Monthly Archives: April 2012

Eric’s Story


A favourite spot

This is the story of my cat, the beloved Eric Longfellow, and of a wonderful organisation called SNIP – The Society for Neutering Islington’s Pussies. I have to admit that the name makes me giggle, but that in no way detracts from the great work they do.  I first came across them when I was about to adopt Eric – although that’s not quite the way it was, as you will see.

I hadn’t had a pet of my own as an adult though we’d had family dogs and cats, not to mention Jane, the evil pony.  One day, some years ago, I realised I was being watched from the tangle of Forsythia at the end of the garden.  Two large golden eyes were staring at me. But when I moved, the cat disappeared. It reappeared a few days later. I played a waiting game, standing perfectly still whenever I was aware of its presence. I put out food, gradually moving it nearer to the house.

Eric became bolder. I dithered. I wasn’t sure I wanted a cat – it’s quite a commitment.  He had other ideas and took to spraying my back door. He knew what he wanted. I let him into the house. He took over my bed, sleeping on his back with his legs in the air in a trusting, if inelegant, manner. He wasn’t neutered and he really stank. Which is why, at first, I called him Smelly Cat.

Trusting if Inelegant

One day I came home and he’d gone. I couldn’t find him anywhere and was so upset. Just when I thought he was gone for good I woke up to find him on my bed – with a smashed leg. How he got through the cat flap I’ll never know. This is when SNIP came to the rescue. I’d been talking to them about having him neutered.  Now of course my mind was made up for me and I was suddenly responsible for a badly injured cat. It sounds pathetic but I didn’t know what to do.

SNIP found a vet, negotiated the fee and paid most of it. I’d brought in a handsome, if tatty, furry grey cat. I collected a furious little creature who looked more like an alien than a cat; shaved all over with steel bolts protruding from his leg. To cap it all they announced that he had feline AIDS. It wasn’t a great start.

Poor Eric, confined to a small cage in my bedroom, was terrified, furious and in pain. I was horrified to find myself the owner of a howling, smelly cat that tore everything within reach to shreds, including flesh. I had to handle him with gardening gloves. He was really constricted in his cage. I begged the vet to let me take him out; I’d keep him in the bedroom, I promised. ‘As long as he doesn’t jump’ said the vet. ‘He’s a cat’, I thought, ‘he jumps’. But I kept it to myself.

The day I let Eric out of the cage, I was rewarded with his first purr. That night this angry, spitting creature transformed completely. He cuddled up close to me with his paw on my arm. He didn’t move from my side all night and slept on my bed from then on.  As to not having to worry about this independent cat – I worried. Of course I worried – until the day my beautiful fellow died of cancer after 7 years with me. I still miss him.

Eric sending an email

And SNIP?  Lately it’s been transformed.  There are several similar charities doing great work trapping feral cats in Islington and the surrounding area.  However, trapping and sterilising them is one thing. What to do next is another. Most of the cats will remain feral. They can’t be returned to where they were found – they are attacked by dogs or poisoned by people who want to get rid of them. It’s a miserable existence.

The great people at SNIP and the other charities have found a solution.  They are now devoting their energies to finding kind, responsible homes for ferals in stables and smallholdings across the country.  These people love their animals and often have problems with rats and mice. It costs them nothing but some straw and a few tins of Whiskas. The cats are warm and safe and undisturbed. Everybody’s happy. 

Photo courtesy of SNIP Facebook page

Like all other charities, SNIP is struggling in these difficult times. If you can help in any way by displaying posters, by spreading the word, by letting them know if there are feral cats in your area – please do get in touch.

If you can volunteer to do some driving or trapping or you want to adopte any ferals or friendly strays, please call their re-homing line on 07557 118 484

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Murder in a locked room …


Whatever happened to Isidor Fink?

Criminal Sentences is one of my favourite reference books as well as being a great read and a book you can keep dipping into. Among other things it offers an A-Z of true crimes and criminals, which links them to the plays, films, novels and short stories that they’ve inspired. I opened it again the other day and found that a post-it note, on which I had scribbled ‘Locked Room Mystery’, still marked a page. Why I left it there I no longer remember and why I had marked the page in the first place I’ve long forgotten.  It may be because the Isidor Fink Murder still remains officially unsolved.  Which intrigues me. I love this sort of stuff.

The scene: New York, 1929. Isidor Fink, a young Polish refugee, runs a laundry from one room in the lower East side. Fearful of burglars, he keeps the doors permanently locked; the windows are nailed shut. On 9th March Fink’s neighbour hears shots. The police break in to find Fink with two bullets in his chest and one in his wrist. Nothing has been stolen. The room is locked from the inside, impregnable. There is no gun, which rules out suicide.  The police suspect murder. They get nowhere.

These facts could have come straight out of a John Dickson Carr novel. Surprisingly, the master of locked murder mysteries didn’t fictionalise this one. The person who did is Ben Hecht. His short story, The Laundryman, appears in the collection ‘Actor’s Blood.’ As far as I can tell he is the only one to have used this particular crime, but fiction of this type abounds. My appetite having been whetted, so to speak, I did a bit of research and hardly needed to look beyond Wikipedia for a veritable feast of material. So much that this post can only scratch the surface of the surface.

It’s generally acknowledged that the first complete example of the genre is Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue, published in 1841. In the following years others, such as Wilkie Collins, included elements but it wasn’t until 1892 that the seminal story made its entrance.  The Big Bow Mystery, written by Israel Zangwill, introduces what is said to be the hallmark of every ‘locked room’ mystery. Namely, misdirection.

Since then, everyone from Conan Doyle to G.K. Chesterton to Agatha Christie has joined in. Even Enid Blyton. English writers, while prolific, didn’t have this field to themselves. There were many important French writers of the genre, among them Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac and Noel Vindry. The most prolific writer after the Golden Age was  Akimitsu Tagaki, a Japanese. In modern times another Japanese writer, Soji Shimada carries on the tradition along with a French writer, Paul Halter.

So what really happened to poor Isidor Fink?  One of the theories at the time was that Fink had been shot outside in the hallway but had managed to escape into the room and bolt the door. The medical examiner scotched that one, saying that his wounds were such that he would have died instantly, where he was shot. However, in 1942, a little more than ten years later, an article in Edinburgh’s police journal, written by the pathologist Sir Sidney Smith, recounts a case that may offer a solution. He tells of a suicide, who shot himself in the head, causing colossal damage, but who somehow managed to live for several hours, only dying after he had made his way from the scene of the shooting back into his own apartment.  Perhaps that’s what happened to poor Theodore. Sadly we will never know.

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You can’t argue with the dictionary …

…. but you can try

If there’s one word guaranteed to get me shouting at the radio, the TV and even, on occasion, at the computer screen it’s the word impact. Affect I scream. The economy has been affected by the banking crisis. Or, if you must, the banking crisis has had an impact on the current economic downturn. Not, please not, the economy has been impacted by the banking crisis. Of course it would be true to say that our economy is one whopping great car crash, but that’s by the bye.

I think it’s the use of the noun impact as a verb that so annoys me. (Before you start screaming, at me, hold on and all will be revealed.) I’m all for breaking the rules of grammar. I’m guilty of starting sentences with and or but and of splitting infinitives. But (there you see) I do know the rules to start with. However, I’m well aware that I don’t know everything and that I have my blind spots. I’m also a thorough person and conscious that, as a writer, I will be picked up on any inaccuracies. So I turned to the dictionary to check.

At first all was well. As I believed, the noun impact means the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another as in there was the sound of a third impact. Yay. Just as I thought. Vindicated. I scrolled down. The word also means the effect or influence of one person, thing, or action, on another: our regional measures have had a significant impact on unemployment. So far so good.

I read on. Only to discover that impact can indeed be used both as a transitive and an intransitive verb. The very examples given in the dictionary are the ones that make me tear my hair out.  An asteroid impacted the earth. High interest rates have impacted on retail spending. And worse the move is not expected to impact the company’s employees.

Bummer. It’s not nice to find that your favourite prejudices have no grammatical foundation. Bummer, bummer and thrice bummer. However, a chink of light appears. There’s ‘A Note’. This mentions that the phrasal verb impact on has been in the language since the 1960s but that many people disapprove of it despite its relative frequency. More to the point it continues by saying that, as a verb, impact rarely carries the noun’s original sense of forceful collision. Careful writers are advised to use more exact verbs that will leave their readers in no doubt about the intended meaning.

Oh dear! This post hasn’t quite turned out the way I meant it to. I set out to rant against the inaccurate use of impact as a verb, safe in the knowledge that I was right. And I’m not.  Not strictly speaking. However, my visceral feelings tell me otherwise. No matter how correct it is, according to the letter of the law, I will always hate the word impact used as a verb. So whether I’m right or wrong, it’s my prejudice and I defend it to the death. As with many of the new shortcuts that have leaked into our language the root cause is both laziness and lack of imagination, coupled with the herd mentality. And just don’t start me off on going forward.

Picture source: creative commons-drweis gerber

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L’Odyssée de Cartier – is this the most exquisite commercial ever made?

Maybe it did cost 4 million pounds to make. It could have been 5 million as far as I’m concerned. Much better to spend that sort of money on this stunningly gorgeous film than on a banker’s bonus. I watched it a week ago at the Islington Vue and again the following day. Going to the movies on a weekend morning is one of my great pleasures. Especially as, unless you are very unlucky, there’s no one else there. I do love a sparsely populated cinema. But I digress.

Watching this commercial made me think of others that stand out from the crowd. Like the Smirnoff ads, made during the eighties and nineties. A whole series, press ads as well as TV, presented beautiful and often strange images through the prism of the iconic Smirnoff bottle. There have been many other imaginative and creative ads – some action packed, others crazy or witty. Commercials such as Gap’s ‘Pardon Our Dust’, Sony Bravia’s ‘Bouncing Balls’ or ‘The Chase’ made for Levi 501s by David Fincher.  And one of my favourites of all time Vauxhall Corsa’s ‘Hide and Seek’, which inspired many similar commercials. Relatively few, however, come anywhere near L’Odyssée.

Honda’s commercials have been especially impressive and ground breaking. Garrison Keillor’s throaty voice helps too, although they’ve had the intelligence to use it sparingly for the most part. There are of course some exceptions, such as ‘Grrr’ where the whole point was the song. There is no voiceover at all in the sensational ‘Cog’ except for the wonderful line at the very end ‘Isn’t it nice when things just work.’ And although the latest offering ‘Spark’ has rather more, they are again not only perfect but used judiciously.

In its 165-year history, Cartier has created many memorable commercials – ‘Winter Tale’, ‘Calibre’ and ‘Promenade d’un Panthere’ – to name just a few. Of course the famous Cartier panther is actually a leopard.  But that’s an observation, not a criticism. I can find no fault with this surreal, spectacular and elegant film, which runs for a full three and a half minutes, a minute longer than Honda’s cog.  From the original score by Pierre Adenot and its classic and exotic imagery to the palette of subtle colours it simply oozes class.



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