Black Cat Balloon

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Taking a short break from the world of photo postcards, I am shifting over to a diminuative snapshot today. This little gem was spewed out of Great Britain and found in a sort of needle-in-a-haystack way while searching on eBay. The back is only marked with Velox and 5 38, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that May of 1935 isn’t the date of this photo. It is tiny, really just sort of 2.5″x3″ – the size of a business card – and has those crinkly white edges and boarder that were briefly in vogue for early commercial photo printing.

I do wish I knew what was going on in this photo as I suspect I would find it quite exciting. There is the really splendid, enormous cat balloon (held in place by an impressive number of ropes if you look carefully) and a group of women posing in front of it, while another woman is being filmed by what appears to be a newsreel or other film movie camera. (Oh to get closer!)  There are people lined up on the sidewalk behind some kind of fence or barrier. I would love to have a better look, not to mention know what it was all about. Interesting to take a picture of something being filmed. It was important enough to save it all this time – but with nary a note of explanation.

When I started collecting cat photos and photo postcards I was pleased to discover this sub-genre of cat photos – the cat parade float. I have come across and added several to my collection, most of them photo postcards. You can see some of my other lovelies at the following links:  Cat’s Eye on ParadeSpirit of the Golden West, Cats on Parade and lastly Felix on Parade. Clearly folks could easily work up some enthusiasm for a black cat float – thereby making it my kind of parade. I just wish I could have been there.

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We Are Getting Quite Attached

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Taking a bit of a break in the midst of many photo postcard posts, today I swerve a bit. As Pictorama readers know, a few months ago, on a trip to London, I opened the Louis Wain floodgates with the purchases of the book Merry Times and a newspaper holiday supplement page illustration. These purchases and accompanying adventures can be found in these  links, Waxing and Wain-ing, Part 1 and Waxing and Wain-ing, Part 2. At that point I predicted future Wain collecting and posts and the aforementioned recent trip to the NY postcard show proved my prediction accurate. Above is one of those purchases and the one of three Louis Wain postcards to enter my collection on that day.

First to say, as someone who has formed all of my collections just by following my nose and what I like, I find the high-end world of Louis Wain collectibles a bit intimidating. His card production evidently breaks into different publishers and periods, priced accordingly. I looked blankly at the dealer and confessed that I have no idea what these are, let alone the relative value therein – although obviously I do get the general arc of his production, descending and splintering eventually into insanity.

However, I have looked at enough of his work to know that I have preferences and, without being knowledgable about the specifics, in some ways this card sums up the period I believe I like best. In this card he is exhibiting full whacky sense of humor without having started to come apart at the seams. These roguish kitties, so proper in their demeanor, replete with pipe, cigar, umbrella, walking stick and perhaps the daily newspaper, find themselves unthinkingly, stuck on the wet paint of the recently painted boat bottom they lean on.  (It does bring to mind a very early memory I have, me a toddler and my mother painting the floor of the back porch a dark red. Our then cat Snoopy blithely walked across it and subsequently across the kitchen floor with those bright red wet paws! Snoopy was a placid and wonderful cat however – white with black cow spots and he easily survived my mother’s wrath. He was my very first cat and set the bar high for those that followed.)

There is something slightly maniacal and knowing in their cat faces, cheerful, yet peeved and knowing which is pure Wain. Where on earth did he get his ideas? Certainly the failings and idiosyncrasies of the participants has more to do with humans than felines, but somehow the slightly disturbed and thoroughly anthropomorphic cats convey it best.

I managed to navigate these first purchases, all from a single dealer, and the other acquisitions will have their turn in the spotlight in coming weeks. And meanwhile, I suspect many more Wain additions will follow in the future. After all, a cat card collector can hardly help herself.

NY Band Instrument Co.

Pam’s Pictorama Advertising Post: It is perhaps obvious to Pictorama readers, but I will start by stating that I like stuff. While I think of myself as a toy and photo collector (and those predominantly of cats, of course) I am also fascinated by what I guess you might call collectibles. These often fall in the category of advertising – give aways (pins, calendars, cards, rulers and the like) that would keep you in mind of a product or establishment. The disappearance of the flea market as this sort of collecting occurs more frequently online makes the finding and acquisition of such tidbits harder I believe, however I accept the challenge.

These items fall soundly in the category of you didn’t know you wanted it (or that it existed) until you saw it. I believe my favorite are the cat pin trays I discuss in my past post Corbin Canadian Cats. This was the sort of stuff I stumbled on and went nuts over as a kid and young adult, and I miss having as many opportunities to paw through piles of stuff and find such things. Nonetheless, necessity is the mother of invention and I have managed to find some interesting oddities online as well and here I present one today.

Of course it is this rather dignified looking kitty on this pin that attracted me and brought this item into my sphere. It is so interesting to me that cats have always been used to sell pretty much any and everything and this tom had been employed to hawk the N.Y. Band Instrument Co. While kitty is great I can’t help but point out that it is far superior and, for me, made irresistible by the little stitched holder he resides in. Tucked into this sleeve it is this way (and this way only) that we know that he was created to ply the wares of the N.Y. Band Instrument Co. Everything Musical, 111 East 14th Street, NEW YORK and 1225 Broadway, Brooklyn. I do wonder what it is that you would have been required to purchase at said establishment to earn you this little gem – a trumpet perhaps? Or just a pile of sheet music? Did folks immediately take it out of its holder (which they then lost) and poke it into their lapel? I know I would have. I was tempted to do it as soon as it arrived in the mail.

The internet does lend an interesting spin to this research and it was a matter of only seconds after inquiring before I was able to learn that the N.Y. Band Instrument Co. was once the largest music store in New York. The genesis of the company, originally known as the N.Y. Musical Instrument Company in its first incarnation, seems to have been a small import and maker of instruments which was born down the street from the address near Union Square, at 12 Cooper Square back in 1913.

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Undated photo of the store front, Horn-u-copia.net

 

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Steinway Hall at this address in 1875, this image from the Museum of the City of NY

 

The founders are noted to have been (Max) William Renz (a piano maker) and the Swiss born, Louis Ortlieb. The store on 14th Street appears to have been established by 1925 (I guess Steinway moved on) and the building included studios on the top floor which were rented to music teachers. It is a bit uncertain, but it would appear that they were in business in one form or another until 1950. The site of the building appears to have morphed into NYU dorms and is now apartments, according to the Zillow real estate site. (For these historical details I give a nod to the book, Spann’s Guide to Gibson 1902-1942, available online, and the site Horn-u-copia.) I was unable to find any information about the Brooklyn location, only that an African market currently claims the address.

This thriving establishment advertised frequently in the New York papers of the day, however it is a bit of patter from Jacob’s Band Monthly, in April of 1921, next to an ad for Toneking brass instruments placed by our friends at the New York Band Instrument Company , that best captures the spirit of music selling of the day and more,

SUMMING up the successful men of the past and present we find them all to be men of POWER It was power that won the world war. The most powerful engine the best success of an automobile and confidence are inspired by the of power. How can the beginner [of] the study of music gain this power? That is of the first questions with which the student is confronted. In trombone, power is attained in proportion to degree of control of the embouchure in words the better lip the more power will be to the tone and the less fatigue there be experienced. Power also comes from ability to concentrate regarding which I written previously I would now further every student to bear this subject in mind for when he has developed power of concentration his power to advance will be increased amazingly…

 

Waxing and Wain-ing; the Conclusion of Our Story

 

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you who have been following this tale, today I wrap up the Louis Wain story with this entry (for now anyway – I feel more collecting coming on in this area now that I have started, but more of that to follow) with an interesting tributary of his work, the ceramics. I am going to break a Pictorama ground rule today, and please know that none of the glorious items I am abundantly illustrating today’s post with is in my collection – they are pulled entirely from the internet, many from previous auction posts. A girl can dream however!

For some background, although I had not collected Louis Wain as such I had, of course, long been a fan of his whacky cat imagery, mostly via postcard reprints of his work at its height, made widely available in a reproduced postcard line I remember as being available in the 1980’s. While I did not collect them as such, I did purchase them for use (yes, I actually used to routinely send postcards in those days) and at one time certainly had a number of them lying around.

So when I met Kim and cat item collecting became a topic of conversation between us, I certainly knew who he was talking about when he intrigued and beguiled me with Louis Wain’s bio of descending into insanity, cat illustrations becoming wilder and more abstract over time. But then, being Kim, he topped it off with another amazing story. As Wain’s cats became less realistic, at one point they even became Cubist, executed in the form of sculptures or vases. And, furthermore, that many if not virtually all were lost in shipwreck! There was something about them being Czech. (He may have said that they were on the Lusitania when it was lost, but don’t hold me to that.)

Now folks, this was in the days before the internet and Google in the palm of our hands in the form of what we now think of as a phone. It was a marvelous story. My imagination raced crazily with mental images of what these might have looked like. Oh my! The tragedy of a splendid cat bounty that was never to be known! I fantasized that some day the wreck would be raised and somehow many of the objects recovered whole, auctioned and made public. (Made mine…) The story has lived vividly in my head for decades.

So finally, the other day as I began gathering information for the first two parts of this post, at long last I Googled both the story and the ceramics. I was not disappointed. To my great fascination, a fair number of these ceramics exist, and while very expensive, are collected today. In addition to cats, there are (sans explanation) dogs and pigs – and these do not disappoint. While I may have imagined these sculptures one degree more abstract, and for some reason not so brightly colored, I was pretty close with my mental image of them. They are however, if anything, better than I imagined.

 

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And, it turns out that the story of the shipwreck and loss of a significant shipment of them from England is also true – although not on the Lusitania and they were produced both in Great Britain and Czechoslovakia, in the teens. Fakes have evidently plagued the market at various times – meanwhile, I am sure I wouldn’t mind owning one of those either. One article I read said that had the shipment reached the United States (which, unlike Britain, had a discerning consumers who, even at the time, had a voracious appetite for these particular offbeat items) it might have staved off, or at least delayed, the impoverishment Wain suffered at the end of his life, ending sadly in asylums, but still producing cat drawings. It is all a very Deitchian tale, with only slight embellishment, and now you know one of the many reasons why being married to Kim Deitch is so much fun.

Meanwhile, those of you who know me are wondering by this time, how could price alone have swayed me from adding Louis Wain to my routine collecting? After all, I am the woman who has brought you my indulgences ranging from rare Aesop Fable dolls (Aesop Fable Doll – the Prize!) to Mickey Mouse toys the size of a toddler (Big Mickey) that I have crammed into our tiny apartment and paid admittedly obscene amounts of money for over time. At this point, I sheepishly admit that has been a foolish kernel of jealousy that has been at the root of it these many years.

I remind long-time Pictorama readers of an early post, Mine, all mine…at long last, where I gloried in obtaining a long sought after photo of the Aesop Fable dolls I adore. A copy of that photo had passed through Kim’s hands to a woman he lived with for a number of years and it gnawed gently at the back of my brain for years until I acquired my own copy. The same former girlfriend of Kim’s also collected Louis Wain items, primarily postcards. He mentioned this casually, early into our relationship, probably as a part of the broader Louis Wain tale. Kim had in fact purchased one or two of the original postcards for her as gifts over time. While admittedly, this seems a bit embarrassing and ridiculous as my adored Mr. Deitch and I are well into our second decade together, somehow I did not wish to have him associate her with my collecting. Then I guess I just never got around to lifting the prohibition and purchasing Louis Wain until this recent trip to London. Petty jealousy is like that and now I realize how silly that is – and will let the Louis Wain buying begin at long last.

1914 Ceramic Cat with Cigar and Monocle designed by Louis Wain (Made in Austria) 20.7 cm high x 18 cm long 1.jpgLS1461663_HR-1.jpg

London Fog, Chapter 1

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Window at Marchpane

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am perched in a cramped hotel room as I start this. Tucked under the eaves in a huge, ancient building that is a labyrinth of stairs and hallways – I have gotten lost twice, perhaps the only times I have ever gotten lost in a hotel in a life that has incorporated a fair amount of far flung travel. This establishment also has the virtue, so to speak, of having been the coldest hotel room I was ever walked into when I arrived. (I managed to get heat into the room eventually – evidently Wynton could not and was rumored to have slept in his hat.) London has been experiencing extraordinarily bad weather, unused to snow and generally at a time when they might be expecting winter to start to break toward snowdrops, crocuses and spring, it snowed daily since I arrived earlier this week. Although total accumulation never exceeded several inches London was pretty much in shut down mode.

Let me back up a bit – I came to London to raise interest in (and of course money for) the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra – my primary purpose was a party hosted by an the British arm of an interested fraternal organization. If having an event in another country wasn’t difficult enough (it is) then the snow was the final kicker for this one. I readily admit that I was already a bit frayed when I arrived and, despite London being one of my favorite cities in the world, the city I know best outside of New York, and one where I even had the advantage of speaking the language, the event details were onerous, multiplying hourly with the weather. (We spent days looking for a piano for the venue – no one would deliver one in the snow – then briefly, we had three, finally one.) I was very grateful to have an extremely capable colleague here with me helping to manage it all. Still, when you are off your game you just are and I have been – I commenced by mangling a series of, expensive, tube cards (first de-magnatizing one by placing it near my phone, then jamming another in a machine when I should have just waved it, lost the damn thing about a million times once I realized it couldn’t be near any magnets, credit cards or near my phone) and even lost my trousers after hurriedly changing before our event.

The first two nights of the trip ran very late – the time difference was in out favor however and therefore 1:00 and 2:00 AM respectively were doable for this early-to-bed and early-to-rise Pictorama Pam. However, despite exhaustion, the morning after our event I rallied and rose early for the Bermondsey flea market.

Bermondsey is in South London and the trip required some planning to execute, especially in my somewhat ham handed and under-caffeinated mental state. When I got there I had a long, snowy, cold walk to the flea market site. Despite Google and the cheerful blue moving dot on the map, I was unable to locate the market. Freezing and dripping with snow, I finally broke down and wandered into a cafe and purchased coffee and a bagel. Turns out that the flea market should have been within sight of the cafe – it had not opened that day because of the weather. I curled up with my hot coffee and regrouped.

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Bermondsey Cafe

 

I texted my contact at the Bulgari Hotel to see if I could locate my trousers (a delightful birthday purchase I had no intention of losing) and no one could. I took off to the hotel to see if I could find them myself. This took me to Central London where I could execute that and treat myself to a trip to Leicester Square to see if any of my favorite haunts survived the past decade of my neglect.

Trousers retrieved and in hand, a half hour later I found myself in a mews close to Leicester Square where I was pleased to find that a favorite antiquarian children’s bookseller, Marchpane, is still in residence – although sadly closed due to the inclement weather. The print dealer across the news told me that they had been shut all week – people having trouble getting in from outside of Central London – the snow really piling up out of town.

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Wet plate image from Victorian photos at the National Portrait Gallery, I believe by Oscar Rejlander

 

I restored my frazzled peace of mind by visiting some old favorites at the National Gallery as well as a splendid Victorian photography exhibit at the Portrait Gallery and a small exhibit on the British Sufragette. Afterward, on a whim, I routed myself through increasing snow, back past the bookstore. Blissfully, it had opened! Things were looking up at last. A charming young woman with mesmerizing tiny crystals highlighting her face like 21st century beauty marks, bright blue eyebrows and hair, and a very fetching black hat. For contrast, she sported canary yellow trousers and a blue velvet jacket – a woman after my own heart. Over the next 40 minutes or so I learned that she is Natalie Kay Thatcher – illustrator, book seller and writer (NatalieKayThatcher.com).

 

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Natalie poses for me at Marchpane!

 

I explained my mission – rather specifically cat-themed children’s books – and my sodden disappointment at the failure of Bermondsey to materialize that morning. She was evidently not the least bit surprised that someone would be traveling to London trying to acquire antique toy cats and related items. We commiserated about my bad luck, discussed collecting and toys and soon were thick as thieves. She even invited me to peer into a box of toys in the basement of the store – oh bliss! She brought out a delightful large stuffed bunny which was tempting (he is definitely someone – he was wearing trousers and a vest) to see if I knew anything about him. Glorious bunny, but my mission was very much cat today. Nonetheless, I felt my feathers finally start to un-ruffle as we discussed under-appreciated juvenile series – she is researching some interesting sounding, obscure wartime children’s literature. Pam’s Pictorama came up and so did Waldo – and lo and behold – she had read Alias the Cat! Now my cat collection made much more sense and had context.

We shared some girl talk and she called a friend and former employer in Covent Garden who owns a store specializing in toy theaters. Until recently the store also sold some antique toys. He was unloading a shipment though and it wasn’t clear if he would be available later. Meanwhile Natalie also unearthed not one, but two very splendid Louis Wain books. They were, not surprisingly, quite dear. One in particular caught my attention. I decided I should not be impulsive and went off to eat my lunch around the corner and think about it. I had an appointment in another part of town at 3:00 and had to watch the time. I decided that Covent Garden could wait until later in the day and reluctantly I took my leave, back out into the snow, the siren song of the Louis Wain book taking up residence in my head.

Nearby I passed by a hole-in-the-wall tea shop where I had eaten many meals, and was amazed to still find it there. Ultimately I passed it up in favor of a café located where another favorite place had been, but definitely different, and less dodgy looking than the tea shop. I curled up with hot soup and lots of hot tea to warm myself up and take stock. Talking to Natalie about Kim and the kitties and my delightful life in Manhattan made me a bit homesick but, at least briefly, left me restored by finding a kindred spirit out in the far flung world.

 

 

Wonderful Waldo

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: This simply amazing item comes via Facebook friend Roy Conolly appearing unexpectedly in the mail the other day. I am stunned by the Waldo wonderfulness of it in numerous ways – the first being that it is a crocheted doll that looks like Waldo! Amazing! How fabulous, thoughtful and most of all impressively clever it is for someone to have done. I freely admit that I come at it from the perspective of someone who has tried, but is utterly incapable of effectively knitting or crocheting a stitch. People have tried to teach me over the years, but to say I am all thumbs would be a true understatement. It is just a path that my eyes and hands cannot or will not merge into a coherent methodology.

Awhile back I wrote about the existence of pattern kits for the knitting of large Felix the cat dolls in my post Homemade Mickey where also I opine on my lack of ability in this area. While our crocheted friend is a somewhat less enormous project, he was of course conceived of without the benefit of a pattern, making it impressive indeed. In my mind he possesses a lovely similarity to the very first Felix I ever purchased at a flea market in London. (Shown below.) I believe this Felix was a prize to be won at a fair – for winning at knockdown dolls or something similar. Our new Waldo doll hails from that part of the world as well and I like the implied symmetry. Roy tells me that his friend Nita made it so I am giving a shout out to her as well. Yay Nita! Yay Roy! Thank you so much!

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My first Felix, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

To my knowledge, this crocheted fellow brings the total of three-dimensional Waldo renditions in the world to three. One, executed by the master Mr. Deitch himself, executed in Sculpey many years ago, wandered back to us recently after many years. There is also a really extraordinary cotton felt Waldo made by our friends Tony and Sue Eastman, a number of years ago now, which sits on a shelf near where I write now. Those both fascinating tales of their own which I will share at a future time. (And of course for those of you up on your Deitch-ian lore there are those Waldo dolls which spewed out of that volcanic explosion in the South Seas back in Stuff of Dreams #1, eventually collected in Alias the Cat. We’re still looking for evidence of those! The $1k offer stands…)

Meanwhile, I will be returning to the scene of that and other flea market crimes later this month when I travel briefly to London with the gentlemen of my beloved Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra. Tales of early morning flea market finds will hopefully follow. Although Paris may rival London for some in flea markets (and I picked up a thing or two in Berlin once admittedly) having once lived in London and made many subsequent trips there (albeit not for more than a decade now) the flea markets of London are a beloved and well worn path for me and decidedly my favorite treat of this kind in the world. The above Felix came from a splendid market in south London called Bermondsey. If I remember correctly, I arrived at that market shortly after stumbling off an overnight plane trip, with my friend Elyse, for a long weekend flea market and museum attack many years ago. Felix was sitting on a table among unrelated items and I, a fan of the silent cartoons, purchased him up immediately. He is, in fact, my very first Felix.

When I brought Felix home Kim said he looked like someone had killed and skinned a demon and reacted with mock horror when I installed him at the foot of the bed, where several antique stuffed cats of more generic nature already resided. It took me a number of years to get Kim to accept that this is indeed Felix and we argued amicably about it ongoing. It wasn’t until other grinning, demonic renditions of Felix started to appear in the house, and pile up on the bedroom shelves, that the pattern emerged I guess. As you know, the rest is Pictorama collecting history.

 

The Robbers Squeak

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I purchased this volume after researching another book I wrote about recently, Lady Pussy-Cat’s Ball, which featured illustrations by the more than capable artist A.M. Lockyer. This volume however credits only Mr. Lockyer so we must assume that it is not only illustrated by him, but that the story, written entirely in verse, is as well. (There is a song over several pages, Sergeant Sleek’s Song, with music and three verses in the middle of the book. However, words are credited to G.E I. and music by F.R. Cox. A casual search did not turn up any information on them.)

The book’s story is an odd one – and considering I featured dogs yesterday it is a bit shocking that I go out way out on a Pictorama limb and feature mice today, because this is indeed a story of mice. They are both the heroes and the villains of this story, which it should be noted, is a stretch for children, at least as we see children’s stories today. It is a tale of mice who are a marauding band of thieves, stealing feasts of food, but eventually kidnapping a beautiful girl kitten they adore. The image below is when Momma cat comes calling for her little girl kit. This interaction with maternal cat love reforms them and they turn over a new leaf and become monastic mice – who occasionally tell tales of the days of yore.

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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The Robbers Squeak from Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

As best I can tell, it was published in 1889 – there is no copyright information in the book, although the publisher is noted as Marcus Ward & Co Limited, London, Belfast & New York. Given the availability of the book even now, it must have been relatively popular. The illustrations are beautifully executed, even if the story is a bit odd. Meanwhile, anthropomorphic cats and other animals seem to be A.M. Lockyer’s bread and butter and I have my eye out for other books by him – in particular on called The Cat Concert. I have yet to find a biography of him, although there is no shortage of his illustrations available when you search on his name.

The story of cat and mouse is one that goes back to the beginning of a certain kind of story telling as we know it. It starts with illustrated books and eventually winds its way to Felix and Farmer Alfalfa cartoons and beyond. It is of course an old, old story from life itself – going back to the domestication of our feline friends. Just this morning, as I sat on the phone during an out of the ordinary Sunday morning call for work, I noticed Cookie and Blackie united in an investigation under Kim’s desk. Despite being litter mates, our duo rarely unite in any effort so it is notable. As I attempted to carry on my conversation with the volunteer in Florida the cats chattered and meowed to each other about something under the desk. (Kim wasn’t home and I could not investigate.) By the time the call ended, the cats had tussled with each other and subsequently retreated to their own perches, but of course I do wonder what they saw, or thought they saw.

Living in a many decades old building in New York City generally means you have rodents (and roaches) and it is merely a question of keeping them at bay. To date just the presence of the cats, and their predecessors, have influenced the rodents to bypass us as a stop along the way as they search for food and fun. Still, you never know when a little mousie fellow or gal takes a wrong turn, or decides that they can take on the big guys, much like The Robbers Squeak. Even if I do not, Cookie and Blackie, meanwhile, live in anticipation.