Robert Westall loved cats chiefly because he found them so enigmatic. As a child he had grown up with a spaniel, Sandy, but he didn't 'discover' cats until he married in 1958 and he and his wife, Jean, started to keep them. During his married life he often said that he had kept a total of between sixty and seventy cats, always having more than one in the house, often even three or four, and counting in all the numerous litters of kittens that his cats produced until they were old enough to be found homes. As for many years he lived on a busy road there were, far too frequently, sad casualties of road traffic accidents.
When in 1987 he moved to Lymm to live with his friend and partner Lindy McKinnel, he brought with him a small, pale, oriental cat that he called Jeoffrey, after the cat in Christopher Smart's poem 'For I will consider my cat Jeoffrey'. Jeoffrey had to contend with two other feline occupants of the house in Lymm, Rosie and her ginger son, Montgomery, (Monty, for short). Life in a new abode with two strange cats and a new human did not faze Jeoffrey in the least. He quickly adopted Monty as a kind of older brother, squeezing nightly into Monty's circular furry bed with him. Monty was a large and affable cat, possessive only in his affection for his female owner and he did not seem to mind. They soon became firm friends.
Robert liked to work on his books and endless correspondence on the kitchen table. The cats also liked the kitchen table as it afforded a good view both of the garden and the surrounding space, which they could monitor. However, trouble could ensue when muddy pawprints appeared on spotlessly white pages of manuscript or letter.
One day when Robert was writing a letter to one of his editors, hand-written as was his wont, Jeoffrey's muddy pawprint became only too visible. Robert was very annoyed but Lindy said "Don't worry, I'm sure that Miriam" (who also loved cats) " will not mind. I think that she'll find it amusing." She later agreed to publish 'A Walk on the Wild Side', a whole book of seven short stories about cats. The dedication in the book reads 'To Jeoffrey, my cat who, with a paw- print on a letter, set this book in motion."
Robert Westall wrote about cats in a letter to a good friend who had never met Jeoffrey.
'Cats to me are one of life's great and certain plusses. When I get angry with God I can forgive him because he made cats – a divine and beautiful joke. Though when I watch the grey squirrels in the garden outwitting the cats so easily, I sometimes think squirrels an even better joke. That lovely moment when a squirrel evades death at a cat's jaw by a hand's breadth and then looks down and chatters its utter contempt for all cat-kind, and the cat bends to lick itself as if it doesn't know what the squirrel is going on about.'
'My favourite cat is Jeoffrey who is very small and has silver and pink fur and grape-green eyes. He is a 'thinking' cat who not only studies the squirrels, but also makes valiant efforts to become a squirrel, climbing fences hand over hand (or paw-over-paw) and walking precariously along the top of conifer hedges. He has inspired two of my books – A Walk on the Wild Side, and If Cats Could Fly.'
'Cats are creatures of ritual. Jeoffrey has dozens. From his morning greeting ritual (after which he sleeps in my bed so I can't make it until lunch time) to his late night ritual when he has to be given water from the tap in a jam-jar lid, even though there is water in a cat dish available all day. It always has to be the same jam-jar lid too. If his supper is late he wrecks the sitting room by pushing books, papers and magazines on to the floor, off the tables, with his nose.'
Robert also wrote a poem which is printed below.
Jeoffrey will not go out tonight
Hovers by the cat-flap paw uplifted
Eyes wide and wild ears pricked,
Listening to wind-cat prowling the earth.
Wind-cat assaults the cat-flap violently
With invisible paws
But does not come in
Does not have a smell
But spits savagely in Jeoffrey's face,
Then retires to leap through the garden
Tearing and smashing fearsomely
At Jeoffrey's trees,
Making Jeoffrey's fence
Transmitting his terrible size
Then is back, rattling the flap
Spitting again, a fearsome show.
Is not entirely convinced.
How can so great a creature have no smell
But the usual grass, earth and trees?
Jeoffrey suspects a con
Until the cat next door
The usual cat-flap burglar,
Terror of the road,
Streaks past the window
Cowering to the earth,
Soaked, blown and beaten
By the wind-cat's paws.
Jeoffrey seems to shrug
Retires to the lounge
To wash, by the fire
And guard the house against
An infinitely smaller wind-cat
Burgling down the chimney.
He knows his limitations
That's his strength.
The following books by Robert Westall feature cats:
Click on a title to read a synopsis. You will need to click on the 'back' button on your browser to return to this page.
The Devil on the Road (out of print)
The Cats of Seroster (out of print)
Blitzcat (in print)
A Walk on the Wild Side (short stories, out of print)
If Cats Could Fly (out of print)
Yaxley's Cat (out of print)
The Christmas Cat (in Christmas Spirit, and in print)
Size Twelve (in print)
The Witness (a picture book, out of print)
Cats' Whispers and Tales (anthology, out of print)
David and the Kittens (picture book, in print)
Click here to return to top of page