Hamlet, the world's most travelled cat, escaped his cage on board a plane from Toronto, Canada and was not found until he had accidentally clocked up 600,000km. This story sums up cats for me. Adventurous. Nimble. Overconfident. I bet when Hamlet was rescued from behind a panel inside the plane he was embarrassed – and straight away pretended like nothing happened.
Cats have travelled the world ever since rats found out boats carried grain. Ship cats kept the rodent population down and were regarded as good luck tokens, even when the ships they were on ran into misfortune. Some are well known to us, like Mrs Chippy, a tabby aboard Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated Arctic-bound ship Endurance in 1914-17. Chippy helped keep morale high until the ship was trapped in ice and the crew were forced to journey overland. Mrs Chippy did not make it.
Or Kiddo, the first cat to attempt a flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Also a tabby, he flew on the dirigible America in its 1910 attempt to cross the Atlantic. The airship ran out of fuel and came down but the crew – including Kiddo – were rescued by a merchant ship.
Trim was English explorer Matthew Flinders' cat on his journey around Australia during 1801-03. A faithful companion, he was eventually stolen and eaten by slaves!
Cats across the globe
Thailand. Siam's ancient temples were once guarded by sacred Wichien-maat, or 'Moon Diamond' cats – ancestors of today's Siamese. Theft of a Siamese from the Royal Court was punishable by death. See the slinky, creamy coated Si and Am in the Disney film Lady and the Tramp.
Kenya. The long, lean tabby-patterned Sokoke is a Kenyan cat. Its local name Khadzonzo means 'like tree bark' and its brown and black coat reflects this, as does its origin, from the tropical wilds of the African rainforest.
France. Thought to have been initially bred by Carthusian monks, legend tells of blue coated Chartreux cats accompanying crusading knights to the borders of France to see them on their way to the holy land. Big, broody, blue-coated bruisers.
Turkey. From Ankara in the Central Anatolian region of Turkey, the fluffy Turkish Angora is said to be the result of African trader cats breeding with wild cats from the Turkish mountains. One of the oldest domestic cat breeds. Prized Angoras have thick snow white coats and odd-eyes – one blue, one gold.
Isle of Man. Manx cats have no tails. They come from an island in between Ireland and England, where many a ships cat prowled the decks over the centuries. They are a rugged, muscular breed favoured by long haul ships on dangerous journeys. The painter J.M.W. Turner was a fan – he owned ten of them.
North Africa. Abyssinians are purebred coffee coloured shorthairs. The same cats (along with their brethren the Mau) can be found in wall paintings and as statues from ancient Egypt, hunting water fowl or representing the god Bastet. Mummified Abyssinians have been found in Egyptian tombs – probably the best example of which is held in the collection of the British Museum in London.
Every three years Ypres, Belgium has an incredible Cat Festival (Kattenstoet) where medieval rituals involving cats and witches are reenacted by the townspeople with huge floats, a Cat King and much more.
Catskill, New York state has its own festival for cats each October with a street art theme.