Wednesday, 4 November 2015

And Then There Were Three

Minerva and Morpheus Black

Mrs Black and her naughty kitten Isabella

We have been a family of two cats since November two years ago when Mrs Black, missing both her late husband Morpheus, and their much loved kitten Isabella,  decided to take in a lodger. He turned out to have quite a tale to tell. He was a distant relative of her late husband who had fallen on hard times when his elderly owner died and his old house was sold from under him. He had lived by various names but he explained in his letter to Mrs Black that his true name was Monsieur Munchkin Lestrange.


He very much regretted that the reputation of his ancient family had been tarnished by the behavior of cousin Bellatrix made famous when J.K Rowling collected the lore and wrote those Harry Potter books.

Mssr Lestrange potrait
by celebrated Dutch artist Marie Cecile Thijs
website HERE:

Munchkin had endured being cat napped from his home whie his mistress was gravely ill and bustled off to a new home 10 miles away. Desperate to return to his beloved mistress he escaped and wandered the miles between until some 6 months later he came home. Sadly his mistress had died. Cast out of his home by the new cruel owner who sent the dogs out to kill him, he took up residence in the gardens and solicited the assistance of a neighbour who had long admired the handsome half Maine Coon. Despite her family being allergic to cats, she fed him and helped him find Mrs Black. Nearly three years after the death of his mistress Munchkin finally came indoors to a life of total comfort.

Mssr. Munchkin Lestrange
Mrs Black adores him and is ever hopeful of some tale of his travel adventures, but he dislikes other cats preferring to spend his time in my studio at the bottom of the garden writing his memoirs, or overseeing the maintenance of the 13th century Norman church behind our cottage. Obviously after such tragic times he can be a little tetchy and cuddles must be kept to a minumum. He has been known to bite the hand that feeds! Two winters living outside in snow took their toll and he suffers arthritis but takes his medicine well, as long as there are treats to hand. He has a fierce hiss and growl (cat swearing) but thankfully there has been no sign of the dark spells which cousin Bellatrix was famous for.

Mssr Lestrange in the graveyard

Not being as companionable as Mrs Black had hoped she continued to long for a kitten to brighten her old age. One day, out of the blue, she said that if Munchkin were to pass on before her she would like, more than anything, to have a completely black kitten named Puff. I pondered this confession, and thought how typically considerate of her, knowing Munchkin hated other cats, she would wait until he had passed on. I mentally made a note to warn the husband that a black kitten may be in our future somewhere.

At the end of August while admiring the blood moon from a field at the bottom of our lane the husband and I noticed a young black cat catching a mouse. A bit startled by us she nevertheless carried the struggling mouse out of the field but she lost it in the lane. As I looked over towards her she meowed piteously and ran towards some old sheds which were once field shelters.

We then saw her about the village and in particular underneath our bird feeders at the front of our cottage. She was timid and would always run away. In mid-October things came to a head. Leaving the house to go out I saw the black cat jump onto the bird table to eat the fat balls which I had put out for the birds.

I put down a bowl of cat food. And so it began.

Cat shelter
made from old compost bin, newspaper 7 straw.

Two weeks later after building a cat shelter from an old bin and feeding twice a day, we enticed the cat into our cottage with a bowl of food and shut the door. Since then it has lived in our spare bedroom in order to determine it's state of health before introducing it to Mrs Black and Munchkin.

The black cat is a she, between 6-9 months and absolutely, completely, black. Everywhere.

Her name is, of course, Puff. It seems that Mrs Black has been doing some conjuring and the magic of the season helped her to guide this poor homeless waif to her.

Puff passed initial vet checks but we anxiously waited the blood test results to be certain that she was clear of Feline Leukemia (FeLV) and Feline Aids.  Both Mrs Black and Munchin have compromised immune systems and very heartbreakingly were Puff to have one of the fatal cat diseases she could not stay with us. It would be too much of a risk to them.

Introducing Puff.

There was much celebrating when our vet rang to give us the all clear. Puff is not micro chipped, and we have no history for her. She is timid and frightened of people and although she will cuddle and purr she hides under the chest of drawers when we are not in the room and shies away when you first extend a hand. She has probably been lost or abandoned since a small kitten, but must have at some point been handled and loved for she is not completely feral. We are quite sad that whoever may have owned her before will not know that she is safe and loved not just by us but by Mrs Black.

The vet is unable to be sure if she has been spayed so we must wait and watch to see if she comes into heat. She could even be already pregnant, if she is, it is too early to tell. She is underweight and infested with parasites from the birds and mice which she ate to survive. She must be a very brave and remarkable cat to be able to look after herself from such a young age. But she will be fine and soon introductions can take place between her and Mrs Black. Munchkin no doubt will be completely unimpressed and insist this young cat has no access to 'his' studio in his garden.

We will need to hone our photography skills in order to get good images of Puff, she is so dark.

We are very grateful for being able to help this beautiful homeless cat.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Two Doors Down From The Witch

Two Doors Down

Once upon a time in the 1980s I lived in an ordinary looking house in a terrace, (especially on a bright sunny day as this), in East Twickenham, by the river Thames, two doors down from The Witch.

June was a good Witch. She lived in the biggest house on our street, on the corner of our terrace. A large Edwardian with leaded glass winking in the windows and a little attic dormer. Suitably distressed it had a lovely porch with gingerbread pillers and red clay roof tiles. The entry hall was so large that there was a fireplace on one wall. The room was painted violet.

In those days I did not own a camera so sadly the images used here are borrowed, or from much later after June had died.  Even then, looking sad without it's Witch it was still charming to me for I knew what enchanting times this house had known.

The Witch's house, taken by me much later

I know that many people believe that we do not hold to Halloween and Trick or Treat here in England - but that was not true of that road in Twickenham where The Witch had lived for those many years. I do not know just how many years that June lived in the house by the river, but each Halloween she opened her home to all the trick and treaters of the neighbourhood and she had thrilled (and scared) generations of local children.

She spent many days before All Hallows decorating the house, especially the old porch where there would be a skeleton and frightening music when you rang the bell. A specially prepared Halloween feast awaited those who dared to enter.

June had pointy toed lace up boots and always wore a long black dress with a cape or interesting cloak. And, of course, a pointy hat. She could cackle too, but usually just got a fit of giggles.

pointy toed Witch boots
I was young when I first celebrated Halloween at the Witch's house and I had to buy a black hat to be allowed inside. Many years later I would dress up my Godson and take him to meet June and play with her Grandchildren. It was inspiring to see that children who grew up returned with their children. Looking back I'm not sure that I knew then what June meant to all of us. She had a bit of Bell Book and Candle, Bewitched, The Aunts in Practical Magic, and Minerva McGonegal in her. But most of all she was pure June. She was The Witch, the local storyteller of many tales.

She was The Witch

I met June, and ended up living two doors down due to my then boyfriend having once lived in that very street with his parents. He had been one of June's charmed children and then officially a Godchild of hers. His Mother had died when he was young and returning there, two doors down, was like coming home for him.

June's middle initial was E and the names of her four children all began with 'E'. I never did find out why. She loved children and always said that had her 4th pregnancy not been a difficult one she would have carried on having them for who knows how long. The thing she wanted more than anything was Grandchildren, and she did get them. One of her children had given her a framed photograph of Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch in Oz. I gave June my little felt mouse dressed in a Witch costume which was one of my most treaured possessions brought with me from San Francisco.

Visiting June's house felt like coming home.
The Practical Magic house.
June took me under her broom and she was the first person who made me think that perhaps I too was a Witch. One of my own first memories of Halloween, when I was about 5, was dressing as a Witch to trick or treat our small Californian neighbourhood. June did not have a cat as a familiar. She did have a Tortoise in the walled garden whose name escapes me but I recall them putting it away for winter to hibernate and one year when it broke out before anyone thought it was time to awake.  I had four cats who all used to walk along the top of the terrace and visit June's house. One cat, a ginger tabby named Macavity, climbed to the very top of the house which was the office of June's husband and we spent hours trying to talk it off the roof through the attic window.  

The house endlessly fascinated me. The top floor was known as the nursery and was mostly given over to the children who had a train set which covered a vast area, always set up ready to play. Who would not love a house with both a cellar and an attic? It had French oak floors and the staircase rail was beautifully carved and twisted.  Things were always being revealed to me there. One day we decided to enquire what was in the garage. It turned out to house a very old, very beautiful Alvis.

Along with Halloween and Margaret Hamilton, June also loved The Day of the Dead. On the top of a bookcase in the dining room sat a skeleton scene, arranged around a dining table at a meal. She loved Toucans and we marvelled at how she could drink Guinness even though she was a tiny Witch.

A good cook, as you would expect of a Witch, she liked collecting mushrooms and made the best mushroom soup I have ever tasted.

June was not the only magical being in the house at the end of the terrace. Her husband was a word wizard. He knew all sorts of things most people had forgotten. He could quote from Wilde, Shakespeare, Lewis Carrol and many obscure writings. He was an editor and a man well known for his charm and wit. During his working life he made magic for The Sunday Times, World of Interiors, and The Church Times. It was he who first introduced me to Edward Lear and to an antique/junk shop in St Margaret's called Cheney Galleries. I mostly kept a carved oak chair I bought there to remind me of him. On one visit there we found a small sketch which we believed was an Edward Lear. Alas, I do not know what became of that. He was a perfect host and loved having people over for drinks on New Years. On Halloween he stayed out of the way of all the Witches and Ghoulies. He could usually be found in a corner in an old chair, his glasses perched upon his nose behind a newspaper. When anyone was talking a bit of nonsense he had this way of raising one eyebrow and looking at them from over his glasses.

It was a wonderful community to live in and I miss those days. Sundays were spent at a local pub, a walk across the river over Richmond Bridge.

My boyfriend and I moved away from Twickenham and we parted ways. I did not see much of June but I kept in touch. I am very glad that June was still alive when Practical Magic, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings were made into films. I hope that she was able to see them all, she would have loved knowing that the magic of storytelling was alive and had been handed to a new generation of children.  The last Halloween she sent me a note to tell me that she was grounded due to being unwell. I meant to but I am not good at saying goodbye and I never saw her again.

I noticed a few years ago that the house came up for sale once more. It had been 'developed' by someone and all of the charm hidden behind the persistent trend for black and white kitchens, knocked through rooms, endless white and parking spaces.  The photographs sadddened me.

all white and neat now

a reminder of the once leaded glass windows

One of the ornate fireplaces survived the modernisation

I often think of June when I see little enchanting things and know that she would like them. In our village I am The Witch. I dress our cottage with pumpkins, spiders, bats and lanterns for the small ones who make their way to our door. Each year there are more and I find June's pointy toed boots a hard act to follow, but I will try.
I suspect that every now and then I will go past the house where The Witch and The Word Wizard lived two doors down. Just to check on it. Maybe one day it will transform itself back to how it once was, how I remember it. Like this.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015


Candle lit sandcastle by the sea, source unknown.
Summer is a riot of flowers. This year on clothes as well as in the garden, and every year we are reminded how well Lord Leighton captured the heat of summer in his Flaming June.

But for me water flows through the season and paints it from the blue, green and shimmering palette of the rivers, brooks and seas.

From Here:

Faded blue & green chest of drawers

An Art Nouveau brooch from my collection

Rich blue fringed velvet curtains

Magical shimmering sequinned fishes by Lainey Whitworth Art on Etsy
I had to have one.
Her Etsy shop is Here:

Buckled sparkly shoes from Top Shop

Raw silk embroidered bag from the magical Medieval Muse on Etsy
Medieval Muse Etsy shop Here:

Silver and copper dusted, sea glass, the mermaid's tears, glowing in the sand. Surprising golden, violet or indigo skies. Always.

Strange Tempests gather. Inevitably Mermaids enter my thoughts.

shells & tealights in mercury glass 

Edward Arthur Fellowes Prynne
Penelope Tree

A superb John William Waterhouse Mermaid
Dolce & Gabbana, 2014

The Sirens - Edward Burne-Jones
Evening Dress, Mad Carpentier, 1940s

But there is also that Midsummer Night's meeting. Water links summer themes, as does that other element, Air.

Air, elemental leather mask
From Fairy Magic on Etsy
Heady scents and potions (and sometimes a spell or two) gently incline all to sleep.

A Midsummer Night's Dream by Chad Gowey 

William Morris & Co, The Brook tapestry

Titania by Arthur Rackham

Of Pirates and Pan

Peter Pan and the pirate ship, James Coleman
Johnny Depp, Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean
The Curse of the Black Pearl

Galleon topped thatched cottage, image by me

Clothes by Magnolia Pearl

Alice, drowsily beside the Thames, her dreams conjuring a tale from Mr Carroll.

"In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die;
Ever drifting down the stream--
Lingering in the golden gleam--
Life, what is it but a dream?"  

Lewis Carroll and the Liddell family
image by Lewis Carroll

Bickleigh Cottage reflected in the river 

Alice illustration by Amber Alexander
Swallows gathering mud for their nests

Alice's Cottage, the pale blues

My Cheshire cat apothecary bottle
And when she is grown,
will Alice remember?

Meanwhile, Ophelia is gathering flowers for her watery grave.

Spring collection Dries Van Noten

Ophelia by Kirsty Mitchell

Ophelia, Theodore von der Beek 

Somewhere a woman waits, while a Tempest brews.

Miranda, John William waterhouse

The French Lieutenant's Woman

From  The witch's curse by W. S. Gilbert.
 illustrations by William Russell Flint. Published 1912 


Marikka Nakk Velvet Princess Coat
Colours of a tempest by Fired Earth

Shhhh! We must be still now, Faerie Revels and sweet potions have overpowered all and they lie sleeping.

Arthur Rackham
Potent potions in tiny Czech apothecary bottles
Velvet robe by Toast
Sleeping Beauty, Henry Meynell Rheam

Titania Sleeps, by Frank Cadogan  Cowper

Alice Liddell asleep by Lewis Carroll

Undine, Arthur Rackham


by: Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)

I have tried to find the source of any images I have used but some remain unknown. I will be pleased to credit should someone tell me.

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