"He just came in from Surrey. They ran out of space for him there.  He's a stray, ran away from home apparently, and was attacked by a dog. But he's all healed now."

Oh my goodness. Attacked? Would this cat be timid, traumatized, mean? I didn't know what I'd find when I opened the door, but I saw a very self-possessed-looking cinnamon tabby with a white dickie, sitting very high up, at the highest point in his dorm. He perked up, immediately jumped down, ran up to me and looked up expectantly.

I scooped him up, cuddled him close and felt it in my heart: oh cat, I love you so very much.

He had a bald patch on his shoulders and two puncture marks, his duelling scars. He had been neutered since his ordeal. No one could tell me if the fur would grow in, but I didn't care. My daughter-in-law put it this way: "That's where his wings broke off."

It was instant love and bonding, and it has lasted for over a year now. This is "the" cat, the cat of Fate. When we prepare to go out anywhere, he runs into his cat carrier hoping we'll take him with us. He's a presence, he hangs out with us and is a beloved companion who, somehow, seems to look after us, watch out for us.

When I heard the Dick Whittington recording again, and the little boy exclaiming about Ripple-dee-dee, I cried again because this is a cat I love very, very much. He came to us wounded but healing, valiant and unafraid. 

Last night while mucking around with records, I found one of those delightful old English broadsheets with the ballad of Dick Whittington and his Cat on it, fiddled around (I had to print, scan, enlarge and crop it in half to make it slightly legible), then to my surprise found the actual words to it (no, I didn't transcribe it by hand!)

As it turns out, while there was probably a Dick Whittington back in the 14th century (?!), it's doubtful he ever had a cat. He MAY have been Lord Mayor of London at some point. The rest is just fiction. And there was no Ripple-dee-dee or cat of any description.

But if there wasn't, there should have been. 

Please note. This is Dick Whittington's Cat (top), and Bentley Whittington the Fourteenth. He photoshopped into this picture so neatly that I was able to use the same tail for both of them!

POST-REFLECTIONS.  Yes, I know Whittington and his Cat is a lousy poem! I know it might have been written by that guy, what's-his-name, the Worst Poet who Ever Lived who wrote about train wrecks and ships sinking and such. I'm too lazy to look him up. But this was the sort of thing that was sold as entertainment back in 17-whatever (and I'm too lazy to look that up), maybe for a penny or ha'penny (whatever that is!). 

Try  clicking on the links below (maybe one of them will work for you!) and listen to that Dick Whittington record. It's a charmer. You might like it - very, very much.

Dick Whittington and his Cat

Dick Whittington and his Cat MP3

Special Bonus Cat Record! THIS one will play for sure, because it's on YouTube. I blogged about this recording a while ago, but I might dredge up part of it just because it's fun (and doesn't make me cry).

When I was just a teeny-weeny kitty
Everyone told me that I looked so pretty
They said, 'beautiful eyes'
They said, 'lovely fur'
But all I could answer was 'meoowwww' or "purrrrrr"

My coat was black, my eyes of course were yellow
People always said 'what a charming fellow'
I wanted to thank them, but I didn't know how
For all I could answer was 'purrrrrrr' or 'meow'

Then one fine day as I was lying sleeping
A great idea into my head came creeping
A pussy cat that could learn to say 'meow'
Could say just 'me', by leaving off the 'ow!'

So I said me, me, me, me, me,
Then as you plainly can see
From me to he to she to we
Was just as simple as it could be
I practiced daily for a week
And that is how I learned to speak!

Then I thought that I would try
Slipping off from me to my
From me to my to sky to why
Was just as easy as eating pie
I practiced daily for a week
And that is how I learned to speak!

Soon I was no longer a beginner,
When someone asked 'how would you like some dinner?'
If I wanted to answer, I could say 'yes sir!'
Instead of replying just,
Or purrrrrrr.

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