This Much I Know

Lynne Barrett-Lee


There’s a reason people post pictures of kittens on social media. And that’s because, when the kitten-pix get knocked off the top spot, it can so easily all become a bit ‘pfffft’.

It’s only Wednesday as I write and already I’m knackered. People mourning Bowie. People not mourning Bowie. People being chippy about people who are ‘over-mourning’ Bowie, particularly when they’ve provided insufficient evidence of their right to be mourning Bowie in the first place. People posting pictures of their prehistoric Bowie album collection and/or ticket stubs to concerts that they, like, ACTUALLY WENT TO.

People flagging up (or, in social meeja speak, ‘just saying’) that the airtime that’s been allocated to showing people publicly mourning Bowie has officially gone beyond the realms of what’s morally acceptable, given that there’s, like, SYRIA going on? Like, hello?

People berating people who seek to cast aspersions on people over-mourning Bowie, on the grounds that, like, actually, there’s, like, FLOODS, like, OVER HERE. Then there’s journalists, specially those known for contrary opinions, hurrying to press, possibly hitting each other with limited edition Bowie singles, to deliver said opinions to the ‘still-on-the-fence-re-the-Bowie-positioning’ masses, so that their status as being contrary in all things remains intact.

There’s David Bowie’s milkman. And a posh lady who once shared a flat with him. And Paul McCartney, who is kept on a retainer for the purpose and can always be relied upon to say something sweet in the event of a fellow icon passing on. And the plethora of pugilists, whose weapon of choice is to quote increasingly obscure fragments of ancient Bowie lyrics in order that their ‘no greater Bowie love hath any man’ credentials remain secure, and also smug, in perpetuity.

And don’t get me started on the junior doctors’ strike. No, wait. I’ll just say this…

No, no. DON’T get me started. If you know me well, you’ll already realise that I might never, ever stop.

Anyway, there’s that, too. Around which we’ll quickly draw a veil. Because, grr. Because, arrgh. Because, pffft.

So back to kittens. And specifically to the subject of this unashamedly kitten-hi-jacked column, which is a kitten turned cat, of a naval persuasion. Name of Simon. And, no, you couldn’t make it up.

And as it happens, I didn’t need to, because Simon is/was a real cat. The only cat, (do keep up) to have been awarded a PDSA Dickin medal, which was named after their founder, the social reformer, Maria Dickin, and which, since 1943, has been awarded to a variety of animals, for gallantry and devotion to duty.

And what of it, I hear you say (particularly if you are still busy trying to identify obscure fragments of Bowie lyrics). Well, I mention Simon because for the past year, he and I have been in cahoots. Though it’s less a case of ‘Lynne the ghostwriter, ghosting the story of an inspirational contemporary human’, as the ghost of Simon, inspirational naval kitten, inhabiting me, following the joyous occasion of my being asked, and in all seriousness, ‘would you like to write a grown-up novel, based on a remarkable piece of dramatic naval history, and – this the clincher – from the viewpoint of a ship’s cat?’ (The ship in question being HMS Amethyst. The event, the 1949 Yangtse Incident. The cat, a stray plucked from a small Hong Kong harbour.)

You might suggest (specially if you are still down a blind Bowie-lyric-themed alley) that such an offer was one to be, if not outright refused, at least considered with a modicum of caution. After all, who in their right mind, over the age of about seven, would want to read a book from a cat’s point of view, with all-the-twee flibberty-jibbertiness that must imply?

So I thought for a second (with special emphasis on George Orwell). And I looked at all the animals on social media today. And I said ‘yes, indeedy’, and began my cat-life right away.ableseacatsi_hardback_1471151832_72

And this week, with the novel published – of all the weeks it could be published – I am feeling content. Think about it. Androgynous. Long-haired. Slightly scary. Bonkers lyrics. Wrote a song about a laughing gnome AND EXPECTED IT TO CHART? Who in their right mind would like David Bowie?

So there you have it. I hope I’ve contributed to the sum of human kitten-joy, and that my old Brixon mucker, David, would approve.


Able Seacat Simon, The Wartime Hero of The High Seas, by Lynne
Barrett-Lee, is published by Simon and Schuster.


First published in The Western Mail Saturday Magazine 16.2.2016




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