We sat on rickety chairs at a creaky table made of wooden pallets in a room decorated with ancient tools used to grind and mill the crops that would have grown around this Croatian tavern. A vintage sharpening wheel stone stood at the centre of the room with rusty axes and timber implements adorning the stone walls of the restaurant that used to be a stone mill. John and I finished our main courses and John stayed to listen to the band playing traditional music while I took a stroll outside. The music was getting too loud and I needed to distract myself from the thought that those heavy pieces equipment hanging on the walls might come crashing down. I inhaled a deep breath of late evening air and looked around for somewhere comfy to take a nap. As I hopped on to the low bench just outside the kitchen, I caught a glimpse of a dirty black and white kitten with hunger in its eyes. I made up my mind that this little guy was going to have some scraps and John asked the owner for some leftover meat. A few minutes later John appeared with a plate piled high and the leapt eagerly on to John’s knee. John dropped the food along the bottom of a dark wall and cats and kittens gradually emerged from the dark to enjoy the best dinner of their lives.
The restaurant was located in Cilipi, a village on the outskirts of the city of Dubrovnik in Southern Croatia where we stayed in a countryside villa not far from the airport. We soon got to know the local strays and we were grateful to people like the restaurant owner who do what they can to help. But overall there was a feeling of indifference towards the animals and people were surprised that we would walk down the long winding road away from the villa twice a day to feed the cats that we’d seen rummaging for leftovers in the rubbish bins. We applied ointment to their wounds and drops in their eyes to help heal their infections although sadly one or two were too afraid to let us near them and never got the treatment they needed. But not all stray cats have such difficult lives as we found out when we visited the riverside Konoba Vinica restaurant in the village of Monkovic. While we enjoyed lunch by the river Ljuta, a chunky ginger and white boy luxuriated in the sunny patches scattered throughout the vibrant green foliage, gratefully accepting titbits from patrons and words of kindness from the staff.
The old town of Dubrovnik was like a labyrinth of ancient stone walls leading us through a maze of narrow cobbled streets. The city was surrounded by a medieval stone rampart, fortifications that protected the settlement in times gone by and now acted as a roof-top walkway around the city’s core. John and I climbed the steps to the top of the wall where the parapets and bulwarks provided barricades and safe places from which to defend the fort. My chest puffed out as I strode purposefully along the brick path before stopping to admire the magnificent views across the Adriatic Sea. My daydreaming came to an end as the sun began to dip low into the skyline and John scooped me up into his arms. Dubrovnik was filled with the most beautiful landscapes I have seen and the people were generous and welcoming. My thoughts go out to the strays in the hope that as time goes by the authorities will embrace animal welfare as part of a civilised society and the kindness of strangers will continue to foster a culture of compassion towards all animals – human and non-human.
Everyone in the world has the potential to be a little quirky. Goodness knows John has his peculiar ways and he would no doubt describe my quizzical expressions and episodes of gambolling about the living room like a frisky spring lamb as somewhat perplexing. But the guys and gals at the Steampunk event John and I attended the other week elevated quirky to a whole new level. We travelled beyond unconventional into the Victorian era and entered a realm of surprising and enigmatic characters who could have just stepped off the set of Doctor Who or the 1954 movie 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. The Subaquatic Steampunk Weekend at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport was my first experience of the eccentric world of Victorian science fiction but hopefully not my last.
I was like a child in a sweetshop all wide-eyed and with a gormless grin on my face. Not the usual unflappable and sophisticated style I normally portray. But there was a lady there who looked like an emerald green dragon with bright orange hair and a boy who looked like a cyborg from the 1950’s in a tarnished metal face mask embellished with cog wheels and rusted springs. I couldn’t help but be mesmerised by the gadgets and gizmos, boutique fashion shows and dynamic performances of the singers and musicians that entertained us. Ichabod Steam and his Animatronic Band were especially fascinating and became the source of a lengthy quizzical expression on my face while I tried to work out if he was a pirate, one of the Three Musketeers or the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. Eventually I realised that it didn’t matter if he was a romantic goth or a post-apocalyptic soldier. The occasion was full of fun and the people warm and welcoming – a fitting tribute to the Victorian era, the American Wild West and the innovation of the mechanical and digital world all rolled into one. Nowhere else would you see parasols and ray guns paired up with bowler hats and corsets. I might ask Father Christmas for a pair of aviator goggles this year!
Despite the numerous horrors being witnessed across the world these days, there are plenty of awesome humans on this planet willing to put themselves through aches, cramps and blisters in the name of a good cause. John’s son in law Scott along with a bunch of fresh eager souls are organising a sponsored walk along the shoreline from Bognor Regis to Brighton on 3rd June to raise money in support of people with cystic fibrosis. People born with this debilitating condition have a build-up of sticky mucous in their lungs and digestive system which can lead to a whole bunch of problems including difficulty breathing, malnutrition, chest infections, diabetes and osteoporosis. Although there is no cure, a range of treatments such as medications, staying active and airway clearance techniques can help control symptoms and reduce complications.
Scott and the rest of the gang have been practising walking to raise their fitness levels and eating healthily (most of the time anyway) in readiness for the big day. Here they are playing around with balloons, banners and buckets all donated by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. The Trust supports those who live with cystic fibrosis, conducting research and campaigning to raise awareness and funds in order to improve outcomes for many people including some that are or have been close to several individuals in our gregarious group of fundraisers. The walk is over 30 miles from pier to pier and there are plenty of cafes and benches along the way for the walkers to stop and refuel. I would offer to accompany them but I don’t like getting sweaty so I’ll sponsor them a few quid and send them off with a smile! I hope the weather stays good and everyone remembers their bottle of water and packet of plasters!
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.