I never cease to be baffled and amazed by the curious antics of human beings and the ingenious ways they find to amuse themselves. I’ve watched them hurtle down an ice chute, pile on top of each other to take possession of a round thing and now this latest encounter – a crowd of people whooping and cheering as they watched other people in funny costumes leap into the air from Bognor Regis pier and fall into the choppy grey water below. John explained that this craziness was actually a competition held every summer at the seaside resort that is our home town where inventive individuals launch themselves of the end of the pier in an attempt to fly as far as they can in a human-powered custom-built flying machine. It has been a rich local tradition since 1971 and apparently is the oldest birdman rally in the world.
I watched proceedings with my head cocked and lip curled and it occurred to me that everyone there was an ordinary person who had put time and effort into creating an event that could push boundaries, entertain onlookers and strengthen community relationships. Some participants flopped unceremoniously into the sea with careless abandon, frilly knickers and yellow tropical bird suits flapping in the wind. Others achieved their goals to glide gracefully across the waves in their flying machines which was impressive considering some of these contraptions looked like a bicycle with an ironing board attached! The competition was divided into serious aviators such as this year’s winner of the Condor Class who reached 71.5m in a type of hang-glider and the inventors with home-designed machines competing in the Leonardo da Vinci Class. The most amusing participants were those in the Kingfisher Class with generally no flying ability whatsoever who demonstrated a quirky taste in fancy dress and a bucket-load of enthusiasm!
Born and bred in leafy Sussex by the sea, I love the ocean and I have an affinity with water. Just to clarify, I don’t actually like getting wet but I enjoy dipping my paws in a puddle and flicking it or watch the starlings in the garden splashing around in the bird bath. The only cats that don’t mind getting wet are tigers that will go for a dip to cool off in the summer sun or catch fish in a fast flowing river in Sumatra. Personally I am far too fastidious about my fur to risk getting it wet, although I’m always happy to laugh at another cat that does!
I remember one time I was at my friend Muffin’s house and we both sat looking out through the patio door when grey clouds covered the sky and rain started to lash down in the garden. Suddenly the cat flap clattered and her sister Tiffin appeared in the kitchen absolutely drenched. It was as though she had shrunk in the wash and her skin was showing under the wet black fur that was stuck to her sopping body. Clearly embarrassed, she quivered to shake the water off (I call this a body-wobble) until her owner wrapped her up in a towel and she was restored to her usual dry cottony self.
Another thing I admire about water is its power. It is said to have mystical powers of healing and relaxation and indeed I have seen John enjoy many a calming hot tub in his time. I’m still in therapy! But I’m talking about the force of nature, like the massive waterfalls of Yosemite Park in California or the spouting hot springs of the volcanic Geysers in Iceland. A little closer to home is the sound of waves crashing against the shore and pulling the pebbles across the beach as the swell rolls back and forth. This was the sound that greeted John and I over the weekend as we took one of our leisurely Sunday strolls along the seafront. We had a suspicion that the kite surfers would be out given the strong winds so we headed to one of our favourite spots along the prom to find out.
I love taking shots of the kite surfers in action, the muscle tension in their bodies as they manoeuvre the kiteboard into the wind and the ferocity of the thundering waves that break on to the shore. John and I are now friends with the surfers, having been here a few times before to take pictures, so they gave us a thumbs-up as we watched the forces of nature propel them across the water. I also made an unexpected friend in the form of a chocolate brown and white spaniel trotting happily across the shingle. As he came towards me I sat resolutely and fixed him with one of my looks of grandeur, but as he came closer my nose twitched and my lip curled under another force of nature, the musty smell of a damp dog! Despite my displeasure at the pong of salty wet woofer, he made me laugh running backward and forwards in front of me, wagging his tail and generally being a buffoon.
This year’s air show was extra special because it marked the last appearance of the Vulcan in Eastbourne before its retirement. During 2015, the awesome VulcanXH558 will be completing its Farewell to Flight season before leaving the skies to become the centrepiece of a new education initiative designed to encourage the development of aviation skills in Britain. John wanted to witness the last airworthy Vulcan bomber showing off at Eastbourne so he hopped on a train while I stayed home to practice my keyboard skills. My scales are coming along nicely but it’s difficult to remember the notes in the bass clef. I’m still working on my technique which involves running up and down the keys (leaving my back paws to play the bass while my front paws tackle the treble), or sometimes sitting in front of the keys in a more traditional position (which requires less energy but tends to restrict the range of notes I can play).
Anyway, the time flew by (excuse the pun) and John returned home just as I was stretching after my late afternoon nap. He said that Eastbourne was heaving with thousands of people and the trains were apparently a ‘nightmare’. Nevertheless, he took some great pictures of the aircraft on display like the super manoeuvrable Chinook chopper and the amazing Red Arrows. He told me the series of flypasts performed by the Vulcan to mark its final year of flight were breath-taking. Apparently the turbojet Rolls Royce engines howled as the Vulcan’s nose soared through the air almost vertical during take-off before the beautiful delta style wings levelled off and the plane roared across the sky. It looked almost flat as it disappeared across the sky line which may have helped it evade capture during its operational missions.
Soon dark clouds moved across the sky and rain started to splash against the windows, while John began editing his photos and I enjoyed a high-protein dinner and an extra good licking. You don’t get a shiny fur coat like this without committing to a thorough cleansing regime! As I shut my eyes, I dreamt my coat had a camouflage pattern and I was flying through the atmosphere, diving towards the ground with a huge grin on my face and rising up above the clouds which became butterflies fluttering around me. My paw twitched in excitement as I experienced what it must be like as a bird flying free when I felt John’s gentle hand on my side which made me purr instantly and drift off into the most peaceful after dinner snooze.
Many of the shorelines along the south coast are lined with rows of beach huts Worthing and Bognor Regis sea fronts are no exception. Beach huts are a quintessential characteristic of British seaside life and their beginnings can be traced back some 250 years to a time when no trip to the seaside was complete without a ‘bathing machine’. Apparently these vehicles were like beach huts on wheels drawn by horses who pulled them towards the sea so that the bather could step directly into the water without risking their modesty. By the 1890’s it became more acceptable to walk across the beach in a bathing costume and share the beach with members of the opposite sex and before long villages of stripy changing tents were erected on the Edwardian sands. Eventually bathing machines lost their wheels and our modern day purpose-built huts began to appear, constructed in a similar style and painted in bright colours.
Judging by my walk along the seafront with John, there are plenty of beach hut fans out there because all but one of the beach huts we saw were well maintained. A crowd of crows gathered on the top of their favourite hut and squawked their approval as we ambled past. When John and I stopped to sit on a bench, we got chatting to a nice mature couple resting in deckchairs on the patio of their own beach hut, all too happy to regale us with the joys of beach hut life. They offered us a cup of tea and a biscuit while we watched the jet skiers zooming around on the water and I gazed out to sea, wondering what kind of life lay beneath the shimmering surface.
There are some wondrous creatures in the sea like the Thornback Ray found in shallow waters all around England or the dolphin, a highly intelligent and social marine mammal located across the world. I looked at the fishing gear sitting on the shingle close by and wondered how many of the ocean’s dolphins and sharks were caught right at that moment in discarded fishing line or huge commercial fishing nets. These nets are often left behind by irresponsible trawlers and travel many miles across the deep, risking the lives of marine animals that become trapped in them. John showed me a video the other day of some kindly humans relaxing in their cruise boat somewhere near the equator when they spotted a sea turtle in distress and stopped to free it from its ropey tangles. Sea turtles are one of the earth’s most ancient creatures having been around since the time of the dinosaurs so I was pleased to see this little guy rescued to continue its legacy. Scientists estimate that around 26 million pounds of plastic travels from land to the sea every year contributing to massive floating patches of rubbish that kill one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals.
As John and I stood up to take our leave and head home, we thanked our generous beach hut hosts for their hospitality and made our way back along the dried grass pathway adjacent to the beach. John stooped down to pick up an empty plastic water bottle that someone had left on the ground and I contemplated the lovely afternoon we had enjoyed with this couple who represented a time of trust and simplicity which I liked. I also liked them because they gave me tea and biscuits and they clearly had taste, having spent a considerable portion of time stroking my fluffy black cheeks and admiring my plucky personality! Next time I go to the beach with John, I must remind him to pack a little picnic.
Almost two-thousand runners gathered together on Bognor Regis seafront to push their personal boundaries by running 10 kilometres in the beautiful Sussex sunshine. John and I decided to show our support by joining them. Not for the run of course. I would if I could, but I have an old hip injury from the great ping-pong ball chase of 2011 when I ran too fast across the lounge and reached high velocity, resulting in a spectacular slide through the kitchen and crashing into the litter bag. Since then I’ve left the running to the experts. It has nothing whatsoever to do with my generous waist circumference or love of chicken nibbles!
The road race has been staged every year since 1995 and attracts serious runners as well as individuals and families who want to have a good time, raise money for charity and fulfil personal achievements. The runners jogged and sprinted from West Park in Aldwick to Butlins and back, passing the sun-bathers on the shingle slopes and the jet-skiers propelling their noisy engines into the waves. I had to take my hat off to the this chap who looked to be well into his seventies dressed as a can of beer collecting money for the Rotary Club of Bognor Hotham who organised this event as part of their community service and fund-raising programme. He puffed his way past, lifting each leg just an inch or two off the ground, pushing himself forward with an exhausted smile on his face, while some kind passer-by tapped him reassuringly on the shoulder. Then he stopped to give me a stroke which felt a little sweaty but I appreciated the gesture and responded with a chirpy chirrup to cheer him on.
As some of the runners passed the finish line, John and I decided to enjoy an ice-cream along the esplanade and watch the band playing heartening music in the bandstand. I took a lick of the creamy treat John had bought and contemplated those crazy days when I was a kitten chasing ping-pong balls around the house, leaping up the windows to catch a fly or climbing the bed-post to walk across the beams up by the ceiling. I took risks back then that I wouldn’t take now, but I didn’t have the wisdom to choose the right ventures. Now I have the understanding I need to know what’s worth pursuing but I don’t have the fearlessness to pursue them. Funny how life goes! But perhaps I don’t need fearlessness, just the energy and courage to fight for what I think is right. Today it’ll be encouraging an old man to finish a race, tomorrow it’ll be rescuing a worm from drowning in the pond, the day after that, who knows what opportunities for kindness the universe will bring my way.
You can’t beat a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast followed by a stroll along the seafront to brush off the cobwebs and clear your head. Whether you’re a muesli fan, an egg and bacon fiend, a baked bean or sardines on toast aficionado, or a continental fruitcake, a full tummy is essential in my book before heading out into the early morning sunshine for a good sniff of salty sea air. John and I took the car to Worthing this particular morning for a wander along the promenade and managed to find some free parking which always puts John in a jolly mood. When we got out of the car we realised why the parking spot was free, because the pier looked quite small in the distance to me. But John said it was a stone’s throw and we decided that the walk would do us both good.
The wide promenade and long shingle beach met the wet sand being exposed by the water as the tide made its way out and I had a feeling of being free with a sense of appreciation as I thought about the many animals across the world that don’t have the luxury of freedom. Looking out to the horizon across the expanse of silvery water, I wondered what the ships in the distance were doing, may be fishing or carrying cargo or people from one place to another. You wouldn’t catch me on a boat because I have a delicate stomach and certainly wouldn’t welcome the endless bobbing up and down. Talking of bobbing up and down, there were quite a few joggers out in their Lycra shorts and fancy trainers and they all smiled at me as they pounded past, panting and glistening in the warm glow of the sun.
As we headed towards the pier, we stopped to read about its history and discovered that it was opened in 1862 and, having been through a fire, a war and extensive renovation, it is a Grade II listed building. The first moving picture show in Worthing was seen on the pier in around 1896 and there used to be a steam ship in operation between Worthing Pier and Brighton, a few miles to the East. The front of the pier is currently home to the Pavilion Theatre and we saw posters advertising films and shows including old Greg Wallace hosting a dessert cooking session where he presumably makes puddings and everyone tucks in. Sounds yummy!
Without the crowds and tourists that no doubt visit during the day, I could hear John’s footsteps on the wooden boards and the squawks of the gulls flying overhead as we made our way to the sea end of the pier which boasts an Art Deco style tearoom. It was too early for the tearoom to be open but try telling that to the crows and pigeons sitting on the roof waiting for titbits. There were several guys passing the time fishing, their rods all pointed outwards in an array of lines as they waited patiently for an unsuspecting fish to take the bait. I tiptoed bravely towards the railing to get a better look and felt a bit woozy at the sight of the dark water sploshing around underneath us. Then I suddenly spotted 4 pretty little plovers strutting along the beams and pecking at the barnacles. I stayed perfectly still so John could take a few pictures and then I meowed ‘hello’ because I’m a polite boy but they ignored me and eventually hopped off. Charming!
John and I turned around and headed back to the car which seemed further away than we thought. As we strolled back, the wind was behind us and there were more people this time on bicycles or walking their dogs. I was so tired that John agreed to carry me back after picking up a couple of odd-shaped sea shells for me to take home and sniff as a reminder of our early morning trip to the seaside.
Every photographer has an arty side and John is no exception. He left the house early the other morning for a solitary stroll along the sea-front to contemplate life. It was 3°c outside which is far too cold for my little paws so I stayed at home keeping the sofa warm whilst John wrapped himself up to meet the brisk early day light. He came back with a smile on his face and a selection of photos full of muted tones and geometric shapes. Oh yes, it was all very ‘organic’ and a big change from the real lifes and landscapes that we often like to shoot. Thank goodness I had a brain-boosting breakfast of mackerel fillets in tomato sauce! Although I noted with interest that John did not have breakfast when he came home and I have a strong suspicion he went for a fry-up without brining me any tit-bits.
We spent a lovely morning rummaging through the arty pictures, discussing the effect of the sea on light and how the contrasting shades are enhanced by printing in black and white. I really like the asymmetric silhouettes of the pier and how the pictures characterise the architecture of the sea-front. The shot of the sea groyne is done in such a way that it changes the scale of the object and look at the lonely barnacle sitting patiently on its side waiting for the sea to bring its supper. While the barnacle waits for his dinner, the birds are busy feeding in the sand amongst the pebbles. I’m not sure if they’re eating worms, crabs or seaweed, but they seem to be enjoying themselves.