Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Climb Every Clothes-Horse"

Please, don't get me wrong. I love sharing my life with a cat. But the winter months, particularly when the cat is a highly-energetic two-year-old, pose problems. It is a time when my abilities to provide sufficient stimulus and entertainment are put to the test.

With the dawn delaying its arrival until breakfast, and the lights
needing to be switched on for afternoon tea, Chloe's three daily squirrel hunts in the garden are becoming concertinaed into an ever-shortening time span. At times it feels as though it's barely worth removing my coat. It also means that there's a very long evening during which a lively young cat needs to amuse herself.

Boxes are a never-failing source of entertainment, but they can hardly be called demanding, and this autumn, with the arrival of the long evenings, Chloe felt in need of a challenge.

I think I told you of my beechwood clothes-horse whose huge delivery box was promptly claimed for games of hide-and-seek. All went well so long as she restricted herself to the box. But what enterprising cat could be content with a mere box once they've discovered a clothes-horse? Not Chloe!

This wonderful and unexpected edifice in the bathroom provided her with the challenges she had yearned for. It was tall . . . it was tricky to climb . . . and when, wobbling slightly, your paws finally gained the top rung, there was an undoubted sense of achievement.
Chloe took triumphant possession of the clothes-horse!

What happens to my wet clothes?
It's a good question. Chloe comes in from the garden and, en route to her favourite perch, happily initials each item of wet clothing with large, muddy paw prints!

I think that this picture speaks for itself.
Knowing Chloe's disposition, she could well be singing:
"Climb Every Clothes-Horse"!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Caterpillar's Story

Let me tell you a story.
It's a tale of transformation, a story about change. It could, perhaps, be said to be a story about us.
But let's call it what it is . . . a story about a caterpillar. The history of every caterpillar.

Every caterpillar, once it has gorged its way through all the tasty leaves in its vicinity, arrives at a predetermined destination. It becomes a larvae.
Cocooned in this new form, it rests its bloated body and starts to mutate.

However, a disturbing thing is about to happen . . . disturbing, that is, from the point of view of the caterpillar.

There takes place what can only be called in internal invasion.
Within the cocoon what are known as imaginal cells start to take form. The caterpillar sees these small cells as an alien invasion and, much as our bodies would respond to a viral infection, fights the invaders by means of its immune system.

Initially, some of the imaginal cells are destroyed, but, such is the determination of these new arrivals, such is the rapidity of their proliferation, that, within a short period, they have multiplied sufficiently to take over the host body. The caterpillar surrenders and the conquering cells emerge from the cocoon in the form that destiny has chosen for them, they emerge as a butterfly.

That is an accurate, biological account of nature's skilful means of converting a rapacious, earthbound caterpillar into a dazzling, airborne butterfly . . . a creature that lives lightly on the land it embellishes.

I won't insult your intelligence by driving home any morals to the story But I would just suggest, very gently, that those imaginal cells knew what they were doing. They knew where they were going. They could picture the wings that awaited them, the scented air where they would hover.

If caterpillars want to remain rapacious and earthbound in the face of such inspirational determination, well . . . however voraciously they may have gorged in the past, they don't really have a chance . . . do they . . .

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Bright Yellow Angel

What would we do without our Guardian Angels? But have you heard of a Guardian Angel that took the guise of a bright yellow van? No, nor had I until last week.
If you've a moment to spare, I'll tell you the story.

There's a building site adjacent to where I live. Every day an incessant convoy of lorries streams past our front door. Recently the components of this convoy have changed to allow for a new stage in the development. In addition to the lorries there are
now cement-mixers.
Understandably, everything in the vicinity has been receiving a regular dusting of cement. It penetrates the windows fronting the street, and each day I dust it off my car.

Rain would have helped to lay the dust and wash it away, but for many weeks prior to my trip to Somerset there had been no rain.
I travelled down a dry and dusty M4 motorway and, whilst I was away, the sun continued to shine from a cloudless sky. It wasn't until the day of my return that the long overdue rain was forecast for the south-west.

It was evident that rain was approaching as I started for home, and the lowering clouds grew heavier as I approached Bath. Soon it was necessary to put on the headlights . . . then the rain arrived. Not a gentle shower, but a torrential downpour that had clearly come to make its mark.

For the first time for many weeks, the windscreen wipers had to be brought into action. But, as they moved up and across the screen, they drew with them a thick, white veil. In shocked disbelief, I struggled to see through the veil to the rain-drenched road beyond.
What had happened? It was only then I realised. Unbeknown to me, the cement that I had regularly dusted off the screen had become lodged behind the windscreen wipers. Now, mixing with the falling rain, it was doing what cement dust is supposed to do . . . it was turning into cement!

The car was now approaching the M4 motorway with heavy traffic on all sides. It was barely possible to see ahead, it was equally impossible to stop. The rain grew heavier, the oncoming headlights flared off the cement on the windscreen . . . the journey was fast becoming a nightmare.

Once on the motorway I was spared the oncoming headlights. Instead, I could dimly make out a very bright yellow van travelling ahead of me in the near lane. Even through the veil of cement, the yellow van was unmistakeable. Thankfully, I tucked myself in behind this gleaming vehicle and prayed that it would lead me all the way to London.

It took nearly fifty miles for the last of the cement to finally wash away from the windscreen. As clarity of vision was restored I realised that we were approaching a junction. The yellow van signalled that it was leaving the motorway and sped off to the left, leaving me, for the first time, able to focus through the windscreen to the rainswept road ahead. The clouds were lifting. I switched off the headlights.

Thanks entirely to my bright yellow Guardian Angel, I reached London safely.
As for cement mixers . . . I'll be looking at them very differently in the future!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mountains laid low?

I am, perhaps, taking on a Goliath with a very small pebble. Nonetheless, it must be said that, on one point at least, I don't agree with the prophet Isaiah.
"Let every valley be lifted up . . . " he declares, " . . . and every mountain and hill be made low . . . "

Why . . . ? Surely we need valleys? Every bit as great is the need for

Without a mountain how can you hope to get the unparalleled view from the mountain top, the sense of perspective that this view provides, the satisfaction of the climb and the humbling of the personal ego?
Without a valley where can the rivers run, the lush vegetation proliferate and people and animals find relaxation, food and shelter?

For three days last week, Chloe and I enjoyed a holiday in Somerset.
The unfamiliar, country environment proved intoxicating to my urban cat.
Why had no-one ever told her about the excitement afforded by dry-stone-walls, and the heady smells of the country? She was determined to make up for lost time immediately on arrival!

But, for me, the highlight came the following morning. On pulling back the curtains I looked out of our south-facing window.

Spread out before me was a panoramic view of the gentle, Somerset countryside. The sun was rising behind the trees, the mist was rolling up the valley . . . and the effect?
There's only one word for it, it was breathtaking . . . totally breathtaking.
Without the hills, without the valleys . . . would there have been that incredible connection with the numinous?

Surely we need hills and valleys, both physical and metaphorical, not only to provide a challenge, but also to offer the blessings of awe and wonder?

To take this argument further, wouldn't you agree that human beings also have need of light and shade?
The brilliant sunlight, glistening and gleaming on the ivy leaves in this photo, needs the deep shade. It offers contrast and enhances its brilliance. By the same token, the shade itself would lack its velvety depths were it not thrown into relief by the intensity of the sunshine.

Ours is a world of contrast, wonderful contrast. Day and night . . . hot and cold . . . height and depth . . . each extreme sharpening our appreciation of its opposite.

Mountains and hills laid low . . . ? I'm sorry, Isaiah, but in this instance I beg to differ!