Shad’s update on the Cystic Fibrosis walkers

These are the times that restore my faith in humanity and remind me that empathy and kindness are the cornerstones of a truly civilised society.  When someone is willing to endure hardship on behalf of another person it’s a reminder of the goodness that drives many people to do crazy things like walking 28 miles along a concrete promenade in the searing heat to raise money for a good cause.  The sun feels scorching as it reflects off the shimmering water that’s looks perfectly still, ideal conditions for the paddle-boarders and jet skiers enjoying their workouts on the tranquil water of the Sussex coastline.  There are no trees or hills to cast a cool shadow, just a few beach huts and Victorian shelters dotted along the esplanade.  A light sea breeze and a chilled bottle of water are the only things to provide relief from the heat on their glistening brows and red faces.

 

Scott, Dean and Kayleigh worked unbelievably hard to honour the commitment they had made to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and raise as much money as they could to support people who live with cystic fibrosis.  It was 24ºC on the sea front and even the most well-worn pair of trainers is going to rub like billio when you march 60,000 steps and you’re sweating buckets!  Talking of buckets, the whacky walkers carried their collecting buckets all the way along their planned route which started at Bognor Regis pier and took them along the A259.  The guys working on the improvements to the A259 deserve a special thank you for encouraging our intrepid trio and digging deep into their pockets.  The footpath along that road leads to a bridge that crosses the River Arun and took our team to a pretty part of the coastline characterised by shingle beaches and sandy dunes spotted with spiky tufts of Marram grass.  Sounds like an ideal napping spot for a cat who likes to roll around in sand and hide in long grass.

 

Lots of yachts and small boats were moored at Littlehampton Marina, bobbing up and down gently in the sheltered bay waiting for their owners to take them out to sea for a taste of freedom.  Our charity walkers mostly tasted the salty air and it was time for a rest and a top up of fluids.  The next landmark was a picturesque portion of coastline called Goring Gap which consists of hedgerows and dry grassland but has a hidden secret, a concealed World War II bunker tucked behind a dense patch of trees.  As our walkers continued their challenge, the dehydration and burning blisters began to take its toll.  Shoreham RNLI lifeboat station was a welcome sight as it marked a major milestone and meant they were only 7 miles from their final destination.  As the summer sun started to dip lower in the sky, the Shoreham Lighthouse became a symbol of inspiration to guide them on the final leg of their long journey.  And wearily but with determination, our plucky gang finally hit the finish line exhausted but happy.  They should be very proud of themselves and despite the aching limbs and bandaged feet, John says they are planning to do something similar next year for another charity.  Well done guys and thank you to everyone who supported them financially or emotionally for their trek along the entire promenade from Bognor to Brighton.

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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 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.

John Goes to Tenerife….

It’s that time of year again when I escape the clutches of Shad’s claws and have a short break in Tenerife.  I’m only kidding Shad, you know you’re the only one for me!  And of course I missed your 4.30am wake up calls and the way you curl your talons, I mean your tail, around my legs!

 Last time I went away I was surrounded by the snow of Innsbruck but this time I opted for scorching sunshine and high winds down at El-Médano to see the Wind and Kite Surfers.

 

El Médano is one of the world’s best windsurfing/kitesurfing locations, with three different windsurfing spots – the Bay (flat/swell), the Harbour Wall (wavespot sideshore), and Cabezo Beach (wavespot onshore). The main bay is divided into three areas, the general sailing area with very good entry and exit points, the swimming area, marked by a chain of buoys and the pigs bay.  I have no idea why it’s called that.

 

The furball will be pleased he stayed curled up at home because he doesn’t like the heat…… The temperatures hit a high of 37 deg and Shad’s fur coat goes all clumpy and wiry when he gets too hot.  Not a good look.  We won’t mention my curly black hair or as Shad would say silky grey….

 

Shad takes a break in Tenerife

With its dry stony yellow and black terrain, the southern end of the island of Tenerife looks like the planet Mustafar where Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi fought with Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode III.  It marks a pivotal moment when a vulnerable boy corrupted by the evil influences of the Emperor turns on his beloved mentor and falls from grace.  As they duel, light-sabers crackle and buzz with energy while the volcanic landscape around them erupts and scorching lava turns the planet’s crust into a most dangerous battle ground.  Thankfully the only battle I had to face this trip was the one with the fridge door.  Said fridge belongs to two of John’s friends who often invite us over to their apartment by the beach in Golf Sur during the holiday season.  Much as I appreciate the invite, I do wish they would do something about securing feline friendly access to snacks and refreshments which includes having a fridge door that I can open with my paws.  Luckily my rumbling purr and ‘come hither’ eyes have the desired effect and I am usually able to get my sticky mitts on something tasty and revitalising in between naps.

Teide

This year’s trip to Tenerife was more exciting than usual following reports in the media of the island’s volcano Mount Teide getting ready to explode after a series of mini-quakes in the autumn.  Apparently seismologists recorded 98 micro-quakes sparking rumours that a mega-tsunami could hit the Atlantic Ocean if Mount Teide, the highest point on Spanish territory, decided to blow.  It was later confirmed that the movements were due to low intensity tectonic shifts rather than up-swelling magma and my concerns about ending up like Obi-Wan, fighting for his life on a bit of hot floating rock, were put to rest.  In fact, the mountain was very well behaved during our trip and looked especially beautiful draped in a white veil of snow.  We drove up the mountain side and stopped at a viewing point for John to take pictures while I watched a funny-looking tan-brown sausage dog scurrying round and round a snowman that his family had made.  He looked like a hyper-active Eewok (Star Wars fans will recognise this reference) but apparently it was his first time in snow so he had every right to be over-excited.

Shad’s big adventure (part 3)

The Taj Mahal is one of the great wonders of the modern world and although I’m not normally given to romantic notions, the thought of visiting this beautiful marble structure brought out the philosopher in me.  I was looking forward to contemplating the vaulted dome and drawing inspiration from the ornate spires that extended up from the walls but unfortunately as is often the case in life, things didn’t quite go as planned.  I managed to survive the turbulent taxi ride through the narrow cobbled streets and despite the lack of pavements and alarming number of cows, dogs and people mingling with the traffic, we didn’t hit anything.  My coping strategy was not particularly brave, I simply shut my eyes until the raucous honking of car horns was replaced by a rhythmic humming of a single car engine.  When I opened my eyes I found we had reached a long empty highway and the taxi driver thought it was his turn to shut his eyes.  I meowed like mad, nipping him on the ear periodically in order to ensure he stayed awake and by the time we reached our destination my nerves were run ragged.

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With renewed enthusiasm, I hopped out of the taxi and made my way towards the huge ivory-white edifice looming before me but an orange man with a loud shirt kept smiling at me, throwing me compliments and trying to make conversation despite my obvious unwillingness to participate.  This smooth operator was an unofficial tour guide trying to sell me his exclusive VIP services and apparently despite his mastery of English, he could not comprehend the word ‘no’.   After scaring me into agreement with his tales of evil pickpockets and ferocious muggings, I let him escort me more as my personal bodyguard than anything else.  Apparently the palace was commissioned in 1631 by Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor of India, after the death of his wife Mumtaz Mahal during the birth of their 14th child.  It was built on the banks of the Yamuna River and took 22 years and 22,000 labourers to construct.  When Shah Jahan died in 1666, his body was placed in a tomb next to that of his beloved Persian princess.

As I wandered around the palace and its surrounding buildings, I admired the way the walls and ceilings were decorated with artistic calligraphy, elaborate geometric forms and detailed depictions of flowers and vines carved into the stone inlays.  Bizarrely, there was a distinct lack of signposts or information boards throughout the complex which proved to be a potential problem when I realised that my tour guide had abandoned me.  Thankfully my superb sense of smell enabled me to navigate my way through the crowds of tourists as I trotted towards the exit.  I should add that despite my remaining on full alert for pickpockets, it appears the only crook on site was that dodgy tour guide.  I waved goodbye to the police officers guarding the outskirts of the palace and spotted my crazy cab driver with a friendly smile on his face and a bowl of water in his hand.  I gave him an appreciative purr and gulped the fresh water hoping it would give me courage for the wild ride back to my digs.