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Thank you, dear readers, for your wonderful notes regarding your Certificates of Catology. You should all celebrate your expertise and take pride in your achievement. And yes, those little cat portraits on your certificates of appreciation are reproduced the same size that I painted them. And yes, they are all my cats — maybe you’ll recognize this fella, Taffy:You can’t tell from this photo, but it’s bucketing down. (Rain is very, very hard to photograph.) I am standing at the den window, looking out on the back patio. Taffy is sitting on the low bench that Top Cat built for the cats so they have a perch, under the eaves, out of the rain.

I tapped on the window and said to Taffy, “Wouldn’t you rather be inside with me?”

Taffy thought that was a good idea.

(This is Taffy, 15 minutes later.)

As I type this, it is Sunday August 14 2011. Something about today’s rain — the persistence of it, the warmth, and pallor, the Sunday-ness of it — reminds me of another kind of rain. Irish rain. The kind that falls on a traveler, far from home, who feels stymied by the weather, the ennui, the age (mine).

I was 29, alone and at odds-and-ends with myself, hitchiking around Ireland. It was the Summer of 1985.

In fact, it was August 14, 1985. I know exactly what I was doing on such a day as this, on this exact day in fact. (It was a Wednesday, but in a foreign country, every rainy day feels like a Sunday.)

On this certain rainy Sundayish-Wednesday in Ireland, I was in Derry (formerly known as Londonderry), in Northern Ireland. Bits of the city was still smoldering (yes: smoldering. I have photos. Of black smoke wafting up from the Catholic slum) from the annual riots that accompany the August 12 Apprentice Boys of Derry march that commemorates the 1689 Siege of Derry – which, like all marches in Northern Ireland, is really an excuse for the Catholics and the Protestants to beat the crap out of each other. But, to be fair, even in-between march days, Derry is not a happy place:

Derry is known to many as the cradle of the ‘troubles’, the civil rights movement that was reborn in 1969. Derry is also the location of Bloody Sunday when British Paratroopers shot dead 13 civil rights protesters on 31st Jan 1972.

Well. You can imagine that the smell and look of Derry is not enhanced by pouring rain.  And I was not in the mood to pick sides, investigate the history, learn myself some culture. Nope. All I wanted was a warm dry place to sit and drink tea.

So I was wandering down one of Derry’s shopping streets (which were all open, not barricaded and patrolled by British tanks like they would be when I got to Belfast later that month) and I found a book shop. And in that book shop I found the book that changed the mood of the day for me.

I hasten to add that ever since I’d arrived in Galway four week earlier, I’d been buying up books about the Irish Renaissance as I moseyed to Dublin and back to Connaught and up the west coast– Lady Gregory, William Butler Yeats, that Synge guy. But like I said, I was not interested in any of that on this particular day.

On this day, I found these books:

In the 1980s, the English writer-illustrator Graham Oakley produced a series of children’s books, 8  in all, each a 40-page paper back about an orange cat named Sampson

who lives in an fine old country church with a huge number of church mice friends.

The books cost 1.95 pounds each, about the same price as a room at the youth hostel; I bought my first Church Mice book on this day, August 14, 1985.

I bought The Church Mice in Action, and I scurried out the door and found a dumpy little tea cafe further down the road. I got a cup of tea (in those days, it cost 10 pence a cup, and a sugar doughnut cost 15p).

I liked that book so much that I returned to the shop the next day (it was still raining) and bought all the titles they had in stock. And, as you can see (above), I still have these books, despite all my travels, and moves, and huge purges that I’ve lived through these last 25 years.

Today, with the rain and these memories on my mind, I fetched The Church Mice in Action from my bookshelf and re-read it for the first time in, oh, five years. The story, and the art, still makes me laugh.

There is something extraordinary on every page of this book, but I’ll give you just a tiny taste of this story, about the time that the Church Mice hatched a scheme to raise money to fix the old church roof by entering Sampson in a cat show, whose jury they rigged.

The plot twist comes when two villains kidnap Sampson and hold him for ransom — they wanted the 10 pounds Sampson won at the cat show.

Of course, the Church Mice rescue Sampson, who is tied up in a show box:

Which the Church Mice ring leaders, Arthur and Humphrey, think is hilarious:

But they hitch hike back to the church,

and a  little girl on a bicycle picks them up and Sampson has the last laugh, sitting in the cat bird seat:

As for the leaky church roof, well,

It leaked more than ever but the verger kept the stove going day and night and with bits of the parish magazine stuffed in the cracks around the windows and a few hassocks along the bottom of the doors to keep out the draughts, the mice could doze cosily around the stove on winter evenings while Humphrey told them for the hundreth time about how he had outwitted the kidnappers.

You all know by now that this is my raison d’etre as a writer, capturing the lightest, least iconic, most unforgettable moments of life. Because it’s not as if I have much choice to be anything but a chronicler of life’s itty bitty, everlasting moments. Put me in a rainy Derry that is still on fire from a centuries-old quasi-religious civil rights feud when I am chasing some sense of importance in my numerically significant 29th year on Earth, and I come back with a cat book. (But it’s a swell cat, book, isn’t it?)

Today, now, after 12 hours of rain, it is still bucketing down here on Long Island, and it’s now tea time. I will probably make a cup of Irish Breakfast tea and read more of my 1985 diary and hatch a chapter in my new memoir about Everything I know About Rain, Home and Abroad. (Or not. I’m still mulling over the next project.)

And if you have a story about a rainy day far from home, do tell us about it. The smaller the better.

10 comments to The meaning of rainy days.

  • Loved the story and the pictures from your Church Cat book! But you know what struck me most? How kind Top Cat is – what a lovely thing to do, to make a special bench for the cats with consideration for their height prefernce.

  • Pinky

    The thing I caught was, when you knocked on the window, the “ferel” cat knew to come around to the door to come in the house !!
    Who can talk to cats like that? How did he know you were saying that, and how did he know it must mean “come in” if he hears a tap on the glass?

    One of life’s mysteries.

  • I love the sound of your next book! And, I think I will add these to my wish list and if I ever find them while in England, I must pick them up being a cat lover and all. :) The rainy day that is most on my mind is one this past April…walking 14 miles in gale force winds and pelting, sideways rain in the most exposed and remote part of The Cumbria Way in the Lake District of England. Miserable, yes..beautiful, without a doubt!

  • Just went into the other room, to our family children’s library, and got down my copy of the Church Mouse – to reread as soon as the rain starts again this morning. Thanks for the reminder. I haven’t read it in 30+ years.

  • Rachel

    Oh, for goodness sakes. Here I am in the advance stages of preparing to move. Thus there is a lot of book shifting, purging, etc going on.

    I discovered last week that I had TWO copies of The Church Mice which I originally found in a library book sale several years ago. I did read all of the others in the series through borrowing from the library. I believe I can manage with one copy so the other is off to a new home.

    Somehow in getting rid of books for moving I have managed to acquire 24 books by Alison Uttley about Little Grey Rabbit and her companions, which I have been snuggling up with each evening. She has other non-LGR books as well, all a bit difficult to find on this side of the pond. Fortunately I do have all of the Brambly Hedge books by Jill Barklem, but unfortunately there are only eight of them.

    I was so proud that I finally had my children’s books arranged a bit: Bunnies, Mice, Teddies, Other Woodland Creatures… The person who is helping me was very amused about that last category, but so many of those books are indeed multi-species. She also thought it funny that I had 3 copies of Seven Little Rabbits, although only one copy of Ten Little Rabbits.

    BTW, The Church Mice is shelved here with Mice, which does not mean that Sampson is not a very important character in the story.

  • Deborah

    I’m with Margaret re: Top Cat’s kindness in making a bench under the eaves to keep the cats dry. I think maybe there’s an HGTV series in that!

    I don’t travel enough to have a rain story, but I have a book about a rainy day story. As a kid, I had a book called The Campbell Soup Kids and the Rainy Day. It was raining & they couldn’t go out to play, so they decided to make lunch: tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I loved that book — because I love grilled cheese sandwiches and because the Campbell Soup kids had their own aprons, which seemed like the neatest thing in the world to me. I coveted them. How I’ve changed. I can afford all the aprons I want, and I don’t own any.

  • JOAN

    I don’t have a particular story and/or place to remember about a rainy day, but what I love most (maybe because we only get 3-4 in. of rain a year) is having the clouds roll in over the mountains, the unique, pungent scent of the wet desert, and most of all– being in the car listening to that rhythmic sound, slip-slap–slip-slap of the windshield wipers. I love it when it rains…it touches all the senses.

    I love the illustrations in the Church Cat books…so dear. They remind of my fave Beatice Potter books with their sweet drawings.

    Joan

  • Nadine

    I was in Paris in May 1984, alone and about 5000 miles from my boyfriend, and it was rainy and cold the entire first week of my 2-week trip. I remember walking around the city being miserable because my hand that held the umbrella was freezing and my ears hurt they were so cold, and no one sells gloves or ear muffs in May. So, I did what every miserable tourist does: I picked up a local guy and went on a date. The experience was as lousy as the weather.

    The Churchmice are adorable! I haven’t seen those books since the ’80s and I’d forgotten all about those cute drawings. Orange cats always pick me up. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Susie

    Oh, this is so sweet! Cats, rain, Top Cat’s “cat spot”, Taffy, Graham Oakley’s books (which I have never seen before!- I just found one for $2 on Abebooks), your tea, even your experiences from 1985, sad but sweet, too. Everything….

    Rain story? In the late 50s, early 60s when I was a kid and we would go on vacation every August from Rochester, New York to New England somewhere. It always rained the first day. I still remember leaving the house just after dawn, in the rain, riding for hours till we stopped for breakfast in some far away diner, with the rain still coming down. Fried eggs, toast, jam in those little square pots with the foil peel-off tops, pats of real butter…….and I got to have hot chocolate. Which I didn’t get much at home.

    I haven’t traveled farther than about 50 miles from home in all my adult life! But I do sit on the porch in the rain, with a cup of plain old British Blend tea. That’s the life…..

  • There are so many truly excellent children’s books….. Love the girl’s expression, when she has Sampson, sitting proudly, in the basket…..

    Last year, at the end of our trip to France, my daughter and I decided to take a day trip from Paris to Rouen.

    We missed our train by a couple of minutes.

    Thwarted. Stuck. What to do.

    Wait a minute … “stuck” … in *Paris*!!!

    :-)

    It was a rainy day. What better to do, on a rainy day, than a bit of light retailing? We consoled ourselves with a fancy skirt, a few scarves, a lot of post cards, a souvenir mustard sampler, and lunch at Fauchon.

    The next day was beautifully sunny. Much better for walking around outside, looking at Rouen.

    So glad we had our rainy shopping day in Paris!

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