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Spectator competition winners: T.S. Eliot’s cats get to grips with the 21st century

9 February 2020

7:55 AM

9 February 2020

7:55 AM

The latest competition asked for poems featuring one of T.S. Eliot’s practical cats getting to grips with the modern world.

Your 21st-century reincarnations of Eliot’s felines (the poems were originally published in 1939 and inspired by the poet’s four-year-old godson, who invented the words ‘pollicle’ for dogs and ‘jellicle’ for cats) were terrific, making it especially difficult to decide on the winners. Some fine Macavitys narrowly missed the cut (take a bow, Nick Syrett, David Shields and Hamish Wilson), as did Bill Greenwell’s Jellicles and Brian Allgar’s Growltiger, the Tory Cat.

This week’s top cats are printed below and pocket £35 each.

Sylvia Fairley
Bustopher Jones has firm flesh on his bones,
In short, he has ceased to be fat,
He had a rebirth and he’s saving the earth,
He’s a Vegan Society cat.

And this is the reason, when game is in season,
He turns his impeccable back,
And the merest glimpse of those winkles and
      shrimps
Makes him yearn for a plant-based quick snack.

Instead of pigs’ cheeks, he eats chickpeas and
      leeks,
Or a spinach and kale cassoulet.
If it’s growing, he’ll try it; he finds on this diet
The pounds just keep falling away.


Walking out, slim and svelte, he must tighten his
      belt,
Or his trousers, well-cut, might descend.
Yet it’s said, now he’s lean, that it’s cool to be
      green
And that wearing white spats is on-trend!

Chris O’Carroll
From a long line of troupers, our Gus came of age
Among mentors and models whose lives on the
      stage
Took for granted that everyone knows it’s all right
To cast a black role with an actor who’s white.
An Othello’s corked face and his kinky-hair wig
Were perceived not as hate crimes — just par for
      the gig,
And a cat, like his human co-stars, could feel free
To assume any colour he wanted to be.

But today, if a cat wears a blue-lens disguise
For a turn on the stage with faux Siamese eyes,
Or dares to say dye to a natural follicle,
He is sure to touch off storms of rage diabolical.
If he dons extra fur to go Maine Coon or Persian,
Angry critics will launch a barrage of aspersion.
So if all of that stuff is off limits, thinks Gus,
Then how come human beings get to dress up like
      us?

Nick MacKinnon
Growltiger is a Boho Cat who gentrifies the slums:
he’s living on a Dutch barge with some
      floorboard-sanding chums.
From Peckham Rye to Hoxton he’s developing
      the stews,
rejoicing in his title as ‘The Doer-up of Mews’.

The cottagers of Rotherhithe know something of
      his crimes:
a pop-up restaurant appears that’s big on kaffir
      limes;
kombucha in the greasy spoon, some tofu at the
      pub,
then there’s no more work for strippers down the
      Deptford Social Club.

In the forepeak of his vessel Growltiger sits alone.
He’s prowling over rooftops via a camera on his
      drone
as priced-out cockney dockers gain a foothold on
      the barge,
obliged to live in Luton when they long to live it
      large.

The working class press forward in displaced rank
      on rank;
Growltiger to his vast surprise is made to walk the
      plank.
The Isle of Dogs rejoices when they hear it on the
      news,
while the staff of Wapping Waitrose weep in
      crematorium pews.

Basil Ransome-Davies
Life had posed a fateful question to the Lady
      Griddlebone.
The tragic death of Growltiger had left her quite
      alone.
Would she find her Mr Darcy, as in all the best
      romcoms,
Or live an unprotected queen, the prey of feral
      toms?

The first few weeks were tough as hell. She hung
      out by the docks,
A teat of her survival skills, a college of hard
      knocks.
The local males all tried it on. She bid them go to
      hell.
Macavity came sniffing round. She brushed him
      off as well.

Some cats are fat and lazy; not so Lady
      Griddlebone.
You could call her too intense, but she was always
      in the zone.
She formed a group of female cats to busk around
      St Paul’s
For tourists who applauded their melodic
      caterwauls.

Though she did it for morale’s sake, for a booster,
      for a gas,
As selfies taken with the group popped up online
      en masse
Their fanbase swelled to millions. They were soon
      living the dream.
Who needs Fitzwilliam Darcy when your act’s a
      viral meme?

To mark the 70th anniversary of George Orwell’s death, your next challenge is to submit a short story with an Orwellian flavour. Please email entries of up to 150 words to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 19 February.


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