Shad does the Nutcracker

When you think of me at the theatre, I’d like you to picture a shapely silky black cat sitting poised and regal upon a red velvet seat in the gilt edged surroundings of the Royal Opera House.  Try to remember that image the next time you read that I fumbled about under the wardrobe searching for my toy snake and emerged with my whiskers covered in cobwebs, or that I chased a frog around the house but ran away when it croaked and John had to rescue it and put it back by the pond.  We are all complex and multi-layered are we not, full of contradictions and surprises.  This particular day I was ‘cultured me’ and my faithful friend John took me on a train ride to our capital city for a trip to the ballet to see The Nutcracker.  It’s the story of a magician who was employed in the royal palace when he invented a trap that killed half the mouse population.  Now I may be guilty of the odd mouse chase, but I would never approve of decimating half a nest of little mice.  Understandably the Queen of the Mice was rather miffed and cast a spell over the magician’s nephew in an act of revenge, turning him into the Nutcracker doll.  To break the spell he would need the love of a lady but not before he had faced the Mouse King in battle.

Photographs in this gallery supplied by the Royal Opera House ( All rights reserved )

Royal Opera House Website

 

We had a good journey (which was a bit of a shocker on our train network and far too expensive for a quick jaunt up to London) and finished up at Covent Garden tube station where we admired the front elevation of the Royal Opera House and an elegant sculpture of a young ballerina .  I thought the tube was very clean, prompt and not at all smelly so well done tube humans.  It was a stormy day so Covent Garden was not that busy and my paws kept slipping on the wet cobbled stones.  Luckily a huge silver reindeer left over from Christmas invited me to sit down for a rest so I did whilst John wandered around taking pictures.  I surveyed the quiet old marketplace which comprised a handful of stalls in the arcade surrounded by posh perfume stores, tea shops and chocolatiers.  What a far cry this must be from the days of My Fair Lady when the sound of traders selling their wares would have filled the air and the scent of flowers, fruit and freshly baked bread would have wafted temptingly through every passageway.    Anyway, let’s get back to the story.

 

Royal Opera House

A conflict breaks out between the toy soldiers and the mischief of mice culminating in the Nutcracker slaying the Mouse King with the help of a young woman named Clara.  The spell is broken and the Nutcracker is transformed back into his real self before he embarks on a magical journey with Clara to the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets.  They watch the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince dance delightfully together and meet a whole host of other characters like the Russian folk dancers and the traditional Chinese artists who help them celebrate with a dazzling performance.  The snowflakes move in perfect unison as they leap and pirouette across the stage.  The females dance delicately on their tippy-toes and the chaps with their lithe bodies gracefully execute their grand jeté – a long jump from one foot with a horizontal leg split in mid-air before landing on the other foot.  The orchestra were fabulous playing the musical score written by Tchaikovsky with flair and finesse and I recognised a few pieces including one from a famous TV advert.  The make-up and costumes were stunning and the whole show was a feast for the eyes.  I only wished there was a little fairy dust left over from the magician to sprinkle on the silver reindeer outside who got have got us home in a jiffy!

 

Shad pays Tribute to an Old Friend

It is with a heavy heart that I share some sad news about the loss of a dear friend.  A few days ago John informed me that my great buddy Tiffin was hit by a car just a few doors from where she lived and she died instantly.  Her sister Muffin and our other friends Basil, Ginger and Zoukia are all in shock over this unhappy event.  Tiffin was a unique combination of courage and vulnerability, beauty and strength, dignity and silliness.  She spent half her time wide-eyed and scatty, the other half stealthy and agile.  She slept for England and loved her food.  I remember whenever I visited her house for dinner she would go around licking all the bowls clean afterwards.  When her owner scattered biscuits on the patio at lunchtime she would always be the last to leave, sniffing out every single morsel.

Luckily she was found only minutes after the accident and at least we know what happened to her and had the chance to say goodbye.  But it is disappointing that the person who hit her did not stop to check if she was alive and did not even move her out of the road.  I understand that accidents happen and unfortunately cats don’t realise the danger that cars represent, but there is no excuse for leaving a cat lying in the middle of the road.  I know my readers are compassionate people who would never hit an animal and leave it behind without blinking an eye, but not everyone is like that.  Stop and check the animal people!  If it’s wild call the RSPCA or take the pet to the vet for life-saving treatment and to be scanned for a microchip in the hope that the owners can be notified.  Today we mourn the loss of a lovely girl whose life was cut short and to help us work through our grief, her ashes will be returned in the next few days and she will be laid to rest in her garden, the place where she was most happy.

Rest in peace Tiffin.

 

Shad does the Met Fifth Avenue

For the final instalment of my New York adventure I’d like to share my experience of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Now you might think I’m a cultured cat given that I portray myself as refined and sophisticated but I’m self-taught so my knowledge of the visual arts is limited.  I’m familiar with a few famous painters like Renoir and Picasso, I’ve heard of Michelangelo and I’ve admired a poster of Le Chat Noir from 19th century Paris once in a coffee shop; but I’ve spent more time in the countryside than I have in art galleries.  I felt like a child in a sweet shop as I wandered through the imposing façade of this Gothic-revival style building and stood in the entrance hall surrounded by numerous corridors leading to halls filled with sculptures, jewellery, pottery, ornaments, textiles, costumes, musical instruments and paintings spanning 5000 years and representing cultures from all over the world.

 

I was dawdling because there was so much to see and John had to keep chivvying me on but you know how curious cats can be and I wanted to investigate every passageway.  The paintings area was split into multiple rooms dedicated to a particular artist each with a concrete bench in the centre of each room.  When I hopped on to a bench I noticed that many of the tourists were looking at me and taking pictures as though they’d never seen a cultured cat at an art gallery before.  I’m sure John thought I was spending time mesmerised by serenity of Claude Monet’s Waterlily Pond or captivated by the work of Gustave Courbet and his portrayals of people and scenes from the 1800s but really I was posing for the cameras!  Anyway, the sight of Van Gogh’s abstract portraits and still-life pictures had given me a wibbly-wobbly feeling that I didn’t enjoy so it was time to explore the Halls of Arms and Armour which displayed weapons and protective military clothing from the Roman Empire, Ancient Greece, Dynastic Egypt and the Americas.  My fur prickled as my eyes caught the stare of a dark shadow behind an enclosed metal helmet that formed part of a suit of armour worn by Henry VIII of England.  I don’t know how people moved let alone fought for their lives wearing heavy layers of chainmail and steel plates from head to toe.  There are more comfortable ways of looking stately and formidable I’m sure.

 

The Egyptian pharaohs had the right idea with their hand-woven linen robes embroidered with bold patterns and head-dresses adorned with feathers and jewels.  The pharaohs such as King Narmer or Queen Nefertiti were the most powerful person in their kingdom, head of government and high priest or priestess often worshipped in a temple such as the Temple of Dendur.  The Temple of Dendur was built during the reign of Augustus who ruled Egypt from 30BC to 14AD and was situated on the West bank of the River Nile in Ancient Nubia before it was dismantled and transported piece by piece to the United States at a cost of around 9.5 million dollars before finally being installed at the Met in 1978.  The temple is dedicated to the goddess Isis and the gods Harpocrates and Osiris and is engraved with hieroglyphs, images of the sun, the outspread wings of Horus the sky god and scenes of kings holding sceptres and the ankh.  Head held high, I strode regally between two enormous columns decorated with carvings of papyrus and lotus plants into a large chamber surrounded by a reflecting pool.  I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the still silvery water and looked up to see a vision of myself wearing a golden crown and a brightly beaded girdle waving majestically to my adoring crowd.  I would call on them to devote themselves to the miracle of nature, to the earth and all its complex forms of plant and animal life, and to support the development of wildlife sanctuaries across the lands.  Cats from every species would be free to meander through the lands and crowds would stop to gaze in awe at their furry beauty.  All cats would become a symbol of grace and poise and Shad the Cat’s silhouette would be deified in inscriptions on the sandstone walls.  What a wonderful world this would be!

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!