A Window Seat

Clive Bond has discovered Outside.

He has not been there yet. But he’s plotting.

The other day I came home from dropping someone off somewhere to see a face in the porch window which shouldn’t be there.

Clive’s dastardly tactic of bolting out of the front door into the little glass-paned porch to investigate bicycles and wellington boots and the gas meter had backfired on him.

He sat gazing out of the window like the kitten of Shalott. Moving through the window clear, shadows of the world appeared. This was wide-screen entertainment.

Because Outside is an aspiration.

It has moving things and swaying things and scuttering leaves to chase and car lights at which to gaze adoringly. Outside is where Clive Bond wants to be. He wants total domination of the small green, and its parked cars, and the discarded toys, and the lary magpies and the autumnal leaves of the silver birch.

And so he sits. And he waits. Through the glass, dimly, he can almost taste his future.

The window:  as clear as day, yet still it sets its observer apart from the action.

Hitchcock used it in his Rear Window, where a press photographer witnesses a set of circumstances which must surely be a murder.

And then there is that chilling, mildewed window envisioned by Emily Bronte.

Do you remember the description? Mr Lockwood has been grudgingly granted an overnight stay, and a maid gives him a room he shouldn’t have. He looks for the bed and instead finds the strangest oak window seat; a couch next to the windowsill, a few mildewed books piled up in one corner, the ledge covered with writing scratched in the paint: ‘Catherine Earnshaw…Catherine Healthcliffe….Catherine Linton.’

And in a restless sleep he dreams-or is it reality – that some tree is tapping on the window. But when he reaches out through the window to silence it, it is not a tree but an ice-cold hand.

The hand will not let go, and someone outside the window wails “Let me in! Let me in!”

I have never forgotten the first time I read that passage. And its horror still takes me by force even now.

Occasionally, the pane of glass does not have to be there: the observed and the observer are in the same place.

Like portrait painters. Think of any portrait which captivates you: it was a two-way process when it happened, and it’s a two-way process now. Those solemn Cholmondeley sisters, the eerie Elizabethan twins who sit on the walls of the Tate museum: who was hired to paint them with their newborns, grave and strange? Whoever he was, you stand in his place.

It takes a cartoonist to make that strange relationship explicit.

I was leafing through the work of my favourite cartoonist in search of the people vacuum tube to Bengal for Sunday’s post. And what should I find but a most unusual group portrait.

It was painted by William Heath, the cartoonist who lived in the first half of the nineteenth century and founded  a number of magazines – including The Northern Looking Glass.

It is called : Looking at an ass.

It betrays a story. The artist sets up his easel in a Victorian street and begins to paint. And everyone stops to watch. And, indeed, to ridicule.

There they are, looking at an ass, who caricatures each of his observers with the keenest of irony.


Who are the asses, really?

And so Clive the kitten observes from behind the glass a melée he has yet to join.

Looking at this rabble, he might be better off staying in the porch.



53 thoughts on “A Window Seat

  1. My kitten Rory loves to look outside, too. I’ve taken to hurrying both in and out the door whenever I need to leave, typically by throwing his catnip-filled mouse (which he unconditionally chases) so I can make it out the door.

  2. I remember our cats staring longingly out the windows – in early days they tried to get at the birds in the yard. Later they would take up their stations in the front window when it was time for my son to come home from school. I didn’t know how they knew what time it was, but they unfailingly went to the window each day so that they would be there to catch the first glimpse of him coming up the sidewalk.

  3. You had me in your grip with calling Clive the kitten of Shalott. Delicious! I can’t share everything you write with my friends. Many of them are still questioning why on earth I’m blogging. But this was so entirely delightful it is edible! So I have passed it on with glee. Dear delightful Clive. His yearnings paired with the complex structures in Wuthering Heights and another favorite, Hitchcock. And I have to work today…I would really like to break out the Bronte instead–you’ve set me in the mood for a day of literature and art!

  4. The best window seat is on holiday when, on a wet miserable day, you can curl up with a decent book or magazine. Preferably with a view of the sea while you remain snug as that proverbial bug.

    My favourite card (stop me if I’ve shared this with you before) shows a Ladybird Book picture of two 50s children by a window seat looking miserably out at the rain; the caption reads (and it strikes a chord with us both) ‘Life hadn’t been the same since the move to Wales’. Ah, they’d obviously read all their Ladybird books by then.

  5. I love the name Clive Bond. And kitty is better off not knowing what’s out there – might encounter a sly fox along the way. 😦

    Great weaving of the Tate art into this story. Such a great gallery.

  6. I admit that many of your stories spur me to look up something you mentioned, and then make a wonderful discovery. I did not recall Tennyson’s poem, “The Lady of Shalott.” I found that Agatha Christie wrote a Miss Marple mystery (based on this poem, I’m guessing) entitled “The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side”, which was made into a movie starring Angela Lansbury. Tirra Lirra by the River, by Australian novelist Jessica Anderson, is the story of a modern woman’s decision to break out of confinement.

    Let’s hope that Clive Bond doesn’t make good his plot to escape. My cats, Jean-Louis and Reggie, sympathize. They love to gaze out the window, watch the anoles and birds. But they’ve adjusted to remaining inside even when the door is open for our exit or entrance.

  7. It takes a cartoonist (and Kate Shrewsday) to make that strange relationship explicit. 😀 Fascinating stuff, Kate, and such a sweet photo of CB.
    I saw a number of William Heath cartoons which were part of an exhibition titled ‘Infinite Jest’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was a very astute observer of the follies of the human.

  8. Funny how even from behind one gets the impression that Clive Bond is indeed plotting his escape being an utterly clueless rascal towards the danger he could well encounter if he ever does set a paw outside. Keep the doors and windows locked!

    In response to that Heath cartoon, could the ass be whoever is observing the subjects in the cartoon i.e., Heath or by extension, us? If you prefer to reverse the POV, could it be the subjects in that crowd that Heath and us are looking at in the drawing that are a mass of ass? I think it could work both ways and we’re all members of the community of ass.

  9. Oh Kate. I’ve had such bad luck in the past couple of years with lovely loving kitties that bolted and found ill fate. Keep him on the porch. I do adore the twins painting though.

  10. That Clive is so cute. It’s funny that you quoted from Wuthering Heights because I’m on my latest attempt to get through the whole book. And whenever I see the name “Cholmondeley” I always laugh because it boggles my mind how different the spelling is from the actual pronunciation.

  11. Like Alice, Clive will contrive to get through the looking-glass one of these days. I hope he finds the characters and sights as interesting as the ones she saw.

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