But this envelope contained no bad news, only a very fine sheet of creamy writing paper, neatly written on in red with perfectly straight, perfectly spaced lines, enclosing the cut-out picture of the yellow cat.
A long time ago, G. and I sold books together, sometimes drank rather a lot of beer together, occasionally fancied the same men, sauntered around Athens and the Peloponnese one Easter holiday smoking too many Camels, eating sardines and elephant beans and drinking ouzo with the juice from bitter oranges we'd scrumped from the roadside in cheap hotel rooms, reading 'The Odyssey' aloud, avoiding snakes and man-eating pigs, and blowing our minds with antiquities. We haven't seen each other for years but we've kept in touch and he sometimes looks in here. These days, he's training to be a psychiatric nurse, having got as good as one can get at selling books, looked after fragile and vulnerable people in the community with steadfast compassion and typical black-humoured irony, trained to be a plumber (he boasts that he can change a pressure joint or a colostomy bag with equal sang froid though not necessarily at the same time), become a proper artist-painter with sales and exhibitions to his name, grown a truly amazing moustache and no doubt done much more besides that I don't even know about. He's utterly my hero and I can say all this because he can't answer back with some mordant, deprecating and probably tasteless retort since he doesn't comment here.
A while ago, in this post, I recalled him showing me a photo he'd found in a Thames and Hudson book catalogue, of a yellow sculpted cat with bold black spots. I immediately wondered aloud how old it was, and he questioned why we always ask that, why we need to pin things down in place and time. He e-mailed me after reading the post, saying that he had recently found the very same picture, in a drawer in an envelope along with a photo of Eartha Kitt and Nat King Cole having a cuddle.
Despite having covered as much ground as he has, G's not moved house much since those days, and he always did like to preserve his treasures to himself. Now, he says, he's de-cluttering, and his first gesture towards this end is to pass on the picture of the yellow cat, since I remembered it fondly. As he doesn't have a scanner, perhaps I'd like to post it here, since it had languished in an envelope for 20 years.
It's always odd to see something like this again after it's faded and morphed with time in the memory. As I remembered it, it was quite different and could have been quite ancient or very modern. Looking at it again, I could be fairly sure it wasn't very old, but it's still a tricky thing to place, if you don't know it. On the off-chance I put 'yellow pottery cat' into Google Images, and not very far down it appeared. It turns out to be the famous Gallé cat. Originally designed by the French art nouveau artist Emile Gallé , who mostly worked in glass, in the late 19th centuryit was taken up and popularised by the Scottish pottery Wemyss (pronounced 'Weems') in the 1890s. They later closed down but were reopened in the 1980s, with variations on the Gallé cat one of their most popular items.
So, curiosity as to its age and provenance is satisfied, the vaporous stuff of memory and personal mythologising solidifies; something is lost, something is gained. In fact even without the Google search, I'd have found out what it was, since lovely sister, who knows her way around the decorative arts from the last 200 years from all over the globe like most of us know our way around the local supermarket, knew all about Gallé and Wemyss (including putting me right on the pronunciation) and would have filled me in anyway, once she'd seen it here. In fact G himself knew all about Wemyss too because there is a good exhibition of their wares at the museum in Newport which he frequents frequently, but there were no yellow cats and he'd not made the connection.
Well, I said to him, good luck with the de-cluttering, though if you have to re-home everything as carefully and lovingly as this it'll be slow going. Not that I mind. Just for fun, I found a little unvarnished photo frame I had around - about 50 eurocents from Ikea, I think, stained it with Inktense pencils, made a scrap paper mount and gave yellow puss a home in the blue room, where I shall enjoy it for a while to come.