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!
With its dry stony yellow and black terrain, the southern end of the island of Tenerife looks like the planet Mustafar where Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi fought with Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode III. It marks a pivotal moment when a vulnerable boy corrupted by the evil influences of the Emperor turns on his beloved mentor and falls from grace. As they duel, light-sabers crackle and buzz with energy while the volcanic landscape around them erupts and scorching lava turns the planet’s crust into a most dangerous battle ground. Thankfully the only battle I had to face this trip was the one with the fridge door. Said fridge belongs to two of John’s friends who often invite us over to their apartment by the beach in Golf Sur during the holiday season. Much as I appreciate the invite, I do wish they would do something about securing feline friendly access to snacks and refreshments which includes having a fridge door that I can open with my paws. Luckily my rumbling purr and ‘come hither’ eyes have the desired effect and I am usually able to get my sticky mitts on something tasty and revitalising in between naps.
This year’s trip to Tenerife was more exciting than usual following reports in the media of the island’s volcano Mount Teide getting ready to explode after a series of mini-quakes in the autumn. Apparently seismologists recorded 98 micro-quakes sparking rumours that a mega-tsunami could hit the Atlantic Ocean if Mount Teide, the highest point on Spanish territory, decided to blow. It was later confirmed that the movements were due to low intensity tectonic shifts rather than up-swelling magma and my concerns about ending up like Obi-Wan, fighting for his life on a bit of hot floating rock, were put to rest. In fact, the mountain was very well behaved during our trip and looked especially beautiful draped in a white veil of snow. We drove up the mountain side and stopped at a viewing point for John to take pictures while I watched a funny-looking tan-brown sausage dog scurrying round and round a snowman that his family had made. He looked like a hyper-active Eewok (Star Wars fans will recognise this reference) but apparently it was his first time in snow so he had every right to be over-excited.
Its holiday season once more and the time has come for those humans who celebrate Christmas to do crazy things like buying Christmas puddings (yuk), hanging lots of dangley things (fun) and putting out food for a fictional character in a red jumpsuit (weird)! This time of year means different things to different people and for some its a religious festival, for others its a time for families, and for many its an ordinary day. For those of you who are happy at this time, I wish you every joy and keep smiling. For those who feel sadness or loss, know that you are not alone and the festivities will soon be over so you can resume normal life. For those who are working, caring for people or protecting them from harm, serving them food or keeping the streets clean, thank you for everything you do. From the animals I would say, please be kind to us during this time, don’t pay to watch wild animals do unnatural tricks and remember a kitten or puppy is for life, not just for Christmas. Give a few pennies to the old folks or the rescue centres full of unwanted cats and dogs waiting to be adopted and you will have done a wonderful thing.
As for the New Year, it’s traditionally a time of reflection and resolutions. Some of my favourite memories from this year are feeding the goats at the local farm shop, meeting the elephants rescued from servitude and playing with the red squirrels at a local wildlife sanctuary. Its often the simple things in life that make it worthwhile. Shad and John wish every single one of you a happy, safe and prosperous 2017.
You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. That’s one of our mottos at Shadow Photography. I’m speaking metaphorically of course. I only ever use my real claws on wooden fences, sisal rope scratch posts and frequently the back of the sofa (don’t tell John!). I believe that if we help others also making a living by selling their services, they’ll help us in return. Just like karma! For this reason John and I occasionally get together with other businesses such as Oops-a-daisy the florist who makes exquisite flower arrangements from the simplest bouquet of roses and leaves to a cascade of brightly coloured lilies and tulips. These radiant blooms are a tribute to the breath-taking beauty of nature and they release delicate floral scents that make any room smell delightfully fragrant (although they waft up my nose and make me sneeze).
There are many tasks to be carried out at Shadow Photography from dealing with customer enquiries and providing quotes, to organising meetings and travelling to venues, imaginative decision making and hours of editing to put the finishing touches to many hundreds of images taken at one event. I rely heavily on John to help me circumnavigate the plethora of rules and regulations involved in being Chief Executive Cat for a fine photographical establishment. John deals with the paperwork because it requires a lot of form-filling, sums and the efficient holding of a pen, none of which are my strong points. I prefer to work on the creative elements of the job so I can become the feline artiste I aspire to be. One of my key creative responsibilities is to visit the venue chosen by soon-to-be newlyweds when we are hired as official photographers for a wedding. John and I go ahead of time to check out the location and choose the finest spots with the best lighting and the most fitting backdrops so that we can take unforgettable pictures for the happy couple.
The photos here were taken at Wotton House, a picturesque country getaway in Surrey that comprises 13 acres of unbelievably well-maintained gardens and immaculately decorated rooms. I’m not normally one for pomp and ceremony but I have to admit that this place was impeccably designed to accentuate style and grace without being too ostentatious. A reflection of the true me I feel (without the rounded waistline and strangely attractive ability to sashay into any room). And I found a soft velvet cushion on a chair draped in brushed white cotton and tucked under a table, the perfect position for a nap which I will no doubt need on the wedding day itself. Being a photographer is such hard work!
Spring-watch, Harry Potter, Wonders of the Universe and Planet Earth are some of my favourite shows to watch on television. So when John called me in from the kitchen last Sunday night as Planet Earth II was about to start, my little paws hurried across the lounge and I hopped on to my favourite end of the sofa, sniffing it furiously before turning around 3 times and adopting my front facing semi-alert crouch down posture. John said it was snow leopard night and I was looking forward to watching these magical and highly elusive creatures in their natural environments. Patterned with little black rosettes, the fur on their gorgeous smoky-grey coats is up to 5 inches thick, especially on their tails which they use to help them balance on the narrow ledges and rocky outcrops where they live. They also place their long lush tails across their mouth and nose like a muffler to shield them from the harsh winds and snow of the Himalayas. I’m not jealous!
I am always astounded at how animals manage to survive in the wild and snow leopards are no exception. The cameras followed a female and her 2 year old daughter as they used every ounce of their stealth and stamina to find shelter against the harsh climate, avoid danger and hunt for food. They feed on a variety of herbivores in their mountain range habitats and one goat can keep them going for 2 to 3 weeks. Like many wild animals, they are on the brink of extinction with an estimated 6000 left roaming their territories thanks largely to human persecution, prey loss and habitat destruction. Anyway this brave female had a fur-raising encounter with a larger male that involved a lot of growling and snarling and swiping of paws, the male making his intentions clear and the female putting him in his place while keeping her daughter safe from harm. I was on the edge of my seat during this aggressive meeting and quite frankly relieved when they all walked away unharmed. It was the total opposite to the adorable mating ritual of the Wilsons bird who desperately wanted to impress a female he spotted looking down at him from a branch. This little black bird of paradise suddenly flashed a bright green disc of feathers at the female in a courtship display that tickled my senses. I wiggled my rear-end in excitement as the bird skipped and danced in front of his girl, flaunting his emerald cape and putting his heart and soul into his performance. In case you’re wondering, he won the heart of his fair lady and did his duty to propagate the species. Ah the wonders of the universe.
Today is Remembrance Sunday and across the country people are gathering together to commemorate the ceasing of hostilities between two armies, the Allies and the Germans at the end of the First World War. The agreement took effect at 11o’clock on 11th November 1918 after 4 years of fighting and is now remembered as Armistice Day which marks a sign of respect for the many millions of people who died in this war and the loved ones they left behind. Wars have started for different reasons including religion, revenge and racism, and through the eyes of a cat looking at the devastating effects of armed conflict I can’t think of a single valid reason to start a war. But fighting over a difference of opinion or a claim for territory is not a unique feature of humanity. Many creatures in the animal kingdom do it as part of evolutionary survival including us cats, present company excepted of course. My neocortex is more developed than most felines leading me to prefer a battle of wits to a battle of arms!
Trafalgar Square Nov 2014
Despite the skilled methods humans use to wage war on each other, you also show extraordinary compassion towards those in need and great strength of character in difficult circumstances. You have creativity, loyalty and courage, all qualities I see when I look at the faces of those depicted in the Battle of Britain Monument that John and I took pictures of during our trip to the London Eye. This bronze and granite sculpture commemorates the military personnel who took part in the Battle of Britain during the Second World War and is situated along the Victorian Embankment of the River Thames. It reminds me of the costs of war, like the bright red poppy which serves as a symbol of sadness and hope that one day all humans will live in harmony. The Flanders poppies grew in the battle-scarred fields of Western Europe and flourished despite the landscape having been bombed again and again, providing inspiration for a poignant poem called ‘In Flanders Fields’.
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.