By The Landlord
“I got lost but look what I found.” – Irving Berlin
Our cat went missing this week. For the first time in 11 years of ravenous, raucous meowing, a distinctive sound heralding noisy returns up our handmade, 40ft Heath Robinson-esque cat-shoot coming from the garden and undergrowth beyond it, climbing high and through the kitchen catflap, our luxuriantly furred mongrel beast, brimming with purring personality and opulent size (a full yard of feline from nose to tail), did not come home for his dinner. Nor his breakfast. Nor his next dinner. Oh Cato! It's utterly irrational but astonishingly powerful how this makes you feel. It is not really like losing a child, but it seems that way. It makes you feel helpless, paralysed, destroying any ability to relax, work, function, concentrate. After a sleepless night of imagined sounds I again went searching everywhere. Neighours' houses, garages, bins, bushes, under cars, fearing the worst, but still calling, calling, calling. For some reason this song, via Solomon Burke, came to mind:
But in the process it was surprising how much I discovered about the neighbourhood. One small crisis can bring out strange shared experiences – new mini-friendships, perspectives, secrets. You discover more than you’d hoped or bargained for. You end up speaking to people who have been strangers for years but who have breathed the same air, and walked the same pavement. And one small street, filled with a variety of people from many backgrounds, can be a microcosm of the world – its problems, but also strengths. So this week’s topic is not only about things lost, and searching for them, but also the found, and often that is something entirely different to what you were originally searching for.
Rediscovery, or new discovery of course can come in all sorts of contexts. It might not necessarily be about loved ones, but also about oneself – identity, personal injury or loss of good health that hopefully is eventually regained. We realise how precious are the things we take for granted. Losing a possession can be highly inconvenient, distressing even, especially if it is something such as a wallet, purse, or phone, but can ultimately be replaced.
Worse still however if it is something of personal nature, or unique creativity. As a victim of a violent mugging 10 years ago, I suffered nasty injuries that required surgery, as well as loss of my bike and bag, wallet, phone and keys, but the worst thing was losing a notebook that contained a load of original writing and ideas. Nevertheless it sparked me to work from it and write more, to try to remember those lost ideas as much as improve on them. And happily in any case it was found a few days later dumped in a bush. The contents of your head are the most precious of all personal possessions.
So refound possessions can also teach us profound things about ourselves, but also other people. We all lose things, but it is when they are returned that it can renew hope. How much can a returned wallet do wonders for optimism. Years ago, on holiday in Venice, a city notorious for pickpockets, I lost on the first day a wallet containing all the money for the entire trip. Yet it had simply fallen out onto the street somehow, and a stranger ran 100 yards to return it to me. And at Glastonbury Festival a few years ago, watching The Rolling Stones in a muddy field of nearly 100,000 people, the contents of my girlfriend’s handbag, including money, phone and everything disappeared. Next day, at the lost property office half a mile away, there it was, with every item single, including all the dosh.
Lost items are a remarkable expression of the sheer variety of items we possess, cherish and lose. Imagine the stories behind such items as a life-size stuffed Spider-Man model, a full wedding dress with matching shoes, a dominatrix outfit, an African mask, a traffic lollipop, such as are found in hotels, or indeed on in the London Underground. Just how did that happen?
So while there are many songs about being lost or losing yourself, this week ideally we’re looking for songs that also contain an element of finding, even if it is not the same thing you were looking for. There may be a circularity to the experience, or it might shape up in a different way. As Henry David Thoreau put it: “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”
The process of losing things, or oneself, can have interesting effects on us. We can panic. “It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way,” said the psychologist, Rollo May. “The soul which has no fixed purpose in life is lost; to be everywhere, is to be nowhere,” said Michel de Montaigne. But loss can also trigger a new focus. “When you're feeling lost, take heart. It's just your brain gathering the information it needs to make good decisions,” writes the author Josh Kaufman.
There are many remarkable true stories of lost and found. Of course when loved ones are concerned this is heartrending and profound. If children go missing, it is the very worst experience that can happen to a parent. But happily it is relatively rare, perhaps because they, quite naturally are under some form of supervision.
With pets however, it’s far more regular, for obvious reasons. There is for example the story Crockett, from Corringham, UK, who disappeared for a week, having climbed into, and lived all that time in a sofa his owners had given away to a charity shop.
Or there is Alfie, the ginger cat in Milnrow, Rochdale, Greater Manchester who was hit by a car and was buried, but then nine months later turned up to the old house after his owners had moved (perhaps it was another identical cat who had died). Or Charles, a cat from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who disappeared and was discovered, courtesy of microchip, nine months later, but mysteriously 1300 miles away in Chicago. Pets run off and get lost, or climb into cupboards or cars, or sometimes just decide to go for a wander. And there are many other examples of pets, usually cats or dogs reunited with their owners after as long as a decade, or longer, such as Shelby, a cat who went missing from her home in Geelong, Victoria, Australia, in 2001, and turned up 13 years later.
But some circumstances are even more traumatic. Some people lose their homes as well as their pets, in extreme weather events, or worse, wars. There are many such videos, but just try not to get emotional when you see these people, who have lost everything, then regain something, or someone, that could never be replaced.
And so then, here are a couple of songs to get things going, to throw into the mix. One of my favourite, and also one of the most original and eccentric bands out there, Canada’s Fiery Furnaces.
But what of the cat? In this song, in a version by Sonny James (originally written by Harry S. Miller in 1893, the feline in question doesn’t so much get lost, but keeps getting ousted only to return against all the odds:
But what of our cat? Did he come back? Not quite on his own, but after the umpteenth search, scrabbling through brambles and more in our local park very nearby, I did indeed discover him, hearing a distinctive cry from the undergrowth. I don’t know what happened. He seemed confused but also squeakily relieved. He might have got stuck in bin, or cupboard, or a house, and was then released, or just got very distracted, but happily from then, late at night, we walked home together, him trotting alongside me like a dog. He was indeed very hungry and dehydrated, but now, everything is back to normal.
So then, overseeing this week’s search party and sorting out the lost property office of songs into playlists, I’m delighted to welcome back the marvellous Maki! Place your lost and found items in comments below for deadline on Monday 11pm UK time last orders, for playlists published on Wednesday. Let the missing mission commence …
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