It is with a heavy heart that I share some sad news about the loss of a dear friend. A few days ago John informed me that my great buddy Tiffin was hit by a car just a few doors from where she lived and she died instantly. Her sister Muffin and our other friends Basil, Ginger and Zoukia are all in shock over this unhappy event. Tiffin was a unique combination of courage and vulnerability, beauty and strength, dignity and silliness. She spent half her time wide-eyed and scatty, the other half stealthy and agile. She slept for England and loved her food. I remember whenever I visited her house for dinner she would go around licking all the bowls clean afterwards. When her owner scattered biscuits on the patio at lunchtime she would always be the last to leave, sniffing out every single morsel.
Luckily she was found only minutes after the accident and at least we know what happened to her and had the chance to say goodbye. But it is disappointing that the person who hit her did not stop to check if she was alive and did not even move her out of the road. I understand that accidents happen and unfortunately cats don’t realise the danger that cars represent, but there is no excuse for leaving a cat lying in the middle of the road. I know my readers are compassionate people who would never hit an animal and leave it behind without blinking an eye, but not everyone is like that. Stop and check the animal people! If it’s wild call the RSPCA or take the pet to the vet for life-saving treatment and to be scanned for a microchip in the hope that the owners can be notified. Today we mourn the loss of a lovely girl whose life was cut short and to help us work through our grief, her ashes will be returned in the next few days and she will be laid to rest in her garden, the place where she was most happy.
For the final instalment of my New York adventure I’d like to share my experience of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Now you might think I’m a cultured cat given that I portray myself as refined and sophisticated but I’m self-taught so my knowledge of the visual arts is limited. I’m familiar with a few famous painters like Renoir and Picasso, I’ve heard of Michelangelo and I’ve admired a poster of Le Chat Noir from 19th century Paris once in a coffee shop; but I’ve spent more time in the countryside than I have in art galleries. I felt like a child in a sweet shop as I wandered through the imposing façade of this Gothic-revival style building and stood in the entrance hall surrounded by numerous corridors leading to halls filled with sculptures, jewellery, pottery, ornaments, textiles, costumes, musical instruments and paintings spanning 5000 years and representing cultures from all over the world.
I was dawdling because there was so much to see and John had to keep chivvying me on but you know how curious cats can be and I wanted to investigate every passageway. The paintings area was split into multiple rooms dedicated to a particular artist each with a concrete bench in the centre of each room. When I hopped on to a bench I noticed that many of the tourists were looking at me and taking pictures as though they’d never seen a cultured cat at an art gallery before. I’m sure John thought I was spending time mesmerised by serenity of Claude Monet’s Waterlily Pond or captivated by the work of Gustave Courbet and his portrayals of people and scenes from the 1800s but really I was posing for the cameras! Anyway, the sight of Van Gogh’s abstract portraits and still-life pictures had given me a wibbly-wobbly feeling that I didn’t enjoy so it was time to explore the Halls of Arms and Armour which displayed weapons and protective military clothing from the Roman Empire, Ancient Greece, Dynastic Egypt and the Americas. My fur prickled as my eyes caught the stare of a dark shadow behind an enclosed metal helmet that formed part of a suit of armour worn by Henry VIII of England. I don’t know how people moved let alone fought for their lives wearing heavy layers of chainmail and steel plates from head to toe. There are more comfortable ways of looking stately and formidable I’m sure.
The Egyptian pharaohs had the right idea with their hand-woven linen robes embroidered with bold patterns and head-dresses adorned with feathers and jewels. The pharaohs such as King Narmer or Queen Nefertiti were the most powerful person in their kingdom, head of government and high priest or priestess often worshipped in a temple such as the Temple of Dendur. The Temple of Dendur was built during the reign of Augustus who ruled Egypt from 30BC to 14AD and was situated on the West bank of the River Nile in Ancient Nubia before it was dismantled and transported piece by piece to the United States at a cost of around 9.5 million dollars before finally being installed at the Met in 1978. The temple is dedicated to the goddess Isis and the gods Harpocrates and Osiris and is engraved with hieroglyphs, images of the sun, the outspread wings of Horus the sky god and scenes of kings holding sceptres and the ankh. Head held high, I strode regally between two enormous columns decorated with carvings of papyrus and lotus plants into a large chamber surrounded by a reflecting pool. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the still silvery water and looked up to see a vision of myself wearing a golden crown and a brightly beaded girdle waving majestically to my adoring crowd. I would call on them to devote themselves to the miracle of nature, to the earth and all its complex forms of plant and animal life, and to support the development of wildlife sanctuaries across the lands. Cats from every species would be free to meander through the lands and crowds would stop to gaze in awe at their furry beauty. All cats would become a symbol of grace and poise and Shad the Cat’s silhouette would be deified in inscriptions on the sandstone walls. What a wonderful world this would be!
There is an enormous amount of myth and folklore surrounding black cats. In medieval times it was commonly believed that if you deliberately killed a black cat you would forfeit your soul to the devil; while in Scandinavia the Norse goddess of love and fertility Freya travelled in a chariot pulled by two black cats. Let’s hope she was a wee slip of a thing or they were huge black panthers! In the UK some people believe it is good luck when a black cat crosses your path but in the US it is considered bad luck. In Japan a single lady owning a black cat is said to have an increased number of suitors and some black cats are enshrined in maritime history, like Tiddles who travelled thousands of miles on British Navy vessels keeping them free of mice. Fancy being named Tiddles, it’s a little embarrassing for a tough guy! None of it makes sense to me and its superstitious hooey, as we all know that colour is only fur deep. An excessive amount of melanin is what causes fur to be black; it’s the opposite of albinism and gives our eyes that golden hue. Black fur turns reddish brown with exposure to the sun and goes grey with age like humans do. My black cat friend Tiffin is about to turn 9 and wasn’t happy when I mentioned she was getting a white beard!
My message to you at this time is that black cats are in danger and should be kept indoors on Halloween night or weekend and the days leading up to it because we are targets for abuse by thoughtless individuals who associate us with witchcraft. In fact throughout the Middle Ages and the so-called Age of Enlightenment black cats were actively persecuted as part of the measures taken by Christian cultures to eliminate any links to paganism. All this because our coats are the colour of night and night was associated with evil doings. This Halloween night make your celebrations fun and light-hearted and be sure to dress up in comical costumes and eat ghoulish treats. I don’t mind wearing a scarf or a funny hat for a few minutes to entertain John but many other cats would find it stressful. The coming and going of trick-or-treaters can make it easy for cats and kittens to slip out through the door especially if they’re trying to escape the noise and naked flames on candles could be a hazard. Now I’ve done my bit for black cat-kind, take care and have fun and enjoy the photos of all these lovely black cats. Can you pick out which ones are me?
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.
The Taj Mahal is one of the great wonders of the modern world and although I’m not normally given to romantic notions, the thought of visiting this beautiful marble structure brought out the philosopher in me. I was looking forward to contemplating the vaulted dome and drawing inspiration from the ornate spires that extended up from the walls but unfortunately as is often the case in life, things didn’t quite go as planned. I managed to survive the turbulent taxi ride through the narrow cobbled streets and despite the lack of pavements and alarming number of cows, dogs and people mingling with the traffic, we didn’t hit anything. My coping strategy was not particularly brave, I simply shut my eyes until the raucous honking of car horns was replaced by a rhythmic humming of a single car engine. When I opened my eyes I found we had reached a long empty highway and the taxi driver thought it was his turn to shut his eyes. I meowed like mad, nipping him on the ear periodically in order to ensure he stayed awake and by the time we reached our destination my nerves were run ragged.
With renewed enthusiasm, I hopped out of the taxi and made my way towards the huge ivory-white edifice looming before me but an orange man with a loud shirt kept smiling at me, throwing me compliments and trying to make conversation despite my obvious unwillingness to participate. This smooth operator was an unofficial tour guide trying to sell me his exclusive VIP services and apparently despite his mastery of English, he could not comprehend the word ‘no’. After scaring me into agreement with his tales of evil pickpockets and ferocious muggings, I let him escort me more as my personal bodyguard than anything else. Apparently the palace was commissioned in 1631 by Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor of India, after the death of his wife Mumtaz Mahal during the birth of their 14th child. It was built on the banks of the Yamuna River and took 22 years and 22,000 labourers to construct. When Shah Jahan died in 1666, his body was placed in a tomb next to that of his beloved Persian princess.
As I wandered around the palace and its surrounding buildings, I admired the way the walls and ceilings were decorated with artistic calligraphy, elaborate geometric forms and detailed depictions of flowers and vines carved into the stone inlays. Bizarrely, there was a distinct lack of signposts or information boards throughout the complex which proved to be a potential problem when I realised that my tour guide had abandoned me. Thankfully my superb sense of smell enabled me to navigate my way through the crowds of tourists as I trotted towards the exit. I should add that despite my remaining on full alert for pickpockets, it appears the only crook on site was that dodgy tour guide. I waved goodbye to the police officers guarding the outskirts of the palace and spotted my crazy cab driver with a friendly smile on his face and a bowl of water in his hand. I gave him an appreciative purr and gulped the fresh water hoping it would give me courage for the wild ride back to my digs.
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.
John went up to Felbridge Showground in East Grinstead the other day for a commercial shoot of some brand new Equihunter horse boxes. Look how shiny! These luxury horseboxes are nothing short of the best in the field of horseboxes, and I should know having been to Felbridge to test them out. This involved some strenuous activities such as sitting and laying for prolonged periods in different positions in the splendid lounge/kitchenette area behind the driving cabin, as well as interviewing the horses for their opinions on comfort and safety levels. I was tempted to go back to Felbridge to see my horsey friend who nudged me with his soft bristly nose on my last visit, but I had other plans.
While John was in Felbridge earning his pennies, I went to a music shop to spend them! I’ve always had a musical ear which I’m sure John will confirm as he has heard me meow many a song while listening to the Saga-louts perform their rockin’ tunes. So he offered to buy me a special item for my new hobby, a keyboard which I can learn to play and hopefully one day entertain him with in appreciation of the gift. I came home with a great Roland V-Combo which has more buttons on it than the Kennedy Space Centre! So watch this space because all I need is a few weeks to practice my arpeggios and then I’ll learn to play a proper song. It will be so much fun. I remember playing as a little kitten, leaping across the keys from middle C, hitting a G major scale and finishing with a basic blues. So I’m hoping that this practice in my early years will help me have another go this time round. Wish me luck! I’ll keep you posted.