Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, December 5, 2023


 "The Old Woman with All the Cats" by Nigel Kneale (written perhaps in the late 1980s, this previously unpublished short story was discovered among Kneale's archives in 2022 and was included in the second extended edition of Kneale's collection Tomato Cain and Other Stories, published in December 2022 by Comma Press)

Lord Mompommon ("Mompie"), Hibbs, Hooter, Crust, Nellie, Dippypaws, Taggy, Badgerbits, Dodo (as opposed to Dido, who had learned to squat on a toilet like a human), Sir Tim, Vanessa. Pearl (the oldest, and going senile), Bellameen, Bessie, Ginger Tib, Simmie, Slippytoes, Bogo, Bismark, Mudgie, Babyboy, Tomnoddy, Sniggler, Jessamine, Boxer, Wilson, Wendy, Minna Mae and her kittens -- all were cats owned by Mrs. Parry, So many cats that some of them never got names -- not until they died and were buried in the yeard...names like Whiskey or Esmeralda, penciled in on garden labels.   Mrs. Parry dreaded another visit from the Inspectot, with his talk of insanitary condictions, the noise nuisance, and the smell -- Oh, God, the smell!  It's not our responsibility (the Inspector said) to find homes for the kittens.  Even putting them down costs time and money, even doing it by injection.  No.  Drowning them doesn't work; it's harder than one might think.  The best bet is a clout over the head with a stick.  Sharp and painless and quick.  You might want to consider that, Mes. Parry.  the best bet, though, is to stop them breeding.  We can do that for you, yes. free.

Well, that won't do.. The Inspector is not getting any of her darlings or their babies.  So it had to be the stick.

Sometimes she would forget she was Mrs. Parry.  Her real name was Elizabeth Underhill.  It was Frank,. her late husband, who had tacked the "Parry" onto her name.  Sometimes she would sign her allotment check E. UNDERHILL until the clerk corrected her.

Coming home from her meager shopping she spied something wrapped in newspaper in the bushes.  She always checked.  People were always throwing things in the bushes.  Once, it was some unopened cartons of Chinese food -- the cats loved that!  This time it was a baby.  A dead baby.  A girl baby.  Best not to be bothered. She rewrapped the corpse in the newspaper and left it there.  Then she returned home to her cats.

There was the loud screeching of mating.  Pearl was in heat and the toms were around her.  In nine weeks, there would be more kittens.  Time to get out the stick.  Could that be what happened to the baby...the stick?  Then they threw it away.

She went back to retrieve the corpse.  A baby of her own, but not a fur baby...

But what would the cats say?

Nigel Kneale (1922-2006) is best known as writer of televison and film scripts, most notably Look Back in Anger and The Entertainer (both with John Osborne) and the Quatermass trilogy of plays for the BBC (The Quatermass Experiment, Quatermass II, and Quatermass and the Pit). He also adapted such works as Orwell's 1984, Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, Kingslrey Amis's Stanley and the Women, and Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's Gold for television.  Kneale was twice nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay.  He has been called "one of the most influential writers of the 20th century" and has been cdited with "having invented popular TV."  His first efforts in writing, though, was with a number of finely-tuned short stories, 29 of which were eventually published as Tomato Cain and Other Stories in 1949. which won the Somerset Maugham Award.  A 2022 expanded edition of the book included the "lost" story "The Old Woman with All the Cats."


  1. Rick Robinson loved cat stories. I need to read more Nigel Kneale. Excellent story choice!

  2. I will look for that 2022 edition...thanks for the pointer! (the QUATERMASS AND THE PIT film was one of the key influences on me as a very young child...)