Shad visits the USS Intrepid

Docked in the Hudson River as the centrepiece of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, the aircraft carrier Intrepid stands as a witness to the atrocities and friendships that have been borne out of war.  More than 50,000 men have served on board since its launch in 1943 surviving kamikaze attacks and missile strikes as it continued on its mission to defend its honour and provide a safe haven for its occupants during World War II, the Cold War and the Vietnam War.  I wonder what life was like at sea during conflict and whether they would have liked a cat on board to help control the mouse population and give them something furry and warm to snuggle at night.  Perhaps that’s a question best answered by someone who was there, like one of the US Navy veterans who volunteer at the Museum educating visitors on how the ship was run and speaking about their personal experiences.  I got talking with one of them who stood proudly in the Squadron Ready Room wearing his USS Intrepid bomber jacket and cap with his rank insignia and service stripes on his arm.  He let me take the helm on the navigation bridge and showed me the chart tables, radar consoles and communications equipment.  As I sat on the comfortable slightly torn tan leather chair in front of the radar scopes and plotting boards, I imagined the burden of responsibility held by the Captain the moment that red phone rang with the orders to engage the enemy.

USS Intrepid

 

One floor down is the flight deck which exhibits a collection of lovingly restored aircraft, propeller driven jets that supported US ground troops in Vietnam and helicopters that recovered the NASA astronauts in the 1960s.  I strolled along the deck under the pale blue sky admiring the different shapes and abilities of the flying machines before me when a sleek dark lean machine caught my eye.  It was the A-12 Blackbird and reminded me of myself, jet black, powerfully built and formidable.  Don’t laugh!  I might be more generously proportioned and a lot less intimidating, but I’m just as glossy and appealing to the eye.  Shape-wise I’m probably more akin to the H-19 Chickasaw chopper with its chunky dark blue body, soft rounded nose and nifty foldaway blades.  Many of the planes had menacing names like the delta wing Skyhawk, the Crusader, Sea Cobra and Fighting Falcon.  I noticed several were named after my own kind like the Cougar, the Tiger and the F-14 Tom Cat which was the fighter jet featured in the movie Top Gun.

USS Intrepid 360

 

The hangar deck displays some of the technology and hardware that supported the ship before it was decommissioned in 1974 and chronicles its history as well as telling the human story through archival footage.  My attention was drawn by the sound of a human in distress and I looked up to see historic videotape of a crew member being interviewed, weeping as he spoke of the horrors he had witnessed during a battle.  As I walked away I looked behind me and noticed that the people watching the video screen with sorrow in their eyes were from many different countries.  It filled me with hope for humanity to think that if different races could be united in their sadness, perhaps they can face other challenges together towards a goal of peace.  Cats like peace and I’m lucky to have lots of it at home, apart from when the cat from down the road trespasses in my garden and we have fisticuffs under the kitchen door much to John’s displeasure.  The gap under the door is one inch wide so the only thing that gets damaged is our pride as we smack each other’s paws in territorial defiance of each other.  It’s ridiculous really and I soon grow weary, amble back to my food bowl to check for leftovers and curl up on my favourite bed, gathering my strength for the next skirmish.  By the way, in answer to my earlier question, the veteran told me he would have loved a cat a board but it probably wouldn’t have been fair to the cat.  So he now has a cat at home who sounds like she’s as happy and spoilt as I am.

Shad goes to Space and Under the Sea

My New York adventure has taken me to the jungle, the Jurassic period and the top of a skyscraper.  Now I would feel like I was boldly going where no cat had gone before as John and I made our way across the deck of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum to see the Space Shuttle Enterprise.  We walked through a dark entrance to the sound of real-life conversations between mission control and the Enterprise pilots during their flight tests and through a shadowy corridor decorated with eerily lit signs stating “Houston is go for take-off”, “Nothing endures but change” and “All engines running, we have lift-off”.  The corridor led to a large chamber and I emerged cautiously, looking intently around expecting to see an astronaut hopping along the floor in a puffy white space-suit or a green eight-tentacled alien creeping out from behind one of the concrete pillars in the centre of this mystical space.  I started to imagine a planet of cats that each lived in a house with a garden and had all their meals and entertainment provided by miniature purple people.

 

I started to wonder if such a place existed on the other side of the moon when I looked up and saw the vast white-tiled silhouette of the space shuttle Enterprise suspended directly above me.  The engines, rocket boosters and fuel tank had been removed leaving the orbiter section which would have housed the orbital manoeuvring systems, science lab and sleeping areas for the astronauts.  The Space Shuttle Enterprise was named after a fictional star-ship on John’s favourite TV series Star Trek (he’ll grumble at me for telling you that!).  Unveiled in 1976, it was the first NASA orbiter and paved the way for the space shuttle program by performing test flights and acting as a prototype.  There were stairs at the far end of the room that led to an elevated platform for a better view of the space-craft where I could picture the crews’ faces pressed against those tiny windows as they orbited the earth and experienced the intense vibrations that would represent the different stages of launch.  All around the room were displays of flight instruments, photos, films and other original artefacts depicting the design of the space shuttle, as well as an orbital Soyuz space capsule designed by the Soviet space programme.  I was flabbergasted to read on the information board that this small spherical space at around 2½ metres in diameter was the habitat module which carried equipment and cargo and even housed a toilet.  It is just large enough to accommodate 3 people as long as they don’t want to lie down!

 

Now to the bottom of the briny deep in Submarine Growler, the only American guided missile submarine that is open to the public.  When John suggested we get on board, I agreed but only because I thought he’d say no!  I was worried about fitting my ample frame through the restrictive hatches or lost in its endless parallel corridors that all looked the same.  But I had made a commitment and I’m not one to take that lightly so with my ears swivelling madly I lifted my nose in the air and strode up the bouncing metal staircase to the entrance hatch on the hull.  With a secret sigh I climbed down the steep steps into this metal casket and imagined the bulkheads bending and creaking as the captain ordered the boat into a deep dive.  We moved through various compartments including the aft torpedo room, the attack centre, the galley and crew’s mess.  The Growler’s two periscopes were located in the centre of the control room and the cramped crew quarters were packed with small bunks from floor to ceiling.

It must have been hard for the sailors on board to have no contact with the outside world for months at a time, not to mention climbing all those ladders between decks which must have been exhausting.  With so many doorways to get through, John and I soon got into a rhythm with John sashaying through each hatch sideways (his narrower aspect) and ducking so as not to hit his head while I developed a rather graceful leap over the high ledge at each access point only slipping once on a grease patch (which wasn’t my fault).  As I headed up the almost vertical steps to the exit hatch and felt the fresh sea air rippling past my whiskers, I spared a thought for those who fought and died in submarines just like this one.  It’s a piece of history and history should never be forgotten.

Shad‘s Bonfire Night Message

Every year in the UK many people celebrate the gunpowder plot of 1605 when Catholic conspirators including Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James I in protest at the way Catholics were treated by the authorities.  The plot was foiled and the rebels were caught but the events continue to be commemorated on 5th November with bonfires, fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes.  I’m not sure whether this is to commend Fawkes’ efforts to do away with the government, to celebrate his failure, or simply an excuse for people to set fire to things and make a whole lot of noise.  Either way, it’s an intriguing human tradition full of contradictions as are many of your rituals.  On the one hand bonfire night is a sociable affair that can bring together families, friends and strangers with the common purpose of getting to know each other and enjoying the festivities.  On the other hand people have serious accidents as a result of fireworks and I’ve heard about some deliberate acts of cruelty to animals at this time. 

 

Cat Protection  

I don’t mind sitting on my favourite window ledge watching the pyrotechnics flashing and banging in the sky as peoples’ money goes up in smoke!  However not all cats are like me and this is a frightening and dangerous time for many pets that are scared and confused by the unnatural sights and thunderous sounds of fireworks.  So please keep your pets in at night, stick to public firework displays that are safer and kinder to your neighbours rather than buying your own, and if you attend a bonfire don’t forget to protect the wild animals that make their home in the kindling having no idea that it will be set ablaze.  If you enjoy being part of the celebrations, have fun and stay safe.  If you don’t, hang in there, it’ll soon be over!

A Halloween Message from Shad

There is an enormous amount of myth and folklore surrounding black cats.  In medieval times it was commonly believed that if you deliberately killed a black cat you would forfeit your soul to the devil; while in Scandinavia the Norse goddess of love and fertility Freya travelled in a chariot pulled by two black cats.  Let’s hope she was a wee slip of a thing or they were huge black panthers!  In the UK some people believe it is good luck when a black cat crosses your path but in the US it is considered bad luck.  In Japan a single lady owning a black cat is said to have an increased number of suitors and some black cats are enshrined in maritime history, like Tiddles who travelled thousands of miles on British Navy vessels keeping them free of mice.  Fancy being named Tiddles, it’s a little embarrassing for a tough guy!  None of it makes sense to me and its superstitious hooey, as we all know that colour is only fur deep.   An excessive amount of melanin is what causes fur to be black; it’s the opposite of albinism and gives our eyes that golden hue.  Black fur turns reddish brown with exposure to the sun and goes grey with age like humans do.  My black cat friend Tiffin is about to turn 9 and wasn’t happy when I mentioned she was getting a white beard!

 

 

My message to you at this time is that black cats are in danger and should be kept indoors on Halloween night or weekend and the days leading up to it because we are targets for abuse by thoughtless individuals who associate us with witchcraft.  In fact throughout the Middle Ages and the so-called Age of Enlightenment black cats were actively persecuted as part of the measures taken by Christian cultures to eliminate any links to paganism.  All this because our coats are the colour of night and night was associated with evil doings.  This Halloween night make your celebrations fun and light-hearted and be sure to dress up in comical costumes and eat ghoulish treats.  I don’t mind wearing a scarf or a funny hat for a few minutes to entertain John but many other cats would find it stressful.  The coming and going of trick-or-treaters can make it easy for cats and kittens to slip out through the door especially if they’re trying to escape the noise and naked flames on candles could be a hazard.  Now I’ve done my bit for black cat-kind, take care and have fun and enjoy the photos of all these lovely black cats.  Can you pick out which ones are me?

Shad does the American Museum of Natural History

John knows I hate those revolving doors having almost caught my tail in one in the past so when it started rotating I scuttled through with my ears back and my tail tucked between my back paws expecting to make a dignified recovery the other side.  Instead I dropped my ample belly down to the ground and slowly lifted my worried face towards the ceiling until my bright green eyes met the huge empty ocular sockets of a giant.  I crept gradually towards it sniffing eagerly to check if it was friend or foe and decided that it was safe to continue on this weird and wonderful journey through the Museum of Natural History in New York.  And if I thought the guy in the lobby was big, I was soon to face the titanosaur, a 122 foot long 70 ton dinosaur so big it won’t fit into one room so its head pokes through to the next gallery.  Based on a fossil found in Argentina in 2014, titanosaur was the largest creature to ever have walked the earth and I was soon to sit right next it!

 

John and I entered the North American Hall of Mammals and Hall of African Mammals which displays many mammal species preserved forever behind glass and to be honest I wasn’t sure whether to be enthralled or horrified.  I was full of mixed emotions about the educational value of the museum against the frozen faces of my feline cousins looking at me with lifeless eyes.  John told me that during the nineteenth century, the trade in exotic animals was rife and this sadly resulted in hundreds of thousands of animals being taken away from their natural environments and forced to live in unsuitable conditions before meeting unhappy endings.  Yet this macabre practice gave people of science the chance to study animals for scientific advances.  In another paradox, this caused the suffering of many animals used for experimentation but also facilitated a better understanding of the natural world.  I resolved my ethical dichotomy by accepting that the historical collections in the museum represent the best and the worst of humanity and I cannot change the past but only look to improve the future.  I would start by appreciating the beauty of the bears lured to the river by salmon, the course-haired bison roaming the prairies and the glistening beavers busy building their damns.  The gorilla standing before me looked like a ferocious hunter but ironically he is a vegetarian who spends his day feeding on leaves, bark and fruit.

 

In the Hall of Human Origins I met Lucy, a quiet lass, petite and with a few bits missing, but she’s allowed to be what she wants considering she lived in Ethiopia around 3 million years ago and is potentially the oldest ancestor of modern humans.  The Human Origins exhibition tells the story of human-kind through the fossil record and genome science and showed me just how creative and fortunate you humans have been to get this far.  I imagine this would not have been the case if everyone were at the same intellectual level as the Easter Island head who sniggered at me as we made our way through the Polynesian People section.  I reminded him that he was known as the monolithic statue that demanded chewing-gum from Larry the lead character in the movie Night at the Museum and kept calling him Dum-Dum. I suggested that as someone famous for requesting large amounts of gum-gum, he might want to consider giving a better impression to visitors by making himself useful, providing directions or helpful hints about the museum.  He wanted to know why I couldn’t walk on my back legs and why I didn’t have thumbs so I enquired as to whether he was related to Neanderthals and why he was constantly pouting.  I think John got fed up with listening to me arguing with this disproportionatey sized lump of stone and moved on.  I knew he couldn’t wait to check out the mighty tyrannosaurus-rex with its two-fingered forearms and serrated teeth, probably the most famous of dinosaurs.

 

Mounted in a stalking position, head low, tail extended and one foot slightly raised, Rexy and his 6 inch long teeth stood proud in the gallery surrounded by a multitude of bizarre looking relics from the Mesozoic Era that covers the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods up to 245 million years ago.  I was encircled by the skeletons of pterodactyl and other winged reptiles that hung from the ceiling whilst horned, crested and domed skulls stared at me from every angle.  Enough with the monsters, it was time to admire the most colourful and sparkly part of the museum, the Halls of Meteorites, Minerals and Gems.  Imagine my ecstatic face as I swooned over the biggest collection of twinkling things I’ve ever seen in my life, just like Scrat the squirrel who goes to acorn heaven in the movie Ice Age 3 or Dory from Finding Nemo when she’s winning at a game.  There were diamonds, rubies, garnets, quartz, gold, platinum, opal, amber and emeralds in the simplest and most elaborate of forms, from smooth polished egg shapes to jagged gemstones that refracted the light into miniature rainbows.  Some pieces looked like snow-flakes, while others were flat, hexagonal or shaped like a rose.  John liked the Star of India, a mesmerising jewel that is the world’s largest blue-star sapphire.  I rubbed my cheek on the Cape York meteorite, a 34 ton iron mass that collided with the earth some 10,000 years ago.  It was magical!

Shad does the Rockefeller Centre

Sometimes I have to remind John that he is 5’10” tall and I am 9½ inches from toe to back which by my calculations makes him 7 times higher than me, causing things in my world appear 7 times bigger.  It makes sense to me ok!  So when he suggested a trip to the top of the Rockefeller I hope he appreciated just how brave and dare I say heroic I had to be!  Luckily I had inspiration from the Greek legend Prometheus who took the form of a bronze gilded statue in the plaza close to the entrance beside an inscription that read “… Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends …”  On the way up to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck my ears popped which I found alarming but as no one else in the lift (or elevator to use the American term) reacted, I decided to hold my nerve steady and walked resolutely on to the Observation Deck with my tail proudly in the vertical position.  Seventy floors up, the viewing area provides a 360-degree panoramic view of New York City and is the setting for a famous photograph that was taken in 1932 during construction of a group of workers sitting on a steel beam without safety harness eating lunch with an 840 feet drop to the ground below them.

Click on the Image to see a 360 view

Click on the Image to see a 360 view

From that great height the New York skyline comprised endless rows of concrete peaks until I spotted a huge green patch of trees which I discovered was Central Park.  It was a relief to find a morsel of nature amongst all the buildings and lights of Times Square and Broadway so I was delighted when John and I took a stroll along some of the many paths that zigzag across the Park.  There were joggers and cyclists enjoying the fume-free air, twitchers with binoculars bragging about the red-breasted nuthatch they had just seen on a branch, and people with dogs of all shapes and sizes trotting obediently beside them.  Hidden within this woodland wonder was Belvedere Castle, an architectural mix of Gothic and Romanesque styles intended to be a Victorian Folly, with parapet walls and a traditional corner tower topped with a cone-shaped cap.  A beautiful lawn stretched out below and there was a large pond full of turtles swimming casually in the water and sunbathing on the rocks.

Central Park was my favourite park closely followed by Battery Park located at the Southern tip of Manhattan Island.  Due to its strategic location where the Hudson and East Rivers meet, The Battery became an area of military importance where canons and fortifications were erected to defend the city back in the days when the area was first settled by the Dutch.  Now it’s a picturesque waterfront preserved as a green space to promote conservation and biodiversity.  I strongly support this concept although I did object to the wasp that chased me all the way from the Castle Clinton national monument to the bench opposite the wild flowers which thankfully drew its attention.  I thought one of the red squirrels sniggered as I scampered past him but John assured me that it was a cough!  Still I was a little miffed and suggested we head to the 9/11 memorial site which was close by.  There, set within the footprints of the original twin towers, were two mesmerising cascades of water that flowed into the earth surrounded by hundreds of oak trees.   The name of every person who died was etched in bronze around the memorial pools and it was exquisite yet understated, a fitting tribute to the events of that day.

Shad does the New York Harbour Lights Cruise

The lights of the big city at night twinkled like a thousand stars in a velvet sky.  The rumble of the boat engines was loud but monotone and gradually faded into the background.  People perched on stools around the small bar in the middle of the indoor section looking eagerly around and chatting avidly, whilst others huddled together on the seats warming their hands over the heaters.  Outdoors on the deck hardy individuals stood against the freezing wind determined to enjoy the full experience of the Harbour Lights at Night boat trip that John and I booked as part of our long weekend stay in The Big Apple.  I bet you thought I’d be curled up in a cosy corner of the cabin with a warm bowl of cat-friendly milk.  But actually I was one of the troopers shivering outside on the benches as the boat charged down the River Hudson and the chilly air parted my fur and made it all clumpy.

The Statue of Liberty was the first significant sight to behold on our river cruise and by the time we reached it the sun was setting in the West, casting long shadows across the shimmering grey water while the orange horizon gradually transformed to midnight blue.  With her 35 foot waistline, she was an imposing figure standing at 305 feet from the base of the pedestal foundation to the tip of the torch.  But I thought she looked small compared to the plethora of high-rise buildings that sweep across Manhattan Island.  The light green of her robes are the result of natural weathering of the copper that covers the statue and a close look at her feet reveal the symbolic broken shackles of oppression and tyranny.  Her torch is covered with thin sheets of 24carat gold and there are seven rays on her crown, one for each of the continents of the world.

The boat continued chugging South flanking downtown New York as the tour guide whose voice could barely be heard above the roaring engines told us about the buildings we were passing.  The likes of the Empire State Building and the new World Trade Centre stood proud amidst the concrete jungle of office and apartment buildings and brightly lit shop fronts that criss-cross the city.  The captain navigated the edge of Staten Island and took us under the Brooklyn Bridge before showing us a 120 foot long Pepsi Cola sign that has gained landmark status.  The red neon sign was built in 1936 in an industrial area bordering the East River in Long Island City and is a recognisable icon at the waterfront of Queens.  By the time the boat turned around to head back to Pier 83, the river water was pitch black and my fluffy toes were numb with cold.  Happy that I had seen the sun set over New Jersey and the flickering lights of the iconic Manhattan skyline, I headed into the indoor compartment to warm my cockles on John’s thick fleece and wonder how I would cope with the dizzying heights of the Rockefeller Centre which we had planned for the next day.