Episode 22 – released, by pure coincidence, on International Cat Day – features Elizabeth, Ben and resident Pratcat Asimov for a look at one of Pratchett’s oddest books: 1989’s humorous examination of all things feline, The Unadulterated Cat.
Cats these days just aren’t a patch on the ones you used to get: untameable aloof outdoor beasts who are more likely to trap you in a neighbours’ house with a broken leg (long story) than to sit nicely on your lap and purr. The Campaign for Real Cats has had enough of modern, “fizzy keg” cats, with their bows and bells and posing. This is the Campaign’s guide to identifying, understanding and appreciating honest-to-Bastet real cats.
Pratchett teams up with cartoonist and illustrator Gray Jolliffe to give us a tongue-firm-in-furry-cheek guide to the world of cats in one of his rare non-fiction works. It’s the kind of thing you buy the cat lover in your life for Christmas, full of chapters detailing the types of cats, their names, the games they play and “advice” on how to deal with them. Are you a cat lover? Did this ring true for you? We’d love to hear from you – and to hear your cat stories, and any real cats you’ve identified in fiction! Use the hashtag #Pratchat22 on social media to join the conversation.
In September we return to the Discworld – and its most real of cats, Greebo – as we head to the opera for Maskerade, the 1994 book which brings the witches to Ankh-Morpork! Our guest will be teacher and opera singer Myf Coghill. We’d love your questions – send them to us via social media using the hashtag #Pratchat23. And as mentioned in this episode, we’ll soon be releasing our first bonus episode just for subscribers! All bonus episodes will be available to anyone who subscribes, so if you’re interested, jump over to our Support Us page for details.
Show Notes and Errata:
- Asimov lives with Liz and is our resident “Pratcat”. He was previously audible in the background of episode 10, We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Broomstick, and episode 18, Sundog Gazillionaire. You can follow his adventures on Instagram at @asimovthecat.
- Best-selling humorous cat books include How to Tell if Your Cat is Planning to Kill You, several volumes dedicated to Internet sensations Grumpy Cat and the LOLcats of I Can Has Cheezburger?, and other books that draw on similar themes to The Unadulterated Cat, including Cats Are the Worst and Sorry I Barfed on Your Bed.
- Eric Ernest Jolliffe – the wrong Jolliffe – was an Australian cartoonist and illustrator who led an adventurous life, including work all over Australia and serving as a camouflage officer with the RAAF in World War II. He is best remembered for his magazine and newspaper strips Saltbush Bill and Sandy Blight, and his own magazine, Jolliffe’s Outback.
- Gray Jolliffe’s anthropomorphic penis character, Wicked Willie, was the star of both a series of comic books and also a straight-to-video series of animated shorts directed by Australian Bob Godfrey, best remembered for his work on the children’s animated series Roobarb and Henry’s Cat.
- Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche is a satire of masculinity, originally subtitled “A Guidebook to All That Is Traditionally Masculine”. It was written in 1982 by American humorist and screenwriter Bruce Feirstein and stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year. Localised adaptations were subsequently written for the UK and Australia, the latter by Australian playwright and author Alex Buzo.
- Nathan W. Pyle’s strange planet series of comics about aliens trying to understand life on Earth is available at his web site, nathanwpyle.art, and on his Instagram at @nathanwpyle. Pyle experienced some controversy in April 2019 over an old tweet, but his cartoons remain a delightful commentary on the absurdities of our world. Both the cat name cartoon and the vibrating cat cartoon are still on Instagram.
- Operant conditioning is a form of learning where a behaviour becomes more or less frequent because of positive or negative consequences of the behaviour – a reward or a punishment. This is different to classical or Pavlovian conditioning, where a seperate stimulus is associated with the behaviour – the classic ringing of a bell when feeding the Pavlov’s dogs.
- You read all about the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) at their web site, camra.org.uk.
- The UK cat documentary mentioned by Liz is “The Secret Life of the Cat: the Science of Tracking Our Cats“, an episode of the BBC series Horizon from 2013. Fifty “cat residents” from the village of Shamley in Surrey were fitted with GPS trackers and cameras over 24 hours.
- My Fair Lady (1964, dir. George Cukor) is a film version of the 1956 musical, itself an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion (though the ending is quite different). In the story, academic Henry Higgins teaches Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle to speak with an upper class accent to see if she can pass as a lady. The film stars Rex Harrison as Higgins, a role he originated on the West End, and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza, a controversial choice over Harrison’s stage partner Julie Andrews, who at the time had no film experience and was not thought famous enough to carry the film. The movie won eight Academy Awards.
- There are plenty of fainting goat videos on YouTube; here’s a National Geographic one to get you started.
- Cats can’t spit like humans do, but they can spray saliva when hissing. One of the main things that trigger allergic reactions from cats is a protein present in their saliva.
- The Famous Five are Enid Blyton’s team of four teenage crime fighters – Julian, Dick, Anne and George – and their dog, Timmy. They first featured in a series of novels published between 1942 and 1963. The books were also adapted into a popular television series in 1978 – and included friend of the Splendid Chaps, Gary Russell, as Dick. Blyton really did use the paper key-retrieval trick often in her books, and not only for The Famous Five.
- Ben’s explanation of the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment is basically correct, but the main idea tested by it is quantum superposition. This is the concept that subatomic particles exist in all possible states until observed. There are plenty of good write-ups and videos explaining it in more detail online.
- We previously mentioned Seafurrers: The Ships’ Cats Who Lapped and Mapped the World by Philippa Sandall (2018) in episode 16, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Vorbis. There’s also a Seafurrers blog maintained by Bart the cat.
- Summer Bay is the fictional New South Wales town where popular Australian soap opera Home & Away is set. Some of the beach houses inhabited by its characters have elaborate staircases.
- The cane toad, Rhinella marina, is a species of toad native to Central and Southern America. It was introduced to Australia from Hawaii in 1935 to control two species of native Australian beetle whose adults eat sugar cane leaves, and larvae eat sugar cane roots. The documentary Cane Toads: An Unnatural History (1988) – followed by a sequel, Cane Toads: The Conquest (2010) – is a great intro to the toad’s impact on Australian farming, wildlife and culture.
- The original video of Fenton the labrador – titled “JESUS CHRIST IN RICHMOND PARK” – is pretty great. At the height of his fame in 2012, Fenton had merch including the book Find Fenton, a Where’s Wally? style work inviting you to do what it says in the title.
- Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov had a famous rivalry which lasted for fifteen years of insults both public and private, though it seems likely this was mostly for their entertainment, and that they let go of any actual animosity in their later years. One famous story has it that Clarke learned a passenger who died in a plane crash was reading one of his own novels; he sent the news to Asimov, suggesting that the passenger would have been better off with one of Isaac’s books, since they would have died in their sleep. Asimov replied that the crash probably came as a “merciful release” from the pain of having to read one of Clarke’s novels.
- The microrganism Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that reproduces in the bloodstream of cats, and exits their systems in their faeces. The parasite can infect any mammal, causing a disease known as Toxoplasmosis. It is often symptomless but can cause neurological problems in people with compromised immune systems. Some studies have suggested possible links between cat ownership as a child with adult schizophrenia, and one scientist thinks that it affects human behaviour, causing irrational attachment to cats, though this is far from a mainstream theory. You can read about Jaroslav Flegr’s theories about cat parasites affecting human brains in this 2012 article from The Atlantic.
- Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is T S Eliot’s 1939 collection of cat poems in which he reveals many secrets about cat psychology and society, including how they name and organise themselves. As mentioned, you can find Eliot reading it on Spotify. It was rather improbably adapted into a hugely popular stage musical, Cats, by Andrew Lloyd Weber in 1981 (and is soon to be released as a Hollywood film, the trailer for which has had…mixed reviews). In the book and early versions of the musical, Growltiger is a piratical cat who lives on a barge on the River Thames, and as Lachlan suggests, is definitely a real cat. Of note is that Eliot, whose works are noted for containing racism, used offensive terms to refer to the Chinese cats fought by Growltiger in the poem, “Growltiger’s Last Stand”. The poem was adapted as one of the original songs in the musical, complete with the racist epithet intact, but was later rewritten and then replaced altogether.
- Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy is a series of young adult dystopian novels set in a future America which has devolved into a corrupt wealthy Capitol and twelve districts of poor, exploited workers. Each year two young “tributes” from each district are sent to take part in the “Hunger Games”, a battle royale fight to the death meant to remind the population that they cannot fight the state. Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist and hero of District 12, has a hate-hate relationship with Buttercup, her sister’s “hideous-looking” ginger cat, who is described as a good mouser and enjoying eating entrails from the animals Katniss illegally hunts to help feed her family.
- Jonesy is another ginger cat who belongs to Ellen Ripley, the main protagonist of the Alien films, and features most prominently in Ridley Scott’s original 1979 Alien. He and Ripley were the only survivors of the Nostromo when the alien creature killed the rest of the crew; he was left behind on Earth when Ripley returned to the planet where the alien was found, 57 years later. In 2018 Jonesy became the subject of his own cute cat book, Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo, which tells the story of Alien from his point of view.
- We previously talked about Horse and Footrot Flats way back in episode 4, Enter Three Wytches, with Elly Squire.
- Garfield is the famous creation of cartoonist Jim Davis. A fat, ginger cat, Garfield was originally the star of a newspaper comic strip that began in 1978 and is still syndicated in many papers today. He has since become a star of television, film and millions of plush toys. Garfield is definitely not a real cat: he loves fancy human food (especially lasagna), hates Mondays for some reason, and has a beloved teddy bear named Pooky. Garfield’s popularity despite its bland, inoffensive content has led many third parties to produce alternate versions of the strip. Realfield replaced Garfield with a more realistic cat (this reddit post has plenty of examples), while Garfield Minus Garfield imagines a world in which Garfield doesn’t exist, and his owner Jon appears to be talking to himself. (There’s also the similar De-Garfed, which leaves Garfield in but takes out all his dialogue, leaving Jon talking to a cat which doesn’t talk back.) There’s also The Garfield Randomizer, which creates Garfield cartoons by combining individual panels from existing strips at random, and Garkov, which replaces the dialogue with new text generated by a Markov chain, a popular method for remixing existing text into new forms. (For a Pratchett-related Markov generator, check out Scrambled Pratchett (@ScramPratchett) on Twitter.)
- In the Doctor Who New Adventures novels published by Virgin in the 1990s, the Seventh Doctor is given a cat named Wolsey during the time he was temporarily transformed into a human. When the Doctor regenerated he gave Wolsey to his previous companion Benny Summerfield, an archaeologist from the 26th century. Wolsey stayed with her for many adventures, including when alien technology warped reality into something resembling a pantomime, transforming Wolsey into a humanoid cat who referred to Benny as “servant woman”, making his real status pretty liklely! In the audio adventures created by Big Finish Productions, the Fifth Doctor’s companion Erimem from ancient Egypt brought aboard a stray cat named Antranak, who was also pretty real, though the Doctor didn’t like him much. Antranak eventually sacrificed himself to save the Doctor and his friends, though this may have been the influence of an alien intelligence which had been absorbed into his mind. Because Doctor Who.
- Throgmorten is a cat (another ginger!) who appears in Diana Wynne Jones’ The Lives of Christopher Chant (1988), a book in her Chrestomanci series detailing the earliest adventures of magician protagonist Christopher Chant. Throgmorten is a magical cat stolen by Christopher from a temple for use in a magical experiment, but Christopher’s uncle proposes to kill and then sell bits of Throgmorten. Christopher instead takes the cat home and sets him free, earning a grudging respect which helps him in his later adventures.
- Only Forward is the debut novel of Michael Marshall, written under his original pseudonym Michael Marshall Smith. He wrote many sci-fi and horror novels and short stories under that name before switching to Michael Marshall for crime fiction, and more recently Michael Rutger, under which name he writes paranormal thrillers.
- The Maquis de Carabas in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere is not based on Puss in Boots himself, but rather sprang from Gaiman asking himself “What kind of person would own a cat like that?” In the original tale, it’s a miller’s third son who inherits the cat, rather than the mill or his father’s money. The cat requests boots, then serves his master well, gaining him favour with the King and eventually a title, partly by claiming his master is the fictional “Maquis de Carabas”. The miller’s son himself is not especially bright or brave, so Gaiman’s Maquis certainly feels like he has some of the cat in him. Gaiman’s other cats include those of the Sandman comic story “A Dream of a Thousand Cats”, in which cats share a secret story about their history, and The Cat, Coraline’s ally in Coraline, who is able to walk between worlds and speak when in The Other Place.