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 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 does the Wiston Steam Fair

 

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.