“I first oped mine eyes in Constantinople,” sayt Kettie. “The best citie in all the world.
“We kits lay in a storehouse. There were baskets and chests for my sisters and me to play amidst when our mother went to fetch our food.
“She set forth in the morning and again in the evening, always returning with choice morsels.
“There are men and boys who go about the streets with buckets of boyled or baked meats. They call: Cat meat, Cat meat.
“We soon learnt to follow them, because good men and women would buy their wares as gifts for us.
“When we were of an age to leap, our mother took us through the gardens, of which there are many. She showed us the walls whereon we could wait for our food to be served.
“People come with meats they’ve bought in the streets or from the cookshops. Some have long sticks, and so passed our morsels up to us.
“Cats from palace to marketplace take breakfast there. We also ate there of an evening, for it’s a good place to hear the newes.”
None present could believe their ears, but Kettie swore all was true.
He sayt, “It’s not onlie we who eat well. Dogs are given meats, e’en though they’re nasty creatures. And also the great birds that fly over the citie. People throw pieces of meat in the air which those birds catch most skilful.
“Many of the rude and barbarous strangers [foreigners] that come to Constantinople gape and grin at such doings. Else they buy meat and throw it to us or to the birds, but they do it for sport, not goodness. They’ll win no favour from the Queen Cat of Heaven.”
A cat called, “When sails the next ship for Turkey?”
That made all merry.
“Friend,” sayt Kettie, “if I knew that I would be aboard and waiting for the wind.”
“If Constantinople were such a paradise,” arrkst Picker, “why came you here?”
“Does not London seem a very turd-hole to one such as you?” arrkst Stealer.
“Surely, sister,” sayt Picker, “you mean a turk-hole?”
But Kettie would not be provoked by these sly sisters.
“I had a mind to travel,” sayt he. “First, I friended a fisherman, who carried me across the water to Kalatas [Galata]. A town where many strangers dwell. ’Twas there I first saw men with heads so full of wine they could scarce keep on their feet. A foul drink, but I ate well of fish, you may believe me.
“Then I wished to see Venezia [Venice] and slipt aboard a ship. Alas, it did not return to Kalatas, but sailed here. I came ashore to look around, and when it were time to return I could not find my ship!
“In truth, friends, I near starved. Whene’er I sat on a garden wall at dawn or dusk, watching for any who would bring me food, evil boys threw stones at me.
“Even at the cookshops, few would give me alms. And other cats chased me off, naming me rogue and vagabond when they heard I had neither master nor mistress.
“In Constantinople I had no need of such protection. Here, I learnt that all must serve another, or be accounted nowt. And so, after walking many ways, I came to Black-Fryes and chanced to find employment in a print shop.
“My master and my mistress are incomers like myself. They came here not by chance, but for conscience sake. The mistress likes a cleanlie house, free from vermins, and the master has many papers in his shop that require my care.
“I eat the leavings from their table, and warm myself at their fire. ’Tis not what my mother reared me for, but I’m content.”
All gave Kettie applauds, and sayt they hoped to hear more from him soon.
Incredible as Kettie’s life in Constantinople sounds, a surprising amount of what he says is confirmed by Baron Wenceslas Wratislaw, who went to Constantinople in 1591 and wrote a vivid account of his adventures in 1599.
Wratislaw was bemused by all the animal-feeding, commenting that: “…these superstitious and barbarous people imagine that they obtain especial favour in the eyes of God by giving alms even to irrational cattle, cats, dogs, fish, birds, and other live creatures….”
He was, however, impressed by how horses were treated, and how young men spent time together engaging in feats of horsemanship – in contrast to his own country, where the favoured pastime was eating too much and drinking even more.
Although Wratislaw was very young (mid-teens), he’d travelled as part of an embassy sent by Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, to the Ottoman Emperor Sultan Murat III.
His relatives entrusted him to the ambassador’s care because they wanted him to learn of eastern countries.
After he’d spent nearly two years in and around Constantinople, war broke out in Hungary between the two Empires.
The entire legation was imprisoned, and endured many hardships before they finally returned home in 1597.
(It was during this war that the Earl of Southampton’s brother-in-law Thomas Arundell was awarded the “dog collar” that Tricks’ uncle Gib found so amusing.)