The London Eye on the south bank of the River Thames stands at 443 feet (135m) with a diameter of 334 feet (120m) so it’s quite big. And if you’re 25cm tall like me, it looks even bigger. But that didn’t stop me from taking a leap of faith with John last weekend when we drove to the big smoke to take a ride on London’s observation wheel, the Millenium Falcon, oh I mean Millenium Wheel. Wouldn’t it be great if it was the Millenium Falcon with Han Solo and Chewbacca at the helm! Worrying I didn’t see anyone at the helm of the Millenium Wheel and I had read previously that there was an incident when they stopped the wheel for safety checks after a faulty part was discovered and people were suspended in one of the pods 450 feet above the ground for an hour. I suppose one incident with no injury in 16 years isn’t bad and apparently there are supplies of water, blankets and even commodes in each capsule to cater for basic needs. Although if John and I got stuck up there it would take more than a hot drink and a refund to soothe my nerves!
The actual experience was pleasant and the clear blue skies provided an unobstructed view. John pointed out lots of interesting landmarks to me including the Can of Ham and the Gherkin, the Salt Cellar, the Cheese-grater and the Walkie-Talkie. No this isn’t a list of the snacks John keeps in his rucksack! They are nicknames for a collection of unusually shaped structures that have been constructed in the city, namely St Marys Axe office buildings, a glass clad skyscraper of triangular design called the Shard, the Leadenhall Building (office, retail and dining space) and a handset shaped tower that contains office space and an indoor garden close to St Pauls Cathedral. The pillars and arches of Westminster Abbey are now surrounded by the slopes and curves of modern architecture that, in London anyway, often have peculiar shapes reminiscent of everyday objects. I would like to see a cat shaped shopping mall with a rescue centre attached!
I truly believe that as a member of the felis catus species, I was genetically engineered to always choose the most efficient option and to never expend valuable energy without a beneficial purpose (usually involving food)! So when I see humans running in the London Marathon for such altruistic purposes as raising money for charity I can’t help but admire their tenacity. Now don’t judge me for not wanting to run 26 miles for someone else, not everyone has a body that suits lycra. Although saying that, not everybody in the Marathon wore lycra. Some brave souls wore far more including an elephant outfit, a rhinoceros costume and an ensemble that resembled a camel, some of my favourite animals who all need lots of support from kind humans because they are either used and abused in the tourist industry for rides or killed for various parts of their anatomy.
Participants did not only run, there were others jogging, walking, competing in wheelchairs and waddling in a Dr Who tardis. Although the enormous effort put in by the participators is undeniable, let us not forget the many wonderful supporters behind that scenes like those who sponsor to help raise money, those who clean up and those who stand on the side-lines giving out drinks and cheering. My role I decided was to keep my fur to an acceptably soft standard, curl up on John’s bag and lift my head to nod in approval from time to time as the tired but happy humans crossed the finish line. Despite the sweat pouring from their faces, there was a lot of sticky moist hugging as people finished the race and stumbled to a halt, looking for their friends and loved ones. You humans are a special bunch!
This weekend, the Saga Louts met 5 of their music idols in the zany form of AC/DC at Wembley Stadium. To remind you, the Saga Louts consist of 4 mature men with a talent for music and a passion for rock (not the geological kind)! I wrote about the Saga Louts some time ago when John and I went to see them in concert. By that I mean jammin’ it at one of their gigs in the pub! So John and the Saga Louts invited me to London to hit the curry house and watch one of their favourite heavy metal bands performing on stage. While we waited for the guys to meet us at Kings Cross train station, I amused myself by wondering where platform 9 ¾ might be until the sound of bears bellowing caught my attention. The happy hollering noises came from John and his brother and pals greeting each other warmly and exclaiming their joy at the upcoming show. I hopped back in my basket and we made our way to the hotel for a rest and refreshments. Next stop, Wembley Stadium!
We arrived early and the place was enormous, filled with rows and rows of bandstand seating, a huge stage at one end and a floor for standing in the middle which John referred to jokingly as the ‘mosh pit’. As time went on, more people arrived and after John explained what ‘moshing’ was, I decided this wasn’t my cup of tea, too crowded and noisy. So John put me in a taxi back to the hotel where a nice bowl of fish flakes was waiting for me. He arrived back in the room at 1am looking happy and sweaty! Apparently AC/DC slammed out a relentless celebration of rock and roll while the masses heaved in delight. Fireworks, explosions and confetti accompanied the grand slam of distorted electric guitar and thunderous drums. Despite their age (most of the band members are in their sixties), they strutted up and down the stage, gurning and grinning with their straggly hair stuck to their wet faces, often making a wild noise that seemed to leave the crowd mesmerised. Apparently they came to rock!
I awoke in the morning bright and breezy, unlike John and the rest of the crew who were very tired so after a hearty breakfast to fuel the fires, we headed across to Hyde Park for a leisurely walk. Hyde Park is one of the largest parks in London, situated next to Kensington Gardens close to the main entrance to Buckingham Palace and the Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall. Aside from a few joggers and dog walkers, we had the park to ourselves possibly due to the dark clouds and refreshing spots of rain that were starting to fall on us. One hot cup of coffee (and a warm saucer of cat milk for me) later, more hugs and manly taps on the shoulder indicated it was time to go our separate ways. I suspect John’s ears are still ringing from the concert but he would tell you that it was totally worth it.
As John and I headed into the City of London after our emotional encounter with the Tower of London poppies, we stopped for some comfort food to warm our cockles. This culinary delight came in the form of hot-dog and chips from a van that claimed it was selling traditional London food! Mmm. I believe that sausages were originally imported from Germany and became popular at baseball games in America, and the relish didn’t feel very British to me. Nevertheless, it was tasty. Why it’s called a hot-dog I’ll never know. I’ve come across a few dogs in my time as regular readers will know and not one of them had any bits that looked like a sausage in a bun. My own theory is that people used to cook meaty sausages that were stolen by the dog when they were still hot from the oven and hot-dogs were born. Of course a cat would wait until the sausage had been cut into bite-size chunks and garnished lavishly before running away with a decent helping.
Anyway, I digress. After finishing my traditional London dinner and grabbing a quick catnap, John and I picked up the pace so that we could see as much of the City as possible. We walked briskly past the Royal Exchange, originally built in the 16th century as a centre of commerce, it has twice been destroyed by fire and rebuilt and is currently a plush courtyard with offices, luxury boutiques and restaurants. Another unique building you will see in the photos is the Bank of England which is authorised to issue banknotes in the UK and is the custodian to the official gold reserves. Apparently the vault beneath the City of London needs keys that are 3 feet long to open and holds around 4600 tonnes of gold.
Bank of England
City of London Memorial
Duke Of Wellington
The statue of Queen Anne at St Paul’s
Check out these fabulously dressed ‘Beefeaters’ as they’re affectionately known. The detachment of the ‘Yeomen of the Guard’ is symbolic of London and has formed the Royal Bodyguard for many centuries. In case you’re wondering, they apparently derived their nickname from their position in the Royal Bodyguard in the 15th century when they were permitted to eat as much beef as they wanted from the king’s table. No hot-dogs though!
RNLI – Tower Hill
My tough little paws were starting the feel the strain as we sauntered along the Victoria embankment at the boundary of the City of London but a good photographer learns to power through. From the Waterloo Bridge we took photos of the London Eye, Westminster Tower and the Houses of Parliament. Boy that Big Ben looked huge from the street below and the Gothic architecture was impressive and imposing. According to the locals, Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster which was cast in April 1858, making him around 156 years old. He is 96m (or 315 feet) up in the air and the clock weighs about 13 ½ tons, about the same as a small elephant.
We headed to Trafalgar Square which was thriving with tourists and smart office workers going about their business. Here we saw Nelson’s Column and the National Gallery and ended our whistle-stop tour of London on a poignant note in front of the bronze soldier. The 7.5m high soldier sculpture commemorates the WW1 centenary and is based on the Unknown Soldier.
Picture this – a sleek black portly cat setting out for London from deepest Bognor Regis with nothing but a polka-dot bag on a stick and a dream. Rumour had it that the streets were paved with gold and this cat from humble beginnings was off to seek his fortune. When he reached the bustling city he couldn’t believe his eyes, there were horses and cars, great tall buildings and hundreds of people, but nowhere could he see any gold. This lucky cat with a vivid imagination was indeed on an adventure but didn’t have to worry about being tired or hungry because he was taking a trip with his ‘dad’ and business partner (John) to England’s capital, not to seek treasure but to pursue the passion in his life – photography.
A sea of red
John and I decided to take the train up to Londinium to see the beautiful Tower of London ceramic poppies before they are dismantled later in the month. Each of the 888,246 poppies represents a tribute to British or Commonwealth service men and women who have been killed in action. Around 4 million people are expected to have visited so far but it will be dismantled shortly to go on tour across the UK, being displayed around the country and then permanently in the Imperial War Museum. Some of the poppies will be sold for £25 each and the net proceeds will be shared between the six service charities including Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion.
The sea of red poppies is a moving piece of art that reflects the scale of the sacrifice made by the service personnel who have died in the line of duty and the humans that had gathered to look at it were full of admiration for the artist who created them and the meaning behind them. And that wasn’t the only picturesque scene I witnessed on my jaunt to the Big Smoke. The view of the city from the bank of the Thames was stirring – the bold structures that silhouetted the grey stormy skyline, the brightly coloured clothing of crowds wandering along the embankment, working barges and busy pleasure-boats bobbing noisily on the churning murky waters of the fast moving river.
The naval vessel in the picture is HMS Severn, a Royal Navy river class patrol ship paying a visit to London for a few days so the crew can attend the Remembrance Service at St Paul’s Church on Armistice Day and help raise money for the London Poppy Appeal. HMS Severn is moored alongside HMS Belfast, part of the Imperial War Museum’s exhibits that tells the stories of life on board this warship during the Second World War. Look carefully at the photos and you’ll also spot St Paul’s, the Shard and the Monument – a tall stone column topped with a flaming urn covered in gold that stands as a memorial to the Great Fire of London in 1666. I hope you enjoy the pics and I’ll tell you more about my London adventure next time.
John and I have been looking for a way to build our portfolio and enhance our capabilities so we decided to enroll in Sports Photography School. I dug out my old satchel from the bottom of the wardrobe and insisted that John find my pencil case as I was very keen to make a good impression. But it turns out that photography school isn’t based in a classroom, but is actually an event shooting experience that takes you to all sorts of interesting settings. Like the Copper Box Arena (a multi-sport venue in the Olympic Park in London used for the 2012 Summer Olympics) which was the location for a championship British Basketball League game between the London Lions and the Bristol Flyers last Friday.
Apparently the Flyers are a force to be reckoned with and unbeaten in their last few games. However the Lions triumphed that night due to their mastery of offensive and defensive techniques. Oh yes, I learned more than just how to improve my photography. I discovered that basketball players pass and shoot, but more worrying they also foul, block and dribble. Most of these guys were over 6 feet tall with huge strides and an extraordinary ability to navigate through the crowded areas of the court. As you can see from the pictures, they were also adept at leaping vertically into the air, an essential skill required to perform a classic slam-dunk.
It was a great opportunity for John and I to develop our camera skills and I learnt loads about the importance of backgrounds and the challenges of timing key moments. Some of the fun moments of the evening involved these pretty ladies collectively known as the Lioness’s as they danced their support for the team, always smiling and so cheery. But there is also a role for the more sporty ladies out there and the game is played professionally by women in England. The Women’s English Basketball League is a professional competition that has thirty national league sides and includes teams such as the Rhondda Rebels and the Sheffield Hatters. I just love the names of basketball teams, like the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Denver Nuggets. I discovered that there appears to be great reverence directed towards the feline species demonstrated through the names of teams such as the Charlotte Bobcats, the Detroit Tigers, the San Jose Sabercats, the Florida Panthers and closer to home, the Nottingham Wildcats. I approve!
Here are a few pictures that John and I took during a leisurely stroll along the Chichester Canal recently. It was a cold clear day and the sun reflected brightly off the water as people walked their dogs and couples hand-in-hand took their morning constitutionals. I dipped a paw in just to get a feel for the chilly water and froze in wonder as I caught sight of something small, chestnut-brown and furry. The chubby little wet face gazed at me for a moment and disappeared under the water before I had time to whip my camera out. Apparently the canal has a well-established water vole population which is protected by law and reliant on the diverse vegetation along the banks to survive.
Chichester Canal is designated as a site of nature conservation importance due to the value of its wildlife and some sections have reed-beds that are a scarce type of habitat in the county and of importance for certain species of birds. Canal construction started in 1819 and connected Portsmouth to London mainly for the transport of coal. In 1906 the last commercial cargo of shingle was carried along the canal before it was abandoned. Happily, the Chichester Canal Restoration Project aims to restore navigation through the canal and volunteers from the Chichester Ship Canal Trust operate services such as pleasure-boat trips and a shop to support that aim.
We sat down for a rest on one of the benches, inhaling the fresh air and listening to the sounds of the creatures that live along the canal, like the croaking toads and the pretty black and yellow bumble-bees. My ears were swiveling in every direction as the long grass rustled and the dragonflies whizzed by, their large transparent wings beating swiftly. I like dragonflies because they eat mosquitos, flies and wasps, some of my least favourite organisms. John had a chuckle because I can move each ear independently of the other and he seems to find that amusing! But these super-evolved ear-flaps of mine can judge within 3 inches the location of a sound being made a yard away. No wonder my tiger senses were tingling!
Bonfire Night is an annual event to commemorate the actions of Guy Fawkes on 5thNovember 1605. Its history begins on that date when a group of young men planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament to kill the King James I and Members of Parliament who were making life difficult for Catholics. The conspirators stashed 36 barrels of explosives in a cellar under the House of Lords but the plot was foiled. Guy Fawkes was in the cellar when the authorities arrested them and he and his accomplices were rather unpleasantly executed.
Celebrating the fact that the king had survived the attempt on his life, people lit bonfires around London, and soon the observance of the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605 became legally enforced across the country. It was compulsory to celebrate the thwarted plot until 1859 and throughout Britian today people commemorate the capture of Guy Fawkes with bonfires and fireworks and by burning an effigy of Guy.
It seems like a bizarre tradition to me, but it is perplexingly popular, despite being expensive and arguably commercially driven. Calls to firefighting services often triple on Bonfire Night and one study showed an increase in the concentration of toxic chemicals (in particular dioxin and furan, in case you’re wondering) in the air after Bonfire Night celebrations. It is important to remember that fireworks are enjoyed by some people but can be a source of anxiety for others and for animals too. Most animals fear the unusual sounds and would prefer to be indoors where the booming is muffled and they can hide somewhere like under some bedding or behind the sofa. Cats and dogs and small mammals should be kept in a safe and secure environment because the racket of fireworks can spook them and make them run off. It’s also best to ignore an animal that’s fretting (unless of course they’re hurting themselves) because their fearful state can cause them to react unexpectedly. Some thoughtful humans have put law in place to protect us animals and it is illegal for anyone under 18 to possess a firework in a public place or to cause any unnecessary suffering to a captive or domestic animal.
John attended the local scout group’s fireworks display recently which had been postponed from the week before due to inclement weather conditions. They put on a good show, safely and responsibly, and the families in attendance appeared to enjoy the hullabaloo of the pops and whistles and the dramatic effects of the crackling comets and glittering stars. John said the children were waving their sparklers and everyone was gazing in awe at the dazzling shapes and showers of endless colour variations. Unlike many of my feline friends, I’m strangely curious about the banging noise of fireworks and I like to follow the trajectory of the brightly coloured lights. But John took these pretty pictures while I stayed at home, sitting on the window-sill watching the vivid hues of colour fizz and sizzle across the night sky.