Shad attends the Symphony

John and I decided to inject a little class into our lives with a trip to St Pauls Church in West Sussex to listen to the Chichester Symphony Orchestra play classical melodies from the likes of Bizet’s opera Carmen and the works of Russian-born composer Tchaikovsky.  Did you know that Tchaikovsky’s first known composition was a song written at the age of four.  Four!  Now that’s talent.  So the orchestra are highly regarded amateurs who only perform 3 concerts a year in Chichester and John and I were given special dispensation to attend in order to capture the scene.  In other words, it was a freebie, and with a tasty salmon snack at the interval and a soft blanket under the orange hue of a stained-glass window I was one satisfied feline!

At home my ears are often subjected to cheesy sounds from the seventies such as Metallica, Meatloaf, Deep Purple and Dire Straits or endless renditions of Starship’s ‘We Built This City’, Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ and Huey Lewis and the News ‘Stuck with You’.  This usually results in me curling up under the wardrobe with my paws in my ears or shutting myself in the biscuit cupboard in an attempt to dull the noise.  However John sometimes plays one particular CD that is guaranteed to entice me out of my hidey hole – the soothing tones of Josh Groban singing ‘Coffee on the Table’ or ‘Le Temps des Cathedrales’.  The rich melodic tones and instrumental brilliance of the Chichester Symphony Orchestra playing with the acoustics of a large 19th century church can now also go on my list of favourites.  It was an emotional roller-coaster of gloomy echoes followed by galloping tunes interspersed with thumps from the drums and blasts from the French horn that really made me jump!  I felt that the music conveyed the joys and sorrows of life with appeal and integrity.  In the end the talented performers led the music into a turbo-charged climax that left me shattered and flabbergasted at how so many instruments, a harp, a giant gong, flutes, violins, cellos, bassoons, a tuba and piccolo, can all be played at the same time in such harmony.

Shad does the Solar Heritage

Imagine gliding silently across a stretch of calm water, watching sea birds dip their heads under the still surface while the autumn sun warms your face and puffy clouds float high across a pale blue sky.  This was my experience as I sat with John on the Solar Heritage this weekend for a wildlife discovery tour made possible by the friendly and environmentally attuned humans of the Chichester Harbour Conservancy.  The Solar Heritage is a pollution-free solar-powered catamaran that takes people out to Chichester Harbour to learn more about the coastal waters and the resident wildlife.  This clever boat is kind to sea-life because it has no exhaust emissions and it can even pick up electromagnetic energy from moonlight to charge its batteries.

Chichester Harbour

Chichester Harbour02

Chichester Harbour, which has received international recognition as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is full of wide expanses and intricate creeks making it particularly attractive to wildfowl many of which feed on substances found in the mudflats and saltmarshes.  Fear not, an intellectually advanced pussy cat such as myself does not feel the need to chase these birds despite a little rumbling somewhere deep in the depths of my genetic code!  According to the brilliant wildlife expert aboard, there are more than 50,000 birds who either reside in or visit the harbour throughout the year such as swallows, house-martens, oyster catchers, brent geese and lapwings.  We managed to get photos of some wonderful birds including the dark-feathered cormorants and the grey and white coloured sandwich-terns (note the yellow-tipped black bill and the black crest on its head).  The cormorants were particularly keen on showing me their diving skills, cutting sleekly into the water like a missile where they can submerge several feet to catch their dinner of small fish and invertebrates.

For some reason I started feeling peckish and discovered to my horror that John forgot to pack the chicken niblets that I normally have for my mid-morning snack.  Luckily the boat master came to my rescue with a piece of tuna from the skipper’s lunch box.  The skipper appeared slightly bemused and I was just about to give him one of my ‘gets ‘em every time’ looks of innocent melancholy when the nice lady from the Chichester Harbour Conservancy announced that a group of common seals were sunning themselves along one of the stony beaches that border the indented harbour coastline.  Quite honestly I thought at first that they were rocks on the sand until one of them lifted their head lazily to glance in our direction before gently lowering its back to the ground.  Apparently seals don’t believe in wasting energy and I respect that!

It was a real treat to see these wild animals looking relaxed and well fed in their natural environment.  This small colony of around 27 animals is of great scientific importance because it is a breeding colony estimated to have 2 or 3 pups each year.  If you look carefully to the right in the seal pictures, you will see a larger seal behind a smaller one which we believed to be a pup, as well as a russet coloured grey seal slightly to the left of them.  Common seals (known in Canada and the US as harbor seals) come in a variety of colours but can be identified by the shape of their heads and nostrils, and grey seals aren’t even grey!  Who thought that up?!  Anyway, the biggest threat to this small but significant population of seals is human interference, like over-fishing or changes in water chemistry resulting from toxic boat engines or the over- clearance of vegetation.  The Solar Heritage stayed move than 100 metres away from the seals so as not to disturb them but unfortunately there were other curious humans on boats that ventured far too close to the animals.  This stops them from engaging in their natural behaviours and leads to them eventually leaving that particular area, or haul-out as it’s known in the trade, and I’m sure no one wants to see the seals disappear.

As we made our way back to the Harbour Office, I wondered what creatures were hidden beneath the shimmering surface of the gentle waters.  The wildlife expert told me that there were probably lots of crabs, shrimps and worms which all sounds a bit slimy and unpleasant to me but no doubt sounds yummy to the marine life that hopefully flourishes beneath the water.  The harbour is designated as a bass nursery too which I thought was quite charming as I imagined parent bass taking their baby bass to a playgroup for craft activities and learning to play with other baby bass in the sand-pit!



Shad talks about his home town

I was born and raised in Bognor Regis, a seaside town in the Arun district of West Sussex on the south coast of England.  I was lucky enough to meet John when I was kitten, as I was not looked after properly, under-fed and covered in fleas.  John took me home and cleaned me up and I’m now a rather portly, proud and playful 3 year old boy.  I’m sure you’ve noticed the noble whiskers and satin coat!  I can be a little grumpy from time to time but a headstrong and adventurous cat like me is entitled to the odd mood-swing!

One of my favourite activities is going for a walk along the promenade.  When the tide is low, the wet rippled sand is strewn with rock pools teaming with sea life such as crabs, winkles, algae, and those tiny little fish that live in the rocky shores of the British coastline.  When the tide is high, the water can be still and shimmering blue, or choppy and murky green.

Bognor Regis was originally just named Bognor, being a fishing town, and at one time a smuggling village until the 18th century, until it was developed into a fashionable seaside resort by Sir Richard Hotham.  He came to the area to partake of the ‘beneficial’ sea air and now has a public park named after him.  Tourism gradually took off in Bognor during the 19th century and King George V came to Bognor in 1929 to convalesce.  As a result, the King agreed to bestow the suffix ‘Regis’ (which means ‘of the king’) to the name.  It is located 55 miles south-west of London, 24 miles west of Brighton and 6 miles south-east of the city of Chichester.

Now I can’t talk about Bognor without mentioning the legendary International Bognor Birdman competition.  This is an annual competition for human-powered flying machines which involves crazy contestants launching themselves from the end of the pier, a prize being awarded to the one who glides the furthest distance.  Competitors wear outlandish dress and construct some impressive and improbable machines to take part in the event.  It started in Selsey in 1971 and transferred to Bognor in 1978 when it had outgrown its original location.  The Birdman Event of 2008 was transferred to Worthing following health and safety concerns about the pier.

The pier is 148 years old (almost as old as John!!) and took some 18 months to complete.  It has undergone several transformations over the years, with extensions and restorations, and the addition of a theatre, a cinema and a roof-garden restaurant.  It was used during the Second World War as an observation station and has since succumbed to damage and structural collapse over the years from fire and severe storms.  With increasing maintenance and repair costs, and continued weakening of the seaward end of this Grade II listed structure, the seaward end unfortunately remains derelict.  However, the pier is still popular with locals and tourists and forms part of the town’s character and charm.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my musings about my home town.  John and I have taken lots of photos in the local area over the years and I’ve shared a selection with you here today.  Oh and don’t worry about my little joke at John’s expense earlier.  He knows I think the world of him and have the greatest respect for him as my friend and provider and business partner (even if he is a grouchy old chap like me!!).