Monday, 1 April 2013

Moggie the Library Cat

Philip Harvey

Early this year I received an unexpected invitation to assist with an exhibition. The invitation came from the Gdańsk Library of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Ewa Chmielewska-Tomczak and Anna Więcek were organising an exhibition called ‘A Cat – Holy or Damned. Cats in Literature and Art’ in connection with International Cat Day. The women planned to show historical and contemporary collections of their library, which was founded over 400 years ago: books, drawings and manuscripts of some famous cat lovers, including citizens of Gdańsk. They also wanted to explore the special relation between cats and libraries or bookshops. While surfing the Internet they found the Carmelite Library site and Moggie, the Library cat. It was the matter of a moment to assist them with their innocent enquiry. I could supply them with photographs and words about our library cat, even advising without being asked that no exhibition of this kind could be without Pangur Ban, the monastic library cat described in the ninth century Irish Celtic poem. But I had to come clean. Indeed, even just to meet the requirements of the exhibition (“We hope to get to people’s hearts and minds and contribute to improving cats welfare in the human world “) some explanation of Moggie’s current whereabouts were imperative. In writing to Ewa Chmielewska-Tomczak and Anna Więcek, I gave an honest account of Moggie’s life journey, which I here expand to answer the many enquiries from others that keep coming in about Moggie, even to this day.

Her name is Moggie. She replaced the departed cat Maggie some years ago. Both cats belonged to Paul Chandler O.Carm.  Friar and feline  lived the kind of happy healthy symbiotic relationship between cat and monastic expressed so eloquently in Pangur Ban. The trick of it is that though images of Moggie remain permanently on the Library website, Moggie has long since left the Library for greener pastures. This euphemism does not mean she died, but that she got a better offer. Moggie now lives in the magnificent surrounds of a nearby home. While Paul, then the librarian, spent 24/7 (more or less) in the Library, he was able to attend to Moggie's every need. But the dynamic changed when Paul went to study in Rome in 2006. I am a librarian but not a Carmelite, nor do I live in the same part of Melbourne as the Library. In the new dispensation, Moggie was not going to get through the weekend. Fortunately, the people at the upstairs yoga school found a home for Moggie. This home is nearby in Beaconsfield Parade, one of those magnificent boulevards of 19th-century Melbourne. This one runs parallel the length of the nearby beaches. Moggie now has a bay window with glorious views of shipping and yachts on Port Phillip Bay. Agile hang gliders meet her gaze, but only until another meal or nap calls her away. Large cushions, much larger than those in the Library, are her natural place of sleep. She is found on the cushions most of time she is awake, too. Her cat bowl is still here in The Library, should she ever choose to revisit us some time. So far, she hasn't. We miss Moggie and if I worked 24/7 in the Carmelite Library would have two or three cats. They are a peaceful presence, curled at the window or checking the book shelves when the library staff are busy on other things. By keeping the images on the website we keep an historical record of the Library, of the warp and woof of our daily working lives, or maybe that should be the warp and miaou.


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