Despite our differences, horses and cats live together in harmony as though there is a special connection between us. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re a little peculiar given that they have one toe on each foot and can sleep standing up. But I celebrate our differences and enjoy their soft fuzzy muzzles and small gentle eyes. So I’m always a bit nervous about supporting events that involve the use of my hoofed friends. Nevertheless I joined John at the Ashfields Carriage and Polo Club in Essex to experience the thrills that humans find so entertaining at the races.
The horses were mighty fine specimens, tall and strong and beautifully groomed and all the riders were dressed to impress in their jodhpurs and breeches. The sport entails One, two or four horses running like the clappers around a course pulling a carriage that carries two or three people each of whom have a particular role. The person at the front tends to drive the horses forward shouting commands and tapping them with a whip if they go in the wrong direction. The horses know what is coming when they line up at the start of the race and are chomping at the bit to get going when the starter drops their flag. Meanwhile the person at the rear appears to throw themselves across the back of the cart, shifting their weight around presumably to balance the vehicle and stop it careering off the track on the tight turns. I’m sure this is a simplistic view and professional carriage racers would explain the rules much more eloquently.
It is a real test of endurance for all participants which is why I was pleased to see that the horses are taken for a drink, some food and a good scrub-down as soon as the race is over. John got some great action shots and also got splashed with mud at one of the driving obstacles so I suggested he could join the horses in the showers but he wasn’t amused! Instead he dried off by taking a walk around the paddocks and admiring the Essex countryside while I admired the impeccably manicured lawns. John would have to mow our garden at home for a week to achieve the kind of short lush grass that surrounded us at the equestrian centre. I would help but my paws are not designed to push a lawnmower!
Nothing sets the human pulse racing like a competition and the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) is a fine example of such an event. So when John was offered a trip to the iconic sporting venue Brands Hatch in Kent courtesy of Team Hard it was a no-brainer! John did all the work this time under a shroud of grey skies while I stayed dry and warm on my blanket in the stands. The moist air gives my fur a certain frizz that I don’t appreciate and as you know I don’t like getting my paws wet! The drivers on the other hand had no qualms about the rain that was forming shimmering beads on their windscreens. I thought the race might get cancelled but I guess it takes a lot more than water to stop these folks from testing their courage and skill behind the wheel of a Porsche Carrera.
Lights on, engines revving, lurching forwards desperate to charge (like me when John opens the fridge door), the horn sounds and we’re off. The noise is tremendous as a pack of swarming super-cars launches itself on to the track and they’re bunched up so close I’m stunned that none of them collide. Just an inch or two away from each, water sprays from their rear tyres and I imagine their steely faces grimacing at each other as they calculate their next moves, every ounce of energy focussed on getting ahead. No wonder there’s an emergency helicopter and half a dozen ambulances strategically parked along the race-course. Within seconds a few cars peel off from the main group and take the lead but one car spins off the tarmac to end up neatly parked on the grass and his hopes of winning are over.
BTCC Grid Ladies
BTCC Grid Ladies
BTCC Grid Ladies
BTCC Grid Ladies
Soon the heat from the tyres dries the track and the gap between the leaders and the group gets longer. The commentator’s voice becomes higher in pitch as he reveals the positions of the cars and the strategies the driver employ. Sometimes they swerve sideways to block the car behind them or drive right up against the car in front to take advantage of their slipstream before hitting the gas and pulling out to overtake. Two of the Formula 4 cars come so close side by side that they get stuck together and the Marshalls have to wave the yellow flag to slow the race while the two cars are prised apart. John was rooting for a young man called Jake Hill, the son of racing driver and motorsports commentator Simon Hill. Born in 1994, Jake is a rising star in his field and was competing this day in the BTCC for Team Hard coming in a respectable second. His dad gave him a big hug before he walked on to the podium for the first time in his life, but not the last I’m sure. As the celebrations continued, John arrived back at the stands proudly wearing his Team Hard lanyard and paddock pass and we began the trek back across the field being used as a car park to find the car was stuck in the mud. An hour later, a sweaty mud-splattered John flopped into the seat muttering something about sludge and people and cheesey chips. I continued to preen my whiskers knowing that John and I had enjoyed a really good day and I’d probably be in for a hot chicken supper on the way home.
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….
I am very proud of my fur coat. It’s glossy, black and silky soft to the touch. A cloak like that must have provided my ancestors with a great camouflage in the forests and John tells me I blend in quite nicely on a dark carpet which must be why I can stalk my mousey so well. But on the crispy white snow of Innsbruck I stood out like a sore thumb. With my jet black fur and John’s tomato red ski jacket we looked a right pair! Luckily most peoples’ attention was focussed on the sturdy metal bathtubs that kept sliding at full velocity down a sloped twisting ice chute. John said it was the 2017 World Cup Bobsled competition and the humans dressed in shiny Lycra cat suits with protective helmets were deliberately descending the ice chute to see who could do it the best.
Bobsleigh or bobsled (not sure what the difference is) involves teams of two or four people pushing the sled down a narrow, banked ice track before leaping into it just as gravity powers it along and they rocket down the track at around 120mph. This is a popular winter sport in Innsbruck which is known fondly as the Capital of the Alps. It’s the fourth largest city in Austria yet its small enough to get around on foot. The Olympic Winter Games in 1964 and 1976 were held here and it is a hub of snow-based activity including skiing, snowboarding, skating, mountaineering and snowshoeing. The bravest of all compete in the luge competition where one or two people lay face up on a skateboard literally inches from the hard ribbon of concrete beneath them and thunder down the track without even being able to see where they’re going.
Innsbruck is known for its imperial architecture with gothic attributes like the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) building, a landmark structure completed in 1500 and decorated with 2,738 fire-gilded copper tiles for Emperor Maximillian 1 who was King of the Romans from 1486. We also did a bit of celebrity spotting when we went out for dinner and saw some of the cast of reality TV show The Jump relaxing in an Austrian restaurant in the old town. One of them kept rubbing John’s hair which is admittedly extremely bouncy and curly and grows at an alarming rate. One time I heard tweeting coming from his head and a twig fell out! Anyway, I’m not sure if this is an Austrian tradition or simply a quirk of this particular eating establishment but as we got to the end of the meal, there was a commotion. Apparently one of the photographers on the trip, didn’t finish all her food and was punished with a smack on the bottom with a fish! Everyone roared with laughter but I thought it was a waste of a perfectly good sea bass!
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.
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 are not the only things that roar as I discovered on a recent photography field trip to the Honourable Artillery Company stadium in London for the pre-season friendly between Saracens and London Scottish. As a thrifty feline adapted to conserving energy, I don’t normally approve of unnecessary physical exertion although I am accustomed to guttural grunting having lived with John for the last 6 years! There was quite a cacophony of snorts and bellows coming from the pitch during this physically demanding match but I can’t say I was surprised given the extraordinary stamina and strength these lads displayed.
As a cat I’m genetically programmed to nap for 18 hours a day and chase various objects to practice my hunting skills and maintain my muscle tone, as well as gawp at anything that moves and seek out nourishment in preparation for my next nap. Therefore I am naturally fascinated by the human condition of competition – the innate impulse in 99% of human beings to excel at a task and try to beat others at the performance of that task. These lads were a great example of a contest between rivals using strength, speed and strategy to move a ball around in an opponent’s territory. I understand the need to protect your territory and I guard mine furiously with daily patrols around the garden, a strict regime of scenting and guard duty at every window in the house. Any potential invaders, usually consisting of neighbours, dogs walking by and impudent pigeons that delight in cooing and flicking their tails at me just after dinner, are given my most fierce stare. A skill the rugby players have also mastered judging by the scary scowls and shoulder shoves they gave each other throughout the match. The strange thing was, as soon as the game was over, they all started cheering and the twisted expressions of pain changed quickly to happy smiles like jovial buffalo. In case you were wondering, Saracens proved their might with a 73 to 7 victory.