Everybody likes cats, right? Hell, even I like cats, and I’m allergic to them (and I hate most things, but let’s ignore that for now). I also like P.G. Wodehouse – I was even a member of the P.G. Wodehouse Society for a while until I got sick of paying the (modest) membership fee – though I wish he could have just spelled his damn name Woodhouse and saved everyone some trouble. So I wanted to make sure I got up to the British Library to see both “Cats on the Page” and the small display on Wodehouse in the “Treasures of the British Library” gallery before they came to an end. I also really wanted to get a piece of bakery from Outsider Tart’s stall at the market that’s normally at King’s Cross from Wednesday-Friday, so I specifically timed my visit to correspond with that, only to find no sign of the market with no indication of why that might be on social media. I assume it was because of the shitty windy rainy weather, but at least have the courtesy to mention that to people who might have made a special trip! So I swallowed my (considerable) annoyance, and headed to the BL, since I was already there, after all (and I totally made my own blondies when I got home, but it would be nice to have cake I didn’t have to make myself for a change).
I started with the Wodehouse display, which was even smaller than I expected – just one case. But it was free, along with the rest of the “Treasures” gallery, so I can’t complain too much. It contained a very brief biography of Wodehouse that seemingly spent most of the time defending him from accusations of being a Nazi sympathiser (because he agreed to make a series of radio broadcasts over German radio during the war about his time in an internment camp), and rightly so, because I really don’t think he was, based on his delightful send-up of Oswald Mosley and his idiotic Blackshirts via the medium of Roderick Spode, but devoting so much space to it in such a small display made it look a bit as though they were protesting too much. Nonetheless, I enjoyed seeing some of Wodehouse’s personal correspondence and manuscripts of some of his books, so it was still worthwhile for a Wodehouse fan, just probably not enough to justify a special trip. But the rest of the “Treasures” gallery is great (even though I think by putting the name in quotation marks, it makes it look as though I’m being sarcastic). I don’t think I’ve blogged about it before, probably because they don’t allow photography, and I’m pretty sure the displays change frequently, but highlights of what was there when I visited included Durer prints, some of Da Vinci’s sketches, an entire Shakespeare section, and even Magna Carta.
“Cats on the Page” was also a free display, and was located on the first floor of the entrance gallery. Photography wasn’t allowed of the objects here either (presumably for copyright reasons), but I’ve tried to include some I could find online. It was about various beloved cats from children’s literature, and some perhaps more unfamiliar books about cats, including a great (and creepy) one about a bunch of cats dying and coming back to life, because they still had eight lives left (it even included a drawing of their tombs, which of course had cats on them, though sadly I’ve not been able to find it to show you). I’m not that familiar with T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, though I know it inspired the musical Cats, which is not the kind of musical I enjoy (I love musicals, but not Andrew Lloyd Webber ones), so I was surprised to see that the original illustrations were actually rather charming, and nothing like the terrifying costumes from the stage musical.
This exhibition made me think that perhaps cats are more common in British children’s literature, because I don’t remember reading that many books about cats in my own youth (other than Tom Kitten, which is of course by a British author, and those books of Garfield comic strips that I loved for some reason, even though I don’t really find Garfield funny at all as an adult. That cartoon from the ’90s was pretty good though, and don’t get me started on those Garfield fruit snacks that they stopped making years ago. So delicious!), but maybe that was more because my mother doesn’t like cats so didn’t get those picture books for me, rather than any lack of American cat books. At any rate, I had certainly never encountered beloved British cat characters like Mog until after moving to the UK.
This display was actually slightly bigger than expected, with fairly detailed captions and of course lots of illustrations spread throughout the whole middle section of the main hall, and there was even a small interactive station where you could try to identify different cat noises or sit and read one of a selection of cat books. The BL are also running a series of cat themed lectures to tie in with the display, though it looks like most of the interesting sounding ones are sold out. The main exhibition at the BL is still the Saxons one I saw a few months ago, but I did notice a King Edgar (with weirdly long crossed fingers that are never explained. We have the same drawing of him with the same creepy fingers in the museum where I work, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to search for an explanation, and found nothing) all set up for photo ops, so I had a picture with him in the end, despite feeling very self-conscious because of a bench positioned immediately opposite full of people staring at me. The cat exhibition is a nice little display worth seeing if you’re in the area before 17th March (the Wodehouse display is already gone at time of posting), but definitely don’t make a trip expecting to buy a blondie from Real Food Market King’s Cross, because you will probably be disappointed. 3/5 for “Cats on the Page” and a big fat 0/5 for the Real Food Market’s lack of communication. What’s the point of having fifty different social media channels if you don’t use any of them to tell people you’re closed? Boo-urns.
Oh, and to end on a positive note, I saw Hanson last week for the first time ever (despite being OBSESSED with them I was 12, then not listening to them for about 17 years because I thought I was much too cool for that, and re-discovering them as an adult after I no longer cared if people thought I was lame, and I realised they’ve been putting out catchy albums the whole way, and oh yeah, grew up to be pretty hot, which definitely doesn’t hurt), and they were amazing! I’ve been missing out all these years, and will 100% catch them again the next time they’re in London.