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!
Like millions of domesticated pets across the Western world, I have spent many a happy moment sitting on the sofa with my owner on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Although unlike those pets, I prefer to think of John as my responsible guardian / business partner. Anyhow, many of those happy moments were spent fudo-dachi with John watching martial arts films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon featuring charismatic film star Chow Yun-Fat or Fist of Legend with famous actor and martial artist Jet Li. Just so you know, fudo-dachi is a martial arts move and means ‘immovable stance’ in Japanese. That’s the only martial arts move I can perform but I do it well! I leave the foot-sweeps and lotus kicks to the experts.
The Regional Arena in Manchester was host to 250 of these experts in October for the 2015 World Taekwondo Federation Grand Prix and John and I were invited to attend by our good friend and professional photographer Mark Pain. This was my first real life display of Taekwondo and I have never seen anyone kick so high as the contestants bobbed around each other on their mats. They were agile, nimble of foot and fast, delivering swift kicks to each other and seeming to love it. The human fascination with combat baffles me but from a purely athletic point of view it was impressive to witness. We were told that many of these athletes were contenders for a spot in Rio 2016 for the summer Olympics but with 3 days of competition ahead of them, they would have to work for this privilege.
The contest matched pairs of participants together in 8 weight divisions to kick each other repeatedly using a combination of flying kicks (known as the ‘roundhouse’), axe kicks (heel drops to the head, yes that’s right you heard correctly) and the fancy spinning hook kick that you see Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee perform on the big screen. The head, neck and torso are acceptable strike zones and points are scored for landing blows to the opponent while points are deducted for illegal moves such as grabbing, pushing, throwing or attacking with a hand or knee. I’m still reeling from the axe kick which involves lifting your leg straight up to your forehead then slamming it down on to the opponents head.
Despite being exposed to this exhibition of resilience and strength, I was sure that my toughest move that night at home would be wrestling my teddy to the floor and throwing him in my water bowl. After all, I am a peace loving cat who is even kind and friendly to the belligerent pigeon that taunts me on the fence in the garden as I wash my whiskers after dinner, strutting up and down with his chest puffed out! May be I should show him I mean business by practising a few jiu-jitsu moves in front of the window, after my nap of course!