August 2020 HAPPY 9TH BIRTHDAY, HENRY WOWLER!
In mid-August 2011, a white and ginger-tabby kitten came into the world, with big orange ears, rusty rings round his tail, and three orange spots, like the holes in a bowling-ball, on his shoulders; a naughty escapologist kitten who ran away from home when he was only two months old, and got lost in the woods for a fortnight; a very lucky kitten, found under a bush one dark November night, cold, hungry and crying for his mum, and rescued and brought home by Hubcap.
The rest, as people say, is history. That feather-light wisp of a kitten has grown into the extremely solid, middle-aged gentlemog known as Henry Wowler, a perennially-popular subject of my Facebook posts, whose exploits often entertain (I hope!) readers of this website and my HelenRaeRants blog.
Aside from his longevity, we have special cause to celebrate as Henry enters his tenth year: the children’s book he inspired me to write is nearing completion. I’m delighted to report that Henry Wowler & The Mirror-cat will have a quote on the back cover from arts journalist Maeve Kennedy, whose articles in The Guardian I always enjoyed; so I was thrilled when she agreed to read the text, and by her words: "Anyone who has been owned by a cat will recognise much of their own keeper's behaviour in the adventures - charming, funny, and a little sinister as all good stories should be - of Henry Wowler, or rather Henry Wowler Gingerson the First, Dread of Night and expert rodent-slayer, as his true magnificent identity is revealed.
And talking of birds, last Monday we finally achieved our objective of visiting an RSPB reserve for the first time since taking out our joint membership at Christmas, with a trip to Fairburn Ings near Castleford in West Yorkshire.
Over the past 60 years, this site has changed from industrial coal-face into a richly bio-diverse landscape of lakes and rolling soil-heaps overgrown with tall grasses, reeds and wildflowers (see left, and panoramic view top left). Fairburn Ings is a mecca for serious twitchers, with some 200 bird species, including spoonbills, being sighted there; and although we’re not serious enough to spend hours waiting in hides, we thoroughly enjoyed strolling round the various pathways spotting geese, cormorants, egrets and herons, to name but a few, as well as plants including wild orchids and fragrant ladies’ bedstraw.
The Visitor Centres and loos haven't yet re-opened, so if you're planning a visit it's as well to be prepared/take your own refreshments - nonetheless, it's a most irewarding site, and highly recommended!
So if you like a bit of whimsical humour – a sort of Alice Through the Looking-Glass with cats - to read over coffee, or as a bedtime story for children, watch this space! Over the coming weeks I’ll be setting up a Publications page on here with more details about Henry Wowler & The Mirror-cat, including where to buy it; giving Henry his own Facebook page at long last; and posting regular news updates and tweets as the release date approaches.
On a completely different, more sombre note: the early hours of August 7th saw the 35th anniversary of a notorious crime: the murders at White House Farm. I remember the summer of 1985 well – I was a third-year post-grad student conservator, living and working in Salisbury – and I remember this awful gunshot massacre, an unfolding drama which dominated the news just a few weeks after we’d all been enjoying the Live Aid feel-good factor.
At first it was believed that, in the grip of mental illness, beautiful former model Sheila ‘Bambi’ Caffell had shot dead her adoptive parents, June and Nevill Bamber, and her six-year-old twin sons Nicholas and Daniel, before turning the gun on herself. I remember the tabloids' gossip and lurid speculation about her personal life, alleged drug habits and connections with organised crime, while the broadsheets attempted to analyse the pressures that could have driven this devoted young mother to slaughter her children and parents. Above all, I remember Sheila’s adoptive brother, Jeremy Bamber, plastered all over the TV – what twenty-something wouldn’t? Tall, dark and drop-dead gorgeous in his sharp suit at the funeral, clinging to his girlfriend bereft and grief-stricken, he looked like the perfect tragic heart-throb; so it felt all the more shocking when, a month later, new evidence exposed him as a cold, calculating killer.
So I was very interested to watch the ITV drama series, White House Farm, screened in January this year. It was a great nostalgia trip in terms of the Eighties period sets, fashions and hairstyles, if poignant in the memories it evoked of a terrible event; and made me so curious about the background and detail that I bought the book on which it was based, In Search of the Rainbow’s End by Sheila’s ex-husband, Colin Caffell, as a companion to Carol Ann Lee’s factual treatment, The Murders at White House Farm (both as new 2020 paperback editions). I was pleased to find that the programme adhered closely to known facts, ultimately allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions as to whether Jeremy Bamber is, as he claims, an innocent victim of his late sister’s madness, or, as ten out of twelve jurors believed, a ruthless murderer driven by greed to frame a sick, vulnerable woman. I also found the true accounts, both excellent in their different ways, a great adjunct to the drama, engrossing and highly thought-provoking. So if you’re interested in recent history and/or true crime, I commend both the TV and these two literary versions of this awful, incredible story – and if you’d like to know more about it, check out my latest HelenRaeRants blog, The White House Farm Murders.