Familiar Magic

(To my Cat)

Satin smooth, a dashing tuxedo doodles
in the dark. Coiling, recoiling, she sparks
twin moons centre stage, chartreuse chanteuse,
all that jazz with twinkles. Scrumptious svelte.
The rasp of velvet, the descent and scorch
of needle claw. Bipolar and molar, the healer
of bones. Her silent hum, vibrations that thrill.
Stubborn as a willow in a storm, she bends
and does not break. Not shades of grey
but endless grace. Elastic, fantastic, shape
-shifting dreamer, she weaves a fandango,
spellbinding tangle of chains.

 

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Wet Cat Painting

Sometimes you have to go with the flow. I had a catastrophe with my new painting today.  I had just begun with delicate washes of grey, lemon, blue and violet when my cat Spider crashed through the cat flap – soaking wet and dripping after falling into the stream at the bottom of my garden. She shook herself, splattering water on my masterpiece and then lay down on it.  So I decided to transform it into this….not my usual style but fun.  I’m calling it April Showers.

 

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A cat and human collaboration.

Confessions of a Hollywood Cat

We are all born to die but for me
it’s my sole purpose. Survival
to the grand finale is impossible.

You can barely call it a walk-on part.
I spend the first act cute but vulnerable,
reclining on the designer sofa and a perfect

enhancement of the minimalist set.
Then, suddenly
I am catapulted from the balcony

of a high-rise apartment, so unseemly
and messing up my hair.
In my last scene I’m Jackson Pollocked

on the sidewalk, a splattered composition
in red, black and pink.  You hear the wail
of violins. It’s a shocking tear

-jerker moment, murder by my lady’s
sweet-talking lover and how else
would you know he is really a serial killer?

There will be no happily ever after.
But I still have my American dream of success,
last-minute rescue by a handsome tabby abseiling

down the wall and grabbing me as I fall.
After sunset we will wander through Central Park,
lapping lattes and gazing up at the stars.

 

 

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Image created by the author

 

Tales of a Sea-Dog

In the old days I was Canis Marinus, Dog of the Sea.
I was born in a mangrove swamp of the Antipodes,
abandoned by Ma at first swim to the murky
mysteries of waves, death and capitalism.
I was crated frozen to the Land of the Free.
Now they call me Tiger, Blue, Hammerhead,
Great White, Art-wank. I prefer Sea-Dog
but they call me shock, ragged, monster, demon
or jaws (cue scary music and pearly sharps to die for)
the perfect engine and eating machine, soulless
beast, killer of slaves and pretty girls in bikinis.
I can morph into fin soup, a Chinese delicacy
or a shifty money lender. A role model for the aspiring
acolytes of Damien or a trophy tanked up on formalin
stinking behind the thin glass wall of privilege.
Predators queue and gawp
at the impossible.
I stare straight back
and what’s more
I never blink.

 

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Photographic image created by the author. The Heinz tomato soup can is a reference to Andy Warhol’s pop art featuring Campbell’s soup.

 

I was inspired to write this poem after seeing Damien Hirst’s so-called conceptual art entitled ‘The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’.  I found it disturbing to see a wild creature exploited and displayed in an art gallery.  My feelings of distaste and anger increased when I later learned that Hirst had several Tiger Sharks killed for his art work.  Even though the sharks are preserved in formaldehyde they start to decompose after a few years and need to be replaced.  Other animals have also been killed by Hirst for his art, including cows and calves for the piece titled ‘Mother and Child (Divided)’.   I find the morality of this indefensible.   It is one thing to kill for food or survival but not for art or entertainment.  Hirst’s pickled shark was sold for millions.

I also find it sad that humans have a tendency to demonise and label as ‘other’ anyone who is different from themselves, this includes other species, races, religions, sexual orientations, disability, etc.  Even sharks can respond positively to kindness and afffection.  They are not the vicious, mindless monsters portrayed by our culture but a beautiful creature trying to survive the best it can, just like the rest of us.  Please watch this amazing YouTube video showing a shark conservationist petting and playing with a shark.  Perhaps they are truly the dogs of the sea.

 

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

Last night I climbed into bed relaxed and comfortable with my cat Nadia beside me.  I switched off the lamp and moments later I heard the sounds of a cat moving around the house.  It’s very quiet where I live, bordered by fields so every sound is amplified.  I heard a cat jump down from a height and then the gentle clicking of paws on the wooden floor.  I was confused as I could feel Nadia snuggled up against my legs.  Convinced a stray cat must have got into the house I quickly switched the light back on.  There was no-one there.  I switched the light off again and the noises continued.  It was pretty spooky.

This was not the first time I’d heard unexplained cat sounds since my loyal ginger cat, Sputnik, died four years ago.  I’ve sometimes heard a cat wailing. At first I put it down to missing him but now I’m not so sure.  Perhaps he’s still around me.  It would be nice to think so.

One of my friends had an uncanny experience after her beloved dog died.  A few days after his death she was visiting a relative in hospital.  As she walked down the ward she was stopped by an old lady, one of the patients.  “What a lovely spaniel you’ve got there, dear,” she said to my friend.  “Fancy the nurses letting you bring a dog in to visit!”  My friend’s deceased dog had, in fact, been a spaniel.  The old lady could describe the brown and white dog following along behind. It’s hard to find a rational explanation for this.  The lady had never spoken to my friend or her sick relative before.  How could she know about her dog?

Acccording to a recent poll about fifty percent of people in the U.K. believe in ghosts.  In an age where secularism and science are the undisputed new religion it’s surprising that so many believe in the supernatural.  Cynics would say, it’s all in the mind, a trick of the light, a hallucination or there must be a rational explanation.  But surely everything is in the mind.  Our experience of what we name ‘reality’ is entirely subjective.  The world is perceived and interpreted by our mind, there is no other way.  So if we think it’s ‘real’ then it is ‘real’.

The word “ghost” in English tends to refer to the soul or spirit of a deceased person or animal that can appear to the living.  In A Natural History of Ghosts, Roger Clarke discusses nine varieties of ghosts identified by Peter Underwood, who has studied ghost stories for decades. Underwood’s classification of ghosts includes elementals, poltergeists, historical ghosts, mental imprint manifestations, death-survival ghosts, apparitions, time slips, ghosts of the living, and haunted inanimate objects.

In Asia the belief in ghosts is more widespread than in Europe.  Ghosts are seen as benevolent, healing spirits,  ancestors watching over us.  In the U.K. while some people are frightened of ghosts, many participate in ghost hunting holidays staying in supposedly haunted hotels.  The tourist industry cashes in on these spooky thrill seekers.  The medieval city of York is famous for hauntings and organised ‘ghost walks’.  When I was six years old, too young to know anything of history or the supernatural I must have seen a ghost in Clifford’s Tower.

Clifford’s Tower is a striking landmark in York built on top of a steep mound.  It is the largest remaining part of York Castle, once the centre of government for the north of England. The 11th-century timber tower on top of the earth mound was burned down in 1190, after York’s Jewish community, some 150 strong, was besieged and massacred by an anti-Semitic mob.  The tower was rebuilt and the present 13th-century stone building was used as a treasury and later as a prison.

I visited the tower with my father and grandfather, climbing the fifty five steps to the entrance and then up a twisting stone staircase to the roof.  We were on the decked walkway at the very top of the tower admiring the panoramic views of York.  I wandered off on my own, as children do, and descended a narrow spiral staircase, not the one we’d ascended.  Halfway down I discovered a furnished room bathed in a rose light with the door ajar.  A man wearing a crimson, velvet cloak trimmed with white fur was seated at a desk, his back turned to the door.  He was writing with a quill pen.  I was astonished.  With great excitement I ran back up to the roof to find my grandfather, dragging him down the stairs to see the strange man with the fancy clothes.  But everything had changed.  The door was now bolted and disused.  There was no-one there.  My grandfather dismissed my claims as childish fantasy but it was completely real to me.  It was only years later, as an adult that I recalled this incident and realised the mysterious figure must have been an apparition.

Clifford’s Tower is a striking landmark in York, built on top of a steep mound.  It is the largest remaining part of York Castle, once the centre of government for the north of England. The 11th-century timber tower on top of the earth mound was burned down in 1190, after York’s Jewish community, some 150 strong, was besieged and then massacred by an anti-Semitic mob.  The present 13th-century stone tower was probably used as a treasury and later a prison.  I would love to know who or what I saw that day.  Was it just a memory imprint in the fabric of time, like a psychic photograph?

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When Winston Churchill visited the White House soon after World War 2, he reported a ghostly experience.  Naked after a long soak in a hot bath with a cigar and a glass of Scotch, he was walking into the bedroom – only to encounter the ghost of Abraham Lincoln.  Churchill kept his cool and announced: “Good evening, Mr President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.” The spirit smiled and vanished.
The writer Arthur Conan Doyle spoke to ghosts through mediums and Alan Turing who invented the first computer believed in telepathy.  These three men were all famous for their intelligence and yet they believed in the supernatural.

So perhaps I’m in prestigious company!  It’s good to think that there might be more to life than our humdrum material world, that there’s still a mystery to ponder.

I would love to hear your personal ghost stories.  Please leave a comment if you have  any.  And sleep tight!  It’s the living and not the dead we need to worry about!

Storks, Tigers and Other Animals

The older I get the harder it becomes to see positive traits in the human race, to see beyond the war, abuse, selfishness and greed recounted in news headlines. No wonder more of us are retreating into our own little worlds.  But a touching story I heard recently about the love between an old man and a stork reminded me of the self-sacrifice humans are also capable of.

Croatian Stjepan Vokie has devoted the last 24 years to care for a disabled stork, Marlena. He found the injured stork one day when he was out fishing.  Her wing was damaged by a gunshot and she can no longer fly or feed herself.  Stjepan goes fishing twice a day to catch fresh fish for Marlena. He also helps feed the numerous chicks fathered each spring by her mate, Klepetan.  Klepetan migrates south to Africa every winter but sadly Marlena cannot join him.  Instead she spends the winters with her human best friend watching wildlife films on TV and riding in the car down to the river for a spot of fishing. In the wetland area where this odd couple reside storks are popular. Nearly every roof in the village has a stork’s nest and according to superstition the beautiful white birds bring luck and children to a household.  Stjepan has even built a ramp so that Marlena can walk up to her own nest on the roof! Disability rights for birds…right on!!

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Click on the link below to watch a short film about a special relationship between man and bird:-
http://p.dw.com/p/2joxG

Another good news story about animals comes from Russia. Siberian tigers poached nearly to extinction seem to be making a comeback thanks to the personal interest and intervention of President Vladimir Putin.

Here’s an extract from Laura Dattaro’s article for Vice News:-

“A recent census found as many as 540 Amur tigers living in Russia’s eastern forests, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). That’s an improvement over the last count, in 2005, which found between 423 and 502 of the tigers. In the 1940s, their numbers were no more than 40.

“It seems to have increased quite significantly, and that’s extremely encouraging,” Barney Long, director of species conservation for the WWF, told VICE News. “The fact that [the Russians] can sustain that over such a large area over time is what’s really impressive.”

Amur tigers, also known as Siberian tigers, are the largest tiger subspecies in the world. They also live farther north than any other tiger, historically inhabiting Russia, northeast China, the Korean Peninsula, and northeast Mongolia.

But due to poaching and habitat loss, they’re now confined almost entirely to Russia’s Far East, where the few remaining tigers roam a vast area of nearly 700,000 square miles, about the size of Alaska. Legal hunting in the 19th century drove their numbers down so badly that by the end of the 1930s, when a Russian biologist conducted the first survey of the species, less than 30 of them remained on the planet, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

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Russia has had strict anti-poaching measures in place for at least the last two decades, Long said, and has taken additional measures in recent years to create new parks and protect the tigers’ prey animals. In 2010, the country banned logging of the Korean pine, which provides food for the deer and boar that tigers rely on to survive the harsh winter months.

“The success has really been primarily due to political leadership,” Long told VICE News. “We’re talking such a vast area in the Russian forest, that to make impacts across that entire area you really need high-level political support.”

 

There’s more good news for wildlife lovers from China where the number of giant pandas in the wild has increased by 16.8 percent over a decade between 2003 and 2013. The hard work and dedication of conservationists in China has made a difference and the status of the giant panda has now been upgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable”.  Successful Chinese government strategies include the creation of 13 nature reserves, subsidies for farmers, encouraging foreign NGOs to study pandas and loaning pandas to foreign zoos to raise more money for further conservation initiatives.

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The giant panda has long been a symbol for wildlife protection around the world.  Years ago I worked for the World Wildlife Fund as a fund raiser and the panda was our famous emblem.  Panda stickers, badges and posters were popular with the public.  We had a small but dedicated group of volunteers in our area who spent weekends standing in the rain rattling collection tins, running cake stalls at village fetes, doing sponsored walks and supporting charity concerts.  I have a quirky memory from that era.  I needed to borrow a large plastic panda with a coin slot in the top of his head from another group for a fundraising event. It was the sort of kitsch object you used to see sometimes on the pavement outside chemist shops. I had to drive over two hundred miles across the country in the middle of the night with the six foot fake panda wedged into the back seat of my car. In the shadows he looked very lifelike.  When  I was suddenly stopped by a police block due to a road traffic accident I’ll never forget the police officer’s look of surprise when he shone his torch into my car and saw a panda’s face staring back at him!

(all the photos for this post are borrowed from internet stock)