La Gata Encantada

La Gata Encantada is the name of a pub in a novel by John Varley. It means 'the enchanted cat'. I like cats, so I stole the sign (it just needed some revarnishing and - Look! Good as new!). The door is open, to an amber glow and the sound of music and good fellowship. Come on in.


Pure as a virgin and cunning as a rabbit!

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Historical Data

I found a rather fascinating description of period underwear and hair and such, from I leap over the wall (1949) by Monica Baldwin, a British nun who left her convent to go out into the world near the end of World War II. The titles are mine, as are any spelling mistakes:

Ancient Underwear

The garments to which I was accustomed had been contrived by thorough-going ascetics in the fourteenth century, who considered that a nice, thick, long-sleeved 'shift' of rough, scratchy serge was the right thing to wear next [to] your skin. My shifts, when new, had reached almost to my ankles. However, hard washing and much indiscriminate patching soon stiffened and shrank them until they all but stood up by themselves. Stays, shoulder-strapped and severly boned, concealed one's outline; over them, two long serge petticoats were lashed securely round one's waist. Last came the ample habit-coat of heavy cloth, topped by a linen rochet and a stiffly starched barbette(*) of cambric, folded into a score of tiny tucks and pleats at the neck.

Slightly More Modern Underwear (With a Digression Into Slightly Less)

So, when my sister handed me a wisp of gossamer, about the size and substance of a spider's web, I was startled.

she said, "Here's your foundation garment. Actually, most people only wear pants and a brassiere, but it's cold to-day, so I thought we'd better start you with a vest."

I examined the object, remembering 1914. In those days a 'nice' girl 'started' with long, woolly combinations, neck-high and elbow-sleeved, decorated with a row of neat pearl buttons down the front...

Next came the modern version of the corset. It was the merest strip of elastic brocade from which suspenders, in a surprising number, dangled. I thought it a great improvement on the fourteenth-century idea. The only drawback was that you had to insert your person into it serpent-fashion, as it had no fastenings.

What bothered me most were the stockings. The kind I was used to were enormous things, fat thicker than those men wear for tramping the moors and shrunk by repeathed boiling to the shape and consistency of a Wellington boot. The pair with which Freda had provided me were of silk, skin-coloured and so transparent that I wondered why anyone bothered to wear the things at all.

I said firmly, "Freda, I can't possibly go out in these. They make my legs look naked."

She smiled patiently.

"Nonsense," she said. "Everyone wears them. If you went about in anything else you'd collect a crowd."

By this time it had become clear to me that the generation which affected the transparencies in which I now was shivering must long ago have scrapped the kind of garments I had worn as a girl. I wondered what they had done about the neck-high camisoles with their fussy trimmings of lace and insertion and those incredibly ample, long-legged white cotton drawers.

The answer turned out to be an airy nothing called 'cami-knickers', made, apparently, of cobweb. I felt my teeth beginning to chatter as I put it - or should one say 'them'? - on.

One further shock awaited me.

An object was handed to me which I can only describe as a very realistically modelled bust-bodice. That its purpose was to emphasize contours which, in my girlhood, were always decorously concealed was but too evident.

"This," said my sister cheerfully, "is a brassiere. And it's no use looking so horrified, because fashions to-day go out of their way to stress that part of one's anatomy. These things are supposed to fix one's chest at the classic angle. Like this-" she adjusted the object with expert fingers. "There - you see the idea?"


The worst problem was my hair.

For twenty-eight years it had been cropped convict-wise beneath the incredible system of headgear exacted by the Order to which I belonged. As a foundation, a 'snood'*, or long narrow strip of linen, was wound two or three times round the head. Over this, a close-fitting cap - rather like those worn by bathers - was pulled down to the ears. A piece of fine cambric, call a 'tip', was then bound tightly across the forehead and tied at the back with strings. Next came the 'head' - a kind of wimple - which covered the head and ears. It was gathered in closely at the neck and then frilled out as far as the shoulders beneath the starched barbette. Over this was pinned an erection of black cashmere which fell, gable-wise, on either side of the head to just above the elbows. Between this and its lining of starched white linen was a double cardboard stiffening with strips of cotton, fortified with yet more starch. Finally, the veil proper - of thin, black material, rather like ninon* - was mounted on the underveil and firmly secured with pins. Eight thicknesses in all! In summer it was apt to give one a headache. The wonder, of course, was that, having worn it for so many years, I had any hair left at all.

Barbette - she probably means a strip of cloth that passes under the chin. For a picture, go here.

Snood - I've never, ever, seen this definition of a snood before. For another version of head-gear attached to the same name, try this website: (It's nifty.) I have seen that strip of cloth called a 'fillet'. Remember that terminology for clothing changes drastically, and without warning.

Serge - Serge is a type of twill fabric that has diagonal lines or ridges on both sides, made with a two-up, two-down weave. The worsted variety is used in making military uniforms, suits, great and trench coats. Its counterpart, silk serge, is used for linings. French serge is a softer, finer variety. The word is also used for a high quality woolen woven.

Etymology and History
The name is derived from French serge, itself from Latin serica, from Greek σηρικος (serikos), meaning "silken". The early association of silk serge, Greece, and France is shown by the discovery in Charlemagne's tomb of a piece of silk serge dyed with Byzantine motifs, evidently a gift from the Byzantine Imperial Court in the 8th or 9th century AD. (WK) (Cat adds: 'serge' comes from 'silk'!? Gosh - think of Serge de Nimes or 'denim')

Ninon - a fine strong sheer silky fabric made of silk or rayon or nylon (FD)

FD = The Free Dictionary (
WK = The wikipedia (

Monday, January 30, 2006

She Does Not Wish After The Cloths of Heaven

WARNING: The following contains many details on sewing, and gratuitous cats.

I didn't have work today (or yesterday, being Sunday), so I've been sewing Steph a new shirt. Because I can. Because the material was cheap. Because she'll owe me. :-D

It was a bit frustrating yesterday, when cutting out pieces, because Rosie the Cat (and Ziggy, the Black) took turns reclining on the laid-out cloth, black as heaven's midnight, and embroidered with... flowers (my ability to make poetic allusions to Yeats' work is, alas, somewhat flawed. I almost got some material midnight black and striped with silver, but it seemed possibly a bit tacky. Not that Steph would worry, but...). I don't know what it is, but cats will always lie on my sewing, or sit in the middle of a card-game if they can possibly get away with it. Or sit on my lap as I type. Or scream to be picked up and cuddled because I haven't cuddled them For All Of Twenty Minutes. Rosie's utterly favourite pastime, though, and I don't know how she acquired a taste for it, is pins. Posibly it is the bright colours of the heads, or something, but she stalked over to watch me skewer the paper pieces to the cuttable cloth, patiently waited for her chance, and then 'gan to pull one out while I was looking the other way. Then she chewed on it. Then she dropped it, and went for another. To save me from heart-palpitations, she hasn't swallowed any, and I took care to keep her away after the first time.

Anyway. I have been a busy little bee cutting out bits and cursing because the embroidered pattern makes the cloth one (1) order of magnitude more complicated to cut out than it might otherwise be. No matter. One problem is that I'm using a very basic pattern. I have the yoke pattern cut precisely, but the sleeve and body parts are only roughed out - they have been drawn enough that I can mate the pieces to the yoke but everything else falls off the neatly-cut newspaper 'map'. It was very handy when I was drawing the pattern, and there is little point in making it more precise because I tend to vary those details anyway, but it does mean that cutting out pieces involves a fair bit of measuring, calculating, and sketching before I even get to cut. Sigh.

Today, I sewed the yoke and the sleeves. What I've got right now looks very weird indeed - a narrow band of cloth with two large pieces hanging out from either side. Actually, it pretty much looked like that this morning. This afternoon I was sewing over the basting, turning bits inside-out, top-stitching, and doing nifty triple-seaming on the sleeves, but none of that makes a big difference to the overall appearance. It's just quality sewing, and I trust that you will appreciate it, Stephanie.

As to the weather, it was utterly ghastly last night - very hot and warm. I was trying to sleep in that, with a mosquito in the room so I had to drape a sheet over my head to keep it away, making things hotter, and Rosie, who doesn't object to heat at all sleeping on my legs. Urk.

They say that there will be a thunderstorm tonight. I jolly well hope so. I don't want embroidered cloths, enwrought with any kind of light. I want RAIN, HAIL, THUNDER. Maybe a bit of LIGHTNING, though I tend to think of that as more of an applique, or possibly some kind of paint-splatter effect.

That's all.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Because The World Had To See

This is actually more of an Aftermath piccy: originally those red weals were puffy lumps like very small boils, which oozed a clear fluid when pricked with a sterilised pin. They've drained and scabbed over nicely now, and the waxy texture of the scabs is slowly changing to rough and pickable.

Guys like pictures of legs, right?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

My cousin is getting married

right this minute. I am munching an apple-and-blackberry turnover to celebrate.

Three cheers!

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Cleaver-Grass Strikes Back!

I've been stumping again.

My current tally is:

One (1) intact blister on the very tip of my left fore-finger.
One (1) scabbing over blister on the joint between my left fore-finger and my hand.
Various (1 + n) small scrapes and scabs, none currently infected and puffy (the savlon did good).
No (0) headaches. It went away after I had an icecream on the way home.
Numerous (why won't you just die!) seedheads of cleaver-grass stuck to my clothes. And my socks. And...

The cleaver-grass was what I had been exterminating with extreme prejudice two weeks ago. Unfortunately, I didn't get all of it. That means that, when I am stumping (removing the remains of defunct Christmas trees so that they will not trouble lawn-mowers) and sit down to save my knees, guess where it ends up?, says she with a snarl.

I also got to have a go on a ride-on mower. It was interesting. It was more complicated than the push-along version, with chokes, clutches, gears, and levers for engaging the blades. I had a quick but intensive lesson in how the thing worked and headed off merrily, realising later, much to my distress, that I didn't know what it took to tip the thing over. On rough, tilty ground, with rotating blades that I'd been warned about, it occupied my mind very much.

I was back at stumping after that, and had occasion to muse, somewhat pompously, about the nature of survivability: the radiata pine has a survival characteristic of being useful to humans. That means that even though these Christmas trees get chopped down regularly (and their last remains hauled off, ie. the stumps), the species is doing very handily on that patch of ground. It has survivability. The cleaver-grass, meanwhile, has the survival characteristic of very tenacious seed-heads. It's been spreading merrily through the ground. However, its favourite survival characteristic is exceedingly irritating to humans, which means that I was sent to exterminate it with blade and fury. (I can't kill the plants, but I am informed that if I cut the seed-heads before they ripen then the current plants will die without issue (being annuals).) On the other hand, some of the grass is too short to be cut by my mower (which has to be set high because of the hitherto mentioned stumps), so some of it hangs on, leading to my disgust mentioned above.

So go figure: the pine trees are helping out the cleaver-grass. Without them, it would have died out long ago. Wa-hey for interspecies co-operation!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

I Wanna Go Hoooooommmmeeee!!!

Sorry, just seized with a bout of homesickness. It'll be two more weeks, I think, then I can bother my flatmates again...

To honour the title, here's something I wrote a couple of years back, just for you lot:

The Classicist's Complaining Song

It's cold and it's wet and I don't like it
Oh I wanna go home
It's cold and it's wet
And I am fairly wrecked
Oh please take me home

Janus got it right my friends
Sitting by his fire
Old year to the new year tends
Toasting both his frosty ends
Watching sparks fly higher

It's cold and it's wet...

Her husband is a shady lout
Daffodils are yellow
She sits all the winter out
I'll be bound she's drinking stout
And is a merry fellow

It's cold and it's wet...

In hell the wicked are confined
To cease from doing harm
A river does Tantalus bind
Sisyphus in daily grind
At least they're bloody warm!

It's cold and it's wet and I don't like it
Oh I wanna go home
It's cold and it's wet
And I am fairly wrecked
Oh please take me home

Three guesses who the protagonist in the second verse is? Actually, I don't think the Classical version of hell is particularly warm. Oh well, please forgive a bit of syncretism in a doggerel song.

It even has a tune, but it's a bit rough and ready. ;-)


My mum's best friend Moira, a nurse and grandma back from a sojourn in Australia, came over for dinner and traded jokes with Mum and John. I had to cover my ears. She also wanted to know if my flatmates were gay or straight, and how I came by my conclusion. Modesty forbids me explaining what it was here...

Friday, January 20, 2006

What Has Little Cat Been Up To?

I realised today that I hadn't put up a post here for a good long while.

Well, I've haven't been back in the orchard since Christmas :-( the contractor I was working for being a right bastard. That's my explanation.

I went on a short holiday to my evil twin's domicile, written about earlier in Hyacinth's mad ravings. I've been back and handy-manning for an old friend. Well, I think 'ex-quasi-step-dad' is the technical term, but it takes a bit of explaining. (I don't have a family tree: I have a vine.)

But back to the handy-manning! It started with taking a very large pile of scrap wood and metal and helping smite it into gobbets suitable for burning in a fire. There was a genuine Ugly Hat Day Picture taken, but I don't have a copy yet so you'll have to just imagine it. It was taken just after smiting the wood-pile and just before mopping the ceiling of a house John (the old friend) and Jim (his brother) wanted to paint.

I also did my bit for the environment by chopping up green stuff and releasing burnt hydrocarbons into the atmosphere. I had to have a lesson in using a motor mower first. Internal combustion engines are complicated. Throttle, oil-sump, starter-cord, dip-stick to check oil. Turn the throttle on high and press a little rubber knob to get gas through the engine before the starter-cord is pulled. Then there was the time I stopped it after half an hour and couldn't start it again. Somewhat terrified that I'd broken it, I trailed wearily back and found out that sometimes you can flood the engine with too much petrol. And so forth.

I had sore places on the palms of my hands from the juddering.

Also, I have a healing blister from sawing down baby Christmas trees as close to the root as possible.

All this, from five days of work...

Monday, January 09, 2006

I'm Not Sure Why They Bothered

I caught a little bit of the miniseries calling itself Legend of Earthsea tonight. Given, I was prepared to dislike it, having read an essay by the author of the original books telling us all why she hates it so much, but I did watch a bit, and tried to be fair.

What I saw: Roke had been invaded by those evil Kargads, and the School of Magic taken over by Jasper, Ged's teenage rival (though it was actually the Archmage - sorry, Archimagus - in disguise). The Doorkeeper was a twitchy fool. Vetch, a character who, in the books, is wise, kind, serene, appeared as some sort of Alichino (fat, stupid, greedy, lazy, sleeps a lot, a sidekick). Oh, and there was a monastery full of young girls in rather tight-fitting dresses. Kossil was evil though, I can appreciate that, just with no subtlety...

What can I say? If it hadn't been named after the Earthsea books I would probably have thought it a bit insipid but enjoyed it reasonably well. It is kind of pretty. But the way they reduced wonderful characters into shallow stereotypes and mixed up the plot? It just felt icky.

Here's a speech from A Wizard of Earthsea:

I wish I could have seen all the cities of the Archipelago," Ged said as he held the sail-rope, watching the wide grey wastes before them. "Havnor at the world's heart, and Ea where the myths were born, and Shelieth of the Fountains on Way; all the cities and the great lands. And the small lands, the strange lands of the Outer Reaches, them too. To sail right down the Dragons' Run, away in the west. Or to sail north into the ice-floes, clear to Hogen Land. Some say that is a land greater than all the Archipelago, and others say it is mere reefs and rocks with ice between. No one knows. I should like to see the whales in the northern seas... But I cannot. I must go where I am bound to go, and turn my back on the bright shores. I was in too much haste, and now have no time left. I traded all the sunlight and the cities and the distant lands for a handful of power, for a shadow, for the dark." So, as the mageborn will, Ged made his fear and regret into a song, a brief lament, half-sung, that was not for himself alone; and his friend replying spoke the hero's words from the Deed of Erreth-Akbe, "O may I see the earth's bright hearth once more, the white towers of Havnor..."

This is beautiful stuff. The miniseries turned it into a handful of awkward sentences, culminating in "I'd have liked to have seen the ice-floes." Pah!

Why adapt a book into a mini-series, or movie, or play, or anything and take out all the things that made it great? Why bother using the name if all you're going to use is the name? What's the point?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Never say...

... that National Radio is just for old fogies. They just played a little gem called, and I'm not joking, The Dead Puppy Song. I was shocked. One presenter blamed the other, who denied all responsibility. They'd been playing Take Five just before that, and squabbling about who the artist playing it was...

All in all, National is pretty nifty to listen to, except for first thing in the morning 'cause then its just people talking about politics an' that - not what a muzzy little Catherine wants to be greeted with as she wakes. :-(

So, just out of curiosity, what do guys like to hear?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


I went to the zoo in Wellington and got to look at kangaroos close up, which I'd never done before, so it interested me. Maybe it would have interested me anyway. I got to see how one leaned forward over the feeding trough, standing very like a duck, with its body horizontal and its big hind legs in its centre of gravity (which was further back than a duck's, so that tail must really add some weight to its back end - unless I'm wrong about the centre of gravity thing). And I got to see how it moved when it wanted to move slowly, putting its tiny front feet on the ground for support while it hopped its back legs. It was interesting.

Below is a tiny writing fragment with absolutely no story attached. I'm including it only because its been brewing in my mind for a few days and because I'm bored. I freely admit that I lifted the idea from a lady called debxena (at least, I think she's a lady - we've never met in the flesh), with the hopes that she doesn't mind too much...


"It's not as much use as you'd think," she said.

I looked up into her coffee-coloured eyes, startled.

"Mind-reading, I mean. Take a book and flip through the pages - however many fragments you get from that, that's what I can read from you - just a few words: horse-tail, sun in water, Aleandra...

"The public understands that now, I think." She flashed her ring, a tiny glory of red and gold enamel: "Technically I'd get fined if I didn't wear my crest in public, but... nah, not gonna happen. There's a bit of rigmarole around exam time at school, that sort of thing.

"But back to mind-reading. Okay, supposing I want to find out what makes you tick. I do have ins to your soul, and if I'm observant and patient, I can guess what they mean to you. I'm pretty sure that the dappling light on the table by your cup is the sun in water. If I wanted to, I could research your background and find this Aleandra you think so much of. And I could observe your reactions to my own behaviour, and realise that every time I shake my hair, just so, like a horse flicks its tail, you think of her hair, that my skin is as creamy, that when I half-smile you ring with her name, like a bell sunk under the sea tolling the tides...

"But most of that's being observant, and anyone can do it who cares enough. My 'gift' doesn't help with important stuff, and never has."

She looked at me straight, and her lips quirked into a half-smile. "I'm not her," she said.

*End fragment*

Sunday, January 01, 2006

What Were You Doing...

At the death of the year?

For myself, as the radio pips went off I was pulling Rosie the Cat's tail. It seemed like a good thing to do.

The rest of my evening was spent quietly with Rosie and National Radio interviewing famous old people and playing their favourite music. It was very pleasant (though quiet). There was a certain amount of cuddling the cat, except when she was dashing around with her tail (eminently pullable) in the air.

Now I am eating toast.

Happy New Year.