Last weekend at Wiston Park in Steyning thousands of people gathered together to celebrate the age of steam and it was wonderful to see young and old joining together to be part of a community event. The Wiston Steam Fair is volunteer-led, no big corporations, just charitable organisations and local businesses keen to commemorate the development of the commercial steam engine and show-off their steam-related contraptions. It’s a far cry from the digital world we live in now and it’s a reminder of life before automation when people lived and worked in the country, handcrafting goods in workshops and not washing their hands. Then steam power replaced wind and water power as a means to drive machinery during the industrial revolution in the late 19th century and humanity plunged down a new trajectory that would change the face of the world in many ways.
Thankfully the mid-morning sun was a pleasant 19c as opposed to the crazy 26c the south coast had endured over the previous few days, so the grass felt cool under my paws and John didn’t have to pack my frozen water bottle which I lick when I get too hot. As we wandered along the rows of exhibits, my senses were stirred by bizarre sounds and smells like the pungent whiff of hot-dogs and chips and the discordant mix of tunes from the carnival rides and the fairground organ. I stood mesmerised by the carousel going round and round with the porcelain ponies going up and down and I had to fight the urge the jump up for a ride. I thought it would be fun and I was sure an attractive black feline would get a discount on the admission price so I hopped on, picturing myself sitting debonair atop a haughty horse. Sadly the reality was quite different and the undulating flow of movement gave me motion sickness. I stepped carefully towards the edge of the merry-go-round swaying back and forth when my John appeared from nowhere and scooped me into his arms. Well that was fine, there was no time for frivolity anyway as John was keen to ditch the digital for the day and start using his old-fashioned second-hand film camera.
There were hundreds of exhibits as well as displays of more than 50 different steam machines from rollers to locomotives, lorries and traction engines. Some of them were rusty and dirty straight from the farm, while others looked pristine coated in shiny paints of burgundy or British racing green. Whatever the condition of the engine, each one was tended to with pride by people tinkering with mechanical parts or polishing brass-work and wooden panels. A little girl waved at me as she drove her miniature plough past me and the cheeky miniature train driver tooted his klaxon which made my jump. John and I caught the trailer ride up the hill and I’ve never seen so many buses in one place before. Yellow, green and red double-deckers as far as my eyes could see, along with old military vehicles, bicycles and motorcycles. We followed the vintage vehicle parade down to the next field while I scanned the spectacle for a yellow Robin Reliant van labelled Trotters Independent Traders. Although I didn’t see any faces I recognised from Only Fools and Horses, there were plenty of Del Boys around, like this guy eating an ice-cream with his rusty brown dog who was wagging his tail furiously while he licked his vanilla cone.
Its holiday season once more and the time has come for those humans who celebrate Christmas to do crazy things like buying Christmas puddings (yuk), hanging lots of dangley things (fun) and putting out food for a fictional character in a red jumpsuit (weird)! This time of year means different things to different people and for some its a religious festival, for others its a time for families, and for many its an ordinary day. For those of you who are happy at this time, I wish you every joy and keep smiling. For those who feel sadness or loss, know that you are not alone and the festivities will soon be over so you can resume normal life. For those who are working, caring for people or protecting them from harm, serving them food or keeping the streets clean, thank you for everything you do. From the animals I would say, please be kind to us during this time, don’t pay to watch wild animals do unnatural tricks and remember a kitten or puppy is for life, not just for Christmas. Give a few pennies to the old folks or the rescue centres full of unwanted cats and dogs waiting to be adopted and you will have done a wonderful thing.
As for the New Year, it’s traditionally a time of reflection and resolutions. Some of my favourite memories from this year are feeding the goats at the local farm shop, meeting the elephants rescued from servitude and playing with the red squirrels at a local wildlife sanctuary. Its often the simple things in life that make it worthwhile. Shad and John wish every single one of you a happy, safe and prosperous 2017.
Today is Remembrance Sunday and across the country people are gathering together to commemorate the ceasing of hostilities between two armies, the Allies and the Germans at the end of the First World War. The agreement took effect at 11o’clock on 11th November 1918 after 4 years of fighting and is now remembered as Armistice Day which marks a sign of respect for the many millions of people who died in this war and the loved ones they left behind. Wars have started for different reasons including religion, revenge and racism, and through the eyes of a cat looking at the devastating effects of armed conflict I can’t think of a single valid reason to start a war. But fighting over a difference of opinion or a claim for territory is not a unique feature of humanity. Many creatures in the animal kingdom do it as part of evolutionary survival including us cats, present company excepted of course. My neocortex is more developed than most felines leading me to prefer a battle of wits to a battle of arms!
Trafalgar Square Nov 2014
Despite the skilled methods humans use to wage war on each other, you also show extraordinary compassion towards those in need and great strength of character in difficult circumstances. You have creativity, loyalty and courage, all qualities I see when I look at the faces of those depicted in the Battle of Britain Monument that John and I took pictures of during our trip to the London Eye. This bronze and granite sculpture commemorates the military personnel who took part in the Battle of Britain during the Second World War and is situated along the Victorian Embankment of the River Thames. It reminds me of the costs of war, like the bright red poppy which serves as a symbol of sadness and hope that one day all humans will live in harmony. The Flanders poppies grew in the battle-scarred fields of Western Europe and flourished despite the landscape having been bombed again and again, providing inspiration for a poignant poem called ‘In Flanders Fields’.
John is a sports fan, just to clarify, I mean watching not playing. He used to participate in sports in his young athletic days and I’ve seen proof in the form of judo medals and a picture of him holding some kind of paddle (otherwise I would never have believed it!). Although he doesn’t play anymore (unless you count the leg lunges he has to do every morning because I run under his feet), he still supports competitive games through the lens of his camera. Technically speaking, portraying the mood and movement of sports in a still-shot is a big challenge. It requires the photographer to take pictures of moving subjects without making them look blurred and be in the right place at the right time to capture the emotion of the scene through let’s say the expression on someone’s face. I often go along with John to give him a few tips and critique his work, but mostly I go for the snacks. My John is an expert in seeking out and preparing the most sumptuous of snacks (yes I’m a lucky cat to have such a devoted friend). On the menu can be anything from steamy steak stew, whisker lickin’ chicken or luscious lamb crockpot.
When John asked me if I wanted to watch an ice hockey game with him, I had a frightening flashback to square-looking bodies adorned in plastic shields crashing into the huge Perspex barriers that surrounded the ice rink they were playing on. I distinctly remember a bewildered man with thick furrowed eyebrows staggering around the ice looking for his tooth. So I opted out of this particular trip and negotiated a small tub of tasty turkey terrine from John before he headed out the door and I headed to my favourite blanket for a nap. If napping was a sport, I’d be a gold medallist I’m sure. As for all you sports fans, keep up the good work. Here’s a few pictures of some brave fit humans working together to score points by hurtling a puck across the opponent’s goal line at anything up to 100 miles an hour with a long curved stick.
So John gets to write a blog this time … but why has Shad chosen to let the staff write for him…
Together we have photographed horses in the snow, stood on the side of a Super-pipe while snowboarders do tricks feet from our cameras.; huddled together to stay out of the wind and rain on our local beaches photographing the local Kite Surfers… We have faced many challenges together. Yet Shad chooses not to photograph Maternity shoots. Could it be that he can creep through grass to shoot an apex predator through a nikon 300mm prime lens but he’s afraid of a little baby! Don’t get me wrong Shadow doesn’t have a problem with kids in fact his adopted sister is my Grand Daughter…. but they get on much better now she is growing up. Shad just doesn’t do babies, he’s says it’s too … and I quote “icky”! I suppose you could say it’s one of his foibles. Because of course he doesn’t have many! Mmmmm…
The young lady in question is a model we first met back in 2013 Bridal Shoot. So Mary Rose, Natasha and myself took the opportunity to enjoy to the autumn sunshibe at a local landmark Portchester Castle and take a few maternity shots for Fiona’s photo album. The medieval Portchester Castle was built as part of a roman fort overlooking the north end of Portsmouth Harbour some time in the 11th century. The weather -worn stone walls provided a rustic backdrop for the shoot and I got creative with a few silhouette shots as the sun began to set. Alright I admit it, we missed our Shad!
The London Eye on the south bank of the River Thames stands at 443 feet (135m) with a diameter of 334 feet (120m) so it’s quite big. And if you’re 25cm tall like me, it looks even bigger. But that didn’t stop me from taking a leap of faith with John last weekend when we drove to the big smoke to take a ride on London’s observation wheel, the Millenium Falcon, oh I mean Millenium Wheel. Wouldn’t it be great if it was the Millenium Falcon with Han Solo and Chewbacca at the helm! Worrying I didn’t see anyone at the helm of the Millenium Wheel and I had read previously that there was an incident when they stopped the wheel for safety checks after a faulty part was discovered and people were suspended in one of the pods 450 feet above the ground for an hour. I suppose one incident with no injury in 16 years isn’t bad and apparently there are supplies of water, blankets and even commodes in each capsule to cater for basic needs. Although if John and I got stuck up there it would take more than a hot drink and a refund to soothe my nerves!
The actual experience was pleasant and the clear blue skies provided an unobstructed view. John pointed out lots of interesting landmarks to me including the Can of Ham and the Gherkin, the Salt Cellar, the Cheese-grater and the Walkie-Talkie. No this isn’t a list of the snacks John keeps in his rucksack! They are nicknames for a collection of unusually shaped structures that have been constructed in the city, namely St Marys Axe office buildings, a glass clad skyscraper of triangular design called the Shard, the Leadenhall Building (office, retail and dining space) and a handset shaped tower that contains office space and an indoor garden close to St Pauls Cathedral. The pillars and arches of Westminster Abbey are now surrounded by the slopes and curves of modern architecture that, in London anyway, often have peculiar shapes reminiscent of everyday objects. I would like to see a cat shaped shopping mall with a rescue centre attached!
My friend Tiffin is a charming 7 year old lady with smooth black fur and a few white flecks on her chest. She lives with her sister Muffin at the house with the cat pen in the garden, the one where the waifs and strays live until they find their forever homes. Tiffin is as scatty as they come, staring wide-eyed in the direction of any noise and running away from humans and animals she doesn’t know. But this kind hearted soul is a good buddy of mine and we often meet up to philosophise about the meaning of life and put the world to rights. I call it Tiffin time and it is usually accompanied by a few flakes of tuna which John always brings as a special treat for the cats in the foster pen.
As Tiffin and I sat on the low wall in the garden watching the rescue cats stretch out in the warmth of the evening sun, we washed our faces meticulously while the conversation moved on to a couple of kittens that had recently been brought into care called Smokey and Pickles. These two little bundles of fun were given up by their owner 24 hours after she bought them because they had diarrhoea and had managed to infest her home with fleas. The kittens had been bought from a woman selling them on the internet and like many kittens sold this way, they were sick with fleas and worms, malnourished and lacking in social skills. Many people selling cats in shops, newspapers and online call themselves breeders but actually they are simply allowing their cats to get pregnant over and over, neglecting the needs of the mother cat and selling the kittens in an unacceptable condition to unsuspecting members of the public for a profit.
Tiffin and I are both rescue cats but we were lucky enough to have a better start in life than Smokey and Pickles. It’s a shame the owner didn’t want to keep the kittens and take them to the vet for treatment but I guess some humans aren’t dedicated enough to support us cats through the good times and the bad. You’ll be pleased to hear that the kittens have received lots of tender loving care and are now happy and healthy and living in a loving home. Tiffin and I contemplated the fate of all the rescue cats sitting in foster homes and shelters right now across the UK waiting to find new homes and all health-checked, vaccinated, microchipped and neutered. There are cute ones, scruffy ones, cheeky ones and bold ones, shy ones like Tiffin and grumpy ones like me!