The deepest of greens, the brightest of blues and richest of browns, birds come in a stunning variety of sizes and colours. They chirp, twitter, chirrup and cheap, squawk, croak and whistle. If there was a prize for the species with the widest ranges of noises, surely they’d win hands down! Or beaks up! I was so excited when John’s daughter Natasha pitched up at the house and we bundled into the car on this cloudy grey day to visit the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust site in Arundel, West Sussex. The Trust has spent many years protecting the wetland landscapes and conserving the thousands of species who rely on it or live in it. Like the Whirligig Beetle who looks like a shiny black opal that gyrates around the surface of the water looking for aquatic insects to feed on. If you think the word Whirligig is amusing, there are lots of funny named creatures in the wetlands. See if you can spot the Taiga Bean Goose in the photos, a speckled brown bird with striped wings and an orange patch on her beak.
Surges of adrenalin coursed through my veins every time I saw the flicker of a wing or heard the splash of water but I knew to keep my distance from the vibrant wildlife given my appearance as a sleek black predator. If only the birds and mice knew that I’m a sophisticated feline who jointly runs a photography business and has an active interest in the caring for all things nature. As I hopped over the gaps in the wooden slats of the walkway and headed towards the thatched hide, a pair of Brent Geese floated regally by on the water, their reflections perfectly captured in the shallows beneath. I peeked through the thick pallid winter reeds to spy on a lapwing cruising towards the bank with his fabulous feathered crown standing proudly at the back of his black head. Suddenly John whispered to me to look up and there a Canada Goose hurtled towards me from the skies above. I ducked my head down and ran away as she landed on the water with an enormous splash, quickly regaining her composure before gliding off with relative grace.
The handsome Kingfisher is one of my favourite birds, smartly dressed in blue and orange and contrasting with the pair of Shoveler Ducks with their shovel-like bills that were drifting elegantly by. A Curlew paddled across the sandy wet terrain looking for worms and seeds to eat whilst a pair of Mallards with their characteristic blue stripe on their sides headed towards the long dry grass in search of a cosy corner to spend the night. The trees and bushes provided camouflage for many perching birds like the Blue Tits who weigh a tiny 10g and somehow don’t get blown away by the winds. The slightly larger Great Tit was staring at the freckled Dunnock who had spotted a bug crawling along the branch below and I felt like there was going to be a rumble! Meanwhile a Chaffinch puffed its pale pink-beige chest out in envy at the Long-tailed Tit who had found a yummy piece of suet just seconds before. The red, yellow and brown Goldfinch kept his beady eyes on the log mound decorated with 3 giant Stag Beetle replicas. I sat by the log mound for a rest and started chatting to a delightful little bank vole who told me she scampers to the back of the kitchens every night for crumbs and morsels of food which set me thinking about supper. Natasha has incredible stamina and could have gone around the Centre one more time but John and I voted for home via an eating establishment after a wonderful day out.
It’s that time of year again when I escape the clutches of Shad’s claws and have a short break in Tenerife. I’m only kidding Shad, you know you’re the only one for me! And of course I missed your 4.30am wake up calls and the way you curl your talons, I mean your tail, around my legs!
Last time I went away I was surrounded by the snow of Innsbruck but this time I opted for scorching sunshine and high winds down at El-Médano to see the Wind and Kite Surfers.
El Médano is one of the world’s best windsurfing/kitesurfing locations, with three different windsurfing spots – the Bay (flat/swell), the Harbour Wall (wavespot sideshore), and Cabezo Beach (wavespot onshore). The main bay is divided into three areas, the general sailing area with very good entry and exit points, the swimming area, marked by a chain of buoys and the pigs bay. I have no idea why it’s called that.
The furball will be pleased he stayed curled up at home because he doesn’t like the heat…… The temperatures hit a high of 37 deg and Shad’s fur coat goes all clumpy and wiry when he gets too hot. Not a good look. We won’t mention my curly black hair or as Shad would say silky grey….
John is a sports fan, just to clarify, I mean watching not playing. He used to participate in sports in his young athletic days and I’ve seen proof in the form of judo medals and a picture of him holding some kind of paddle (otherwise I would never have believed it!). Although he doesn’t play anymore (unless you count the leg lunges he has to do every morning because I run under his feet), he still supports competitive games through the lens of his camera. Technically speaking, portraying the mood and movement of sports in a still-shot is a big challenge. It requires the photographer to take pictures of moving subjects without making them look blurred and be in the right place at the right time to capture the emotion of the scene through let’s say the expression on someone’s face. I often go along with John to give him a few tips and critique his work, but mostly I go for the snacks. My John is an expert in seeking out and preparing the most sumptuous of snacks (yes I’m a lucky cat to have such a devoted friend). On the menu can be anything from steamy steak stew, whisker lickin’ chicken or luscious lamb crockpot.
When John asked me if I wanted to watch an ice hockey game with him, I had a frightening flashback to square-looking bodies adorned in plastic shields crashing into the huge Perspex barriers that surrounded the ice rink they were playing on. I distinctly remember a bewildered man with thick furrowed eyebrows staggering around the ice looking for his tooth. So I opted out of this particular trip and negotiated a small tub of tasty turkey terrine from John before he headed out the door and I headed to my favourite blanket for a nap. If napping was a sport, I’d be a gold medallist I’m sure. As for all you sports fans, keep up the good work. Here’s a few pictures of some brave fit humans working together to score points by hurtling a puck across the opponent’s goal line at anything up to 100 miles an hour with a long curved stick.
So John gets to write a blog this time … but why has Shad chosen to let the staff write for him…
Together we have photographed horses in the snow, stood on the side of a Super-pipe while snowboarders do tricks feet from our cameras.; huddled together to stay out of the wind and rain on our local beaches photographing the local Kite Surfers… We have faced many challenges together. Yet Shad chooses not to photograph Maternity shoots. Could it be that he can creep through grass to shoot an apex predator through a nikon 300mm prime lens but he’s afraid of a little baby! Don’t get me wrong Shadow doesn’t have a problem with kids in fact his adopted sister is my Grand Daughter…. but they get on much better now she is growing up. Shad just doesn’t do babies, he’s says it’s too … and I quote “icky”! I suppose you could say it’s one of his foibles. Because of course he doesn’t have many! Mmmmm…
The young lady in question is a model we first met back in 2013 Bridal Shoot. So Mary Rose, Natasha and myself took the opportunity to enjoy to the autumn sunshibe at a local landmark Portchester Castle and take a few maternity shots for Fiona’s photo album. The medieval Portchester Castle was built as part of a roman fort overlooking the north end of Portsmouth Harbour some time in the 11th century. The weather -worn stone walls provided a rustic backdrop for the shoot and I got creative with a few silhouette shots as the sun began to set. Alright I admit it, we missed our Shad!
When John suggested a photography trip to Lee Valley White Water Centre in Hertfordshire to watch canoe racing I was a little unsure – cats, water, mmm! But never let it be said that Shad the Cat is anything other than bold and adventurous. Yes I know I’ve got my sensitive side, but this was a moment that called for the courage of my convictions, the vavavoom that lights my fire, the curiosity and tenacity of my ancestors the sabre toothed tiger. Being anywhere near the canoeists could result in the moistening of a paw or the dripping of an eyebrow but I was willing the take the risk. And anyway John would be there and he always looks after me.
The water park has a purpose-built slalom course that was constructed to host the canoe slalom events of the 2012 Summer Olympics and it cleverly creates rapids, eddies and drops through a system of pools and pumps. As we walked towards through the gates to the park, I heard the gushing of water and my whiskers tingled with the moisture in the air. The thought of the water overflowing sent shivers down my spine and as the fur on my back bristled, I look anxiously up at John who smiled serenely back at me. Providing the water was contained in one place and I was not in it, I’d be fine.
Soon my unease was replaced with excitement as I watched the canoeists hurtling through the cascades and chutes with nothing but a paddle and a dream. They seemed to be going so fast and appeared to be completely out of control, the water being far more powerful than any of them. But that didn’t stop the competitors in the Canoe Slalom British Championships that were being held there from continuing their daring water activities with gusto. Anyone being swept into that water would have a terrible job getting out so I kept a safe distance from the edge and managed to avoid getting splashed. I even evaded a giant splodge of water that hit the ground not 2 feet away from me thanks to my super swift reflexes and a warning from John to look out! To my delight, he took out a soft fluffy towel from his bag just in case my paws had got damp and I remembered why I find him such a wonderful human.
Planes, trains and automobiles. John is an enthusiast of all things fast and roaring. That must be why he loves me so much! Ok ok, I’m not that fast, but I do roar a lot when I’m trying to get my point across, as I explained to the handsome black labrodor on the platform at Bluebell Railway the other day. He said his name was Marmeduke but his friends call him Dukie (not Duckie apparently)! Dukie was there with his owner, a strong young man covered in axel grease we had seen earlier working on an some kind of engine as part of a vintage car rally just by Horsted Keynes station. I told Dukie how impressed I was with his patience and generally angelic behaviour, given that the last dog I met was a mad yappy thing that arrived at my house one day, got majorly on my nerves and never came back! Dukie on the other hand was composed, dignified and rather fetching for a canine. He chuckled and explained that he was as much of a train buff as his owner and could spend hours watching the trains come and go and enjoying the cultured atmosphere.
The attention to detail at the Bluebell Railway makes it easy to transport yourself through time to the 18th century when someone called Tobias Hornblower would have tipped a station employee to carry his leather studded trunk boxes on to the sleeper car while he escorted his lady friend Ellsepeth Humfray to the dining car for a meal of mutton with thyme, marrow-bone hash and oatmeal pudding (eeww)! The working model train in the station museum was so meticulously made that it had an operational junction box, sign-writing on the passenger carriages and freight wagons, and even different expressions on the train guards’ faces.
Dukie and I wandered around talking about the polished veneer carriages and the intricate engine parts that required many hours of human labour to be maintained. We admired the volunteers who gave up their time to preserve this unique bit of English heritage and agreed that the whistles, chuffs, puffs and sighs of the steam engines were delightful to hear. He showed me how he can sniff out a dining car at over 100 paces and I showed him the most effective strategy for acquiring a meaty snack from the kitchen assistants. Then I showed him the best spot for a nap inside the station master’s cabin and he shared his water bowl with me. We had a lovely time.
Cricket. John has explained it to me 7 times and I still don’t understand it. I simply accept that it is what it is – a bat and ball game between 2 teams which involves scoring runs, something about wickets and dismissing a batsman. While spectators cheer, clap and guffaw in all the right places as they follow play, I adopt a more holistic approach. As outdoor cricket matches tend to take place in lovely locations, it gives me a chance to ponder the natural world and exercise my imagination while the ball flies across the pitch and into the stumps. Some of my favourite outdoor deliberations include counting how many seconds a bird can soar along the air currents without flapping its wings, guessing the appearance of the odd-shaped clouds and following those helicopter shaped leaves as they fall from the sycamore trees.
This particular match was Surrey versus Warwickshire and I let John take all the photos while I concentrated on other pursuits such as working my magic on the lovely ladies and gents in the tea tent. I meowed and gazed lovingly at them with my pupils as dilated as possible which humans always find enchanting. They gave me a saucer of weak tea and a small piece of a chicken sandwich and I was so grateful that I hopped on the friendly lady’s lap and gave her a big wet kiss on her ear. She giggled and everybody said how cute I was. Isn’t that nice?! With a full belly and a smile on my face, I trotted happily out of the tea tent and found a shady spot close to John for my afternoon nap. How civilised!
John likes to challenge his photography skills by shooting sports and as he’s the one with the car, the wallet and the opposable thumbs, I tend to follow willingly. Don’t misunderstand me, I admire the commitment and stamina displayed by the athletes in competitions and I’m glad that they have a means of channelling life’s emotions and frustrations through the performance and community of their sport. For those of us who lack the motivation or talent for such strenuous activities, dealing with life’s idiosyncrasies is often a more sedate affair. There are many other options including reading, writing, puzzles, photography and singing. I frequently sing along with John in the car when he cranks up the Michael Bublé although lately he’s been going through a classic rock phase and I’ve enjoyed the discordant and often thunderous sounds of AC/DC, Van Halen and Metallica.
Despite my affinity for peaceful or solitary pursuits, there are many other cats who engage in sport to varying degrees. Tigers like to swim, bobcats like to climb and I’ve even seen videos of servals at the Big Cat Rescue Centre in Tampa, Florida unravelling toilet rolls like it was the most fun in the world. I know I’m stretching the definition of sport just a tad here but if there were organised competitive grooming events I’d be a real contender! When we domestic cats are kittens we form teams to practice our running and pouncing skills and as we get older, sporting activities generally revolve around stalking our housemates, jumping on anything that wiggles or catching small furry or feathered creatures. Don’t judge us, it’s in our genes and unlike humans we don’t have a highly developed prefrontal cortex that moderates our ethical and social behaviour.
But back to human sports and these hockey players not only have highly developed brains that help them make fast decisions on the pitch, they also have highly developed muscles that give them the strength to propel the hockey ball up to 75mph, that’s as fast as a cheetah. Each team is made up of 11 players and these particular teams were competing in the Hockey Champions Trophy 2016 at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The teams use several substitutes throughout the game to keep everyone fresh and energetic and they often wear protective equipment such as gum shields as I imagine a knock from one of those big sticks would sting a bit! The ones I really admired were the brave goalkeepers who dealt with balls shooting at them, team members yelling at them and opposing players hurtling towards them with grimaces on their faces, hence the leg protectors, chest guard and helmet!
It’s time to get sporty again with the adrenaline-fuelled mountain bikers as they cycled their equivalent of a double black ski slope at the weekend as part of the Aston Hills black run competition. Just like ski runs, mountain bike trails are graded according to difficulty from broad flat paths to cross-country single tracks and extreme forest roads. While most normal people try to avoid obstacles of roots and rocks when they’re taking a stroll through the woods, these mountain bike enthusiasts seek them out. The sport requires endurance, good balance and core strength and is performed anywhere from a gravel road in the Lake District to a sand dune in the Arizona desert. It seems the larger and more unavoidable the features, the greater the challenge!
It is for this reason that I decided to stay at home and leave John to the high speed outdoor action. No lethally positioned jutting out branches or sudden vertical drops for me! Last time I accompanied John to a mountain bike shoot, I came home with dust between my toes and spikes of sticky pine leaves all over my belly. Don’t get me wrong, I love the woods and the wonderful trees that provide homes for wildlife and give us clean air and water, but last time I had a tick scare and thought I caught Dutch Elm disease! After much persuasion from John, I finally accepted that only elm trees can be stricken with this horrible sickness but I have since developed a phobia of fungus which I swear is a result of my experience. Every now and then I get a flashback it sends shivers down my spine, so my lovely John helps by giving me a vigorous brush down, one of my favourite non-food treats. Good times!
The gleaming dark green steam engine chugged softly along the platform before its polished black piston rods and driving wheels came to a stop right in front of us. I looked up to see its driver in his blue overalls covered in smudges of coal smiling down at me on the platform at Bishops Lydeard near Taunton in Somerset. He told me there would be a wait before departure so John and I decided to take a look around the platform museum before finding a seat on the train. The museum has on display original relics from bygone years including station name boards, lamps and signalling equipment, as well as black and white pictures depicting scenes of small children being evacuated during World War II and other stories that show how the railway affected people who worked on and used the line. While John played with the working model railway inside the museum, I wandered through the plethora of bluebells that lined the platform, smelling their sweet scent and adding a little of my own.
As the whistle blew, John came dashing out of the museum and we trotted back to Platform 1 to catch the Kinlet Hall (train number 4936 for all you train enthusiasts). The Women’s’ Institute had reserved the whole of the first carriage to themselves but we managed to find comfy seats in the next carriage along ready for our journey to Minehead. “All aboard” bellowed the smartly dressed station master with his long black jacket and shiny golden buttons and the engines hissed in anticipation of take-off. The hissing got louder and great plumes of steam floated past the window as the train moved slowly forward and the engines began their rhythmic clanger-dee-clack, clanger-dee-clack. The hissing quietened and the old steam locomotive gradually picked up speed, singing a song that made my John’s face light up – huff puff huff puff, choofa doofa choofa doofa!
The beauty and tranquillity of the countryside around us was a privilege to behold and the fields and valleys of Exmoor’s National Park made me feel glad to be alive. I saw church steeples peeking over the top of lush green trees, beaches of pale sand stretching out to rock pools where whelks, limpets and shore crabs live, and high stems of wheat in cornfields that must have hidden a wealth of wildlife like badgers, dormice, moles hedgehogs. We arrived at our destination of Minehead a quintessentially English seaside town, and took a stroll along the coastline enjoying the fresh sea air of the Bristol Channel. On our return trip to Bishops Lydeard I chuckled at the delightfull quirky names of some of the stations we stopped at along the way like Williton, Watchet and Stogumber. The whole experience was wonderfully nostalgic and by the time the train came to a complete halt, I had drifted off into one of my daydreams. This time I was dressed in a smart black jacket with golden buttons with my very own whistle helping the station master issue tickets and make tea for the engineers!