Despite our differences, horses and cats live together in harmony as though there is a special connection between us. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re a little peculiar given that they have one toe on each foot and can sleep standing up. But I celebrate our differences and enjoy their soft fuzzy muzzles and small gentle eyes. So I’m always a bit nervous about supporting events that involve the use of my hoofed friends. Nevertheless I joined John at the Ashfields Carriage and Polo Club in Essex to experience the thrills that humans find so entertaining at the races.
The horses were mighty fine specimens, tall and strong and beautifully groomed and all the riders were dressed to impress in their jodhpurs and breeches. The sport entails One, two or four horses running like the clappers around a course pulling a carriage that carries two or three people each of whom have a particular role. The person at the front tends to drive the horses forward shouting commands and tapping them with a whip if they go in the wrong direction. The horses know what is coming when they line up at the start of the race and are chomping at the bit to get going when the starter drops their flag. Meanwhile the person at the rear appears to throw themselves across the back of the cart, shifting their weight around presumably to balance the vehicle and stop it careering off the track on the tight turns. I’m sure this is a simplistic view and professional carriage racers would explain the rules much more eloquently.
It is a real test of endurance for all participants which is why I was pleased to see that the horses are taken for a drink, some food and a good scrub-down as soon as the race is over. John got some great action shots and also got splashed with mud at one of the driving obstacles so I suggested he could join the horses in the showers but he wasn’t amused! Instead he dried off by taking a walk around the paddocks and admiring the Essex countryside while I admired the impeccably manicured lawns. John would have to mow our garden at home for a week to achieve the kind of short lush grass that surrounded us at the equestrian centre. I would help but my paws are not designed to push a lawnmower!
Nothing sets the human pulse racing like a competition and the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) is a fine example of such an event. So when John was offered a trip to the iconic sporting venue Brands Hatch in Kent courtesy of Team Hard it was a no-brainer! John did all the work this time under a shroud of grey skies while I stayed dry and warm on my blanket in the stands. The moist air gives my fur a certain frizz that I don’t appreciate and as you know I don’t like getting my paws wet! The drivers on the other hand had no qualms about the rain that was forming shimmering beads on their windscreens. I thought the race might get cancelled but I guess it takes a lot more than water to stop these folks from testing their courage and skill behind the wheel of a Porsche Carrera.
Lights on, engines revving, lurching forwards desperate to charge (like me when John opens the fridge door), the horn sounds and we’re off. The noise is tremendous as a pack of swarming super-cars launches itself on to the track and they’re bunched up so close I’m stunned that none of them collide. Just an inch or two away from each, water sprays from their rear tyres and I imagine their steely faces grimacing at each other as they calculate their next moves, every ounce of energy focussed on getting ahead. No wonder there’s an emergency helicopter and half a dozen ambulances strategically parked along the race-course. Within seconds a few cars peel off from the main group and take the lead but one car spins off the tarmac to end up neatly parked on the grass and his hopes of winning are over.
BTCC Grid Ladies
BTCC Grid Ladies
BTCC Grid Ladies
BTCC Grid Ladies
Soon the heat from the tyres dries the track and the gap between the leaders and the group gets longer. The commentator’s voice becomes higher in pitch as he reveals the positions of the cars and the strategies the driver employ. Sometimes they swerve sideways to block the car behind them or drive right up against the car in front to take advantage of their slipstream before hitting the gas and pulling out to overtake. Two of the Formula 4 cars come so close side by side that they get stuck together and the Marshalls have to wave the yellow flag to slow the race while the two cars are prised apart. John was rooting for a young man called Jake Hill, the son of racing driver and motorsports commentator Simon Hill. Born in 1994, Jake is a rising star in his field and was competing this day in the BTCC for Team Hard coming in a respectable second. His dad gave him a big hug before he walked on to the podium for the first time in his life, but not the last I’m sure. As the celebrations continued, John arrived back at the stands proudly wearing his Team Hard lanyard and paddock pass and we began the trek back across the field being used as a car park to find the car was stuck in the mud. An hour later, a sweaty mud-splattered John flopped into the seat muttering something about sludge and people and cheesey chips. I continued to preen my whiskers knowing that John and I had enjoyed a really good day and I’d probably be in for a hot chicken supper on the way home.
Rivalry can be seen in many species across many different habitats, like the gibbon in the forest hooting and gesturing menacingly to ensure it is not seen as weak, or the dominant guppy fish in the river that roughs up any other fish who tries to date one of his ladies. We cats are also known for being territorial and the need to defend our turf against prospective outsiders is in our genes. The desire to assert ones instincts reaches even greater heights in humans who have found ingenious ways to compete for fun, a bizarre concept amongst the rest of the animal kingdom who compete for resources or survival. One of the humans’ rituals is the racing car competition, a phenomenon that involves driving powerful noisy machines as fast as possible around a road with a flamboyance that reminds me of the male peacock fanning his tail and displaying his feathers with pride.
The British Touring Car Championship is a prime example of the enthusiasm that permeates through the racing car community and it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, the thrill of victory, the sense of achievement and the lure of the prize money that drives each competitor to win. John and I visited the track at Donington Park for the pre-season test which is designed to put the car engines through their paces and establish the order of play for the championships for the following week. The grid line-up consisted of 32 drivers preparing to do battle at Brands Hatch in cars like the Honda Civic, the Ford Focus and the Chevrolet Cruze. I hope you’re impressed with my knowledge of cars there! I guess they make modifications to the cars to change them from sensible modes of transportation to super-charged vehicles built for speed not comfort.
The track was wider than I thought it would be and the cars seemed to snake around the bends like a loud swarm of brightly coloured bees following each other in a line, looking for any opportunity to move ahead. The action was fast and furious and the place swapping was impressive with drivers using chicanes and hairpin bends to take the place of the car in front. I curled my toes at the perilous moves the drivers made to be the best in their game and was grateful for the large expanses of grass and sand and the multiple barriers between the track and the crowd.
While the cars were racing, John practiced his panning skills which involves moving the camera horizontally to capture a travelling object, emphasising that object against the other elements in the frame to elicit the feeling of motion. It was a fun day full of healthy competition and the humans behaved themselves well, smiling, shaking hands and celebrating with glasses of sweet water and strange smelling foods. Some of the children wore ear protection gear to shield their ears from the noise and I experienced a little ear muff envy on the way home so John promised me he’d get me soft pair of ear covers for my birthday in my favourite colour purple, ideal for keeping my auricles warm in the winter.
This is a moment for celebration and I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you lovely readers for your commitment and interest in Shad the Cat’s blog. The reason for celebration is that I’ve had 10,000 views. I love sharing my escapades and reflections with you and I sincerely hope you enjoy reading about them. I do have a tendency to contemplate life and sometimes it’s hard for me as a cat to live in a world I don’t always understand. But I try not to grumble too much despite all the crazy and often unkind things that go on in this beautiful world. I hope to continue spreading a little smile across all your faces in the months to come and give you a few insights into the unique requirements of the feline variety, as well as some other of my other furry, scaly and prickly friends from the animal kingdom.