With all the beautiful sunshine we’ve had recently, I thought I would remind you of the wintry season we have just left behind, lest you forget to enjoy the nice weather while you can. Do you remember the crunchy cold snow under your boots, the dark damp evenings and that morning feeling when the alarm clock screeches at you and your paw peeks bravely out from under your thick duvet as you resolve to get up? I remember putting on my Christmas scarf and heading out into the bracing winter air with John to Bushy Park, the second largest of London’s eight Royal Parks and one of John’s favourite places to go. It’s a picturesque mix of woods, gardens and grassland that provides a haven for some of Britain’s wonderful wildlife.
The big attractions are the herds of roaming Red and Fallow Deer that live and breed in the grounds. Red deer are Britain’s largest land mammal although their size varies according to their habitat and the resources they have available to them. The big fellas at Bushy Park are obviously well provided for and their buff coloured rumps stood proud some 50 or 60 inches off the ground. I remember one particular trip on an autumn’s day when John and I crept stealthily towards a stag with our cameras poised ready, getting closer to a magnificent male and capturing some great shots. He had the biggest antlers I’d ever seen, may be 28 inches high with several branches coming off the main stem like a glorious crown. We were careful not to get too close but those gosh darn incredible ears of theirs are so efficient that he picked up the sound of a twig falling to the ground near us and lifted his head, making direct eye contact with me. I froze in wonder at this beautiful beast and he simply huffed warm air out of his moist snout and walked casually away. Respect!
There are lots more temptations to lure you to Bushy Park like the herons, ducks and swans that inhabit the ponds. My favourite duck is the mandarin pictured here with its red beak, handsome black and white stripes and rusty brown mane. It’s like an aquatic version of a tiger, only smaller with fewer teeth and feet. Alright it’s not much like a tiger, except perhaps the golden colours and debonair demeanour. But I did see a lion at the Park which some clever person fashioned with snow and a few sticks and leaves!
If you’re a water baby and enjoy the sploshing and swishing noises made by rivers and fountains, you would have liked the flowing stream and stony waterfalls that roll through Bush Park’s grounds. I only like water when its warm and I can splash through it because I don’t mind getting my paws wet. But ever since I fell in the fish pond at home I’m not keen on too much of the wet stuff so I kept well away from the edge. I recall positioning myself perfectly for a shot of the chilly water cascading under the bridge and across the rocks when a grey squirrel darted past me and put me off my stride. My camera tilted sideways so the shot was at the wrong angle and my paw slipped on a patch of damp moss resulting in a rather undignified sidelong lurch. As I made my recovery I caught a puffed-up green parakeet sniggering at me from the branch over my head. With a cold belly from hitting the ground during my embarrassing incident in front of the parakeet, John picked me up gently and took me back to the car so I could curl up on the backseat with my special heated cushion and dream of chasing that cheeky squirrel!
You can’t beat a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast followed by a stroll along the seafront to brush off the cobwebs and clear your head. Whether you’re a muesli fan, an egg and bacon fiend, a baked bean or sardines on toast aficionado, or a continental fruitcake, a full tummy is essential in my book before heading out into the early morning sunshine for a good sniff of salty sea air. John and I took the car to Worthing this particular morning for a wander along the promenade and managed to find some free parking which always puts John in a jolly mood. When we got out of the car we realised why the parking spot was free, because the pier looked quite small in the distance to me. But John said it was a stone’s throw and we decided that the walk would do us both good.
The wide promenade and long shingle beach met the wet sand being exposed by the water as the tide made its way out and I had a feeling of being free with a sense of appreciation as I thought about the many animals across the world that don’t have the luxury of freedom. Looking out to the horizon across the expanse of silvery water, I wondered what the ships in the distance were doing, may be fishing or carrying cargo or people from one place to another. You wouldn’t catch me on a boat because I have a delicate stomach and certainly wouldn’t welcome the endless bobbing up and down. Talking of bobbing up and down, there were quite a few joggers out in their Lycra shorts and fancy trainers and they all smiled at me as they pounded past, panting and glistening in the warm glow of the sun.
As we headed towards the pier, we stopped to read about its history and discovered that it was opened in 1862 and, having been through a fire, a war and extensive renovation, it is a Grade II listed building. The first moving picture show in Worthing was seen on the pier in around 1896 and there used to be a steam ship in operation between Worthing Pier and Brighton, a few miles to the East. The front of the pier is currently home to the Pavilion Theatre and we saw posters advertising films and shows including old Greg Wallace hosting a dessert cooking session where he presumably makes puddings and everyone tucks in. Sounds yummy!
Without the crowds and tourists that no doubt visit during the day, I could hear John’s footsteps on the wooden boards and the squawks of the gulls flying overhead as we made our way to the sea end of the pier which boasts an Art Deco style tearoom. It was too early for the tearoom to be open but try telling that to the crows and pigeons sitting on the roof waiting for titbits. There were several guys passing the time fishing, their rods all pointed outwards in an array of lines as they waited patiently for an unsuspecting fish to take the bait. I tiptoed bravely towards the railing to get a better look and felt a bit woozy at the sight of the dark water sploshing around underneath us. Then I suddenly spotted 4 pretty little plovers strutting along the beams and pecking at the barnacles. I stayed perfectly still so John could take a few pictures and then I meowed ‘hello’ because I’m a polite boy but they ignored me and eventually hopped off. Charming!
John and I turned around and headed back to the car which seemed further away than we thought. As we strolled back, the wind was behind us and there were more people this time on bicycles or walking their dogs. I was so tired that John agreed to carry me back after picking up a couple of odd-shaped sea shells for me to take home and sniff as a reminder of our early morning trip to the seaside.
I’ve got ‘the wild’ right on my doorstep in the form of a rather overgrown back garden. John says he’s let it get back to nature, but I suspect this noble sentiment is an excuse for not mowing the lawn! Nevertheless, we both enjoy looking at the garden and all the treasures it holds which is why I like to take a stroll around it from time to time, admiring Mother Nature while I think about my work. In the 2 ½ years that John and I have been running Shadow Photography, I’ve been involved with happy couples planning their wedding day, excited exhausted mothers eager to have pictures of their young baby for the mantelpiece, highly strung horses next to shiny horse boxes and wily creatures who shy away from the camera. You can find stories about my experiences and examples of the colourful and dynamic images I have produced during my work if you look back at https://shadthecat.wordpress.com/.
Weddings are great because people are always happy and the atmosphere is one of romance and optimism. A bit like the mood created by these adorable garden birds who decided to have a splash together in the bath while I was crouching under the shrubbery with my camera. Some of the birds in the garden (like the sparrows, blue tits and great tits featured in the photos) are so small I’m amazed they don’t get blown away by the wind. Don’t worry, I’m not tempted to chase them, I’m far too busy analysing the light and shade in the frame, judging depth of field and generally perfecting my photography skills to be dashing around after my feathered friends. I was really lucky to catch a glimpse of a green woodpecker as you can see from the picture and I would have taken more shots only this worker bee kept buzzing around the flowers right next to me and it really put me off!
I like to take pictures of the flowers because I can play with the focus and emphasise the colour to create some striking shots, like these views of the cherry blossom and bluebell-type plants in the garden. I have produced a number of beautiful prints from these shots as well as more abstract images from the magnificent architecture that lies at the heart of history in this country. They make a lovely gift to yourself or someone you care about so if you’re tempted, check out http://www.shadow-photography.com/. On the website you’ll also discover the portfolio of work that John and I have developed over the last couple of years which gives you a flavour of our style. Please remember us if you want a professional portrait at a preferential rate, or if you have a friend who plays in a band or a family member getting married and you want to capture the fun on film. In the meantime, I’ll continue to share my thoughts and snapshots with you in this blog while I beaver away at building the business. Shadow Photography is there for all your photographic needs and John and I only require a cup of coffee and a saucer of cat milk to keep us happy and working hard!
John and I recently bought a book called ‘Tigger – Memoirs of a Cosmopolitan Cat’ written by Tigger himself, an old chum of mine. The book depicts the story of Tigger’s life and the adventurous years he spent in the forests and fields of America and Australia before coming to live in England’s green and pleasant land. Tigger the tomcat was bold and brave, kind and funny, and he tells a great tale about his exploits like the day he met the kangaroos and the first time he saw snow. Sadly Tigger is no longer with us, but his spirit lives on in the hearts of those who knew him and in the book he wrote. Tigger was optimistic and unstoppable despite his shaky start in life and his mum describes him as clever and resourceful, a much loved member of the family. He had a bright orange coat with a white face, chest and paws and remembering him has inspired me to talk to you about ginger cats.
Today I have decided that ginger cats rule and I have included a selection of pictures to demonstrate this! Most ginger cats are male but not all of them are, like one of my old Cat Protection foster cat buddies who got picked up as a stray and named Garfield because she was ginger. Everyone assumed she was a boy until a visit to the vet proved otherwise and she had a quick name change to Fluffy before being re-homed to a nice family. Amongst the pictures are several of the ginger cats that have come through the adoption process like little princess Ellie, and 2 tiny kittens called Neelix and Marmelade who arrived to the fosterer full of worms and covered in fleas. They were obviously given treatment and lots of love once in the care of the fosterer and have hopefully grown up to be happy healthy cats. I only knew Mustard for a few days before she was taken to a different fosterer after she had an argument with her sister. The fluffy one with his chest puffed out is Harry who lived in the pen last year for a few weeks before being re-homed with his brother Bertie. Louis came into care with his sister Tilly and they were both re-homed last week to a lovely lady who has since informed Cat Protection that the cats are settling in well and getting spoilt every day.
Harry & Bertie
Louis & Tilly
Blacks ones, blue ones, silver ones and white ones, tabby, solid, smoke or point, we cats come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. Tabbies can have narrow stripes that run parallel down their sides (called mackerel tabby) or a classic tabby pattern that has big blotches or swirls of colour. Single colour cats are generally the result of a recessive gene that suppresses the tabby markings but sometimes you might see indistinct shadows of tabby patterns even on a solid black cat like me whose coat tends to ‘rust’ in the sunlight and turn a lighter brownish shade. Then you’ve got the ‘black and whites’ like my mate Basil who is a bi-colour (half black and half white), while a mitted cat has just white paws and a cat with a white spot on its chest has a locket.
Contrary to popular belief, the colour of a cat’s coat is not linked to their personality traits and the perpetuation of this misconception has led to concern that feline ‘stereotyping’ is affecting adoption rates at animal shelters. Research has shown that ginger moggies are the favourites, being perceived as friendly and loveable. Some of my ginger mates are super affectionate like Rusty Lee who is my latest Cat Protection foster buddy (and is currently available for adoption). On the other hand, my old chum Ginger is independent and aloof and prefers a dignified chat in the garden to rolling around on the floor gathering dust and rubbing cheeks. Black cats are apparently still seen as mysterious and unlucky but I’m a black cat and I think I’m really rather lovely. I’m sure John would agree although he might not have done this morning when I tried to steal his fried egg sandwich after he left it unattended!
Red squirrel numbers have been dwindling for many years in this country since the introduction of the grey squirrels that are more adaptable and carry more body fat so they can survive longer winters. That must be why I have a little round tummy, it’s in my genes! Anyway, the greys were introduced from North America in 1876 apparently and they carry a virus which has also contributed to the red squirrels’ decline. There are a few projects underway in the UK to support the growth of the red squirrel population and you can find out more about this on the Red Squirrel Survival Trust website. How cute is that? They’ve got a website! They’ve even got royalty supporting them. And I’m not talking about Alan Titchmarsh! Although some might say he is a gardening supremo and he certainly does his bit to support British wildlife.
The reds in these pictures live at the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey and were so adorable that I had to write about them. As I went through the double gates after John, they must have all been hiding because the enclosure was lacking in squirrels, apparently they don’t like the wet and the cold. I saw a few chaffinches in the branches of the leafy green oak trees and some little Muntjac deer rummaging around in the undergrowth. Suddenly my feline hearing picked up the scraping of tiny feet and one by one, red squirrels started to appear on the grass. Several of them climbed up to the fence to get a good look at me, their little pink noses twitching with curiosity as they fixed me with their beady black eyes. They seemed to use their tufty ears to express how they were feeling, just like I do, and they dedicated a large amount of their time burying the food that the keeper was giving them. I watched them scurry along to a well-chosen spot, look around, then pretend to bury their nuts before scurrying off to another patch of ground to bury their grub for real. This clever little strategy is a good way to put the competition off the scent and stop the others stealing their supplies. Let’s hope they remember where the nuts are buried!
Shadow Photography is the business John and I started almost 2 years ago and, at the risk of sounding self-indulgent, John and I have worked hard to develop it into a viable prospect. Not many cats have the opportunity to learn new skills and meet interesting people from all walks of life so I feel quite proud to be part of the project. I try to make sure John feels like he’s in charge and I have to admit I couldn’t do it without him – he can lift heavy loads and he has opposable thumbs! Don’t worry, he’s used to my cheek!
I thought you might like to see the Shadow Photography advertising campaign that has been designed this year. Am I sounding executive enough yet?! It may not be an international conglomerate, but its mine and John’s baby and as managing director I’ve decided to share with you a couple of the ideas we’ve had to promote the business. Do you recognise the cat in the background on one of the ads? Its a good-looking ginger-striped old mate of mine.
John likes the smell of burning coals, I prefer the aroma of ‘Just Tuna Flakes in Sauce’, but everyone’s different! The smell of burning coals was not the only odour to waft up my nostrils during my second visit to the Bluebell Railway. My tail stood erect with the tip bent over in greeting as I trotted importantly past the friendly Station Master and twitched my nose as I picked up the scent of bacon and eggs from the restaurant, the flowers that lined the banks of the station, and the whiff of polish being used to buff the brass components of the steam engines sitting in the engine shed.
I hopped on to a bench and basked in the warm sunshine, watching John jostle with the other photographers and steam engine fanatics to get some good shots of the rolling stock. Every time a steam engine blew its whistle, they would all dash over to it like a herd of gazelles, trying to find the best position. Suddenly one of the guards announced that the 11am train to East Grinstead was about to arrive and crowds of happy faces gathered at the edge of the platform, eager to step on to the vintage vessel and take a trip across the countryside and back in time.
This particular train was built in 1925 and made it through the Second World War to be lovingly restored and maintained by the good folks whose passion for steam engines motivates them to spend many hours of their spare time working at the station in various capacities. John scooped me up and put me in my basket so that I was safe and we settled into a third class carriage with a compartment all to ourselves. There were no electronic doors or security cameras, it was authentic and old-fashioned inside, complete with highly polished wood and brass, pre-war advertising slogans and rusty metal signs in old money.
As the locomotive chuffed along the tracks, I gazed intently through the window at the woodland and fields of grass, desperate to catch a glimpse of some native British wildlife. Suddenly John pointed through the glass at some deer grazing serenely in a pasture and I was pleased to see a few other forms of life including horses, birds, sheep, cows and bunnies. The most commonly occurring forms of life were the train-spotters with cameras lurking in all sorts of weird and wonderful places off the beaten track! It took around 45 minutes to get from Sheffield Park Station to East Grinstead where we stretched our legs before hopping back on for the return trip. It was a fabulous experience, chugging along through the countryside, a gentle breeze flowing through the compartment. There was a distinct sense a community about the workers at the station who had a love of steam engines in common and the passengers who shared an appreciation for nature and the simpler things in life.