A salaried cat and a driverless train are the facts behind a new children’s story commissioned from a Norwich author, Joyce Dunbar, ahead of the launch of a new London museum
PUBLISHED: 12:03 14 April 2017
Meet Tibs, a trusted, and bewhiskered, Post Office employee.
He’s on the payroll, with an important job to do, but he’s a bit of a pussy cat when it comes to catching and despatching pesky mice.
The latest picture book by Norfolk children’s author Joyce Dunbar, and illustrator Claire Fletcher, is based around a real cat, employed in the 1950s to catch the mice nibbling holes in mail sacks, tearing up letters and licking stamps through to the glue.
With a career spanning 14 years the Tibs became a Post Office celebrity. Joyce was commissioned to tell his story and the resulting charming picture book, Tibs, the Post Office Cat, will be published on Thursday, April 20.
Her task was to create a story for children, in which the mouser with a weekly wage would deal with the mice problem, without a mouse massacre.
Tibs is more interested in making friends with the mischievous rodents than eating them, so tries to teach them to be more tidy, and takes them on an adventure on the underground Mail Rail, a driverless mini train which once ran beneath London, linking six sorting offices.
“I was thrilled to learn about the mail train,” says Joyce. “As a student I worked every Christmas holiday on the post - and have a nostalgic attachment to post offices. I love the smells - stationery and string and ink and rubber - and all the seasonal goodies and cards. Post Offices were much more than a place to post letters and collect pensions. They were a
social institution, built up over many years of trust and reliability. Of course the internet made change inevitable - and while email and texting is a boon, I mourn for what is lost.”
A new Postal Museum is due to open in London this summer and visits will include a ride on the Mail Rail.
For around a century, until 2003, the trains carried the post deep beneath London’s streets and during the First World War the Rosetta Stone was hidden in the secret tunnels.
Joyce has written scores of books for children, which have been translated into languages ranging from Japanese to Zulu. They include several written with her author and artist daughter Polly. Her biggest seller, Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go To Sleep, was recommended by booksellers across America to help traumatised children come to terms with the Twin Towers tragedy.
Six years ago, Joyce’s Love a Picture Book leaflet was sent to every primary school in the county by national charity Booktrust. “If you are a child and you want to understand the mysterious ways of grown-ups, a picture book can help. If you are a grown-up and you want to understand the mysterious ways of children, a picture book will show you,” said Joyce.