Of all TS Eliot’s Practical Cats, Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat is my favourite. From ‘the whisper down the line…when the Night Mail’s ready to depart’ the rhythm, rhyme, pace and story of the poem draw the reader in to Skimbleshanks’ domain. Arthur Robins brings the word pictures to life with his spirited, dynamic illustrations (even if he is a little confused about which way is east). Those who have read the earlier poems in this series will be delighted to spot Macavity and Mr Mistoffelees on board, heading for ‘the northern part of the northern hemisphere’. An ideal Christmas present, this is such fun that you’ll probably want to keep it for yourself!
That was my review in The Scotsman for this illustrated edition of TS Eliot’s poem. I first met Skimbleshanks when I was a pupil at Troqueer Primary School in Dumfries. I think my class learned it for a school concert. It was the first time that I saw a place I knew immortalised in fiction, even if it was just a fleeting glimpse: ‘You saw him at Dumfries where he summons the police if there’s anything they ought to know about…’
Forty five years on from my first meeting, I still love Skimbleshanks and I’ll share his story at the drop of a hat whether you’re interested or not!