Heathcliff - A Literary Cat

My imminent re-location to Italy has forced some very difficult decisions. At the top of the list, what would happen to our cat? Heathcliff (what else could Kathy's cat be called?) has been my companion for almost ten years. He sits on one of the oak beams when I'm working, just to make sure that I'm not snoozing instead. Given the chance, he will tap out his own messages on the keyboard and has been known to crash the whole computer. I've tried to be a responsible owner (does one ever 'own' a cat?) and parting with him has always been unthinkable.

Before Heathcliff condescended to live with me, he belonged to another writer - William Scammell - an excellent poet and good friend, well known for his savagely truthful reviews in the Spectator, Literary Review and the Independent on Sunday. Friends were never spared, which could be something of an ordeal, but Bill's judgement was always sound and fair. You could rely on him to tell you exactly what didn't work as well as what did. Bill died in November 2000 and I still miss him a lot.

Heathcliff was his cat - a stray who walked through his front door one day and decided to take up residence. Being a companionable cat who loves comfortable places and good conversation, Heathcliff spent the next few months curled up on Bill's duvet, as he lay in bed facing the grim realities of lung cancer. Bill wrote a poem about Heathcliff, which appeared in the Independent after he died (and more recently in a new anthology of Bill's poetry).

We have been adopted by a black cat
with a white bib and paws.
Almost a designer cat,

who pushes his affections

into your stomach as though

he was making bread.
He's come from nowhere,

the exact spot you yourself are headed for.

When Bill died we agreed to give Heathcliff a temporary home which gradually became permanent - or so we thought.

However, recently my life has changed in a way I never envisaged, one that is totally unfair to our beloved animal. During the last twelve months, as I commuted to a fellowship at one of the North eastern universities, spent weeks doing research for the book in New Zealand and tried to see something of Neil in Italy, our friends have heroically fed him for me, though he made his feelings very plain when I returned! This situation obviously couldn't go on, especially as I'm going to be away for even longer periods in the near future. So, with two months of international travel in front of me, and unable to take him with us to the house we are borrowing in Italy, we have tried for weeks to find someone willing to look after him (bribed with a year's supply of a certain famous cat-food).

Fortunately one of our neighbours has agreed to foster Heathcliff for us, and - after some sleepless nights, I have breathed a sigh of relief at the thought of him being properly cared for - and we still have visiting rights. It's not a long term solution, but I know he will be well looked after in the immediate future.

Now, it's off to France for a Katherine Mansfield conference in Menton, and then after a few days of frantic packing, off to Cambodia and all things strange and wonderful!


  1. Dear Kathleen
    I looked for, and failed to find, your earlier post, to agree with your meme comments. Anyway, having done the thing innocently, I agree.

    But here you are with your cat-with-a-history and your travelling adventures. You live a moving (in one sense) interior life and a moving (in another sense) exterior life.

    Travelling is like drinking inspiration, noting free-range life, overhearing the world. When one thinks of it, it is a writer's duty.

    I am not as widely free-ranging as are you, but I always love and treasure my times in France.

    I hope you will be posting your travel experiences here or I will miss your sane and cultured voice in cyberspace.

    in the meantime

    Bon Voyage.

  2. Hi Wendy - I'm not sure I'm either sane or cultured, but I will be blogging away from the other side of the world as often as I can! One of the wonderful things about this blog is the number of friends it's brought - I do love these conversations.
    x kj

  3. I'm glad you have found a home for Heathcliff. Given it is one of your neighbours fostering him he won't even have to adjust to a new locale.
    We have a cat who has consented to live with us for 15 years and they do have a way of becoming indispensable.

    Adding to the conversation Wendy and you were having; from my perspective you seem to have well and truly earned the epithet "cultured".
    I can take or leave sanity. A different perspective on the world is always so refreshing. So many of those who are judged "conventional" are people I simply have very little in common with. As to normal, I have a friend who lives with schizophrenia who maintains that "normal" has no relevance unless it is a setting on his washing machine (I am sure he has borrowed that quote from somewhere).

    You are absolutely correct on the wonderful people you "meet" on the web.

    Travel safely and have fun.


  4. Thanks for your good wishes Al. I love the analogy of the washing machine - wish I could programme myself as efficiently!
    x KJ


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